Review: The Portal Prophesies A Halloween Curse

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A Halloween Curse is the second book in the Portal Prophecy series by C.A. King. This is a fantasy series for YA/NA readers.

This is an action packed story with decent pacing and interesting characters. The story is quite twisty and the characters are complex, even the bad guys.

There is a large cast of characters of varying magical abilities from a variety of worlds or dimensions. Sometimes it is hard to keep track of who they are and what they can do because you often go several chapters without hearing from someone.

The descriptions are good, and the imagery and detail is fantastic. The author has put a lot of thought into the double meanings and vague possibilities of all her prophesies, curses, and warnings.

I worry that some of her characters are becoming over-powered and that it may cause plot-failings later in the series but for now the team continues to grow in strength and numbers while the problems facing them grow in complexity. Also, there is tension between the members of the group and quite often the girls are frustrated by people not taking them seriously.

Over all I’m impressed with the series and the scope of this fictional world.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The One Taken from the Sea of Stars

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The One Taken from the Sea of Stars is a science fiction novel by Octavia Davis and is available on Amazon here: (NOTE: I do not receive any royalties or kickbacks from the purchase of this book)

The One Take from the Sea of Stars stars strong. You’re thrown into a beautiful, fantastical world of rituals and warriors and sacred trees. The first two characters you meet don’t like each other. You have tension, vivid settings, and interesting characters without the boring info dump. You know enough of what is going on to get your bearings and you know the rest will come with the story.

And then in chapter 2 you’re somewhere else with other characters in a completely different cultural setting and your head is spinning. Sometimes this disconnect can turn me right off of a story but the writing was so good that I stuck with this one. You start to get hints in chapter 2 and 3 that chapter 1 really is connected and that promise of more information kept me reading until 4 and 5 when the “ah ha” moment hits.

The story is beautifully crafted with amazing pacing. By chapter 5 or 6 I was hoping this was book 1 in a longer set and I was not disappointed. I wanted it to be so much longer than the page count and now I have more books to look forward to.

And I am looking forward to them. The dialogue was natural. The character introductions were smooth. Everyone feels distinct and you recognize them on the page easily. The plot is compelling and full of tension and mystery.

I gave this book 5 stars and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel.

The Power of People

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Writing is a solitary endeavour. Writers are required to sit down in front of their writing implement of choice for extended periods of time and write. We need at least moderate isolation so we have the focus we need to string letters into words and words into sentences and sentences into stories. Fiction or non-fiction, any genre, it’s really the same story.

Sure, there’s the getting out and getting inspiration part of writing. Reporters need things to report on. Novelists must experience or at least listen to human conversation so they can translate those interactions into their stories in some way. We need to hear and see and taste and touch things. But the actual writing? Mostly solitary.

Organizations like National Novel Writing Month do seek to make the writing more communal with an online group and with local write-ins and gatherings. But even when we sit in a huge room full of people all writing, we are all isolated in our own worlds doing our own writing.

Our stories are intensely private. For writers of fiction we are creating people, worlds, cultures, you name it, out of thin air, out of thought and will. We are magic. We are powerful.

And we are stuck, alone, in a world no one else knows anything about. Because no one else has seen it yet. We’re still writing it, still creating it.

But creation cannot happen in isolation. I’m discovering that more with each passing project.

My biggest project to date – the Zoedavian Chronicles – is teaching me this. I’ve been working on this project for years. At first I was working with a dear friend, but she stopped writing fiction and moved on with her life and left me full control of this world we’d been crafting. To be honest, she was the flash-point of creation, the one who put forth the ideas and the creatures and the snippets of plot and person. I was the chronicler, the sorter. I was the one who asked the questions that allowed us to meld these shards and scraps into a quilt. Together we were building raw inspiration into a coherent world.

But I don’t have her to work with anymore. She has moved on and I rarely see her. This story was too good to be abandoned. And so I worked through the raw material, picking and choosing, changing and reordering, adding and subtracting, until I had something strong and unique and cohesive. It wasn’t right yet, it wasn’t done, but it was a strong start.

