Sisters of the Fire by Kim Wilkins

29937614The second book in the Blood and Gold series, Sister of the Fire is set a few years after the thrilling events of the first book, Daughters of the Storm, conclude. Once more, we’re drawn into the lives of the five very different sisters as they hurdle towards their unknown and dark destinies. Whether it’s the fierce and loyal Bluebell who’s on a mission to locate a sword that’s been crafted for the purpose of slaying her and which she fears one of her sister’s possesses; or forlorn Rose, the princess set aside by her Trimartyr husband, King Wengest, and who’s forced to live away from the man she loves and with her aunt and son – that is, until she learns the life of her daughter, the indefatigable Rowan, is in danger. We also follow the struggles of Ash as she comes to terms with the terrible power she wields, the fate she sees for the realm and will do anything to prevent. Then there are the twins, Ivy and Willow. Weak and ineffectual in comparison to her sisters, Ivy has been given in marriage to a man she doesn’t love and whose chronic illness threatens to unbalance the city she holds in care for her beloved sons. Then there’s the zealot, Willow. Having turned her back on the faith she was born into, Willow has become a warrior-priestess for Maava and, in her efforts to prove herself worthy of her cruel god’s love, will do anything – even betray the family and kingdom who remain steadfast to her.

Vast in scope and setting (the reader is taken from rocky shores, craggy islands, deserted towns, bustling cities to mystical forests and arcane castles), Sisters of the Storm is a tour de force of the imagination. Each of the main women in the story, and the men who either exploit or love them fearlessly, as well as the children the women love unconditionally (if not always well), are masterfully realised and sometimes brutally rendered. Wilkins doesn’t shy away from exposing their great strengths and tragic and even irritating weaknesses. You believe in these people, these flawed, majestic beings and the goals they pursue, and their need to forge or at least control their fates to the best of their ability. Just as they love with great ardour and conviction, so the reader does too, as we segue from one sister’s path before stumbling upon another’s, championing their individual or collective causes or mourning their dreadful decisions. The prose is evocative, moving and, at time, violent.

There’s no doubt, Wilkins, as story-teller par excellence, has a flair with words – a few well chosen ones conjure the depths of despair, the ache of maternal or passionate love, the fury of betrayal. Likewise, landscape is rendered minimally but with no less impact. You hear the ocean, smell the forest, and enter the bloody battles with your heart racing and your senses afire. The novel is imbued with wildness, mystery and beauty and these are carried through every page of this marvellous conclusion to a terrific series.

I also appreciated the fact that as you reach the final lines, not all doors are closed, not all paths end. I hope Wilkins returns one day to tell more tales about these divergent, complex sisters’ and their families, and the epic, but always recognisable world she’s created.

PS. I also have to say, I think the cover is simply stunning and reflects the contents beautifully…

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

It’s hard to know where to begin with this book. Recommended to me by a dear friend, Kerry, who, when I said I wanted a novel to lose myself in, asked, “Have you tried Patrick Rothfuss?” I replied in the negative (though I had heard of him – you’d have to be deaf to the literary and fantasy community not to have), and picked up the first book in his Kingkiller Chronicles a little unwillingly. Unwilling because, with the exception of Kim Wilkins, Juliet Marillier, and Sara Douglass, I’ve read very little fantasy since George RR Martin. I’ve nothing against it; on the contrary, I am a huge fan and have been since I read Prince Caspian when I was eight. My bookshelves bulge with fantasy novels and my first foray into publishing was in that marvellous genre as well. It’s just that having to research my own work and loathing the interminable wait between instalments in fantasy series, I’d deferred my reading in this genre (apart from authors above) indefinitely. I’m just not patient enough and understand completely why my friend, Joy, waits until all books in a series are out before commencing them.

So, I picked up The Name of the Wind reluctantly…

Oh. My.

What a book.

What a reading sensation.

imgres-8How had I deprived myself of this work for so long? Beautifully structured, holistically conceived, filled with characters in whom you believe and a world that is so rich and complex, I found this book impossible to keep away from. I’d rise in the morning and drift towards it; begin to eat and flick it open, regardless of the company (so rude, I know); record a favourite television show (yes, even Game of Thrones) to watch later and read instead; stay up till all hours wishing I could remain in Rothfuss’ world.

And this is why (without, I hope, spoiling the experience).

When the book opens, we’re introduced to Kvothe, the youthful inn-keeper with an incredible past that involves, wizardry, death, monsters, music, women, wine and song, sharp intellect and no small degree of talent, as well as incredible adventures, abject poverty, suffering, brutality, violence, academic and physical lessons, hope, resilience, hard work, love, bets and the lurking ill-will of dire enemies. So how did this amazing red-haired man with a colourful and unbelievable past, who when we meet him seems to have lost the will to live, end up running an inn in a remote, quiet place while the world around him plunges into darkness?

Against his better judgement, Kvothe begins to tell the story of how he became a legend in his own life-time to a man whose been searching for him in order to record his memories – the Chronicler.

And so Kvothe’s tale, from itinerant performer to wunderkind, is told – in Kvothe’s first-person voice in the past before switching to a third person present. The language is poetic and moving, the dialogue snaps one minute and brings you to tears in the next. Kvothe is irreverent, honest, modest (except when he’s not) and completely convincing and lovable, even has he grows into what you can tell will be formidable powers. He’s possessed of a wicked sense of humour, a strong sense of justice and refuses to be a victim, no matter what life metes out. I went through every conceivable emotion and then some reading this book and grabbed the next one immediately (it’s almost a thousand pages), delighted I would be able to spend more time with someone who has fast become one of my favourite characters of all time.

Elegant, original, magnificent in scope yet humble in execution, this is imgresa book any lover of reading would enjoy. Furthermore, Rothfuss is very open with his many fans about his writing, the world he’s created and his ambitions for the writing future. Only, in getting to know him as a writer through words other than those in his marvellous novels, I’ve also learned that the third book in this series, Doors of Stone (there are novellas and short stories connected to the world as well), despite being promised earlier, might not be available until 2016. This brings me back to why I stopped reading fantasy all together –the waiting when you willingly give yourself over to a new book and world is painful. However, in this instance, I make an exception. Learning that Rothfuss doesn’t want to let DoS go until he’s absolutely satisfied it’s as good as it can be, makes sense to me and kudos to him.

Despite the wait ahead, I’ve no regrets I read these books – such is the power and beauty of what Rothfuss has accomplished and my faith in his very impressive abilities – I was poorer without this experience.

Just a marvellous read. I’ll try and be patient… really.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

Meet My Character: Blog Hop

This is an unusual blog for me as I don’t often write about my books (a situation that will change as I am upgrading/changing my website soon – watch this space!) but the notion came via a lovely invitation from the wonderful writer, Josephine Pennicott, author of the fabulous Poet’s Cottage and Currawong Manor as well as award-wining crime novels. This is a “meet my character blog”, where I answer questions about a character from one of my books or a work in progress. I have chosen to discuss the lead character in my latest novel, The Brewer’s Tale which is published by MIRA, Harlequin. I really hope you enjoy learning a little more about her – thank you for the opportunity, Josephine!

My latest novel

My latest novel

 

1.) What is the name of your character?

When the reader first meets her, she’s called Anneke Sheldrake but due to circumstance, she undergoes a slight name change, taking her mother’s family’s name and hoping it gives her some anonymity and autonomy as well as the ability to put the past behind her.

2.) Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

She is most definitely a fictional person but her life-story is grounded in historical research and fact. Some women had incredibly tough and poignant lives and Anneke’s, with all its trials and tribulations, reflects that.

3.) When and where is the story set?

It’s set in early Fifteenth Century England, commencing in the fictional town of Elmham Lenn (on the east coast of England and loosely modelled on Bishop’s Lynn (now King’s Lynn) and Cromer) before moving to Dover, then Southwark. In order to be authentic, I not only read many, many books, articles, spoke to brewers and distillers and poured over old maps, my old life as a cartographer came in handy after allbut in the final stages of editing, travelled to the United Kingdom. At one stage, I wandered along the Thames, walking in my characters’ footsteps. I stood on the banks of the river, in Southwark, in approximately the place Anneke ends up living, which is in a dwelling called “The Swanne”. Lo and behold, when I turned my back upon the river to see what was built there now, what did I see but this…

The modern day "The Swan", Bankside,  Soithwark

    A modern day pub called “The Swan”. I confess, I welled up and then went had a drink (or two) to celebrate! How amazing is that – not that I was drinking –  but the serendipity of it all?

 

 

 

 

4.) What should we know about him/her?

