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A.J. Hartley

Fiction and Excerpts [4]
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Fiction and Excerpts [4]

Firebrand

, || Book 2 in the Steeplejack series. To catch a thief, Ang must pretend to be a foreign princess and infiltrate an elite social club. But Ang is far from royal material, so Willinghouse enlists help from the exacting Madam Nahreem.

Chains

, || Anglet Sutonga is more realistic than most teenagers, but still dreams of rising above the impoverished streets of Bar-Selehm. When an opportunity comes along, will she take it? And what does she risk in order not to throw away her shot? A novelette set before the events of A.J. Hartley's Steeplejack.

Five Books About The Making of a Dystopia

It seems that some writers set up dystopian environments with the express aim of fixing them by the end of the book (or series). This is particularly true of YA dystopian fiction, the category in which my Steeplejack series most obviously fits, but I’m particularly interested in how such dystopias come about and how the characters in those stories survive, using the means at their disposal to resist the status quo.

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Series: Five Books About…

A Head for Heights: The History Behind Steeplejack

One of the final panels of the Bayeux tapestry depicts a man scaling the roof of a large church clutching a weathervane. The church may be the first incarnation of Westminster Abbey in London, and the man shown is someone once called a “steeple climber.” Such people worked to build, clean, and maintain tall structures; as their name suggests, the original work in medieval Britain focused largely on the spires and towers of high civic and ecclesiastical buildings. These were the guys who used systems of ladders and ropes to scale those otherwise inaccessible structures to fix up what the regular masons wouldn’t go near. While they may have been employed for long-term work during the construction of a major abbey like Westminster, their work was largely itinerant, and they travelled from town to town repairing church towers and the like, often combining the labor with a sideshow display of aerial acrobatics and feats of daring. It was a dangerous profession, as can easily be imagined when you consider working on a steeple like Saint Walburge, located in my hometown of Preston, which is a dizzying 309 feet high.

Records surviving from the 1760s depict the tools of the steeple-climber in terms that remain unchanged for the next two centuries: the bosun’s chair (a short plank or swath of heavy fabric on which someone might sit suspended), iron “dogs” (hooked spikes that were driven into masonry to anchor ropes or ladders), and staging scaffold. But church spires and clock towers alone wouldn’t provide much employment for steeplejacks. In the nineteenth century their work shifted to the more mundane, less elegant, and far more numerous structures which were sprouting all over England’s northwest: chimneys. The Industrial Revolution brought mills and factories and increasing mechanization, all steam-driven and fuelled by coal and coke, and their chimneys needed constant maintenance. The steeple climber was suddenly in regular demand, and some time around the 1860s they became known by a more-familiar title: steeplejack.

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Firebrand

Once a steeplejack, Anglet Sutonga is used to scaling the heights of Bar-Selehm. Nowadays she assists politician Josiah Willinghouse behind the scenes of Parliament. The latest threat to the city-state: Government plans for a secret weapon are stolen and feared to be sold to the rival nation of Grappoli. The investigation leads right to the doorsteps of Elitus, one of the most exclusive social clubs in the city. In order to catch the thief, Ang must pretend to be a foreign princess and infiltrate Elitus. But Ang is far from royal material, so Willinghouse enlists help from the exacting Madam Nahreem.

Yet Ang has other things on her mind. Refugees are trickling into the city, fleeing Grappoli-fueled conflicts in the north. A demagogue in Parliament is proposing extreme measures to get rid of them, and she soon discovers that one theft could spark a conflagration of conspiracy that threatens the most vulnerable of Bar-Selehm. Unless she can stop it.

Author A. J. Hartley returns to his intriguing, 19th-century South African-inspired fantasy world in Firebrand, an adrenaline-pounding adventure available from Tor Teen.

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Sherlock and the Problem with Plot Twists

I emerged from the fourth season of the BBC’s once awesome Sherlock in a kind of incoherent rage at what successful writers get away with when they are, apparently, deemed too big to fail. I’m not the only one, of course. There was a nice skewering of the show’s degeneration from cerebral mystery to James Bond-lite action film in the Guardian and the program’s principal show runner, Steven Moffat, has been drawing feminist flak since season two, so rather than go after elements of the show itself (and spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it in the process) I want to step back from Sherlock and focus on a troubling element I’ve seen in a lot of recent storytelling: the disastrous pursuit of surprise.

I’m talking about plot twists, and I’ll start by saying yes, I love them. There are few more compelling feelings than reading a book or watching a TV show and suddenly thinking “Wait! This isn’t what I thought it was at all! Everything I thought I knew about this story was wrong! The good guys are the bad guys (or vice versa). Up is down and black is white and I can’t wait to see how this works out!!!”

[If it works out.]

A Head for Heights: The Lost Art of the Steeplejack

In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to describe a specialty in their lives that has nothing (or very little) to do with writing. Join us as we discover what draws authors to their various hobbies, how they fit into their daily lives, and how and they inform the author’s literary identity!

