Coven Chat: The Remnant Chronicles

25944798Today’s Coven Chat is about Mary E. Pearson’s The Remnant Chronicles. Remember, spoilers lie ahead in a Coven Chat, so if you haven’t read these books yet, don’t go on!

Allison: I’m so excited to talk about the way The Remnant Chronicles wrapped up with you both. We’ve had so many conversations about these books over the last year. I was on vacation when I started The Beauty of Darkness and I had a tough time putting it down.

In terms of the adventure, I was a little so-so on things in this book, especially towards the end. There were parts I was really into, and others kind of dragged for me. The strong character development is what kept me reading. By no means do I feel that the pace lagged or at any time that I became disinterested in the book.

Nicola: I said this about The Raven Cycle a couple of weeks ago, but it applies to The Remnant Chronicles, too. In all three books in the series, I sometimes feel like almost nothing is happening in terms of the overarching plot, and yet I’m still completely engrossed in the story for the characters and their world. I think that displays real skill as a writer, as there are few who can pull this kind of thing off without me getting antsy for more action.

Alyssa: Yes, that’s a great comparison! Like with The Raven Cycle, I was more interested in the characters and their relationships than in the overarching plot. I love the world-building and multiculturalism in this series, too, and how the characters’ identities and relationships evolve because of their adventures in Morrighan, Dalbreck, Cam Lanteux, and Venda.

My only gripe with the world-building is that I wish I understood the mythology better. I’m still a little confused about how the excerpts from sacred texts, such as The Last Testaments of Gaudrel, relate to the series’ main plot. I’d like to read Morrighan because maybe it would explain that backstory for me, but I still wish the excerpts made more sense to me.

Allison: I also wish I’d understood a bit more about the world-building. I haven’t read Morrighan either, so I wish it had been integrated into the text. However, it reminded me a little of a series I read when I was a child, The Darkangel Trilogy, where there’s a “past” that isn’t remembered by those in the present day of the text, but it informs the way the world-building works. We get to know some things about the ancient people, but not all and that fact is integral to the plot of the story. It works for me.

My only real complaint with The Beauty of Darkness was that the multiple POV got weird for me. I don’t know. It’s not that I couldn’t “tell the difference” between the voices, but that at a certain point I was a little overwhelmed by them. I didn’t have this problem so much in the other books, so I was a little surprised. This might be me as a reader though.

Nicola: I was going to say exactly the same thing! I think it worked really well in the first book, because we’re not meant to be able to tell which of the two boys is the prince and which is the assassin (for the record, I was convinced Kaden was the prince), and their POV chapters tended to be short and to-the-point. I think what bothered me about the multiple POV in this book was that I did get a little confused as to whose head we were in at any given time, and sometimes the narrative seemed to jump back in time so we could read the same thing from someone else’s POV, which was rather jarring.

Alyssa: The multiple POV didn’t bother me for the most part–except during the battle scene at the end, when numerous multiple POV were in a chapter. Each POV was very short and that was a bit jarring.

Allison: Overall, I think the multiple POVs benefitted the series. It was cool to see how both Lia and Rafe change as they take more responsibility for themselves and that the ending isn’t some “pat” thing where one of them gives up their kingdom for the other. I do think it’s a little hard to see how they’re going to make things work, but I like the idea that they’ve both done things that were unimaginably hard and that they’re willing to work hard to be together, rather than being miserable apart. That’s a relationship I’d read about again!

Nicola: I actually really loved that it’s not exactly clear how they’re going to make things work. I think it’d be hard to come up with a solution that’s not too neat or cutesy, so by leaving it open like that we can see that they’ve done the important character development work of reaching the point where they are both committed to their kingdoms AND to each other, but without trying to tie it into a neat little bow.

Alyssa: Yes, I loved how Lia and Rafe’s relationship evolved throughout the series. While I was always hoping that they’d overcome all of their obstacles to be together–and I’m happy they did in the last two pages!–I also had reservations and conflicting feelings about their romance. I’m glad they spent time apart–and were not weakened or devastated by their separation–and that they didn’t give up their kingdoms and their other responsibilities to be together.

