Laura Anne Gilman

Silver on the Road, by Laura Anne Gilman

Cover: Silver on the RoadLaura Anne Gilman‘s new fantasy novel Silver on the Road [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound] came out today. But I got to read it last month, because of Author Perks! I love my job ūüôā

This is actually the third weird western fantasy I’ve read this year. (The others were Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory and Lila Bowen’s Wake of Vultures, which I provided a blurb for.) Gilman’s book made a three-book streak of good, fun, engaging storytelling.

Here’s an abridged version of the publisher’s summary:

Isobel  is a child of the Territory.  She grew up in a saloon, trained to serve drinks and fold laundry, to observe the players at the card tables and report back to her boss on what she saw.  But when she comes of age, she is given a choice….

Isobel chooses power.  Chooses risk. Chooses to throw her cards in with the Devil, Master of the Territory.

But the costs of that power are greater than she ever imagined; the things she must do, the person she must become…  And she needs to learn her new role quickly: pressures from both outside the Territory and within are growing, and the Devil’s Hand has work to do…

Izzy’s job as the Devil’s Left Hand is to travel the Territory, and to discover and resolve problems. Problems like an entire town killed by what may or may not be plague; like families slaughtered; like demons and wandering magicians, both of which can be equally deadly.

The Devil hasn’t had a Left Hand in a long time, but he knows something’s stirring. He makes a separate Bargain with a rider named Gabriel, who agrees to mentor Izzy and teach her the ways of the Road. Gabriel is older and experienced, but Izzy’s the one with the responsibility and the power. If she can learn how to use it.

I loved the worldbuilding in this story. I love that the Devil both is and isn’t the figure you’re used to. In some respects, particularly the Bargains he makes, he’s very familiar … and then you realize “Devil” is just a name, and you never truly learn what he really is. There’s power and mystery there. Is he evil? He seems to be scrupulously fair in honoring the Laws and Bargains of the Territory. I’m hoping to see and learn more about him in future books.

Then there are things like the danger of the crossroads, the power of silver to cleanse evil magic, the snakes that show up in the night to whisper cryptic warnings, the alternate history of the American frontier, with various nations fighting to control the land beyond the Territory the Devil has claimed as his own.

I also appreciated the relationship between Izzy and Gabriel. Izzy is only sixteen, and Gabriel is older and rougher around the edges. It’s not set up as a romance. Instead, we start with Gabriel as teacher and evolve first into a partnership, and eventually into Izzy stepping into her role as Hand and taking the lead in making decisions and facing the darkness.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say I really appreciated the way Gilman resolved things. It’s not necessarily what you’d expect, but it felt right for Izzy’s character, the story, and the world.

Also, the magician they meet is such a fun character.

I look forward to the next book in the series!

You can read a sample on Gilman’s website.

New Books

Lots of friends with new books out this week. Because apparently I don’t have enough to read already? At this rate, I’m never going to reach the summit of Mount To Be Read!

Morgan Keyes’ Darkbeast Rebellion [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is a middle-grade fantasy, the follow-up to Darkbeast, which I enjoyed and reviewed here.

Martha Wells has a Star Wars book out about Princess Leia, called Razor’s Edge [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], set between the events of Star Wars and Empire.

Anton Strout’s Stonecast [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the second book in his Stonemason Chronicles. There may or may not be were-jaguars.

Laura Anne Gilman’s Soul of Fire [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the second part of the Portals Duology, following Heart of Briar.

Marie Brennan has put together a collection of essays on writing fight scenes, called (appropriately enough) Writing Fight Scenes [Amazon | B&N].

Elizabeth Bear’s novella Book of Iron [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is a standalone prequel to Bone and Jewel Creatures.

Finally, the tenth issue of Seanan McGuire’s serial Indexing [Amazon] has just been released.

As always, please feel free to suggest other new books I’m forgetting, or just share what you’re reading and enjoying right now.

