The Hopeful Wanderer – A Seed of Doubt

Brushed with soft pink hues in the fading evening light, full white dandelion heads stretched away from either side of a dirt path. Evidence of a wishing festival lay scattered all around me – broken, bald stalks discarded in the dirt. On still air rode the scent of sap and cut grass, warning other plants of the danger of being plucked.

More than half of the dandelion field lay in ruin. Stalks crunched beneath my shoes as I made my way to the first line of puffs still sanding. Rumors said this particular field imparted more potent wishes than most, but only on one day of the year. Today. I knelt and took a living stalk in hand. I had until the suns fell bellow the horizon to make my wish.

A little burst of feathery seeds floated past my face. Someone’s earlier wish. I followed their progress into the smokey blue evening, away until I could see them no longer. Sun rays glanced through the head of the dandelion I held poised to pick, illuminating the clinging seeds like the hundred tiny things I wanted. Yet how they clung, not quite ready to go or else they would have already gone. In what way had I earned a say in that timing?

As the suns slipped away, I sighed and released the dandelion, laying back on the bed of destroyed plants. Better these seeds flew off in their own time and not in mine.

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Next Time

Just peculiar enough to look like an accident, a white truck hulked beneath a tree in bloom. The pale pollen and petals piled upon its windshield, however, revealed that it had huddled below the heavy branches for a long time. Nighttime crouched like a presence between the tree trunk and the car door.

A rustling sent my heart skittering. No breeze had brushed the branches, yet somehow the darkness moved. I stood before the car, now regretting my curiosity to investigate. My feet felt rooted to the grassy ground. An unusual scent of burning carburetor hung in the still air.

Two things happened at once. A massive gust of wind rose, sending me stumbling toward that darkened gap with the force of a pair of hands. From out below the tree rushed a person, eyes wide, clothes bedraggled, face bloodied. I could pick out no more details before they slammed into me, shoving me against the wind until at last it dropped, no longer pushing me from behind.

The person’s voice quivered as they clung to me. “Don’t go in there,” they said. Then they released me and scrambled off into the night.

A moment of quiet. Then a screech of rending metal tore through the air. The truck quivered. Buckled. Dragging deeper beneath the tree. I stumbled back, but couldn’t turn away. Crunching like chewing sounded as the truck lurched backward, crushing smaller and smaller until none of it was left.

Leaves shivered as the tree seemed to smile, white blooms like blunt teeth. Low, rumbling laughter. Nearly friendly, but not quite.

“Next time, Wanderer.”

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The Hopeful Wanderer – Guided Passage

Light bloomed behind me in a passage I had already cleared, so bright as to drown out the glow of my flashlight. Looking back, I had to hold up a hand to shield my eyes. I could see nothing but the sandstone walls of the cavern.

“Are you lost?” a voice asked. It echoed around the chamber ahead as well as behind, surrounding me.

“I don’t think so,” I replied. “Can you point that elsewhere?”

The light shifted away, its absence revealing a man holding a staff tipped with a glowing crystal. Shirtless and barefoot. A lean, hungry look in his narrow eyes.

“Where are you going?” the stranger asked. “I can guide you.”

“Have you been following me?” I asked. “You weren’t there when I passed through just now.”

“I live in these caves,” he replied. His shadow loomed huge on the wall between us. “I guide the lost.”

Noting that he had failed to answer my question, I said, “I wouldn’t take up your time. If you could just point me toward the way out…”

The man’s mouth pressed into a thin line. He paused so long I wondered if he would even respond. Then, arm raised toward the passage I had been following already, he said, “Take a left at the first fork.” With that, he dimmed the crystal, melting away down another passage. As he did, his fading shadow shifted to look just a little like a jackal.

After waiting a moment to ensure the man wouldn’t return, I pressed on. At the first fork, I took a right, following the directions of a map I had acquired for this trip. It wasn’t long before I reached the exit. Once out, I added a note to the map’s corner. ‘Offering of guidance not to be trusted.’

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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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