Category Archives: Fantasy

Half Sick of Shadows and a giveaway…

Kindle Cover - Half Sick of Shadows
Kindle Cover – Half Sick of Shadows

Tomorrow (May 1st 2017) is the release date for the Kindle version of Half Sick of Shadows, to be followed by the paperback version in a couple of weeks once the final details are sorted out.

For reference, here are the preorder links, which should still continue to redirect to the final purchase links as soon as the book goes live!

Who is The Lady?

In ancient Britain, a Lady is living in a stone-walled house on an island in the middle of a river. So far as the people know, she
has always been there. They sense her power, they hear her singing, but they never meet her.

At first her life is idyllic. She wakes, she watches, she wanders in her garden, she weaves a complex web of what she sees, and she
sleeps again. But as she grows, this pattern becomes narrow and frustrating. She longs to meet those who cherish her, but she cannot.
The scenes beyond the walls of her home are different every time she wakes, and everyone she encounters is lost,
swallowed up by the past.

But when she finds the courage to break the cycle, there is no going back. Can she bear the cost of finding freedom? And what will
her people do, when they finally come face to face with a lady of legend who is not at all what they have imagined?

A retelling – and metamorphosis – of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott.

And to celebrate the release, I am running an Amazon reduced price offer on all my previous books, science fiction and historical fiction alike, timed to start on May 1st and run until May 8th. So you can stock up for the reduced cot of 99p / 99c for all of these. Links are:

Far from the Spaceports:

Timing (Far from the Spaceports 2)

In a Milk and Honeyed Land

Scenes from a Life

The Flame Before Us

Enjoy the whole experience!

 

Half Sick of Shadows – “final” manuscripts submitted

Kindle Cover - Half Sick of Shadows
Kindle Cover – Half Sick of Shadows

Over the weekend I worked on both Kindle and paperback versions of Half Sick of Shadows and have queued up what I think are the final versions of both. Kindle release day is May 1st, and I have a window of only a couple more days to make changes before it is frozen ready for deployment. As for the paperback version, a proof copy should be on its way to me very shortly, and, all being well, that will go live not long after the ebook.

Meanwhile, preorder links are at:

There are also a couple of other ways you can get a Half Sick of Shadows fix:

Alexa Half Sick of Shadows logo
Alexa Half Sick of Shadows logo

On Alexa: enable the Alexa skill for Half Sick of Shadows on the UK or US Alexa stores – listen to extracts and hear about the book directly.

Or on Issuu:

And finally, here is the latest version of the blurb (which may change yet again over the next few days):


Who is The Lady?

In ancient Britain, a Lady is living in a stone-walled house on an island in the middle of a river. So far as the people know, she
has always been there. They sense her power, they hear her singing, but they never meet her.

At first her life is idyllic. She wakes, she watches, she wanders in her garden, she weaves a complex web of what she sees, and she
sleeps again. But as she grows, this pattern becomes narrow and frustrating. She longs to meet those who cherish her, but she cannot.
The scenes beyond the walls of her home are different every time she wakes, and everyone she encounters is lost,
swallowed up by the past.

But when she finds the courage to break the cycle, there is no going back. Can she bear the cost of finding freedom? And what will
her people do, when they finally come face to face with a lady of legend who is not at all what they have imagined?

A retelling – and metamorphosis – of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott.

King Arthur and the north – part 1

Round table, Winchester Castle (Wiki - By Martin Kraft - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16639627)
Round table, Winchester Castle (Wiki)

Being brought up in the south of England, I had always assumed that King Arthur was basically a southerner. After all, there was Tintagel, Glastonbury, even Winchester, though I knew from an early age that the round table hanging in the castle there had no real connection with him (dendrochronology has set a date around 1275). If I thought about the north at all with reference to Arthur, it was only that maybe he’d gone up there once or twice to trounce some band of malcontents.

