Posts Tagged Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

The Wait is Over — Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s Long-Awaited “Spiral Path” is Out!

It’s been a few weeks in between reviews here at Shiny Book Review (or as we affectionately call it, SBR); this is mostly because life has interfered. But having to wait for a review may just prove beneficial after all, as we have the best news imaginable for any reader of fantasy: The third book in Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s acclaimed Night Calls series — the long-awaited SPIRAL PATH — is now out! (Note that NIGHT CALLS was reviewed here, while KINDRED RITES was reviewed here.)

In the previous books in the Night Calls series, we met Alfreda “Allie” Sorensson, a practitioner — and student — of magic. Allie grew up on a farmstead in an alternate version of 18th Century America, so she has tons of practical skills and is resourceful and intelligent, seeming much older than her actual years. (When Allie actually started her training, she was the ripe, old age of eleven.)

Along the way, Allie has faced a number of problems: a were-wolf. A soul-sucking vampire of an unusual type. Healing the sick, comforting the aged, and birthing a number of babies. She’s also met Azrael, the Angel of Death, and has been given a name by him — Alfreda Golden-Tongue — and appears to have more power than the average five other practitioners.

However, she doesn’t seem to know this. At all. So while she does a number of things that surprise the older (and presumably wiser) magicians around her, she also can get tripped up by the oddest and most ordinary of things because she’s just not all that experienced. (Which is what makes her human and worth rooting for . . . but I digress.)

Onto the story.

SPIRAL PATH opens with an unusual set of births. One is that of Allie’s much-younger sister, Elizabeth, who promises to be a force to be reckoned with down the line (we can tell this by the highly unusual things that happen during the birthing); the other is that of a unicorn. While Elizabeth’s birth is straightforward, the unicorn’s is not; in fact, the unicorn’s mama bespells Allie to help her rather than just ask, for reasons that probably make sense only to unicorns.

It’s because of what the unicorn mama does that Allie is packed off to a first-rate magical school in the state of New York in order to learn how to better protect herself by the use of ritual magic. Because the next person (or unicorn, or whatever) who bespells Allie may not be benign . . . and Allie knows it.

Of course, Allie isn’t told this is a first-rate school. She’s only told she’d better learn, and quickly, because her talents need honing.

So she’s tested in various classes, taking lessons in some while teaching others, and has a number of interesting adventures — including one on the docks of old New York that I refuse to spoil.

All of Allie’s adventures (not just the one in the port of New York) are rousing.  And the quieter challenges Allie faces of being a farmgirl among some rather high-in-the-instep types at the specialty school are equally absorbing. But the best moments are those between Allie and her almost-boyfriend, fellow practitioner/student Shaw Kristinsson. (I say “almost” because Allie is, after all, only thirteen.) These interpersonal moments show Allie at her best — which, oddly enough, is also when Allie is just like anyone else: a bit shy with her friend, who she wants someday to be more than a friend . . . but still herself, with joy and sorrow intermixed as it is for any living creature.

It’s because of these moments that I seriously considered holding this review for SBR’s Romance Saturday promotion. But SPIRAL PATH, all in all, is more than a romance: it’s all about finding yourself, even if the person you are consists of layers within layers without end . . . a spiral path indeed.

Bottom line: SPIRAL PATH was most definitely worth the wait, and is a worthy addition to the outstanding Night Calls series.

More, please, and soon!

Grade: A-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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An Interview with Novelist Extraordinaire Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

Over the past two years, we at Shiny Book Review have avidly devoured every last one of Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s novels — there are five to date (FIRES OF NUALA, HIDDEN FIRES, FIRE SANCTUARY, NIGHT CALLS, and KINDRED RITES), with a sixth, SPIRAL PATH, currently being polished even as we speak.

There’s a reason for that.

Put simply, anything Ms. Kimbriel writes is worth the price of admission. It doesn’t matter whether she writes fantasy or science fiction; it doesn’t matter whether she’s writing a young adult novel, as in her Night Calls series, or if she’s writing a complex and challenging far-future epic clearly meant for adults, as with her Chronicles of Nuala.

Whatever she writes is excellent in all particulars. Guaranteed.

So, without further ado, please welcome novelist Katharine Eliska Kimbriel!

