The Hopeful Wanderer 24 – Cat Curiosity

Upon a stone fence along a country road, a cat rested in the warm sunshine. It was doing that thing cats do where they stare into space at something invisible, perhaps at a lingering spirit, perhaps at a mere dust mote. This cat’s eyes moved back and forth, like the perpetual swinging of a clock’s pendulum. Curious and lulled with the heady scent of lavender and honeysuckle, I paused next to it. Squinting in the direction of its gaze, I expected to perhaps find that the passing of a distant train or something had its attention.

After a moment, the cat said to me, “What do you see?”

Excitement surged through me; at last I could ask a cat why cats did this. I said, “Nothing that I expected.” Certainly, no train or anything else of interest appeared in this direction. “What about you?”

“I see the passage of time,” the cat replied. “Streaming and streaming and streaming by.”

I blinked, at once uneasy. “And… how does time appear?”

“Like a road of stars leading into eternity. But the ones which have passed glow brighter than those still to come.” Now the cat looked at me. I saw its pupils had become ticking hour and minute hands, spinning around the clock faces of its eyes. “Your time is running out, Wanderer.”

The afternoon closed in, the musty scent of rot rising with the wind. I took a cautious step backward. Though my heart tapped against my collarbone at this brush with the future, I kept my voice calm. “Time runs out for all eventually.”

The cat returned its gaze to the horizon. “Small comfort, that. But if you must.”

I hurried on down the path, prickling with the sense that as the cat watched time, it also watched me.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 23 – Concerned Cloud

At the top of the world, I approached a cloud that had come to rest on the tallest mountain peak. Though a rocky path indicated this as a thoroughfare, the cloud had remained for days and days, obscuring passage and worrying the locals, who asked me to climb up and negotiate.

“The people need to pass this way,” I told the cloud. Wind eased around my clothes and tugged chill fingers through my hair. “Please return to the sky.”

Foggy particles of moisture thickened, blocking my vision until I could no longer even see my feet. I had the cloud’s attention.

“If I go, they will come with me.” Its voice was muffled, like someone speaking from beneath a blanket. It sounded big and old. “Whisked away to the clouds yet too heavy to float upon air.”

“Who?” I asked.

“Follow their calls.”

I heard nothing but my own breathing. But then, distantly, thinly, a sound reached me; a damp cry of distress. Following it, I found I had to leave the guiding safety of the path and plunge into the blank depths of the fog.

“Can you not release them?” I asked, hesitating.

“They are enthralled,” the cloud replied, “following wherever I move. You must lead them out.”

I stepped off the path, making scuff marks in the mud as I went, to follow back. Down the mountainside, huddled beneath a bank of rocks, I found people, shivering and miserable. The slack in their bags showed they had used up their supplies.

A hollow-eyed man gazed pleadingly at me. “Help. We’ve been here so long.”

On the way back, my scuff marks had filled with rainwater, as if the cloud wept. It vanished as we passed out of its boundaries, relieved to at last be freed from the ground.


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Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

The Darkest Part of the Forest seems brief as a stand-alone novel, but it’s packed full of events, action, and twists, traipsing all over the fictional town of Fairfold, through the woods, and down below the Faerie hill.

The Darkest Part of the Forest Synopsis

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

(Via Goodreads)

About Holly Black

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

(Via Holly Black’s Website)

My Thoughts

I had to actively seek out The Darkest Part of the Forest at a more far-flung library branch than the one I usually visit, but I had heard good things about it floating around the internet, so I deemed it worth the effort.

Some have postulated that this tale exists in the same universe as The Cruel Prince (which I reviewed here) and I could certainly see it, but readers don’t have to have read one to dive into the other. Each book stands alone.

What I Liked

Plot

The Darkest Part of the Forest seems brief as a stand-alone novel, but it’s packed full of events, action, and twists, traipsing all over the fictional town of Fairfold, through the woods, and down below the Faerie hill. I thought it was cool how the main characters became fantasy trope classes — a knight, a bard, a wizard, and a druid.

Characters

There! Are gay characters! Who kiss!

There! Are lady characters! Who talk with each other about things other than boys! (Mostly they talk about monsters, which I am all about.)

I liked very much the human X faerie coupling parameters that happened quite naturally over the course of The Darkest Part of the Forest. We get two (2) romances that build on past, off-screen pining rather than sudden interest, which I can appreciate.

Theme

A certain friend of mine would appreciate the rampant duality of The Darkest Part of the Forest (the kind of thing that features heavily in his current Dungeons & Dragons campaign). We get brother and sister siblings, one paranormally blessed and one not. Night and day versions of one character. A human duo and a faerie duo. A party in the mortal realm and one in Faerie, as well as a battle in each. A faerie who belongs with the humans and a human who belongs with the faeries. Two worlds, the court of the Alderking and the town of Fairfold, so closely linked, ultimately become mirrors of one another.