But then, rather later, I discovered a strong Welsh connection, and my perspective started to shift a little. I found out that more places, over most of the country, had a claim to Arthurian material, and the southern homeland idea got seriously knocked.

Of course, Arthur is a national symbol, irrespective of any historical reality, so it is natural that associations would be nationwide. And it’s clear that some suggested links are wildly speculative, presumably made by hopeful locals wanting to be attached somehow to the person of the king. But not all of them can be dismissed so quickly.

Daniel Defoe's memorial, Bunhill Fields Burial and Gardens, Islington
Daniel Defoe’s memorial, Bunhill Fields Burial and Gardens, Islington

I’m going to talk in this post and the next about a few links up in Cumbria. Until recently the Lake District had been completely off my Arthurian map, but no longer. But calling it The Lake District brings to mind quiet walks by placid waters, and this is only half of the story of the region. The names Cumbria or Rheged evoke a much more robust image. Until comparatively recently, the area was better known for its rugged and apparently impenetrable mountains, than its placid waters. In 1724, Daniel Defoe wrote that it was “bounded by a chain of almost unpassable mountains which, in the language of the country, are called fells“. So what better place could there be to symbolise the wild unconquered parts of the land?

Pendragon Castle looking out at the River Eden (Wiki)
Pendragon Castle looking out at the River Eden (Wiki)

One of the two easy routes in to the wild heart of the region is from the Eden Valley, via Penrith (the other is up north from Kendal along the shores of Windermere). And indeed, signs of Arthurian connections begin in the Eden Valley. A few miles south and east of Penrith is Pendragon Castle, built, according to legend, by Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur. Allegedly Merlin tried to alter the course of the River Eden to make a moat, but his powers were insufficient, and the river stayed where it was. Perhaps with a little more historical footing, Uther is said to have died there after some of his Saxon enemies poisoned the well.

King Arthur's Round Table, engraving (English Heritage)
King Arthur’s Round Table, engraving (English Heritage)

Closer to Penrith is the Neolithic henge known as King Arthur’s Table. Of course the monument itself is vastly older than any probable time of Arthur – probably about 2500 years older. In its day, and long after, it would have been a stunning sight – it is some 90m across, originally with two entrances though one has been obliterated by modern buildings and a road. I can easily imagine a post-Roman leader stopping by to establish some link with ancestral glories. Much later, the site was linked explicitly to Arthur when it was believed that the circular space was used for jousting. In fact we have no idea what the original purpose was, but the area has several henges within a small area, so was presumably a significant location to our remote ancestors (the second henge in the old engraving is long since lost, but nearby Mayburgh Henge still remains).

1825 painting of Ullswater (Wiki - Museum of Wales - By John Parker - This image is available from the National Library of WalesYou can view this image in its original context on the NLW Catalogue, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47585043)
1825 painting of Ullswater (Wiki – Museum of Wales)

After that, move a few miles south-west to Ullswater, arriving first at Pooley Bridge. It’s an easier and more obvious route to follow into the hills than today’s A66, although the trail along the 10km of the lake ends in a series of abrupt and dramatic valley ends. Ullswater is one of the longest and deepest of the Cumbrian lakes, and has its own set of monster-in-the-deep tales, reported from early times through to modern visitors. But let’s stick reasonably close to Arthur.

Glenridding and Ullswater, picture taken from a similar place as the painting above
Glenridding and Ullswater, picture taken from a similar place as the painting above

At the northern end of the lake, not far from Pooley Bridge, is Tristamont, or Trestamount, shown on many maps as Hodgson Hill. Local legend has it that this was the burial place of Tristan. Now most of the Arthurian stories present Tristan as a Cornishman by birth (born of Elizabeth to Meliodas, king of the lost land of Lyonesse), but linguistically the name can be linked to Old Welsh, and so directly to the Cumbric language. So a connection with the north-west is far from impossible. The idea of an actual castle, not just a grave, goes back to the antiquarian Rev Machell, who in the 1630s described walls and fortifications here. Now, although it is true that many standing stones and ancient walls in the region have been robbed for building, modern archaeologists are very sceptical that Machell recorded anything more than natural deposits of glacial rock. Under the right conditions, these can indeed look artificial. About the only definite sign of human construction is a ditch around the east side of this hill.

Aira Force (Wiki)
Aira Force (Wiki)

From medieval times – much later than any original King Arthur, though broadly consistent with his reimagining in courtly chivalric terms – we have the tale of Sir Eglamore and his fiancee Emma, probably originating from somewhere around the 13th century. They lived near the waterfall at Aira Force, but the knight was absent on the Crusades for a very long time. Returning unexpectedly, he startled Emma as she was sleep-walking, so that she slipped down the waterfall to her death. Eglamore lived out his days as a hermit beside the falls. It’s a very Arthurian tale, even if not directly linked to the tradition.

So that’s got some of the peripheral details out of the way – next time I’ll be looking at the central details surrounding Arthur’s death and the Lady of the Lake…

Arthur meets the Lady of the Lake (Wiki, illustration by Henry Justice Ford)
Arthur meets the Lady of the Lake (Wiki, illustration by Henry Justice Ford)

Half Sick of Shadows – some extracts and the cover

Draft Cover - Half Sick of Shadows
Draft Cover – Half Sick of Shadows

I thought for today that I would put together several snippets from Half Sick of Shadows, together with a good draft of the planned cover. Both picture and writing may change a little over the next couple of months, but they’re pretty close now to final version. All being well, I am hoping to release the book around or just after Easter this year.

Half Sick of Shadows is a fantasy, of novella length rather than full-length novel, and owes a great deal to Tennyson’s poem, The Lady of Shalott, which itself is based on 13th century material concerning Elaine of Astolat. However, I have taken the plot in what I suspect is an entirely different direction than the earlier authors had in mind.

======================

First extract – from quite near the beginning

From that point on the lady sang each day, whether the people were in view or not. It made her self-conscious at first, and she felt riddled with doubt about the quality of her voice. But then she reasoned that since neither could hear the other, it could hardly matter. The main thing was to join herself in spirit with them. One day in the future, when she finally met them and learned how they spoke, she would concern herself with matching their tone.

But all unknown to her, her voice slipped out from behind her walls, and spilled like a faint echo of the river’s song across the eyot and over to the further shore. Passers-by listened to the leaping sounds, and whispered to each other of places where another world came close.
“It is a goddess of the running waters,” said some, “a queen in exile,” said others, and a few just sighed, aching in their heart for the loss of a place they had never known.
She did not hear that, but she saw how people came out from the village to look at her walls, or kneel with arms outstretched and faces turned up to the sky. A cairn of pebbles started to grow where the bank came closest, and when it was waist-high they left gifts there, little offerings out of their meagre possessions.

Second extract – further on

Unquenchable hunger seized her again. She tried not to eat, but it was stronger than gravity, irresistible as wind, and she could not deny it. Great helpless tears rolled down her face even as she tore at great strips of leaf and swallowed brimming bowls of sap.

Heavy, and feeling full to bursting, she wallowed on her couch, desperate for nightfall to come. Would she have even one more day before the unstoppable urge to sleep overwhelmed her?

They came that evening, and held up the infant again so she could see it. She sang again for them, and her song was full of both the beauty and the sorrow of the passing world. She watched the glow of wonder on their faces as they heard her. She knew what they could not, that this would be the last time she would see them, and she sang to bless them as the shortening day eased into night.

Long after they had gone, she lay looking at the riverbank where they had stood. The world was made up of shadows now. When her brother and sister next came, when they held up the infant for her to see, she would no longer be there. She would be lost in her own world of slumber and transformation, and the quick years of the world would roll unseen around her.

How long would they continue to come, she wondered, once the sound of her singing was gone? Would they think that she was lost to them, lost somewhere in the shadows? She watched herself stuffing food into her body, slithering awkwardly, heavily, into her chamber, and she felt that her heart was breaking.

Third extract – towards the end

The lady saw, and passed softly among the raucous din to stand near him.
“You know it too, don’t you? You know that you should be with her. Not this king, for all the food that fills his larder.”
He shivered and looked around. The man beside him asked a question, but he shook his head, puzzled, took a pinch of salt and tossed it over his shoulder. The lady withdrew, and his anxiety retreated again

.…

The king gestured to the minstrel and sat again. The room hushed in anticipation.
His singing was beautiful, she realised. The assistant kept the rhythm steady and flowing on the longer strings, as the master sang out the tale, plucking out higher riffs and ornaments here and there. She watched with admiration as his lay unfolded, not knowing the words but appreciating the patterns. And her own voice lifted up and joined him, even though her body lay on the couch within her chamber.
The lady moved among the guests, less than a shadow among them, step by step up to the musicians. She stood in front of them, basking in the melody. The singer’s words never faltered, but his gaze followed her as she came up to him. She had no idea what he saw of her – perhaps some extra brightness against the firelight, or a flicker of movement like a hidden bird within a thicket – but something in him knew that she was there.
The people heard his song, though not hers, and they were wild with delight as he finished, stilling the strings with the flat of his hand. The king took a ring from his own hands to give to the minstrel, but he shook his head. Instead, he stood and bowed very low before the lady. The room was silent now, waiting to see what happened. She wanted to lift him up: this adulation was altogether too much. But she knew that the desire was fruitless, and that she could not touch him.
The king spoke, a note of puzzlement in his voice, and the minstrel stood upright again. His answer was quiet, respectful, and he gestured to where the lady stood. The king, eyes narrowed, glanced here and there, but could not see her. She looked beyond him to the queen, and her face was alive with interest. She was aware, and so was the king’s right-hand man, who had moved across behind the queen to protect her.
There was a growing noise in the room, a buzz of speculation, and suddenly the focused attention became too much. The lady fled the room in haste, pulled herself from the couch and its loom, and pattered to and fro in the courtyard, slowly being soothed by the sights and scents of her garden.
Finally, she curled up on a bench in the pale sunshine. She could only face a few people at a time, she realised.

======================

Not too long to wait now…

Goodreads annual stats and other things

A quick blog today, focusing on a couple of things. First, like most of us, my annual Goodreads statistics appeared, telling me what I had read in 2016 (or at least, what GR knew about, which is a fair proportion of what really happened).

Cover - The Recognition of Shakuntala (Goodreads)
Cover – The Recognition of Shakuntala (Goodreads)

So, I read 52 books in the year, up 10 from 2015 (and conveniently one a week). but the page count was down very slightly. I guess I’m reading shorter books on average! Slightly disappointingly, there were very few books more than about 50 years old, with Kalidasa’s Recognition of Shakuntala the outstanding early text. This year, I have a target of reading more old stuff alongside the new. In 2016 there was also more of a spread of genres, with roughly equal proportions of historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction (aka “geeky”), contrasting with previous years where historical fiction has dominated.

I also recently read that Amazon passed the landmark of 5 million ebooks on their site in the summer, slightly ahead of the 10th birthday of the Kindle itself. The exact number varies per country – apparently Germany has more – but currently the number is growing at about 17% per annum. That’s a lot of books… about 70,000 new ones per month, in fact. Let nobody think that reading is dead! As regards fiction, Romance and Children’s books top the counts, which I suspect will come as a surprise to nobody.

Finally, we have just had a space-related anniversary, namely that of the successful landing of the ESA Huygens probe on Saturn’s moon Titan on January 14th 2005. An extraordinary video taken as it descended has been circulating recently and I am happy to reshare it. Meanwhile the Cassini “mothership” is in the last stages of its own research mission and, with fuel almost exhausted, will be directed to burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere later this year. I vividly remember the early mission reports as Cassini went into orbit around Saturn – it’s a bit sad to think of the finale, but this small spacecraft has returned a wealth of information since being launched in 1997, and in particular since arriving at Saturn in 2004.

