March came in like a lamb. Still, I’m hoping for a mild month. There are always a couple of storms, but I have hope. Emerging from my cave.
The month in writing
February started off a little rough. As I mentioned last month, I was struggling with the midpoint of the novel I’m rewriting. Work didn’t resume until the ninth and, in a short month, that put me behind. Still, I managed to write 10,805 words if my 12, 180-word goal, or 89%. Accordingly, I’m rejigging my drafting goals again, but they’re still not unreasonable. I have to write 442 words per day through to the end of April to achieve my overall goal of 90k words on the draft.
The only other writing I did in the month was on this blog, and I managed 100% of my 3,500-word goal, writing 3,506 words 🙂
I also rallied myself to send out some poetry. I sent some speculative poetry to Polar Borealis, and some nature poetry to Canary. Will let you know how that goes. I had wanted to
Finally, I registered for Ad Astra, which has moved back to the beginning of May this year.
Filling the well
I didn’t go out anywhere, but I did take a couple of online courses through Jane Friedman and I took in another session on deep point of view from Lisa Hall-Wilson. I am a learning mutt, after all.
What I’m watching and reading
In the personal viewing department, I finished the most recent season of Dear White People. They delved into some serious topics, like the sexual assault of one of the secondary characters by one of the professors, sexual identity and exploration, the treatment of graduate students, and various characters struggled to express themselves through their various chosen media (film making, journalism). The season started out with the two characters apparently “selected” to enter into the secret society rejecting the dubious honour only to have it crop up again at the end of the season. This time Sam and Lionel are told to stay away from the secret society. It’s become corrupt.
Phil and I watched the next instalment, or part, of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, in which the titular character takes the throne of hell. Meanwhile, a group of pagans led by Pan are planning to destroy all of humanity and return the world to a state of nature. There’s basically a war between the coven and the pagans, which I found to be a little contrived, but in the end, the Satanic coven rediscovers their true roots as wiccans, the pagans are driven away, and Faustus releases something that looks distinctly Cthulian. The timey-wimey shenanigans Sabrina perpetrates to accomplish this end are questionable and she essentially creates a classic paradox, meeting herself. Somehow, the two iterations of Sabrina survive, one choosing to reclaim hell and the other returning to Greendale to live her “normal” life with her friends and family.
Then, we watched the first season of the October Faction. It had a fairly derivative plot. Fred and Delores Allen are monster hunters in an organization called Presidio and have twin children from whom they hide their secret lives. When it turns out that the twins birth mother, a massively powerful sorceress, wants her children back, everything hits the fan. And of course, Presidio is revealed to have nefarious plans. I had a lot of questions. At one point, it’s revealed that Fred and D, as part of a Presidio task force headed by Fred’s father, basically murder nearly all of the sorcerers. Somehow, Alice, the twins’ mother, is not shot down, but ends up trapped at the bottom of a lake to be conveniently revived by her daughter. She reveals that after escaping the massacre, she trusted the wrong people and they betrayed her. Okay? Why not just kill her? Also, after killing everyone else, Fred and D decide to spare the twins and adopt them. Would Presidio (who gets all up in the business of all their operatives) not know this? It was okay.
Reading-wise, I rounded out my tarot reading with Corrine Kenner’s Tarot for Writers. Again, as I’m going to be writing about all of the tarot books in my next Speculations column for DIY MFA, I’m going to reserve commentary here.
I also read David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital (finally). I’m still aiming for traditional publication, but I’m passively learning about self-publishing in the event that doesn’t pan out. It was informative.
In fiction, I finished Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series by reading All Good Things. Last year, I overdid it by reading five of Newman’s novels in quick succession, the First of the Split Worlds series and all of her Plantefall series. I had to take a break because I lost my perspective. Newman’s novels are good, but they focus on deeply flawed and often powerless protagonists who struggle with various mental health issues. This can make them challenging reading.
**SPOILER WARNING** Skip to **END SPOILERS** if you haven’t read the books and don’t want to know. I don’t give away absolutely everything, but, well, you’ve been warned.
Split Worlds was a slow burn. Things definitely happen in the first two books, but they all happen to the protagonist rather than emerging from the protagonist’s decisions and actions. Cathy was born into a fae-touched family. The fae-touched live in the Nether, one of the split worlds, and are dependant upon the fae for longevity. The Nether is stuck in a pseudo-Victorian/Regency time period with its attendant misogyny. Cathy runs away to attend university in Mundanus (our world) but is recaptured and forced to accept an arranged marriage. She also suffers from social anxiety and is blessed/cursed with three wishes from Lord Poppy, the fae lord of her family.
The second main character, Sam, is a computer programmer suffering through a disintegrating marriage who stumbles into Exilium, the realm of the fae, and thus into the Nether, encountering both Cathy and Max. Between these two stories is a third, helmed by arbiter Max, who has had his soul dislocated so that he can more effectively police the fae and the fae-touched, in the service of the heptarchy of sorcerers. The Bath chapter, of which he was a part, has been obliterated and Max’s soul is somehow transferred into a stone gargoyle. Max can’t figure out why his sorcerer, Extrand isn’t interested in uncovering the perpetrators. The plot of the first book, Between Two Thorns, involves the rescue of Cathy’s uncle, in which both Sam and Max assist, who was kidnapped as a result of fae-touched intrigue.
In the second book, Any Other Name, Cathy is drugged by her own parents and married into a rival fae-touched family against her will. Then, because she’s a feminist and not at all interested in becoming a baby factory for her husband, he gives her a love potion so that they can, at least, consummate the marriage. Sam’s wife dies and he believes it’s murder. During his investigation, Lord Iron, a member of the elemental court (as opposed to the fae court) takes Sam under his wing. Max tries to solve the mystery of the Bath chapter despite the leaden feet of Extrand and ends up helping Cathy and/or Sam more than pursuing his own goal. We find out a lot about the workings of the Nether and Exilium in book two. It’s fabulous world building.
The plot of this book involves Cathy trying to track down there whereabouts of her old tutor, who taught her about feminist history and the world outside the Nether. This leads her to an organization called the Agency, who provides all staff for the fae-touched families and has a monopoly on all the household needs (interior decorating, primarily). Cathy also discovers her husband’s secret. He has a half-sister, born of his mother’s adulterous affair, that he must keep hidden. While Cathy’s meddling marks her for an assassination, from which Sam and his growing affinity with iron save her, society schemes set her husband William on course to unseat the current duke of Londinium by duel to the death.
The third book picks up the pace a bit. In All is Fair, Cathy, having recovered from the assassination attempt, is now duchess of Londinium and, believing that she may now have the power to change the Nether for the better, decides to stay and fight the good fight. In the previous two books, her personal goal was escape, but that proved impossible in her circumstances. Having bungled/wasted the first two of her wishes, Cathy aces the third, wishing that she attain her full potential without harming her family or the ones she loves. The first thing she aims to do is to take down the Agency.
Sam begins to train under Lord Iron by learning the craft of blacksmithing. As he does so, his affinity to iron develops and Lord Iron teaches him about the elemental court, who have forgotten their role in the split worlds, that of protecting humanity from the fae. Digging deeper, Sam discovers that his wife was working to take down the company she worked for because of its environmental abuses. At the end of the book, Lord Iron commits suicide in front of Sam. For Max’s story, his investigation finally seems to be getting some traction. Extrand calls for a moot, or meeting of the heptarchy, to decide what to do, moving forward. Max also discovers that the London/Londinium branch of the arbiters is corrupt. At the end of the book, Extrand, being his unstable self, declines to attend the moot he called and the five sorcerers who do attend end up getting killed.
The plot of book three is now firmly tied into the lives and goals of the main characters.
In book four, A Little Knowledge, Cathy, empowered by her success in taking down the Agency, attempts to influence the Londinium court into accepting that women are equal to men. This makes problems for William, who is now under orders from his family’s patron and fae lord to get his unruly wife under control and produce an heir. Cathy gathers allies, mostly women who have been charmed/cursed into subservience and she starts to undermine the patriarchy. Unfortunately, she’s still under the influence of the love potion William gave her and she inadvertently gives William everything he needs to impede her every step forward.
Sam is named as Lord Iron’s heir and takes his place in the elemental court, but they have no interest in halting their environmental devastation or in resuming their responsibility of protecting humans. While Sam radically changes all of his own businesses, he tries everything he can to get the elemental court to change. Then a strange woman seeks his help.
Extrand decides that the only other living sorcerer must be responsible for the deaths of the rest of the heptarchy and starts a sorcerous war against his rival. Meanwhile, Max works to uncover the true culprit, the only female sorcerer and sister to one of the murdered sorcerers. When she unleashes a curse that kills Extrand the other sorcerer, Rupert, manages to escape, and Max decides to work for him as the last sorcerer of Albion.
Finally, in book five, All Good Things, Cathy, having learned of William’s magical manipulation of her, leaves him, taking refuge with Sam. She meets the strange woman, Beatrice, who tells her that she is a sorcerer and that she has killed all the rest because it was the sorcerers who split the worlds in the first place. She has a plan to restore the worlds to what they once were, all one, with the fae and the elemental court to balance one another. Cathy is appalled. All the evil in her life has been caused by the fae. The fae cannot be released from Exilium. Beatrice offers to teach Cathy sorcery in return for her help. Reluctantly, Cathy agrees.
Sam, meanwhile, has not made any progress with the elemental court. They have resorted to sending assassins after him. Beatrice has also explained her plan to Sam, who has the same reservations as Cathy, but he can’t single-handedly change the elemental court. Perhaps her plan is the only one that will work. Max soon learns that Rupert is no better than Extrand. All the sorcerers are mad in their own ways. Rupert asks him to kill Beatrice using a curse that will also kill Max. Max tracks Beatrice to Sam’s and Cathy talks him down from carrying out his mission.
Meanwhile, in desperation to save his family, William goes to Exilium and makes a deal with the king of the fae to take his place. That’s when the fun begins.
The Split Worlds is definitely a series that has to be read in order and in its entirety to be appreciated. I enjoyed it and recommend it. Newman tells a great story. It just takes a little time for all the threads to seat fully into the warp and weft 🙂
Just going to hit my other reads briefly.
S.A. Chakraborty’s The Kingdom of Copper was a great second in series, even if it kept Nahri and her afshin separated for most of the novel.
Loved N.K. Jemesin’s “The City Born Great.”
Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf was fabulous in one respect. He goes deep into Tracker’s POV and stays there. A master class in technique. The story was good, but the framing device didn’t work for me.
Finally, Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse was wonderful. Meaningful, poignant, and, well, just wonderful.
And that was a month in this writer’s life.
Until next time, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.