Saturday, August 27, 2016

Serial Saturday: "The Clan of Outcasts" Part 4--Legends

Korsan Nasrok, "The Mage"
Part 3
He wasn't opposed to waiting. Being a Mage meant knowing what was going to happen much later, and finding contentment in letting the present pass until it did. This time should not have been any different.

Except he had not foreseen this particular event.

"Mage Korsan!" 

His guards announced his name—part of it—as they dragged him into the court. The Royal Council in their silver-grey robes nearly blended into the marble furnishings. They kept their hoods over their faces, the illusion of an impartial, impassive governing body.
"You stand accused of blasphemy, of false prophecies to undermine the authority of this kingdom," said one of the councilors. "How do you plead?"
Korsan held his head high. They still feared him, feared the power he held if they had dared say his full name. 
"I stand in support of the True King and his descendants!" He declared in a clear voice.

"The King is dead." The cold voice cut from the side of the room. "His family is scattered. The Royal Council rules the land."

"A serpent with two heads straining in opposing directions will risk devouring itself," Korsan replied. "How can a governing body lead as one, when they are so divided amongst each other?"
"Do not question our competence!" Screamed a portly cloaked shape on the other side. 
Korsan kept his hands folded, fingering the talisman hanging from his belt. The cool blue gem kept him from losing his temper entirely. "If it pleases the court," he said slowly, "may I know of what I am being accused?"
A murmur rippled through the assembly.
"You have long dissented against the policies of civic order instituted by this Council," droned another grey-robed individual, "and your outrageous claims against the crown—not to mention your failed attempts at prophecy—have prompted an inquiry into the true extent of your patriotism."
The Mage raised an eyebrow. "And my effectiveness as a Mage, apparently."
The presiding Councillor sniffed. "Yes, well, the late King Balwyn—angels rest his soul—did engage in the propagation of questionable practices. His faith in you was clearly misplaced—"
Korsan snorted. "Clearly! Since the plague that swept the land did not harm those who took my advice and sought the King's Healer—"
"She poisoned the King and Queen!"
"No!" Korsan raised his hand and pointed, causing the councilors in the front row to shrink backend cry out in alarm. "Your own Mage did this!"
"YOU STAND ACCUSED OF TREASON AND YOU WOULD SPEAK THUS?" The Chief Councillor bounded to his feet, his hands clenched and purple at his sides, his body quivering.
Korsan felt the talisman surge in warning; it would not do to enrage the high-strung council. Perhaps he could eventually make them see reason. "Forgive me," he said, "it was not my place—"
The High Councillor made an impatient gesture with his hands. "Take him away!" He spat.

The guards surged forward and grabbed Korsan by the arms. Once outside the main courts, they shoved him roughly forward.
Korsan winced as the rough flagstones cut into his hands. Struggling to his feet, he trudged toward his quarters in the tower to contemplate this turn of events.

The Mage they hired to cure the Royal Couple ends up killing them—nothing could convince him of the widespread belief that the Healer was at fault—and now somehow this implicated him as well? He had only prophesied according to his visions; the King had heeded them wisely and well, changing his legislation according to the projected effect Korsan would predict. King Balwyn had done everything he could to ensure the people under his rule were healthy and happy. The Royal Council, with all their formalities and bluster, could never manage that level of leadership, nor even find it within themselves to maintain the generous policies instituted by the king. That left them ripe for being overtaken by other leaders, more ruthless ones.

Speaking of other leaders...

Korsan went to his window as the clatter of carriage wheels echoed in the courtyard. Two young adults dressed in black emerged, and Korsan felt his talisman pulse a warning. These two were bad news. He only hoped that the Council would call him in so that he could see firsthand what they wanted and perhaps negotiate to avoid any undue hostility. 
Korsan waited several hours, but no one came. Finally, late that night, just before Korsan blew out the candle, he heard the heavy stomp of boots and the creak of armor. A gauntleted fist pounded on the door.
"Mage Korsan, open up!"

Korsan stood, but before he had taken two paces, the soldiers threw open the door. He counted three of them.
"Korsan Nasrok, you are under arrest for the use of dangerous abilities which have been deemed a threat to the realm..."

Korsan felt his knees buckle as the second soldier dragged his arms behind him and the third clapped irons over his wrists. Arrested? Dangerous magic? A threat?
Korsan looked up at the soldier dragging him from the room. "On whose authority—"
He didn't see the mailed fist before it clouted him across the face. "Silence! We have been warned of your silver tongue. You will not be permitted to speak."
The soldier behind him coughed, and Korsan felt the warm spittle strike his neck as they hauled him to his feet. 
"On the authority of the Twin Regents!" He gloated as they marched their prisoner down the hall.
Twins! Korsan recalled the prophecy he had received last season, but he had not understood it:

"Two will rise and Two will fall;
Brothers become outcasts, all;
The crown is lost, when crownless, Two,
The Regents take counsel from you."

He'd seen it coming, and done nothing. Korsan hung his head; he'd known all along, and yet he had believed the realm was not at risk. The word was not "counsel" but "Council." The Royal Council now bowed to the wishes of the crownless Regents—and the true Crown Prince had been missing for some time.
Korsan emerged from his stupor when he heard the moans of others. He looked up. They had passed the courtyard, and now they were heading toward the back, lower levels of the castle: the dungeons. Korsan watched as soldiers escorted whole groups of people—citizens of the realm—toward the black hallway. Brothers being cast out; why? Surely these people did not pose a threat like a real Mage did? 
Korsan stumbled forward as a boot caught him in the back. The prison guards stepped forward to haul him back to his feet.
"Korsan Nasrok," the lead guard announced. "Former Mage in the court of King Balwyn. Take him to the cells."
Korsan saw his talisman pulse with light, then remain steadily bright. The light seemed to enter his vision and course through his whole body. 
Of course! The soldier had no idea what he had just done; so far as he knew, he had given the jailer the name of a high-profile prisoner. For recording purposes, it had to be his full name.

The full name of a wizard.

