Book Review: Mort, by Terry Pratchett

While I try my best to branch out and read new authors as often as I can, sometimes it’s important to pick up a bit of indulgence reading. Terry Pratchett is one of my very favorites. His books are the equivalent of Cheetos and Jelly Bellies, intensely flavorful and full of surprises.

Mort is no different. This book was originally published in 1987 and is the fourth in the Diskworld universe series where the world is indeed flat and supported in its journey through the universe balanced on the back of four elephants which in turn stand on an immense giant turtle. If that doesn’t give you a good feel for Pratchett’s gigantic sense of humor and intellect, I don’t know what will.

The Story:

The main character, Mort, short for Mortimer but also meaning “death” in French, starts out as an awkward knobbly kneed youth and proceeds to, ironically enough, become Death’s apprentice. Death has become tired of his job and sees this as a wonderful opportunity to finally learn what life is all about. Mort, being the awkward youth that he is is tasked to collect the souls of those who have died and in the process accidentally breaks the nature of reality and time.

In order to heal the rift he has created, Mort must find a way to align reality to accept his big mistake – a process that involves finding a wizard specially suited for the job. Naturally this can’t be easy. Nothing in a Pratchett book is. Every twist and turn reveals different aspects of wonderfully complex characters and an equally complex world.

My Review:

I adore Prachett’s writing style. He creates the most unexpected and delightful descriptions and then blends them into a story that flows with such ease that I can’t help but sit back in awe. He does for fantasy what Douglas Adams did for science fiction – take a normally very serious genre and fill it with wonder and humor.

The story of Mort itself is just enough unpredictable that even this seasoned story expert was kept on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what would happen next. For me, this is a real perk. With most books, even the best written ones, the story is usually straight forward enough that I can guess what’s going to happen and that’s gets boring. With Mort, that expectation gets thrown out the window in the first chapter and a world of wonderful possibilities present themselves, each equally plausible.

Many books like to explore the ideals, especially when it comes to characters. There is usually a hero, a villain, and a variety of mentors, sidekicks, and romantic interests who cross the stage of the story. Prachett has never been slave to this convention. His strength lies in making all characters as flawed and strange as possible – the more unique the better. My favorite? Death. I love that he wants to explore the world and is so helplessly naive and charming as he learns what it means to live. The whole idea just tickles me the right way.

Recommendations:

I recommend this book to those who normally don’t enjoy fantasy, but want an introduction. The Diskworld books don’t need to be read in any particular order, but for those who need a plan of attack, I’d recommend the Diskworld Wiki to help explain the different families of books. I’d also recommend it to fans of Douglas Adams, those who like clever prose, and anyone with a pulse and a sense of excitement and adventure.

I would not recommend this book to the following – people who can’t smile, appreciate a good joke, or don’t get puns and sarcasm.

I rate this 5/5 stars for making me giggle and share random passages at my family. They still don’t know what hit them.

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Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to Amazon, Goodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!

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Book Review: Heroes of the Valley, by Jonathan Stroud

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, which means it’s time for a book review. I listened to the audiobook of Heroes of the Valley at the end of 2018, right smack at the same time I was preparing for the launch of my book. It was a great distraction for all those times I needed to relax and escape the stress of planning a large event, interesting enough to hold my interest, but not gripping enough that I was tempted to stay up after bedtime.

Heroes of the Valley

The Story:

Halli Sveinsson, youngest and most awkward of the Sveinsson house, grew up listening to the stories of when his valley was a wild and dangerous place and brave men stood heroically to defend it. His reality is much more bland. The valley is ruled by laws and governed by a Council of women who demand peace and equality. His heroic attempts always end badly, usually with someone being humiliated, and that someone is usually him.

When violence comes to his home, Halli sets off on a path of revenge and his own hero’s quest. He is inspired by the stories of the brave and bold Svein, the hero from which his family took its name. Along the path, Halli learns that he is not the hero he’d hoped he’d be and returns home, guilt ridden.

But, all is not is as it should be. Not only has Halli gained a reputation of being an ill-doer, he is accused of murder. His actions put the whole village in danger from the house of Hakonsson who comes to attack. With the assistance of the lovely and brave Aud, Halli creates a plan much like Svein of old to protect his house.

My Review:

While I love a good high fantasy, especially one filled with swords, magic, and noble characters – this one was definitely different. Our main character Halli is wonderfully flawed almost to the point of being comedic. Everyone else around him tolerates him at best, and downright hates him at worst. Because he’s never really liked, he experiences a sort of freedom that the rest of his house doesn’t enjoy. It doesn’t matter what he does, he’ll get in trouble for it anyway, so he does whatever he wants. Being at the bottom of the respect ladder means you can’t fall down further.

