Posts Tagged Rosemary Edghill
It’s Romance Saturday at SBR! So what could be better than a little YA romance coupled with suspense and neo-Arthurian myth?
VICTORIES, the fourth and final book of the Shadow Grail series by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill, again takes up where book three, SACRIFICES, left off. (Books one and two were reviewed here.) Muirin is dead, but her friends Spirit White (pictured on the cover), Spirit’s boyfriend Burke Hallows, and their BFFs Addie Lake and Lachlann “Loch” Spears are on the run from the evil Shadow Knights. They now know for certain that the head of Oakhurst Academy, Doctor Ambrosius, is not just evil, but is actually Mordred . . . and he’s been around since the fall of Camelot.
Why is this important? Well, Mordred was imprisoned in an oak tree for millenia, and only “woke up” as himself in the 1970s, only to then “borrow” a body from a biker for his own, personal use. Ever since, has been using his magic to recreate the conditions of Camelot — but on his terms.
And Ambrosius/Mordred knows very little about the modern world, despite the technology he and his school have been using throughout. Which is much more of a problem than it seems — but I’ll get back to that momentarily.
Anyway, Spirit and her friends end up being guided by the mysterious QUERCUS to a deserted missile silo out in the middle of nowhere. A strange woman, who seems to know them somehow, helps them get down into the silo, where food and rest awaits. Then, after they sleep the sleep of the truly exhausted (or maybe the just, I don’t know), they find out from this woman that QUERCUS wants to talk . . . via the very old computer equipment in the silo, which uses extremely old technology that has to warm up for quite some time to be used — but is still operational.
So far, so good. The story is told with breathless abandon, and the technology is explained enough that it passes and sounds logical, as it’s conceivable that this silo would be both abandoned and discounted by Mordred.
But QUERCUS gives Spirit some very bad news. He is the Merlin — yes, that Merlin — and he now exists solely as a computer program. Because of this, he’s been able to warn her and her friends . . . but because he no longer has corporeal form, nor any way to regain it (as he won’t do what Mordred did as it’s the blackest of black magic — possession), he cannot fight the Shadow Knights or Mordred directly. All he can do at this point is advise.
Making matters worse yet, Spirit finds out for certain that she and all of her friends — including the departed Muirin — are “Reincarnates” — that is, people who lived during the time of Camelot and have reincarnated at this time in place in order to fight Mordred one, last time.
In fact, Spirit was once Guinevere — the sword Spirit is carrying is actually Guin’s, in fact — and Burke was King Arthur. Addie was once the Lady of the Lake, famed for her healing abilities, and Loch — well, he was Lancelot. (I had hoped he’d be Sir Gawain, personally. Ah, well.)
And all of that is important, too, because these four must find something called “the Four Hallows” — four talismans of great power — in order to invoke their prior memories as these fabled people. Because they cannot beat Mordred if they stay the way they are, even with their magic . . . and they must beat Mordred, as Mordred’s idea of “winning” starts with all-out war and goes downhill from there.
Worst of all, because Mordred didn’t live through the Cold War (much; one assumes he wasn’t paying much attention after he “borrowed” the biker’s body he’s been using), Mordred has no fear of a nuclear holocaust. But his own Shadow Knights — those who fought on Mordred’s side back in the day, who have been reincarnated in our time and were awakened by Mordred — definitely do.
Which may give Spirit and the others an opening . . . (further reviewer sayeth about the plot — at least not yet).
There’s a lot to like about VICTORIES. It’s a rip-roaring action-adventure with some mild romance, a good amount of mystery and magic, and a believable fight against the darkest evil magician ever created for the highest of stakes — life itself. I loved the good characters, hated the evil ones, and wanted good to win out — all fine and dandy.
That said, because the book went by so fast, I missed some of the characterization I’d so adored in the previous three books. I like Spirit, Burke, Addie, and Loch, you see — but I wasn’t overly fond of Guinevere, King Arthur, the Lady of the Lake and Sir Lancelot. And while I liked how they faded in and out of focus — that is a very tough trick to pull off, having one soul with two full sets of memories in one body, and I give Ms. Lackey and Ms. Edghill full “props” for doing so — I mostly got annoyed whenever Guin, Arthur, etc., showed up to talk in “High Forsoothly” (what Ms. Lackey and Ms. Edghill called the more formal Renaissance-sounding English constructions, something that amused me very much).