SBR: You’ve written both fantasy and hard science fiction, and your writing has been well-received in both genres. What, if anything, do you do differently when writing a fantasy story as opposed to a SF story?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: As I mention over in my bio on Book View Cafe, I return to the question of power, and the metaphor is either magic or technology.  Who has it, who doesn’t, do they want it, what will they do with it, how were they affected by it?  It doesn’t matter if I’m writing tech or magic–I want to know how people are changed by their surroundings, events, and the catalyst–magic or tech.  On Nuala, a space-faring group of humans is changed forever by being stranded on a planet where the radiation breakdown is 3x what it is on Earth, with the resultant mutation and sterility factors to overcome.  They could dwindle into death, or they could blaze a new path.  In my fantasy, sometimes the magic solves problems, and sometimes it makes problems–but the people have to deal with it, while still living their lives and interacting with others, both magical and mundane.  I tend not to change a lot, when I create a society–I change a little, making an interesting blend from Earth societies, just to see what will happen.  On Nuala, I used three things, essentially–the increased radiation level, the mutated mineral-leeching microbe, and the mutation that amplified the ability to heal, the so-called King’s touch.

Little changes can multiply into big things!

SBR: How did you come up with your Chronicles of Nuala? (What gave you the initial idea?)

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Two things…I was fascinated by pictures of the huge vegetables growing in the soil around Hiroshima, and the rampant fertility of the soil. I’d also read about wiring a battery to a bone break to speed healing. So I took two questions: 1) What if people could not only survive, but in some weird way, thrive, in a radioactive environment? 2) What if the the concept of laying-on of hands to heal became a reality? Then the story began.

SBR: What was your first story sale? How did that lead into writing novels?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Actually, my first sale was Fire Sanctuary! I sold it to Bluejay Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s, but they never counter-signed the contract (they had no cash flow, and were in trouble) so I’d gotten an agent, who resold the book to Warner/Popular Library/Questar in about a year. Those were the bad old days. We were captive to New York publishing.

SBR: How did you come up with your Night Calls series starring Alfreda “Allie” Sorensson?

Older cover for NIGHT CALLS

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Allie leapt from my subconscious at a statement from the wonderful writer and editor Jane Yolen. She was doing a series of anthologies for Harper & Row, and the first one was to be Werewolves!. A group of us were lunching at World Fantasy Convention, and we were peppering her with questions, testing the start of funny or serious short pieces. I don’t write a lot of short things–they bloom quickly into novels. But I asked her, “Does the werewolf have to be seen?” Jane replied, “The werewolf does not have to be seen, but its presence has to be felt.”

New cover for NIGHT CALLS

I then had two very sharp images come to mind. First, a young girl in clothing that was not modern–either pre- or post modern–gently brushing away snow to find garlic attempting to root under a window, and a young girl with long, blond braids dragging a chair to an interior door to hang up a braid of garlic. In that first version, Allie was post-apocalyptic, but Kim Moran at Amazing Stories convinced me to place her in the past. Allie was born there.

SBR: What sorts of research did you do to add verisimilitude for each series?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: It depended on the story. I researched Antarctica and mineral-leeching microbes for Nuala–also Mirror Matter/antimatter, recessive eye colors, sequoias! For Allie’s world I have an extensive bookshelf of books on herbs, magic, folk tales, fairy stories of Scandinavia, Ireland and the world–colonial life and times. The War of 1812…

SBR: How well did you know Roger Zelasny, and what influence (if any) did he have on your work?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Roger Zelazny came to several Texas conventions when I lived in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.  I thought he was wonderful, and he decided I was pretty interesting, too.  I came up with the book title If at Faust You Don’t Succeed–that was the weekend he was all excited about the book he was writing from the POV of Jack the Ripper’s Dog, one of my favorite of his books, A Night In the Lonesome OctoberWe exchanged letters when his schedule permitted, and had started talking on the phone (we had different networks, which back then was a good thing–we could swap industry gossip!) when he became ill with his cancer.  Only very, very close friends, most of them in New Mexico, knew how ill he was…I was ready to come to Santa Fe at that point, but did not hear back from him.  Then word went out through the fan networks that he had died, and I knew why I had not heard back. Instead of seeing him, I was writing an elegy for Locus and a sympathy note to Jane Lindskold.

I miss him still.  He never got to see Allie, he was too ill to read the story.  Roger taught me to write short stories as if they were the last chapter of a novel–and a lot about writing dialogue.  You can follow his dialog for pages without any qualifiers telling you who is speaking.  That helps me remember to keep speech patterns distinct.

SBR: How is being published by Book View Cafe different from working with your previous publisher(s)? What do you like about this approach, and do you think there will be more consortiums like BVC in the future?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: It is collaborative, because as a coop we do everything, and we help with everything.  We have a huge forum where there are topics for kibbitzing on cover art, layout, back cover blurbs–we have people currently specializing in everything from ebook formatting to keeping the web site going through blogging and copy editing.  There are people shepherding production schedules and volunteers.  I could not have gotten my books up without my fellow authors, due to my health problems back in the early BVC years.  I hope I have been useful to them.  Right now I do everything from woman the events calendar to serve as a member of the board.  And as you know, I mention all the great books we bring out.  It’s a blessing to me that everyone in the coop is good at what they write, whether their work is to my personal tastes or not.  I have no hesitation bringing their books to the attention of my fans, because there’s a chance that some of them may be looking for just that type of book.

