Children of Blood and Bone
by Tomi Adeyemi
544pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 6.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.7/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.21/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.32/5
 

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi’s #1 New York Times bestselling debut novel, is the first installment in the Legacy of Orïsha trilogy. This West African-inspired young adult fantasy book is a heart-wrenching story with characters facing memorable struggles in both their literal and figurative journeys, and I can definitely understand why it’s been making such big waves this year. However, despite being hooked throughout the first and last 100 pages, I did find the pacing between these two sections to be rather uneven—and, frankly, I found much of the middle difficult to slog through even though I appreciated the author’s vision overall.

Orïsha’s population once included maji, each of whom could wield a power associated with one of ten deities. Many came to hate the maji, and the king especially despised them since it was maji who killed his first wife and their children. When magic mysteriously disappeared one day, the king seized the opportunity and had all the maji slaughtered while they were no more powerful than any other.

Zélie was just a child when her mother, a powerful maji with power over life and death, was killed. Eleven years later, magic is still gone but those of the maji’s children who would have grown up to wield it had it remained—like Zélie—continue to suffer under the king’s rule. Marked by the white hair that was once celebrated as a sign of the gods’ gifts, these young divîners have never been able to access their powers but are still punished for their existence: for instance, they are often intimidated or assaulted by the guards and they are taxed increasingly heavily.

When the divîner tax becomes too expensive for Zélie’s family of fishers, her father is told that she will be forced to work off her debt in the stocks if they don’t come up with the coin quickly. Desperation to avoid this fate prompts her and her brother to journey to the city to sell a rare fish, but money becomes the least of their concerns after Zélie decides to aid a young noblewoman fleeing from the king’s guards and her brother helps them both escape.

Once they’re outside the city, they learn that the young woman they assisted is the king’s daughter, Amari, who fled the palace after she saw her father awaken her servant’s magic and then murder her. But the princess did not flee empty-handed: she first stole the scroll that reunited her servant with her magic. With this document, the three may be able to bring magic back to the land permanently if they move quickly—but not if Amari’s brother succeeds in his own quest to stop them.

The plot of Children of Blood and Bone is about a quest to restore magic and fighting back against a tyrannical monarch, but at its heart it’s about the effects of oppression and cruelty, the power of empathy, and the strength of people working together. Despite these latter two themes and some hopeful notes at the end, it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to living in a land ruled by a cruel, discriminatory king and it does include death, tragedy, violence, sexual assault/near rape, torture, and fear—enough that the grimness almost overwhelms those little cracks of light that shine through at times.

Children of Blood and Bone shows this world and individual responses to its atrocities through the eyes of three different characters: Zélie, Princess Amari, and Prince Inan. Each is a major character, but Zélie is probably the most central since the story begins and ends with her and it is she who may be able to restore the connection between the gods and the divîners that would bring back magic permanently. Zélie once believed the gods died with magic, but now the weight of being chosen rests on her shoulders. Though it’s not a huge part of the book, I thought Zélie’s feelings about her faith in the gods and their role for her were quite well done, as well as her fiery rage at how she and the other divîners were treated. Hot-headed Zélie’s emotions are especially palpable and my heart broke for her when she remembered the chain around her mother’s neck and her deep self-loathing afterward.

Amari and Inan are interesting to compare and contrast because they share a similar background but make very different choices. After the murder of his first family, their father tried to ensure both of them were what he considered to be strong: ruthless. He believed Amari to be weak because of her compassion, but she proves to be the stronger as she stands by her convictions about what is right and opposes her father. She realizes that perhaps she could have done more in the past to help divîners, and she tries to move forward and comes to have a better understanding of what Zélie and the others have had to face. Though she initially has some difficulty with letting go of her fear of her father and fighting back with Zélie and her brother, she does not waver in her belief that her father is on the wrong side. I especially enjoyed the gradual progression of Amari’s friendship with Zélie.

Unlike Amari, Inan is conflicted. At his core, he’s not the person his father wants him to be, but he doesn’t have the strength of character to stand up to him and usually follows his orders—as he does when his father sends him to find Amari and the scroll she took. This journey, a secret he discovers about himself, and his growing feelings for Zélie challenge his principles, though, and he ends up wavering between being the person his father expects him to be and standing with Zélie and Amari. Though he is rather indecisive, I did feel that his characterization as someone who is torn between what he believes to be right and the lessons that have been drilled into him as the future king is realistic. Even the repetition throughout his narrative that became irritating at times seems true to someone trying to work through what they’ve been told repeatedly throughout their life.