One of the final panels of the Bayeux tapestry depicts a man scaling the roof of a large church clutching a weathervane. The church may be the first incarnation of Westminster Abbey in London, and the man shown is someone once called a “steeple climber.” Such people worked to build, clean, and maintain tall structures; as their name suggests, the original work in medieval Britain focused largely on the spires and towers of high civic and ecclesiastical buildings. These were the guys who used systems of ladders and ropes to scale those otherwise inaccessible structures to fix up what the regular masons wouldn’t go near. While they may have been employed for long-term work during the construction of a major abbey like Westminster, their work was largely itinerant, and they travelled from town to town repairing church towers and the like, often combining the labor with a sideshow display of aerial acrobatics and feats of daring. It was a dangerous profession, as can easily be imagined when you consider working on a steeple like Saint Walburge, located in my hometown of Preston, which is a dizzying 309 feet high.

Records surviving from the 1760s depict the tools of the steeple-climber in terms that remain unchanged for the next two centuries: the bosun’s chair (a short plank or swath of heavy fabric on which someone might sit suspended), iron “dogs” (hooked spikes that were driven into masonry to anchor ropes or ladders), and staging scaffold. But church spires and clock towers alone wouldn’t provide much employment for steeplejacks. In the nineteenth century their work shifted to the more mundane, less elegant, and far more numerous structures which were sprouting all over England’s northwest: chimneys. The Industrial Revolution brought mills and factories and increasing mechanization, all steam-driven and fuelled by coal and coke, and their chimneys needed constant maintenance. The steeple climber was suddenly in regular demand, and some time around the 1860s they became known by a more-familiar title: steeplejack.

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The Fantastical Strangeness of William Shakespeare

There’s a weird moment near the end of Shakespeare’s most realist and domestic comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor, when the plot to expose Falstaff’s failed sexual exploits gets all “Midsummer Nights” dreamy. Suddenly, there’s an enchanted oak tree which is haunted by fairies and a monstrous figure of Herne the Hunter. It’s all a kind of prank at Falstaff’s expense, of course, but it hinges on the fat knight thinking it’s real, and for a few minutes the play feels like its moved into an entirely different genre. The reality of Windsor’s small town doings gives way to the stuff of Puck, Oberon and Titania. It’s as if Shakespeare has gotten frustrated by the mundane, prosaic world of the play and needs to find a little whimsy, even if he will finally pull the rug out from under the fairies and show that it’s all just boys with tapers and costumes.

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Series: Shakespeare on Tor.com

Steeplejack

Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga lives repairing the chimneys, towers, and spires of the city of Bar-Selehm. Dramatically different communities live and work alongside each other. The white Feldish command the nation’s higher echelons of society. The native Mahweni are divided between city life and the savannah. And then there’s Ang, part of the Lani community who immigrated over generations ago as servants and now mostly live in poverty on Bar-Selehm’s edges.

When Ang is supposed to meet her new apprentice Berrit, she instead finds him dead. That same night, the Beacon, an invaluable historical icon, is stolen. The Beacon’s theft commands the headlines, yet no one seems to care about Berrit’s murder—except for Josiah Willinghouse, an enigmatic young politician. When he offers her a job investigating his death, she plunges headlong into new and unexpected dangers.

Meanwhile, crowds gather in protests over the city’s mounting troubles. Rumors surrounding the Beacon’s theft grow. More suspicious deaths occur. With no one to help Ang except Josiah’s haughty younger sister, a savvy newspaper girl, and a kindhearted herder, Ang must rely on her intellect and strength to resolve the mysterious link between Berrit and the missing Beacon before the city descends into chaos.

Thoughtfully imaginative and action-packed, Steeplejack is A. J. Hartley’s YA debut set in a 19th-century South African fantasy world—available June 14th from Tor Teen!

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Will Power (Excerpt)

Please enjoy this excerpt of Will Power by A.J. Hartley, a brand new fantasy novel featuring the characters from Hartley’s debut novel, Act of Will.

While on the run from Empire guards, Will Hawthorne and his band of thieves are transported to a mysterious land that none of them recognize or know how to get home from. Turns out that they’ve landed right in the middle of a battle between goblins and humans. Their human allies are practically storybook counterparts to the rough sorts they knew in Stavis, speaking in high-flown prose, dressed to the height of fashion, and dripping with wealth and social propriety. Will’s companions are quite taken by these fine folks, but the Fair Folk are appalled by Will’s unorthodoxy.

At first Will does whatever he can to try to squirm into their good graces, but just when his efforts are feeling totally futile, he begins to wonder if these too-perfect courtiers and warriors have anything to offer beyond their glamour and their burning hatred of the goblins. But is there any recourse for Will and his friends once it turns out that the humans who are sheltering them may not be on the right side of their eternal conflict?

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