I also appreciate that Lia and Rafe were not always perfect for each other, and they still might not be. The ending is hopeful and romantic but feels realistic, too, and I don’t think it would have been tragic if they hadn’t gotten together in the end. I was 99% sure Rafe would show up–even when I only had three pages left!–but I was more excited about Pauline and Kaden’s romance by then.

Allison: Pauline and Kaden! This was a good match from my perspective. I love how it came together. It really made sense for me. It was slow and steady and I appreciated the way that Kaden’s vision came to pass. That was fantastic and just the way I always imagine prophetic stuff going: you see something, but it doesn’t happen at all the way you thought it would.

Nicola: Yes! I was really rooting for them as a couple.

I also loved the development of Lia’s relationship with her parents. From the start of the series, it’s clear she has a very close relationship with her brothers, but she has a much colder relationship with her parents, and I really liked seeing more background into why they made the choices they did with her upbringing, especially her mother. A lot of teenagers attribute nefarious motivations to their parents’ deeds, so although Lia’s stakes are higher it was a nice little reflection of rather typical teenage thought processes for Lia to assume the worst of her mother when in fact her mother is only trying to protect her.

Allison: I was also really interested to see more of Lia’s parents in this book. In the first book they’re positioned as very unfeeling and it was interesting to see how the political plot line interfered with Lia’s personal relationship with her parents. I wasn’t expecting a lot of the “reveals” in terms of both her mother and father in this book.

Alyssa: Yes, Lia’s reconciliation with her parents really strengthened the series’ ending. Not just because of the necessity of her homecoming after a long absence, but because we get an even better sense of how much she’s matured since The Kiss of Deception. In many ways Lia’s still the runaway princess we fell in love with, who defied her duties and chose her own destiny, but she’s also less selfish, more responsible, and more empathetic.

Allison: I love who Lia became over the course of the series. I love that she started as someone with substance and grew into someone with adult concerns and feelings. In fact, I like that all the characters grew so much. This is the benefit of the multiple POV. We get to see the inner-workings of each character and I think that Pearson does this well.

Nicola: Yeah, it feels like the characters started the series as teenagers and ended it as adults, and while the multiple POV thing didn’t quite ‘work’ for me I did appreciate being able to see into the characters’ minds and to understand their motivations.

Allison: Thanks everyone for joining our discussion of The Remnant Chronicles. Our next Coven Chat will be about Sarah J. Maas’ Empire of Storms, and the Throne of Glass series.

The Kiss of Deception, by Mary E. Pearson

This post originally appeared on The Prattle of Hastings on 02 April 2015. It is being re-shared now in anticipation of our Coven Chat on The Beauty of Darkness and The Remnant Chronicles.

The Kiss of DeceptionFleeing an arranged marriage to a stranger, Lia, youngest child and only daughter of the king and queen of Morrighan, runs away with her friend and settles in a village at the other end of the country. There she develops a new identity, living in a cottage and working in a tavern. Soon two men show up in town: the prince to whom she was betrothed, and an assassin sent to kill her to prevent the marriage from ever happening. Their identities are secret from Lia – and, indeed, from us.

The way Pearson deals with this is probably the cleverest part of the novel. The vast majority of it is told from Lia’s perspective, but we get a few short chapters from the points of view of The Prince, The Assassin, Rafe and Kaden. Rafe and Kaden are the names the two men give Lia, but, while we know that one is the prince and one is the assassin, we don’t know which man holds which role, and Pearson keeps it that way for more than half the novel, until the assassin makes his move and reveals his identity.

Lia’s voice is lyrical and contemplative; she reminds me quite vividly of Phèdre no Delaunay de Montrève from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series. Her voice befits not only her character, but the world she inhabits. That being said, it probably contributed to what I found to be the greatest weakness of the book: the pacing. At times it felt like the book dragged, particularly when Lia’s settling into her new life. Even so, I think that may have been a deliberate choice, much as it takes Tolkien absolutely forever to get his hobbits out of The Shire in The Lord of the Rings. In both cases, by showing the minor facets of life, we see just how much that life means to the characters, in a way we wouldn’t if it were rushed.