One would think that this would make Halli depressed and hard to read, but it does the opposite. He’s got a ready wit and shares it regardless if it’s the right thing to say or not. When he’s not speaking, he’s always thinking of a way to get what he wants. His goals are neither noble or evil, but are very realistic, which makes his story that much more relatable.

Interspersed between Halli’s chapters are chapters where the legend of the beloved Svein and the Battle of the Rock are told. These fable-like stories paint the hero in such inflated terms that he’s grown much bigger than life, performing feats of super human strength and endurance that can hardly be believed. Because I was listening to the story (yay audiobooks!) I didn’t catch that there was this switch for the first half of the book and ended up very confused. When listening, there is precious little to cue the listener that this switch has taken place. So when you believe you are in a Halli chapter, it might be several paragraphs before you realize you are in a Svein chapter.

Even with this, the two stories end up complimenting each other in such a way that the reader feels they understand Halli’s drive. He loves the story of Svein so much, he will do anything in his power to become a hero.

Those who enjoy fiction with a strong Nordic feel and heavy cultural notes, plus monsters that we are never quite sure are real, will enjoy this book.

It’s a strong read, well-written with lots of excellent world and culture building. As for liking it, I enjoyed listening to it, but didn’t love it. The storytelling style made it hard to be immersed in the story the way other books do and the magical element I was hoping for didn’t come through as a significant part of the story.

I’d still give the title 4/5 stars for being ingeniously constructed, well-written, and an all around solid narrative.

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Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to Amazon, Goodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!

***

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Meet the Cast: Mirelle Pathara

Mother to Katira, the main character in Stonebearer’s Betrayal, and companion to Jarand, Mirelle is both a nurturer and councilor. In sticky situations, she is the one most likely to stay rational and calm and keep the other characters from making rash decisions. This works well because both Katira and Jarand both tend to let their emotions guide their actions.

“Healing Silverstars” By AnthonyFoti

From her youth, Mirelle has been passionate about the healers art. It came as no surprise that when her powers manifested, her strength and talent aligned with this passion leading her to join the Order of Healers. She is unique among healers with the power, as she also has gathered a wealth of information regarding medicinal herbs. This knowledge is put to good use in the small town of Namragan, where she lives with Jarand and Katira and works as the town’s healer.

Among her peers, Mirelle is considered one of the best Stonebearer healers, second to Master Firen the head of the healing arts at Amul Dun, the mountain fortress of the Stonebearers.

Katira grew up watching her mother work healing the sick, tending to the wounded, and preparing salves, tinctures, and other medicines, all with an expert hand. Katira admired her mother so much in this ability to make people feel better that she begged to learn the healing art as well. As soon as she could lift the heavy mortar and pestle she pulled up a chair and worked alongside her mother. When Katira was old enough to announce her trade as a young teen, she proudly declared she would follow in her mother’s footsteps.


Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Want to learn more about the cast of Stonebearer’s Betrayal? Check out these posts:

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Discussion

Do you have a favorite mother character in fiction? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

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Don’t miss it, Stonebearer’s Betrayal received another wonderful review this week from book review blog “Why not? Because I Said So!”

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Thanks for joining us today! If you’d like to be notified of future posts, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links.

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Influences of Podcasting with Daniel Swenson

Today, friend and fellow ginger Daniel Swenson comes on the blog to talk about his most influencial podcast guest in the ten years he has run the Dungeon Crawler Radio podcast. Daniel and I met through our connections in the Utah writing community and have plenty in common, including a passion for fantasy fiction, a love of meeting inspiring people, and a shared publisher, Immortal Works Press. 

Dungeon Crawler Radio Logo

My question to Daniel – Which podcast guest has influenced you the most over the years, and why? 

Daniel’s answer:

The question of who has been the most influential person in my podcasting and writing career was one that was a bit difficult for me to narrow down as I have met many amazing people over the last ten years that I have been doing my podcast Dungeon Crawler Radio. When I first started, I had these grand dreams that I would meet all the authors that I had come to love in my formative years. And amazingly enough I was able to fulfill most of those dreams. So, to narrow it down to one individual was quite a challenge, but in the end when I finally decided on who that individual was, it was quite obvious and apparent.

As I’ve said, I have met many amazing and talented people over the years and this is in no way to discount them because many of them have helped shape my life in one way or another. However, the one person who really stands out in my mind that made the most impact in my life as a person, a podcaster, an interviewer and a writer has to be author R.A. Salvatore. It was during those Awkward High School years that I discovered Bob’s first Drizzt novel, The Crystal Shard. The book was set in the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms setting and at the time was published by TSR. The cover was fascinating, on it was a burly dwarf with a massive battleaxe, a huge human barbarian easily hefting a warhammer in both hands, and a dark elf was crouched on the ground examining a blood trail. I knew right then and there I wanted to know what happened within the pages of this book. 

