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London Round-up

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So ends radio-silence. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I had an appointment in London, and stayed a few days with family. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner that I’m glad I live elsewhere. Most of the time. It was strange to be in a place so familiar, and to feel so shut-out from it. I grew up in London. Lived there for nearly 26 years without seeing a fraction of the major attractions. It was always there for another day. I lived in the suburbs, which made it just enough of an effort that I talked myself out of getting to know the town.Now I live in a place of open sky. Of migratory birds, and fells and marshland. Most of the time that is where I would rather be, but I am grateful to have a place to stay in London. 

The main event this year was the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library. I img_4053watched the programme ahead, and although this contained spoilers, it completely raised my expectations. I hadn’t realised it was such a large exhibition. 

It was beyond everything I had hoped. 

I’m wary of too many spoilers, but here’s an overview. The exhibition is divided by Hogwarts subjects. It contains original material from JKR, manuscripts and objects relating to magic from over the centuries, and other Potter paraphernalia. There is also original material from Jim Kay, the artist responsible for the new illustrated editions. I hadn’t realised his paintings were so huge! In my dream-life, I would hang one of these on my study wall. There are also some clever digital sideshows, such as a potions-making game. 

img_4063The highlight for me was the original material, both from Kay and Rowling. It was lovely to see how Potter progressed. My favourite artifact was one of Rowling earliest attempts to write a scene from Potter. No spoilers – but a word of advice. Rowling’s material attracts the largest crowds. Behave as if this is a queue – join the end, and walk along the display cases. It only takes a couple of people before everyone does the same thing, and those who don’t want to wait can peep over shoulders rather than see the whole case. This takes longer than trying to scrum in, but ensures you see every object clearly. This is Britain, after all – people know the rules of a queue. Join the end, and wait patiently for your go. 

img_4101This trip could be described as ‘the big kid’ trip. Sure, I went to the Tate, but even the exhibition there encouraged adults to rediscover their inner-child. I’m talking about the swings in the Turbine Hall. The message is supposed to be about the power when we work together, and how we could free ourselves from the force of economics if we worked together. Nice idea … but I went higher on the swings when I sat alone. Could be a metaphor for my life. We’ll return to that in a couple of years. In the meantime, if anybody wants to donate for a replica set of swings to be built on my village green, I’ll ensure they get a plaque. 

I also visited old favourites – Hamleys, Disney and Foyles. Self-explanatory, but I’ll share some pictures. I was lucky not to be evicted from Hamleys, ‘Have a go,’ said the cheery sales-assistant, handing me a giant frisbee. Well, nobody asked whether I had co-ordination. I really didn’t mean to lob it at that crowd of tourists …. 

 

Do you have a favourite place to visit in London? Have you seen the Potter exhibition yet? Let me know in the comments below. 

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday – Stranger by Keren David

strangerbannerSynopsis (from Amazon UK) – 

41p6vpjdesl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Astor, Ontario. 1904.
A boy staggers out of the forest covered in blood and collapses at the feet of 16-year-old Emmy. While others are suspicious and afraid, Emmy is drawn to him. Is he really the monster the townsfolk say he is?

Astor, Ontario. 1994. 
Megan arrives from London for her great grandmother Emmy’s 105th birthday. It should be a happy family occasion, but Megan is nursing a broken heart and carrying a secret she fears might consume her.

One family. Two women. A century of secrets. A timeless love story.

 

birdWhy I can’t wait to read Stranger by Keren David – 

The effect of a past event over a lifetime. As a teenager, this was basically my favourite theme. Sally Beauman, Anita Shreve, anything published by Virago. Women whose lives were changed in a single moment in youth. These are the books that built me, and it is lovely to see one written with teenagers in mind. 

It’s nice to see a book set in the 1990s. The third golden age of children’s publishing didn’t begin until the late 90s, so with a few notable and prolific exceptions, (Anne Fine, Jacqueline Wilson, Dick King-Smith and JK Rowling) there are few well-known children’s books whose protagonists share my childhood. 