Flesh and Fire: Review & Giveaway (Laura Anne Gilman)

Free books and a free stuffed meerkat at the end of the review!

Flesh and Fire¬†[Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the Nebula-nominated first book in Laura Anne Gilman‘s Vineart War Trilogy. Gilman dedicates the book to her agent Jennifer Jackson, “whose casual suggestion ‘write me a food- or wine-based fantasy’ … triggered the idea that became these books.”

The idea of wine-based magic is very much the heart of this book, and it’s a nifty idea indeed. Even for someone like me, who doesn’t drink alcohol.

Our protagonist is a boy named Jerzy, a slave to the Vineart Malech, who senses Jerzy’s gifts and pulls him out of the fields to be trained in the ways of magic. Slowly, Jerzy learns¬†the history of magic, the powers inherent in different vines and grapes, and the process for turning those grapes into spellwines. The tale of the apprentice wizard is a familiar one, but the worldbuilding and detail of the Vin Lands brings a freshness to Jerzy’s story.

As Jerzy’s training progresses, we learn about an external threat, a coming danger that threatens Vinearts and perhaps all of the Vin Lands. Jerzy and his master must protect themselves against attacks both human and magical, while trying to seek out the source of this growing danger.

Gilman makes some interesting choices with this book. Slavery is used deliberately, as it is believed to be the only way to bring out a potential Vineart’s talents. Like the grape, the young vineart grows strongest under stress. That aspect of the story and worldbuilding is unpleasant, but I trust Gilman is going somewhere with it in future books.

Jerzy’s life as a slave has definitely impacted him. He was sexually abused in the distant past, and that has left its scars. Once again, I’m not sure where she’s going with that part of his character, but it’s a thread I expect to come back in future books.

I enjoyed watching¬†Gilman explore the rules and limitations of her vine-based magic, the possibilities and the implications. That’s something I’m working on myself in my current book, so yes, I was taking notes ūüôā

If I had a complaint, it would be that at times the exploration of the idea seemed to push plot into the background, and I tend to be a plot-oriented reader. This is very much the introductory book of the trilogy. But as I enjoyed the idea and the world, that’s not a major complaint.

The ending also reflects the book’s “Part One” status. It’s not a cliffhanger, per se, but this is definitely just the start of the larger story.

For those who have read it, what did you think?

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And now for the giveaway! Gilman is well known in certain circles as the meerkat of the SF/F world. She even has an ongoing Practical Meerkat column at Book View Cafe, offering writing advice to authors young and old. Gilman has offered to give a free copy of books one and two (in hardcover!), and a small stuffed meerkat for answering the following question:

Who’s going to be first against the wall when the weremeerkat revolution comes?

Leave your answer in the comments, and I’ll pick a winner at the end of the week. (U.S. and Canadian entrants¬†only for this one, please.)

First Book Friday: Laura Anne Gilman

Welcome to First Book Friday!

Laura Anne Gilman (suricattus on LJ) has been an editor, a writer, a writer by another name, and is also an editor again.  Basically, when she talks about the writing biz, people listen.  Her latest series is the Vineart War Trilogy, which uses a wine-based magic system.

In her free time, she fights crime as one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Meerkats.

She notes that for her First Book Friday post, she chose to wrote about the “first original solo venture that I kept the copyright to, not a media tie-in.”

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First, I wrote 100,000 words. Then it was rejected by every single major publishing house.

No, wait, let me back up a bit.

First, way back when I was still a full-time editor and mostly writing short fiction, I got involved with a real-time, net-enabled role-playing game, combining magic and spies and science and whathaveyou. And then the game fizzled out, and I was left with this character who had developed a very real voice in my head.

No, it wasn’t Wren Valere, the heroine of my book (and eventual series) but Sergei Didier. Yeah, Sergei started out as a hard-as-nails spymaster. If you look close, he still has that core…

So I figured, okay, should do something with him. He needs a foil … and so Wren appeared.