I devoured every book R.A. Salvatore put out and they always found a way to effect me emotionally on some level with the events going on in my life at the time. It was amazing. Fast forward fourteen years later and I was two years into running my podcast and we’d had some success with interviewing author like Larry Corriea, Dan Wells, and Brandon Sanderson before their careers took off. It was around this time I gained the courage to email Bob and see if he would be willing to come on the show to talk about his latest book. To my amazement, he said yes and we planned when he’d come on. The show was beyond amazing, there I was talking to the author equivalent of my hero and it was like we had been friends for years, he joked with us, he spoke to us about writing, he gave us and the listeners some really great advice. He was also very interested in what we had to say regarding our insight with his novels, the characters and our questions about writing and he was very gracious and responded in kind. 

Bob continued to come back on the show year after year sometimes as much as twice a year depending on book release and each time he continued to leave great advice on writing and being a decent human being.

R.A. Salvatore

With each visit I wrote down the amazing advice given and tried to incorporate those things into my daily life, my writing for my gaming campaign and the podcast. The advice given was so impactful that I am sure it is part of the reason the podcast has been so successful and authors like R.A. Salvatore and so many others have wanted to return over and over again. But more importantly, it was the advice given about writing and the need to write that really changed my life as it had given me the foundation I needed when I began to write my first novel. All those lessons over the years had been the greatest writing class anyone could ever hope for. 

I am grateful for the friendships I have made over the years with individuals in the writing and gaming communities due to my podcast and writing. I still continue to meet amazing individuals everyday and I hope that through my podcast, my writing and when I speak at events that maybe I too can spark the joy of being creative in someone else like Bob helped ignite in me.


About Daniel Swenson

Daniel Swenson is a fantasy writer that enjoys writing about dragons, guns, swords, magic and more. Daniel’s debut novel The Shadow Above the Flames came out in 2017 and was an Amazon Best Seller. The sequel, A Dragon’s fate will be release in June of 2019. Daniel is also the creator and host of the Hugo-nominated podcast Dungeon Crawlers Radio.

Connect with Daniel:

About his book, The Shadow Above the Flames:

How do you save the world from two monstrous entities? A power-hungry corporation and a newly awakened dragon…

In a world left reeling at the loss of fossil fuels, and after giving years of service to the military, Henry Morgan just wants a normal life. But between nagging feelings from his past and a strained relationship with his brother Rick, “normality” always feels just out of reach. 

The Union Forest Corporation puts profits ahead of safety and with a dragon on the loose threatening to kill innocent people, something incredible happens… 

Henry learns that Rick is among the force of elite commandos sent by Union Forest to battle against the dragon at the drilling site, he’s forced back into the roles of soldier and protective older sibling. He’ll do anything he can to save his brother . . . including risking his own life at the hands of a ruthless corporation. Henry may be the only person who can keep the world safe from total annihilation…

If you like fast-paced thrillers, brutal dragons, witty heroes, and evil villains, then you’ll love Daniel Swenson’s first novel – The Shadow Above The Flames. It’s a high octane thrill ride! 

Buy The Shadow Above The Flames today to watch an ordinary man become a hero!

“An awesome premise combining old and new. Tons of fun.”

– Dan Wells, New York Times bestselling author of “I Am Not A Serial Killer”

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A huge thanks to Daniel for joining us today! Be sure to check out both his podcast and his book, they are awesome.

Speaking of podcasts, did you know that Dan and I did an interview a few weeks ago? Come check it out.

Book of the Month: Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

night-circusIt can be dangerous picking books from a list and hoping that they live up to the hype. The Night Circus has appeared over and over on book lover Pinterest boards so I decided it would be worth seeing what the big deal was about. I’m glad to say that this is a book that delivers.

Not too long ago I wrote a post discussing what Magical Realism meant. The Night Circus is a terrific example of magical realism. The story takes place in an ahistorical Victorian London and follows the lives of two young magical proteges. These magicians can perform actual magic and not just feats of illusion. These proteges and their masters create the Night Circus – Le Cirque des Rêves, the Circus of Dreams. A reality defying collection of curiosities that is only open from dusk to dawn.

The circus itself is surreal enough to make for intriguing reading. Among the expected acrobatic acts and contortionists there are tents that are full of the impossible. One is a garden created entirely from ice. Another, a cloud maze where you can fall from incredible heights without the fear of being hurt.

The story weaves it’s way through the lives of two magical proteges. Through the years, Prospero the Enchanter and Mr. A.H. have been locked in a rivalry to prove who is the better, more powerful magician.  Their students, Celia Bowen and Marcos Alisdair are the pawns in a dangerous competition in which they have been groomed their whole lives to play. Except, they are never given the rules of the competition. They must push to find what must be done and are never sure what the next step must be.

My review:

It’s not often when a book takes me by surprise. The Night Circus has an otherworldly quality that makes for perfect escapist reading. I was transported into this alternate world where magic is indeed real and palpable and filled with wonder. The story itself is fresh and full of ideas and creativity that haven’t been seen before, which is a feat in itself seeing how most stories I read are beaten dead from over use.

The best part of the book is the circus itself, the wonder and the thrills contained therein continually change and evolve to captivate and delight both reader and the characters that walk the pages.

I recommend this to anyone who likes magical realism, Cirque du Soleil, and surrealism. For those of you who like their fiction to keep both feel solidly on the ground, this might be a touch cerebral for you.

Like book reviews? Here are a few of my others:

Writing Fantasy Profanity

Bantha-ST

Don’t mix up your Bantha Poodoo with your Nerf Herders! Getting swearing right is important.

It’s writer Wednesday and today we are going to delve into the risque topic of fantasy profanity. Well, ok, it’s not all that risque. In fact, the reason many people like fantasy novels is that there is rarely ever any swearing.

Instead, we enter the world of alternate swearing. In a fantasy world there are different beliefs and different cultural practices that lead to different terms being considered profane, just like different English speaking countries have distinct swear words. Saying ‘bollocks’ or ‘bloody’ in the US barely gets an eyebrow raise because most people don’t know what they mean.

Using standard swearing in a fantasy novel doesn’t make sense because you wouldn’t expect an alternate civilization to develop the same swear words. When they are used they pull the reader from the narrative – a big NO NO.

Let’s see how these titles handle swearing –

Mazerunner, James Dashner: (I’m talking about the book, not the movie) The Gladers those who live withing the maze use ‘shuck’ and ‘clunk’ ans their stronger swears.

  • Clunk is a direct replacement for sh%t and comes directly from the sound made when using the rustic bathroom – and yes, this is explained in the book.
  • Shuck rhymes with fu%k for a reason.
  • Other slang includes: shank, slim it, slinthead, greenbean, jacked, and bloody.

Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: There are a plethora of these, for the complete list, check out the wiki. These words are tied directly to the world where much of the protagonists history includes blood, fire, and magic. The most popular swear words are the following:

  • Flaming used much like we use ‘damn’ and expresses anger or hatred toward something or someone.
  • Blasted a slightly stronger version of ‘flaming’
  • Light used as an exclamation similar to how we use ‘god’
  • Burn (me, you, etc) is also similiar to damn and is used when people are upset
  • Blood and Ashes expresses anger and disgust.

Star Wars Universe: While this is sci/fi the same rules apply – it’s not our world or culture so the swear words would be different. I was actually surprised at how many of these there are, for a complete run down, including origins and definitions, check out this article.

  • F-bomb substitutes: crink/crinking, farkled. kark/karking, kriff/kriffing, krong, Skrog/skrogging, snark/snarking (no relation to today’s snarky).
  • S-word substitutes: druk, dwang, Holy Sith!, shab, shavit.
  • Other Insults: Bantha poodoo, e chu ta, hutt-spawn, laserbrain/blaster brain, lurdo, nerf herder, schutta, sculag, sleemo, son of a blaster, stoopa, vong.

Needless to say, there are many ways to handle swearing in your world.  The more deeply embedded into the culture and world, the better these insults will be.  If your world has a lot of water elements then there should be some water related swearing and insults, wethead, salt and slime, salty, bilge, etc. A desert culture would use a different set that evoked images of heat, dry, and stench.

Whatever you do, make it meaningful. Random words used as swear words won’t affect your reader nearly as much as words that have a history and a purpose.

Happy Writing!

Writing Update February 2015

51-BE6kx1PLThe last six months have been a strange mix of writing for fun and writing that feels like work.  I sold my first piece of short fiction BREATH, which led to several weeks spent in working with a professional editor.  By the way, if you ever want to know the truth about what your writing weaknesses are, a good editor will have no problem in telling you.

With any publication there comes marketing, which for me included conducting several interviews and also being interviewed.  It also involved creating author accounts on Amazon and Goodreads.  As fun at it is, all these things take up valuable time.

