The Fog Witch

This is an entry for Chuck Wendig’s weekly flash fiction challenge. The story was inspired by this picture. Word count: 999

Warnings for: implied abuse

Lyra stumbled through the swamp as fast as she could. Cold, gritty mud sucked at her feet with each step. Fog swirled around her, thick and impenetrable as soup, cutting off what little light came from the moon. Only memory kept her on the path; she could see no further than a few steps ahead.

“Lyra!”

Adam’s voice was closer now. She’d prayed he wouldn’t follow her into the swamp, that he’d be too superstitious to venture onto the paths she knew by heart. But that was too much to hope, apparently.

“Get back here, Lyra!”

She plunged ahead. Soon, she would come to the end of the paths she knew. Soon, she would be at the mercy of the swamp and the fog and the unforgiving weather.

And, of course, the Fog Witch.

Lyra lost her balance, landing in icy water up to her knees. It soaked her dress, plastering the fabric to her skin. She must have been deeper into the swamp than she’d thought. She’d have to tread carefully now, and she had no light, no coat, no food whatsoever.

“You’re too far out.”

Adam sounded gleeful, or perhaps hysterical. Lyra couldn’t quite make out his tone.

She crept quietly through the water, shivering all the while.

“The Fog Witch will find you, Lyra. You’re all alone out here.”

Her fingers brushed bark, and Lyra quickly felt over the tree until her hands wrapped around a branch. It wasn’t much, but hiding may well be her best bet now. Hiding and praying.

It took three tries, but she finally pulled herself up onto the branch, and then onto the next one above it. The sharp wind chilled her, and an owl hooted mournfully somewhere high above. Lyra settled against the tree trunk, pulling her knees to her chest.

“Come home, Lyra. Please. I’m worried about you.”

Oh, yes. Here came the wheedling. Lyra rested her head against her knees and shivered. She would not go back, not to a man who thought he owned her, who thought he could strike her without consequence because he called her “wife.”

She would rather take her chances with the Fog Witch.

“Lyra!” Adam shouted again, and then he screamed.

It cut off abruptly.

Lyra raised her head from her knees, waited for one minute, two minutes, three.

Adam did not call for her again.

The fog swirled around her, growing thicker, moved by a gust of wind Lyra couldn’t feel. She pressed her face into the sodden fabric covering her knees, trembling from both cold and fear. Some said the Fog Witch was not the only one in the swamp, and the fog hid far worse creatures. Lyra did not know the truth, but she had a feeling she would learn.

Please, she prayed to whoever might listen. Please, please, please…

***

When she opened her eyes, she was sitting on a cot.

Lyra blinked in surprise. She was in a cottage, with drying herbs draped from the ceiling and a fire crackling in the hearth. A woman sat beside the fire, weaving. Her black hair was piled high on her head, wrapped in braids and loops, and the yellow-orange light of the fire shone on her dark skin.

The woman looked up from her weaving and smiled. “Hello, Lyra.”

Lyra drew her knees to her chest once more, as if that might offer her some protection. “How do you know my name?”

The woman nodded toward a shelf. “You have brought me many gifts.”

Lyra peered at the shelf. There was an old, well-loved handmade doll, three braided ribbons, a handful of pretty rocks, and several dried flowers.

Her heart clenched. “You’re the Fog Witch.”

The woman inclined her head. “Indeed I am.”

Lyra hugged her knees harder. “I knew you weren’t a myth.”

“I am for some.” The Witch’s eyes gleamed. “But you will notice, they do not venture into the fog.”

“What did you do to Adam?” Lyra asked, both fearing and needing the answer.

The Witch shrugged. “I? Nothing.”

“Then what–”

“I am not the only danger within the fog, my dear, a fact your erstwhile husband ought to have remembered from the stories at his grandmother’s knee.”

Lyra shuddered at the thought. “Then what about me? I had nothing, I–”

The Witch set down her shuttle and stared at her with dark, piercing eyes. “And you needed nothing. You have shown nothing but respect and kindness all my days here. You never feared me, and never needed to. Did you really believe I would leave you alone?”

Tears pressed against her eyes, and Lyra closed them. After her grandmother had died, after her mother had died, when her father had drunkenly promised her to Adam to settle his debts…

“I needed you before,” she whispered, her throat tight. “Why didn’t you come before?”

The bed dipped with extra weight, and Lyra raised her head to see the Witch there, dark eyes full of sorrow. “My power keeps me bound,” she said softly. “Otherwise, I would have come to you in a heartbeat.”

Lyra dashed her tears away. “You can’t leave the swamp?”

The Witch shook her head. “I must remain here.”

“What happens now?” Lyra asked.

“Now?” The Witch spread her hands. “Now, you may do as you will. I will take you wherever you wish at first light.”

Lyra fisted her hands in the fabric of her dress, still soaked from her stumble through the swamp. “And what if I wished to stay here?”

The Witch’s eyes widened, and she folded her hands in her lap. “You…you could do that, if you wished.”

Lyra thought about her village, with no family but her drunk father, with people who would blame her for what happened to Adam. She thought about the swamp, and the fog, and the fear everyone else had held that she had never been able to manage.

“What is your will?” the Witch asked.

Lyra’s heart squeezed. “To stay.”

The Witch smiled.

Book Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

jsmnIt might have taken me seven months (March-September 2016), but I finally finished one of the longest books I’ve ever read. The paperback version was more than 1000 pages, a veritable brick of a book to take with me when I went out. I read it in bits and pieces, 5 pages here, 10 pages there. During a road trip in May I got through a whopping 40% of it.

Honestly, by the time I was about halfway through, finishing was as much a point of pride as it was to see how the story would wrap up.

I am speaking, of course, of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Continue reading

Book Review – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

the-100-thousand-kingdomsI first heard about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms on the Writing Excuses podcast, when the crew was talking about magic systems. They mentioned that the magic system in the book didn’t have a lot of explicit rules (at least, not to the level that Brandon Sanderson does in his novels), but that it was okay because the story didn’t need it.

So, when it went on sale for 99 cents, I snapped it up. I’m glad I did, because this book was amazing, and I have been gushing about it to literally EVERYONE who has asked “So, read any good books lately?”

Yeine is the leader of Darre, a small, matriarchal kingdom in the north. After her mother’s death, she’s summoned to Sky, the capital of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, where she’s named as heir to the throne.

The problem is, two other heirs have already been named, which, as Yeine herself puts it, makes her “two heirs too many.” But the battle for the throne is not the only battle going on in this duplicitous city, and unbeknownst to her, Yeine is about to play a much larger part in both than she ever suspects.

Yeine is easily the best thing about the book. I loved her voice, I loved the way she told her story, I loved how completely and utterly out of her depth she was and how she still managed to fight her way through. Her talents are not, at first glance, well-suited to the deeply political situation in Sky, but by God, Yeine learns fast and makes the most of what she has. She screws up, but she doesn’t shy away from fixing her mistakes, and she’s willing to go to great lengths to protect the land and people that she loves so much.

Fantasy novels aren’t often told solely in first person (and if they are, it’s usually a mixture of first and third), but The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is entirely from Yeine’s point of view and it works wonderfully.

It’s woven with an art that shows you she’s jumping back and forth in time, interspersed with interesting asides and digressions, but it never gets dull and it’s never confusing. It’s so well-written that you just want to swim in it and roll around in the words.

I also loved the mythology of the world. We get a lot of stories about the gods’ history and the way the world came into being, how everything got to the way it is now. And it’s not just worldbuilding added for flavor; it’s all important, vital pieces of a puzzle that we need in order to understand what’s happening in the story.

There’s a very strong theme of love and family running through the novel: how you can love someone and hate them in equal measure, love someone and still betray them, how even families that have been broken can still be mended.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a rich, lovely fantasy novel that, on the one hand, I want to gush about for ages. On the other hand, half the fun of the book is the discovery, learning things as Yeine does, and I don’t want to rob anybody of that joy. If you’re looking for a new fantasy novel, pick this one up as soon as you can. It’s so, so worth the read.

Authors I Love: Terry Pratchett

This is a series that’s just what it says on the tin: authors I love.

These aren’t just authors that I read; these are authors I follow, whose books I buy as soon as I get a chance. These are the authors for whom I’ll read everything they write just because they’re the ones writing it.

For this post, we’re going back to the fantasy genre and Terry Pratchett!

What does he write?
Comedic fantasy; specifically the Discworld series.

How did you first hear about him?
I can’t even remember. I’d heard about Discworld for years thanks to the Internet, but had never picked it up. Finally, somebody at a NaNo get-together told me about the whole “series within a series” aspect of it, and described the Night Watch books. I thought those sounded pretty funny.

And after I read and loved Good Omens (which is by Pratchett and Neil Gaiman), I felt like I kind of had to pick up Discworld.

guards-guardsWhat was the first book of his you read?
Guards! Guards!
It’s the first book in the Night Watch arc.

How many of his books have you read?
Thirteen and counting:
Equal Rites
Wyrd Sisters
Witches Abroad
Mort
Reaper Man
Guards! Guards!
Men at Arms
Feet of Clay
Jingo
The Fifth Elephant
Monstrous Regiment
Unseen Academicals
Where’s My Cow?
– yes, it’s a picture book, but it counts, believe me.

Why do you like him so much?
He’s hilarious. I described him to my friends as “Douglas Adams does fantasy,” which does a good job of describing his early work, but Pratchett becomes so much more than just that. His stuff moves from just straight parody of fantasy and its tropes to some excellent satire, and he has such an amazing way with words that I usually have to stop several times to read a passage aloud because it’s so. Damn. Funny.

He also creates wonderfully memorable characters in every story. You have the regulars like Sam Vimes, Carrot, Colon and Nobby, Lord Vetinari, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat, and Death, and then those who show up for just one book like Eskarina (Esk) in Equal Rites or Polly in Monstrous Regiment or Glenda in Unseen Academicals.

None of them are perfect; they have flaws and foibles but they also grow and change over the course of their stories, whether it’s just one book or eight. I love the characters with a capital L.

Also, his worldbuilding? Unexpectedly awesome. Discworld feels like a fully realized world, even amongst (or perhaps even because of) its ridiculousness.

I think any fan of high fantasy needs to read at least a few Discworld books.

men-at-armsWhat’s your favorite book of his?
Men at Arms.
It’s the second in the Night Watch arc and it is absolutely fantastic. Vimes and Carrot are my two favorite characters in the entire series, and this book showcases both of them excellently.

Not to mention there’s an amazing scene between Carrot and Lord Vetinari at the end that is just phenomenal. I had to reread it about four times because I loved it so much.

What’s your least favorite book of his?
It’s a toss-up between Monstrous Regiment and Unseen Academicals. In the case of Monstrous Regiment, the beginning of it (in particular) was a lot darker in tone than I was expecting, so while it wasn’t bad, it really threw me. However, it picked up a lot more near the end.

With Unseen Academicals, it was merely good, whereas most of the rest of the books I’d read had been great. It was really interesting to see the City Watch from the viewpoint of the street characters who’d be taken in for questioning, though.

I feel I should point out, though, that both of those books are still very, very good.

Where should a new reader start?
Since I’m partial to the Night Watch, my recommendation would be Guards! Guards!. It’s a great jumping-off place, a perfect introduction to the city of Ankh-Morpork, and is overall a lot of fun. Plus, this is the book that introduces you to Sam Vimes and Carrot Ironfoundersson, who are easily my two favorite characters in the series.

However, you could also start with Equal Rites, which is a standalone but introduces Granny Weatherwax (who is amazing and one of the main characters of the Witches stories). There’s also Mort, which is the first book in Death’s arc.

You could also start with Wyrd Sisters, which is not only the first book of the Witches series, but can best be described as “Terry Pratchett does Macbeth.” It’s pretty much as good as it sounds.

Authors I Love – Brandon Sanderson

All right, so, I’m starting a new thing which is just what it says on the tin: authors I love.

These aren’t just authors that I read; these are authors I follow, whose books I buy as soon as I get a chance. These are the authors for whom I’ll read everything they write just because they’re the ones writing it

First up? Brandon Sanderson.

mistbornWhat does he write?
Epic fantasy.

How did you first hear about him?
In a news story linked from Fark.com, when it was announced he would be finishing off the Wheel of Time series after Robert Jordan’s death. A lot of people were really excited and couldn’t stop talking about Mistborn, pointing to it as an example that Sanderson would do a good job of completing the WoT books.