But the addition of Wren into the story changed Sergei, and by the time I had finished creating their world and adventures around them, it had become something entirely new, that I was utterly in love with. And that was Staying Dead [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon].

My agent and I took it, and the proposal for two more novels in the series, to the various publishing houses, except, for obvious reasons, the one I worked for.

And every single one of them rejected it. Some with a flat no, some with a “could you…” revisions request. (At one point I had rewritten the first three chapters to make it work as a YA title. No go). At the time — the early 2000’s — urban fantasy without a sexy vampire was just not getting editors’ attention.

I was still an editor myself, then, and I knew what the odds were after that, but wasn’t going to give up … okay, maybe I was a little disheartened and wailing into my booze. But in the meanwhile I had put together another more traditional fantasy proposal, and it was out on submission as well, including to a new imprint starting up, that had been looking for romantic fantasy.

The editor and I were friends, and had lunch on occasion, griping about our industry. And during that lunch I mentioned the proposal she STILL had on her desk after many many months, and mentioned the other one that was currently not making the rounds.

“Really?” she said, when I described it. “Send it to me.”

“But you were only looking for traditional, historical fantasy,” I said.

“Send it to me.”

And so we did. And Luna bought it. And two more. And then another three. And then a spin-off series. By the end of 2012, there will be twelve books in the Cosa Nostradamus, plus a short story collection.

Not bad for a first book that couldn’t find a home…

Writer Envy

I debated whether or not to post this, but in the interest of keeping myself honest and talking about all sides of this writing thing, I decided to go ahead.

My friend Seanan McGuire’s debut novel Rosemary and Rue [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] came out at the start of September.¬† It’s a great book, and I’m thrilled for her success. Yet there’s a part of me that compares her Amazon listing–50+ reviews, a ranking in the 1000 range, and #99 of all fantasy titles at Amazon, all more than a month after her release–to my own, and comes away feeling envious.

I hate comparing myself to other writers. A friend gets a $30,000+ advance, and while I’m truly¬†happy for them and excited for their news, there’s also that tiny whisper asking why I’m not earning the same.

I hate it because it makes me lose sight of what I already have.¬† The Mermaid‚Äôs Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]¬†has a month-long face-out display at most Barnes and Noble stores.¬† Mermaid’s first week’s sales were the best of any of my books so far.¬† Publishers Weekly¬†called it “a witty, well-constructed adventure tale about powerful women stepping up with skill and cleverness.” I’m the freaking guest of honor at Icon in Iowa in two days!

But then I compare my web-only PW review to¬†Laura Anne Gilman’s starred PW review for¬†Flesh and Fire¬†[Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] (which looks like an awesome book, by the way), and suddenly my good news feels … deflated, somehow. Even if only for a moment.

Screw that. The fact is, I’ve got an awful lot to be proud of.¬† I have five books in print. The first three have earned out their advances and gone back for multiple printings. They’ve been translated into a half-dozen languages. I even have miniatures of my characters.¬†How freaking cool is that???

The self-doubt and the insecurities are insidious, and they don’t magically disappear once you get a book deal. It’s only three years since my first book with DAW hit the shelves; I’m still a fairly new writer. Maybe this is normal. Maybe it takes a good track record with 10 or 15 books to start earning those higher advances, and for the big review venues to really sit up and take notice.

I love what I’m doing, and I wouldn’t trade it. Fairy tale princesses might not be as hot as My Little Pony with Steampunk Zombies*,¬†but I love these stories, and I’m proud of them. I know there will always be more successful writers, and that to compare myself to everyone who does better than me means I’m creating completely distorted expectations for myself. I know all of this, but the emotions don’t always listen to the logic.

Fortunately, I also know the envy is a transient thing. I’m proud of my friends, and happy for them. The envy will pass (for the most part), but the pride remains, because my friends rock, and they’ve earned that success. I’m happy for myself, too–happy and proud, and that will still be there after the envy fades.


*Yes, now I want to write it too.