Likewise, Inan and Zélie’s budding romance made sense to me but also made the book less enjoyable. Their relationship does take a sudden turn from hate to love, but I also think it’s clear that Inan has been attracted to Zélie since he first saw her. When the two are forced to call a truce to work toward a common goal, Inan makes a choice that shows Zélie a different side of him—and, as the only one who knows his secret, Zélie knows more of what he’s going through than anyone else. There are some ways in which they can understand each other better than Amari or Zélie’s brother, Tzain. Despite that, I did think that their relationship contributed to making the narrative more overwrought and self-indulgent than was necessary and was one of the factors that made the actual story move slowly.

Those pacing issues were what most hindered my experience with reading Children of Blood and Bone. From the very first chapter, I expected to love this book—and I actually did love parts of it, including the first several chapters. They were an excellent introduction to the world and the main characters, and there were also some exciting scenes with Zélie taking her mentor’s test with the staff and Amari and Zélie escaping from the guards. I was also immediately impressed by the smooth flow of the prose since first person present perspective can sometimes be stilted or awkward. But then a lot of the focus turned to the quest: traveling, obtaining new items, and racing against the clock while evading Inan and his retinue. Though there certainly were some highlights among the middle and I enthusiastically endorse characters journeying with giant lion-like animals (or, better yet, one of the royal family’s giant snow leopard-like animals), I found large swathes of it to be tedious and dull before the last 100 pages or so.

Children of Blood and Bone has a fantastic arc overall, and it particularly excels at making its characters’ internal conflicts poignantly felt. Yet the parts sandwiched between the strong opening chapters and the finale were unevenly paced—although it did end on an intriguing note that makes me want to know what happens next!

My Rating: 6.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: It was a birthday present from my husband.

Read an Excerpt from Children of Blood and Bone

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (often these are unsolicited books from publishers). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Though I made some progress on a review last week, it’s not done and posted yet so I’ll just get right to the latest books that came into my house last week!

Companions on the Road by Tanith Lee

Companions on the Road by Tanith Lee

This re-release of two fantasy novellas by World Fantasy Award–winning author Tanith Lee will be available on June 5 (mass market paperback, ebook). This slim book, which is about 200 pages in length, contains “Companions on the Road” and “The Winter Players.”

 

Now available in a redesigned edition, these classic fantasy novellas from master fantasist Lee relay the tales of brave adventurers whose lives are forever changed by the strange relics they encounter.

The Chalice:

Kachil the brigand, Feluce the rogue, and Havor the gallant–a night of blood and blood-red flames unites them in a grim siege, fabulous theft, and a journey fraught with peril. For their prize is the jeweled and golden cup of Avilllis, and their road will not end until the Force of Darkness destroys them…or yields to a far greater Power.

The Ring, The Jewel, The Bone:

These are the Relics. The Mysteries of the Shrine, known only to the priestess. Only to Oaive. Yet he knows of them–the wolflike stranger from beyond the mists. And when he profanes them, there begins a game of cold sorceries and burning shadows to be played through all eternity…one way or another.

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker

This prequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is based on the author’s notes, will be released on October 2 (hardcover, ebook, large print paperback, and audiobook).

Both of the authors will be touring around the book’s release date in October:

 

The prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author of the classic novel, Dracul is a supernatural thriller that reveals not only Dracula’s true origins but Bram Stoker’s—and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

It is 1868, and a twenty-one-year-old Bram Stoker waits in a desolate tower to face an indescribable evil. Armed only with crucifixes, holy water, and a rifle, he prays to survive a single night, the longest of his life. Desperate to record what he has witnessed, Bram scribbles down the events that led him here …

A sickly child, Bram spent his early days bedridden in his parents’ Dublin home, tended to by his caretaker, a young woman named Ellen Crone. When a string of strange deaths occur in a nearby town, Bram and his sister Matilda detect a pattern of bizarre behavior by Ellen—a mystery that deepens chillingly until Ellen vanishes suddenly from their lives. Years later, Matilda returns from studying in Paris to tell Bram the news that she has seen Ellen—and that the nightmare they’ve thought long ended is only beginning.

A riveting novel of gothic suspense, Dracul reveals not only Dracula’s true origin, but Bram Stoker’s—and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

The Grey Bastards (The Lot Lands #1) by Jonathan French

After The Grey Bastards won the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off in 2016, it was picked up for publication by Penguin Random House. This edition of the novel will be available on June 19 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Grey Bastards, as well as Jonathan French’s tour events schedule.