Another thing that frustrated me a tad was the nature of Spirit and Burke”s romance. These two love each other in a somewhat chaste teenage way, which is sensible considering the context. (Who wants to make out in front of your two best friends in such close quarters?) But finding out these two had been married, and had many remembrances of being with each other as full adults, was a little tough for me to handle. I kept thinking that if I were Queen Guinevere and King Arthur, I’d want to steal away to some little grotto somewhere and just get it on — using proper safe-sex practices, of course — as these two supposedly had a legendary romance. And as Spirit and Burke were sometimes also Guin and Arthur, I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why they didn’t do that.
Maybe it’s a good thing that this element didn’t come into play, mind. This is a series meant for tweens and teens. Too much sexual activity would’ve perhaps taken the focus away from all of that action-adventure. But finding out some information through pillow-talk between Guin and Arthur would’ve been extremely interesting; having Burke and Spirit have to deal with the aftermath of that also would’ve been quite riveting.
The reason this is only a minor quibble, though, is because Ms. Lackey and Ms. Edghill clearly set it up that Guin and Arthur’s marriage was more one of state than one of love. (Which would be accurate for the times they lived in, granted. Damned few people married for love back then.) They were great friends, yes. And they cared about each other deeply. But there was actually more romance between Spirit and Burke in this time than there seems to have been between Guin and Arthur.
The other teensy issue I had with VICTORIES is that the ending goes by too fast. (Spoiler alert! Turn away now. You have been warned.) I wanted to see Mordred suffer, and I wanted to see our four heroes be able to luxuriate in the victory while thinking about how terrible it is that Muirin didn’t live to see the day — and while I got a little of the latter, I just didn’t get anywhere near enough of the former to suit me.
Bottom line? This is a nice evocation of the Arthurian mythos for the 21st Century Millenial crowd, and I enjoyed it very much. But it doesn’t stand alone — please read LEGACIES, CONSPIRACIES, and SACRIFICES first.
VICTORIES — B-plus.
Shadow Grail series — A-minus.
–reviewed by Barb
Rosemary Edghill is one of the world’s most versatile writers. She’s been reviewed multiple times at Shiny Book Review, and for good reason . . . she never seems to write a bad book, regardless of genre.
Note that IDEALITY has already been reviewed here at SBR under the title THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS. Only the title has changed. So my comments about it will, of necessity, be brief.
IDEALITY is a novel that’s partly horror, partly fantasy, and all its own. It features Childeric the Shatterer, a character of myth and legend originally dreamed up by modern-day writer Arcadia Stanton McCauley (most often known as Cady), a fifty-one-year-old woman. When the two of their stories intersect, many unusual events occur, some incredibly violent, some surprisingly tender, and some nearly inexplicable.
IDEALITY is a novel that grows on you. The writing is stellar, as you’d expect (c’mon, it’s Rosemary Edghill!), and it varies between high fantasy courtly speech (with all its signs and portents) and, once in Cady’s point of view, is told in a contemporary, direct and sometimes snarky commentary. This juxtaposition is interesting and rarely seen in contemporary works of fantasy and/or horror.
Mind you, the horror element in and of itself unusual, and yet is strikingly modern all the same, while the storytelling in both sections (Childeric’s and Cady’s) is exceptional.
Don’t miss IDEALITY, one of the most original works of fiction I’ve read in the past fifteen years.
Next up is FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT, which is a short story collection featuring Bast, perhaps Ms. Edghill’s most popular character ever.** Bast is a Wiccan priestess from New York City who struggles with her faith, solves murder mysteries and is one of the most intelligent characters in or out of detective fiction.
That being said, here are the stories in the collection, reviewed one at a time:
“Advice from a Young Witch to an Old Priestess:” This is about Bast’s first experiences with the Wiccan faith. She wants to learn, there is a procedure as to how you learn from people already initiated in the Craft, and yet it can be tough to get started due to the secrecy of the people already involved and the hoop-jumping required to show your bona fides before you ever get a chance to prove yourself as a dedicated student. In addition, Bast’s relationship with a male NeoPagan, Lark, is a big part of the plotline — why this is so is all bound up in Bast’s faith, and how she admits she was searching for answers, and wasn’t quite ready for what she found.