Korsan closed his eyes and pictured the locking mechanism on his cuffs. As the guard hefted him by his shoulder, Korsan twisted the tumblers in the lock. The heavy metal cuffs crashed to the ground. As the soldiers hesitated in disbelief, it was enough time for Korsan to twist out of their grip, sweeping his leg across theirs, sending them tumbling into one another with a clash of armor. The noise stilled as Korsan made a break for the castle gate. He had only to reach the top of the stairs—
Korsan stiffened and halted in his tracks.
Standing in the courtyard, just beyond sight of the doorway leading to the dungeons, were the Twin Regents! A boy and a girl, dressed in deep black, staring at him.
"Captain!" Shouted the girl, after a moment of silence. "It appears one of your prisoners has escaped!"
The captain of the guard huffed up behind him and grabbed him. Korsan ceased struggling, as the lady continued to stare at him.

"You know, brother," she addressed her pale twin, "this is just exactly the sort of person we don't want in prison with the others." She giggled. "Rather counter-intuitive to provide the outcasts with their very own rebel instigator!"
Korsan felt his confidence surge. "I have seen my death, Lady; you cannot execute me."
A smile played around her pale lips. "Who said that was my only option?" She nailed the captain with her red eyes. "Escort the Mage to the midst of the Wilderness. See that he is lost there. The Mage and all his kind are hereby banished from the realm."
The twins turned and continued on to the throne room.

They loaded Korsan into a windowless wagon after that. The only indication of travel he had was the sound of the horses' harnesses and the sway of the wagon. When they let him out, he stood in a corner of the kingdom he'd forgotten existed. Fog lay thick, and cliffs ran high.
"Good riddance," growled the captain. Korsan watched the wagon retreat till the fog swallowed it up. He was alone.

"Alone," Korsan repeated to the awestruck faces before him, "but not powerless. I dreamed that night, and in my dream, I saw many people with strange and wonderful powers, outcasts like you and me, shunned and forced into hiding—but someday, when the Crown Prince returns to the castle, these people will come forth and rise up, defying the stigma placed on them and receiving acceptance in society."
Velora sat back and clacked her claws together. "So..." She mused slowly, "where is the Crown Prince, then?"
Korsan opened his mouth to answer, but a moth fluttered into the cave. The boy jumped back as if he had never seen one before, and even Korsan examined it. This sort of moth should be out of season... He gently cupped his hand around it. When he opened his fingers, he stared at his empty palm.
Suddenly Velora was on her feet too, teeth bared in a growl. "How did you get past my wolves? Who are you?" She demanded of the shadows at the cave mouth.

One of the shadows peeled away, revealing a woman with straight hair, white as milk.
"I have come to warn you," she said.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Breathe in, pulse; breathe out, flicker. 
Breathe in; breathe out.
Breathe in—

"Sorry!" Jaran let his head sag as Harlock rubbed his singed rump. He'd been trying to master his control of the lightning all day, and had only succeeded in making his charges too weak or too strong. 
"I can't help that the only time I ever used my power, the Council was trying to get me to use stronger and stronger charges!"
Harlock growled some profanity and looked at the rope in his hands. The string of perfect knots had of course burned away in the flash, leaving him with smoking, charred ends in either hand.
Erlis the Healer came to sit next to the young man. "When you think of your charge, what do you picture?"
Jalan rubbed his eyes. "The storm," he muttered hollowly. "The way the electricity spread out from my fingers and went everywhere—" he waved his hand and a spark flew over Harlock's head to strike a tree.
"HEY!" He roared, throwing up his hands.
A jet of water came with them, streaming straight at the flaming branches. The fire extinguished as soon as it began. The trio stared at the dripping branches. 
Harlock stared at his hands. The fairy hovered over his shoulder, chattering away in her gentle bell noises.
"Well, that's new," Harlock stammered. 
Jaran stared at him with wide eyes. "Do it again!" He cried.
Harlock spread his hand, palm up, over the side of the dock. Slowly, a thin string of water rose from the surface, swirling and winding upward to caress his hand. Harlock moved it back toward himself, and with a gentle flick of his fingers, the pool in his hand rose up in a trickling fountain.
Erlis nodded. "Water manipulation," she mused. "You are gifted after all."
Jaran stared at him with wide eyes. "You mean there are more like me?"
Erlis eyed him carefully. "Did no one ever tell you?"
Jaran shook his head. "They treated me like a biological anomaly; they restricted my movements so no one would ever know there was something wrong."
Erlis nodded. "It was easier to control you that way. The truth is that there are many of us scattered throughout the realm, gifted people with ability to do things beyond the scope of normal human ability."
Harlock twisted his hand, and the water separated from the stream, hovering over his palm in a round globe. "Or ones that don't look normal," he cast a quick glance toward the scales on her face.
Erlis nodded. "Those who didn't fit the mold were relegated to lowly, hidden positions, away from the public eye. Some were even turned into science experiments, their rights as citizens and people forfeited because of their difference."
"Science experiments?" Jaran felt a spark snake up his arm and burrow into his neck. "The night I left... There was a woman... They told me she was just a beacon, a test subject..." More sparks arced over his chest and arms. "I caused her such pain!"
"Jaran!" Erlis warned, as Harlock edged away. "No doubt if she was empowered as you are, her gift protected her. Calm down!"
Jaran found his pulse racing in time with the pulsing arcs. His breath came in choppy gasps. He fought to control it, to slow it down. The arcs of lightning thickened and slowed. Jaran clenched his fists and concentrated on holding the charge in, grasping it tightly in himself, pulling it back. The lightning responded, receding back into his body like glowing worms. When he finally released his breath, the lightning was gone, and he had not hurt or destroyed anything! 
Erlis nodded in approval. "You learn fast, young prince. Yes, that woman was probably discarded by the Council as a nothing and nobody." 
Harlock listened to the fairy, and nodded. "Then maybe it's time to prove them wrong."