Ending

The ending of The Darkest Part of the Forest involves ascension of a new generation as well as acceptance. While the new court may be small, they draw their strength from a certain entwining of mortals, solitary faerie, and court faerie. I would love to see this bunch appear somewhere in the series for The Cruel Prince, just to know what the rest of Faerie might make of them and their inclusiveness.

What I Disliked

While most likely a stylistic choice, there were three or so parts of The Darkest Part of the Forest mentioned but glossed over. Some of them had to do with memory loss, others seemed cut out for pacing maintenance. Either way, I wouldn’t have minded reading them as they happened, rather than summarized as an after mention.

There were maybe fewer lady characters with meaningful impact on the plot than I would’ve liked, but Hazel, the main character, drives the whole thing forward anyway and more than makes up for it.

Recommendations

I would recommend The Darkest Part of the Forest for lovers of urban fantasy, faerie aesthetic, lady knights, and soft horror.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 3.91 stars


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The Hopeful Wanderer 22 – Living Art

Beneath the tiny bristles of a street artist’s paintbrush, an alien landscape spread across what had once been a blank wall. I caught glimpses of her progress in flashes, around the bodies of people moving up and down the sidewalks between us. Some of these, like me, stopped to watch, mouths open and faces tipped upward as the painting spread, higher and farther outward, seemingly on its own. Those unimpressed jostled us on their way by, cursing our wonder. But even these dwindled as more and more of the crowd stilled, mesmerized.

Soon, no sound broke the quiet but the scrape of paint against brick. All motion had ceased, every face turned toward the mural and its creator. She ignored us, big green hat flopping around, focus zeroed in on her work. At last, the spread of paint began to slow, revealing tufty trees and floating, geometric shapes, sparkling planets, and long-limbed creatures cavorting across unimaginable worlds. Yet the artist had imagined it, and from her work, vitality resonated. People began crowding in, hands outstretched toward the spark of life within the mural.

Before anyone could get too close, the artist’s gaze snapped to the crowd, burning with molten fire deep within her irises. She held her arms out, protecting the painting with her body. “Don’t touch it,” she snarled. Those in the front halted in surprise, faces shamed. Her expression softened some. “Wait until it’s dry. Then,” she gazed up at her creation, “do what you want.”

A breath passed in which we basked in the warmth radiating from the stunning work. Then the artist gathered up her paints. She just managed to squeeze free of the roaring crowd as they surged forward to rest their cheeks against the painted wall. As she walked off, she didn’t look back.


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Book Review: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

When I got the hankering to reread The Rook, I thought I’d give it a review this time. 

The Rook Synopsis

“The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

(Via Goodreads)

About Daniel O’Malley

Dan O’Malley graduated from Michigan State University and earned a Master’s Degree in medieval history from Ohio State University. He then returned to his childhood home, Australia. He now works for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, writing press releases for government investigations of plane crashes and runaway boats.

(Via Daniel O’Malley’s website)

My Thoughts

I read The Rook by Daniel O’Malley just before its sequel, Stiletto, released back in 2016. I loved it then and when I got the hankering to reread it (or a third book, which doesn’t seem to be in production, unfortunately), I thought I’d give it a review this time around.

What I Liked

Plot

Supernaturals + British secret agents = secret service superheroes. The basic premise of The Rook gives off X-Men vibes but the execution lands more within the realm of humorous and relatable James Bond, just with superpowers that involve licking things or venting toxins or diplomacy. Plus it features so many ladies playing active roles, impacting the narrative, and kicking ass. The playful tone puts me in mind of Artemis, just with even more women for fun and sharp banter. Also, while multiple characters maintain or express a desire for companionship, there’s only the barest hint of possible romance, leaving all the focus on the mysteries of the story.

Characters

The main character of The Rook, Mifanwy Thomas, cracks me up. Her internal monologue as she struggles to cope with the weird world of the Checquy she’s landed in entertains from start to finish, manifesting even more so in her dialogue and interactions with other characters. I like that she gets to have and wield power and authority as she fights for the respect she never earned pre-amnesia.

Mifanwy also builds and maintains friendships with another powerful woman in her organization, her very capable secretary, and a new friend outside of work. Beyond these, she displays pettiness and flaws, weaknesses and fears, criticisms and thoughts, awkwardness and a propensity to make mistakes. Well-rounded and badass.