North America. ‘Monstrous’ children coming out of the forest. Has the boy lived there? Was he raised in the forest, or has he been hiding in the vast wilderness? My curiosity has been provoked. Whatever the truth, the time-setting will make this story even more interesting. Society was very judgmental in the early 1900s. 

The relationship between two females, of different generations. See point one. How will Emmy’s story change Megan’s perception of her own life? 

 

Stranger by Keren David

Atom Books

April 2018

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Delayed NaNoWriMO: Week 1

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Week one? I had 6500 words when I went to London. A week’s delay, and guess what? I wanted to change everything about my introduction. So I cheated. I’m doing ‘delayed start’ NaNoWriMo. 

Let me tell you a secret. When I signed up for NaNoWriMo, I wasn’t convinced. Word counters? Chat boards? Shouldn’t I be writing? Week One has persuaded me there is value to this exercise. The word counter and word sprints encourage forward momentum. Those words may not be perfect, but perfection is not the objective. This is draft zero. The rough draft. The point is to get something down.

I’m private about my writing, but the second thing NaNo encourages is networking. I have shared a fragment with a couple of trusted people, and their feedback is encouraging. I haven’t investigated the chat boards yet, but it is great to know they are there. Maybe there will be a plot hole in my story which needs talking over, or a character others can help me develop. In the meanwhile, it is just great to have so many people in my Twitter network aiming for the same thing. It’s amazing how a few positive words can keep you going. 

So what about my project? It’s a Middle-Grade novel. I’ve been working on it for five or six weeks, but the ideas have shifted within that time. I’ve probably written nearly 50,000 words already, but that’s across a couple of starts, a couple of endings, and some key scenes. In other words, I’ve played with ideas, and I have a firm idea of some things which will happen. I’ll tell you more later on. There is nothing worse than sharing ideas too early. They come out like unset blancmange. If you’ve ever spoiled blancmange, you’ll know it makes you want to hang up your apron.  

I’m sold on the principal – a month’s hard work to get ideas out. Time limits often spur people on to work, and as of week one, it is having that effect on me. 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review – The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

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Extract:

She turns around. She sees all these girls talking to one another, girls who normally wouldn’t mix. Grace wants to celebrate. She wants to hug somebody. A twinge of pride surfaces. She wants to tell them she did this. Then shame takes pride’s place. Does Mom’s ego ever rear its ugly head like this? Does her chest fill with pride when she looks at her rapt congregation? Does she forget to be humble? Does she forget that we are only ever vessels of God, of His work? Does she ever, just a little bit, want to take His place? 

A commotion in the halls. Coach Baxter and his football cronies march through, tearing down the signs. ‘This is unacceptable,’ coach says, his face red, veins pulsing out of his neck. ‘Principal Slatterly will not condone these rumours. This is bullying, ladies. That’s what it is.’ 

(The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed. Quote taken from advance copy.) birdSynopsis:

Everybody knows about Lucy Moyniton. She’s the girl who claimed to be raped by a group of young men. She’s the girl who upset the conservative community in Presscott, Oregan. Who stirred things up with her tale. Everybody knows it happened, but admitting it would mean speaking against central figures in the community.

Nobody knows what happened to Lucy afterwards.

Grace’s family move into Lucy’s old home, and Grace can’t stop thinking about the girl who was so desperate, she scratched a plea for help into her bedroom walls. Grace makes two unlikely friends. Not the kind of safe, somewhere-in-the-middle girls she usually befriends, but Rosina with her firey temper, and Erin. Erin has Asperger’s Syndrome, and is widely treated as a joke, or a ‘special case’.

The girls are fed-up with behaviour in Prescott. Together they form the Nowhere Girls, an annoynimous group for girls to come together and speak out about issues affecting their everyday lives.

The key figures in the community, including the school principal, don’t like The Nowhere Girls. At all. That man with his hate-blog? That’s a bit of a joke. These girls? They’re going to cause trouble.

birdReview:

 A book that needed to happen, and a book I will shout about to all my friends. The Nowhere Girls deals with hard-hitting subjects, but it is compulsively readable, with characters who stay with you after you finish.