The boots still showed clearly, even in the midst of dozens of wolf prints. They followed the boots, never wavering—almost as if the one wearing the boots were their alpha. She pictured a tall man, carrying the suit of woman's armor, marching at the head of a wolf pack. She shook her head. It didn't fit. The next idea offered a young boy, one small enough to wear the armor. It was less awkward than trying to picture a full-grown man, but then that discredited the notion of Boots becoming an alpha. There was no way a young boy could tame an entire pack, yet maintain their savagery enough to obliterate an entire camp of innocents like that. What if—
She stopped. The boots vanished from in front of her. Standing over the last apparent pair, she gazed all around for any kind of lift, or available surface within reach that did not hold a print. Nothing even she could reach, and she doubted her quarry could be more agile than she. She glanced back to see how her troop fared. They crashed through the bracken some distance back, she could hear them, but they were too far back to see.
"Captain!" She called.
The crashing continued, but no voices among it. 
She retraced a few steps. "Captain!" She bellowed. Why wouldn't he answer.
"Madam Hunter!" She whirled as the call came from a completely different direction. She turned back the way she came—
But the path of boot and wolf prints now stretched in a different direction. The trees crossed in different directions than she expected. She groaned and moved to the same spot she stopped at. Still, the trees swayed and twigs snapped behind her. She stopped and closed her eyes and listened. The steady pant of a wolf huffed below the crashing. She opened her eyes and turned in that direction. Boots was still in the forest? What luck! She leaped toward the sound of panting, rewarded with the flurry of movement erupting in the bushes. She raised her eyes, narrowing them to compress her field of vision. There in the shadows, a hooded figure stood. 
"Got you!" She snarled, lunging forward. 
The moment she landed, all sound ceased. There were no shadows, no rustling bushes—worst of all, no prints. The very light was considerably darker than it had been. She blinked very purposefully, and everything flickered to life, a green daylight illuminating the black night. Standing against the shape of a tree, she glimpsed a figure with white hair. The Hunter lunged, catching the figure by surprise. Lights too bright for her night vision danced over the stranger's fingers. An Illusionist! The Hunter wheeled back too late. The Illusionist cast the lights directly in her face, and when the Hunter's vision cleared, the white-haired woman and her illusions were gone. 
"NOOOO!" She screamed her rage to the moon. Frustrated, she turned back to rendezvous with her team.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pint-Sized Piety: Or, The Dangers of Christian Chick-Lit For Little Girls

Elsie Dinsmore... Anne Shirley... Polly Pepper... Mary Rode...
These are heroines of Christian juvenile literature, the books thrust into little Christian girls’ hands so they wouldn’t fill their head with magic and wizards and all sorts of witchcraft that could be so damaging to little minds. These were the prescribed role models; if we can get our girls to admire these characters, to behave like these characters... well, they might not be totally perfect themselves, but at least we could look forward to punishing them less often, and convincing them to obey us without question, right? 

Just do what these people do, and our lives will turn out just like theirs. When people start treating us unfairly or wrong, we just whisper a quick prayer—or better yet, one of the King James Bible verses—and the one doing the tormenting will immediately be convicted in their soul because of our behavior and ask us about God—at which time we will eloquently give a list of verses strung all together like stanzas of a poem, and they will have such respect for our vast knowledge that they will never bother us again. According to these books, even girls as young as eight years old have the capacity for complete docility and total restraint of their temper; is it really too much to expect—nay, demand—from one’s own children?

It’s Christian chick lit for little girls... and I think, for as much as I read, and as much as young girls in Christian families are encouraged (among other things) to read—and read these books, in particular—these books just about ruined my discernment, my faith, my perspective, and my life. Bear with me as I take at least four books from my early formative literary years, and unpack the deplorable fallacies in each—ones that we might not notice, for all the nice, shiny, “Sunday Best” these present on the outside.  

Elsie Dinsmore

Basic Storyline: The motherless daughter of a rich Southern family comes to live with her father’s family while she waits for him to come home from abroad (since he had abandoned her mother while she was pregnant, under duress from his family—but now that the mother is dead, he can raise the child). She is dutiful, docile, incredibly saintly, and draws the admiration of everyone around her (except her own father, till the very end when she almost dies) for her spectacular character. In ensuing installments, she marries the very good friend of her father’s (which the age difference is rather suspiciously ignored and never mentioned) who of course dies and leaves her a widow—but Elsie handles it all with such purity of heart that we could never hope to achieve.

Why did we read this? Elsie is heralded as “A Christ-like role model” for little girls. There are presentations of the gospel to skeptical relatives, Bible verses illustrated, and young Elsie is the perfect example of the child every parent dreams of having: one who is devoted to the Bible, obedient in absolutely every instance, and so completely guileless that they would never be known to lie or disobey without immediate confession.

A Closer Look: This book, bluntly stated, fostered a deep discontent with my lot in life. Elsie had a big house, a rich family, and nothing but leisure outside of studies—which she never seemed to actually fail at, as the book constantly reiterated her meticulous attention to sums and lessons. I wanted people to dote on me like Elsie’s family doted on her. I wanted people to see my righteous responses and penitent tears as the pious demonstrations of a “Christ-like role model” and reward me for it. When someone teased me and I begged them to stop, I wanted them to be so ashamed of themselves that they would go above and beyond to try to make it up to me. Basically, I was a selfish little girl who would rather live in a fantasy world, and felt entirely justified in it, because Elsie was a “Christian role model” whom I was allowed to idolize and envy, because of the “excellent moral teaching” it contained. 

Five Little Peppers And How They Grew

Basic Storyline: A poor, rural family of six (a widowed mother raising five children under the age of 13) always manages to be happy and contented in spite of their circumstances. A chance encounter with a very rich boy brings the family into acquaintance with neighbors who are so pleased to have this poor family as friends that they become quite close—only to discover that the long-lost father of one unit in that family is the Peppers’ uncle, and so they’re not so poor after all!

Why do we read this? Five Little Peppers serves as a treatise on the importance of industry and deistic humanism (the Peppers refer to faith in God, but largely all of the difficulties are surmounted by self-effort and miraculous coincidence) served up in simple vocabulary for the early reader. Phrases like “’To Help Mother’ was the great ambition of all the children, older and younger” so cunningly emphasized, stand out to the reader’s eye, so that any child transitioning past the age of unconditional delight and into the realm of expectations and parental approval contingent on familial obligations will seize upon this opportunity and look to the lively Peppers for ideas by which they could improve their lot and take the fictional ambition as their own.

