The Hopeful Wanderer 46 – The Memory Tree

They arrived as the full moon crested the horizon like an enormous gold coin. Silhouetted people in ones and twos materializing beneath the spreading limbs of the Memory Tree. Their outlines wavered and shimmered beneath the hazy moonbeams, solidifying as the night grew darker. I wasn’t the only person sitting beneath the boughs, so I wasn’t the only one with guests tonight. The living, strangers to me, sat or stood apart, awaiting the return of their own remembered loved ones, unconcerned with my presence.

All around me, my guests talked and laughed about times long gone. Some had already met each other through me, through previous events like this, but others introduced themselves for the first time. Eyes glinting and teeth flashing in the dark. I simply sat nearby and observed these friends long passed. They smiled or nodded at me, knowing their place here with us tonight meant they held a place in my heart.

The night grew longer and longer as the moon fled through the sky. The strangers nearby finished their visits and left, but we remained, for I could not visit the Memory Tree often. I opened drink after drink for us and grew dizzy as the twin suns began to pink the sky. With the oncoming morning, my guests wished me farewell and rained away into nothing.

Alone again, I lay on my back in the grass and the fading stars overhead spun and spun. I missed them all so much.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 45 – Insecurity

Beneath a brightly lit city, a yawning tunnel ran away into darkness. As if to avoid attracting attention to the area, no light spilled across the wide concrete steps leading downward. Yet at regular intervals, the footsteps of one or two people passing below rang out, telling those walking along the railing above that a few more souls had breached the unknown.

Always before these journeyed on, a faint ding sounded at the decrepit security scanners lining the mouth of the passage. A green circle lit up on crackling screens, indicating this traveler carried no doubts. I felt no call to join this inexplicable pilgrimage, so I stood watching from atop the stairs.

Nearby, an ugly buzz sounded from the scanners and a red X appeared on the screen. Little sparks showered the person standing below and she ducked until they fizzled out. Once she uncovered her head, she just stood there. Unable to move forward, too desperate to turn back.

Unthinking, I held out my hand toward her. “I’ll take it for you.”

The girl turned toward me, face half cast in shadows. She was terribly young for one burdened with too much doubt to pass through. “I couldn’t find a place to drop it,” she explained. “But if you don’t mind…”

My outstretched hand remained steady. She handed me a live, squirming, slimy thing. Extreme anxiety hooked into my skin and I instantly doubted my decision.

But she smiled. As she passed through the scanners with an uplifting ding, she seemed to shine in the dimness before complete blackness swallowed her whole.

As soon as I could, I found a waste bin where I dropped the nasty doubt. It left a smear of grease across my palm that I could only hope would come out with a wash.

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If you like what I write here at Word Nerd Scribbles, you can support my writing habit for the price of a $3 coffee @ ko-fi.com/sgbaker.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 44 – Whispering Waters

When the waters rose and swept between the pillars of an innocuous shrine, it was said a voice could be heard by those standing beneath its graceful wooden arch. Intrigued by this rumor, I arrived there just as the rainy season petered off and stood where calm water met grass, toes bare, gazing outward at the flat expanse of shallows stretching to the horizon. Upon stepping onto the sandy path leading out to the shrine, buried beneath inches of clear rainwater, the splashing of my steps seemed insignificant against all that emptiness. 

Little rock gardens stretched away to my left and right, lit by afternoon sunlight beneath the ripples my motion created. The people here knew the depths of water would arrive every year to kill whatever grass they managed to encourage up from the earth, but they built beauty here all the same. Still, my heart thumped dully beneath my collarbone, hardly moved, my walk to the shrine a mechanical one. 

I arrived between the shrine’s old pillars too soon, before feeling could return to my chest. Deeper water rose and fell around my thighs now, threatening to push me over, and I rested a hand against smooth lacquered wood to keep myself upright. Once steadied and focused, I cocked my head, listening, for I had heard something… familiar.

Then I realized what maybe a few other visitors had understood before me. It was only my own voice, telling me what I needed to hear.

Shhhhhhhhhhhh… shhhhhhhhhh… it said.

Fingers trailing in water, palm rested against ancient tree, toes pressed into sand, and hair tousled by wind, I closed my eyes. And I listened to what I had to say.

A little, just a very little, the weight in my heart eased. For now, it was enough.

Thanks for reading! If you like what I write here at Word Nerd Scribbles, 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.

You may have noticed the recent lack of posts…

I just suffered a death in my family. My family being me and my ancient, toothless dog, a Pomeranian little more than four pounds of fluff. My sweet baby.

Trinket passed away about two weeks ago on April 14th. While I was out of town, she walked out onto a garage porch and, unable to see with her bad eye in the dim light, fell off onto concrete and had a concussion and mild stroke. Though she survived the fall (thanks to the fast work of my sister) and we fought together on her recovery for three weeks, though she beat the weakness, and the loss of appetite, and was beating the dizziness–getting herself up and walking most of the time–though she had almost recovered her quality of life, she had a severe relapse one night and ultimately passed away in my arms.

She was very brave.

The grieving process is real. As I mourn the fifteen years she was with me and the loss of the very best dog in the world, I can’t predict how long this will take. But new posts will start going up as soon as I can write again. Thank you all so much for your patience.

I miss you, Wonder Dog.

Book Review: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King of Scars focuses on that lingering sense of incompleteness that follows victory over a traumatic struggle. What now? How to deal with the ghosts and monsters that haunt the victors? When has the battle truly ended?

King of Scars Synopsis


Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war—and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried—and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

While I liked Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy pretty well when I read it, I’ve been a fan of her books ever since the release of the Six of Crows duology and her anthology of short-stories, The Language of Thorns. So naturally, I borrowed King of Scars from my friend as soon as feasibly possible. She read the entire thing in a day, stopping only for a recharge nap. I might have read it a little slower than that, but only just.

What I Liked

PLOT

King of Scars follows the incomplete tales of side characters from the previous Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows duology in Nina Zenik, Nikolai Lantsov, and Zoya Nazyalensky — characters fans of the Grisha world have embraced and loved. More specifically, the narrative focuses on that lingering sense of incompleteness that follows victory over a traumatic struggle. What now? How to deal with the ghosts and monsters that haunt the victors? When has the battle truly ended? Though readers need not have read the previous installments of this world, doing so enriches the experience of King of Scars, as it contains constant and thrilling call-backs to previous content in mentions of Alina Starkov, Kaz Brekker and the Dregs, and even vague hints in the direction of The Language of Thorns.

CHARACTERS

In the Six of Crows duology, readers met Nina Zenik, protege of Zoya Nazyalensky, for the first time, and even got her point of few on several occasions throughout the daring heists and mad schemes perpetrated by the Dregs, the Ketterdam gang she ran with for a while. But her story ended in tragedy and personal trouble, so King of Scars narrates the continuation of her character development as she struggles to lay her past attachments to rest and embrace a new and dangerous power awakened within her, all while attempting to rescue a country that hates her from its own self.

Both Nikolai Lantsov and Zoya Nazyalensky appear in the original Grisha trilogy, but both, as intriguing characters, reach the trilogy end with unresolved problems. Each carry a certain darkness within them, one a hunger for power, the other a hunger for control. If they hope to successfully remake Ravka into a peaceable country, they must each face their own demons, and learn to recognize when the wrong path may appear as the right one.

THEME

The ever constant struggle of wrestling ones own demons, sometimes literally. Trauma doesn’t just go away. Torments resurface over and over again. In King of Scars, Ravka is a land beset on all sides by constant war, turmoil, and worry — an aspect reflected in the hearts of its leaders and greatest champions. The more they deal with their wounds, the more their personal ghosts seem bent on manifesting and becoming more corporeal than ever before. Sometimes, facing trouble makes the situation even worse, but it must be faced. Again and again and again.

ENDING

While the heroes triumph in King of Scars, they also experience defeat and new, encroaching threats. The bad times our heroes feared have arrived at Ravka’s door.

What I Disliked

The resurrection of previously vanquished villains. Maybe Bardugo is just the type who likes to revive the bad guys just to kill them again, but I would have liked to see how she introduced and handled a new antagonist for King of Scars. (There are lots of bad guys in the previous installments and the revival happens pretty early on, so this doesn’t spoil.) But this story is all about wrapping up unresolved issues, so perhaps such a trope fits well with the overall intent.

My Rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.28 stars

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Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

He has a calm, thoughtful demeanor and a coat with more than two sides; she exudes roguishness and capability. In A Darker Shade of Magic, their fates intertwine…

A Darker Shade of Magic Synopsis


Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. 

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

I picked up A Darker Shade of Magic at the recommendation of my friend, who once again recognized that I’d be interested in the roguish thief character, Lila Bard. Also, I had lately been seeing V.E. Schwab’s name floating around, especially with her nomination topping the list for the 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards in the Science Fiction category.

What I Liked

PLOT

Five alternate worlds sit on a spectrum from most magical to least, all interconnected by one city called London, through which Kell, as an Antari, can travel. I loved the prospect both of thematic London parallels and one person who can pass between them. Blood, magic, political intrigue, daring, and temptation. The aesthetic of Place and Objects shines through the pages, practically demanding fan art. The world of A Darker Shade of Magic begs for story to fill it up.


CHARACTERS

Delilah Bard, a street thief who yearns for adventure on the high seas as a pirate, and Kell, a blood magician capable of stepping between worlds. He has a calm, thoughtful demeanor and a coat with more than two sides; she exudes roguishness and capability. In A Darker Shade of Magic, their fates intertwine by pure accident, but the narrative hints that Lila may be more like Kell, dulled by the magic-sapping atmosphere of Grey London, than she or Kell could imagine.

THEME

Power addiction. What does an Antari, capable of not only manipulating all elements of magic but also of passing into alternate realities, do with this almost limitless ability? Thirst for and acquire yet more power, of course. Imagine literally being the whimsical magician whom those in Grey London (our world) only dream of being and still feeling unsatisfied.

In A Darker Shade of Magic,Lila embodies that Grey Londoner, knowing the deep chasm within her heart must have been filled by more in another life, but not in her own world. Yet, perhaps because she did not grow up with magic at her dispense, she relinquishes the power promised by the black stone more easily than does Kell.

ENDING

The ending of A Darker Shade of Magic does not leave the reader on a cliff hanger, but it has dropped enough unanswered questions into the narrative by then to warrant further investigation in the next installment.

What I Disliked

Although the narrative of A Darker Shade of Magic throws Kell and Lila around — bloodying, bruising, and bashing them — I never quite worried about them. There are many moments that raise the tension, but the two always escape danger. By the end, I had no worry that they might not win the day, leaving me on the whole unenthused at the struggle.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.09 stars

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The Hopeful Wanderer 43 – Lost to Hidden

A ruined city glimpsed between thick clouds, spires and skyscrapers towering above the earth, breaking through the eternal fog enveloping its forgotten world. Sunlight poking through the windows illuminated dangling innards — wires and ventilation ducts. Cold and empty and beckoning explorers and wanderers alike.

I stood somewhere within the fog layer but still outside the fabled city, uncertain of my direction. My hand shielded my eyes as I tipped my head back, gazing up at those tower tops. Sunlight had broken through again, glittering off broken window shards and limning the fog in gold. Last time the towers hove into view, I had walked straight toward them. Yet now, they reappeared… to my left.

Soon they vanished again. Altering my course and beginning my trek anew, I reflected on how folks referred to this as ‘the lost city,’ implying it never meant to get that way but had become obscured all the same. Still, the lost hoped for discovery; it stood to reason someone should have found the city by now.

As I slid down a ridge, shale nipping at my bare palms, the towers materialized once more. Two now stood to my right and… I glanced about for the third. There, back the way I had come.

Understanding dawned. I stood grumbling under my breath, condensed fog dripping cold from the ends of my hair. This was why no one had found the lost city: it wasn’t lost, but hidden. The city itself was toying with me. A minuscule flock of unfamiliar red birds took flight from the distant towers, their cries reverberating through the low clouds sounding just like laughter.

Fog rolled up over the skyscrapers once more, swallowing them for good. Though I searched and searched for another glimpse, they did not show themselves to me again.

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