Mind you, this is the one Bast story extant where Bast doesn’t solve an external mystery. The mysteries here are all internal instead.
Why is Bast putting up with the exceedingly immature Lark? Why has she bought into the concept of Free Love (as this story is set in the early 1970s) without a qualm? And why does it takes her a while to figure out that faith and responsibility go hand in hand?
Ultimately, this is an interesting story of an extremely intelligent woman who admits she’s flawed and made mistakes trying to find her feet in a faith that’s not exactly commonplace. Watching her make these mistakes as they happen is sometimes uncomfortable, but that’s because it’s easy to identify with Bast’s plight despite her unusual religion — or because of it.
“The Iron Bride:” This Bast adventure is a straight-up mystery. Who has killed pagan swordsmith Wayland Smith? For what purpose? And will the police ever believe Bast once she figures it out?
This story is perhaps the strongest in the collection because of several things. Bast is a smart woman who makes wisecracks and uses her knowledge of the Wiccan faith to solve murders no one else is likely to solve quickly (or perhaps at all), and there is a logical progression she follows that explains just who killed the swordsmith and why.
“A Winter’s Tale:” This is a conversational story between Bast and Lark while they both work at an occult shop in New York City. Lark had run across a very strange occurrence years ago, and wants Bast’s opinion — Bast, of course, would rather be anywhere else, but she needs the work and there’s a snowstorm outside anyway, so she listens. Slowly, the story emerges, one of horror and faith intertwined . . . and a monkey’s paw is invoked (in both senses) by someone who has no idea what she’s doing, upping the complexity and the horror factor immediately.
This is a gripping story for all it’s “shaggy-Witch” quality, and it’s easy to see why Bast’s attention is arrested.
“Burden of Guilt:” Here, Bast helps out at an upscale pagan festival in upstate New York. This particular brand of paganism does not appeal to Bast, as she views it as a sellout: if enlightenment visits this festival’s participants at all, it has to be accidental. The main purpose of this festival is to separate the well-heeled from their money while making them feel good at the same time. She hates being there, and would not be if she didn’t need to make money to pay her rent, but ends up having to deal with a murder . . . Marcie Wheeler ends up dead, and a ghost named Edward Madison is blamed.
Of course, Bast figures out (by doing her research) that there never was an Edward Madison anywhere around this particular establishment. So someone has deliberately spread this rumor — why do so, and for what purpose?
Ultimately, the mystery is straightforward. The police probably would’ve figured this one out on their own, as there’s a particularly mundane reason for the murder (that I refuse to spoil), but because Bast is the first to do so, she’s in danger.
How will she get out of trouble? And will she ever forgive herself for making money at this particular establishment, considering they’re doing any number of things she outright despises?
The last two stories are different.
The first one, “A Christmas Witch,” is a pagan fable for young readers. Rowan is Wiccan, and wants to celebrate the winter holidays just like anyone else. But her family hasn’t explained what they do to celebrate the holidays, instead telling her to wait and see . . . and like any young child, this does not go over well.
Ultimately, Rowan figures it out and is left satisfied.
This is a cute story that I enjoyed very much; it’s short and pithy, very different in tone than the four “Bast” stories, but welcome all the same.
The final story is an essay that was originally included at the end of the first full-length Bast mystery, SPEAK DAGGERS TO HER. Ms. Edghill explains what her motivation was for writing this book — an old, unsolved mystery that she’d always wanted to explore, that just did not leave her alone no matter what she did.
So she wrote it.
(If she hadn’t, I doubt any of the other material would’ve existed, except perhaps for “The Christmas Witch.” But I digress.)
Ultimately, FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT is an entertaining short collection — about 100 pages in length — and I enjoyed it very much. (My only wish? That there were more Bast stories left to explore.)
IDEALITY — A-plus.
FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT — A.
— reviewed by Barb
**Full disclosure: I helped Ms. Edghill find someone who could help her format FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT, and was surprised to see that she’d written me a dedication thereby. I didn’t do anything else with regards to this book, which is why I was able to review it. (We take our conflict-of-interest policy here at SBR very seriously.)