A Closer Look: It’s a family of five and the oldest is eleven years old, and everyone is just as hard-working and painstakingly pleasant as you would never believe. I read this book like the fiction it was; industry of this quiet, placid sort was not common in my world, and we certainly were never so poor that we’d go skipping around the house as a family to herald the delivery of a new stove when one arrived as a gift. Granted, it’s not as intensely tear-sodden as a certain rich young heiress... but the “family that everyone envied because they had such good times together” has little bearing on the art of actually telling a story to someone older than ten years old and home-schooled—oh, and should I also point out that there’s little about the Gospel, really, in this book... at least I wasn’t overburdened with verses in King James English, but it really felt more like a younger version of Little Women as far as a deistic, moral, poor family went—and, frankly, I prefer the Marches. They were more like my own family, and I felt I understood better how to interact with my family from reading those.

Anne of Green Gables

Basic Storyline: A Canadian couple on the small island province of Prince Edward Island send out for a boy to help the elderly man with the chores around the farm. What they get is a spunky red-headed girl who changes their life and the community of the island forever. Eight books span her life from her arrival at Green Gables, through marriage, raising seven children, two wars, and finally, seeing every one of her children happily married. (Those who survived the War, that is...)

Why do we read this? This book is popular for the nostalgia factor, maybe. Your mom grew up reading it, and it’s clean enough (prodigious and quite precocious use of the expression “Gee whiz” or some variant), and the romance is the “petty,” Hallmark variety—and there’s no divorce or really devastating severances or really illicit affairs, so everything is on the up-and-up... even if it’s miles away from the straight-and-narrow.

A Closer Look: What part of Anne’s total irreverence, her penchant for chasing after boys, lying, and her glib shallowness was ever considered a good idea for little girls to read? If Elsie Dinsmore drew me into the fantasy world of stately houses and pretty things and indolent lifestyles, Anne of Green Gables got me further in by tempting me with so many good-looking gentlemen and too-good-to-be-true coincidences and overly-forgiving authorities. (Somehow, fitting an apology into a funny story of how the mistake came about still did not get me the reaction she always managed to receive...)

Anne was disobedient, sassy, and foolish, but she was so amazing at it that everyone still loved her. I wanted that. It led me down the path of thinking that any boy who teased me secretly liked me—and did I like him too? Maybe... I mean, he is “Awf’lly handsome!” and that’s what counts, right? How could I tell? The severe lack of comfortable boy-girl relations in my youth, coupled with the profound emphasis on "moral purity" and "reserving any kind of romantic entanglements for the person you intend to marry", not to mention the stigma of "defrauding eye contact"... my whole understanding of romance was warped, and Anne Shirley didn't help at all!

A Basket of Flowers

Basic Storyline: There was an elderly basket-weaver who served his country well and saved the life of a Count who rewarded him richly. Being a devout man, however, he accepts but a little garden cottage, reasonably furnished, in which to raise his young daughter, Mary. She grows up in the company of the young Countess, their benefactor’s daughter, who is so enthralled with Mary’s skill and industry that she invites her to the castle and heaps gifts on her, which inevitably invites the resentment of her greedy, selfish lady-in-waiting, who forthwith does all within her power to discredit and frame Mary to get her first imprisoned and then banished. Together, the two make their way into the wide world where they are taken in by a kind farmer, and are able to do lots of wonderful and useful things for the farmer, and everybody is happy. By and by, the father is taken ill and dies, leaving Mary destitute and immediately afterward, she is turned out of the house by the farmer’s daughter-in-law, a prideful, shrewish woman. Mary is rediscovered by the Countess, who has by that time discovered the injustice that had separated them, and furthermore, as Mary is reunited with the people that loved her, she is able to see justice served on the cruel farmer’s wife, bestow deathbed forgiveness to the waiting-woman who wronged her, and falls in love with the judge’s son, who is both noble and exceedingly handsome, and thus the book ends with its heroine happily married.

Why do we read this? Perhaps it is to entertain the notion that life + Bible verses = eventual riches and recognition in high places. The main message seems to be something like, “No one ever says No to the Bible!” It’s a nice quiet book with lots of pithy observations, and heady theological concepts ostensibly condensed into easy object lessons for the “young reader” to understand. The evil, selfish, liar is punished; the evil, prideful tormentor ends up making a fool of herself; and the poor, oppressed heroine is eventually elevated to a place high above them all. What’s not to admire and ultimately want to have in one’s own life?

A Closer Look: Take out the bible verses, and you basically have Cinderella, Version 2. That’s all this is, a fairy tale with Bible verses thrown in. But it’s the Bible verses that make it “good Christian literature” isn’t it?

No; I’ve learned this in my own writing. Just because you have characters spouting reams of Scripture and “preach-ifying” every time they open their mouths doesn’t discount the fact that this is nothing more than a heady sermon thrust into a fairy tale with a liberal heaping of King James verses that is less a “tale for the young” and more of a sweet pat on the spiritual ego for the parent who doesn’t let their kid read C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia “because of the Talking Animals.” (Two words: BEATRIX POTTER...)

The reality that these books do not address is that there will be people who will say “no” to the Bible... and do so very convincingly. There will be times that do not have a pithy verse we can carefully incise from its context and apply like a round peg to the “square hole” of our circumstances, completely verbatim and preferably in the “original” King James...for effect. It might be easy to dwell in the hypotheses of modest dresses, eligible and handsome bachelors just waiting for that saintly little angel to catch their eye, at which point they will follow them home or search the village like Prince Charming bearing only the “glass slipper” of her “shining countenance” as an identifier, of a family whose highest form of ideal amusement is sheer industry—something they will gladly spend themselves to death at the age of ten for! But what does this do for the reader in regards to their life outside the covers of the book?

