Tansy Rayner Roberts

Ink Black Magic, by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Ink Black Magic [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the third book in Tansy Rayner Roberts‘ Mocklore chronicles. I haven’t read the first two, but that wasn’t much of a problem. While there are a few references to earlier events, the book pretty much stands on its own.

How to describe this one … well, let’s start with this snippet from the official description:

True love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Happy endings don’t come cheap.
All that magic is probably going to kill you.
You really can have too much black velvet.

That sums things up surprisingly well.

Basically, you’ve got Kassa Daggersharp, legendary ex-pirate and professor of magic; and Egg Friefriedsson, a university student whose comics come to life in the form of the foreboding and fashion-challenged city of Drak. And also a guy who’s currently a winged sheep. And Aragon Silversword, who’s in the midst of an identity crisis of his own. They have to save their home from Drak, which is expanding and transforming everyone it touches into dark, foreboding, sinister versions of themselves, all of whom dress like Neil Gaiman.

Other reviewers have compared this book to Pratchett’s work, and I had the same reaction at several points while I was reading. There’s a healthy appreciation for the absurd, and a lively cast of ridiculous and entertaining secondary characters. It doesn’t have the same laugh-out-loud moments of funny, but it didn’t feel to me like Roberts was aiming for that. So I didn’t see this as a flaw, merely a different flavor of comic fantasy.

The plot was surprisingly layered, with mystery after mystery to be peeled back like an onion in which every layer of the onion is magical and might kill you or rewrite your mind or un-kill you or make it rain seafood. Or all of the above. While this made for a more complex and ambitious story, the pacing toward the end felt a little off to me, as if there was just too much to wrap up. But that could be a quirk of my personal taste.

Overall, a fun read and a nice change of pace.

First Book Friday: Tansy Rayner Roberts

It’s been six months since the last First Book Friday post, where authors talk about how they wrote and/or sold their first novel. Previous entries in the series are indexed here, and the submission guidelines are over there.

Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twitter, LJ) is, in her words,  a writer, a mum, a doll merchant, and in her spare time (ha!) likes to cut up fabric and sew it back together in an amusing fashion. She’s also one of the three voices of the Galactic Suburbia podcast (which is currently on the Hugo list for Best Podcast!)


I had only just turned twenty when my first novel, Splashdance Silver, was published.  It sounds like a dream come true, but while there are some amazing benefits to being published so young, there are also some fairly grim realities.  When asked to give advice to new authors, I almost always say “A debut is a terrible thing to waste.”  And I am well aware that it’s often those authors who debut later in their lives who manage to turn that first lightning moment of luck-and-timing-and-good-book into a solid career.

But I hope I also stand as an example of how a less-than-stellar debut can be overcome.  Eventually.

The media surrounding Splashdance Silver used my age as a hook for readers, which I think caused as much backlash as it did awareness.  The book was the inaugural winner of The George Turner Prize, a contest designed to select and publish a new manuscript of science fiction or fantasy.  The prize ran for three years (with a female winner every year, my successors being hard science fiction writers Maxine McArthur and Michelle Marquardt) before quietly disappearing into the sunset with a swag on its back and a sad song in its heart.

As the first prize winner, receiving an advance for a whopping $10,000, which would still be considered an exceptional novel advance for a first time author in Australia today, I was under a lot of scrutiny, and there were rumblings in the SF community about the fact that a prize named after George Turner, an eminent Australian writer of serious science fiction, had been won by some girl’s funny fantasy novel, featuring more girls, and frocks, and exploding pirates, and that sort of thing.

Then there was the award ceremony itself, badly handled, where I discovered on the night that while *I* had known for months of secrecy that I was the winner, and had been busily editing the book for its imminent publication, none of the other shortlisted authors had been told that the race was long over.  They did figure it out, I suspect, when I was seated at the table with the guests of honour, well before the official announcement.  I cringe now to think about it – and am terribly grateful that many of them were not only forgiving, but have become very good friends since.

I had some lovely, supportive readers, and still hear from fans (mostly young women, who discovered Splashdance then or now as a teenager) but in 1998 the Young Adult fantasy boom had yet to take off, and my little book struggled to live up to the substantial advance, which turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing.  A sequel, Liquid Gold, was put out the following year, when Australia was hosting the Worldcon, but the third book never made it to the shelves.

I’ve been working to overcome my first false start for many years now, making friends and allies in the SF community, teaching, studying, having babies, reviewing and learning to craft short stories, podcasting at Galactic Suburbia, and writing, writing, writing.

My debut might have been less than stellar, but our industry can (occasionally) be more forgiving than we give it credit for.  In 2010 I was relaunched as a writer of dark fantasy at HarperCollins Voyager with The Creature Court trilogy. This time I have been widely reviewed, receiving a great deal more critical attention and support.  With community goodwill behind me, I hope this time to be able to launch a career that will stick to the wall, and keep climbing.

So, here we go again!

New Books!

No First Book Friday post this week, I’m afraid. So I figured we could do New Book Friday instead.

Oof. As it turns out, I know an awful lot of people who write books! I know this list is incomplete, too. I got in trouble for that the last time I posted a new books list, so if you have a book out and I didn’t include you, I’m not being deliberately exclusive. My brain cannot keep track of all the books.

So, anyone read any of these yet? Any you’re particularly looking forward to? And of course, feel free to add more new book suggestions in the comments!

Clicking the covers will take you to an excerpt/preview of the book, where available. (Making this one of the most link-heavy posts I’ve done in ages. I hope y’all appreciate how much work I do for you!)

Deathless [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Catherynne M. Valente.

The Shattered City [Harper Collins Australia] by Tansy Rayner Roberts.

The Woods [Amazon | B&N], an e-book from Stephen Leigh. (Also, B&N really needs to work on their search algorithms!!!)

Con and Conjure [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Lisa Shearin.

Faerie Winter [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Janni Lee Simner.

Fury of the Phoenix [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Cindy Pon.

Kat, Incorrigible [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Stephanie Burgis.

Rage [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Jackie Morse Kessler.

Shady Lady [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Ann Aguirre.

Nascence (17 stories that failed and what they taught me) [Amazon | B&N], an e-book by Tobias Buckell.

Jim C. Hines