Pacing aside, this book sucked me into the world and the characters. I can’t wait for the sequel!

Nicola is drowning in books and tea, just the way she likes it.

Shameless, Allison, shameless.

Dear readers, I am going to make a shameless plug for myself now and I promise you, I won’t burden this space with annoyingly frequent uRaven&Bonepdates about this business… But….

I wrote a book, witches. I wrote a book and I did something absolutely terrifying: I entered it in Geek and Sundry’s Inkshares contest. I confess that I practically threw up when I put the news out on Facebook last week and I feel a bit itchy about asking you for support as well, but Amanda Palmer says that as artists we should ask for help, so I’m asking:

Please help me get Raven and Bone published.

To win the contest in needs to be in the top 3 by November 1st. The way to vote is to pre-order. If I don’t win, you get your money back. If I do, you get the book. I would really love for Raven and Bone to get out there in the world and if I don’t win, but there are lots of people interested, I may give another route a try, but it would be lovely to have Inkshares do the hard lifting on marketing, etc.

I started writing Raven and B11132103415_7dd94ed2f1_oone almost four years ago when a friend on Tumblr posted a wickedly chilling true crime story. In 1943, four boys tromped through Hagley Woods, in the English Midlands, hoping to poach some bird’s eggs. Instead of eggs, they found a human skull.

When the police went to extract the skeleton from the tree, they found it had actually grown around the bones. This led them to believe the body had been placed there while it was still warm. If that’s not creepy enough, they found that one of the body’s hands had been severed and buried near the tree.

Shortly after the body’s removal, someone began began writing “Who put Bella in the wych elm?” in the surrounding area. Many theories have circulated about who killed Bella. My favorite though, is that a cult of witches might have killed her as a part of a dark ritual.

Raven and SkullIt’s not surprising that I would latch onto this tale. I love urban legends, true crime and above all else: witches. In my mind, I watched the boys find the skull through someone’s eyes who knew the body might be there to begin with, someone who didn’t want anyone else to find it. I sensed that another watched that someone, and that Bella was a part of a larger story.

That’s when Ava showed up. A witch with anxiety, a lot of anger and a past so dark it’s kept her running for centuries. And at first she came with two pretty typical urban fantasy counterparts: a shapeshifter named Lex and a vampire named Vivienne. But things went sideways pretty quickly for me as I started writing their story. As a result, Raven and Bone is a sprawling genre mash-up: Part dark fantasy, part portal fantasy, part paranormal romance. A little bit scary, a little bit sexy, a lotta bit dark.

Not sure about Raven and Bone? You can read the prologue right now, and then decide. I’ll be releasing chapters periodically throughout the contest to reward my supporters.

A million times thank you, even if you don’t pre-order R&B. I just love ya all a million for sticking with us here at CBC.


P.S. I made the book cover for R&B myself, as well as these nifty little images, using images The British Library put online via Flickr. Check it out.

The Death of Mermaids

23014670Up front, I shall say that I forgive Erika Swyler for making the main character of The Book of Speculation a man. I want to get this out in the open, because I really like this book. I even like Simon Watson (the main character). I just think he would have been better off as a lady. Not everything can be perfect, but The Book of Speculation nearly is, in my opinion, so I wanted you to know what I consider to be it’s primary flaw at the outset so you don’t think I’m gushing too much.

Simon Watson is a librarian with a lot of problems. His historic Long Island home is about to fall into the ocean, his job is in danger, his parents are dead and his younger sister Enola isn’t speaking to him as much as he’d like.