One of the most poignant quotes I ever read put it this way: “Good writers touch life often...” Some people consider fiction to be merely a form of escaping one's reality, serving only to increase the disorientation upon reentry, because the “holiday” is over and the world had gone on spinning without you, and now you must play “catch-up.”

But this is not true... or rather, the “escape literature” should not be regarded as the good stuff, nor even as a reasonable sample of all fiction. Good fiction, according to the quote above, is grounded in something that the reader can relate to, ten or even fifty years down the road from when the book was published. It’s penned with a solid understanding of what life is, not one isolated Sunday-school spinster’s imagination of what life ought to be.

That is not to say that all Christian literature is bad; there exists the rare author who decides to break the mold and go ahead with telling their own kind of story that reverences God and His Word, whether or not it actually references it—all the while keeping with the truth of the quote above (which, by the way, is from Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, the first “secular” novel I read of my own volition after being so jaded by the sorry state of Postmodern American Literature in my last semester of college!) and touching life often enough that the reader—far from being disoriented by the real world—is emboldened to seize the opportunities presented to her. She is inspired to appreciate her world a little more, by the way the writer presents the real-world elements of the fictional world. She is enriched in her logic and vocabulary by the quality of the amount of literature she is reading, not affixed within rigid buffers that really narrow all of literature to one or two genres because most Christian authors don’t seem to know how to fit the Gospel into anything but a romance or a children’s book. 

Most of all, she is empowered to do more than just sit at home and sew and wait for her prince to knock on the door—she lives her life and engages her world because of what she has learned about it from the books she reads.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Reader's Review: "A Keeper's Destiny" by C. A. King

Synopsis from Goodreads (*with some information summarized by me):   
[Nightmarish creatures once existed, each occupying its own realm, connected by magic portals.]
Years ago a group of ancient races known as Guardians put up barriers between the realms to separate the peaceful and the dangerous, linking them to the main world by portals only they could activate. For years, with the help of a group of hand-picked humanoids helping them, they protected those portals from being breached. Then one day all that changed. An evil King developed a way to rip holes in the barriers between worlds. That began a war with the guardians and their helpers.

Today only a handful of protectors remain. Rogue holes appear at random, allowing access to the main world for all manner of beings. Now many different races live here, some peacefully, but others with vicious intentions, including world domination. For now, most of the main world is oblivious to what is happening around them, but that won't last long. All we can do is hope for a hero.
Book One of the Portal Prophecies Series, A Keeper's Destiny, follows a group of ancient races who join together with some unlikely teenage heroes.The only clues they have to help them are hidden within predictions contained in a book written long ago. Can they unravel the mysteries of their past and over come the deceptions of their leaders? Will they be able to decipher the prophecies in time to stop invading armies? Join Willow and her friends in this fast paced adventure.
My Review: 
If that doesn't sound like a great premise for a series, I don't know what is! 
I had regarded the Portal Prophecies with moderate interest until I ended up winning a giveaway at an author event. I decided to give it a try, and by the end of the first chapter, I knew I was going to enjoy this book.

King sets up a world where everyone has a special supernatural ability, which sometimes isn't realized till the age of sixteen. It's world isolated to one village, with everything a community needs, so isolated it doesn't even have a name. It's a world that the main character, Willow, doesn't feel like she belongs to, as it seems the circumstances of her life have conspired to discourage her at every turn. The only confidence booster she has are the two voices in her head, looking after her like her absent mother and father.
The story explodes when Willow discovers that her world used to be part of a network of worlds, connected by portals—and somebody wants to exploit the portals, which paves the way for the stuff of nightmares to get loose and escape their confines. Willow, a Keeper, must discover her destiny and protect the book of prophecies that holds the key to restoring balance between the worlds. It won't be easy; these aren't your ordinary life challenges—but Willow isn't your ordinary heroine.
I really liked all the characters in this book; King allows them to speak for themselves and gives them each their own distinct personalities that each contribute to the story in some way. Even the villains end up with a role to play, developing naturally and logically, as their choices spring from legitimate (albeit selfish) motives, rather than a lust for chaos. 
In particular, I loved the way the world developed and expanded as the adventure did, and the principles of the lore King has invented is nice and solid, supported by demonstrative scenes to show the truth and reality of the assertions, rather than just telling the reader and either taking things for granted or expecting us to suspend our belief.
The resolution was a little weak, but the conflict is very relevant even for real life, taking on an almost allegorical vibe, and the dialogue is just great! 

A KEEPER'S DESTINY earns a solid ****FOUR STARS****, and I am definitely looking forward to exploring the worlds and watching the characters develop in the rest of the series!
For young readers with plenty of imagination looking for a worthwhile heroine, an inspiring premise, and an inventive paranormal setting, A KEEPER'S DESTINY, and I dare say the whole Portal Prophecies series, is definitely a wonderful choice!
Further Reading: (Teens with magic/superhuman abilities/"Teens of Destiny")
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie   
The PSS Chronicles--Ripley Patton
       -Ghost Hand
       -Ghost Hold
       -Ghost Heart  

Monday, August 22, 2016

Summer Splash Book Blog Tour: Meet Catherine Banks!

Catherine Banks is the author of the Artemis Lupine Series, Little Death Bringer Series, Ciara Steele Novella Series, and the novels Daughter of Lions and Pirate Princess. She began writing fiction stories when she was only four years old and finished her first full length novel at the age of fifteen.
Catherine is a Northern California native and has lived within a twenty mile radius her entire life. She plans to travel to as many places as possible in her thirties to make up for her lack of traveling experience. She is married to her soulmate and best friend, Avery, who blessed her with two amazing children. After her full time job she reads books, plays video games, and watches a lot of anime shows and movies with her family to relax.

Author Links: 

This book has a Reader's Review!
1. What is your most recent book?

Pirate Princess, released November 2015.

2. Why do you think people would want to read it? What is its most compelling quality?

It’s full of action, adventure, pirates, and magic! It’s most compelling quality is that it’s nonstop action.

3. Who is your favorite character that you’ve written and why?

Faxon (Pirate Princess) because he comes off as standoffish, but he’s really loyal and you learn to love him.