Medieval beer barrels

After her father drowns at sea, and Anneke and her young siblings are left orphans, she is forced to make a living in order to keep her family together, so turns to what once made her mother’s family in The Netherlands prosperous, brewing ale. This not only drives her into competition with nearby producers but more significantly, the local priory who dominate the market and do not like others impinging on their trade. Beyond being an excellent and ethical brewer, Anneke is loyal, brave, smart and lovely – inside and out. But she finds being a female brewer tarnishes her reputation and exposes herself and those she loves to terrible danger.

 

5.) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

The main conflict comes in the form of people and organisations with power – familial, social, financial, class, political, those who don’t like seeing a single, talented and lovely woman succeed – so the people representing these forces come in various shapes, sexes and sizes, from family relations to bailiffs, ale-conners, sheriffs, and the church.

There is much that “messes up” her life, and in this regard, despite so much happening, it reflects what women of that era endured. But there is always hope and love and friendship  as well.

 

6.) What is the personal goal of the character?

To be ethical and successful; to be loyal in love and life, to care for those for whom she is responsible and to not let injustice, in any guise, win.Different kinds of beers

 

7.) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

It’s called The Brewer’s Tale. It was its working title (drawing inspiration from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales – it even features the Wife of Bath as a character)  and that never changed. You can read more about it at Harlequin’s website (which also features a video with me discussing this and my next novel)   http://www.harlequinbooks.com.au/product/9781488742620  or just Google the title.

 

8.) When can we expect the book to be published or when was it published?

It was published by MIRA, Harlequin October this year!

Cheers and thank you!
Beer Mo

 

 

Now it is my turn to nominate another author to introduce you to their character. It is with great pleasure, that I would like to introduce you to Sheryl Gwyther.

Sheryl Gwyther_image1Sheryl is a children’s author and artist who has written many books, such as the wonderful Secrets of Eromanga, as well as Secrets of Eromanga

plays and short stories and is actively involved in the writing community and very generous with her time and support. I know she is juggling many writing balls at the moment, so I’m looking forward to discovering which of her characters she decides to let us meet.

 

Over to you, Sheryl!

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

Book Review: Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins

This is an extraordinary novel that once I started reading it, found it hard to tear myself away from. Actually, I didn’t read this book – I devoured it – greedily. In Daughters of the Storm, Kim Wilkins, a masterfulDaughters of the Storm storyteller, presents us with a rich and detailed historical fantasy featuring a poisoned king, his five very different daughters, and a land in existential and leadership crisis.

Drawing on her vast knowledge and love of Anglo-Saxon England, Wilkins gives us a vivid and diverse world where faith, magic and individuals collide and geographical borders are only as strong as the leader enforcing them. When the King of Thyrsland lapses into a magic-induced sleep, suspicion turns not so much outwards as one would expect, but inwards towards his family. His eldest daughter, the formidable warrior, the wonderfully named Bluebell, determines to rescue her father from this grave enchantment – not only because she loves him dearly and blindly, but also for the sake of the kingdom she will one day inherit. Recognising the power that keeps him comatose is the wild “undermagic” and the only one who can help them is someone of their own blood, Bluebell employs her sisters’ help. Along with her mostly unwilling siblings, she embarks on a journey to find a cure and in doing so bring the kingdom back from the brink of war. Tall, scarred, strong, capable and tattooed, Bluebell inspires loyalty and loathing in equal measure, and not just from her men or the enemies she encounters but, as she’s to learn, from those closest to her as well.

What Bluebell doesn’t bargain on is her sisters and the terrible secrets they hide, secrets that have the potential to not only undo her intentions, but tear the family apart as well.

While this is at one level a quest novel, the journey the main characters undertake is not simply physical, but psychological and emotional. So it is with Bluebell and her sisters who are also forced to examine the past and their own choices, in relation to the present and, indeed, the future. Mostly estranged from each other, they’re presented to the reader as three-dimensional characters with their flaws, foibles and strengths on display. Whether it’s the unhappily married mother, Rose, the mystic Ash, or the twins, the sanctimonious Willow and hormone-charged Ivy (both of whom you often want to slap in the face), they feel real and whole and thus you can appreciate the choices they make, even when you wince or wonder why. Complicated, and passionate, the shifting viewpoint in the novel allows us to get to know each of them over the course of the story and you find yourself allying with one then another, or despairing at what you know the outcome will be… only, in typical Wilkins’ fashion, you don’t know. They are not always likeable either, and I love that Wilkins has taken such a risk as making her major characters unattractive at times – just like real life. You may not always like them, but you do understand them – this is clever writing that doesn’t condescend to readers.

