Markswoman, by Rati Mehrotra

Markswoman Cover ArtAt ConFusion earlier this year, I picked up a copy of Rati Mehrotra‘s debut YA fantasy, Markswoman [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound]. Like everything else lately, it took me a little while to get to it. But once I started reading, I raced through the book.

Here’s the official synopsis:

Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, one of a handful of sisterhoods of highly trained elite warriors. Armed with blades whose metal is imbued with magic and guided by a strict code of conduct, the Orders are sworn to keep the peace and protect the people of Asiana. Kyra has pledged to do so—yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her murdered family.

When Tamsyn, the powerful and dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. She is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof.

Kyra escapes through one of the strange Transport Hubs that are the remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past and finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of a desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a disillusioned Marksman whose skill with a blade is unmatched. He understands the desperation of Kyra’s quest to prove Tamsyn’s guilt, and as the two grow closer, training daily on the windswept dunes of Khur, both begin to question their commitment to their Orders. But what they don’t yet realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is thin … as thin as the blade of a knife.

I called the book fantasy, but it feels more like a blend of fantasy and science fiction. The book is set in an alternate Asia in the distant future, and includes everything from transport hubs to telepathic weapons to words of power. Those weapons are made from metal brought to Earth long ago by The Ones — it’s unclear exactly who or what they are. You also get scenes where you glimpse the futuristic cities of (I think) the past.

None of it is fully explained, but there’s obviously a lot of depth to the world, and Mehrotra gives the reader enough to draw them in, leaving us eager for the next piece.

There’s a love triangle that pops up in the second half of the book. Honestly, I could have done without that. But props to the author for how she handled the overly aggressive/stalkery guy. Behavior that in another book might have been rewarded is in this book called out and met with real consequences.

I enjoyed both protagonists (Kyra and Rustan) and many of the secondary characters — particularly some of the elders of the Marksmen and Markswomen. Tamsyn is pretty much flat-out evil, but it works for the story.

The ending felt abrupt. Not a cliffhanger, exactly, but there’s no real denouement. And the next book, Mahimata, doesn’t come out until March of next year.

All in all, I think it’s a strong debut. I’d have liked to see a little more of the larger world and story Mehrotra is setting up, but I definitely enjoyed the book.

You can read the first part online, if you’d like to check it out.

Questions for the Terminal Uprising Author’s Note

When I was finishing up Terminal Alliance, I invited people to ask me anything they wanted, and picked some of those questions to answer in the Author’s Note. Here are the four Q&As:

  • From Chris: What has been the biggest surprise (or unexpected benefit) since you started writing full time?
    • I started writing more-or-less full time in September of 2015. I knew I wouldn’t magically become a SuperAuthor, putting out twelve books a year, but I was still surprised at how difficult it could be to balance writing with everything else—taking care of the kids, running errands, housework, walking the dogs… (Not to mention getting out to catch Pokémon.) I thought I knew how much discipline and planning and structure I’d need. I was mistaken. But I’m getting better.
  • From both Ilona Andrews and TheBarbarienne: How can you tolerate a giant beard when it’s so freaking hot out?
    • It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to look this sexy! Also, the warmth of the Giant Beard is balanced out by the draftiness of the bare scalp.
  • From Piers: What’s the fastest land animal?
    • Our cat Pippin when he hears a can opener in the kitchen.
  • From Paul: What draws you to use humor so much in your fiction? (This is far from your first humorous SFF after all!)
    • I believe humor is incredibly powerful and valuable. It brings laughter. It helps us cope with darkness. It allows us to tell difficult and dangerous truths. It’s a way of pointing out the absurdities of life. It creates connections between people. Also, it’s a lot of fun to write!

If all goes well, I’ll be finishing up final revisions on Terminal Uprising before the weekend, which means I’ll need to do another Author’s Note. Which means I need your questions!

What would you like to know? I’ll pick my favorites and answer them in the book. (Note: “Favorites” could be the most interesting, humorous, or just whatever I feel like answering.)

Make sure you include whatever name you’d like me to use for you if I pick your question.

The Message Behind Daughters and Overprotective Dads

Long before my daughter began dating, I had guys joking about how I should greet her prospective boyfriends. Sitting in the living room cleaning a shotgun was a popular idea. People who knew me a little better suggested I should sharpen one of the swords instead.

I also have a teenage son. Funny thing — not once has anyone suggested that when he brings home a prospective girlfriend, I should greet her with shotgun and/or sword in hand.

Heteronormative assumptions about my kids aside, the idea that I’d have to intimidate a girl into not taking advantage of my son seems absurd on the surface, right? But when it comes to our daughters, we’re flooded with “jokes” about how we have to use implicit threats of violence to keep the boys in line.