4. What is the hardest thing you have to do when you create a character and what’s the easiest?

Hardest is figuring out their physical experience and easiest is making or finding a name.

5. How do you deal with writer's block?

I either switch to another novel or read for a break.

6. What is the one book that changed the way you write?

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien changed the way I read and ultimately the way I write. It was my introduction to fantasy and I’ve been obsessed with the fantasy genre ever since.

7. What is the nerdiest thing you've ever done?

Nerdiest thing that I’ve ever done is ask my coworker to take me to a bookstore on lunch to buy the new release of my favorite author duo, Ilona Andrews.

8. What is one item on your Bucket List that you haven't completed yet?

Seeing fireflies in person. I’ve lived in Northern California my entire life and haven’t traveled much so I have yet to see them.

9. If you could spend one week anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Japan for sure! It’s my dream to visit there and my ultimate dream to visit there during cherry blossom season.

10. What is your most prized possession?

Either my PS4, which I use a lot, my signed copy of an Ilona Andrews book, or my signed copy of Cary Elwes’ As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.

11. What is the best piece of advice you have been given in regards to your writing?

Write what you love, what you nerd out on, and not what you think will sell well or will be liked the most.

12. What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to write but doesn't know where to start?
Just write. Write about your day or about how you wish it had gone. It doesn’t matter what you write as long as you do it. 

Did you enjoy this interview? Do you have a question for Catherine? Comment here and I'll pass it on, and notify you of her answer! Meanwhile, stay tuned for my interview, soon to be posted on Kristan's Desk!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Serial Saturday: "The Clan of Outcasts" Part 3--Memory

Zayra Adassa, "The Queen"
  Part 3

White flames; searing pain, pulsing through her body, from her spine to the tips of her extremities, and then—
Nothing. Blackness enfolded her, absorbed her till there was nothing left but black all the time. In this blackness, a voice spoke.
What was this language? The sound of it was both familiar and befuddling.
She felt it pulling at her, compelling her to respond—but how? She knew that word... Didn't she?

"Zayra, it's time to wake up now. Open your eyes."
The blackness receded, softening to a gentle red-orange shade. Her eyes; did she have eyes? She felt her head rocking back and forth, her arms waving till they connected with something strong and gentle and human. Finally, the red shades parted to fill her vision with fierce light, golden this time. She squinted against it, a sharply inhaled hiss escaping her lips. She tried again, this time willing her eyes to remain open long enough to adjust.
She lay in a magnificent bed, dressed in rich, silks with many fluffy pillows supporting her. Many strange people stood around her bed, watching her with faces full of anxiety, their arms anchored respectfully. 
A man stood next to her, dressed in resplendent silver robes. "Mistress Zayra," he said. "You have been asleep a long time, my dear; how do you feel?"
Zayra—could it be that was her name? She opened her mouth to make words, just as the man did. "I feel..." What words went with the vast emptiness inside her?
"Do you feel any pain?" The man prompted.
Pain? Such as the torture she had undergone before the blackness? 
"No," she said. Nothing she could conceive of could ever come close to approaching such agony as that, to be classified "pain."
"Do you know where you are?" He asked.
That was a silly question. "I am in a bed," she retorted—and then, because it felt like the right thing to do, added, "idiot."
The man's eyebrows lifted away, sending small ripples through his brow.
"Do you remember who I am?" He asked.
The more she looked at him, the more Zayra felt the churning revulsion well up within her. "Why would I, fool?" She spat. "I cannot even recall who I am!" 
The look of keen interest and vague amusement on his face was beginning to annoy her. Why did she despise this man so?
"If I may tell you—"
"Do so at once."
"Ahem! You are Zayra Adassa, Queen of The Realm. I am Doctor Midan, and you called me in because you wanted to be beautiful again."
Beautiful again... It certainly sounded like a worthy goal. 
Her eyes narrowed as she stared at Doctor Midan. 
"Did it work?"
To his credit, the man kept his face neutral, betraying neither disappointment nor pride. He beckoned one of the other people—if she was queen, these must be her servants—forward, and this one produced a mirror. 
"See for yourself," he said.
She looked at the face before her. 
The wave of loathing rolled over her and she swung her arm, sending the mirror crashing to the floor, shattering the despicable visage into a million shiny pieces.
"You fool!" She raged. "I am not beautiful! You have failed me!" The anger weighed heavily on her chest, and all she could think of was ensuring that the doctor himself would suffer the same fate as the mirror, rent into a thousand pieces. She lunged for him, but the silver Doctor withdrew into a sea of white as these servants interposed themselves, pulling her body back toward the bed. 
Zayra struggled against them with all her strength. "I will destroy you as you have destroyed me!" White faded to red, which clouded so thick in her vision, it threatened to blind her. "You failed! Fail! FAIL!"
Just before the blackness consumed her yet again, a blue light spread around her, and a gentle voice proclaimed, "Hush, your majesty; be calm. There is nothing to fear."
The blue washed all the blackness away, returning her sight to normal. When Zayra recovered herself, she found that someone had dressed her in regal robes, complete with a veil that hid her face. The soldier standing next to her was female, with long, crimson hair and three prominent scars across her face. The soldier stood without looking at her Queen—just as she liked it.
She stared at those scars.
"One, two, three," she chanted. "Three means courage and loyalty." Yes; this one would not fail her as everyone else had. "You will never leave my side," said Zayra.
The soldier didn't move, didn't make any sign that she heard and would obey—but those three scars spoke for her.
The doors opened, and two more soldiers came in, escorting with them a maiden of such beauty that she seemed to radiate a pure light in Zayra's eyes. 
She hated her at once. She stood from her throne.
"HOW DARE YOU BRING THAT IN HERE!" She thundered. "I cannot have her beauty, therefore I must have her head!"
The soldiers bowed at once and began dragging that odious paragon from the ballroom—whereupon the angelic being of pure light began shrieking.
"Please, Your Majesty!" She begged. "I have done no wrong! Please do not kill me! I will do anything to keep my life!"
Zayra raised her hand, and the soldiers froze mid-step. The wretched beauty still keened, weeping and pleading for her life.
Zayra walked in front of her and tilted the impeccable face so that their eyes met.
"I want you to stop talking!" She murmured.
Immediately, all sound died. The beauty's lips moved, but no sound issued forth. Zayra smiled for the first time since awakening.
"You!" She pointed at the soldier with three scars. "I want all the mirrors in my room destroyed. I want all reflective surfaces covered. And I want this one," she gestured to the other beauty, "locked in a golden cage in my room. She shall be fed every day, and given the finest clothes to wear."
The soldiers moved to do her bidding as the beautiful face contorted one last time in a silent scream. The Queen resumed her throne. 
"Yes, I think I should like that. If I cannot wear her face myself, the least amends she can make is to let me stare at it for the rest of our lives."

