Morgan Keyes

Darkbeast Rebellion, by Morgan Keyes

Darkbeast Rebellion [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the second book in Morgan Keyes‘ Darkbeast trilogy. (I reviewed the first book last December.)

In a world where children are bound to magical darkbeasts, intelligent companion animals who are supposed to take their children’s sins and faults into themselves, Keara has defied tradition by refusing to ritually kill her darkbeast Caw. This makes her an outcast and a target for the Inquisitors.

We pick up where book one left off, with Keara, Goran, and Taggart on the run with their darkbeasts, searching for the darker community — others who have chosen to spare their darkbeasts and live in exile. But what they find is not what Keara had expected. She feels out of place and … empty. Day-to-day life in hiding isn’t what she had imagined it would be.

I like old Taggart’s response to Keara’s complaints about boredom and routine:

“Most of life is routine. Routine is what keeps us fed, keeps us safe. Keeps us ready for those few, heart-stopping moments when we must fight for what we believe.”

Let’s just say that as I approach my 13th year working for state government to support my family and my writing, that line resonated.

Without spoiling too much, Keara soon finds herself wishing for boredom. We get a story of betrayal and political intrigue and power struggles and relationship drama and more.

It’s a fun and enjoyable read. As with book one, I liked the characters — particularly Caw, with his unapologetic greed for treats and his unwavering parental love for Keara. It was nice to see more of the politics of the world, and the conflict between the Princeps and the Inquisitor Ducis.

I think the title left me expecting more actual rebellion. There’s a lot of interpersonal conflict and growth, and a fair amount of setup for book three, but don’t pick up the book looking for epic battles between darkers and Inquisitors, with armies of ravens and rats and snakes and spiders swarming over enemy soldiers. Which was disappointing, because I kind of wanted to see that. But given where we end things in this book, I imagine the larger scale conflicts are coming soon.

You’ll want to read Darkbeast first, but if you enjoyed that one, you should pick up the sequel and join me in impatiently waiting for Keyes to finish the third book in the trilogy.

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.

Darkbeast, by Morgan Keyes

Morgan KeyesDarkbeast [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], began as a short story in the anthology Fantastic Companions, edited by Julie Czerneda. Which now has me thinking how cool it would be to try to do the same thing with my own story from that anthology… But that’s completely off topic, sorry. I blame this cold, which has turned my brain into overripe cauliflower today.

In Keyes’ story, the companions in question are darkbeasts, creatures given to each newborn by the gods to take the children’s negative feelings and impulses into themselves. For example, when our protagonist Keara disobeys her mother, she’s sent to her darkbeast Caw, a crow who takes Keara’s disobedience into himself. This arrangement lasts until the child’s 12th birthday, at which time the child is expected to kill his or her darkbeast as part of a religious ceremony marking their transition into adulthood.

But unlike most children, Keara loves her darkbeast. She loves their telepathic bond, the comfort and companionship Caw provides. So when the time comes to kill Caw, she refuses. She flees her village, the only home she’s known, and joins up with the Travelers (actors and storytellers who tour from one town to another.)

Caw tends to steal the spotlight. He’s fun, always demanding snacks and treats, and always accepting Keara and all of her faults. But keeping him alive violates one of the core laws of the priesthood, and if the Inquisitors catch Keara, both she and Caw will suffer.

This is a YA middle grade book, relatively short, quick-paced, and easy to read. But I found myself wishing it was longer, with a bit more exploration and discussion of the world, the gods, the religion, the magic… I wanted to know more about how and why things worked the way they did. The structure of the novel means we discover things along with Keara, and many of the revelations don’t show up until the very end of the book.

The book tends to raise questions obliquely, circling around the true roles of the darkbeasts, the place of the Inquisitors, and more. But those questions, while thematically central, are often a step removed from the plot. Keara makes friends and enemies among the Travelers, learns their ways, shares their urgency to create a new and daring performance. And in the midst of those conflicts and struggles, we see how the darkbeasts fit into the children’s lives, and the cost those children pay when they kill their darkbeasts and become adults.

Maybe it’s a matter of taste, but a part of me wishes the story had addressed some of those questions more directly. But it’s not until the end when we finally rip the curtain aside. Which really makes me hope there’s a second book starting where this one left off. (Morgan Keyes – if you’re reading this, that was a hint! 😉 )

ETA: Keyes has confirmed a sequel. Darkbeast Rebellion will be coming out on September 24, 2013.

Who else has read this one, and what did you think?