I do think the producer cooperative model will be a successful one for writers.  We are inventing a new way to do business, but we are hopeful and making more money each year,  So…forward!

SBR: You’ve recently announced (via Facebook) that the third book in the Night Calls series has been finished. How soon will it be available?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Well, I’m editing. Once I am satisfied with it, Spiral Path will go to at least one Book View Cafe member for a beta read, because it is an original work. (Also to my cover artist, Mitchell Bentley.) It’s at least a four month lag time from that point. I hope at the end of this week to be able to ballpark it, because I want to send out print copies for review to Locus and possibly Rave Reviews. End of summer, if I can get the lead slot at Book View Cafe? This is possibly Allie’s last chance. I have to make some money from the books, because I spent a great deal of money staying alive. I have to make a living and try to replenish the emptied investment account. So…if not Allie, I will have to try writing something else. In fact, I will be starting a new series, a contemporary fantasy, after this, and also, I hope a fourth Allie book, if she’s still telling me her story.

(Interviewer’s aside: Let us sincerely hope so! Allie’s a great character and I want more of her, pronto. End of aside.) 

SBR: Ms. Kimbriel, e-books of all five of your novels are available right now. But what about hard-copy, “dead tree” editions? Are they, too, available now?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Well, all my books exist in paper. I just don’t get any money for sales of the SF, unless you buy them from me at a convention! I’ll do the third Allie in print, but the sales on the SF are not great enough to justify new cover art. So don’t expect the Nuala books in print soon–I need a better paying job first! On the other hand, I have some new copies of Hidden Fires that might interest folk… ;^)

SBR: As an editor, what is your favorite genre to edit? (Or do you like a little bit of everything?) And what is your favorite book that you’ve ever edited, and why?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Actually, I don’t have a favorite right now. I love the variety. I prefer fiction, and really enjoy concept editing. I like helping someone find their own voice and where they want to go, and making it the best book their idea can be. I would have liked being a NY editor, but that didn’t happen.

SBR: Why didn’t it happen?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Becoming a known concept editor who can make a living at it tends to start with a job (working) for a NY publisher. You had to move to NY in those days, and that was something I would not have dreamed of doing when I was first publishing–my husband had a good job in Texas, and Texas was having its first tech boom at that time. Later I was trying to establish a business that would let me write fiction part time, and I was looking for life balance, so I became a clinical massage therapist. Finally, I became ill, and life has been catch-up ever since. So although I have been told by many writers that I am a good concept editor, and my resume tag line is “Writer, editor, and trainer specializing in retaining the authentic client voice”, becoming a developmental editor at this point is unlikely.

SBR: What do you think is most important when pursuing a career as a writer and editor? Talent? Persistence? Money? Connections? A little of everything? (And does fame, at all, interest you? If it does, how so? And if not, why not?)

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: None of those things hurt. To be a writer, a storyteller, you need stories you are driven to tell (and that may be harder than ever to do, with even more life distractions out there!) persistence, and talent. To be published requires persisting…at the writing, the submissions, or researching how to do it yourself. And then researching how to promote, or not–how to submit the book to a few review sites and let it go, keep writing.

Fame interests me only as a medium to reach more readers with my stories. Money, sadly, would be handy–I spent a fortune staying alive, and I must work now, and need a decent income. If the writing cannot pull its weight, then I have to relegate it to a hobby and return to school or take whatever I can find in the current market. I think Alfreda will outlive me, but who knows what future creators will do with her and her tales. I don’t know about anything else I’ve written or may yet write.

SBR: One, final question: What would you like to say to new authors?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: If you have a story that keeps you awake at night, then you may just be a storyteller. Figure out how you want to tell it–book, graphic novel, film–and go for it. No other hobby can compete with creating something unique. Don’t let it be the thing you regret most in life; the thing you never tried.

If you have regrets? Don’t let them be your stories.

Again, many thanks to Katharine Eliska Kimbriel for consenting to this wide-ranging interview . . . now, go forth and read her books already!

