The Queen of Swords

1870. Maude Stapleton, late of Golgotha, Nevada, is a respectable widow raising a daughter on her own. Few know that Maude belongs to an ancient order of assassins, the Daughters of Lilith, and is as well the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Anne Bonney, the legendary female pirate.

Leaving Golgotha in search of her daughter Constance, who has been taken from her, Maude travels to Charleston, South Carolina, only to find herself caught in the middle of a secret war between the Daughters of Lilith and their ancestral enemies, the monstrous Sons of Typhon. To save Constance, whose prophetic gifts are sought by both cults, Maude must follow in the footsteps of Anne Bonney as she embarks on a perilous voyage that will ultimately lead her to a lost city of bones in the heart of Africa—and the Father of All Monsters.

In R.S. Belcher’s The Queen of Swords, one of the most popular characters from The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana ventures beyond Golgotha on a boldly imaginative, globe-spanning adventure of her own! Available June 27th from Tor Books.

[Read an Excerpt]

I’ll Make a Man Out of You: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Do you get all giddy at YA historical fantasy? Are you craving new diverse fiction? Did you dig Mulan? If you answered yes to all three of those questions, then Renée Ahdieh’s Flame in the Mist is just for you.

At not-quite seventeen, Hattori Mariko suddenly finds herself engaged to the Emperor’s son after some political maneuvering by her father. When her marital caravan is attacked on her way to the palace and everyone slaughtered, Mariko barely escapes and flees into the woods. Everyone blames the band of brigands and rogues who operate under the moniker the Black Clan, and Mariko’s twin brother Kenshin, a seasoned warrior known as the Dragon of Kai, sets out to track her down. Realizing her only way to prove her worth while also protecting her reputation is to figure out who tried to kill her and why, she pretends to be a boy and joins the Black Clan. There Mariko’s innovative intellect thrives. So too does her heart.

Flame in the Mist is a very entertaining novel. It’s also a story you’ve heard before, even if the setting is creative and unique. There’s cryptic political intrigue, intriguing magic, and plenty of characters who aren’t what they seem. I definitely recommend it overall, despite some of the less successful elements. Speaking of which…

[“True weakness is weakness of the spirit.”]

Cthulhu and Sons: Lin Carter’s “The Winfield Heritance”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Lin Carter’s “The Winfield Heritance” (unless it’s “Heritage” or “Inheritance,” sources differ), first published in 1981 in Weird Tales #3 (an anthology, edited by Carter himself, not a magazine). Spoilers ahead.

[“The coiling stone stair did not end, but it vanished into a black pool of slimy liquid mud…”]

Series: The Lovecraft Reread

Why I Stopped Reading The Queen’s Thief Series

My best friend handed me Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief probably shortly after its publication in 1996, at a point where we had read through all of Tamora Pierce’s then-current body of work and were slowly going mad waiting for the next installment. The Thief was the logical recommendation for a next read: Gen was small and sassy like Alanna, stubbornly self-reliant even when the gods decided to take an interest in his business, and as creative an interpretation of the thief archetype as Alanna is with knighthood. It was also, I think, the first fantasy novel that actually bowled me over with its twist. The stuff I had read before then—The Song of the Lioness, The Blue Sword, etc.—kept me enthralled simply exploring every inch of their lush worlds, but The Thief set up expectations and then swiftly subverted them.

It was such a perfect standalone novel that I remember initially being leery of the sequel. But then 2000’s The Queen of Attolia, true to the brutal ruler after which it’s named, upped the ante with a devastating act of violence early on that forever alters Gen’s identity. Suddenly, instead of a thief or trickster he is neither, simply a beloved protagonist coping with the unimaginable. By the end of the book, our worldview—both as readers and as participants in the ongoing conflict among Sounis, Eddis, and Attolia—has radically shifted. So why didn’t I continue on with The King of Attolia, published in 2006? For one, I didn’t even know that a third installment existed. Around that time, I met new fantasy heroines in Rani Trader (from Mindy Klasky’s The Glasswrights’ Apprentice) and Mel Astiar (from Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel) and forgot all about Gen.

But twenty years after I read The Thief, Turner’s series has stolen my attention back.

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Watch the First Trailer for Game of Thrones Season 7

“Enemies to the east. Enemies to the west. Enemies to the south. Enemies to the north.” All of the major players are bearing down on the Iron Throne in the first trailer for Game of Thrones season 7. HBO has released a tantalizing preview full of awesome giant maps, battles both fiery and icy, alliances forged and broken, and, of course, a huge dragon at the end.

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Problem Child: First Born by Caroline Thompson

Long before Caroline Thompson wrote the screenplays for Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before Christmas, she wrote this dark, deeply weird novel called First Born. She sold director Penelope Spheeris the rights to the film adaptation for $1, and adapted her first novel into her first screenplay. The film was never made, but it launched Thompson on a new career in Hollywood, and she soon met Tim Burton at a studio party. The two bonded over feeling like nerdy outcasts in a room full of Hollywood insiders.

As a lifelong Tim Burton fan, I’ve been meaning to read this book ever since I first found out Thompson had written it. It took me a while to track a copy down, but even after I had it I was nervous about cracking it open. Would it be worth it? Does the book offer a glimpse at the writer who would later pen some of my favorite movies? I only knew that the plot concerned abortion, and that it was literary horror.

The book is both more and less than what that description promises.

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A Walk Around Inland: Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker

Russell Hoban said that he was a good speller before he wrote Riddley Walker and a bad speller after finishing it. The first sentence shows why: “On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the last wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadn’t ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.” Two thousand or so years after an atomic catastrophe—“the 1 Big 1”—civilization and the English language hobble on, the language marginally healthier than the society.

Riddley Walker, just twelve during the story’s action, is supposed to be his tribe’s “connexion man,” a seer or shaman who interprets the world and its signs. Riddley gives his first connexion the day after his father’s death; its failure—Riddley falls into a trance, goes silent, and disappoints his audience—soon leads him out from the people he has known and into the wilds of “Inland.” He encounters mutants, vicious dogs, scheming politicians; he sneaks through enemy encampments, rifles dead men’s pockets, and witnesses old acquaintances die, but the action is more melancholy than exciting: Riddley senses that his adventures have a shape, but he can’t comprehend it. He knows that he is in a larger story, or perhaps repeating a past story, but he does not know the storyteller or their purpose.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

The Last Jedi Has Purple Laura Dern and Is Maybe a Heist Movie?

As promised, Vanity Fair has released the full spread of Annie Leibovitz’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi portraits, and we are officially even more excited for the next installment. Why? Because in addition to more portraits of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Carrie Fisher as General Leia—and one feels-tugging photo of the two together—there’s so much to ponder about the new movie’s plot… like Laura Dern in the kind of outfit cosplayers will have so much fun with, and a whole subplot involving a “James Bond-ish” casino!

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How George Lucas’s Love of Cinema Changed Movies Forever

In 1975, a little movie about big trouble in a New England resort town came along and changed American cinema. That movie was Jaws, the Steven Spielberg-directed shark thriller that’s credited with inventing the summer blockbuster. Not only was Jaws a runaway box office success, but it was a bit of an anomaly in the fabric of 1970s American filmmaking. After all, from a certain point of view, the ‘70s can be understood as the American art house decade; in no other period did auteur-driven movies—such as The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The French Connection—find so much mainstream success. Jaws, though, gave audiences something totally different, and people came in droves to see it. And then, just two summers later, audiences’ desire for big budget, genre-drive movies was cemented when Star Wars took the entire world by storm.

But for all their similarities, Star Wars did something extraordinary that Jaws did not.

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A Definitive Ranking of Bryan Fuller’s Greatest Female Characters

The Fullerverse is the fantastic array of televisual delights curated, written, and showrun by one Bryan Fuller. As a writer who has talked about his love of Wonder Woman, Princess Leia, and the Bionic Woman, Fuller has made a point of creating three-dimensional, complex female characters on each of his shows—not just cardboard “strong female characters” or bland ass-kickers, but women with different strengths and weaknesses, beliefs, and, most of all, believable inner lives.

This week saw the premiere of American Gods’ fourth episode, “Git Gone,” which gives Laura Moon a backstory she never had in Neil Gaiman’s novel. It also honors Fuller’s tradition of women who live their lives (and die their deaths) on their own terms. The more I thought about Laura, the more I wanted to look back at more of Fuller’s female characters. They’re all great, but who’s the best?

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Diplomacy Under Pressure: The Curse of Chalion

Some scenes are like a song: Their pacing builds and sings. They’re a pleasure to read, and all the more if they’re about a character I love.

Lupe dy Cazaril (Caz, for convenience and by his preference) arrives home in the first book of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series, The Curse of Chalion, under inauspicious circumstances. He’s nobility (a “castillar”—a knight), but penniless. He’s a war hero, but one betrayed and sold into servitude. He has powerful enemies waiting for him at home, and a tortured past haunting his steps. He just wants to lie low for a while and recover.

Naturally, it’s not long before he finds himself the primary advisor to the rightful Royina of Chalion, seeking to cut through a web of treachery to restore her to the throne and at the same time end the curse upon her house through intellect, strength of character, and the somewhat dubious assistance of two separate gods.

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Series: That Was Awesome! Writers on Writing

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
Written by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards and Nicholas Meyer (uncredited)
Directed by Nicholas Meyer
Release date: June 4, 1982
Stardate: 8130.3

Captain’s log. Lieutenant Saavik gives a captain’s log, saying the Enterprise is on a training mission to the Gamma Hydra sector near the Neutral Zone between Federation and Klingon space. They receive a distress call from the Kobayashi Maru, which is dead in space after hitting a gravitic mine. They’re in the Neutral Zone, and if the Enterprise moves to rescue them, they’ll be in violation of treaty.

Saavik orders Commander Sulu to go in anyhow. As soon as they are in the Zone, three Klingon attack cruisers show up and surround them. They’re jamming all communications, and the signal from the Maru has gone dead. Sulu tries to evade them, but the Klingons fire on them. Sulu, Commander Uhura, Dr. McCoy, and Captain Spock are all killed, and the ship is damaged beyond repair. Saavik orders all hands to abandon ship.

[Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, Doctor…]

Series: Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Dune Messiah, Part One

We’re back to reading! Welcome once again to the Dune Reread, where we are getting a jump start on Dune Messiah! The next books run a bit faster, so I will be going through them in bigger chunks—Dune Messiah will probably be about 3-4 parts on a reread. There will be more overall summary rather than in-depth recapping. So for now, let’s dive into the current conditions of House Atreides and their galaxy-wide empire.

Index to the reread can be located here! And don’t forget this is a reread, which means that any and all of these posts will contain spoilers for all of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. If you’re not caught up, keep that in mind.

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Series: Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune