Weyrd and wonderful: Corpselight by Angela Slatter

Corpselight by Angela Slatter and other objects

Sirens and Kitsune and Norns, oh my!

I swear, the capital of the Sunshine State has never looked better than it does in this fabulous urban fantasy crime thriller.

Back in the day, when I was working for the Gold Coast Libraries and reviewing books on their blog, I waxed a little bit fangirl about Trent Jamieson’s Business of Death trilogy, in part because that wonderful series is set in my home town of Brisbane.

So imagine my delight, last year, to read Angela Slatter’s Vigil, which has harpies on the Kargaroo Point cliffs, Norns in the West End, and so much more. It’s a glorious, dark tale full of myth, monsters and a very nasty vintage. You should definitely read it.

Needless to say I was looking forward to the sequel.

Corpselight delivered all it promised, and then some. It walks the fascinating line that the best urban fantasy always teeters on, showing a hidden underworld of magic sliding along with the mundane and recognisable real world. An insurance investigation sounds ordinary enough, but when the claim comes under “Unusual Happenstance” and involves supernatural mud inundation its rather more intriguing – and dangerous.

I’ve been reading a lot of Lois McMaster Bujold lately, and like some of her books, Corpselight considers motherhood from a number of different, and often dark, angles. It’s not always sunshine and butterflies in Brisneyland, of course, and it makes for gripping reading.

I’m looking forward to Conflux 13, at the end of the month, because Angela Slatter will be there – and I might just have to wax a little bit fangirl to her.

BTW – I wrote a post about brephophagists, the word for people who eats babies. It doesn’t come up much in conversation. The Creative Commons image, by Andrew Bossi, is of the baby-eating statue in Bern, Switzerland. As far as fabulous backstories for characters go, Verity Fassbinder (the heroine of Corpselight) has a cracker: her thankfully departed dad was a Kinderflesser – a child butcher – catering to Brisbane’s Weyrd communities more disgusting dining tastes. Nasty and, for dark urban fantasy, absolutely pitch perfect.

 

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Clever, charming, and thoroughly louche

rowland

Why, of course, it’s Mr Rowland Sinclair, and his disreputable companions.

And if you love damn fine storytelling – it’s an enthralling series of Australian historical crime – have I got a deal for you. Or, more accurately, the clever, charming, and thoroughly irrepressible, author – Sulari Gentill – has the fabulous deal, and I’m just bringing it to your attention.

The seventh Rowland Sinclair mystery, Give the Devil His Due, was published a year ago, and I’ve just recently binge-read the series (which involved re-reading some of the earlier books, and the first time reading the later). They’re so good. I love the flawed characters, and the relationships between Rowly and his friends, and especially between Rowly and his brother. I love the understated humour. I love the way the books look at the complex politics of the 1930s, with the realities of the Depression, the global rise of Fascism, and the fear of Communism – all seen through the filter of Rowly’s wish to just paint portraits.

Sulari is a fabulous writer, and a delightful person, and the gasps of horror she can elicit at writers’ festivals by confessing she writes, in her pyjamas, in front of the television, is hilarious. Pantera Press publishes her books in Australia, and Poisoned Pen Press is releasing her backlog of Rowly’s adventures in the USA, and even though it is written, readers will have to wait until next September for the release of the 8th novel.

To alleviate disappointment, and because she is magnificent, Sulari has written and released a free novella, The Prodigal Son.

You can download it here: http://www.rowlandsinclairnovella.com/

It’s a prequel to the series, so I’m going to go grab it right now, and settle in to enjoy a little more time in the company of Rowland Sinclair and his Bohemian friends. Why not do the same? And then, if you haven’t already, you can hunt down a copy of A Few Right Thinking Men and read the whole series.

I thoroughly recommend it.

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The satisfaction of revenge

dressmaker

Forgive and forget, or at least forgive and get over it, might be good advice for our souls/karma/general state of mental health. But, you know, there’s something so very satisfying about a great revenge story.

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham is one of my favourite books. I reviewed it enthusiastically five years ago, when I picked it for my library’s online book club read of the month. I was *super* excited when I heard it was being filmed.

Ah, and what a fantastic job they’ve done of making it into a film. I loved it! It looked perfect. I was completely emotionally engaged with it – laughing at the humour, recoiling from the revolting, gasping at the transformations worked by the amazing dresses. I wept buckets at the sad bits (in fact, I started crying before the sad bits because I knew they were coming). It was a fantastic two hours and I emerged from the cinema dehydrated and blinking at the reality of the world.