A few months ago I printed off the first 100,000 words and gave them to friends of mine. They read it over and we started working through the draft, pulling apart the story again, rebuilding it in a way that left it even stronger. I was hoping it would make it leaner too, but that was not to be. Instead the story has grown again and again and maybe once more.

I just spent 10 hours at my friends’ apartment pouring over drafts and outlines and time lines and maps. We hammered out several huge holes in the plot and timeline. We sorted out 8 cultures, magic systems, and religions. And we have about 8 more hours of work to do on the balance of power between one of the churches and the king. This is work I never would have been able to do alone. This is work that needed more than one set of eyes, more than one sparking point to create, more than one set of ears listening for discrepancies, and more than one sense of humour.

I’m glad I found my people, the ones that will sit with me for an entire day and sort out the implications of allowing a 13th century style culture educate their women, what happens to global climate when you change the land-to-water ratio, what happens when you forget that North isn’t actually the top of this map, and what happens when you have 3 moons. I’m glad because I get stuck in a rut. This is the way it is. I forget to ask “yeah, but what if” and they are glad to ask it. And because they ask it the story has grown some very unique and new features that I look forward to exploring.

Of course I have to finish the Rose Garden books before I can progress with the Zoedavian Chronicles (a working title only). And I will. I worked out what was giving me writer’s block on Rose from the Ash the other day too. With a little help from my friends.

Book Giveaway

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Book Giveaway

A friend of mine is having a giveaway! Woot! Free stuff!

Her book is titled “In Liam’s Wake” and is the first of her Toys and Soldiers series. I was one of the privileged beta readers for the manuscript and I fell in love with this book and the whole series.

In Liam’s Wake is an edgy fantasy about a world hidden within our world, one where strange magic and strange technology create a unique culture. The world is rich and dark and full of so many wonderfully realized characters.

Please take a moment to follow the link and enter the contest. 4 copies to be won! 

World Building Post #4 – Culture and Language

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Right now we have two cultures, Southern Race and Northern Race. If you want to call them that in your novel you certainly can. Most people prefer something more natural – we don’t call the Easterners, we call them Asians – right? So how do you decide on a name for each culture, or civilization? And what about naming cities and other map details? And naming characters?

If I listed a few names for you would you be able to identify the culture they come from?

1) Sun Li

2) Patrick O’Hara

3) Stuart Mackenzie

4) Charles Smith

5) Hunter Two-Hearts

Did you guess Asian (sorry I can’t be more specific on that), Irish, Scottish, English and Native American? What about Louis Chartier? Sounds French? Each Earth culture has a style of naming that is unique. Sometimes it’s a suffix or prefix on the surname, sometimes it’s a leaning towards certain sounds, letters, or lengths. Because of the character based language in Asia (Kanji and such) their names tend to sound short when said in “English”. We all know the famous last names of the Irish and Scottish clans and the prestigious names of New England (“Parker Brown of the Connecticut Browns”) and this can be useful in your writing.

Let’s pick two language frames for our two cultures – and let’s not pick the ones that match the culture frame we picked earlier. So, the Southern Race cannot use Aboriginal languages or tribal languages and the Northern Race cannot use British or Welsh (and should probably avoid Latin as well since that was the language of the Church). We don’t associate Poland with feudal society, so let’s give Polish, or Eastern European, to the Northern Race. Now, every culture underwent a hunter/gatherer/agriculture period so let’s use something that sounds pretty instead of primitive – like Latin.

Now for research. I highly recommend for first names. You can search by culture, by meaning, or by gender. Research the language family you’ve chosen – look for patterns within the names, this will give you a structure for choosing names for your places and characters. Also study old maps to see how place names were chosen within those cultures.

Now that you have a language for each you can name the cultures, give titles to prestigious people (like religious and civil leaders), and name big cities or regions or mountain ranges. Translate a few words, like bridge, town, city, river, ocean, lake, etc. into the frame languages and see what you get. Tweak the words to make them sound “right” for your story. By staying within a single language family for each culture you draw a distinction between them and you provide unity within each culture.

Signing off …

World Building Post #3 – A Second Example

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If you remember from the last post, we had created two humanoid races – Southern Race and Northern Race. We went over Southern Race in detail creating the basis of a culture. I’d like to do that again, a little quicker this time, for the Northern Race.

