content by

Kate Elliott

Fiction and Excerpts [2]

Fiction and Excerpts [2]

Court of Fives

, || Jessamy's life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family she can be whoever she wants when she sneaks out to train for The Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom's best contenders.

Reading Smoke and Iron: Book 4 of the Great Library by Rachel Caine

Jess Brightwell and his friends and colleagues have rebelled against the Great Library, which controls access to and dissemination of all written knowledge in the world. Once a beacon of light, the Library has become a despotic and oppressive force controlled by despotic and cruel men who mean to hold onto their power by any means necessary.

At the end of book 3, Ash and Quill, Jess, his identical twin brother Brendan, Obscurist Morgan, and royal Dario make a secret decision to pretend to betray the other members of their group in a desperate gamble to infiltrate the Library’s home base. Jess and Brendan switch places (as identical twins can theoretically do).

[Read more]

Reading Ash and Quill: Book 3 of the Great Library by Rachel Caine

Roxanne Longstreet Conrad, also known as Rachel Caine, passed away on November 1st, 2020 after a long fight with a rare and aggressive cancer. We started this read-a-long to share Rachel’s words with more people. The author of 57 novels, she reached millions. The Great Library is a small but mighty part of her oeuvre. Thank you for reading and remembering Rachel with us. Here is a statement from her family and loved ones.

* * *

The principle of Chekhov’s Gun has become a truism in writing. In a letter to a friend, the Russian writer Anton Chekhov wrote: “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.”

The prologue of book one, Ink and Bone, introduces our protagonist Jess Brightwell, son of a book smuggling family, his father, and his twin brother. Why does Jess have an identical twin brother? The brother is one of several Chekhov’s guns placed in the series. At the end of book three, Caine makes this one go off to great effect.

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Reading Paper and Fire: Book 2 of the Great Library by Rachel Caine

We return for book two of Rachel Caine’s five volume Great Library series. In book one Caine introduces her alternate history set up: The Great Library of Alexandria, which in our historical timeline was destroyed in late antiquity, not only survived into the modern era but thrived and eventually took control of all permitted transmission of knowledge in the world.

This speculative idea is the foundation of Caine’s story. She uses it as a springboard to do what science fiction does best: Ask questions about the present day. Who controls ideas? Is knowledge more valuable than people? Is progress inevitable? Will authoritarians prevent technological and social advances in the name of stability, if by stability they mean their own grip on authority? Does power corrupt? Is the sky blue? This list barely scratches the surface of the questions Caine asks in the series, and we hope readers will chime in with their own observations.

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Reading Ink and Bone: Book One of the Great Library by Rachel Caine

Fair warning: In the post itself there will be mild spoilers, but we will do our best to minimize them for those of you who may not yet have read the books because we really want to entice you into reading the series. However, in the comments section feel free to discuss the book with spoilers. Please hold spoiler comments about later volumes to when those posts are made in subsequent weeks. Thank you!

[Jess Brightwell belongs to a family of book smugglers…]

Introducing a Read-Along of Rachel Caine’s Great Library Series

Zoraida Córdova and Kate Elliott would like to invite readers to join them here at for a six part read-along (not counting this post) of Rachel Caine’s five-volume Great Library series.

Libraries as archives of records and writing appear early in history in places like Sumer, Egypt, and Zhou Dynasty China. One of the most famous of these ancient libraries is the Great Library of Alexandria, founded and built by Ptolemy I and his son Ptolemy II, and expanded into a daughter institution the Serapeum by Ptolemy III. For a while the Great Library was probably the largest library in the Mediterranean and Western Asian world (the Ptolemies surely intended it to be so), but under later Roman management the institution fell into neglect and eventually was destroyed and most or all of its scrolls burned. This decline and destruction happened in stages rather than in a single riotous act but the end result for us in the modern era remains the same: A great repository of knowledge was lost.

As her jumping off point, Caine uses the existence of the Great Library in her foundational alternate-history premise: Instead of being lost, the Great Library not only survived but thrived and eventually took control of all permitted transmission of knowledge in the world. The opening volume of the series, Ink and Bone, begins with a prologue set in 2025, and the main story’s “present day” takes up the narrative six years later.

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Sleeping With Monsters

We’re pleased to share Kate Elliott’s introduction to Liz Bourke’s essay collection, Sleeping With Monsters—some of which are taken from her column here at Bourke’s subjects range from the nature of epic fantasy—is it a naturally conservative sort of literature?— to Mass Effect’s decision to allow players to play as a female hero, and from discussions of little-known writers to some of the most popular works in the field.

Bourke herself writes that the collection’s purpose is ”to be a little loud and angry. To celebrate the work of women in the science fiction and fantasy (SFF) field. To offer a snapshot, a limited glimpse, of what I think is best, most fun, most interesting.” A provocative, immensely readable collection of essays about the science fiction and fantasy field, from the perspective of a feminist and a historian, Sleeping With Monsters is an entertaining addition to any reader’s shelves, available July 1st from Aqueduct Press.

[Read more]

No Fear, No Doubt, Just Writing: The Real Value of NaNoWriMo

“Finding the courage to write fiction sometimes means finding the courage to fully admit the staggering range of your doubts and fears, and to see them for what they are: an expression of a part of yourself so entangled with your ambition and creativity and drive that the two can never fully become extricated.”

“I like to think of any given person not as a single discrete and thus finite entity but as a multiplicity of ever-shifting selves. Because we can continually grow and change, we are never static, and thus we are in constant communication with our past selves, our current self and its versions adapted to the various niches and angles of our lives, and our anticipated future iterations who are themselves capable of branching into infinity.

There is a lot of cross-talk in our heads. Wherever ideas come from (and I really don’t know), they arise out of and in conversation with the deepest levels of this chatter. These wellsprings contain some of the purest and clearest expressions of our inner selves, the waters we want to tap for our most expansive creativity.But that chatter can create a lot of fences, too, ones we keep slamming into when we thought we were promised open ground running all the way to the horizon.”

I wrote the above lines in a 2014 NaNoWriMo-related blog post titled “Finding the Courage to Write Fiction.” On this first day of NaNoWriMo 2016, I want to return to them.

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Writing Women Characters Into Epic Fantasy Without Quotas

The cold equations of “realism,” some claim, suggest there is little scope for women taking an active and interesting role in epic stories set in fantasy worlds based in a pre-modern era. Women’s lives in the past were limited, constrained, and passive, they say. To include multiple female characters in dynamic roles is to be in thrall to quotas, anachronisms, Political Correctness, and the sad spectacle and dread hyenas of wish-fulfillment.

Is this true?

[How can women characters fit in epic fantasy settings based on a quasi-historical past?]

Five SFF Stories Complicated by Intact Family Relationships

The main character who is orphaned or has no significant contact with family (left behind, estranged, dead spouse or child as motivator, etc) shows up frequently in SFF novels, and understandably so: Such characters don’t have to take anyone else’s life or needs into account as their adventures unfold. It’s easy to just pick up and go when you don’t have anyone relying on you, or when your decisions don’t immediately impact the lives of people you care about.

I’ve written this kind of character myself, but with Court of Fives I specifically wanted to write a story in which the main character’s family is intact and present, and therefore plays a part as one of the complicating factors in her journey. What happens when a choice we need to make will hurt someone we care about? How much will we risk for those we love?

[Read more]

Series: Five Books About…

Court of Fives

Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family she can be whoever she wants when she sneaks out to train for The Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best contenders.

Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an unlikely friendship between two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege. Court of Fives is available August 18th from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

[Read an excerpt]

Writing Women Characters as Human Beings

Occasionally I get asked if I have any advice for writers on how to create believable female characters while avoiding cliches, especially in fantasy novels where the expectations and settings may be seen to be different from our modern world.

There is an “easy” answer to this.

Write all characters as human beings in all their glorious complexity and contradiction.

That’s a decent answer, although rarely easy to pull off in practice, but it’s not really answering the question I’m getting asked.

[Read More]

The Status Quo Does Not Need World Building

The imagination is not context-less.

The words and conceptual markers a writer puts on the page arise from thoughts and perceptions and interpretations rooted in our experiences and knowledge and assumptions. Writers write what they know, what they think is important, what they think is entertaining, what they are aware or take notice of. They structure stories in patterns that make sense to them. A writer’s way of thinking, and the forms and content of what and how they imagine story, will be rooted in their existing cultural and social world.

[Who chooses what amount of world building is acceptable in fantasy literature? ]

Identity and Characterization

Who am I? Who are you?

Who is anyone, anyway?

And who gets to define who I am, or who you, or they, or we are? Don’t we get to define ourselves? Or do some believe they have the right to define who we are based on who they want us to be regardless of our own understanding of our identity?

Just what is identity? A single thing? Or a multivariate thing, a thing of diverse diversities, a thing of both intersection and difference?

Are any one of us merely one person with a single specific definitional identity that trumps anything else we might be, or are we, to quote Malian writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ, “a complex being inhabited by a multiplicity of beings in continuous motion”?

How cool is that? Continuous motion! A multiplicity! I can go for that.

We change across time, of course: we grow, we age, we may reproduce, the people with whom we have relationships may change.

But we’re also not definable as any one chief characteristic.

Is the most important thing about me that I am female? That I have white skin? That I grew up in an ethnic household with an immigrant mother, so we ate special food and used foreign words and practiced odd customs? That I write? That I write and read and view sff? That I’m a bit of a jock? That I am a parent? A mother of twins? And a singleton daughter! That I’m Jewish? That I paddle outrigger canoes? That I own a schnauzer? That I’m married? To a cisgendered male? That I have hearing loss? That I voted for (insert secret ballot here)? That I’m an American citizen? That I once (no, never mind, I don’t want to be defined as that).

I would go so far as to say that the only time we are defined as “one specific over-riding identity” is when we are being defined from the outside by people or groups who have a reason to want or need to limit our multiplicity.

[So what does this have to do with writing?]

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