— interviewed by Barb

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Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s “Kindred Rites” is Fantastic Frontier Fiction

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s KINDRED RITES is the second book in a series about young Alfreda “Allie” Sorensson, a magic practitioner from an alternate, frontier version of Michigan. (The first book, NIGHT CALLS, was reviewed here).**

Because Allie is quite far out of the common way when it comes to magic due to her enormous power, she’s been apprenticed to her Aunt Marta and sent off to learn magic. However, she’s still close to her family and visits often — which is one of the reasons KINDRED RITES starts off with Allie back home, dealing with a poltergeist and wondering why she can’t seem to catch a break.

Even Allie, you see, sometimes wants to be normal. And normality, for 19th Century Michigan, whether it contains magic or not, means getting to know your neighbors as they may make the difference between life and death on the frontier. (It’s not all about politeness; it’s more about practicality.) So when an intriguing young man named Erik Hudson talks with her at a local dance, she takes notice . . . even though it’s not necessarily for the way she thinks at first.

See, Allie is way too young to date or court. And she knows it. But because she’s tall for her age, and accomplished, too, young men have started to sniff around her. Providing they’re polite about it — and Erik is oh, so achingly polite — all she can do is grit her teeth and bear it.

Allie’s aware that she’s different in this regard from her frivolous, yet fun friend Idelia, a girl who’s looking forward to marriage already, and enjoys pitting one pubescent boy after another against each other. Being different from her normal, non-magical friend makes Allie feel sad.

But Allie doesn’t have time for sadness. Despite her extreme youth, she’s already quite competent at midwifery and other healing skills, and is sometimes sent to deal with problems when Aunt Marta is not available. Note that Marta is not being negligent — it’s just that if there’s two births at once, it’s obvious that Marta must attend one while Allie must attend the other. As this is how apprenticeships of all sorts worked in the 19th Century, as teenagers were expected to be responsible (even as young as thirteen) while learning a saleable craft, this detail adds an additional level of verisimilitude.

But getting sent out by herself means Allie’s exposed to far more dangers . . . including kidnapping, which happens at the moment she least expects it. And even though she’s already known to Azrael, the Angel of Death, something that’s unheard of for a thirteen-year-old magic user, Azrael can only advise her if asked.

Will Allie be able to defeat the kidnappers and return home? Or won’t she? And what will she learn about herself along the way? All of those questions, plus many more besides, will be answered. But as usual in the books of Ms. Kimbriel, they’ll raise even more, intriguing questions.

Allie is a compelling character, who does what farm girls from that time period did (card wool, quilt, gather herbs, cook) along with her study of magic. Her world feels real, her studies feel real, and her exasperation at Idelia over Idelia’s mooning over boys feels real, too.

Furthermore, Allie’s world contains many dangers. Her talents aren’t so prodigious that she can’t be endangered — it’s precisely because she’s so talented that she is endangered. And because she’s more self-aware than most thirteen-year-olds, she’s aware of this, too . . . which heightens the tension of Allie’s efforts to survive after being kidnapped.

Bottom line? This is one of the best historical dark fantasies I’ve ever read. I deeply enjoyed Allie’s second tale, and plan to re-read it many, many times over the years to come.

One final thought: If you’ve not read any of Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s books yet, what’s stopping you?

Grade: A-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s “Night Calls” is Excellent, Rousing YA Fantasy Adventure

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s NIGHT CALLS is about magic on the American frontier.  As such, it’s both an alternate history and a fantasy.  And as its protagonist is the young Alfreda Sorensson, it’s a story that’s meant for all ages.

So you’re to be pardoned if you think, “Well, Barb, come on!  What’s so special about that?  You’ve already reviewed Patricia C. Wrede’s THE FAR FRONTIER, haven’t you?  Isn’t that the same thing?”

Well, yes and no.  It is the same type of novel, for certain.  But Ms. Kimbriel did it first, as the paperback edition of NIGHT CALLS first came out in 1996 . . . which means that if we’re about to have a showdown as to one-upmanship (really, do we need one?), Ms. Kimbriel would come out the winner even though both authors are well worth the reading.

But I digress.

More importantly than what specific type of novel NIGHT CALLS is — is it dark fantasy?  Is it alternate history?  Is it YA?  Is it all of the above?  (Yes, yes, yes, and yes . . . ) — you need to know one thing, and one thing only.

It was written by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel.  So it’s extremely good.

The plot itself is compelling, mind you.  Alfreda starts out at the tender age of eleven thinking she’s much like other girls, even though it’s clear from the start that she isn’t.  She has a few friends, she loves to read, she loves her family, but a crisis that’s precipitated by a werewolf thrusts her magic into the picture far earlier than she would’ve liked.  When her brother’s life is lost due to the werewolf, she wonders what good magic is — this mostly is subtextual, mind you, but it’s real and it’s there — which points out that no matter how much power you have, life is something that cannot be taken for granted.