 

Live in the saddle. 
Die on the hog. 

Call them outcasts, call them savages—they’ve been called worse, by their own mothers—but Jackal is proud to be a Grey Bastard.

He and his fellow half-orcs patrol the barren wastes of the Lot Lands, spilling their own damned blood to keep civilized folk safe. A rabble of hard-talking, hog-riding, whore-mongering brawlers they may be, but the Bastards are Jackal’s sworn brothers, fighting at his side in a land where there’s no room for softness.

And once Jackal’s in charge—as soon as he can unseat the Bastards’ tyrannical, seemingly unkillable founder—there’s a few things they’ll do different. Better.

Or at least, that’s the plan. Until the fallout from a deadly showdown makes Jackal start investigating the Lot Lands for himself. Soon, he’s wondering if his feelings have blinded him to ugly truths about this world, and the Bastards’ place in it.

In a quest for answers that takes him from decaying dungeons to the frontlines of an ancient feud, Jackal finds himself battling invading orcs, rampaging centaurs, and grubby human conspiracies alike—along with a host of dark magics so terrifying they’d give even the heartiest Bastard pause.

Finally, Jackal must ride to confront a threat that’s lain in wait for generations, even as he wonders whether the Bastards can—or should—survive.

Delivered with a generous wink to Sons of Anarchy, featuring sneaky-smart worldbuilding and gobs of fearsomely foul-mouthed charm, The Grey Bastards is a grimy, pulpy, masterpiece—and a raunchy, swaggering, cunningly clever adventure that’s like nothing you’ve read before.

Additional Book(s):

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Only one book came in the mail last week and I didn’t get a chance to finish any new reviews over the last week, but I wanted to highlight the latest book because I am LOVING it so far. Although I’ve enjoyed some of the other books I’ve read this year, Melissa Caruso’s The Defiant Heir is the only one I’ve actually loved so I’m very excited about this one!

Starless by Jacqueline Carey

Starless by Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey’s next novel, a standalone epic fantasy, will be released on June 12 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Tor.com has an excerpt from Starless.

I’ve read about 125 pages as of right now, and it’s wonderful so far. It’s one of those books that sweeps me away every time I pick it up, and I’ve found every page of it compelling so far.

 

Jacqueline Carey is back with an amazing adventure not seen since her New York Times bestselling Kushiel’s Legacy series. Lush and sensual, Starless introduces us to an epic world where exiled gods live among us, and a hero whose journey will resonate long after the last page is turned.

I was nine years old the first time I tried to kill a man…

Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him.

In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai must learn to navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity…but in the far reaches of the western seas, the dark god Miasmus is rising, intent on nothing less than wholesale destruction.

If Khai is to keep his soul’s twin Zariya alive, their only hope lies with an unlikely crew of prophecy-seekers on a journey that will take them farther beneath the starless skies than anyone can imagine.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This covers books from the last couple of weeks, including three books I bought with a birthday gift card. All of these purchased books appeared on my anticipated 2018 speculative fiction releases list.

Before discussing the latest new arrivals, here’s what was posted last week in case you missed it:

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Rosewater (The Wormwood Trilogy #1) by Tade Thompson

Rosewater, the African Speculative Fiction Society’s first Nommo Award winner for Best Speculative Fiction Novel and a John W. Campbell Award finalist for Best Science Fiction Novel, will be re-released on September 18 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook). It will be followed by two more books in the series.

 

Tade Thompson’s Rosewater is the start of an award-winning, cutting edge trilogy set in Nigeria, by one of science fiction’s most engaging new voices.

Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless – people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.

Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again — but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.

The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco

The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2) by Rin Chupeco

The sequel to the young adult fantasy The Bone Witch was released earlier this year (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Rin Chupeco’s website has excerpts from both The Bone Witch and The Heart Forger.

I loved Tea, especially the way the alternating timelines fleshed out her character, and have been looking forward to continuing both of her stories in The Heart Forger (my review of The Bone Witch). Rin Chupeco’s Women in SF&F Month 2017 essay on heroines and writing her own in The Bone Witch details much of why I found Tea to be such a compelling character.

 

In The Bone Witch, Tea mastered resurrection―now she’s after revenge…

No one knows death like Tea. A bone witch who can resurrect the dead, she has the power to take life…and return it. And she is done with her self-imposed exile. Her heart is set on vengeance, and she now possesses all she needs to command the mighty daeva. With the help of these terrifying beasts, she can finally enact revenge against the royals who wronged her―and took the life of her one true love.

But there are those who plot against her, those who would use Tea’s dark power for their own nefarious ends. Because you can’t kill someone who can never die…

War is brewing among the kingdoms, and when dark magic is at play, no one is safe.

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

The Poppy War (#1 in a Trilogy) by R. F. Kuang

R. F. Kuang’s debut novel was just released earlier this month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). I’ve been excited about The Poppy War since I first heard about it, and I also very much enjoyed the first chapter, available on Barnes & Noble’s Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog.

R. F. Kuang touched a little on the women in The Poppy War in her Women in SF&F Month 2018 essay “Be a Bitch, Eat the Peach” about her love for Azula with all her rage and ambition.

 

A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller’s latest novel became a #1 New York Times bestseller after its publication last month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt from Circe.

 

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

Additional Book(s):

Before Mars
by Emma Newman
352pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.2/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.2/5
 

Emma Newman’s latest novel, Before Mars, is set in the same science fiction universe as two of her previously published books, Planetfall and Clarke Award finalist After Atlas. Despite being the third book in this setting, it does stand alone as a complete story, although I did find myself occasionally wondering if I might have felt more connected to it had I read the others first and been familiar with the major events that were referenced. After having finished it, I believe this lack of connection had more to do with the way it introduced some intriguing characterization and concepts but did not follow through with deeper exploration.

Before Mars begins with Anna, a geologist and artist whose billionaire boss sent her to paint unique landscapes of Mars, arriving on the planet after having spent six months alone traveling through space. During her long journey, the closest she came to human contact was being immersed in memories stored in her neural chip—which is rather risky since she’s been told she’s especially susceptible to immersion psychosis, a condition that makes it difficult to distinguish between past memories and present circumstances and can result in seeing things that are not truly there.

After Anna undergoes a successful medical evaluation and is shown to her room, she discovers a note warning her not to trust one of the other four residents of the Mars base. What she finds truly unnerving about this situation is that she knows she had to have written it herself since it’s on the same uncommon non-disposable paper she uses for her art, painted in her own style—but she cannot recall having created it.

This message is just the first in a series of strange occurrences that lead Anna to wonder if she can trust what she sees or if she could be experiencing the same dissonance with reality as her father—who traumatized her so deeply that she’s never been able to forgive him.

Before Mars is largely both a futuristic mystery and a character portrait, and both of these aspects are built upon suspense since the story of Anna’s past is gradually revealed. It starts with the big picture—such as her horror at the idea of becoming like her father—and fills in the details of her childhood and family, her relationship with her husband and daughter, her career as a geologist and hobby as an artist, and how she came to be on Mars. Despite being confident that I knew what had happened with the main mystery within the first couple of chapters, I was curious enough about the hows and whys of it and Anna’s history to keep reading.

One aspect of the novel that kept me turning the pages was the candidness of Anna’s first person viewpoint, particularly when it came to her struggles with motherhood—a role she never wanted in the first place—and postpartum depression. She carries a lot of guilt about not feeling like a good enough mother since she never felt that instant love that everyone always talks about being overwhelmed by the first time they see their child. Anna also never had a desire to make her daughter her whole world and left most of the childcare to her husband. Though there’s focus on her husband and their baby, Anna’s long felt she had to fake her way through life in order to pursue her career ambitions, pretending to be someone else and exhibiting the “normal” human emotions that others expect her to feel. Anna’s perspective is also open about the PTSD from her childhood experience and her dislike of therapy.

As much as I appreciated the honest look at Anna’s fears and some occasional poignant descriptions of her difficulties and art, her narrative didn’t entirely work for me mainly because it delved into her thoughts so thoroughly that not much room was left for subtlety. The majority of Anna’s characterization seems to follow the pattern of a flashback to her life on Earth coupled with a dump of all of her related thoughts, and though Anna’s viewpoint is not 100% reliable since she is capable of lying to herself or changing her mind later, it also often clearly spells out what we’re supposed to know about her. Anna doesn’t actually interact in real-time with those she has the closest relationships with since they’re all back on Earth, and though it fit thematically, I felt that showing all of these through her memories became stale after awhile—especially since it didn’t show her developing meaningful bonds on Mars or undergoing major character development herself. (That’s not to say that she didn’t develop any meaningful relationships on Mars but rather that the forging of such bonds was glossed over.)

As the type of reader who primarily enjoys reading about people over plot, the determining factors in whether or not a book works for me personally are usually characters and the exploration of society—and unfortunately, the latter also failed to keep me interested the further I got into the novel. Since the present timeline is set on an isolated base on Mars occupied by five people, the ways in which the world has changed for humanity as a whole are also glimpsed through flashbacks and infodumps. The main story is primarily focused on advanced technology that is rather standard in science fiction such as the AI that maintains operations on Mars, the printers that automatically create food and many other items, and the neural implants that are central to the story. Though I don’t mind inclusion of common elements, I do tend to prefer stories that examine ideas and societal effects. Before Mars does do this to an extent, but it seemed as though it just brought up typical issues such as security and privacy with increased digitization but only touched on them without going into depth.

That’s the crux of why I found Before Mars increasingly unsatisfying: it basically tried to stuff Anna’s life story plus the Martian mystery into about 340 pages. Though there are some interesting parts here, it’s constantly jumping around as it touches on many topics and themes, but in the end it seems to skim over many of them with a brief mention before racing toward the next thing. I found this frustrating because there were occasionally some beautifully written lines about art or science or humanity, but they were few and far between as it skipped from one scene to the next without breathing room—and I found these and Anna’s past far more compelling than the the Mars story, which seemed to bog down in the middle. It did pick up again toward the end, but at that point, I was still a little curious about the conclusion but mostly wanted to finish what I had started since it was a fairly short book.

If you’re a fan of futuristic mysteries looking for a diverting book, you may enjoy Before Mars more than I did. I have found that books in a similar vein don’t tend to work well for me even though they do for many others, and after reading samples from Planetfall and After Atlas, I concluded that this is probably a case of a well-loved series that is just not my cup of tea.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from Before Mars

Today I’m delighted to welcome Karen Sandler to the blog! She’s the author of the Tankborn trilogy, a young adult science fiction series comprised of Tankborn, Awakening, and Rebellion. Tankborn, which I reviewed during Sci-Fi Month 2013, is a futuristic page-turner with some mystery/suspense and a little romance—and Karen Sandler is here today to share about the process of adapting screenplays based on this book and its sequels and the Recombined film project!

Tankborn by Karen Sandler Awakening by Karen Sandler Rebellion by Karen Sandler

Movie to Books to Movie to TV

What starts as a movie script, morphs into a trilogy of books, segues briefly into a short story, rises again as a movie script, and aspires to be a TV series? The Tankborn Trilogy.

First came the movie script, Icer. I’ve been a science geek most of my life. I studied math, physics, and computer science in college and grew up reading and watching science fiction. During a UCLA Extension course on screenwriting I started my first feature length script, Icer, an SF story that revolved around genetic engineering.

After I finished Icer, I wrote other scripts and the occasional novel. But screenwriting is a tough business, so I decided to focus just on novels, and I published my first book in 1998. I wrote mainly romance novels, ten of them for Harlequin. After 16 books, I hit the wall with romance and decided to switch to young adult.

But what to write? I still loved sci-fi. And I had this great sci-fi story in Icer. What if I adapted it as a book for teens? I jumped into the project feet first, moving the Earth-based story from Icer to the planet Loka and changing my main characters from adults to teens. The result was Tankborn, which became a launch book for Lee and Low’s brand new Tu Books imprint.

Over the ensuing years, I completed the trilogy: Tankborn, Awakening, and Rebellion. The three books didn’t follow the original movie script exactly. A feature script is usually only 100-120 pages and the trilogy ended up comprising more than 1100 pages. I had to expand far beyond the story of the script. But each of the books contains bits and pieces of Icer’s story. Step 1 was complete: movie script book trilogy.

Then in September 2016, I had an opportunity to attend an event sponsored jointly by the Alliance of Women Directors and the Writers Guild of America. At the time, I had a number of polished feature scripts I wanted to pitch to the women directors I’d be meeting. Of course, one of those scripts was Icer.

With every intention of pitching Icer, I also brought along a copy of Tankborn. I had no feature film credits to my name, having only had a few short scripts produced. I thought showing the directors a published book might impress them.

It worked, although not necessarily the way I thought it would. Several of the directors I pitched were more interested in the three books of the Tankborn Trilogy than they were in Icer. They kept referring to the trilogy as “IP” (which I eventually figured out was “intellectual property”) and peppered me with questions about them. Three requested copies of the books.

One of those three was director Regina Ainsworth. She’d requested autographed physical copies (I’d sent the others ebooks), and a few months later she contacted me to let me know she wanted to chat with me about my work. We spoke in January 2017 by phone. Regina proposed a feature film (maybe a trilogy), but by then I’d had a real vision of the Tankborn Trilogy as a television series. I made my case, and Regina agreed.