As it’s been a while since I’ve done a Romance Saturday post here at Shiny Book Review (SBR), I thought I’d serve up a special treat — four reviews of four different types of romances await the reader. And as Valentine’s Day was yesterday, I thought it might be interesting if I treated this more like a dinner — with an aperitif, an appetizer, an entrée (the main course), and a dessert.
Four romances. No waiting.
Let’s get started.
Our aperitif is by Sherry Thomas and is entitled THE BURNING SKY. It’s a young adult fantasy romance set in late 19th Century England, and features Iolanthe Seabourne, Elemental Mage, and Prince Titus of Elberon, who live in an alternate reality that intersects with England in such a way that magicians frequently cross from magical Elberon into non-magical England without too much distress. Titus is a Prince, but he does not rule as another realm has forced him into vassalage. He’s a teen on the verge of adulthood, doesn’t have any idea who his father was (his mother refused to say before she died years ago in an uprising) and his recently-deceased grandfather was such a bitter old man that Titus could barely stand the sight of him. And Iolanthe is a mage who commands all four Elements — Fire, Air, Earth and Water — even though she doesn’t exactly realize it at the start of the book.
More to the point, Iolanthe is the one foretold to kill the Bane — a man who’s lived more than one lifetime and cannot be permanently killed by a normal man or woman. And because mages who can command four elements are rare, Iolanthe was hidden for years and was not trained to the limit of her ability, either, in order to keep her from the Bane’s sight.
So when Iolanthe finally betrays herself, she’s a sixteen-year-old on the run. Prince Titus is her only ally, but she doesn’t fully trust him . . . more to the point, the only way to hide her is to bring her into 19th Century England, a place she doesn’t truly understand, and ensconce her at an all-male school, the famous Eton College. And to the Prince’s credit, he quickly does this, as Eton is both his prison and his refuge.
Quickly renamed “Archer Fairfax,” Iolanthe excels at most athletic pursuits, outdoes the boys in Greek and Latin, and in general enjoys herself thoroughly. But her feelings for the Prince cannot be denied . . . will they throw off the Bane, or won’t they? And will she ever be discovered as a female in disguise?
I enjoyed THE BURNING SKY in many ways, as it’s a quick read with a decent-to-better romance as Iolanthe and Prince Titus are fun characters with a nice dynamic between them. Ms. Thomas seemed to be enjoying herself thoroughly here, and her storytelling had wit and life as well as an understated, age-appropriate passion — all good.
However, it’s not a grade-A read. It’s closer to a grade-B read — well-executed, deft, pleasant, and completely forgettable once you’ve turned the pages.
Still, I’d read more of Ms. Thomas’s fantasy, no question.
Our appetizer is an English historical romance, THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON, also by Ms. Thomas. It stars Felix Rivendale, the Marquess of Wrenworth, and the woman who eventually becomes his bride, Louisa Cantwell. She’s a woman of gentle birth but little money, and feels she must marry well . . . this is a tried-but-true plotline, but there are a few interesting touches. Lord Felix is an appealing rake whose polish masks a ferocious intellect, while Louisa’s charm and light conversation mask the fact she’s his intellectual equal. And it’s because they’re both extremely smart that their sexual passion is so strong, a particularly appealing touch.
As usual with the romances of Ms. Thomas, the dialogue is crisp and for the most part well-executed, and the reasoning behind how these two got together makes sense.
However — and this is a big however — I found little life to this romance. Lord Felix was mistreated in childhood by both parents, and his pain is palpable, but I don’t see why Louisa would go for him as there’s nothing inside her that would seemingly respond to his pain. Yet she does so without complaint, partly because she wants his immense fortune (which, to be honest, she never hides from either the reader or Lord Felix), partly because he is her intellectual equal and she doesn’t expect she’ll ever find another man who is.
If you haven’t read any of Ms. Thomas’s work, THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON should divert you for a few hours. But ultimately, it is nowhere near as good as her two best romances — PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS or NOT QUITE A HUSBAND (both reviewed here) — which is why I recommend you read those instead.
Our entrée is by debut novelist Giselle Marks, whose pleasant Regency romance THE FENCING MASTER’S DAUGHTER is a nice addition to the genre. It stars Edward Charrington, the seventh Earl of Chalcombe, recently of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, and Miss Madelaine Deschamps, the aforementioned fencing master’s daughter.
