The Three Musketeers With Women Having All the Fun

Here’s my review of For the Good of the Realm, by Treehouse Writer’s own Nancy Jane Moore (Aqueduct)

The elevator pitch for this charming historical fantasy is “The Three Musketeers With Women.” That does not do justice to the book by a long shot. The concept is familiar enough, from both the novels by Alexandre Dumas and the many film adaptations. In this swashbuckler tale, heroic, chivalrous swordsmen fight for justice and for their unbreakable friendship. The original, written in 1844, featured men in all the fun roles, with women being either weepy and weak or deviously evil. But why should the men have all the fun? I expect just about every female reader or viewer has railed at the injustice of depriving half the human race of such valorous deeds. Nancy Jane Moore, a thoughtful writer and skilled martial artist, has now set things right.

For the Good of the Realm is and isn’t like The Three Musketeers. There’s a realm like France, a royal couple divided by politics, each served by their own dedicated guard, and the head of the Church bent on cementing their own power. In this world, however, the Queen’s Guard is comprised of women, and the King’s Guard of men, and the queen’s advisors are largely women, as is the Hierophante. Add to this the existence of magic, condemned by the Church, arousing superstitious dread but freely used by the enemies of the Realm. There is no green recruit, D’Artagnan, but a pair of women friends from the Queen’s Guard – Anna D’Gart and Aramis, who fights duels as an amusement and cannot quite seem to give up her bawdy relations to become a priest. Each has a lover from the King’s Guard from whom they must keep secrets, but with whom they occasionally join forces.

The structure of this novel reflects the style to which it does homage. The point of view straddles the divide between third and omniscient, less intimate than is currently in vogue but marvelously evocative of Dumas and his contemporaries. Moore’s control of language and tone never falters as she draws the reader into not only a different world but a slightly different way of experiencing that world. Today we confuse “closeness” in point of view with emotional closeness to a character, but as Dumas and now Moore demonstrate, readers can feel very much in touch with a character through the careful depiction of actions and words. This is, after all, how we come to understand the people in our lives. “The adventures of…” implies an episodic arrangement, but here each chapter and each incident builds on what has come before and lays the foundation for what is to come in subtle, complex ways. The final confrontation between Anna d’Gart and the evil, scheming Hierophante is less a Death Star explosion than it is the inevitable showdown between two highly competent chess players.

In reflecting on the pleasure of immersing myself in For the Good of the Realm, it strikes me as a tapestry created by a master weaver. There is an overall picture but the intricate details and skill of the stitchery – the lives and relationships of the characters – are what lend it depth and resonance.

Order it from Amazon here or from your favorite bookstore.

Travelling as the Green Children Do

I’m mostly typing with my left hand still. One day my right hand will heal, just as, in Disney’s universe, one day a prince will come. In the meantime, something else is on the way. Let me give you a link: https://madnessheart.press/product/the-green-children-help-out/?v=6cc98ba2045f

It’s my new novel.

Some years ago I started work on an alternate universe where the English Jewish population is significantly larger than the one we know, where there are many types of magic and much administration to keep it polite and then I thought, “I want a superhero novel set in that universe.” More than that, I wanted the superheroes to come from our universe. I set up a pocket universe to bridge the two and wondered what it would be like if a twelve year old Australian girl entered by mistake and never left. I wrote a novella to test the idea and then I went to France in 2018, to research it.

I researched many other things at the same time, for I’m still and always an historian and I had many questions I needed answers for. My burning one (not for the novel) was what happens one hundred years after land is destroyed by war. How do people find culture, rebuild, talk about the past? I’ll write about my discoveries one day.

What I wrote into my novel was modern Amiens, and a town in my little pocket universe. The town’s architecture came from what I learned about post-war building and the dances and culture I gave the good people of Tsarfat began there but included more recent French culture, both the good and the bad.

While I wrote the novel I dreamed of a bal musette in a country where people have green skin. I dreamed of what powers people could win by going through a dangerous door, and I listed all the different kinds of magic England could have based upon its history and historical beliefs.

This is the moment before my dreams reach the outside world.

Each novel has its own path in the outside world. I have a deep and vast desire with this one that readers will take my dreams and add their own, that they will walk in my France and my England and my Tsarfat. I took hundreds of pictures as my world came to life in my mind. To make it easier, I plan to share my pictures, some on Patreon in a few days, others on any website or at any online convention that wants to join my magic journey.

Why do I have this deep and vast desire? An imagined journey is the perfect way to explore in this difficult time. I love the thought of safe excitement in the strange time we live in.

For the Good of the Realm Is Out

For the Good of the RealmFor the Good of the Realm made its official bow into the world today (June 1). This is my second novel, a tale of swordswomen and witches that owes a debt of gratitude to Alexandre Dumas and The Three Musketeers.

It’s from Aqueduct Press. You can order the trade paperback or ebook editions (both epub and mobi) directly from them. Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite.

Here’s what some others have had to say about the book:

Publishers Weekly: “This lighthearted, female-led fantasy adventure from Moore (The Weave) follows a pair of Queen’s Guardsstaid, circumspect Anna and feisty, impulsive Asamiras they become embroiled in the machinations of the rulers of Grande Terre. As the threat of war looms and a sinister undercurrent of forbidden magic becomes harder for Anna to ignore, the two women must out-fight and out-think the enemies of the realm in a series of duels and cloak-and-dagger intrigues…. With a principal cast of mostly women, this is sure to appeal to readers looking for stories of empowered female characters that go beyond simply giving them swords.”

Lesley Wheeler, author of Unbecoming: “For the Good of the Realm is a sparkling tournament of a novel, full of thrills as well as feats of storytelling bravado. Moore has invented a feminist medieval otherworld that is egalitarian in its sword and sorcery, yet political intrigue ultimately rules as Anna, a stalwart member of the Queen’s Guard, collaborates with a range of surprising characters to foil the nefarious plots of a power-hungry Hierofante. Spirited and funny, this is a great read.”

Tansy Rayner Roberts, author of Musketeer Space and The Creature Court Trilogy: For the Good of the Realm is a splendid, swashbuckling romp that captures the very spirit of the Musketeers. The author weaves palace intrigue, swordplay, romance, and divided loyalties into a deeply satisfying fantasy adventure with women at the center of the narrative, wielding and negotiating power.”

In addition to the publisher’s website, you can order this book through:

My Bookshop page

My neighborhood bookstore, East Bay Booksellers

Indiebound

Powells

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Stand Alone Short Fiction by Me

It turns out, lots of readers want stand-alone short fiction — short stories, novelettes, even novellas, which are basically short novels. They like being able to finish a story in a single sitting, as well as the conciseness and jewel-like precision of short fiction. I’ve been bringing out some of my best, most recent, in this format.

“The Poisoned Crown,” will be out on June 1 and is available for pre-order here.

The king is dead, long live the prince, but not for long if his stepmother the Queen Regent has anything to say about it. So he appeals to the one person he can trust, his father’s best swordswoman and secret lover. Venise wants nothing more than to bury herself in her grief at the king’s death, but her conscience will not allow her to abandon the young man who is so like his father. The only question is whether the two of them can stand against the Queen Regent’s black magic.

I hope you enjoy it! To whet your appetite, here I read the opening.

Naming Favorites

A few years ago I heard someone ask Vonda N. McIntyre which of her novels was her favorite. Her answer? “The one I’m working on now.”

It’s possible that she meant that she was most excited about that particular book, the one she finished just before she died. It is a brilliant book.

But I took it more generally to mean that whatever she was working on at the time someone asked that question would be her favorite.

I like that idea, though I suspect it’s rather a romantic one. After all, writers who become known for certain books often find themselves in a position where they have to keep writing them long after they’re sick of the subject.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes so that he could quit writing those stories, but it didn’t work. I suspect strongly that his favorite Holmes story – assuming he hadn’t become so sick of doing the work that he didn’t like any of them by the end – would not have been any of the later ones he wrote.

I’m sure many other authors have felt something similar, though they’ve kept it to themselves since people were paying them to keep writing the same thing. After all, most writers need the money. Continue reading “Naming Favorites”

Love and Death: Would You Like a Little Romance with Your Action?

Crossing genres is hot business these days: science fiction mysteries, paranormal romance, romantic thrillers, Jane Austen with horror, steampunk love stories, you name it. A certain amount of this mixing-and-matching is marketing. Publishers are always looking for something that is both new and “just like the last bestseller.” An easy way to do this is to take standard elements from successful genres and combine them.

As a reader, I’ve always enjoyed a little tenderness and a tantalizing hint of erotic attraction in even the most technologically-based space fiction. For me, fantasy cries out for a love story, a meeting of hearts as well as passion. As a writer, however, it behooves me to understand why romance enhances the overall story so that I can use it to its best advantage.

By romance, I mean a plot thread that involves two (or sometimes more) characters coming to understand and care deeply about one another, usually but not necessarily with some degree of sexual attraction. This is in distinction to Romance, which (a) involves a structured formula of plot elements — attraction, misunderstanding and division, reconciliation; (b) must be the central element of the story; (c) has rules about gender, exclusivity and, depending on the market, the necessity or limitations on sexual interactions. These expectations create a specific, consistent reader experience, which is a good thing in that it is reliable. However, the themes of love and connection, of affection and loyalty, of understanding, acceptance and sacrifice, are far bigger.

In my own reading and writing, I prefer the widest definition of “love story.” Continue reading “Love and Death: Would You Like a Little Romance with Your Action?”

Still focussing on little things

An Australian prime minister got into much trouble for quoting (many, many years ago) that “Life wasn’t meant to be easy.” We’re so busy focussing on the big picture and the life-threatening health issues that sometimes the small pass us by. I’m a constant reminder to others that the small is also important. And that life is not always easy and it’s seldom simple or straightforward.

I turned sixty on 25 April, and had a good (but small and quiet) birthday. I wanted to do All the Things, but pandemic is pandemic. It’s just as well I wasn’t impossibly ambitious because I had a bit of an infection in a joint on my right hand. It became quite severe very quickly and I’m still on antibiotics for it. Today is the first day I’ve been able to type anything that long since then. Everything hurt, including sleep.

That’s my reminder. Turning sixty is no big deal. Ignoring a sore finger can become one, if one doesn’t take care.

I needed the reminder, because around me all kinds of people have moved back into normal life… and I can’t do anything like that until I’m vaccinated. I receive my first shot on 21 May.

I’ll be very busy the next few days, for I have until Friday to catch up on everything delayed due to the hand-that-would-not work. I can’t put any of it off, for the edits of a novel are about to come through. The novel was delayed by pandemic ramifications (it affects our lives in so many ways) and I’m really looking forward to seeing what a US editor makes of my Australian voice. So I’m going from bad to wonderful, via a busy path.

Today was an in-between day. I was well enough to do an hour’s work and three hours of meetings. The rest of the time I complained at people, obtained more medication, and told everyone “May the Fourth Be With You.” I watched a bit of Star Wars, for it seemed the right thing to do.

I started writing this after midnight. This post, then is my first step towards much writing of various kinds.  In fact, you are the first readers of anything more than two painful sentences in nine days.

I’ll report back in a fortnight and let you know how everything went. In the meantime, don’t do what I did! If something hurts and you have no idea why, take it to the doctor as quickly as possible.

Because of the pandemic, I planned to celebrate my birthday for as long as it takes. I’ll start again when I stop hurting. Soon. Very soon.

Our prime minister complained for the rest of his life that we’d all missed the critical second part of his quote. Malcolm Fraser had paraphrased George Bernard Shaw and was trying to tell us all that life could, nevertheless, be delightful. Like my birthday. Like seeing friends through Zoom. Fraser made a tactical error in assuming that the press cared about communicating the second half of his quote but right now… his idea wasn’t far removed from my everyday.

Cover Reveal: For the Good of the Realm

My fantasy novel For the Good of the Realm is coming out from Aqueduct Press on June 1. Here’s the cover, designed by Aqueduct’s Kath Wilham using art by Ruby Rae Jones.

Cover of For the Good of the Realm

I am very happy with the cover along with being very happy to have a book coming out. Continue reading “Cover Reveal: For the Good of the Realm

Some Days…

My brain is switched on to food references this week. I’m writing a paper on food in Australian fantasy novels. Even if I’ve read the novel before, I’m re-reading it, because I need to apply that brain-switch and analyse everything for food. It’s hard work. I’m placing references into ten different categories. The net result of this was I had no energy to cook yesterday or today.

This never happened when I was younger.

I was going to write a long screed describing food, because it’s my current (and absorbing) work, then I changed my mind and wanted to explain that chronic fatigue is impacted by emotional fatigue, which is why food research led to such a state of exhaustion. The events of the last eighteen months welled up and I missed all my lost friends and I became a mewling mess. I decided you didn’t need a long piece today, for the world is a difficult place right now.

Take this as a moral. Have early nights when life is stressed. Eat comfort food. Cry when you have to.

And I’ll be working on foodways for a bit longer, so maybe one day I’ll tell you about how writers use food to create miracles in fantasy fiction. Except when they don’t.

Short Book Reviews and a Personal Story: Three Tales of Swans

Occasionally I find myself reading books with such similar themes or elements that the reviews naturally group themselves together. Below, on the other hand, are two very different stories that involve swans. Not as metaphors for supernal grace and beauty but as aquatic birds with nasty tempers. When my younger daughter was five, we took a family outing in a park that had swans. Because it was spring, the swans had young cygnets. I cautioned my daughter to not approach them, and she was being very careful when a mother swan took umbrage and came at her, hissing, beak extended. Without hesitation I jumped in front of the swan. I remember thinking I didn’t want to use my fists because that would bring my face within reach of the swan’s beak. I stood up and aimed a round-house kick at the swan’s neck. I have no memory of actually kicking the swan (although family members assure me that I did), only the swan backing away, wings flapping, still hissing madly. Here endeth the first tale of swans.

 

The Glass Magician, by Caroline Stevermer (Tor). What a delightful tale, set in an early 20th Century world in which humans are divided into ordinary Solitaires, shape-shifting Traders, and ecology-minded Silvestri. The story focuses on Thalia, a magic performer, and her manager, Nutall, who’s acted as a parental figure after the deaths of her parents. When a rival stage magician gets them booted from their gig using a noncompete clause, their future looks grim. Then the rival turns up dead and Nutall is the prime suspect. To make matters worse, Thalia, who has always believed herself to be a nonmagical Solitaire, under the stress of a trick gone dangerously wrong, shape-shifts (“Trades”). Newly fledged Traders are not yet in control of their powers and become the prey of magic-consuming manticores. Now Thalia’s very life is at risk until she can master her magic, at the same time she’s determined to prove her mentor’s innocence and unmask the real murderer. The world and its characters are beautifully, charmingly drawn, with the effortless skill of a consummate storyteller.

There’s a lot of very cool stuff about stage magic, fine characterization, a murder mystery, and a slew of plot twists. The thing that impressed me most, though, was the subtle use of swan imagery.  Thalia Trades into the form of a swan, hissing in irritation at the unfairness of life when she’s not preening her feathers. But swans also appear here and there, like bits delicate, snowy down.

 

The Wild Swans, by Peg Kerr (Endeavour Venture).  Silence = Death

At first, I experienced a bit of disconnection in these two parallel stories: one, a re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Wild Swans,” in which a devoted sister undergoes a terrible ordeal – about which she must remain silent – to free her brothers from an enchantment that turns them into swans by day, men by night; and a heart-wrenching coming-of-age story about a gay teen at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. I found myself engrossed in Elias’s tale, which brought up memories of gay friends during that fearful time. The difference in my reading experience was partly due to my experience as a friend and ally, watching one after another of my friends become sick and die, remembering the atmosphere of fear and homophobia, the all-too-often rejection by families, and partly because in the Andersen tale, I knew what was going to happen. Since I was familiar with the story, I had no worries that Eliza, the sister, would prevail and that her brothers, once more restored to themselves, would rescue her from being executed as a witch. I didn’t know that not only would Elias’s lover, Sean, contract AIDS (and die), but that Elias himself would fall victim to the HIV virus. This journey, from Elias initially finding himself homeless after his family kicks him out for being gay, to meeting Sean and being welcomed into the gay and gay-friendly art and music community, to the evolving love story, engrossed me attention as it engaged my emotions.

For much of the book, I was puzzled as to the relationship between the two stories. There were a few obvious intersections, homophobia or rather hatred of homosexuality being one of them. It wasn’t until I closed the last chapter and mulled over the experience that I understood the deeper connection: Silence = Death. In order to break the spell, Eliza must cut, thresh, and weave nettles into shirts for her brothers, a long an excruciating process. I’ve brushed up against nettles, and the stinging is no joke (although to be fair, poison oak is worse). During that time, if she utters a single word, her brothers will remain swans forever. She cannot explain or defend herself, not even to save her own life.

HIV didn’t evolve because gay people hid who they were and whom they loved (for very good reason), but it flourished in an atmosphere of silence born out of fear. Eliza’s faithfulness arose out of love for her brothers, and the loyalty and solidarity of the LGBT+ community gave rise to movements like ACT UP that demanded action, and respect.

Part of the power of this story lies in the subtle resonances between fairy tale and contemporary tragedy. I say, “part,” because Elias speaks for himself. His story alone would have been an engrossing, heart-rending read. The juxtaposition of the Andersen story created a thoughtful, beautifully written pas de deux.