More Recent Reads

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Here, as promised last week, are comments on two more authors whose work I have only recently discovered: D.B. Jackson and Gail Z. Martin.

As historical urban fantasy, D.B. Jackson’s The Thieftaker Chronicles series, represents a definition-expanding departure for that popular sub-genre. But somehow I can’t see many readers of either historical or urban fantasy complaining. I, for one, read Thieftaker, the first of the series, almost without taking a breath, and picked up the second, Thieves’ Quarry,  immediately after. The third book, A Plunder of  Souls, is the newest resident of my kindle.

Thieftaker Chronocles

I loved seeing Jackson’s well thought-out magic system at work in pre-Revolutionary War Boston, complete with occasional sightings of  Samuel Adams, James Otis, and other anti-stamp-act agitators of the time.

The title character, the thieftaker and conjurer Ethan Kaille, is a former British Naval officer whose youthful involvement with a shipboard mutiny earned him long years of backbreaking servitude on a Caribbean sugar plantation. Now, a toughened and scarred but not a hardened man, with his sentence completed but his position in society much reduced, Kaille depends for his livelihood on the one talent most likely to get him killed in Boston. A hundred years after the Salem witch trials, witches (more properly,”conjurers’ according to Kaille) can still be hanged or burned at the stake.

The other main characters are also drawn in good detail: Kaille’s feisty lady friend, Kannice Lester,  is the bright, successful manager of her late husband’s tavern. The young Reverend Trevor Pell, also born with the hereditary gift of conjuring, becomes a friend. The goodhearted but reckless Diver Jervis is a sometime assistant sleuth as well as a friend. But perhaps the most colorful character of them all is Kaille’s archenemy, the daring and unscrupulous female thieftaker, Sephira Price.

A thieftaker was an early version of a private detective, most often tasked with recovering stolen property and paid for this service with the reward money offered for its return. In Thieftaker, Kaille has been hired to solve the mysterious death of a wealthy merchant’s daughter as well as the theft of the heirloom broach she was wearing. In Thieves’ Quarry it’s multiple unexplainable deaths among the thousands of Redcoats who occupy Boston in the wake of violent protests over the stamp act.  Needless to say, magic is involved at many levels, and Kaille is threatened by more than one kind of killer. The tension is high, the action frequent and deadly, and the lively characters fully believable. Both books provide engrossing reading, as well as historian D.B. Jackson’s authentic images of the Boston of those chaotic times. I expect the third book, A Plunder of  Souls, to offer the same.

Gail Z. Martin‘s series Deadly Curiosities also takes place, in part, BR-Deadly-Curiosities in historic times. But in this case the format is a series of short stories stretching from 15th century Europe, to the small early-17th century town of Charleston in what would one day be South Carolina, and finishing with a full length novel, also entitled Deadly Curiosities,  set in present-day Charleston.

Here the magic takes the form of potentially deadly forces, born of powerful human emotions from the past that have settled into material objects such as tools, jewelry, artwork, or other artifacts and so continue into the present day. Such forces can be either good or evil, but the most powerful of them arise from human conflict, death, and despair. Certain humans, born with the magical ability to detect such forces in whatever objects they may inhabit, make it their mission to acquire and defuse or destroy such haunted objects before they can be used for more evil.

The links connecting all these stories consist of family lineages from one gifted generation to the next, a network of antique and curiosity shops around the world, and one 500-year-old Vampire named Sorren whose mission it is to coordinate the whole operation, protect the humans who run the shops, and see to the neutralization of the deadliest of the haunted objects.

In the novel, a 20-something young woman named Cassidy Kincaide, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history, is the current owner of the centuries-old Charleston shop known as Trifles and Folly. She is assisted and frequently protected by Teag Logan, an all-but-dissertation doctoral student in history and an expert practitioner of various obscure schools of martial arts. All seems well, until a tall, wizened figure in black begins to follow Cassidy around. Then dozens of small, harmless objects in the shop and around the city abruptly become suffused with deadly power, and the mangled bodies of vagrants begin to appear on the historic blood-soaked grounds of the old Navy yard. Suddenly Sorren is in town, a powerful Voudon practitioner named Lucinda lends her powers, the magical weaponry and defenses come out, and all hell is on the loose.