I keep getting into arguments where guys tell me sexism isn’t a thing anymore. That girls are just as violent and abusive as boys. That there’s no epidemic of rape and violence carried out by men and boys against women and girls.

Often in the same paragraph, these guys will talk about the horrible violence they’d inflict on anyone who raped or abused their daughters. Not once have I seen them express the same protectiveness about their sons.

It quickly becomes clear what they really believe. They know, deep down, that the threat of sexual violence against their daughters is real. That girls and women are disproportionately targeted. That one of the biggest threats to women — if not the biggest threat — is men.

This is not to say that men and boys aren’t assaulted as well. They are, and it happens far too often. Likewise, women absolutely can be abusers. But statistically, women are far more likely to be attacked, and men are far more likely to be the attackers.

And every time I hear someone joking about getting the guns out to greet the daughter’s new boy, I hear someone who knows how bad things are for girls and women in this society. Even if they don’t want to admit it.

End of School Year Chaos

In the past seven days, I have…

  • Spoken to my editor about revisions on Terminal Uprising
  • Attended my daughter’s high school graduation
  • Helped with the planning and preparations for said daughter’s open house this coming weekend
  • Attended my son’s induction into the National Junior Honors Society
  • Attended awards night for that same son

I am ridiculously proud of both of my children. I’m also feeling a bit frazzled, and am looking forward to summer vacation.

In the meantime, here’s a photo of my daughter in her graduation robes, and a shot I took of my son at NJHS night. (Shared with their permission.)

Daughter's graduation photo

Rusch’s Article on Agents and Embezzlement

ETA: I had a brief exchange with Rusch on Twitter after this post went up. I said I agreed with much of her article, but that it felt like she was on an anti-agent crusade. To which she replied, in part, “I am on an anti-agent crusade.” I mention this because it helped me better understand why Rusch went where she did in her post.

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Yesterday, Kristine Kathryn Rusch posted an article titled An Agent Nightmare Revealed, talking about an accountant/bookkeeper who embezzled more than $3 million from a major literary agency. She goes on to discuss the need for authors to be in control of their own business and finances, and whether or not any authors should still be using literary agents.

I agree with a fair amount of what Rusch writes here. Donadio & Olson, the agency in question, screwed up. Rusch notes that they’ve known about the embezzlement since last fall, but failed to contact all of their clients to alert them to the problem. WTF? And the embezzlement has apparently been going on since at least 2011. I’m not an accountant, but it seems like any business should have some safeguards and auditing practices in place if they’re handling that much money…

Rusch also talks about how writers neglect the business side of things. Again, I agree. Whether you have an agent or not, your writing career is your responsibility. You’ve got to read your contracts. Be aware of what rights have sold, and when payments should be coming in. Follow up on discrepancies, or any transactions that don’t match what you’re expecting.

Every contract I get from my agent comes with a cover letter reminding me to read the contract. Because even though they go over every contract, it’s possible they might miss something. Or there could be a clause I don’t understand. As the writer, I need to understand.

Track your sales. Bookscan and publisher Author Portals can help with this. You don’t have to obsess over every week’s numbers, but know how your books are doing. Know when they’ve earned out, so you know when to expect royalties to begin showing up.

But then Rusch goes on to say, “Do not hire literary agents … If you already have a literary agent, extricate yourself from this relationship. Cancel it, get your books out of that agency, and hire an attorney to do your negotiations.”

Loki Facepalm

This is exactly the type of absolute, one-size-fits-all advice I try to warn people against when I do panels and writing workshops.

I understand that Rusch has had some bad experiences with agents, some of which she describes in the article. It sounds like she’s happier on her own, and hopefully her career is doing better without an agent.

That’s great. She’s not the only author to make that choice. It’s the choice that works for her.

On the other hand, my agent has helped me land a large number of book deals I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own — mostly subsidiary deals through the agency’s contacts and their trips to international book fairs, where they’ve sold my stuff to publishers in Germany, France, Latin America, and more. Earlier this year, I wrote a pitch for a major publisher I’m waiting to hear back on. That opportunity came about through my agent; it’s almost certainly not something I would have heard about on my own.

In other words, for me, working with my agent has been the right choice, and has significantly improved my income as a writer.

But wait, what if my agent, or someone at the agency, is skimming from my royalties? As Rusch notes, “Prestigious agencies embezzle.” (I’m not clear whether Rusch meant some prestigious agencies embezzle or all of them do.)

This is where it’s important to be aware of your sales, as well as the checks you’re expecting, and when those should be coming. And if something seems off, follow up.

Rusch has a lot of good advice for writers about understanding your contracts and not neglecting the business side of writing. I just wish she didn’t mix that good advice with the alarmist “all writers should immediately dump their agents” rhetoric.

Do your research, and make the choice that’s right for you and your career.

Jim C. Hines