The Hopeful Wanderer 51 – Take Nothing

As I made to step off the sidewalk of a sunny city, a car with dark windows pulled to a stop right in front of me. I scurried back up onto the walk, frowning at having my way forward blocked. But as I made to step around the intruding car, I peered within and paused, realizing the windows were not just dark. The inside was brimming with plants. Green tendrils pressed against the passenger side window. I could not see the driver.

The window slid down. Some tendrils popped free and I jerked back to avoid the leafy onslaught. From within the verdant depths, a voice said, “A little help?”

“What’s wrong with your side?” I asked the wall of leaves.

“It’s jammed,” he replied. “Pull me out!”

I popped the handle and, keeping a firm grip on the jamb, I shoved my entire arm into the thicket. Cool leaves and twigs tickled me, then my fingers brushed against warm skin. We clasped at the wrist and, bracing my feet on the sidewalk, I hauled a man out. Vines wrapped around his torso and clung to his ankles, but they tore free as he slithered from the car and lay sprawled on the sidewalk.

With a raised eyebrow, I regarded one tendril inching its way out the door. “Looks like you brought the forest back with you.”

“You know how they say,” the man panted, “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories?”

“Yeah?”

He climbed to his feet and brought his face close to mine. “They weren’t kidding.” Making a ‘forget it’ gesture at the shrubby car, he stumbled away.

Squinting at the escaping tendril, I poked it back up into the car. Then I shut the door on the forest within and went to call a tow truck.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 48 – Sea Glass Below

The ocean’s surface receded above as I dove downward, out of reach all too soon. Pink rays of dancing sunlight lanced into the water around me, but these, too, fell behind. As my dive lost momentum, I blew out bubbles, sinking deeper into the sea. Every direction was an empty, darkening gradient of blue.

Now darkness encroached. I wished for daylight and longed for air, my lungs burning and my vision blurring. The weighty rock I held to drag me down wasn’t dragging fast enough and if I didn’t reach the bottom, I wouldn’t make it back to the top.

Below, a violet glow pierced the inky depths. Schools of fish swam between me and the light; these darted away as I passed among them. Spiny urchins and tiny starfish shrank back as my hand closed around a glassy orb. I dropped the stone. Turned myself around and pushed off from the bottom with all my strength.

My heart trembled. I couldn’t see the surface above. I only knew the direction by which way the last bit of air in my lungs wanted to go. Kicking mightily, I shot upward. The orb in my grasp blazed like an undersea star, lighting the way. When at last I made out the sunset tinged waves above, they were so far away. Too far.

And then, my head breaking through the surface, they weren’t. I choked and coughed and more waves slapped my face, but I was breathing air again.

Treading water, I held up the orb. Small chunks of indigo sea glass fused together with dark grout. Sealed within, stardust tinkled as it tumbled around, twinkling far across the waves. A beacon shining back toward land.

Or at least, as I set out following the direction of its blaze, I hoped so.

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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 38 – Howler Alarms

Clusters of bells hung in every archway of an old stone city. At the center of each was the original bell and along both sides of its dark, weathered chain, smaller bells clung like uneven bunches of brass fruit.

I stood below one such cluster, listening to their small clappers shivering in the breeze. Bright purple ribbons festooned the cross chain, pops of color on this gray afternoon.

“What are you for?” I asked. People passing by in the narrow cobbled street looked at me oddly, but did not interrupt my conversation.

Atop the largest bell, the etched face of a god gazed down at me, but gave no reply.

I tried again. “Directive?”

The main bell pivoted on its shackle, sending up a cacophony of ringing from its neighbors. The street emptied of exactly everyone.

Beneath the continued shrill noise, a low moan rose. Hands snagged my upper arm, dragging me into a doorway as a hideous rush of wind tore up the street, blasting the skin from the back of my outflung hand. I gasped, snatching it against the safety of my chest. Hot, sticky blood ran down my wrist.

My rescuer bundled me inside and someone else slammed the door behind us. We all gasped for breath as two women with identical brown faces looked me over, one tutting about my bleeding hand, the other critical.

“The bells warn of the howlers,” said my rescuer. “Didn’t you read the notice at the gate?”

My mouth worked. I, in fact, had not. I inclined my head to her. “Thank you for saving me.”

They sent me on my way with a bandage around my skinned hand. Outside, I threw a glare toward the unforthcoming bells; it seemed I should have asked a person after all.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 37 – Resting Gods

One of the rare times that I tripped, I happened to do so over the heads of a pair of gods, which I had mistaken for a pile of stones. Though they were sunk to their shoulders into the ground, they smiled contentedly at me. One had moss growing on its round cheeks and the other an orange lily blossom resting upon its rocky curls.

This I had knocked askew on my trip to the ground. I reached up to straighten it. “How did you two get stuck like this?”

“We sat down here and we just didn’t feel like getting back up,” said the mossy one. “I mean, look at this place.”

Trying not to think about how stone eyes could see, I took in the glade around us. Moss grew everywhere in a thick verdant carpet, clinging to the roots of stumps and the trunks of trees. A clear stream meandered by, babbling over stones in showers of spray, enticing heavy white blossoms up out of the rich, black earth. Blue and orange butterflies flitted lazily from shade to sun and back, wings flashing in the light. Vines grew up and around and over everything.

Taking a seat next to the gods, I worked off my shoes. Moss tickled my toes and cooled my aching heels; a large fern frond draped around my shoulders in welcome. This was a place for resting.

Knowing I could not stay, I released a wistful sigh.

“Do you see?” the blossom god asked.

My lungs filled with fresh air, but my bones felt weightier. I understood how one might become stone from tarrying here too long.

“Yes,” I said, “I believe I do.”

With that, I closed my eyes and fell asleep with a couple of stone gods for company.

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The Hopeful Wanderer 36 – Dying Flowers

Glass tubes glinted in the afternoon sunlight pouring in through the front window. Each tube contained a bright colored liquid, several flower varieties soaking up the colorful water. Only, their blossoms were the wrong color.

As I examined them, yet another bloom changed, a pink carnation darkening to brown. I turned to the florist hovering nearby. “You’ve got prisms.”

Outside, laughter and shouting rang in the streets, this town’s spring festival in full swing. Yet the florist’s booth outside sat empty, a closed sign on the shop door.

The florist cast a nervous glance around. “Prisms?” he said. “What does that mean?”

“They’re eating the dye colors, stripping out different hues.” From my bag, I withdrew a fire starter. “We have to burn the infected flowers and boil off the dye water.”

A sigh escaped the florist, sending a sweet floral scent wafting around. “All of them?”

Nearby, an orange flower faded to bronze. “Did you buy dye from the Iad region?” I asked.

He nodded, cringing a little. Iad dye was cheap, but it could only be used on cloth, not plants. He knew better.

“Just the flowers in the Iad dye, then.” I knelt before his wood stove and struck the starter over a bunch of blossoms I’d piled within. The sparks caught and bright snaps of color appeared in the air, popping and hissing. One stung my cheek and I jerked my face away.

We burned half the shop’s inventory. Colorful smoke billowing from the stovepipe floated over the town like a glowing cloud, beckoning festival goers to the shop. Eventually, the florist had to unlock the doors to let people in, while I continued feeding the fire.

He sold all the rest of his un-dyed flowers that day, but he did so wearing a sad smile.

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