D. B. Jackson’s  Thieftaker Chronicles books are available in paperback, hardcover, audiobook, and all e-book formats. Associated short stories can be found on and the author’s web site.

Gail Z. Martin’s Deadly Curiosities novel and nine of the ten short stories in the series are available on and on the author’s website. The Final Death, a novella, is available free for a short time on Wattpad.

Recent Reads

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

One of the things I love most about science fiction conventions is the discovery of new-to-me tasty reads. Thanks to several cons this spring, I have recently been spending time with the works of four good writers whom I had somehow previously missed.

I’ll take them in order of my reading, two now and the other two next week.

At RavenCon (Richmond, VA ) the new discovery was Author Guest of Honor Elizabeth Bear, a gifted writer both of fantasy and of what might be described as hard urban science fiction.

Jenny Casey

In the latter category I devoured all three books in her Jenny Casey Series (Scardown, Hammered, and Worldwired) in a couple of weeks. That’s lightning fast for me, but I just couldn’t put them down. Think near-future sf, set first (volume 1) in a battle-weary Canada and north-eastern US, then (volume 2) on an essentially untried space station, and finally (Volume 3) in near-Earth space in the company of two very different but equally-inscrutable alien spacecraft. The cast of tough, bold, capable, highly individual characters includes folks from three major nationalities, every gender, and every level of society and government bureaucracy, with significant issues of trans- post- and cybernetic-humanism. Wow. Just wow.

iron bone

Bear’s fantasy duology (Book of Iron and Bone and Jewel Creatures) centers on Bijou, a gifted wizard-artificer and trusted associate of the crown prince of Messaline, an Arabic-flavored medieval environment. The first book entails adventure and intrigue in Bijou’s wildly creative young womanhood; the second, the climax of a life-long battle and the still-powerful, mature artistry of her late old age. Beautiful, imaginative, and deeply moving.

blessed world

I have not met Catherynne M. Valente, but it was sometime during RavenCon, Balticon, or ConCarolinas that she was recommended to me for her vast descriptive powers and the beauty of her prose. The first book of her Dirge for Prester John series, The Habitation of the Blessed, did not disappoint. (The second book, The Folded World, is on my to-be-read-next list; the third, The Spindle of Necessity, is due out soon.)

The myth of Prester John, a Christian Priest and King of a mysterious oriental or African land, arose in the 12th century and influenced a number of European adventurers to seek him in various little-known corners of their world. This continued until 17th century orientalists finally disproved any connection between John or his realm with observable reality.


Valente has set her vibrant, intensely human retelling of his story in a lush realm of great riches, peopled with such oddities of medieval travel tales as monopods, dog-faced people, and people with their faces on their chests. She has further embellished the myth with a historically feasible origin for John, horrific and (as far as I can tell) completely original challenges met in his journey to that realm from Constantinople, and a detailed account of his slow and painful acceptance of the strangeness of life and kingship there.

Note that Valente’s printed books themselves give evidence of the beauty of her language and mythical world.

Next time, D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker Chronicles and Gail Z. Martin’s Deadly Curiosities.


Sources for Prester John:




“Very few people know how to listen. Their haste pulls them out of the conversation, or they try internally to improve the situation, or they’re preparing what their entrance will be when you shut up and it’s their turn to step on stage.”
-from Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg

Con-Gregate: A Brand New Science Fiction Convention

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Meet Greg-8, avatar of Con-Gregate, a new start-up Con in the North Carolina Triad: Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem.
Kinda cute isn’t he?

Why that name? Think Con-Greg-8.

The first annual Con-Gregate was held in Winston-Salem this past weekend. I’m hoping for more photos for next week’s post.

Con-Gregate comes with a distinguished pedigree, organized as it is by a committee with extensive experience running such conventions as RavenCon, ConCarolinas, StellarCon, Trinoc-coN and DragonCon

That experience showed. Con-Gregate 1 was an enthusiastic, smoothly-run gathering with what seemed to me surprisingly good attendance for a first-run Con.

Larry Correia Larry Correia

The Guest list was good too, with Writer Guest of Honor Larry Correia, author of the Monster Hunter International series and the Grimnoir Chronicles, and Artist Guest of Honor, Mark Poole, with such gaming art credits as Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons. Special guests included Special Literary Guest Toni Weisskopf, publisher of Baen Books, and Special Media Arts Guest Jennifer McCollom, professional make-up artist for such films as The Hunger Games and Talladega Nights.