It would have been easy to show religious, conservative America and treat it like a closed case. X happens here because Y. Amy Reed is a better author than that. Yes, a conservative religious group hold tight reins over a small town. However, Grace is also a Christian. Her mother is a preacher, who challenges the idea that religion needs to be Conservative. Jesus, she believes, came to promote change. This makes the issue less simplistic, and more like real life, which is amazing.

This is Reed’s strength – characters so real they become like people like people you have known, people you worry about and care about and cry about.

Feminism is one of my big concerns. The Nowhere Girls lived up to my expectations, with its straight-talking style. Nothing is glossed over. Infact, glossing-over is something it speaks against. Doubtless there will be someone who objects to its discussion of rape and sex and periods, but if girls don’t talk about these things how will they know right from wrong? Safe from unsafe? As the characters gain power by talking to each other, the book opens conversations among its readers. One of the most important conversations it opens is about consent. No means no means no, regardless of whether you know them, whether you are drunk, or wearing skimpy clothes.

The thing I loved was the portrayal of Erin’s Asperger’s. Finally, someone has shown the way people behave around those on the spectrum. The rolled eyes, the jibes, the understanding. Erin experiences the world in a different way, but she is one of the girls.

A book which deals with topical issues. Read this to experience what life is like for women. Then talk about it. Loudly.

 

Huge thanks to Stephanie at Atom Books for sending a copy in exchange for review. This does not affect the honesty of my review.

 

Guest Post

‘I Will Never Let You Fall’ – Hilton Pashley Guest Post

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51rdcfyk95l-_sx329_bo1204203200_How do authors chose their worlds? What makes one world about angels different from another? These are the sort of questions I addressed to Hilton Pashley, and he came back with the most fantastic discussion of his universe. Whether or not you have read his work, it is a fantastic insight into the level of thought which goes into a setting. 

Hilton Pashley is the author of the Hobbes End trilogy, which began with Gabriel’s Clock, and ends with the newly-released Michael’s Spear. It is a favourite trilogy of mine. I have reviewed Michael’s Spear separately to this post. 

 

 ‘I will never let you fall.’

When I first started writing the Hobbes End trilogy, which began with Gabriel’s Clock and now ends with Michael’s Spear, I wanted to set it in a world that hadn’t already been thoroughly explored by other authors. My main concern was that it shouldn’t be a re-tread of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings; so what should I write about? The answer came from a chance reading of a poem called High Flight, written in 1941 by John Gillespie Magee Jr, a Canadian Spitfire pilot. The words, “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, and danced the skies, on laughter silvered wings,” conjured up the image of an old angel, staring at a cobalt-blue sky and remembering what it was like to fly, before sacrificing his wings to give life to a place where those in need could be safe. And so Hobbes End and Gabriel were born.

            If I had an angel then I would need to have Heaven, and if I had Heaven then I would need to have Hell, and so the world in which Hobbes End nestles slowly took shape. I didn’t want to rely on existing imagery for angels and demons; I wanted them to be my versions, flawed, driven, slightly bonkers, altogether more human in the way they behaved. One of the loveliest comments I have received so far was from a retired librarian in the US who wrote about Gabriel’s Clock on her blog. She described the story as being “Chock full of theology, but with not a whit of religion,” which is exactly what I was aiming for. Every faith has its own versions of angels and demons, and I didn’t want to exclude anyone from the story by making it too literal or too western in its interpretation.

            Set against the backdrop of a longstanding but – uneasy – truce between Heaven and Hell, Jonathan, Gabriel’s grandson and the young hero of the story, discovers he is the only half angel – half demon in existence, something that up until that point was thought impossible. I liked him from the moment he popped into my head. In the blink of an eye he is thrust into a world that no longer makes sense, filled with gods and monsters, and with the knowledge that the power he holds can be used to create or destroy. I didn’t want Jonathan’s story to be as simple as a 1930’s cowboy film, where the hero wears a white Stetson and the villain a black one, that’s doing the reader a disservice. Life is far more grey, far less defined. Whether you are good or evil depends solely on your actions, not on the label you are given, and that’s the lesson Jonathan has to learn.