The novel starts off agreeably with Madelaine rescuing Lord Edward from a vicious streetfight. Three armed assailants had downed Edward due to an old war wound suffered during the fighting in France disallowing him to fight at his usual capacity, and he would no doubt have been killed if not for Madelaine and her man-at-arms Henri fighting them off. As one man was killed and another grievously wounded, Madelaine says to everyone that Edward did the deed — and because he’s an Earl, no one questions him any further.
Of course, Edward feels guilty that he wasn’t able to handle his own affairs. But as he’d been hit hard on the head and suffered a concussion, he truly couldn’t be faulted. He does his best to find Madelaine again, as he wants to reward her . . . and did she really have the face of an angel?
And why are people trying to kill Edward, anyway? He’s just another Lord . . . he doesn’t have immense wealth, doesn’t have any known enemies, and even Napoleon’s men shouldn’t care any longer because Edward is lame and is never going to return to the battlefield.
As the romance progresses, Madelaine finds herself falling for Edward, even though she’s vowed she’ll never marry (for reasons that must be read; I refuse to spoil them). So will he manage to convince her that he’s not like other men, most of whom have been roués at absolute best? Or won’t he?
All I’m going to say further about the plot is this — I enjoyed it, thought there was some life and energy there, and greatly appreciated the touches of wit Ms. Marks sprinkled throughout her novel.
There’s a lot to like in THE FENCING MASTER’S DAUGHTER. The fight scenes are well-executed and lively, the dialogue — what there was of it — was well-rendered, I liked both Edward and Madelaine as characters and wanted them to achieve their “happily ever after” ending, and the historicity was excellent.
But there are some weak spots here that puzzled me. For one, much of the plot seemed summarized. There wasn’t nearly enough dialogue in spots to suit me. There was hardly any internal monologue — what the characters are thinking has to be deduced from external events instead. I didn’t see any reason for this, either, because what Ms. Marks did is actually harder to render than giving readers a few quoted thoughts now and again.
Further, because the historicity is so good, Ms. Marks actually went a bit overboard in her use of description. It is a perfectly period Regency romance — I cannot find fault with it on that score — but for modern-day readers, the descriptions alone may be a bit too much to bear.
With a top-notch editor, Ms. Marks’ novel would’ve been a guaranteed hit, at least in this quarter — a solid A. But because Ms. Marks did not have that top-notch editor (whoever edited for her did a workmanlike job and was competent, but didn’t address the faults listed above), this is a B-level debut instead.
Still good. Still interesting. Definitely memorable. I’d gladly read it again.
But it should’ve been even better.
Finally, our dessert course has been prepared by the redoubtable Rosemary Edghill, whose time-travel romance MET BY MOONLIGHT is back in print and available at Amazon as an independent e-book. Diana Crossways is a modern-day Wiccan priestess from Salem who owns a bookshop. It’s a stormy Halloween night (Samhain, by any other name) and she just wants to get to her coven meeting, but a rare book has been dropped off that requires her attention.
As Diana takes charge of it and starts to turn the pages, a bolt of lightning knocks out power to her shop. Something compels her to go out into the storm rather than stay inside in safety, then another bolt of lightning sends her elsewhere . . . to a forest in England directly before the “Glorious Restoration.” (If you’re not up on your English history, we’re in 1647. Thomas Cromwell has taken charge of England.) A coven is there to receive her — dripping wet, shivering with cold — and while Diana does see an enigmatic presence as well (a young man, dark and handsome, but somehow alien), she cannot dwell upon it.
Diana’s taken in by Abigail Fortune, one of the coven members, and is passed off as Abigail’s niece, Anne Mallow, from London. Abigail doesn’t know what Diana is, but as it was Samhain and that’s a holy night to those of the traditional faith (not yet called Wiccans, but the forebears of same), Abigail doesn’t question Diana overmuch, either.
“Anne” finds herself trapped in time without the creature comforts she’s used to, amidst a rigid society made worse by Cromwell’s depredations, and cannot quite catch her bearings. But then she sees the young man again, this time dressed in severe plainness, and is told his name is “Upright-Before-the-Lord.” Of course, this young man’s name is nothing of the sort, but unlike Diana, when this young man was found in the forest, he was taken in by Puritans of a particularly obnoxious vintage.