Most all the guests, in fact, were entertaining and informative, and frequently more than usually conversant with their audiences.

Mark Poole Mark Poole

In answer to fans’ requests, the programming included specially planned interactive features, including audience participation discussions and roundtable workshops in addition to the more traditional discussions among the expert panelists with questions from the audience in the final minutes.

Con-Gregate 2 will meet July 10-12, 2015, at the High Point Plaza Hotel in High Point, North Carolina. Writer Guests of Honor will be Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole, with Fan Guest of Honor Albin Johnson and Special Artist Guest Scott Rorie.

Looks like another good one!

Juliet McKenna’s Rogues and Mages

Gambler's FortuneWhile not too unlike the usual motley of medieval fantasy folk, Juliet E. McKenna’s characters come equipped–or lumbered–with finely-drawn gifts and quirks that set them apart both in her world and in the usual run of characters in the genre.

Their distinctiveness arises in part from several interesting ethnicities. The hunter-gatherer forest folk, for instance, have fiery hair, exceptional night vision and gifts for music and survival. The yellow-haired mountain dwellers are given to monolithic clan fortresses, mining, shepherding, and feuding, within a matriarchal society. But most important in all these peoples are their individual qualities of head, heart and/or temperament, either natural or the result of chancy nurturing in their chaotic world.

Previous reviews of McKenna’s Tales of Einarinn series have examined her extraordinary female hero Livak (The Thief’s Gamble) and Livak’s partner in adventure Ryshad, “a man both bold and honest,” (The Swordsman’s Oath.) In The Gambler’s Fortune, three of her well crafted supporting characters move into finer focus: a mage, Usara of Hadrumal, and the brothers Sorgrad and Sorgren, two thoroughly disreputable old friends from earlier adventures.

Livak leading, they constitute a company of four chartered by Archmage of Hadrumal and the powerful Tormalin house of D’Olbriot. Their charge? A quest for traces of an ancient magic now being wielded against them by shadowy enemies from beyond the sea. Livak’s leverage in winning the commission–and her hope for a fortune suitable to a quiet early retirement with Ryshad–is a book, a collection of ancient songs which may hold clues to the lost magic.

With Ryshad left to his own responsibilities and hopes of fortune back in Tormalin, Livak takes full stage with her personal brand of leadership: brainy, confident, and resourceful; courageous almost to the point of recklessness when the odds are with her or when lives are in danger.

The mage Usara is touchingly drawn as the closeted scholar eager to pit his considerable powers against the challenges of the greater world. Never mind his less-than-subtle air of superiority and sporadic power struggles with Livak, he works hard as a mage, ever willing to tire himself to exhaustion for the protection of others.Further Tales

Sorgrad and Sorgren, pureblood natives of the northern mountains, are the darkest of Livak’s allies but far from the darkest of her world. As young men, expelled from their clans for impudence and disruptive behavior, they blazed a trail of mayhem and larceny across the lowlands, chiefly as soldiers of fortune in the annual summer wars. Sorgrad, the elder, is good-looking, intelligent, self-taught in many skills and social graces, ingenious in devising enterprises and strategizing battles large and small. Sorgren, the smaller and more violent of the two, has rarely, if ever, lost a fight.

So why are they, and particularly Sorgren, in Livak’s company? Because their greatest positive talent is unfailing loyalty, priceless beyond gold in her dangerous world. And because, on this venture, their less attractive talents may mean the difference between life and death.

That enemy, a wizard as brutal and implacable as the vicious father and frozen land that produced him, will draw Sorgren into the battle of his life, revealing the blackest secrets of both their souls.

As has been said of other anti-heroes, the brothers will do the bad, even the evil thing to stop the horrible thing.

Still, interleaved with the challenges of this engrossing adventure are good times among friends, interludes with the intriguing people of the forest, and the wisdom and poetry of Livak’s book of ancient songs.

imagesIncidentally, the account of her discovering that book can be found in A Few Further Tales of Einarinn, a collection of illuminating shorter works set between Swordsman’s Oath and Gambler’s Fortune. The story, “Absent Friends,” also provides a closer look at Livak’s and Ryshad’s relationship in quieter times.