Simon has spent his entire life trying to be responsible for himself and Enola, and barely being able to keep things together. At the start of the novel, it’s clear that things aren’t going perfectly for Simon. The house his parents loved is falling apart, so much so that it will likely fall over a cliff into the ocean pretty much any time. Budget cuts at the library threaten his job. He seems to be falling for a lifelong friend, which will complicate his relationship with her family. It’s all a bit messy, really. The way life is, you know?

I think that’s one of the things that struck me most about the book. Aside from the fantastical and magical (of which there is plenty), Simon’s adult life is agonizingly real. He seems to be about my age (somewhere in his late 20s/early thirties) and he’s finding that being a legitimate adult is a series of painful, complicated choices. Joy is mixed with frustration and responsibility and unexpected mysteries.

When Simon receives a beautiful antique book from an unknown bookseller, he’s hurtled into his family’s past and the magic of the book unfolds. You see, the women in Simon’s family are amazing swimmers, divers, breath-holders. For generations they have been circus performers at one time or another. But until Simon gets the book, he doesn’t know much about this at all. The man who sends him the book does so because it is inscribed with his grandmother’s name and he felt Simon should have it. Having the book leads Simon to research his family and he finds a startling pattern regarding the deaths in his family.

On the surface, Simon’s book is a journal recounting the day to day operation of a traveling circus in early America. Its author was the owner of the circus and so it contains some fairly uninteresting details, but also a detailed account of two particularly fascinating additions to the circus, a mute young man and a young woman who’s talent was not drowning.

Swyler presents us with two stories, one of Simon and his desperate search to unlock the mysteries of the book and his family, and the story of the circus. The narrative switches back and forth between the two stories very effectively, releasing bits of knowledge from the past that inform Simon’s growing predicament as the book wears on. The more Simon learns about the women in his family, the more terrified he becomes for his estranged sister, Enola. There’s a bit of a race against time at the end of the book and the conclusion is extremely satisfying.

I love how the particular mundanity of life is absolutely infused with a mysterious magic in this book. I love that The Book of Speculation celebrates strangeness. Sure, there’s Enola’s boyfriend who’s covered in tattoos and can ignite lightbulbs with his touch, but there’s also Simon himself, who seems about as a boring as a fellow can be, except for the fact that he can hold his breath underwater for nearly ten minutes… Maybe more. And yet, none of this is too odd for the book. None of it is condemned in any way. In fact, it would seem that the book reassures its reader that the strange and uncanny are valuable and worth treasuring, even when they lead to heartache.

The novel reminds me quite a bit of The Night Circus, even aside from the obvious similarity. The Book of Speculation works with a magical system that is presented without much explanation and in some ways this feels like magical realism, but in others it’s a bit more fantastic. Folks who enjoyed The Night Circus will like this book, as well as people who enjoyed Water for Elephants, as this story also has a strong historical component. In fact, I would go so far as to say that people who enjoy dark (but not necessarily sinister) stories of the strange magic of the circus will enjoy The Book of Speculation. 

Overall, I have to say this is probably one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. It is most definitely my favorite standalone novel so far. I do love a series, but it is wonderful to put a book down knowing you’ve read the end. I hope you’ll pick this one up.

Allison Carr Waechter would love to sink under the waves and nap at the bottom of the sea. Call her a selkie and watch her swim away. 


Coven Chat: The Raven Cycle


17675462It’s time for our Coven Chat about Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. If you haven’t read the series yet, please remember that spoilers lie ahead, beware!

Allison: Overall, the best thing about this series is the writing. Really, I don’t always care about writing style that much. I’m in it for the stories. If a story is well crafted and the prose doesn’t get in the way, I’m usually happy. But these books are gorgeously written and especially for The Raven King, it’s all that matters. Whether or not I like the Glendower storyline matters very little in the face of the writing and I love that.

Alyssa: Yes, Stiefvater’s writing is fantastic. Her rich and interesting characters make up for some weaknesses in the storyline.

Nicola: One of the things I’ve always loved about this series is the way that sometimes I catch myself reading 100 pages and being utterly unable to put into words what happened in the story, but being so completely engrossed I can’t wait to go back. There’s something about the characters and the worldbuilding that’s so completely encompassing, so that even when the plot moves at a leisurely pace it never feels like the story is stagnant.

