Have you ever finished a book, crying? Crying, but not crying for the reasons you thought you’d be when you started the book? Have you ever sat quietly reading and then shouted an expletive, causing the concern of your partner? Well, I have. Guys, I finished Spice Bringer. What an emotional roller-coaster of a book. And I thoroughly enjoyed it all and I think you might, too! So, if the you’re intrigued by a book featuring a super compelling female lead, snarky salamander (I KNOW!), and fascinating world building, read on for my review of Spice Bringer.
Tag Archives: fantasy
When I was 11, I read voraciously and had a number of favorite types of books. I loved historical fiction. I loved science fiction. I loved fantasy. And, no matter what the genre, if a book had a dragon in it, I was definitely down to read it. When I got an advanced reader copy of Kandi J. Wyatt’s An Unexpected Adventure and saw that the main plot centered around a dragon, I knew I was in for a good read and it did not disappoint!
Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own.
An Unexpected Adventure is a middle grade book about the adventures of 14-year old Harley and his friends Chace, Will, Cherise, and sister Karis and what happens when they find a dragon’s egg on the Oregon Coast. At first the story focuses on the practicalities of how a few middleschoolers can care for such a fantastical creature, but then things get complicated when the mysterious Professor Raleigh enters the scene with suspicious intentions toward finding the dragon. Harley and the others scramble to protect Steria (what a great name for a dragon!) from the professor. However, this becomes more and more difficult as Steria grows, learns to fly, and starts doing what dragons do, namely wreaking havoc.
There were a few things that I really enjoyed about this story. First, the kids all seemed to be really compassionate and empathetic, both in their interactions with the dragon and with each other. Steria was also a treat, with her evocative descriptions reminding me of a cross between a cat and a regal queen (I suppose cat owners may disagree that those two categories differ). I also really enjoyed the setting, Myrtle Beach in Oregon. I grew up in Oregon and spent more than a few summers hanging around the Oregon coast. It was fun to revel in the nostalgia of running around the lush forests, walking across the sandy beaches, and mingle with the locals.
To be sure, this is a middle grade book and it’s geared towards that age group’s reading level, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for adults (although I certainly had a lot fun reading it!). However, I think the themes, story, setting, and characters make this a great book for dragon-loving readers between the ages of 10 and 15.
So, big historic stuff happened recently in the science fiction literature world. If you haven’t heard (you probably did, because I was screaming quite loudly), author N.K. Jemisin made history not only by winning the Hugo award for best novel three consecutive years in a row, but also for having every book in a series (The Broken Earth Trilogy) win a Hugo. If you’re not familiar with the Hugo’s, it’s a pretty prestigious award that recognizes great authors in the science fiction genre, with winners like Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Neil Gaiman.
It’s a bit chilly for August, but that doesn’t stop me from dumping a few ice cubes into a glass. Add a quarter of lime, a lug of gin, and a generous pour of tonic, and it’s a drink. I mean, it’s liquid in a glass, so I suppose that’s not a high mark to reach.
It’s vital that all authors find their own voice and strive toward a creative approach to their story. However, it’s also a little ridiculous to believe that all works of fiction must be entirely new and original. For instance, I grew a little nervous when a friend compared the magic system in my book to alchemy in Fullmetal Alchemist. But then, after considering historical precedent, I relaxed. After all, many of the great storytelling franchises relied heavily on past works. Here are three:
The Works of William Shakespeare
Assuming you believe Shakespeare existed (If you don’t, keep that opinion to yourself. This is a bard-friendly blog.), you are probably familiar with the fact that he did “borrow” the plots of most of his plays from other writers. One of those writers would be Geoffrey Chaucer. Like Shakespeare, Chaucer also borrowed many of his plots from other writers, including an Italian poet called Giovanni Boccaccio. A good example of this borrowing can be seen in Shakespeare’s play, Troilus and Cressida. Shakespeare’s plot was heavily influenced by that of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, which itself was influenced by Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato. So, even the great writers of history have stolen from each other from time to time.
The Lord of the Rings
Sometimes seen as the father of high fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien is much loved and respected by readers the world over. I, too, love Tolkien; The Hobbit was one of the very first chapter books I ever read. It’s also well known that Tolkien based much of his world building on pre-existing cultures on Earth. Mythology too played a huge influence on Tolkien’s writing, a good example of which is displayed in Tolkien’s favorite plot device, The One Ring. Tolkien based his ring heavily off of Plato’s Ring of Gyges, a mythical artifact that turned the wearer invisible. Furthermore, the Ring of Gyges sparks a debate in Plato’s works between Socrates and another; they argue over whether that power would always be taken advantage of by the wearer, or if a just person could withstand it and resist his base desires. It’s pretty easy to see the link between the corruption of the Ring of Gyges and that of The One Ring; the biggest difference is that no one can resist The One Ring forever.
A cultural touchstone in its own right, many modern works owe a great deal to the Star Wars franchise. However, like the previously mentioned franchises, Star Wars owes much to other works. What resonates most with many fans of the original films was the blending of familiar elements (plots structures, character types) with futuristic settings. George Lucas pulled those familiar elements from mythology from around the world. For Luke’s journey in particular, Lucas relied heavily on the works of Joseph Campbell. And, lest I forget, I feel I should also mention the Japanese film The Hidden Fortress, directed by Akira Kurosawa. This film is told primarily from the perspective of two bickering peasants (not so different from C-3P0 and R2-D2), and also features a battle-hardened warrior (like Obi Wan Kenobi) and a rebellion-leading princess (like Princess Leia).
While I want my books to feel fresh and original, I also have to be aware that borrowing from other works is not a sin. I do feel, though, that I should be aware of my influences. One thing I do admire about George Lucas is that he has never shied away from giving credit to his influences. If nothing else, it’s a good way to introduce younger audiences to time-tested works.
How do you guys feel about borrowing from works? Should it be frowned on, or celebrated? Is there a line between the two, and when have you seen it crossed?
Worldbuilding is one of my favorite aspects of storytelling. Whether the story is fantasy, science fiction, or some dystopian future, a great world design can make or break a story’s credibility and inspire countless future stories. In celebration of this marvelous act of creation, I’m going to share two basic approaches to start building your new world.
But first, let’s discuss what worldbuilding actually means.
Worldbuilding is the creation of an imaginary setting, whether it be a small town or an entire universe. These imaginary worlds should have internal logic based on geography, history, biology, and so forth. They can be used for fictional novels, video games, tv shows, movies, and pretty much any other story-based media form. The best created worlds serve the story, enriching the setting of the characters and plot but not overwhelming them.
There are many aspects of a world you can latch onto when starting your story. However, I’ve found that there are two basic but reliable approaches to starting the worldbuilding process.
Top Down Approach
A fairly common approach to worldbuilding is what I like to call the top down approach. The concept is simple: you start with the details of the world you want to build, and then work backwards, figuring out the world’s history and so forth to support the end product you want. For instance, say I wanted to tell a story where my main character was a member of a tribe of blue-skinned people. To build a world to support this idea, I’d need to work backwards, and ask myself questions about how this group of people came to exist. Are they the only blue-skinned people in this world? Were they created by a higher being, or did they evolve? From these questions, I can start to branch off these few details I know and create a fully realized world.
The top down approach has its positives and negatives. It works well because it allows for a clear picture of the end product. In this way, it’s easier to not forget the story and be overwhelmed by the immensity of an imagined world. It helps with early character creation, too. However, if the creator doesn’t have a clear understanding of what the world should look like when they start, the top down approach might cause more problems than it solves. If I change my mind and make my blue-skinned people have the ability to fly, I might have to go back to the drawing board. So, for people without a clear picture of what sort of world they want their story to be set in, it’s better to start with the bottom up approach.
The Bottom Up Approach
The bottom up approach begins with the very foundation of the world you’re going to create. Basically, you start with creating a world (earth-like or not) to serve as your canvas. To this, you add geography. What does your world look like? Also, it’s a good idea to decide how the sciences play out in your world. Some storytellers are happy saying that physics, biology, chemistry, and so on are just like earth’s. That is just fine. However, if you want to play around with those, feel free. Just make sure you research things so they stay internally logical. If you want to build a world where photosynthesis doesn’t exist, you better know what photosynthesis is and why it’s important for plants. Now is also a good time to decide if your world has some special aspect, such as magic or a unique energy source.
Once you have your foundation, it’s time to add the people/life forms that inhabit this world. How does this environment affect them? It’s probably not a homogeneous group (and if it is homogeneous, you better have a darn good reason why), so adding various cultural makeups is a good idea. From here, it’s a matter of figuring out details like language, politics, history, and so on before refining the final product to fit your story. It’s important to keep that internal logic you spent so much time crafting, but you also want to make sure you leave room for your story. Hopefully a this point your imagination is firing on all cylinders, and you’ve found a great source of conflict or a really interesting idea for a main character.
So, how do you guys feel about worldbuilding? I’m considering writing a second post with finer details about what we need to think about when we build a world, like infrastructure and political systems. Would that interest people?
P.S. Sorry I missed last week’s post. My husband and I were a bit under the weather, and also I’ve been trying to finish my latest draft of Footfall.