This one thing helps to ground the novel from the start, and is a welcome change from many other contemporary dark fantasy novels.  (Yes, Stephanie Meyer, I’m looking squarely at you.)

Alfreda’s adventures as she grows into her young womanhood — some quiet, some decidedly not — are excellent and rousing.  She is not the type of young woman to sit on the sidelines and wait for men to do her work for her — no, she’s going to do for herself, thank you.  And as she learns and grows, she also becomes more and more herself and happy to be so, which is why I found reading NIGHT CALLS to be both life-affirming and something that lifted my spirits no end.

Look.  I know this sounds like I’m laying it on thick, but I’m not.  Alfreda, for all her strengths — and she has many — is no one’s Mary Sue.  While she’s exactly the type of young woman every parent would like to have, being resourceful and intelligent, she still has some weaknesses as she skews like a real person.  And while she obviously has magic, she sees it as a responsibility, partly because she’s a farm girl at heart and is used to doing all sorts of chores.

So there’s the value of hard work.  There’s the value of personal sacrifice.  There’s the value of human dignity.  There’s a good deal about religion and spirituality, discussed in a quiet, calm way that I found particularly appealing.  And there’s a rousing action-adventure going on throughout that makes you forget about all of the above until the book is over and you start thinking about how wonderful it all was before you turn back to read it all over again.

Bottom line?  NIGHT CALLS is excellent.  Truly, truly excellent.  It’s a can’t-miss novel with heart, style and wit that will please all ages.  Guaranteed.

Grade: A-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s “Hidden Fires”is Intriguing, Intelligent SF Romance

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s HIDDEN FIRES is the third book of her Chronicles of Nuala to be reviewed here at Shiny Book Review, but is the second book in the series in chronological sequence, following FIRES OF NUALA (FIRE SANCTUARY was the first book written and sold).  As it is the second book in sequence with FIRES OF NUALA, many of the same characters appear as in the previous novel, including Sheel Atare, his wife, Darame, his sister, Avis (the Ragäree, both a powerful politician and a huge symbol of fertility for both the Atare family and Nuala as a whole), and many more.  As with FIRES OF NUALA, there’s a complex plot, a goodly amount of realistic romance, and worldbuilding that is second to none, along with a great deal of storytelling that, put simply, drew me right in and never let me go.

New to HIDDEN FIRES is Garth Kristinsson, the son of free-traders.  He has a past connection to the woman he knows as “Silver” — Darame — and he’s bent on finding her.  However, he doesn’t know she’s gone to Nuala, much less that she’s now a member of the Nualan aristocracy — he only knows her as a former free-trader of considerable acumen, and someone who may know exactly why Garth’s father was murdered.

As with FIRE SANCTUARY, we see Garth’s slow transition to Nuala and the difficulties he endures, particularly with regards to the irradiated food (Nuala has some severe problems with radiation, which has caused systemic problems with fertility and many, many other issues).    The main thing to consider is that unlike in FIRE SANCTUARY, or even in FIRES OF NUALA, Garth the reluctant, possible immigrant is not taken in hand by the honest, ethical and forthright Atare family — instead, he’s taken in hand by Lucy, a scion of the diabolical Dielaan family.  Lucy’s interest in Garth is two-fold: One, Garth is an off-worlder, so his genes have not been compromised by radiation and should be able to give her at least one healthy child if all goes well.  And two, because Garth is an off-worlder with an enigmatic connection to Darame Atarae (meaning, the wife of the Atare), perhaps Garth can be used by the Dielaan.

However, what Garth really doesn’t understand is that there’s a power struggle going on with the Dielaaners.  Rex Dielaan, the next head of the family, is twenty-one, hot-blooded, and impatient.  All of that could be worked around by his mother, Livia (the Ragäree of Dielaan, an ethical, though ruthless, woman).  But the fact that Rex is both xenophobic and psychotic is something that gives her great pause.

Unfortunately for all concerned, Lucy either does not realize Rex is crazy, or she’s willing to go along with him.  Yet she’s drawn to Garth, and really wants to be with him . . . which way will Lucy turn when the worst happens?  (Further reviewer sayeth not, at least not about this.)

Getting back to the Sheel/Darame arc, Sheel has grown into his role as both Atare and healer.  He’s been aided in this by Darame, who as a former free-trader (think: consummate con artist, who only cons other con artists) is skilled at sniffing out scams and is nearly as skilled dealing with various forms of political intrigue.  They now have three children who will never rule due to the peculiar inheritance laws of Nuala (the next ruler will be one of Avis’s sons, which is part of why the Ragäree is so important), but of course Darame wants them to grow up to be strong, intelligent, capable, and ethical — what every good parent wants for his/her child, in short.