Happy Mermaid Day

It’s here!¬† Today marks the offical release of¬†The Mermaid‚Äôs Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]!¬† Which means I’ll be pretty much useless for the next few days, as I go through the hyperactive bipolarity of book launch insanity, checking Amason rankings, Googling reviews, preparing for the book launch party (Thursday evening at Schulers-Eastwood in Lansing), and so on.

This is going to be a crazy week.¬† I’ll do my best to avoid¬†getting carried away pointing out awesome reviews or linking to giveaways or the 10/12 contest at Bitten By Books where you’ll be able to win one of 12 DAW anthologies or a grand prize of a complete set of painted goblin miniatures.

Likewise, I promise not to spend the entire week linking to my web site, where you can read the first chapter of the book online, or plastering the synopsis over every post like so:

There is an old story ‚ÄĒ you might have heard it ‚ÄĒ about a young mermaid, the daughter of a king, who saved the life of a human prince and fell in love.

So innocent was her love, so pure her devotion, that she would pay any price for the chance to be with her prince. She gave up her voice, her family, and the sea, and became human. But the prince had fallen in love with another woman.

The tales say the little mermaid sacrificed her own life so that her beloved prince could find happiness with his bride.

The tales lie.

(I also promise most entries won’t be as long-winded as this one.¬† But hey, I’ve got a book out today!¬† I’m allowed one day of excited babble, dammit!)

My thanks to everyone who participated in the one-question interviews.¬† I’ll be adding questions and links as they go live, and you can click over to read the answers.

  1. In the Princess series, what makes you choose certain characters as protagonists, and certain characters as antagonists? What princess have you enjoyed working with the most thus far? (-Catherine Shaff-Stump)
  2. What do you know now‚ÄĒabout your characters and world, about writing, about yourself‚ÄĒthat you didn’t know when you started writing these books?¬† (-Rose Fox at Genreville)
  3. 5 Quick Questions, including who would win in a fight between the three princesses? (-Lexie Hamilton)
  4. Where did you get the name for your most difficult to name character? (-orcaarrow)
  5. Will ninjas be making an appearance in this book, or will we have to wait for book five: The Ninja’s Nemesis? (-socchan)¬† Includes a special visual aid!
  6. 3 questions, including “In a tag-team match, televised to the entire world, who would win? Goblins or Princesses? And would the Goblins cheat?”¬†(-Jaime Moyer)
  7. Before you started writing this series, what fairytale Princess (Disney or not) did you most identify with personally? (-Philomena Hill)
  8. Princesses vs. Transformers: who would win? (-guinwhyte) I think this was my favorite silly question!
  9. What inspired you to create Jig?  Did he come from your gaming experience or did you have some other kind of inspiration?  Or did he just pop into your head? (-Dave Roy)
  10. Have you ever been worried that someone would see themselves (or think they saw someone from real life) in your work? (-Steve Saus)
  11. I’m wondering about your feelings/thoughts/actions on putting a “message” in novels. Like when 9/11 happened, was it time for novelists to jump on the soapbox about the evils of fanaticism/war/whatever?¬†(-Jenn Simmons)
  12. When you realized that The Stepsister Scheme could be the start of a series, did that realization come complete with ideas for the other fairy tales you’d like to use, or did the later books develop as you looked for new fairy tales?¬†(-dragovianknight)
  13. Do you now, when you encounter a new or old folk tale, find yourself mentally rubbing your hands together and thinking ‘hmm, I think I can use that’? Are you incapable of ‘turning it off’ at this point?¬†(-b_writes)

Finally, as long as you’re going book-shopping, check out these other new releases:

Flesh and Fire [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Laura Anne Gilman.
Dragon’s Ring [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Dave Freer.
Memories of the Future, Volume 1, by Wil Wheaton.
How Not to Make a Wish [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Mindy Klasky.

Flesh and Fire by Laura Anne Gilman: Book Cover Dragon's Ring by Dave Freer: Book Cover  How Not to Make a Wish by Mindy Klasky: Book Cover

Jim C. Hines