Allison: Stiefvater writes amazing characters. I love how well I felt I knew the main cast in these books. There’s so much depth to each of the boys, as well as Blue (though I do feel she’s the least developed of the four). Even though I read the first three books over a year ago, my memories of character are incredibly vivid.

Nicola: Yes, the characters are so vivid. Partly because of that, though, I was disappointed that we didn’t see more of Blue in The Raven King.

Allison: I agree! There was a lot going on in terms of characters, both old and new, which I think is always the issue with the last book in a series. It struck me right away that she faded out a little in this one.

Nicola: Although characters like Adam and Gansey arguably have backgrounds more similar to the audience’s, Blue always felt to me like the novel’s ‘gateway’ character, the one through whose eyes we’re introduced to the wo17347389 rld and the story, perhaps because she comes to the group of Raven Boys as an outsider, as someone who is unfamiliar with the quest for Glendower, and in spite of her rather unconventional family she still feels like a ‘normal’ teenage girl, far more normal than a group of boys, two of whom have died and another of whom can pull things out of dreams, who chase after an ancient king. As such, she felt like the protagonist, and I rather missed her presence in this book, which focussed much more on Gansey, Ronan and Adam (even though I love those three as well). I also missed Noah in this book, although his gradual corruption was foreshadowed earlier in the series. He is, after all, dead. I did appreciate, however, that he still got to play a role in not only the culmination of the story, but also in the moment that set it all in motion.

Allison: Yes, it’s interesting that this series is primarily about male characters, even though Blue is set up as the protagonist. I’ve come to expect that the series I like best will probably have primarily female characters, so aspect of things has consistently surprised me. I really enjoyed getting to know each of the boys individually. Ronan is definitely my favorite, overall. I was, however, disappointed that Blue doesn’t have a female friend her own age that is an active part of the story. This series plays into a “I’m not like other girls, so I’m friends with boys” stereotype that makes me a little uncomfortable at times.

Nicola: This is a good point. I think it’s ameliorated somewhat by the fact that Blue’s life is filled with interesting, supportive women, as well as that the series makes it clear she didn’t have ANY friends before she met her Raven boys, but it does still fall into the “not like other girls” stereotype.

Alyssa: I agree. If we didn’t have the women of 300 Fox Way, then I would have found Blue’s friendship with only boys–the Raven Boys–more problematic because she does fall into the “not like other girls” stereotype. But it seems that Blue may be aware that she falls into this stereotype and perhaps is slightly critical of her own biases. Is Stiefvater critiquing such stereotypes while also celebrating Blue’s friendship with all males? I’m not sure.

Allison: Even though Blue doesn’t have female friends, there are lots of great women in these books. I appreciate that they range from good, to ambiguous, to outright evil. And I love that they are psychics. It’s a magical system that isn’t used a lot in fantasy, which tends to hone in on more exciting forms of magic, but I find divination really interesting. I also like that they’re all performing their craft in different ways. From classic tarot cards to pay-by-the-minute psychic readings, I like that the women Blue lives with have true abilities, but have to make a living in some nearly mundane ways.

Nicola: Yes! One of my favourite things about urban fantasy is the way it intermingles the magical and the mundane. The women of 300 Fox Way have magical talents, and Stiefvater could have gone the other way and had them hold down mundane careers and keep the psychic stuff to themselves, but instead they bring their magical talents into the mundane world and make a living with them. For some of them that comes with all the trappings that mundane customers expect when they go to a tarot reading, whether or not it’s necessary for the divination to actually work, whereas others are much more modern. And I really liked the contrast between Neeve and the rest of the psychics, in that it’s clear the others do draw a line in terms of how public they’re willing to go.

Alyssa: Yes, I love how Stiefvater mixes the magical and the mundane into all of her characters. I also love that the women of 300 of Fox Way are psychics, and that the other characters have diverse magical abilities. Ronan’s dreaming ability is my favorite.