(Video link is https://youtu.be/msiLWxDayuA?list=PLTiv_XWHnOZpKPaDTVy36z0U8GxoiIkZa)

Another long time favourite

Cover image - Hiero's Journey
Cover image – Hiero’s Journey

I’ve been away for a few days so thought I would indulge myself again with a quick blog reminiscing about a third book which I have reread multiple times since first coming across it. This one is Hiero’s Journey, which I first read on the recommendation of a friend in my mid teens. The full review is on Amazon and Goodreads; here is an extract.

My paperback copy is old and battered – I gather from other comments that the hugely more recent Kindle version has not been very well executed, so a second hand physical copy might be the best choice if you’re interested.

Review extract :

Hiero and his people combine a religious sensibility with a burgeoning scientific spirit of enquiry, at the same time as practicing a form of magic. They recognise these as three complementary approaches to the world around them, and try to integrate them all into a single coherent lifestyle. For me, this was, and remains, one of the strongest and most compelling features of Hiero’s Journey.

That’s it for 2015: here’s wishing to all readers a very good 2016…

Bits and pieces…

It’s been a busy week here, with lots of behind-the-scenes work on Far from the Spaceports – mainly the work of getting the print-ready PDF file laid out properly.

As well as that I have been helping my friend David Frauenfelder get his latest book ready for epublication: The Staff and the Shield, Book II in the Master Mage of Rome Series – more news of that in a few weeks’ time.

Smithsonian image - ancient arrow heads
Smithsonian image – ancient arrow heads
And finally I contributed an article to the Review Group’s Commemorating Agincourt – 600 years series of blog posts. I don’t know huge amounts about Agincourt itself so focused on the history of the bow.

The bow is at least 10,000 years old – some evidence suggests over 70,000 – and through all that time has served as both hunting tool and weapon of war. Early arrow heads are found quite often, but bows are less long lived, and the earliest European bow discovered so far dates from around 6000BC. The technological challenge in all that time has been how to gain more power. More power equals more range, or more destructive effect at the same range. But the basic design has remained the same…

Read more at http://thereview2014.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/commemorating-agincourt-history-of-bow.html

Author interview – David Frauenfelder

Today I am welcoming David Frauenfelder to an author interview. Up to now I have been staying this side of the Atlantic for these interviews, but it’s time to go across the pond now. I first came across David’s writing towards the end of 2013, and have been following as he has tackled a couple of different genres.

Cover image - Skater in a Strange LandCover image - The Skater and the SaintCover image - The Mirror and the Mage

Review link – Skater in a Strange Land
Review – The Skater and the Saint
Review – The Mirror and the Mage

David FrauenfelderQ. David, I first came across you in connection with Skater in a Strange Land, about which I wrote “a sort of cross-over science-fiction / fantasy book that mostly defies description but kept me reading avidly to the end“. What drew you to write about Borschland, a fictitious continent appearing from time to time in the Indian Ocean?

A. I am an inveterate reader of maps and creator of worlds. I have pretty often had dreams where I am looking at a map and suddenly I dive into the place the map represents.

If I am in a boring meeting, I will sketch a map of an imaginary place from whatever is percolating in my brain at the time. If something like Dasht-e-Kavir comes out (a real desert in Iran), the world will be a wasteland with Persian and Arabic place names.

From there, it’s a very quick step to imagining peoples, cultures, and history. It helps that as a child I read all the fantasy standards from Lloyd Alexander to Ursula K. LeGuin.

Add in academic training in languages and literature (Greek and Latin primarily), plus a bit of travel, and you’ve got a walking world generator.

Q. Borschland is a truly zany place, lovingly described in your books, with its own language (rather like Dutch), religious heritage, social hierarchy, and economy. Adjacent lands are populated with their own species. Where did the different ingredients all come from? And why ice hockey as a national sport and addiction?

Borschland mapA. I am utterly enchanted by the zaniness of human beings. If you read anything about anywhere that is an actual place in the world, it is pretty much full of unbelievably entertaining and improbable names and events. I was just reading about anthropologists who analyzed the grammar of Aboriginal languages in 19th century Australia. Can you imagine what their lives must have been like?

At the same time, human beings aren’t random. There is a kind of interior logic to our zaniness.

So, for Borschland, which began very innocently in my teenage years as a place where I could run a fantasy ice hockey league, once I discerned the interior logic of the place, I began to feel complete freedom in making Borschland totally and completely itself with no apologies.

I chose ice hockey because Borschland was named after a friend of mine who introduced me to the sport. Because of him, I became a lifelong fan, though I have never so much as laced up ice skates. Zany, yet with its own logic.

Hockey is a wonderful sport, with its own culture and improbabilities. There’s so much possibility for story there.

Much of the rest comes from the idea of the phase shift, which is a physically impossible but for me essential ingredient of the world– Borschland and its continent, as you say, “from time to time” phase out of this world and into a parallel universe. Figuring out how a culture would react to such a state of affairs drove a lot of what Borschland ended up being.

And you do have to be comfortable with talking bears.

Q. More recently you have branched into YA fiction with The Mirror and the Mage, set in the very early period of Rome and blending fantasy, fun and educational elements. Can you tell us a little about this new endeavour?

David FrauenfelderA. As a teacher of Latin to adolescents, I’m constantly looking for ways to bring my subject alive, and for quite a long time I had an idea about making the system of Latin grammar a system of magic. That way, I figured, a student could come at the rather dry idea of grammar from the point of view of an exciting story and perhaps see what the Romans knew, which is that their language was a source of power for them, and that, more generally, language simply is power.

For years the idea remained just that, until I saw how I could incorporate the magic system into an actual though quite legendary time in Roman history, the moment when the Romans overthrew the Etruscans and became a republic in the late 6th century BC.

The liberator of the Romans is Lucius Junius Brutus, and what he did as a young man and politician is duly written down by historians. But what about Lucius Junius Brutus the teenager? Now there was a completely blank slate on which I could create an adventure.

Q. So there are two quite different fiction series here, both of which are clearly very much alive in your imagination. You have also explored non-fiction writing a little. Are there other things you know you would like to write about as and when time permits?

A. Find me a MacArthur grant, Richard, and I’ll answer this question. To write everything I dream about, I would need quite a bit more time and freedom.

Q. Your author profile on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6801887.D_W_Frauenfelder) mentions that you teach classical languages, and have a great enthusiasm for the ancient world, especially as it expressed itself in myth. This comes over very clearly in The Mirror and the Mage, focusing as it does on a period of Rome’s history which is less familiar to many than the time of the Caesars. To what extent does your teaching career intersect with writing?

A. For much of my thirties and forties I was what you might call a populist scholar, which means that I wrote about my field of speciality, Greek mythology, in a way which aspired to be engaging and accessible to a general audience. That culminated in an online course I wrote for gifted 10-13 year-olds, Growing Up Heroic: Adventures in Greek Mythology (http://tip.duke.edu/node/160). It was a course that concentrated on the adolescent characters in ancient Greek stories.

Nowadays, I’m hoping that The Mirror and the Mage (and its sequel, The Staff and the Shield, which will release this year) will interest a young adolescent readership.

Cover image - Zeus is my Type!Q. Your blog (http://myth.typepad.com/breakfast/) contains an eclectic mix of posts addressing your very wide range of interests, including a look at ancient Greek gods by way of modern psychometric methods (Zeus Is My Type!, available through Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/482593 and other places). Now, it is clear from the blog that you greatly value historical accuracy and credibility in a book. How do you carry out research for your own writing?