Start at the top – cultural evolutionary starting point. Last time we went with a combination hunter/gatherer and agriculture. This time lets go with Feudal Europe with heavy agricultural base (think Arthurian times). That means we’ll need a king, lords, merchants, knights, and soldiers. It means we’ll need metal workers for weapons and armor. You can already see all the differences here.

Next – gender roles. Traditional patriarchal, or non-traditional matriarchal? For simplicity let’s go male dominated. Males hold leadership roles, males control the land and money, males run the church (whatever that might be), inheritance passes to the males.

Social hierarchy – Obviously the king is at the top. Here’s how I generally stack this: King, Royalty, Nobility, Merchant Class (upper and lower), Artisans (upper and lower), Freemen (farmers), Peasants or Serfs (farmers, labourers) with women and children as a half caste within each.

Religion – same set of choices, and we want to avoid sounding too much like Earth so a monotheistic male-dominated religion is out. Also, at this time period in European history the old Gaelic and Druid traditions were “fighting” with Christianity so you may want to avoid those too. We’ve already decided patriarchal so a male based polytheistic or an abstract religion would be best. Why not have two gods and a goddess and make the goddess the trickster, against tradition. Just be careful that the book doesn’t come across as anti-feminist or “all women bad”.

Practices probably lean more to the ritualistic – prayers, ceremonies, official places of worship. Maybe some sacrifices still, all very ritualized. Highly controlled.

Magic – we’ve established that. 20% of women, 2% of men. The 2% of men go into the church – but they aren’t the only men serving the church. The 20% of women are closely watched and taught so that the trickster goddess doesn’t influence them. Lower class women use their magic to help with the fields, etc, just as in Southern Race, upper class women need another outlet for their magic since they can’t go working in the fields or divining for wells. Since the upper class makes up only 5% of a population (maybe 10%) there still wouldn’t be too many women with magic in the upper classes, not as many as among the farmers.

A quick look at the math. If you have 1000 people – 50 would be upper class, 100 would be merchants, 150 would be skilled workers, 250 would be Freemen, 450 would be peasants and serfs. If there is an even split, male to female, your numbers are 25, 50, 75, 125, 225 – and the number of women with magic would be: 5, 10, 15, 25, 45 for a total of 100 women out of 1000 people and 10 men out of 1000 people. Consider 1000 the size of a large city plus surrounding estates and farms and you get the idea of what the population spread looks like if the births are even. That 20% isn’t going to pay attention to class distinction so the numbers can vary greatly, but shouldn’t veer too far from 100/1000 for women and 10/1000 for men.

Yes, this level of math is something I often do for figuring out magical density and frequency, population spread and size, and country size. I use similar math for geography but we’ll get to that on the map post.

Oh, we forgot one thing. The Southern Race, with their blue-green hair, live near the water. The Northern Race let’s say lives in a heavily forested area backed by mountains so to explain the brown hair and the access to metals for weapons and armour. Maybe the Southern Race has no access to such resources and that’s why they haven’t taken that step yet.

The two cultures are similar – patriarchal, magical minority, with similar but distinct religions and a distinguishing physical feature. In my next post we’ll return to these two civilizations and go over fine-tuning the culture and adding language. Then it’s on to mapping!

Signing off …

World Building Post #3 – Culture, Tech, Relgion, and Magic

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This may end up being a long post, but there was no way I could pull these four items apart from each other, they’re just too intertwined. We’ll go over picking a cultural stage, fine tuning the details of the cultural, choosing a level of technological advancement, picking a religion and fine tuning the details of their practices, and deciding on the rules of magic.

So, lets say you’ve picked two sentient races – both are humanoid and will share the same magic (so in essence they’re the same, like all humans here on Earth) but the Southern Race will all have blue-green hair and the Northern Race will all have brown hair. They are mostly isolated from each other and have evolved separate cultures, religions, etc.

The Southern Race lives by the water (we don’t know what the coastline looks like yet or if it’s an ocean or a lake because we haven’t made the map but water plays a huge role in their culture). What cultural stage are they in? I always start with a stage from here on Earth and then tweak it, so are they comparable to hunter/gatherers, or agriculture based, are they pre-Roman empire, Roman empire, Colonial, Shakespearean, Victorian, industrial revolution?