            Out of all the characters in the trilogy, Lucifer was the hardest to write. He is best described in the story by Elgar the cat, who says of Lucifer, “He’s not good or evil; he’s just very, very scary.” This is true to a point, but as Jonathan discovers, the ruler of Hell is not all he seems on the surface. Maybe underneath that Saville Row suit, the first Morningstar (who looks rather like the actor Michael Fassbender) just wants to be forgiven for screwing up, but is too damn proud to say sorry. I have The Sandman graphic novels to thank for giving me the inspiration to come up with my own version of the fallen angel. If Neil Gaiman could do it, then why couldn’t I?

            Above all, the story is about the bonds of friendship, family and love, between angels, demons and humans all. As Jonathan says to his dear friend Cay as he cradles her safely in his wings, high above Hobbes End at the end of Michael’s Spear, “I will never let you fall.” Now that is something worth fighting for.

                     

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review – Michael’s Spear by Hilton Pashley

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SPOILERS – while this review does not spoil the plot of Michael’s Spear, it contains information about other books in the series. If you have not read the first two books, please skip the extract. 

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Extract: 

‘What the hell is that?’ asked Jonathan over the shreiking wind. 

‘Consequences,’ Lucifer shouted, looking pointedly at Sammael. ‘I warned you this might happen. You couldn’t settle for just killing Baal, could you? I know he destroyed Heaven, I know he left Jonathan’s father out to die of his wounds, but this is what happens when you go too far. You used your wings to rip open reality, just so you could fling Baal’s rotten soul out of creation and into eternal torment. You’ve damaged the weave of creation, and there are things outside this universe of ours that want in.’ 

(from Michael’s Spear by Hilton Pashley) birdSynopsis:

Jonathan is the only half-angel, half-demon. In the last eight months, he has made the magical village of Hobbes End his home, and faced a series of battles with the arch-daemons. Now there is only one archdemon left, and she may be most dangerous of all.

The fabric of creation is damaged. Hobbes End is under threat from things outside the universe, which would wreak damage. Lucifer blames Sammael. When she cast out the arch-demon Baal, she tore a hole in the fabric of the universe. It is clear such damage can’t happen again. Then Jonathan realises Sammael’s brother Michael is alive. To save him, she must tear another hole in the universe.

Jonathan needs to find the Book of Creation to heal the universe. The problem is, Lillith wants it too. What is Lillith up to? Where is Michael’s spear? The final battle for Hobbes End may be for the universe itself.birdReview:

Hobbes End is one of my favourite middle-grade trilogies. It has the perfect mix of adventure and fantasy, and a memorable cast of characters from Heaven, Hell, Earth and your wildest daydreams. The texture of the world is Milton crossed with Dr Who. Sounds hectic, but it isn’t. The detail forms the world, but the storyline itself is watertight. You will be hooked from start to finish.

The rift between Heaven and Hell, which happened before Jonathan was born, provides material for his adventures. The three arch-demons provided a brilliant way to extend Jonathan’s adventures past one book, and I love how the introduction of Michael opens new possibilities. The other thing which Pashley is good at inventing is objects. This time the focus is on Michael’s Spear, and the Book Of Creation. This is clever – new threat is introduced as Lillith hunts for the book to fulfil her agenda.

A world of angels and demons might have been difficult to relate to, but Jonathan’s world is recognisable as our own. References to smart-phones and cars ground the story in reality. Pashley has a lovely, light sense of humour, and perfect timing. The Dummies Guide To Cosmic Knitting was my favourite moment – a mildly flippant solution to an endangered universe.

Jonathan has changed as a character over the trilogy, and it is lovely to see him taking the final steps towards embracing his identity as the world’s only half-angel, half-demon. This seems like a great metaphor for discovering a sense of self. Children may see themselves as half of this parent, and half of the other, but whatever that is, it becomes a new and unique being.