So how was I going to adapt the big, complex plot of Tankborn to the visual medium of television? Especially when I admittedly have a love affair with internal dialogue and tight POV. Being in a character’s head, thinking their thoughts and seeing the world through their eyes, might work in a novel but it’s a non-starter for film or television. An actor has to be able to act out (make visual) everything a character does.

I could have cut all those internal dialogue/tight POV scenes. But sometimes there’s important information in the character’s head that the audience needs to know.

Having written both scripts and books, the challenge was an intriguing one. It was reminiscent of when I was a software engineer and had to modify and debug computer code. Maybe more like translating a program from one computer language to another.

To demonstrate how I translated some of the internal dialogue into a visual scene, I’m including a couple of examples from the novel & pilot below. But first, here’s a thumbnail sketch of Tankborn to give you some story context:

Genetically Engineered Non-humans (GENs) are created in a gen-tank, programmed with a particular ability or skill called a sket, and enslaved from birth. As part of GENs’ gestation in the tank, gene-splicers install circuitry in their bodies and brains. This includes an interface on their cheek that allows “trueborns” to upload or download new programming, or to erase GEN identities entirely during a reset.

On to the examples. Here’s some text from Page 1 of the first book, Tankborn.

Excerpt from Tankborn by Karen Sandler

An actor could show Kayla hunched on the river bank with a disagreeable look on her face showing that she’s unhappy to be there. I could have written some dialogue between Kayla and her nurture-brother Jal to reveal what Kayla’s plans had been for the day. But there was more subtext that needed to be included besides just Kayla’s grumpiness. I really needed to rethink this scene to make it work for a visual medium.

So I created a new scene that hadn’t been in the book. I placed Kayla and her nurture-mother, Tala, at a worship service. Kayla’s and Tala’s argument about why Kayla has to go to the river with Jal is woven in with the worship prayers.

Tankborn TV Series Pilot Excerpt

This bit of dialogue serves three purposes. 1) Introduces the GEN faith which is based on servitude. 2) Sets up Kayla having to go to the river with Jal. 3) Teases Kayla’s “sket,” the special ability that the gene-splicers programmed into her while she was in the tank. Her sket will be revealed in the river scene.

In another new scene that follows the worship service, I include the subtext of Tala’s real reason for sending Kayla to the river to accompany Jal.

Tankborn TV Series Pilot Excerpt

Once I finished the pilot and outlined the entire first season of the Tankborn series, I felt I was close to getting the pieces of a “series bible” together. Then Regina introduced a new wrinkle: we needed a short film, set in Tankborn’s world, to be part of our pitch. We needed a “visual” to sell our concept.

I proposed we base the short film on an “outtake” scene from Tankborn that didn’t make it into the final version of the book. Regina loved the idea, and I went to work on the script. While the pilot was 50 pages, the short film had to be only 5-7 pages. Writing short is tough, but after some back and forth, we locked down the script. We nailed down a title too: Recombined. Step 2 was complete: book trilogy (a fragment of it anyway) movie script.

We’re now on to the next phase of our short film, crowdfunding. That’s where we’ve asked our friends, and friends of friends, and people who don’t even know us if they can pitch in a little bit to help us make Recombined. Click the picture below to check out our campaign.

Recombined Banner

Regina and I are very passionate about this project (as is Neobe Velis, our producer). We’re especially excited that Recombined will be a inclusive production, with a diverse cast and crew. With a particular commitment to gender parity in front of and behind the camera.

But we can’t get it done without help from others. And by “help,” I mean donations. If that’s something that inspires you, check out our campaign page. Any amount from $1 on up will be greatly appreciated. Even better, donations are tax deductible. And every one will help us complete Step 3: Movie script TV series.

Want to share about the campaign on Facebook or Twitter? Also very much appreciated. Here’s a sample post:

I found this fantastic campaign to support – written, directed & produced by women. Join me in amplifying an awesome story! Donate here:  https://www.hatchfund.org/project/recombined_a_sci_fi_short_film #diversity  #inclusion #femalepower #scifimovie

And going back to the beginning of this blog post, you might remember I mentioned that Tankborn segued briefly into a short story. That story is “Sacrifice,” set in Tankborn’s world and featuring new characters. “Sacrifice” is for sale on Amazon, but if you donate any amount to the Recombined campaign from $1 on up, forward me the receipt at karen at karensandler dot net and I will send you a free copy of “Sacrifice” as a thank you.