Which is pretty much the same effect the book has on me – the immersion just lasts a little longer.

I particularly love two things about this story. The first is that it doesn’t box itself into being just one thing. If you want a rom-com with a happy ever after – er, no. If you want a serious examination of the dark recesses of humanity – look out, Mad Molly’s made the hash brownies a little stronger this time. But it is romantic, and comedic, and tragic – sometimes at the same time. And that’s great storytelling.

The other is that Tilly’s sewing skills and eye for fashion can transform the way the women of the town look, but she can’t change what they are really like. A fabulous dress does not make you a nice person. Old secrets are raked up and resolved, but Tilly is not forgiven, and not accepted. Not because there’s something wrong with her, but because there is something wrong – something closed off and soured – about the people of Dungatar.

They forego their opportunity to transform. And so it’s up to Tilly to force that transformation in an incredibly satisfying revenge scene.

The director, Jocelyn Moorhouse is said to have decribed the movie as Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven with a sewing machine”, and that’s pretty much perfect. 

So if you’re in the mood for a gunslinger in Dior, I highly recommend you go and see The Dressmaker. And, if you really want a treat, read the book too.

An enticing, genre-blending book

glamouristsOnce you start messing with your genres, things can get confusing.

You know what Dr Spengler said – “Don’t cross the streams.”

So should a writer stay well inside the lines, genre-wise?  Well, you may also recall that, actually, crossing the streams worked out fine, and I like to think that genres are there to be played with. Still, it can be tricky knowing what to call your chosen genre once you’ve done a bit of blurring and blending.

That’s why my writing inspiration for today comes from Mary Robinette Kowal, whose Glamourist Histories are fabulous historical romance adventures with a dash of magic. Or to keep it simpler, urban historical fantasies. I like it!

I’ll be chairing a panel at GenreCon in Brisbane at the end of the month (you know you want to be there: go on, buy your ticket!) and this very talented author will be on that panel. So I thought I’d better catch up on the series. I had read Shades of Milk and Honey a couple of years ago, but the series is now up to its fourth, so it was time to get a reading wriggle on.

I’ve just finished the third, Without a Summer, and it was delightful. 1816 was called the year without a summer, because a massive volcanic explosion in Indonesia in the previous year continued to mess with global weather patterns, and caused widespread crop failures and heightened social unrest. It also caused bicycles to be invented and the guests at a house party on Lake Geneva to resort to telling each other ghost stories to pass the time, inadvertently creating a whole genre, but that’s another story.

Jane Austen’s books of the time give almost no acknowledgement of the political and social environment in which they occur. Although influenced by Austen, Without a Summer ties the story into the time in the best way, and seamlessly incorporates magic by having public blame for the bad weather fall on the coldmongers, who are able to manipulate folds of glamour to cool things –  but not to the extent of ruining the weather.

It was an intelligent, well told story, with engaging, flawed and likable characters – as well as a wonderful villain. I very much enjoyed reading it, and I am looking forward to meeting Mary. In fact, the only flaw with the book was on the otherwise gorgeous cover:

1916 failOh, dear. Enough to make an author weep.

Speaking about an author’s voice

annieb Last week I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Annie Barrows, who was a co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Her new book, The Truth According to Us is set in 1938 in the fictional West Virginia town of Macedonia. It looks at how stories create different versions of the truth, and how the past is mostly stories that have been told over and over.
Annie talked about how, when she studied writing, there was a lot said about an author’s voice – on finding what it was about the way you told a story and the stories you chose to tell, that was unique.
Of course, she threw that out the window when she came to complete the story of Guernsey – she had to tell the story the way her aunt would have told it. As she’d grown up with her aunt and her mother telling her stories , that was something she could do, and do so seamlesly that readers can’t unpick where Mary Ann’s storytelling stopped and Annie’s began.
This got me thinking … you can read a lot about an author’s voice and the cultivation thereof. About how it needs to be originl and authentic. How it should have authority and a distinctive style.
But I think if I sat down at a keyboard to write, while consciously thinking about my voice, I would silence myself. Overanalysis would equal writer’s block. The books that I’ve read, the things that I’ve seen, the people that I’ve known – all of that influences the stories and the way that I tell those stories – but not consciously.
Could I tell someone else’s story their way?
It’s an interesting question. Annie’s experience of finishing her aunt’s book made me wonder if I’m close enough to anyone elses fictional heartland to write with their voice.
I don’t think I could, and that made me admire even more what Annie Barrows has achieved with her writing.