For this example I’ll combine hunter/gatherer with agriculture. They’ll be a settled people, living in permanent villages and farming, but still rely heavily on fishing, hunting, and gathering. This probably means they have domesticated plants like wheat or corn but no domesticated animals, or very few domesticated animals, like cows or sheep. From this we can discern that they’d probably wear animal skins and you can choose the style from among the various examples provided by the North American Natives, the Australian Aboriginals, and the African tribes.

With this information we can begin to shape their culture – let’s start with gender roles. The men are stronger, physically, so they would do the physically intensive labour like cutting down trees to build new homes, plowing the fields, and hunting. Women then would be responsible for the planting and tending of the gardens, making and caring for the clothing, looking after the children, and gathering extra foods. Preparing the meat and skins and harvesting the crop would be a joint effort. Teaching the young males would be the job of the village elders – all males. Young girls would learn by working along side their mothers.

Technology would include the type of tools they use for building, hunting, and farming. It would also cover the style of their buildings. They obviously have simple tools since they are able to cut down trees and plow land, but are they bone, stone, or metal? Moving from bone and stone to working metal is always a big step, but doesn’t mean the culture has to evolve past basic huts and hunting/gathering/farming. It does determine how effective they are at feeding themselves and protecting themselves.

Religion – again, I base mine loosely on something we already have on Earth, polytheistic – male dominated, polytheistic – female dominated, monotheistic – male or female, ancestor worship, nature worship, or abstract (such as Confucianism which follows principles for harmony with the Universe but no specific deity). Trust me, you have a lot of room to work within those options.

We’ve already sort of established a male led society by making all the village elders male. This means the spiritual and intellectual leaders are male. This doesn’t mean the deities will all be male. Just because the women don’t hold positions of power doesn’t mean they aren’t respected. If you look at most polytheistic religions the darker gods or trickster gods were male (Loki, Raven, Hades, Seth). In the Greek and Roman traditions many goddess played important roles as patrons of wisdom, the hunt, the moon, and seasons. In pre-Roman society the female deity was most often associated with fertility, childbearing, and the health of crops.

So, for this example, let’s go with the most basic of polytheistic religions – one god, one goddess. The god represents strength, the hunt, success in war, and is responsible for the overall protection of the people. The goddess represents success of crops, prosperity, health in childbirth, and is responsible for the well being of mothers and infants. They are both good deities so to have good things happen worship must be offered in some way. Neglecting this worship would result in the deities neglecting their duties to the people and bad things happening. Choose a method of worship, the form of prayer, type of ceremonies, type of sacrifices/offerings and how they differ based on intent (is the offering to the god for success in battle different from the offering a husband would make the goddess when asking his wife be protected during childbirth?)

With good or benevolent deities offerings of crops, hunted animals, or crafts is usually enough. Sometimes the “deities” lay out rules that the society has to live by (like the 10 commandments) and breaking these rules can result in disaster unless penance is made. With a dark deity the people generally make offerings to the “bad god” to appease him and prevent his wrath from falling on them.

I almost forget – priests. Is there a set person, or group of people, responsible for making the offerings? Are they male or female? Can it be either, or, or both? And is religion connected to the magic.

Okay, magic. You’ll need to decide how much magic, how complicated it is to use, and how many people get to use it. You also need to know if it is taught, innate, or a combination of the two. Since the culture we’ve chosen leans towards the Medicine Man, a person chosen by the spirits at a young age to learn from the elder all the secrets of the gods and people, I’m going to spice things up by choosing something else. The ability to use magic is innate, control is learned, and it appears in 20% of the females and 2% of the males. The magic is connected to the land, things like divining wells, finding rivers, helping crops grow, finding animals, etc. The village elders are responsible for offerings to the god and goddess and magic and religion aren’t tied too tightly together.

Congratulations, you now have the basics of a society. Placing them on a map will help determine more about them. This is already a long post so I’m going to split it here and tomorrow we’ll do a second example with the Northern Race because there’s so much left to explore and by changing just one detail you can spin a whole new web of possibilities.

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