How can these two lovers be united, considering the times they live in and all that stands against them? How much help can Diana expect from the coven, especially as they must be discreet as this definitely is “the Burning Times?” And will Diana ever manage to get home again?
All of these questions are answered in ways that are satisfying, realistic, and historically honest — a neat trick that very few writers are able to pull off.
MET BY MOONLIGHT is perhaps the best time-travel romance I’ve ever read. It has heart, style, wit, verve, historicity, realism, and emotional honesty — a phenomenal and poignant read, something every romance reader should enjoy if they have any sense or brains about them.
So your final grades are as follows for this day-after-Valentine’s Day Four-Play:
THE BURNING SKY — B.
THE LUCKIEST WOMAN IN LONDON — C.
THE FENCING MASTER’S DAUGHTER — B.
MET BY MOONLIGHT — A-plus.
–reviewed by Barb
SACRIFICES, book three in Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s novels of the Shadow Grail, starts off exactly where book two left off: There are alumni of Oakhurst Academy actively “helping” the students, but students Spirit White and her four friends Loch, Addie, Muirin and Burke think something is desperately wrong. (Please see the reviews for books one and two here.) Somehow, the legend of King Arthur is involved, as the mysterious QUERCUS has hinted via computer message, and Spirit in particular is starting to wonder if many of these alumni are truly evil rather than merely obnoxious.
Making things even tougher, at least some of the other students at Oakhurst have been taken in by the alumni, all of whom work for a large computer company called Breakthrough Systems. (Allusions to the terrible world economy, which apparently even magicians can be affected by, firmly anchor this story to our present-day reality.) But as Spirit finds out early on in SACRIFICES, these alumni are evil . . . worse than that, they’re actually Shadow Knights, reincarnated from the days of King Arthur (which apparently weren’t legend after all, but history misrecorded as myth). And they are bound on the world’s destruction . . . .
Everyone’s paranoid in SACRIFICES to a degree that may shock readers if they haven’t re-read LEGACIES and CONSPIRACIES recently (books one and two of this series, respectively). But there’s a reason for that, which is enumerated very early on (right after the deft “what has gone before” summation in the first few pages to get everyone back up to speed): Students are getting “challenged” by the evil alumni. If they come back at all, they wear the pin of Breakthrough Systems — are, in effect, Shadow Knights in training — while those who decline, presumably, are killed outright.
And long-time teachers at the Academy are not exempt from such things, either, especially if they try to help the remaining students outwait or outlast the Shadow Knights. (This is one reason the book’s title Sacrifices has so much meaning.) The fact that some teachers put their lives in danger — and that some may end up laying their lives down — helps to up the danger and complexity of the problem Spirit and her friends must face.
Finally, Muirin’s still playing a double-game as she’s dating one of the guys from Breakthrough Systems (one of the worst of the Shadow Knights). Can she hold out long enough to get the needed information to Spirit and her other friends? Or will she break under the pressure? (Further reviewer sayeth not.)
Because, you see, the pressure is real. The Shadow Knights wish to annihilate the world, and have the magic to do so. And their only concern is to pick what they believe is the “right moment” — a moment before any of the magical forces of good, which must be somewhere even if Spirit and her friends can’t seem to find them (save QUERCUS, of course, and a few of the teachers at the Academy), catch on to their evil — to blow the world up out of spite.
How can five teens face off against these fully adult, fully evil people? Well, that’s for you to read, but I highly encourage you to do so. This is a really fast read with palpable menace, great historical references and truly heart-rending decisions that made me wish book four was out right now. (I’ll be looking for book four in 2014, to be sure. With avid anticipation, even.)
— reviewed by Barb
Arcanum 101: Welcome New Students by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill is about Tomas Torres, a fifteen-year-old from the barrio. Tomas saves himself and his younger sister, Rosalita, from a nasty encounter due to his previously unknown talent for pyrokinesis — fire-starting, but with the additional ability of being able to move the fires he calls about. But in doing so, he calls attention to himself and ends up working for the local padrone — a very dangerous man — until he quickly ends up behind bars.
Fortunately for Tomas, he’s sent away to St. Rhiannon’s School for Gifted and Exceptional Students (“St. Rhia’s” for short) in upstate New York for three years of probation rather than hard time for arson. St. Rhia’s is a place where psionics like Tomas, or magicians, like his friend and love interest Valeria Victrix Langenfeld (always called “VeeVee”), get trained. Because they’re in the middle of nowhere, that limits the damage these untrained kids can do; it also allows these kids to fight against some really noxious magical things without anyone in authority getting wind of it.
Of course, Torres doesn’t believe in magic, much. Nor does he believe in anything beyond what he can do himself. This is something that needs to get knocked out of him, fast. And as Tomas has adventure after adventure (some with VeeVee, some not), he starts to realize that the world as he knew it is a whole lot bigger — and a whole lot deadlier — than he’d ever imagined.
Fortunately for Tomas, he has experienced help at the ready, as Arcanum 101 is an offshoot of the “Bedlam’s Bard” universe. That means such well-known characters as Eric Banyon, Kayla Smith, and Hosea Songmaker either teach at St. Rhia’s, or are counselors, and can help as needed. The reason for these characters to help at a school like this is simple; none of them want these kids to have the types of growing pains they did. And while none of the teachers overtly state this, the point still came across. (Loudly and clearly, too.)
So there’s a rationale for the school. And there’s a rationale for why these kids are better off at this school than they would be if they were simply left on their own. Which is why Tomas, once he settles into it, decides he rather likes St. Rhia’s, even if it is rather far from civilization. And his liking is not simply due to “get on the bandwagon” psychology, either — instead, it’s actual fellowship, which is hard to write well. (Lackey and Edghill not only wrote it well, but got me to believe that Tomas indeed wanted this sense of fellowship, even when he didn’t know what it was. And writing inchoate longing is even harder than writing about the sense of fellowship without it turning to treacle. Full marks for the pair of them!)
At any rate, Tomas’s and VeeVee are good characters and I enjoyed reading about their adventures. Better yet, I believed in their nascent romance, complete with ups and downs — some of which will be familiar to every teen whether they have Gifts or not — and believed it added greatly to the book as a whole.
Bottom line: Arcanum 101 has magic, teens, a boarding school that’s nothing like the “Harry Potter” series, adventure, a believable, PG-rated romance . . . in other words, this is a winning effort, Young Adult-style, from the gifted duo of Lackey and Edghill.
The only minor drawback is that this is a short novel, somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 words. But as it’s obviously meant to be the start of a whole new crop of adventurers in the “Bedlam’s Bard” universe — complete with Elves, Guardians, and bad guys galore — it works out just fine.
So what are you waiting for? Go grab the e-book today! (Then do as I did, and devour it in a few hours, cold. Then enjoy the re-reads.)
— reviewed by Barb
Rosemary Edghill’s THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS is a cross-genre novel featuring fantasy, science fiction, situational ethics, and urban fantasy in one highly appealing package. Edghill’s hero is Childeric the Shatterer, soon to be Emperor of the Eidoloni; we meet him at the ripe old age of eight in the royal city of Contradance. This is when Childeric first finds out that his world contains many enemies, and that some of them are members of his own family, including his uncle, Prince-Regent Dormaoth, and perhaps even his own sister-and-intended-bride, Cyannice.
Over the next sixty pages or so, Childeric goes through many growing pains while he attempts to figure out how he’s going to survive his ceremonial Masking. (Childeric must don the Mindmask and be united, ever so temporarily, with all of his ancestors, else he cannot become Emperor.) This is an extremely dangerous undertaking at the best of times and has killed other would-be Emperors before, but Childeric must risk it because it’s obvious that Dormaoth wants nothing other than Childeric’s death. And, of course, Childeric doesn’t want to comply. (If he did, this would be a much shorter and far less imaginative novel.)
When Childeric dons the Mindmask, he calls upon Malvisage, a God — perhaps better thought of as a demon — to keep Dormaoth from killing Childeric outright. However, Childeric does this before he has full control over the Mindmask, which allows Malvisage to run rampant. Cyannice and many of Childeric’s other allies end up dead in a hurry, while most of the rest of the Eidoloni end up scattered. Contradance becomes a ruin, while Childeric ends up hunted and alone, an outcast among his own people.
Then the novel shifts gears to our world as we meet up with fifty-one-year-old heroine Arcadia Stanton McCauley — Cady to her friends — who’s a writer, cinematographer, and dilettante. Cady’s purpose in this novel is two-fold: it allows us to see Childeric differently (not just as the tragic hero he’s obviously been set up to be), and it also allows for some humor as Cady makes many sarcastic cracks. But before she can do much to potentially affect Childeric’s outcome, she must be transported to Childeric’s world; this happens due to a car accident and a quick change of venue, something she doesn’t fully understand.
Of course, Cady’s first direct experiences with Childeric are extremely off-putting, partly because both she and Childeric meet in the Spiral Castle, a place that seems more dream-like than not. Childeric, by this time, has become an angry, frustrated, and rather embittered thirty-something — a man who believes he’s fully responsible for the destruction of most of his race and all of his society. Due to this, Childeric does not treat Cady with much respect or care, partly because he doesn’t treat himself with any respect or care, either.
Because of Cady, the reader finds out that Childeric is an alien — not a man at all — and that Childeric’s view of sex is considerably different than most of the human men Cady has ever come across. But then, Cady ends up trapped in a crystal coffin — which is where the original Wildside version of THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS originally ended. (By the way, the original cover art is on the right.)
Of course, Childeric has to get her out, which means we get to figure out how Childeric got from the destruction of Contradance up to his present-day, rather embittered and distrustful self. (Granted, Childeric is distrustful and embittered with good reason.) Then, as the two spar, they learn more about Malvisage, while Cady admits that she’s the one who originally wrote about Childeric in the first place (meaning she feels responsible for how he’s turned out). Despite this soul-shattering revelation and Childeric’s powerful rejection of it, Cady slowly starts to realize that Childeric is worth loving, even as she realizes he’s a deeply flawed, cynical, and often extremely frustrating man to be around due to his background.
But before the reader can get too comfortable, the plot shifts yet again as we meet Military Specialist Class Eight Hix of Central Control, a far-flung interstellar empire. Hix is human, recognizes Cady as a citizen (albeit a backward and barbaric one) and Childeric as a Genji, or as a genetically-engineered construct who’s definitely not a citizen. Genji aren’t even supposed to be able to reproduce, yet the Eidoloni certainly did, something that Hix can’t seem to grasp.
Hix, as a character, seems really odd at first; he’s definitely narrow-minded, does not believe in what he snidely calls “dimorphic cultures,” and thinks Cady’s growing attachment to Childeric is, at best, quaint (at worst, it’s probably akin to bestiality due to how Hix views the Genji). Yet by including Hix, Ms. Edghill is able to fully explore prejudice in a way that neither preaches nor is obtrusive — and as such, Hix works as both a plot device and as a character.
The last hundred pages of the book deals with more adventures for Childeric, Cady, and Hix, as it turns out that Hix is right, as far as it goes: it seems that the Eidolon Empire was supposed to be a colony, but something went wrong. This is what led to Malvisage, the Eidoloni becoming a race and an Empire, and even to Childeric’s final tragedy.
How does it all turn out? Well, that’s for you to read, but I highly encourage you to do just that for more than one reason. The sexual politics and questions of situational ethics alone would be worth it, but then there’s the growing romance between Cady and Childeric, and all of the interesting things that happen to them . . . really, THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS is one of the best-written and compulsively readable fantasy/science fiction novels of the past twenty-five years, and it deserves to be read as widely as possible.
Yet for whatever reason, THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS has thus far had trouble finding its audience, something I find inexplicable. Considering the story of Childeric alone, THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS is comparable to works by contemporary fantasists Jacqueline Carey, Catherynne M. Valente, Michaele Jordan, and Jane Lindskold due to similar dark fantasy elements. (What Childeric does is often unpleasant; he’s redeemable precisely because he doesn’t want to do these things.) THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS also pays homage to Michael Moorcock, André Norton, and of course to Robert E. Howard. So if you like any of these writers — or better yet, like all of them — you really owe it to yourself to read this excellent novel.
Bottom line: THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS is a highly original novel from Rosemary Edghill, an author at the top of her craft. It is compulsively readable, often surprising, quite different and extremely interesting. It’s a novel you owe it to yourself to read, most especially if you love fantasy of any sort, much less 1960s-inspired sword and sorcery epics.
And as THE VENGEANCE OF MASKS is now available as a trade paperback, what’s stopping you from ordering a copy right now?
— reviewed by Barb