The Hopeful Wanderer 26 – An Inviting Stairwell

Dug several levels into the earth, a double set of stairs twisted around and around each other in graceful spirals – spirals that put me in mind of the arms of a galaxy. Black wrought-iron railing echoed the emptiness of space. This and the marble flooring below suggested opulence and grandeur deep underground. Warm, inviting light illuminated the steps, which were somehow clean despite exposure to the open sky. From my position where raw dirt met carved step, I straightened, taking in the contrasting ruined city around me, reminded of things like illusions and trapdoor spiders.

Below, what I had mistaken for statuary centered between the staircases suddenly moved. A man swiveled his head to look up at me, his handsome face illuminated in the weak afternoon light. He grinned and his smile was all white teeth. Making an invitational gesture, he said, “Come on down here.”

With a shrug, I obliged. The handrail bit my bare palms with cold but warmed as I descended. The man kept his eyes on me, contorting his neck around when I passed behind him. Predatory, hungering. Obvious. At last, I came to a stop before him, hands in pockets, eyebrows raised as if to say, well?

A pause. Then the man lunged forward, fingers outstretched, mouth open wide, wide, wide. But he stopped short, arms windmilling when his feet did not follow. He was stuck to the floor.

“I know of you,” I said, as he collected himself. “The townspeople entrapped you here, so you could not lure their families into your lair.”

His face contorted into misery. “Please free me,” he whimpered.

I shook my head. “Ask the descendants of your victims; maybe they’ll let you out to kill again.” At his hopeful expression, I said, “Somehow, though, I doubt they will.”


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.

Book Review: Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

Sometimes you find a book that’s just about you, about the things you love and the longing in your heart and the fears that consume you at night, and Ballad is of all that for me.

Ballad Synopsis

In this mesmerizing sequel to Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception, music prodigy James Morgan and his best friend, Deirdre, join a private conservatory for musicians. James’ musical talent attracts Nuala, a soul-snatching faerie muse who fosters and feeds on the creative energies of exceptional humans until they die. Composing beautiful music together unexpectedly leads to mutual admiration and love. Haunted by fiery visions of death, James realizes that Deirdre and Nuala are being hunted by the Fey and plunges into a soul-scorching battle with the Queen of the Fey to save their lives.

(Via Goodreads)

About Maggie Stiefvater

I am Maggie Stiefvater. I write books. Some of them are funny, ha-ha, and some of them are funny, strange. Several of them are #1 NYT Bestsellers.

I play several musical instruments (most infamously, the bagpipes), I make art, and I sometimes write about cars for magazines like Road & Track and Jalopnik.

I live in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia with my husband, my two children, some cows, five dogs who fart recreationally, a horse of many colors, a criminally insane cat, an interminable number of miniature silky fainting goats, and one 1973 Camaro named Loki.

I like things that go.

(Via Maggie Stiefvater’s website)

My Thoughts

Every year in October, I reread Ballad. I even just saw a photo in my Facebook memories of when I was reading it this time three years ago. Sometimes you find a book that’s just about you, about the things you love and the longing in your heart and the fears that consume you at night, and Ballad is of all that for me.

What I Liked

Plot

The synopsis, in my opinion, does not quite do Ballad justice. As a sequel, one which could almost be read alone, so untethered does it become from the prequel, Ballad does not waste time on convincing characters or the reader of the reality of faeries. They exist, are deadly, and intermingle with the cast on the regular. Like wolves wandering around in sheep folds but not quite making meals with lamb chops because some of the sheep know what’s up.

While Lament focused on Deidre and her absorption into the world of Faerie, Ballad switches to the point of view of her best friend James, a piper with incredible talent and a smart mouth, very human and with no interest in the faeries who shattered him in the previous tale. His self-absorption with the pursuit of greatness draws Nuala into the mundane, awful, magical reality of being plain old human.

Also, for those of you who have read Maggie’s Stiefvater’s later (and unrelated) series The Raven CycleBallad carries the embryos for many of the characters and concepts explored by way of the raven gang.

Characters

Used to be, I really disliked this representation of Deidre, even though I’m always on board with her when I read Lament. Only in this reading did I catch the moment when James understands why she behaves so terribly throughout Ballad, in such a way that I understand, too. It doesn’t help that she’s clearly wrong for James and everyone but he can see it, and she’s still falling apart from the ending of Lament, which went not at all well for her.

Also, maybe I grew up a little more.

I identify with James so much. He’s a raw version of the artist, the musician, the creative of any stripe dying for more, yearning for meaning, desperate to untangle the inner mess. Nuala, in addition, represents all of us who want greatness but do not try for fear of pointlessness. These two kill me every time I read them.

Theme

Metaphor, baby. Ballad practically drips with ways to say one thing while meaning something else, or something similar, or the opposite. The characters all disguise their truths, other characters misjudge based on appearance, some of them even compare each other to characters in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, which also threads its way throughout the narrative.

Ending

The ending is an ending is an ending. While it hints at a possible third book, it neatly wraps up all the loose threads dangled before the reader. I always want it to continue, but I also close the book feeling satisfied with the completion.

What I Disliked

Nothing, really. After 5+ rereads of Ballad, it’s a little easier to pick out the minuscule flaws, but I love it so I can forgive them.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 3.79 stars


To keep up with future book reviews and read free original short fiction, hit that follow button, subscribe through email, or throw a like on the Word Nerd Scribbles Facebook page.

The Hopeful Wanderer 25 – Hungering Mountain

Perched upon a porous boulder at the toes of a fiery mountain, I regarded a distant but nearing lava flow. No flames breathed from the peak above, but smoke billowed moodily into the evening sky. The ground vibrated with constant rumbling and heat soaked my hair with sweat. This was no place for people, yet many had waited here before me, judging by an ash-dusted stack of stones nearby.

It was not until after nightfall that the approaching lava flowed close enough for a vapor spirit to step from the fiery goo. The smokey creature billowed forth, eyes and mouth mere burning pits. Behind it, the lava strip glittered like a golden ribbon.

“My master has accepted your request for audience.” The spirit’s voice hissed like escaping gas. “You may ascend.”

I nodded my thanks, holding my breath against its toxic vapors behind a cloth mask.

Upon the mountaintop, I found bubbling magma simmering within a massive crater. Extreme heat snatched at my eyebrows.

“What would you ask of me?” the mountain growled. “A bountiful crop? Love? I cannot grant those wishes.”

Keeping my distance from the rim’s edge, I held up a carved jade figurine – a stylized bear, all wide eyes and snarling maw. “An offering. For safe passage.” With a grunt, I hurled the figurine far into the center; it burned up before even touching the surface.

The entire mountain hummed. “Delicious,” it rumbled. “You will pass in safety.”

I glanced out at the huge lava field blocking my way forward. Before my eyes, distant glowing stripes of melted rock and pockets of fire blinked out as the magma cooled and solidified. When I passed by the stone pile below, I set another on top, for solidarity with those who’d told me the secret of what to offer.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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


To keep up with future book reviews and read free original short fiction, hit that follow button, subscribe through email, or throw a like on the Word Nerd Scribbles Facebook page.

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.