Darkbeast Guest Post and Giveaway

I’m off doing Guest of Honor stuff at Northern Michigan Anime Con this weekend, so I turned the blog over to my friend Morgan Keyes to talk about her new book, and how she transitioned from writing more adult books as Mindy Klasky to a middle-grade novelist with a spiffy new pseudonym.

Also, she’s giving away a free book, which is always cool.

You can read an excerpt from Darkbeast on her website.

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Many thanks to Jim for allowing me to visit here and tell you about my middle grade fantasy novel, Darkbeast.  Due to the generosity of my publisher, Simon & Schuster, I will give away a copy of Darkbeast to one commenter, chosen at random from all the comments made to this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight.

In Darkbeast, twelve-year-old Keara runs away from home rather than sacrifice Caw, the raven darkbeast that she has been magically bound to all her life.  Pursued by Inquisitors who would punish her for heresy, Keara joins a performing troupe of Travelers and tries to find a safe haven for herself and her companion.

Before writing Darkbeast, I published sixteen novels in a variety of genres, ranging from traditional fantasy for adults, supernatural chicklit, light paranormal romance, and traditional category romance.  (Those last couple of books – spicier than I was comfortable having my mother read – are the reason that Darkbeast is published under a pen name!)

For the past several years, though, I’d felt a pull from “The Darkbeast”, a short story that I wrote for the anthology Fantastic Companions, edited by Julie Czerneda.  In a couple of thousand words, I’d built a world that I longed to return to.  I wanted to learn more about darkbeasts, about how they worked as scapegoats for their people, about what happened to rebels who struck out on their own in a society controlled by religion.

The novel Darkbeast started out as a story for and about young adults, teenagers who had a fair degree of autonomy.  But as I wrote the novel, I realized that more interesting questions were posed when rights and power were taken away.  I wanted Keara to be most vulnerable, to be faced with tough decisions and even more difficult social restrictions.

And so, Darkbeast became a middle grade novel.

In many ways, that transition was destined from my first days as a speculative fiction writer.  As a child, I always enjoyed reading, but I hit my speculative stride in middle school.  I discovered A Wrinkle in Time and the Narnia series, The Hobbit and the Deryni.  I role-played my favorite characters (although I wouldn’t have known that term if you’d asked me), and I wrote my first fanfic (ditto).

Middle grade reading was magical for me, and now I wanted to share that magic with others.  I wanted to give young readers that feeling of escape, that urge to stay up late reading under the covers, that desire to create new stories that lived on in the light of day.

At the same time, I wasn’t willing to give up complex characters and difficult moral choices.  I definitely wasn’t willing to dumb down my vocabulary.  I learned about people and ethics and language from the reading I did in middle school; there’s no reason not to give today’s children the same keys to their world.

And so Keara became twelve.  And a pen name was chosen.  And Darkbeast has been released into the world.

When did you first discover a love of reading?  Do the plots and themes of those treasured books still inspire you?

Morgan can be found online at Facebook and her website.

Darkbeast is for sale in bricks-and-mortar and online bookstores, including:  Amazon | B & N | Indiebound

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Morgan Keyes grew up in California, Texas, Georgia, and Minnesota, accompanied by parents, a brother, a dog, and a cat.  Also, there were books.  Lots and lots of books.  Morgan now lives near Washington, D.C.  In between trips to the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery of Art, she reads, travels, reads, writes, reads, cooks, reads, wrestles with cats, and reads.  Because there are still books.  Lots and lots of books.

Off to Chicon

Our internet is fixed! Just in time for me to leave the state tomorrow morning for Worldcon. I’m reposting my schedule here, mostly so I can find it this weekend when I manage to confuse myself.

  • 8/30, 5:30 p.m., Dusable – Reading (Any requests? I’ll probably do something from Libriomancer, but I’m willing to reconsider. I read the Muppet Werewolf story at WFC a few years back, otherwise I’d do that one.)
  • 8/31, 10 a.m. – Noon – Writers Workshop (Preregistered attendees only)
  • 9/1, 9:00 a.m., Comiskey – SFWA Business Meeting
  • 9/1, 10:30 a.m. – Noon, Columbus IJ – The Art of the Cover Pose (Jim C. Hines, Karen Haber, Steven Vincent Johnson, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Yanni Kuznia)
  • 9/1, Noon – 1:30 p.m., Autograph Tables – Autographing (Charles Justiz, James Kahn, Jim C. Hines, Joan Slonczewski, Lee Martindale, Mary Robinette Kowal, Nancy Fulda, Robert Reed, Tony Pi)
  • 9/2, 6:00 p.m. – ??? – Hugo Reception/Ceremony/Loser’s Party – In which Jim will wear … a suit! Just like a real grown-up! The ceremony begins at 8:00 p.m. Central Time. There should be live video here.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone! If you’re a regular reader/commenter, please say hi if you have a moment! (And if your real name doesn’t match your online handle, please throw me a bone and tell me who you are. I can barely remember my own name at these things.)

I’ll probably be posting random Worldcon-related miscellany on Twitter, and maybe Facebook.

Other things while I’m thinking about it…

Anton Strout’s book Alchemystic [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] comes out September 25. He and Penguin are donating $2 per preorder, up to $3000, to Worldbuilders. Details are on Pat Rothfuss’ blog.

Morgan Keyes has a new book out called Darkbeast [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], which sounds like a lot of fun. I’m hoping to have a guest blog post from her soon.

Finally, LEGO: The Piece of Resistance is a live-action and CGI LEGO movie, currently in development. It’s just been announced that they’ll be turning Morgan Freeman and Elizabeth Banks into minifigs for the film. The movie will also have Superman and Batman sharing the screen. (In minifig form, naturally.) I believe this is the point where I say SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!!!

Morgan Keyes: Writers Write (And Do A Lot Of Other Things)

Morgan Keyes is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade novel Darkbeast [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], which just sounds cool. Check out this setup from the description:

In Keara’s world, every child has a darkbeast—a creature that takes dark deeds and emotions like anger, pride, and rebellion. Keara’s darkbeast is Caw, a raven. Caw is her constant companion, and they are magically bound to each other until Keara’s 12th birthday. For on that day Keara must kill her darkbeast—that is the law. Refusing to kill a darkbeast is an offense to the gods, and such heresy is harshly punished by the feared Inquisitors.

I like this setup, and having read a little of Keyes’ stuff under her other name, I’m adding Darkbeast to my evergrowing wish list…

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It’s become a cliche: Writers write. If we want to produce a novel, we need to put our butts in our chairs, our hands on our keyboards, and write.

Most people expand that hoary advice a bit: Writers read. If we want to know what’s going on in “our” genres, we need to read, early and often. We even need to read outside our genres, to get an idea of potential broader markets of readers, and to keep abreast of developing trends that might influence our own specific fields.

I’ve only recently realized how many other things that writers need to do.

A couple of months ago, I put the finishing touches on DARKBEAST, a middle grade fantasy novel that will be coming out at the end of August under the pen name Morgan Keyes. To get the book completely “put to bed” I spent months living the story, breathing its details, dreaming its myriad plots and twists. When I turned in the very last, absolutely-final, not-going-to-change-a-word edits, I found myself rather … empty.

I tried to sketch out story ideas, but nothing seemed fresh. I thought about branching out into new genres, but I felt utterly unprepared. I read background books for one new novel, researching a beloved public domain work that I intended to update as a modern story, only to realize (after a month of writing and several false starts) that the 19th century sentiment in that novel could not be translated into the sort of sassy, contemporary book I wanted to write.

In short, my creative well was empty.

And then, I attended the Silverdocs Documentary Film Festival. The festival included 114 films aired over seven days. I saw a fraction of them, “only” nineteen. They varied widely in style. One was as short as four minutes; several came in at right around two hours. They covered topics as varied as the manufacture of fortune cookies to the rock band Journey to migratory birds in Central Park.

And here’s the thing: each of those movies told a story. Each displayed unique characters in a specific setting solving carefully-defined problems. The documentaries were little gems of narrative. If they’d been books, they would have fallen into the genre of “creative non-fiction”, the novelistic exploration of narrow non-fiction topics, like Simon Garfield’s MAUVE, HOW ONE MAN INVENTED A COLOR THAT CHANGED THE WORLD or Trevor Corson’s THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS.

In fact, the documentaries weren’t merely lenses on another world. They were prisms. They shattered my preconceived notions, breaking my ideas into multiple component parts. After every movie, I engaged in long discussions about what the facts were, what they meant, how the filmmaker relayed them.

And somewhere along the way, I started to think of stories I wanted to tell. I began to imagine different types of narratives, building on the traditions of the fantasy genre that has long been my literary home, but different. I scribbled down notes for one story, and then another, and then another.

Viewing stories in a different medium than the one in which I regularly create allowed my “art” brain to relax. The films allowed the creative part of me to re-awaken, to begin exploring new boundaries.

Writers write. Writers read. And writers experience art wherever they can find it, in whatever format is available in the instant.

Do you agree? Disagree? If you’re a writer, have you found inspiration in other media? If you’re a reader, have you read works that were clearly inspired by other media?

Jim C. Hines