MechanizedMasterpiecesThe success of my first story kicked off a crazy desire to try again, so I spent several weeks writing and polishing a steampunk story to submit. Having never written steampunk before, this was a huge learning experience for me.  I had fun writing it, but in the end it was rejected.  Disheartening?  Yes. Life shaking? No. I know where I went wrong, and now I have a story that with a bit more work, I can brush it and try again.

Fast forward to the last few weeks, I’ve decided to enter the first chapter of my book-in-progress in the LDStorymakers Writing Conference first chapter contest. I swear I’ve rewritten this opening chapter at least five times.  This time, I finally feel like I have the right characterisations and the right tone.  Hopefully the judges will agree.

Next on the docket – a contest entry for one of my writing chapters. I have the choice of short story, flash fiction, first chapter, or poetry.  The due date is next week, so I better get hopping!

Want to read what I’ve been working on? Check out these links:

 

Fantasy Art: Tiny Porcelain Creatures

The art duo Anya Stasenko and Slava Leontyev make tiny magical creatures from porcelain.  Their whimsical style and vision captures the imagination and delights all. Interestingly enough, neither of these artists have any formal training in ceramics. One is a painting teacher and the other is a graphic artist.  They gravitated to ceramics because of the enormous potential of the medium. Each tiny work, ranging between one and ten inches, is expertly crafted with painstaking detail.

fantasy creature 1

fantasy creature 2

fantasy creature 3

porcelain_sculptures_04

fantasy creature 5

To see more of their works, visit these sites:

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51-BE6kx1PLDon’t forget! The release party for THE TOLL OF ANOTHER BELL is today on facebook.  There are lots of prizes and chances to meet and greet with the authors, including me.  For more info, head on over to the Facebook event page.  While you’re there be sure to click on the poll to tell them I sent you. 🙂

TV Talk: Once Upon a Time

Once_Upon_aTime_promo_image

Because I write in speculative and fantasy it would seem like watching Once Upon a Time would be an obvious choice.  It is loaded with magic, which I love, and fairy tale characters, which I have a love/hate relationship with. However, the small snippets I have seen haven’t yet appealed to me mainly because it feels so much like a fantasy soap opera.

So, I’m giving it a try.

From what I’ve gathered so far there is a fairy tale world and the real human world. Neither of the world’s populations know of the other world’s existence except for the Evil Queen Regina and the naughty Rumpelstiltskin. The queen curses the people of the fairy tale world to live in the real world with no memories of their past.  They live in a small quiet community in Maine called Storyebrook.

There is one who can break the curse, the daughter of Snow White, Emma Smith, who managed to escape the curse by being sent to the real world as an infant before it happened. Her son, Henry has a book with the clues to help unlock the memories of the fairy tale characters.

Once_upon_a_time_season_three_castI haven’t watched more than the first episode so far but I can see lots of promise. There’s good storytelling and cool costuming and that’s enough for me to stick around a bit longer.

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Are you a fan of Once Upon A Time? What is your favorite episode? Favorite Character?

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Before I forget – the awesome folks at Xchyler Publishing have released a knock-your-socks-off trailer for this year’s fantasy anthology that features my story Breath. Check it out!

New Trailer Release: Star Wars, the Force Awakens

Possibly the biggest thing that happened in the fantasy/scifi world this weekend is the release of the teaser trailer for the newest chapter in the Star Wars saga – if there was something bigger, fill me in.

Star Wars, the Force Awakens (episode 7, for those who are still counting) occurs 30 years after Return of the Jedi where the Death Star is taken out once and for all by the Rebel Alliance and Luke confronts Darth Vader and learns of his true lineage.  It ends with the big party in the Ewok forest and life is good, or is it?

No real spoilers have leaked about this newest chapter but there are tons of theories floating around.  Obviously there is some threat that requires the Jedi to return in force to handle it, most likely the Sith, since they are they only bad guys from the first six movies that could exist and grow stronger over the thirty year gap in the story. To face this threat the Jedi are going to need to do something to be sure they are strong enough to win.

Some of our favorite players are returning to their respective roles including: Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Anthony Daniels (C3PO), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), and Kenny Baker (R2-D2).

This episode is both directed and written in part by the illustrious and trend setting J.J. Abrams who brought new life into the Star Trek universe with his work on the movies Star Trek and Star Trek into Darkness. Let’s hope he can do the same for the Star Wars universe as well. And hey, who doesn’t love more lens flares?

Thankfully, John Williams has been enlisted once more to create the awesome music that has always been a part of the Star Wars saga. I’d be angry if they had found someone else, although I would love to see what Hans Zimmer or James Horner would have come up with.

Here is the link, enjoy!

Official Teaser Trailer #1: