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Toasted Cake Podcast presents

Some years back I had a story called Quality Control in Nature Futures–an upbeat little piece about supervillainy, mad science, and redirection.

Now it’s back in a new form! I hope you enjoy the podcast version through Tina Connolly’s Toasted Cake Podcast. Tina was looking for fun and optimism, I thought this would fit the bill, and she agreed! We hope it brings you a smile too.

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Books read, early March

Karen Babine, All the Wild Hungers: A Season of Cooking and Cancer. This is about cooking for her mother, who had cancer. Spoiler alert: her mother did not die of cancer in the course of this book! I know that for some of you I just ruined this slim volume of nonfiction, and I’m very sorry, but for others I have made it possible to read the thing. She’s obsessed with secondhand shop Le Creuset, she’s a vegetarian who’s cooking meat for a sick carnivore, and the sick carnivore does not die at this time. You’re welcome. Come on, some stresses we just don’t need right now.

Claire Eliza Bartlett, The Winter Duke. Discussed elsewhere.

Cinelle Barnes, Malaya: Essays on Freedom. I picked this up because of my interest in Malaysia, even under its British colonial name, Malaya. It turns out that Malaya is also the name of Cinelle Barnes’s daughter! Who, if she has anything to do with Malaysia, does not reveal it in the course of these essays! That’s okay, though, because they turned out to be interesting in themselves. Barnes was an undocumented immigrant to the US from the Philippines who managed to regularize her legal status in the US and has very interesting thoughts on that process; she is fierce and detailed and fascinating.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Orphans of Raspay. Kindle. The latest Penric and Desdemona novella, in which Pen and his demon companion–and various others–are kidnapped by pirates and must effect their escape. Fun for fans of the series but probably not a good beginning place, go back to where Pen starts this whole thing.

Roshani Chokshi, The Gilded Wolves. I have enjoyed Chokshi’s middle grade books, but YA is a whole different ballgame, so I was wondering how this would go. Quite well, it turns out! Gilded Age Paris with a whole bunch of magic and some interesting people like a mathematician, a baker, and a spider enthusiast. There are important friendships as well as romances, there are lovely clothes, there is a lot of swirling color and bright lights in the more general scene-setting sense, and I had fun with this and will be glad to find the sequel.

Pekka Hämäläinen, Lakota America. This is a history of the Lakota in specific and of the Native world around them in general, how they migrated and were pushed. Hämäläinen includes thought and analysis about where and how he uses terms like Lakota, Dakota, Sioux, and so on, and the maps are some of the most sensible maps I have ever seen in books because they are centered on water at all times, so even though north is not always up, you can find Lake Superior or Lake of the Woods or the Missouri River or whatever it is and know just where you are immediately, they’re so intuitive, it’s great. Fascinating, recommended.

Diana Henry, Pure Simple Cooking. I am the wrong audience for this, because mostly I looked at them and thought, well yes, of course. But not everyone is used to thinking in these terms, and if you want to start, this is probably a pretty good place. A few ingredients used quite well, per recipe, probably a good cookbook for that.

Kathy Iandoli, God Save the Queens: the Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop. What a lovely corrective to the hip-hop documentaries that don’t seem to notice women exist at all. (Argh. Argh.) I am not a big hip-hop fan, so for me this is more educating myself than grooving with my faves–although I’m surprised to notice how many faves I already do have–so someone who is better versed in the genre than I am can evaluate it more from that perspective. As a non-expert, I learned a lot, and you might too.

Rosemary Kirstein, The Steerswoman’s Road. Reread. These are such lovely books of inquisitiveness, care, and discovery. I intended to just stop with this volume (which is a two-book omnibus), but I may well just go on and reread all of what’s there, because really…they’re so good. The characters are so focused on learning each other and their world.

Janet Malcolm, Nobody’s Looking at You. I like the personal essay as a form, but it was so nice to pick up a volume of essays that wasn’t focused on how the essayist felt in her early twenties, that instead was external, thinking about how people do things in the world, profiles of others and what Janet Malcolm has thought of them. A few of the essays were more than twenty years old and felt oddly dated to include–I see why she felt they were some really good work at the time, they just sat strangely with the more recent work. But the effect was to make me wish that she’d had more than one collection like this, not to make me wish I hadn’t read them.

Tochi Onyebuchi, Riot Baby. This is a really strong and affecting novella that starts with a very young girl just before the Rodney King verdict and goes into her adult life and her brother’s adult life as Black people trying to work around a corrupt system as best they can. Magic provides a frame, a solace, insight, sometimes relief, but not a fix for that system–which is in some ways more satisfying, acknowledging that we will all have to keep grappling with it from our own angles, that we are not released from the work by having clearer sight of it.

C.M. Waggoner, Unnatural Magic. For me this book demonstrated one of the risks of having multiple points of view–Margaret Atwood has also had this problem–which is that sometimes I like one point of view vastly, vastly more than another. It was only toward the end, as they began to converge, that I was not impatient with one thread of this book and constantly wanting to get back to the other, but as with other competent multi-POV authors (see also Atwood) it would not have made much sense if I’d just skipped half the prose. Still: there is a stubborn and mathetmatically minded magical protagonist here, and she was worth my time.

Lawrence Wechsler, And How Are You, Dr. Sacks? Wechsler was going to be Oliver Sacks’s biographer. Became his friend. Then Sacks realized that he really, truly did not want a biographer while he was alive, largely because of attitudes about his sexuality during his upbringing. Wechsler, as his friend, acquiesced to his wishes and went on to write other things and hang out more with Sacks. For the rest of his life. And this is a very strange book as a consequence. It’s not the comprehensive biography someone should write–Wechsler knows what material there is to go through for that, knows that this is not it. It’s more of a memoir of a friendship, with the notes for what could have been more of a biography of who Oliver Sacks was in his younger years, except he kept going. Worth reading, interesting, funny, sad, sure, but weirdly shaped, and not just in the ways that anything about Oliver Sacks was going to come out nonstandard.

Jacqueline Woodson, Red at the Bone. This is fundamentally a family story. It’s novella length, multiple viewpoints, long timeline, just different views of how a family views their family life. It has major events in it–the birth of an unexpected child is central, but so is 9/11, and yet…I think this is the first book I read that treated 9/11 sensitively but historically. The people who are directly affected are very clearly hurt, but not in a way that is automatically the only thing the book is about, the way it would have been in 2003 or even I think 2010. Just as now we can have stories where World War II changed people forever–it changed my grandmother, and so many people we know–but know something of the shape of how the survivors’ stories go on. Perhaps now is a good time for a story where an event most people who are old enough to enjoy reading this book can be devastating, can be recognized as devastating, but still have an “after”…but perhaps not if you’re a direct survivor yourself, so I wanted to flag that.

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What Remains: the COVID Checkouts

Give and take is the way of the library

Now a breath held, a moment frozen,

And I remain with this: mosquitos,

Bulgaria, the poems of Jane Kenyon.

An awkward freeze-frame, mid-conversation,

Not the self-portrait I’d have chosen.

But here we are together, mosquitos.

It’s you and me now, Jane.

We’re gonna do this together, Bulgaria.

Last week I could dip into fancy,

Ponder another in a series,

Reject what didn’t suit, on a whim;

Now you share my distance, Bulgaria,

Jane–even you, mosquitos.

I clutch your binding close and wonder

What I’ll have learned by your pages’ end.

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The Fortress, by S.A. Jones

Review copy provided by Erewhon Books.

This is the first book I’ve gotten to review from Erewhon, I believe the first book they’re putting out at all. It’s an interesting choice to set the tone for their new imprint–very much a book both of the current moment and of science fiction’s past.

Jonathon Bridge is a man at odds with himself. He’s not even sure he understands everything that has upset his wife–the details unfold over the course of the book–but one of the conditions for staying in their marriage and co-parenting their child is that he spend a year in The Fortress. The Fortress is a woman-run city-state which men only enter under certain extremely narrow conditions–basically a gender serfdom.

This feels like a book from the ’70s. It has all the “and then it’s a fortress OF WOMEN” and “let’s learn about gender in a very encounter-y sort of way” elements that…there were LOADS of those, some of you read fourteen of them the year you were fourteen, I know I did. And I feel like S.A. Jones was maybe one of us and wanted to read one of them and realized how INCREDIBLY PROBLEMATIC all of those ’70s gender encounter books are in retrospect and said, huh, let’s do one in the present moment that people can read right now without screaming. There is a lot more emphasis on consent, on structural problems, on being part of structural problems even if you are not the worst of them. On empathy and understanding other people’s viewpoints. So if you grew up with those ’70s gender encounter books and feel like you’d like another that’s more up-to-date, this is definitely for you–and if you have no idea what I’m talking about, this might also be for you.

I do wonder whether this will age any better than the previous iterations did. I wonder whether the things that it is saying about learning what it feels like to be helpless, to consent and then feel uncertain about the free value of that consent, the context of that consent, all of those things…will feel retrograde and gross. But that’s how we get there. We don’t get there by never talking about it, by never going off and thinking about what someone else said. We get there by doing another round of them and then saying, okay, but, but this thing, it doesn’t take into account this other thing, and then this, and also that. That’s how conversation works, that’s how discourse works.

There’s a lot about sex and gender and consent in here, and I feel like Erewhon’s opening statement was: we know what this field is, and we want to move the discourse forward, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable.

Well, okay. Thanks. I’ll look forward to that.

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Decameron Project

I’m very excited about a new project I’m involved with: the Decameron Project! Maya Chhabra, Lauren Schiller, and Jo Walton put this together, and it’s an effort of many writers to have new fiction content daily while we’re going through this socially distanced time.

All the content will be free, but you can make a free-will donation to support the writers, like myself, who are offering this work–it’s the only way we get paid. I’m working on a brand-new short story that will be unique to this project (genetically engineered goats!), and I’m so heartened by the prospect of coming together, even at a distance, to make beauty and joy in hard times. I hope you enjoy the Decameron Project.

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Revision: what and when

The other major question(s) my friend had about revision was: how do you know what needs to be done? And how do you know when you’re done?

Okay, so: what you’re doing, in general, as a writer, is: you’re cultivating taste. You’re cultivating your taste. I don’t mean that you’re shaping your taste to an external standard of The Canon, although you can do that if you like. I mean you’re figuring out what it is that you like and how it’s achieved in practice.

You can skew your taste a particular direction–Hugo nominees, say, or stories published in a particular magazine. But you pay attention to what you’re reading, what you like about it, what you notice about it and don’t notice. You look at sentences, paragraphs, chapters, sections, books, series; poems, short stories, novels, travelogues, articles, all of it. You see what grates on you, what makes you wander off, what compels you. What do you like. And how does it go.

So then when you’re looking at your own manuscript, where are the things where it doesn’t. The things that you don’t like, the things that make you go: ugh that is the third time that one word in this paragraph and not for comic effect, or: wait, have we heard that that’s the case? is this a good time for that reveal or is it catching us off guard in a bad way? or…dozens of other things. Larger things too, things that are more particular to you, revelations you wanted the reader to have that didn’t come through, elements that you wanted to include that fizzled and need to come out. Ways that the thing you wanted to write and the thing that you wrote have not lined up. Ways that you have changed your plan since you started and the traces of the old plan are still there. Ways that you have learned to see what is good and this is not it yet.

You can make lists if you want, if you feel like that will help. Other people have certainly made them for you, around the internet, things that are good to look for in a manuscript. If you like particular elements–if those are things you want to do–but you only notice them about stuff you’ve read later, in conversation when a friend points them out, those might be good to check for on a conscious level rather than expecting to notice them in your own work as you read. But they also might be good to just…have a friend who notices those things read for. It’s totally okay to have someone else flag things in a revision for you. You don’t have to be good at finding everything to revise yourself.

You also don’t have to do everything a friend flags for you. Right now I’m having a long, involved conversation with a friend about their manuscript, and the result may well be that they leave the major element we’re talking about exactly as-is. They may do acres of rewriting. I don’t know. I don’t even have to know. Because being a first reader, beta reader, even a sensitivity reader, whatever terminology you use…it’s not about my ego, it’s not about seeing my vision realized, it’s about helping my friend with their revisions in their project. Which is, we have both noticed, not my project.

So: how do I know when I’m done? When I’ve done the stuff that needs doing. That sounds circular, but for me, setting a limit on each round is a good thing. You can always find something more to change–always. Ideally you will keep growing as a person and as a writer. The goal is not to be perpetually revising the same manuscript for the next fifty years. The goal is to make this manuscript as good as you can make it right now, for some value of now.

So for me, I do multiple rounds of “right now.” I write the thing, I let it sit a minute. Then I read it through and revise it into coherence and send it off to first reader(s). Then I think about what they said and do those revisions. Then I either send it to editors if it’s short or to my agent if it’s long.

For long pieces, my agent has revisions, and we talk those through and think about them and I do them, sometimes in multiple drafts, until it’s ready to go out. And then we rejoin the same stream as with short pieces: editors have it, they ideally want to publish it, they ask for revisions, I revise it, it gets published, I see all the things my current self could do better.

But I cannot do them better. Because “published” and “public” are from the same place. Published means that it is no longer mine, it is also partly yours. Published means that I am still responsible for the work but free of the burden of improvement. Published means that anything that is wrong with it aside from the part on page 7 where the protagonist’s name is misspelled is going to stay wrong with it, and I might say, “I would not do it that way now, I don’t think that now,” but that is what that story says, even if it is not what I say, now, today. I do not say “Dramma,” either, I say, “Grandma,” even though 40 years ago I was saying “Dramma.” People keep growing. You have to let yourself keep growing. You have to say, yes, that is what I said then, I did the best I could with what I had then, now I am doing something different.

Revision is a writer’s best friend. It allows us to be better than our first impulse, and yet to retain that first impulse when it’s the best thing available. But like any best friend, it’s a better friendship when there are clear boundaries. That doesn’t have to be my particular process. It may end up with several through passes I haven’t listed for the sake of streamlining, in my own case–“I revise it into coherence” may mean “I have to read it through again to make sure that x element got woven through and then again for this or that other thing.” The first chapter is going to get rewritten at least twice, I guarantee it, not because I feel like that ought to happen, but because it always seems to need it. But the question can never be “if I read through it again, would I find commas to rearrange,” because the answer will be yes, you will, you always will. And when you’re at the point of rearranging the deck chairs, er, the commas, onward, onward, go write something else.

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Revision: some first thoughts

One of my friends has heard me mentioning that I’m revising various things, over the last year, and asked me to talk about my process a little more here. So I’m going to do that, probably in more than one blog post. Here’s where I want to start:

This is not advice. This is talking about what I do. Most advice is actually that anyway; most advice is just talking about finding your own characteristic problems and how to fix them. So if you read advice that says, “make a list of your overused words and do a search on them before you turn in the final draft,” what that’s actually saying is, “I, this particular author, find that I overuse certain words and don’t tend to catch them other ways, so here’s one way I’ve found to do it.”

I do that. I absolutely do that. I keep a list of bland and overused words, and I add to it when I notice a new one. One of the words on my list? “thing.” Because “something,” “nothing,” “anything,” and “thing” can often all be replaced by more vivid ways of saying that…uh…thing.

But the other thing people are doing when they give advice–on revision or on whatever else–is working around their own characteristic aversions. So when you see advice that says, “Print out your manuscript and highlight each sentence in a color that says what it’s doing: pink for setting, yellow for dialog…,” what you know is: that author has not burned their manuscript, fled screaming, and stopped along the way to file paperwork changing their name and pasting on a false mustache (or possibly shaving off their previous true mustache) on the way to leaving the state.

Which I would, I absolutely would. If I need to change the balance of elements in scenes, I need to do it in some other way than that, because highlighting scenes in that way will make me hate the entire story and also just plain not do it. Anything that makes you not do the work is the wrong tool, even if it helps someone else do the work beautifully. There is no objectively universally right tool, there is just something that gets the work done, or else not.

Lists are great for me. Other people do not work well with lists. I know this from observation. I can’t explain it, but I accept it, because insisting that other people’s brains work like my brain is silly. So. Lists. What kind of lists. I mentioned the overused words one.

Well, here’s where the project notebook comes in: when I know that a chapter needs something revised into it, I will put that further down the page in a different color of ink than the plot notes for that chapter, with a checkbox next to it, to be checked off when I get it done. Do the ink colors have meaning? Not for me, no; they mean “I can see that this is a different thing than the thing above it.” So if I happened to outline the book in L’Amant, which is a deep and lovely purple, revision notes can be in any shade of red or green or blue I happen to have on hand. (I mostly don’t work in orange or yellow.) Because then I can spot them as “not done yet.” And subsequent revision notes should probably go in another color–if the first round was Ink of Naotora (spoiler: it was), that’s a deep red, and the next round should be something else so it jumps out on the page and I can flip through the pages and quickly check which chapters have a revision note on them that hasn’t been checked off.

Then there’s the list at the end of the notebook of things that I know I want to do but I don’t know where yet, or things that need to be threaded throughout. These things, like “bring up more botanical mentions” or “protag defensiveness about town size” are going to take longer to check off the list, and the way that I do those revisions will be structured differently than adding a particular plot mention in Chapter 7. But either way, I have the lists, I can look at the lists, I don’t have to keep track of it all because there are lists and I know where the lists are. I have the lists, and I have the actual scribbled on line-edit pages. So that’s what I have for keeping track of revisions. Will that work for you? I don’t know, my friend might have meant to ask what will work for her but she actually asked what I do, and that’s what I actually know.

And I do have more to say on how I do revisions, and lo, I was right, that’ll be another post!

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Books read, late February

John W. Baldwin, Paris, 1200. This is a very convenient title that will help me to find this book for reference on the shelf. It does just what it says on the tin: talks about Paris and what was going on there in 1200 or thereabouts, what guilds were there, what taxes, what nobles, what clergy. Extremely useful reference for a fantasy writer who wanted to not just do quasi-Medieval whosits that were copies of copies of copies.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Water Dancer. I was really interested in what Coates would do with his first novel, and I was not disappointed. I think he’s much stronger as a writer of historical fiction than as a fabulist, but the fantastical element of this novel was handled with a light touch anyway, the strongest focus being on the characterization and setting.

Paul Cornell, The Lights Go Out in Lychford. Most recent Lychford novella, and as you can expect from the title, big changes in Lychford. The small modern British village relationships continue to be beautifully done and absolutely meaningful to the fantastical element.

S.B. Divya, Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse and Other Possible Situations. I had read a bunch of these stories already, but I was glad to have permanent copies of them, and glad to encounter the new stories in this volume. Divya is the kind of SF I’m always wishing I had more of.

Louise Erdrich, Future Home of the Living God. This was incredible, searing, amazing. It’s an apocalyptic story of environmental disruption and family and pregnancy and dystopic response, here in Minnesota. The author and the main character are both Anishinaabe, and it matters deeply to the story. This is one of the best apocalyptic novels I’ve ever read, and if you like that sub-genre of SF, you entirely may have missed it, because I did not see it discussed as SF at all when it was published a few years ago, I only saw it discussed as Native fiction/Minnesota fiction. Go find the cool stuff structural bias may be hiding from you, namely this.

Lisa Goldstein, Ivory Apples. This is another in the sub-genre I’ve noticed lately, books about relatives of famous fictional authors. I’m bemused by this sub-genre, I still blame the fate of Christopher Robin Milne for it but also I think it is just less interesting to be related to us than other writers want to think. (“Oh my God it’s so cool your aunt is a writer,” someone will probably say to a niece of mine at some point, and they will be like, “Yeah!” and then we will go on with our lives, because…welp.) Anyway Goldstein at the very least leans into her premise. The family in question doesn’t just suffer a little, they fall apart completely, there is major trauma, there is more than one bit of magic and more than one adult making bad choices for children, and generally it is all a disaster that is only slightly mitigated by the magic of artistic creation. So she’s got a better handle on it than the rest of them I guess.

Barbara Hambly, Lady of Perdition. The latest Benjamin January mystery, and when I looked at the cover copy I howled, “oh nooooo don’t go to the Republic of Texas,” but they went to the Republic of Texas anyway, because characters in books hardly ever do what you tell them to even when you’re writing them, much less when they’ve already been written and published by someone else. Still: don’t start here, this is very much a late entry in this series, but a reasonably satisfying one. (Noooo! Don’t go to the Republic of Texas!)

Diana Henry, Plenty. Cookbook focused on simple things, I flipped through it from the library, found it reasonable but a lot of what she advises is stuff I already know how to do, so–if you don’t, probably a reasonable choice. (I may be picking up more library cookbooks with roughly this result. I don’t expect a lot more, but if I look at one or two recipes and say, oh hey, I could do something like that but completely different, that’s really all I want out of a cookbook from the library.)

Isabel Ibañez, Woven in Moonlight. This is Bolivian-inspired fantasy by a Bolivian-American author, and it is charming and lovely, and the weaving element in the title is literal. That was all I needed to want to read this book immediately, and I wasn’t disappointed, but you may want to know that there’s also a dispute about whose revolution has the moral right and awwww yes I am so very there.

Tove Jansson, Fair Play and The Woman Who Borrowed Memories. The first: a novella in a series of vignettes about two women artists, amazing, amazing. They are very Finnish, but they travel, they make art, they argue but not upsettingly so, I love them so much, I love this entire thing. And the second: a collection of short stories that periodically made me gasp out loud and pound the desk with my fist. I love her so much.

Nicholas Jubber, Epic Continent: Adventures in the Great Stories of Europe. A ramble about the continent and also England, exploring the commonalities of theme and story in six different European epics, with digressions into various thoughts he’d had along the way, charming and fun especially if you like thinking about epics, which yes, I definitely do.

Janet Kagan, The Collected Kagan. Kindle. I’m afraid I was disappointed in this one. I really love Mirabile and Hellspark and was hoping for more of the same here, but I found most of these stories gimmicky and flat. A few of them were quite good, but nothing up to the level of those two volumes, alas, and there were random things collected that…really could have been left uncollected. (Her introduction to James Schmitz’s work, for example, was not such a piece of stand-alone literary criticism that it needed to be reprinted in this context. Sometimes completism can go too far.)

Lydia Millet, The Shimmers in the Night. I continue to be amazed at how much Millet has committed to attempting to replicate the virtues and flaws of a Madeleine L’Engle book in a contemporary version–in this case there are serious Wind in the Door resonances as well as the more general L’Engliness. It was a fun fast read once you accept that the kids’ slang resembles no kids’ slang ever and some of the plot makes no sense, and I do want to know where the series is going–especially because the end of this series is a much harder structural pattern to follow.

Ralph O’Connor, Icelandic Histories and Romances. This is, of course, romances in the older sense, not in the sense of people falling in love. O’Connor has a bunch of theory about these genres and then translates a bunch of them, and they’re weird, though not as weird as the legendary sagas. Probably more a volume for completists than for casual medieval tale readers.

Daniel José Older, The Book of Lost Saints. A ghost story about family and the Cuban Revolution and what came after, forgiveness and love and…so very much family. So very much, and this is my jam and I think those of you who like the family element in my fiction will love this.

Malka Older, …And Other Disasters. An interesting very short set of short speculative stories, in some ways very much a departure from her novels.

Mary Oliver, Felicity. Love and nature poetry, rather breathless, not where I would start with her work but I was perfectly glad to read it.

Maria Tatar, Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood and Off With Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood. I really like how Tatar is happy to talk about children as people with agency, and particularly how children’s interpretations of story and adult intention of story are not always the same thing. Yes good, more of this.

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The Winter Duke, by Claire Eliza Bartlett

Review copy provided by the author, who is a personal friend and represented by the same agent as me.

One of the things I often talk about most enthusiastically in my blog series about long-established older writers is their breadth of ideas. My favorite writers often have a scope that makes me happy, ideas where one book will be wildly different from another. This is only Claire’s second book, but already she’s displaying the kind of range that I praise in authors with decades-long careers.

Claire’s first book, We Rule the Night, was a breathless adventure in magical airplanes, inspired by the Soviet Union’s Night Witches, all fire and fight. The Winter Duke is like the ice roses that pervade its castle: chilly and perfectly formed, ready to melt at a touch.

Ekata is one of the many middle children in the ducal family of Kylma Above. One of her siblings will be the heir, but she has always known that it would not be her. She would go off to university to study the natural world and be far, far from her murderously squabbling family. The only thing she expected to miss about Kylma Above was its proximity to Kylma Below–the realm below the frozen lake that is the source of the magic harvest, a fascination to Ekata’s keenly curious mind.

And then disaster strikes. Just as her brother is about to choose a spouse, Ekata’s entire family is struck down by an unprecedented–and apparently magical–plague. She is the only one left conscious. She must take the reins of political power–and with them the reins of magical power above the lake’s surface, in the air-breathing human realms–before someone takes them from her.

Someone like her extremely gross foster brother Sigis.

And when you ask, “You and what army?”, Sigis is like, “Oh, this army right here that I brought with me,” and I hate him and would like to throw him off a cliff.

On the other hand, there is Ekata’s newest ally…her temporary bride, Inkar. Inkar is fierce, Inkar is determined, and Inkar is incredibly confused by the culture she’s dealing with here. Basically half of Inkar’s dialog can be paraphrased as “YOU WHAT BUT WHY.” And since she is dealing with a very icy region…look, we get this a lot, okay? So Inkar is very relatable, not for me, but for…basically everyone who visits me. Inkar is how people are.

And then the magic, the magic under the frozen lake, oh, oh that is so…so very right. It fits, it works, it is so much fun but not in a…fluffy ponies on a picnic way. This is magic red in tooth and claw, this is the kind of magic that spawns the kind of duchy we see above it. This is a world with room to improve, and characters fighting to improve it. And themselves. Which is very like We Rule the Night, but also completely different.

Well done, Claire. Highly recommended.