I love the settings from across the trilogy. Hobbes End has always felt like something between a character and a setting, with its ability to care for and protect its residents. It is a place which embraces anyone and anything – werewolves and vampires, angels and demons. It is also a place were inanimate objects come to life. Stubbs and Monty, the gargoyles, are favourites of mine. They remind me of Shakespearian Clowns, there to lighten the atmosphere, but very much involved in the plot.

I also like the idea of angels and demons interacting. This is a realistic message about the world – whoever you are, you have capacity to behave in all manner of ways. I can’t stand the suggestion that some people are good and others bad, so Pashley’s interpretation of angels and demons makes a lot of sense to me.

A worthy end to the trilogy. If you haven’t read Hilton Pashley’s books, start with Gabriel’s Clock. You’ll be hooked at Chapter One. Otherwise, get ready to cheer Jonathon on in his final adventure, and have a box of tissues ready for the final chapter. It is touching.

 

Young Adult Reviews

Angels or Returned? – Out Of The Blue by Sophie Cameron

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Extract:

I start to run but it’s coming closer, hurtling like a comet towards me, and though I’ve seen scenes like this a hundred, a thousand times, I don’t realize what I’m looking at until it’s just ten or fifteen metres away, until it spreads its wings and comes plummeting towards the hill. 

Another Being, falling right in front of me.

(Out Of the Blue by Sophie Cameron.)birdSynopsis:

Jaya’s Mum died. Soon after, the first being fell.

The world has gone Being crazy. There are the WingDings, who create apps to track the falls. The lucrative profit by setting up Being tours, themed cafes and merchandise stalls. Cults have risen. The Standing Fallen say the angels have been thrown from heaven, and stage demonstrations where they threaten to throw themselves from rooftops.

Jaya’s Dad has packed up his old life  in the hope of tracking a fall. Does he think he will make himself wealthy, or is he hoping to see his wife again? Jaya isn’t certain. All she knows is he isn’t there for her and Rani.

There was Leah. Jaya loved Leah, but Leah was worried about being a thing. A thing with a label. A thing other people might judge. Then she stopped answering Jaya’s messages. It’s like everybody disappeared.

Then the Being fell. The decision to hide her from Dad, from the Wingdings and from all the other people who would do her harm leads to all kinds of trouble. It also leads to Allie.birdReview:

Shortlisted for the Bath Novel Award, and SCWBI’s Undiscovered Voices, this is one I’ve been anticipating for over a year. I only read a short extract, but both the writing and the idea stayed in my head throughout the year. It is the sort of work which paints images inside your head. A being falling from the sky. Angel hunting apps. A teenager’s life altered by her parent’s obsession.

Jaya was a great character. She’s quite snarky, but not in a horrible way. She’s a teenager, and there is plenty happening to be derisive about. The WingDings with their chat forums, flyers for angel cafes, and the new landlady with her hippy-dippy act. It’s enough to drive anyone mad. What I loved about Jaya was her heart was in the right place. She cares deeply about Mum’s death. About her little sister, who thinks Dad is always right. About Allie, who has cystic fibrosis, and about the Standing Fallen, who endanger themselves by standing at the edge of rooftops. She’s derisive about a lot, but thinks deeply about anything with emotional weight.

The Beings reminded me of David Almond’s angels. They aren’t heavenly, aren’t angelic, but there is some quality which makes them angelic aside from the wings and flying. Teacake is named for her love of Tunnocks Teacakes. And Jaffa Cakes. It is the only human food she’ll touch. She can’t talk, but parrots extraordinary amounts from the radio. What makes her angelic is her perception of emotions. It is the thing she seems most in tune with.

Cameron writes wonderful characters. Nothing is black-and-white. Hippyish landlady Shona talks about socking people over the head. People make mistakes. People make a choice, then do something else for the love of another person. The characters are as real and complex as people. This makes the portrayal of Allie amazing. Allie has Cystic Fibrosis, has had a double-lung transplant and sometimes relies on oxygen. Is this ‘sick-lit’? Heck no. Allie is another character, and she is the most vibrant and lively of the teenagers in the novel. She also has an illness, which affects her to different degrees on different days. It is so rare that novels show this fluctuating aspect of long-term illness, and rare that characters with serious illnesses are part of stories which are not about their conditions. Sophie Cameron has it spot-on, and I hope more writers follow suit.