What was the first book of his you read?
Mistborn.
I loved the premise, got hooked in the first couple of pages, and then stayed up until 1:30 a.m. finishing it because I literally could not put it down for the last 150 pages.

Of course, then November started and I couldn’t read anymore of his stuff until NaNoWriMo was over.

How many of his books have you read?
Six of them. I’ve read:
Mistborn
The Well of Ascension
The Hero of Ages
The Alloy of Law
Elantris
Warbreaker

I also own The Way of Kings and The Rithmatist, thought I haven’t had a chance to read them yet.

Why do you like his work so much?
One major reason is his worldbuilding, specifically in regards to magic systems (a strength he’s well aware of, because if you listen to the Writing Excuses podcast, Sanderson regularly refers to himself as “the magic system guy”). All of his magic systems are fascinating and I love the way they tie into his worlds. In some cases, they actually help drive the plot (as with Elantris).

In addition, he’s very good with relationships—friendships, family relationships, and romantic relationships. He does a fantastic job of building the relationships realistically, and since I’m such a hardcore romance reader, I love to see that done well in epic fantasy.

Not only does he do epic well, but he also writes an amazingly fun adventure story. I intended to just start The Alloy of Law and read for about an hour, and then I ended up reading the entire book in a day.

What’s your favorite book of his?
Mistborn
. A high fantasy heist/con story? BE STILL MY HEART. It was fabulous, and the whole series was one of the best fantasy trilogies I’ve read in years.

What’s your least favorite book of his?
I would have to say Warbreaker, and that’s simply because I didn’t like the magic system in that one as much as I did in Elantris and the Mistborn world, and the ending fell a little flat for me. Other than that, it’s still a very good story with some great twists and two of my favorite character arcs ever.

Where should a new reader start?
The two best places to start, in my opinion, are either Mistborn or Elantris. Obviously I’m partial to Mistborn, for reasons, but it is the first book of a trilogy, and Elantris is a standalone novel. So if you’re not quite willing to hop all the way into a trilogy, then Elantris would be the better place to start.

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I first heard of The Night Circus because of NaNoWriMo, and immediately added it to my TBR list for two reasons: 1) it sounded cool, and 2) it was originally a NaNo novel, and I feel a solemn duty to support those whose November scribblings got published.

Synopsis courtesy Goodreads:

the-night-circusThe circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

I liked Celia and Marco, for the most part, but their romance wasn’t as large a part of the story as I expected (or okay, hoped—I like romance!). Since Marco was required to stay in London while the circus traveled all over the world, he and Celia were separated for great swaths of the story. We see their relationship build from the different tents and areas they add to the circus, in addition to the few times they actually see each other.

By and large the book is about the mysteries of the circus, the mysteries of Celia’s and Marco’s teachers, and their competition. From the moment the story begins, Morgenstern gradually brings everything she needs, weaving together all the pieces that will come into play by the end of it.

The key word there, though, is “gradual.” The beginning of the book moves very slowly as we go through both Celia’s and Marco’s childhoods before the competition actually begins, and then occasionally jumping forward in time a bit to tell the story of Bailey, a young boy very intrigued by the circus. Because of this, the early sections of the book drag at times. However, about a third to halfway through the novel, the story hit its stride.

The language is absolutely beautiful, and probably the strongest part of the novel. The descriptions are so lush it feels as though you’ve been transported to the circus, and reading Morgenstern’s writing was a large part of what kept me going when the story itself was dragging.

Viewpoints swap between third-person present tense, telling the story of the competition between Celia and Marco and the circus’s inception, and then second person. This is one of the few stories I’ve read that does second person well, and that’s for two reasons.

One, it’s speaking as if you, the reader, are a visitor to the circus, which works very well within the story. And two, it doesn’t happen often. The second person sections aren’t very long, providing just a bit of a frame and some foreshadowing to the unfolding story. (This is good, because after If on a winter’s night a traveler, I’ve developed a twitch regarding stories in second person.)

Overall, I really enjoyed The Night Circus, I think in part because it felt like reading a fantasy disguised as a literary novel (or perhaps vice versa). It’s not on a “holy cow, you have to read this now” recommendation level for me, but it’s a lovely, beautifully written story.