17378508Allison: Ronan is my favorite character, primarily because he is so well developed. We get to know him and his motivations the best, as well as his family’s struggle overall, and I appreciate that.

Alyssa: Ronan’s probably my favorite character, too, for the reasons you mentioned and because of his magical ability. Adam is also one of my favorite characters because, like Ronan, he struggles with powerful magical abilities (Cabeswater) and with serious family issues. Their romance is my favorite because of what they have in common and how they support one another.

Allison: Oh yeah, the Ronan+Adam (Rodam? Adron? Whatever…) romance was definitely the one I had the most invested in. Gansey and Blue seemed like endgame no matter what to me, but Ronan and Adam were unpredictable.

Alyssa: I like that it worked in this series that Adam and Blue had a bit of a romance in the first book, and that Ronan and Adam didn’t get together until the end of the series. I’m curious. Did you see it coming? I think Stiefvater did a good job of hinting that it could happen, but she didn’t make a big deal out of it.  

Allison: I did see it coming from Ronan’s end, but I wasn’t sure about Adam, which I liked a lot. It wasn’t a question of “is Adam gay?” but “Is Adam ready to be involved with anyone, let alone Ronan?”  I really appreciate how both Adam and Ronan evolve as individual characters in this book and, of course, how they eventually grow together. I enjoyed their love story the most.

Nicola: Me too! I love how their developing relationship involves both of them growing as individuals.

Allison: I said this in my rec, but I really enjoyed the way that Stiefvater grows the characters into adulthood throughout the series, and I think that culminates a lot in this book. The extreme circumstances that they go through makes them into adults in a really cool way.

Nicola: There was one paragraph when Blue’s fetching her bike after school and feels totally out of touch with her classmates, like she and her friends are all a thousand years old:

She felt one thousand years old. She also felt like maybe she was a condescending brat […] She wanted her friends, who were also one-thousand-year-old condescending brats. She wanted to live in a world where she was surrounded by one-thousand-year-old condescending brats.

17378527It made me laugh because it’s such a perfect representation of not only Blue and her friends, but so many teenagers in YA in general.

Allison: I completely agree. Something we’ve all said at one point or another is that this series is a really interesting mix of extremely ordinary teenage behavior mixed in with extraordinary circumstances, which is why Gansey’s search for Glendower as the primary motivation for all of the action in the series leaves me a little cold. The Cabeswater storyline (even though it related to the Glendower theme) made more sense to me in terms of the characters themselves. There’s a part of me that wishes that had been the center of the series, and in some ways it is, which makes the Glendower search seem a bit peripheral at times.

Alyssa: Yes,I was more interested in Gansey’s search for Glendower earlier on in the series, and I think the storyline falls flat compared to Cabeswater and the characters’ magical abilities. I was slightly disappointed by how Stiefvater wrapped up the Glendower storyline in the end. But I loved all of the secondary characters involved in the storyline–Mr. Gray, Laumonier, Piper, Greenmantle, Henry, Malory, Gwenllian, Artemus–even if the search for the dead king didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Allison: Even though the Glendower storyline didn’t quite work for me, I kind of liked the fact that there were aspects of The Raven King that were totally predictable (and if you read Maggie Stiefvater’s blog she promised that they would be over and over). But things happen in ways that you don’t expect, which I also like a lot. I even liked that Gansey dies (like you knew he was going to) and he comes back (which you knew he would). Sometimes I hate that kind of predictability, but in this case it worked for me.

Alyssa: Yes, I think Stiefvater is really good at balancing the unpredictable and predictable. In some ways this is such an unusual series, but we also know from the first few pages of The Raven Boys that Blue will fall in love with Gansey, and he will die. And his coming back to life at the end of the series brings the right amount of hope without being corny.

Allison: I totally agree. I feel like things wrapped up nicely.

Thanks so much for joining us today! Let us know what you thought about the series in the comments.