Sheel and Darame, surprisingly enough, are very good friends with Livia, the Ragäree of Dielaan.  They’re aware of at least some of Rex’s problems, mostly because Livia’s second son, Quin, has ended up with many of Rex’s duties due to Rex not wanting to be bothered.  As noblesse oblige is a very big part of the Nualan aristocracy (even though it’s not called that), this has not set well with Livia, Sheel or Darame because a poor ruler can do a great deal of harm without even trying.

And, of course, Rex is trying his best to live up to the worst aspects of the Dielaan family, which may plunge all of Nuala into a war.  (Thus ends the plot summary, or I’ll give far too much away.)

Look.  This is a book that you really need to read if you love science fiction, romance, or any blend of the two.  It’s complex, engrossing, honest, surprising, intelligent in how it deals with the problems of a completely different world with its own history and nuances, even more intelligent when it deals with the problems unwitting potential immigrants face on Nuala, and contains two realistic and root-worthy romances in the continuing, enduring love between Darame and Sheel, and the newfound romance between Garth and Lucy.

If there is a flaw here, it’s that Garth’s character seems remarkably naïve.  There were times I just wanted to shake him, because he obviously didn’t know what he was getting into, and Lucy’s oblique hints just weren’t helping.  Yet Garth being young and impulsive enough to have followed Darame’s trail for a hundred subjective years (most of that spent in cryogenic freeze/sleep) is an important plot point, and I’m not sure if there was another way to get this point across.  (Really, an older, wiser man would’ve given up long ago and never ended up on Nuala at all.)

I also was a bit annoyed by Lucy.  She was smart, well-educated, ethical in her fashion and honest, but she couldn’t seem to figure out that Rex was flat-out crazy until way too close to the end to suit me.  (I’m dancing around the spoilers, folks.  All apologies if I’ve unwittingly given something away.)  She truly cared about Garth.  She wanted the two of them to have a future.  But she couldn’t see a way through to that future, and was so inarticulate about it that it took a miracle of subtext by Ms. Kimbriel to get this fact across — a very neat authorial thing to do, and something for which I applaud Ms. Kimbriel.

While I enjoyed HIDDEN FIRES a great deal and found it a worthy companion to the two other novels comprising the Chronicles of Nuala, I adjudged it just short of a full “A” mark.  So the grades stand as follows:

HIDDEN FIRES: A-minus.  (Solid, smart, entertaining, intelligent, and two good romances.  What more could you want, save a bit more life out of Lucy and a bit less naïveté from Garth?)

For the Chronicles of Nuala as a whole: A.

— reviewed by Barb

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“Fire Sanctuary” — Another Excellent Novel of Nuala by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

FIRE SANCTUARY, technically, is the third book in the Chronicles of Nuala by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel.  (The first book in the series, THE FIRES OF NUALA, was reviewed here.)  But it was the first released, and as it contains different characters and situations than THE FIRES OF NUALA or HIDDEN FIRES (to be reviewed soon), it can be read alone.

If you’ve read THE FIRES OF NUALA, you already know how important the Atare are to the people of Nuala.  The Atare are aristocrats of the first water, and are a fertile family made up of “20s” (the infertile, or people with borderline fertility, are called “80s”).  Their leadership has been essential to the survival of Nuala.

The main storyline of FIRE SANCTUARY deals with the interplay of five characters — Moran and Lyte, officers from the Axis worlds, Braan and Ronuviel (“Roe”) Atare, siblings and an important part of the Nualan aristocracy, and Teloa, a planter from Caprica.  Perhaps Teloa’s story is the simplest, as she lands on Nuala and immediately claims sanctuary.  As Nuala has been known for millenia as a planet that will welcome anyone, providing you are willing to be honest about who you are and who you’ve been, she is accepted with relative ease — especially as planters are valued highly on Nuala.

Now, the main reason we have so many differing and important characters involved is this: there’s a war brewing, and Nuala may not be able to stay out of it.  The Axis has been at war with the Fewha Empire for many years, and in this conflict, it’s possibly easiest to see the Fewhas as classic xenophobes, while the Axis is the old, corrupt empire that no one particularly wants to belong to, but everyone (save the Fewhas) has been forced to deal with anyway.  Moran and Lyte have long been considered essential to the Axis, yet because times are changing — and because Moran has fallen in love with Roe — both Moran and Lyte have been ordered to Nuala.