This is also where Wilkins excels as a novelist, in her ability to present readers not only with a terrific tale, but with complex, fascinating characters with their own rationale for action, gently exposing the deep motivations that drive them, even if they take a little while to be revealed. But it’s not only the women who are represented this way either. Daughters of the Storm also has some wonderful and imperfect male characters as well – from the slumbering king, to the bitter Wylm, the brutish Raven King, Hakon, the lonely undermagician, and the love-lorn Heath.

With a kicker-twist at the end, this is a marvellous book and my only disappointment is that I have to wait for part two of what is a simply brilliant addition to one of my favourite genres and from one of my favourite writers.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Comments: No Comments

Book Review: Evergreen Falls by Kimberley Freeman

I started reading Evergreen Falls late one night after finishing another book, foolishly believing I would read a few pages, get a sense of the novel then fall asleep… but KimEvergreen Fallsberely Freeman and her tale of the beautiful Violet and introvert Lauren had other plans that involved late nights and some anti-social behaviour as I simply had to finish this fabulous book.

Evergreen Falls is a dual narrative in that it tells the story of two different women in two different times but in the one place. It opens with a vignette of tragedy in the Blue Mountains, in 1926, setting the scene for what is about to unfold. Fast-forward to current times and we meet Lauren Beck, a 30-year-old woman who, due to heartbreaking family circumstances, has led a sheltered life in Tasmania. When her section of the novel opens, she’s working at a coffee shop in the Blue Mountains, discovering what it’s like to be independent, hold down a job and, much to her delighted surprise, attract the attention of a dashing architect, Tomas, who has come over from Denmark to head up a renovation project on the nearby resort, the hotel, Evergreen Spa.

It’s while exploring parts of the building with Tomas that Lauren happens upon a cache of extraordinarily passionate and candid love letters from someone called SHB to a young woman he so evidently adores and desires. Captivated by the romance and the story behind these, Lauren begins to investigate, all the time aware that love may be slowly blossoming for her.

The reader is then taken back to 1926 and we follow the adventures of the gorgeous and lively Violet Armstrong who, after losing her job in a department store in Sydney is offered work at the very posh Evergreen Spa. With a dependent and ailing mother, Violet leaps at the chance to work in such an exceptional place, but little does she know that her time at the resort will change not only her life, but also that of everyone she encounters that season with tragic and lasting consequences.

The novel then moves back and forth between the two women and the secrets they seek to keep and uncover, drawing parallels between their lives and their differences, exposing their strengths and flaws and how the choices of the past and present will impact upon their futures.

Evergreen Falls is such a page-turner. Freeman evokes both eras

beautifully and presents us with such rich and fully-rounded characters. Class and other differences are explored, as are the complexities of families and the bonds that bind us whether we like it or not. Bigotry and assumptions about others – made on the basis of ignorance and fear – are exposed as damaging, but in this novel they also become the lynchpin through which more generous characters facilitate forgiveness, redemption and understanding.

Setting is so important in this book and the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney are wonderfully evoked, in all their haunting misty-blue greenness

replete with majestic gums, soaring rock formations and tumbling waters as well as the views into forever. Having spent a great deal of my childhood in the Blue Mountains (picking blackberries and searching for fairies with my grandmother and swimming in isolated rock pools), I walked the paths and stood once again on the viewing platform gazing towards the horizon and breathing in that crisp, clean air alongside the characters. Evergreen Spa, to me a thinly disguised Hydro Majestic Hotel, was also a place I inhabited as I read. I sat in the dining room, felt the plush carpet beneath my feet, saw the staff in their uniforms and respected the wishes of the indomitable but kind Miss Zander. The hotel (and mountains) is as much a character as any person and it’s fitting that the novel moves from the period in which it was at its peak to the start of its restoration.

For that is what the novel is also about – restoration – not

always in ways that are anticipated or expected but for the main characters this is what is offered and it’s up to them how and with whom they find it.

This was a simply wonderful novel that kept me up for a couple of nights, meant I was lousy company during the day, and that I was completely distracted until I reached the end… then, of course, as with any great book, I was bereft I’d finished. I shed a few tears, which is testimony to the way in which I was caught up in the emotional lives of the characters.

This is fabulous escapism, and I cannot recommend it enough. For those who love mystery, romance, history, and the tangled web of relationships, as well as some fantastic story-telling, this is the book for you.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Comments: 2