A. I feel as if I’ve learned just enough to be able to create plausible lies. I’m always waiting for a reader to tell me that a historical detail in my book is wrong, or that hockey players don’t do that in real life. But my philosophy is, if you spend your whole life making sure you’re accurate, you’ll end by not writing very much fiction.

Q. How about locating your books? You have lived on both west and east coasts of America. Do you find either of these places emerging in your writing? Or possibly other places you have visited?

A. I find myself mostly incapable and uninterested in writing about where I have lived, less so places I have visited. Greece is a wonder, for example. I have set a novel there that takes place in 2000 BC. I felt free to delve that deep because in Greece I feel as if time is all one. Nothing dies. You can hear voices from millennia in the past. It’s eerie, but altogether exhilarating. I cannot sleep in Greece. I’m too inundated with spirits.

Q. I happen to know that there are follow-up novels in both the Skater and the Mirror series coming up before too long. How much are you willing to tell us about these just now?

A. I’m proud to say that I just finished the first draft of The Staff and the Shield. It introduces the historical idea that Lucius Junius Brutus faked being a simpleton (this is the meaning of “Brutus”) in order to escape the jealous eye of the Etruscan king. While playing this role in real life, Lucius has a grand adventure in the Etruscan Land of the Dead, a dangerous place of monsters and goddesses.

Book 3 of the Skater series, still in preliminary drafts, is called The Last Phase Shift, and discusses what happens when a group of scientists try to find a way to stop phase shifts on Borschland’s continent. It would seem as if hockey could not come in here, but it absolutely does. Also, so does the east coast of the United States. Hopefully not in a boring way.

Finally, is there anything you would like to add which we have not touched on so far?

A. Yes. If your readers have persevered this far, I would like to bestow upon each’s forehead a big gold star. And I would also like to thank you, sir, for your generous hospitality. It’s been a treat.

Thanks David for taking the time today to talk with me. All the best for you in the future.

Links:

Blog: http://myth.typepad.com/breakfast/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/davefrau

True North Writers Cooperative: https://www.facebook.com/pages/True-North-Writers-and-Publishers-Co-operative/581345541879610

Twitter: https://twitter.com/davefrau (@davefrau)

Goodreads profile https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6801887.D_W_Frauenfelder

Review – The Mirror and the Mage, by David Frauenfelder

The Mirror and the Mage is a young adult book – not my usual fodder – but is also a historical fantasy, which is more familiar territory. The story is set in the very early days of the Roman Republic, when the Etruscans were the most significant challengers to the growth of Rome. We follow a youth, Lucius, who wants to serve his king but whose real talents are intellectual. In other cultures he would be a scribe, but his society values Mars more than Mercury. It is a familiar situation for many. Basically, he is a geek trying to survive in the middle of the gang war which was early Roman political life.

Buy The Mirror and the Mage from Amazon.co.uk
Buy The Mirror and the Mage from Amazon.com

Cover image - The Mirror and the MageLucius finds a resolution for his dilemma by becoming an apprentice to an old magician, Publius Litterarius. The basis of magic here is partly verbal – you have to get the words correct in both meaning and grammar – and partly resource-based, requiring particular crystals to become effective. Lucius goes through a sense of progressively more complex and dangerous situations as he learns his art. He also, appropriately for a YA book, grapples with personal responsibility and a growing awareness of the other sex.

The book is not just an entertaining story, but aims to be a tool for learning Latin as well. If you want to be like Lucius, you have to learn your grammar! I have to say that I wish I had been taught Latin like this many years ago – like a lot of other people I was simply exposed to lists of word patterns identified by strange names I did not at that stage know from English – accusative, dative, ablative, pluperfect and so on. Nowadays I have a better sense of what these mean, but at the time they were so much phlogiston (and much less fun). I am fairly sure that if I had had the kind of imaginative presentation used in this book, I would have learned to like languages a whole lot earlier.

So The Mirror and the Mage can be read both as a fun story of magical apprenticeship, and a creative teaching aid. Either way I would recommend it if you like YA books, or are contemplating buying one for somebody else.