Novella Sale: Le Jardin Animé (1893)

Amid the joyous chaos of our second daughter’s birth in April, two conventions (one while pregnant, one while breastfeeding), and a pile of great books, I’m overjoyed to announce that I’ve sold my novella, Le Jardin Animé (1893) to GigaNotoSaurus! It will release January 1, 2020.

Without giving too much away, I hope, it’s about ballet-dancing automata, an aging thornback inventor, and a female Muslim doctor in an isolated Philadelphia mansion in 1893. I’ve referred to it as my mad-scientist gothic.

I have Codex‘s annual novella contest to thank for its existence, and many friends and colleagues there who read and critiqued it across various stages. Several other good friends read it and offered feedback and cheered me on as I sent it into the world for submission. I might never have attempted this without the safety of my writing community. So thank you.

I also sought sensitivity reads once I was pretty sure I was done. I wanted to be sure (or as sure as one can be) that I’d done right by my doctor and one of two POV characters, Zaynab. Their feedback helped me hone what I’d absorbed through research into my best possible characterization of her individual motivations, faith, and world view. Any blind spots are absolutely my own.

I also want to thank Writing the Other for the lessons in craft and in being a good human. In the cacophony of extreme opinions about how writers should navigate diversity, their classes have been a clear voice advocating for thoughtful inclusivity and careful self-examiniation. I highly recommend them to all writers. I hope I have put those lessons to good in this work.

Most of all, I have to thank GigaNotoSarus’s editor, LaShawn M. Wanak, for buying it. I could not be more thrilled.

So stay tuned for a publication announcement first thing next year! And I’ll have doubled-up book reviews coming this week!

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Review: TRAIL OF LIGHTNING by Rebecca Roanhorse

Roanhorse’s debut novel takes the wheel from beloved monster-hunters like the Winchester Brothers, makes a fast break into a post-apocalyptic setting, and delivers on its promises.TRAIL OF LIGHTNING by Rebecca Roanhorse (cover)

After the Energy Wars, the world below 3,500-feet is under the Big Water and what was once the Navajo reservation—now Diné—is one of humanity’s few strongholds. Legendary heroes and holy figures intermingle with the five-fingered mortals in this new Sixth World and a monster unfamiliar to all of them is threatening what little peace the people of Diné can muster. When no one else answers a town’s pleas for help, Maggie Hoskie drags herself and her weapons out of her trailer to assist. Even after her years fighting alongside the immortal Monsterslayer himself, though, she’s shocked at the carnage the new monster brings. Unwilling, unworthy, she seeks answers she’s not sure she wants to find. Along for the ride is attractive, flirtatious, peace-loving Kai Arviso, a medicine-man-in-training who is convinced he can convince Maggie to drop her guard and accept his friendship, eventually.

The banter, the intermittent gore, the self-assured and self-deprecating humor all reminded me of Supernatural at its best. What Trail of Lightning does better is navigating its main character’s troubled past in a linear fashion, right alongside the external conflict (e.g., monsters). There aren’t thirty-five I’m sorry, fifteen seasons in which to develop Maggie’s character, but there are the confines of Roanhorse’s chosen first-person, present-tense telling. Maggie might have no desire to revisit her past, to work through her emotional and psychological wounds, but even in her most resistant moments, she grows more and more sympathetic.

And Maggie has plenty history to run from. The novel’s horror is not confined to the physical present by any means. The trauma of the Big Water—when billions of people died—echoes in every life, in every hardship. Maggie’s experiences with more personal violence, past and present, haunt her. Roanhorse does not shy away from delving: scars are as powerful weapons as they are weaknesses.

This is true of more than just Maggie’s story. Though centuries removed from the European colonization of North America, Diné and its inhabitants still feel the trauma of genocide and displacement, of the often tense relationship between those living in Diné and those with authority over the lands beyond. But of course generational trauma would survive the Big Water, when oral and personal histories would become even more important, even more prized.

Roanhorse’s novel is fast-paced, full of heart, and a darn fun read. But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that my review is far from the only one you should read. As settler, a non-Indigenous woman, there is a lot of Maggie’s experience and culture that I cannot evaluate as more than an observer at a window. I am not well-versed in Navajo history, Diné religion, or even the immediate geography of the reservation. Roanhorse has received praise and censure for this novel from Diné reviewers, and the conversations they have had about her depiction of their beliefs and culture are essential. While I loved stepping beyond the confines of a Judeo-Christian mythos for this jaunt, it is not my place to say whether Roanhorse did justice to the figures she called on for her tale.

But as a reviewer, I can say this much: give me more. Give me more monster-hunters with the power of their POC/Indigenous ancestors. Give me more badass women confronting their past and refusing to be good for goodness’s sake. Give me more reflections on the problems people face now, wrapped in a delicious narrative. If we have more stories like this, we won’t need to worry about one novel or one writer’s work standing as a token for an entire culture. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Storm of Locusts, and to delving into other Native American and other indigenous speculative fiction in the near future.

On a personal note: I did purchase a copy of this novel for review, and I also read it via ebook on Overdrive. That’s also how I’ll be reading the sequel in coming weeks. Support your local libraries!

If you’re looking for other speculative fiction by Native American writers, Roanhorse recommended these books via Tor in 2018. This list from 2016 shares some recommendations and differs, too; it includes WALKING THE CLOUDS, which I read and very much enjoyed a few years ago.

Review: JADE CITY and JADE WAR by Fonda Le

Lee’s Jade City and Jade War begin a family saga in which magic and loyalty are more treasured than life itself. In the sprawling, metropolitan capital of an island nation, family-run clans teeter on the edge of deadly conflict as the world seeks covert control of their cultural and magical wellspring: jade that offers the right bearers impossible physical power. A synthetic drug offers the addictive, dangerous power to anyone and the itch for jade begins to spread.  fondalee-e1564156868181

With the echoes of Kekon’s civil war dying with its elders, the nation’s younger generations are coming into power, and the No Peak Clan’s scions are no more ready for that burden than any of history’s princelings. Kaul Lanshinwan may have been raised as his grandfather’s successor, but rising to fill the shoes his late, larger-than-life, war-hero father left empty has already cost him dearly. His brother, Hiloshudon, on the other hand, may be too ready to be his brother’s right-hand-man, the clan’s street-enforcer. Together, they seem strong enough to face anything—except maybe all-out war with their rival clan over black-market jade sales and territorial encroachment. For that, they’ll need family. Long removed from clan business is their sister, Shaelinsan, who will not wear jade. The Kauls’ younger, adopted cousin, Emery Anden, cannot wear jade until he graduates. And for the Kauls, everything is written in terms of jade. Those that wear it can be powerful and vulnerable as corporeal gods. Those who cannot—or who choose not to—walk a tenuous line beside them. But the price of that jade will always be blood.

Calling the Green Bone Saga books “The Godfather with magic and kung fu” (as Lee has previously) is as succinct a summary as can be made, but talking only about how much fun these books are misses the craft that underpins them. The fight scenes are tense, physical, but don’t go over the head of someone without a strong awareness of martial arts. The characters’ competence hamstrings them as often as it helps, and their motivations are clear, personal, palpable. The twists are as gut-wrenching as the violent decisions the characters make to gain or maintain power. And the momentum carries straight through both books, and I rarely find book twos to be as strong as their companions. The family ties and addictive, consuming magic remind me of Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince series, another sweeping epic albeit one with a far different setting. Combining the force of epic fantasy with familiar, urban set dressings and the gritty feel of a mob story just hit all the right notes for me. The sum of this: Lee sets the bar high for herself and others. Jade City and Jade War are page-turners that do not let up, and I expect nothing less of Jade Legacy when it arrives.

On a personal note: I do know Fonda, but happily purchased both books on my own with no incentive from Fonda or her publisher. I also listened to these books on Audible and very much enjoyed Andrew Kishino’s performance.