Likewise the LGBT+ relationship is about two people falling in love. This is becoming more common in YA, and represents a long-needed shift towards representation of LGBT+ relationships, rather than LGBT+ ‘issues’.

The thing I found most compelling was how everybody looks at the Beings, and sees them as an answer. Perhaps this is what angels were always about, the desperate need to believe the answer we want is out there, rather than accept the unknown or unwanted.

A lyrical story which represents life in every shade of grey. A new talent, and one to put top of your list for 2018.

 

Huge thanks to Macmillan Children’s and Beatrice May for sending a copy in exchange for review.

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday – Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

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Synopsis:

sky-song-9781471146077_lgIn the snowy kingdom of Erkenwald, whales glide between icebergs, wolves hunt on the tundra and polar bears roam the glaciers. But the people of this land aren’t so easy to find. Because Erkenwald is ruled by the cruel Ice Queen and the tribes must stay hidden; if they are caught in the open they risk capture and imprisonment by the evil sorceress.

Join Eska, a girl who breaks free from a cursed music box, and Flint, a boy whose inventions could change the fate of Erkenwald forever, as they journey to the Never Cliffs and beyond in search of an ancient, almost forgotten, song with the power to force the Ice Queen back.
 
This is a story about an eagle huntress, an inventor and an organ made of icicles. But it is also a story about belonging, even at the very edges of our world . . .birdWhy I can’t wait to read Sky Song:

The Dreamsnatcher trilogy is a favourite Middle Grade series. I’ve been with Moll and Gryff since the early days of publication, and took gutsy, determind Moll to heart. I love her world, and the concept of the Soul Splinter. I can’t wait to meet Eska and her eagle.

 

Elphinstone’s worlds are full of the great outdoors. You’d think most books are, but as I once heard, in some books the landscape is part of the story, and in others it is detail painted it. Both are reasonable approaches, but I love Elphinstone’s great landscapes.

 

An organ made of icicles. A cursed magic box. Elphinstone has written about how objects help her form stories, and I love this approach. It shows how stories come from the world around us. There is much talk of the organ on Twitter, and I can’t wait to learn more.

 

An ancient and forgotten song. It sounds like there is history to this world. I love worlds which come with their own folk-tales, their own historical narratives. 

The dark, cold nights after Christmas pass more quickly if we are absorbed in a good story. Early this year it was a Girl Called Owl. Stories of wintery magic are perfect for long, dark nights. 

 

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

January 2018

Simon and Schuster Children’s UK

 

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday – Children Of Blood And Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Synopisis (from GoodReads):

34728667Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. 

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. 

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.birdWhy I Can’t Wait to read Children Of Blood And Bone:

  • It’s magic, but it takes traditions of magic from another culture. Don’t get me wrong, I love magical systems based on European Castles and 1400s alchemy, but it is nice to see stories built around other traditions. Adeyemi has studied West African mythology, and it will be interesting to see their influence. I hope to read some of the mythology around the same time as the book.
  • A rogue princess? I am interested to know what makes a princess ‘rogue’. One of my favourite characters of all time is Aravis from The Horse And His Boy. Unfairly overshadowed by the Pevensie kids, Aravis is the original gutsy heroine.
  • According to further information, the magi are oppressed by a lighter-skinned race. It will be interesting to see whether magic stands as a metaphor for cultural heritage. If so, this trilogy should spark conversations. 
  • I LOVED the sampler, which I was sent post-YALC. I passed it on, but in my memory Zélie is taught defensive skills as part of a group of women bent on defending themselves against brutality. This fits in with other books I have enjoyed with a feminist theme. 
  • The trilogy sold for a seven figure sum which includes a book and film deal. Yep, seven figures. The publishers must be confident that it will appeal to a worldwide audience. I expect it to be unputdownable.