Themes

The main aspect of interest here is the exploration of personality sans emotional trauma. With Mifanwy’s memories, and therefore all past traumatic events that would have shaped her into the timid, mousy woman she had become before her amnesia, wiped away through nefarious events, the narrative poses a question: who are we meant to be? How does PTSD alter that? How actively do traumatic events shape an individual? The narrative of The Rook implies that the answer is very as it presents the same woman as two totally different people.

Ending

Twist on twist on twist makes the climax of The Rook. While all kinds of other mini- and sub-plots get sprinkled throughout the narrative, the main plot itself gets so many loose ends tied up altogether at the same time. The intricacies of all the moving parts weaving together at once like that makes for a satisfying ending.

What I Disliked

Nothing. I love The Rook.

Recommendations

I’d recommend The Rook to fans of James Bond, the X-Men, and dry British humor.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.12


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The Hopeful Wanderer 21 – A Way Marker

There was a light shining from beneath the sand. I spied it while walking along the seashore late on a moonless night, chilly surf chuckling around my bare toes. Just a steady glow ringing a patch of emptiness. I guess I already knew what it was when I started digging there, because this had happened a few times now. Not the sand part or the buried part, but the light. I wondered what object would contain it this time, which direction it would seek to send me.

Cold, wet sand scraped against my fingertips and packed beneath my nails as I shoveled mounds aside. Soon my fingers struck a metal handle and, tugging it, I dragged up a lantern caked in muck. When I washed it off in the nearby sea, it turned out to be new and red as blood.

The lantern was full of stardust. Bright, glittering shards, fine as powder, rolled around within the glass globe as I set it upon the sand. The light of ancient stars cast outward from the hearts of these, shining across the waves as far as the horizon and reflecting bright as day off nearby dunes. But its most intense light shot off in one direction. A beam, pointing north and just slightly west, angling away from the sea, bending maybe a little more than the last one had. I consulted the time and the constellations above to verify. Then I shrugged. Now I knew the course, I would get around to following the way marker’s direction eventually.

Gaze following the beam, I wondered where these markers were meant to lead. Yet, somehow, I felt no inclination to follow. Disquiet settled over me. Nothing like sensing danger and everything like being lost.

Who kept leaving these behind?


I’m always tired, so please consider buying me a coffee to keep me awake while I write the next story. To read more free original short fiction, hit that follow button, subscribe through email, or throw a like on the Word Nerd Scribbles Facebook page.

Writing Update: Logo and Short-Stories Goals

Last week, I reached two goals: raising enough funds to commission a logo for Word Nerd Scribbles, and revising/submitting the third of this year’s short-stories.

Logo Goal

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‘Commission a Logo Design’ goal 193% complete

I mentioned in a previous post about how my Ko-Fi goal was to raise $30 in contributions to commission a logo design. The accompanying image, with its whopping 193% completion statistic, may make it seem like I had a torrent of donations come flooding in after putting out the call, but such was not the case.

 

Here’s what happened. In truth, I was recently seized by a fit of reorganizing my home, a particular madness often manifested as a side-effect of writing difficulties, which resulted in my cleaning out my bookshelves (and rearranging them. They look really cute now). At a library sale some years ago, I picked up a textbook workbook for A Biography of the English Language (nerd) for the price of a handful of change and simply never cracked it open. It went into my to-go pile.

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A Workbook to Accompany A Biography of the English Language by C.M. Millward and Mary Hayes

With the box full of books I cleared from my shelves, I could have started up an online bookstore, but I wanted the books gone with no unnecessary clutter in my (small) apartment. Through a Money Pantry article, I discovered Book Scouter, which searches something like twenty vendors for any interested in buying your book, listing from highest to lowest bid. Turned out ValorBooks wanted this workbook for $40! I also sold a bunch to Powell’s Books and I put the proceeds combined toward the logo goal.

So we’re getting a logo! I’ve decided on which artist at Fiverr.com I want to hire, so now I just have to work out a logo concept.

Short-Stories Goal

For the fall equinox, I had a spooky day out with my closest friends for Halloween shopping, but I also submitted the last of my three short-stories to Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores for their final quarter reading period. Nothing compares to the high of finally completing a piece, but marking this goal off my 2018 to-do list comes pretty close.

 

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‘Write and Submit 3 Short-Stories’ goal 100% complete

This one I wrote toward the beginning of the year while feeling emotionally down and I hated it very much, thank you. (Regular writing sometimes involves plucking out something that absolutely sucks, but doing the work anyway. Oftentimes it washes out in the revision process, with a lot of elbow grease and anguish.) It then went through two more drafts and rotted within the folders of my computer for most of the year before I sat down the other night and reworked it one more time into something I actually like.

It’s a weird story, which isn’t a surprise, considering the fiction I post on the blog, and it seemed like Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores might be its only possible match. Here’s aiming for another letter, rejection or acceptance.


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