He knew he was floating before he heard the gentle lapping of water. A small trickle poured over his face. He opened his eyes. 
A star hovered over his head, throwing water at his face. A star with a musical voice.
"Are we awake now?" The star asked.
"Yes," he replied—but his voice sounded different than the star's did.
"Good; here comes the healer." The star disappeared into his pocket.
"The what?" He sat up quickly—too quickly, nearly dumping himself into the water.
A hand latched onto the side of the boat, and he couldn't help noticing that it was green and covered with scales. The face that hovered over him had one cool grey eye set in smooth, fair skin, which faded into gnarled, rugged green scales around a yellow eye. She reached out her other hand, and he saw again the smooth skin. Was it some sort of strange disease that marred her complexion? 
"Who are you?" He asked.
"A friend," she replied. "My name is Erlis. Who are you?"
He opened his mouth, but no sound came. Even his thoughts supplied no clue. He could recall the feeling of being on a ship in a storm, but nothing beyond that.
"I don't... I don't remember," he stammered.
"I can help you," her golden lips promised. "Come with me before we are discovered."
He tensed, though he didn't know why. "Discovered by whom?"
She grabbed his wrist and pulled him completely out of the boat and onto the dock. A crowd gathered nearby, but their attention focused elsewhere, so the woman with dragon scales and the man with no name and a star in his pocket slipped by unnoticed. 

She led him down streets and alleyways until they reached a dark, forgotten corner of the town. There were very few people this way. The woman stopped in front of a doorway, poised as if listening. She seemed to spit something out of her mouth—it took a moment for the man to realize that the dark, forked, undulating thing was her tongue.
"It is safe," she said, and entered.

The minute the two of them crossed the threshold, an explosion of light struck the two of them with enough force to send them crashing against the wall. 
The searing pain ceased and a plaintive voice cried, "I'm sorry! Are you all right? You need to help me!"
The star leaped out of her pocket and lunged for the dark man sitting at the back of the shop.
He cried out and covered his face, still apologizing. "I didn't mean it! Don't hurt me!" He lifted his eyes and caught sight of the woman. "Are you the Dragon Mark?"
She stood, throwing off her hood to reveal her scales. "I am. I will help you in a moment." She turned back to the man as the star returned to settle on his shoulder.
"Are you all right?" She asked.
The star chimed a warning.
The healer tilted her head and flicked her tongue again. "Interesting," she mused. "A fairy."
He covered his face with his hands. "Augh!" The pain still radiated through his head, carrying with it a host of images that filled his mind like trying to catch a waterfall in a bowl. 
"Sir!" The healer cried, supporting him as his knees buckled. 
The fairy settled on the crown of his head as the man lifted his eyes.

"Harlock!" He gasped. "My name is Harlock."
Soldiers in royal livery tromped around what looked to be the remains of a temporary camp. Bloody carcasses littered the area, fallen in tents and around all the fires and canopies of what would otherwise have been a very effective, comfortable place.
In the midst of the armored bodies, a lithe figure dressed entirely in leather cast her piercing gaze around the carnage. Rather than a sword or a bow, she carried a gun holstered on her hip. She tucked a wisp of magenta hair behind her ear as she located the leader's tent, anchored in a prime location. What was left of his body lay across the entrance. The same animals that had shredded the other bodies had also feasted on his ample abdomen, but had left his head intact. She squinted at the clear boot print left on his face. She would have expected it to be his own shoe size (based on height and weight; his feet had been ripped off at the ankle and carried away), and yet there were no boots of that size in sight.
She ventured further into the tent.
"Ma'am!" A soldier approached behind her. "Did you find it?"
She stood, looking at the empty chest that had once held the special suit of armor She demanded of the market blacksmith. Empty—so who had dared to take the armor?
"Not exactly," she answered the soldier. They withdrew from the tent, and she gave the signal to group at her position.
The soldier nearest her nudged a headless body with his boot. "Poor sods; who knew wolves could be so territorial?"
She shook her head with a grim expression. "This wasn't a territory dispute. It's too vicious, too deliberate, too focused." She surveyed the carnage. 
"There don't appear to be any survivors," reported one of the soldiers.
She turned and started down a path westward through the forest. "That's right!" She called over her shoulder. The same boot prints showed clearly in the mud.
"We follow the armor!" She announced to the troops.

There wasn't supposed to be anything growing in this wasteland. The old man smiled as he reached into the silty crag under the rocky shelf and pulled out a few tender sprigs. Further on, he harvested the berries from a bush and a few gourds growing on a vine among the boulders. They called it a "wasteland" but no one had actually been out here for years. It seemed "barren" merely because it had none of the creature comforts of city living—but it was by no means a barren wasteland. 
Once the basket on his arm was full, he began shuffling the long path toward his cave. 

He didn't make it far before he sensed something was very wrong. He saw the landmark of a hill in the distance—
Then a jet of flame erupted from the mouth of his cave, and a lone voice howled at the sky. 
The old man dropped his basket as a pack of wolves streamed from the cliffs, headed right for his cave. 
As he ran after them, the wolves grouped in a wide ring around a massive wildfire.
No, he corrected himself, not a fire. A young man danced around a cloaked woman in armor, throwing balls of fire at her with his bare hands. She lashed at him with the claws on her gauntlets. The old man staggered up to the cliff overlooking the battle. Fingering the beads on his talisman, he drew upon the strength he needed. Raising his staff high, he commanded, "STOP!"
A fierce wind blew past him without touching him. Instead, it sent the wolf pack tumbling and extinguished the flames. When it ceased, the boy and the girl stood before him, quite alone and almost completely unarmed.
The boy stared at him with wide eyes, but the girl glared.
Flexing her claws, she demanded, "Who are you?"

Monday, August 15, 2016

Summer Splash Book Blog Tour: Special Guest Feature--Meet R. R. Virdi!

R.R. Virdi is the award-winning author of The Grave Report. He is an avid fan of science fiction, fantasy, and especially mythology and urban fantasy. He has worked as a mechanic, retail, the fitness industry and the gaming PC world. Ronnie has a deep love of all things mechanical with a heavy emphasis on automobiles, especially American classics. He enjoys building things and tinkering with computers from his home in Falls Church, Virginia. There are rumors that he wanders the streets of his neighborhood in the dead of night dressed in a Jedi robe and teal fuzzy slippers, no one knows why. Other such rumors mention how he is a professional hair whisperer in his spare time. We don’t know what that is either.

Author Links:

1. So far you have two novels in just the one series, The Grave Report, out. Now, some of my followers that have been with me from the start may have seen my reviews of both Grave Beginnings, and Grave Measures here on the Upstream Writer—but for those who maybe are new or missed the hype, can you give us a basic rundown of Vince Graves, his situation, and the sort of world he functions in?

Absolutely. Vincent Graves is a paranormal investigator in a world where the things from mythology and dreams aren’t content to stay there. They exist. They’re hungry, and they’re not so nice. Guess who’s on the menu? Vincent’s a soul without a body, murdered by the paranormal himself and unaware of what did it. He’s tasked with inhabiting the bodies of the recently murdered and using their minds, bodies, memories and skills to solve their murders. It comes at the cost of retaining many of their memories in place of his original own. The series begins in media res and he’s been doing this so long he’s forgotten his own name and original identity, working under the moniker, Vincent Graves. It’s a fast paced detective thriller series set in an urban fantasy world that predominantly takes place in modern day New York. 

2. Now I know you've had reviews flooding in lately, so what would you say is the thing most readers are raving about?

Either comparing me to Jim Butcher (something that is flattering and terrifying) "When will there be a tv show?" (Trust me I wish I could answer that) or  "When will book three come out?" (Trust me I wish I could answer that one too, haha)

3. Here's what I would like to know: which came first, the paranormal world of vengeful beasties or the wisecracking, "undead" protagonist?

Um, both? I had the character, who was going to be a CIA a different series. And, I had the world which belonged to another series…. and I smashed them together and needed a paranormal reason to throw Vincent in there. I ended up with this. Not so bad. ;)

4. This sort of paranormal investigator thing has been done before; what motivated you to throw your hat into the ring? What compelled you to write Vince Graves?

A: Because I love the genre, my favorite. And you’re right, it’s been done before, but it hasn’t been done like this! I love the challenge. Like all the reviewers say, it’s Quantum Leap meets Dresden Files. It’s something new and unique. Heck, many people still can’t figure out what genre it should really be in. I’m okay messing around like that. :)
And Vincent already existed with that name. He was supposed to be a dour, brooding CIA agent and have a thriller noir series...until I couldn’t really come up with the story for it but had an urban fantasy world I couldn’t stop thinking about. Threw him in there and realized he couldn’t make it being this dark, grim character. It works great for novels where you go around punching humans and uttering cliched one liners. Vincent needed to bring some light and humor to a dark world. Enter my own wit. Here we are.

New book!
Release date: December
5. Rumor has it (because I happen to be a Minion) that you have another series in the works, launching this winter; what can you tell us about that one? Will it take place in the same universe as the Grave Reports?

I do have a new series coming out this winter. I can say that the book, and following books will be larger and show a different side of this world. Yes it takes place in the same literary universe but you do not have to read any of The Grave Report novels (not that you shouldn’t. Go. Read them!) it will stand alone as its own series. But, if you do read my other stuff, there will be nice easter eggs.

Button swag. Must haz.
6. What kinds of non-book merchandise (aka "swag") do you have available?

At the moment, I don’t have any more merch. There will be a line of custom, handmade etched glasses with The Grave Report art over them. Not to mention other things.

7. What do you do when you aren't writing? What kinds of hobbies do you have?

Reading, video games, working out, DIY maker stuff. Lastly, tinkering with cars. Having the money to do those things is another issue. 

Fan art of
Agent Camilla Ortiz
8. What has been your favorite experience with a fan so far?

Oh, God. All of them. I never imagined the fan letters/mail, the fan art, driving out to meet me and get signatures, the lot, would ever happen!

9. What is the geekiest/craziest/nerdiest thing you've ever done?

I don’t really know. I’ve never actually done any of the cool, over the top nerdy things. I really should though.

That one time Ronnie
went to a convention
and met Jim Butcher.
Fandom WIN.
10. What one book or author would you say affected/inspired you so much that it changed the way you wrote?

Jim Butcher. He taught me it’s okay not to have these super, all-the-time-serious brooding anti-hero like characters. There’s been this annoying craze happening a lot where that’s what so many MCs are like: My life sucks, the world is dark, everything is dark, dark, dark I must be darker. Oh my God, lighten up a little. The world can be dark, it’s why you should try to brighten it up occasionally. Also, I learned it’s okay to be an insufferable wise ass. 
11. What is one Bucket List item that you haven't completed yet?

Finish an entire series. <--Most important!

12. What is the single most important piece of advice that motivates you to keep writing?

Don’t stop. If you do, you’ll never know how far you could’ve gone. Worth knowing the answer to that one I believe.
Dude makes his own character Funko Pops... That's awesome!
L to R: Vince (book 1), Church, Ortiz, Vince (Book 2), Lysshae

Did you enjoy this interview? Do you have a question of your own for Ronnie? Let me know in the comments and I'll pass it on to him! Meanwhile, don't forget to check out my previous interviews in the Summer Splash Blog Tour, and tune in next week for more awesome author shenanigans!