This is much more important than it seems, and not just because Moran and Lyte have major roles to play in FIRE SANCTUARY.  You see, the Fewhas quickly attack Nuala and drive the Axis off.  Nuala sustains a great deal of damage, with many people killed, even more crops destroyed and no real way of getting back at the Fewhas save by surviving long enough to outwait them.  And because of the immediate attack, Braan, formerly a third son, and his sister Roe must assume power as the ruling Atare (Braan) and the Ragäree (Roe).  This is no light thing, as what they actually now are happens to be the most important political leader and the most important, living symbol of fertility the Nualans have.

Obviously, Braan and Roe will need all the help they can get.  And Moran and Lyte’s help will be considerable.  But don’t underestimate Teloa — she’s not only a planter, but has also been a “hustler” (what might be considered as a particularly high-end prostitute).  She’s been forced to live by her wits due to a planetary disaster at Caprica, and because of that, she’s become an extremely quick study.

Which is a good thing, because as Teloa finds out, Nuala is a tough place to live.

As previously seen, Nuala is an extremely fragile planetary ecosystem.  The radiation is what’s damaged so many people’s fertility over time, and it still needs to be accounted for in every facet of daily life.  Planters like Teloa are valued because they must deal with the fact of the radiation along with everything else, and every available method — including sophisticated solutions from the Axis-aligned worlds and much easier, yet more intensive, methods such as crop rotation — must be applied or Nuala cannot feed its people.

And it’s because Nuala is so fragile that a most unusual system of marriage has cropped up.  The Atare have been bound by law to marry only off-worlders for years due to Nuala’s radiation and the need for off-world genes to add to the mix, and because of this, the Atare may take only one spouse as the people of Nuala have found, over time, that off-worlders do not take too well to polygamy or polygyny.  Plus, there are extensive rules, lightly sketched by Ms. Kimbriel yet real, dealing with how the 20s may not take multiple spouses unless they do so from the 80s . . . and the upshot of all these rules is that the people of Nuala (Ms. Kimbriel never calls them “Nualans”) are both moral and flexible when it comes to dealing with human sexuality.

The good part of this is that there literally are no illegitimate children.  Like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, children are known by their mother’s name the vast majority of the time (only the aristocrats take a surname, it seems).  And even when a father is acknowledged, his contact with the child he’s fathered seems largely up to the individual — something Ms. Kimbriel denotes by the attitudes of both Moran and Lyte as they acclimate to the society of Nuala.

Most of FIRE SANCTUARY deals with how Nuala must adapt and survive now that the Axis has withdrawn from actively helping them keep the Fewhas off.  Yet all of this action is underscored by the human relationships we see between Roe and her husband Moran, Braan’s growing attachment to Teloa, and Lyte’s various adventures.

And that doesn’t even get into the important minor characters, including the remaining family of Roe and Braan, the high priest and priestess of Nuala, the other healers (Roe’s contemporaries), and the movers and shakers among both the Sinis (the radioactive people) and the Ciedärlien (nomadic tribes that live in what was once an inhospitable waste).

Overall, FIRE SANCTUARY is an excellent novel, full of believable characters, interesting challenges, cross-cultural romance, and a goodly amount of action. As it was Ms. Kimbriel’s first-ever published novel, it’s not quite as good as her later FIRES OF NUALA — but that’s like saying an orange isn’t quite as good as an orange with chocolate sauce on it.

Really, the only bad thing about FIRE SANCTUARY is this — it needs a sequel.  Because I really want to find out how Braan, Roe, and the rest manage to keep the Fewhas off while staying alive to appreciate another day (or three).

Grade: A.

— reviewed by Barb

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Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s “The Fires of Nuala” — Complex, Engrossing SF with Romance

It’s Saturday, which for all long-term readers of Shiny Book Review means one and only one thing — it’s time for a romance.

Some weeks are better than others in this regard.  I’ve reviewed romances of all descriptions, plus some books that have romance encapsulated in them but are not predominantly romances.  Tonight I have one of the latter in Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s THE FIRES OF NUALA, surely one of the best books I’ve read all year.  (Note: if you’d rather buy this through Amazon, here’s that link.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The main characters here are Sheel, who will soon be Atare (the ruler of his clan) despite being a Healer gifted with both empathy and the ability to diagnose by touch-telepathy, and Darame, an off-world woman and “free trader” who’s really a combination spy and criminal, but with one caveat: she only cheats other spies and criminals.  The two share one night of passion, then wake up to disaster.  The four or five people who’d been heirs before Sheel are all either dead or dying, and no one’s certain as to anyone’s underlying motivations.  Darame is immediately a suspect despite having an undeniable alibi — she was with Sheel, and in a mightily compromising position, to boot — but Sheel knows that Darame could not possibly be involved.

The plot thickens when it’s discovered that the guaard around Sheel’s kin when they were murdered had been changed at the last minute in a way that’s extremely suspicious.  This suspicion is contrary to everything the guaard stands for, as these complex people — more than security guards, they take an oath to the various noble families (such as Sheel’s) in a quasi-feudalistic rite — have been thought incorruptible.  But when Sheel’s own guaard commander Mailan concurs with Darame’s assessment that at least some of the guaard have been compromised, this forces Sheel to start thinking outside the box immediately in order to assure his kin’s safety.

Of course, Darame immediately suspects another off-worlder in this conspiracy to subvert the guaard and kill Sheel’s kin, as the man who brought her to Nuala in the first place, an enigmatic career criminal named Brant, is definitely hiding something.  That Brant has also made it very difficult for Darame to find out what’s happened to her mentor Halsey, who’s stood as a father figure to her for years, just adds fuel to the fire.

But there’s deeper waters ahead, things that have to do with Nuala’s unusual way of inheritance (half goes through a female offshoot of the family line, this leader being called the “ragäree,” with the other half going through the male) and the fact that the current ragäree-presumptive, Leah — Sheel’s eldest sister — is barren and is trying to cover it up.

Nuala, you see, has had major difficulties with radiation sickness over the centuries.  Eighty percent of its population is either outright sterile or is “borderline,” meaning they may or may not ever be able to have children.  And some — the Sinis and “mock-Sinis” — are so radioactive that people either can’t be around them at all (the former) or for not very long (the latter).  And it’s because of the radiation sickness that this particular way of inheritance became common in the larger families where money and influence was at stake.

So there’s murder.  Conspiracy.  Greed.  The conflict between what’s always been done and new, unexpected methods.  A political economy that’s based on fertile Nualans going off-world regularly in order to bring back healthy genes and/or healthy people who wish to settle there, lest Nuala die out.  A hereditary line of inheritance that’s different, but makes sense according to everything I’ve ever read, sociologically.  And an excellent romance that’s based on competence, mutual regard, and shared values as much as it is about two healthy people in their prime being sexually aware of each other and acting on it.

Ms. Kimbriel has developed a rich, well-developed world to play in, and she does so with great flair.  The characterization is outstanding from beginning to end.  The world building is first-rate.  The romance between Sheel, who needs an off-world bride but has given up on finding one, and Darame, the off-worlder who’d never thought she’d find someone she wanted to settle down with due to her chosen profession, is one of the best I’ve ever read in the science fiction and/or romance categories.  Even the dialogue reads well and easily, which is no mean feat considering all the Nualan loan words.

THE FIRES OF NUALA, written in 1988 and reissued** in 2010, is a book that should be in every science fiction library as it is complex, engrossing, interesting, compelling, and outstanding.  This is the first book in a trilogy and sets up Nuala, its conflicts, its vital people, and its unique and special problems as a world that you will want to revisit again and again.

Why THE FIRES OF NUALA isn’t already known as an outstanding epic science fiction novel of the best kind — complete with romance — is beyond me.   Some novels do not find their entire audience the first time around, and perhaps that was the case here.

However, considering THE FIRES OF NUALA has been reissued by Book View Cafe, you owe it to yourself to read this outstanding novel.  Especially if you love epics, complex plots with spots of humor, cultural clashes, well-drawn generational battles, or simply enjoy a good yarn that’s extremely well told.

Bottom line?  Technically, THE FIRES OF NUALA is a combination of space opera, romance and mystery.  Book View Cafe’s own description calls it “perfect for fans of Darkover and Pern,” and I can’t say they’re wrong.

But in my view, that’s only part of the appeal here, as I’d classify THE FIRES OF NUALA as closer to DUNE on an epic scale (more understandable, and far more fun, but lots of history and interest that reminded me of Frank Herbert) far more than it did any of the Darkover or Pern novels, even the most complex (such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s THE SHATTERED CHAIN or SHARRA’S EXILE).

If you haven’t read THE FIRES OF NUALA already — and I’m betting most of you haven’t — you need to pick it up, pronto.  Or you will be missing out on something extraordinary.

Grade:  A-plus.

— reviewed by Barb 

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** Upon further review, I’ve been reliably informed by Ms. Kimbriel that THE FIRES OF NUALA that I just read is the very same, exact version put out in 1988.  Which makes me wonder, again, what was in the water that year that the awards committees for the various high-profile ceremonies didn’t even consider this amazing novel.  (Shame on them.)

So if you bought a copy back in 1988, and read it and loved it, you do not need to worry about anything having changed.  (But if you want an e-book copy to augment your hard copy, you still might want to look at Book View Cafe’s reissue as $4.99 for an e-book of this size is an absolute steal.)

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