The Gambler’s Fortune, A Few Further Tales of Einarinn, and many other works by Juliet E. McKenna are published by Wizard’s Tower Press and can be found on

big dumb summer movies

one of my many amusements is to embarrass my husband in public by loudly declaring all of the movies I have not watched in all of my forty years.

so! what SF/ F movies go on our July, September and August list?

i have seen:
Star Wars
Harry Potters allof’em
lord of them rings
Indiana Jones
aaaaaand! Reign of Fire (my fave).

It’s actually very likely that I have not seen…whatever. I haven’t seen Top Gun or Dirty Dancing, for example. Or the one about pod people.

I have of course seen The Last Unicorn, The Rats of NIMH, and Romancing the Stone.

What am I missing from my SFF literacy?

Here he asks: have you seen Jaws? “no.”


Panel Notes: Balticon 2014

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan


Balticon was as colorful, musical, imaginative, and creatively stimulating as ever this year, with a wide range of guests including GOH Brandon Sanderson, Bard/Filk GOH Kenneth Anders, Artist GOH Halo Jankowski, 2014 Robert Heinlein Award Winner Geoffrey A. Landis, and 2014 Compton Crook Award Winner Charles E. Gannon.

As always, I made my way happily from one panel to another throughout the con with occasional stops for music, poetry, book buying, conversations, autographs, food and — oh, yes — sleep.

Among the panels that most caught my attention were the following, with a few particularly interesting bits from each.

Pricing E-Books; Why Free Is Not Always Better
Panelists: Sue Baiman, Collin Earl, Kelly Harmon, Chris Snelgrove, and Michael Underwood.
• Don’t give away anything free without something else for sale following soon after.

Writing Resolutions, Evaluation and Measurement
Panelists: Andrea Trask, Kelly Harmon, Day Al-Mohammed. Cindy Young-Turner, Judi Fleming
• Take five minutes to plan a goal for the day, then write to the goal.
• Keep a time budget: what you will give up for time to write, what entertainments you will grant yourself as rewards for meeting deadlines

Writing Sequels, Prequels, and Spinoffs
Panelists: Maria V. Snyder, Lawrence M. Schoen, Tom Doyle, Bob Greenberger, Mike D’Ambrosio
• Write each book as a complete story, with a subplot to build on in later books.
• Intro later leading characters as cameos in earlier books.
• Plan individual character arcs for each book within an umbrella arc for the series.

Cool Underused Ways To Travel In Space
Panelists: Andy Love, Catherine Asaro, Geoffery Landis, Charles E Gannon, Pamela Gay
• Make your speed a complex number and above-light speeds are easy.
• Efforts are underway to engineer carbon nanotubes suitable to construct a rotovator or rotating space elevator.

Open-Heart Surgery With A Chainsaw (Making Deep Edits to Your Novel)
Panelists: Eric Bakutis, Michelle Moore, Michael Black, Chris Jackson.
• A case of writers block may mean that something in your novel isn’t working.
• Is anything about the story repetitive? Or illogical?
• Are deep cuts needed? Look first for any scenes that don’t advance the story.

A special treat was serving with Mary Turzillo, Jo Walton and Geoffrey Landis as readers of the winning poems in the Annual Balticon Poetry Contest. Afterwards we joined members of the poetry workshop in an open mike session reading poetry of our own..

Altogether a satisfying weekend.  My thanks to Balticon 48 Chair Kelly Shannon Pierce, Vice Chair “Thomas the Red” Horman, and their entire inexhaustible crew.

The Arte of the Booke

Here’s a crafts woman who knows her shtuff. Nancy Hulan creates handmade journals from parchment (like… parchment), leather and high-quality papers. She also does calligraphy and illumination, the quality and detail of which make my eyes water. She takes her designs from Medieval Europe, recreating techniques and carrying them forward to encompass illuminated maps of fantasy lands from the 20th century. Anyone need an illuminated calligraphic map of the Mountains of Madness?

I gave her all my money when I found her in the vendor room at RavenCon. The books she made hold up to snuff. They lie flat, they don’t crack or break, they can be re-filled when I choose to do so (with some hand stitching, I mean), and they’re just – er – very very nice. Practical, useful and beautiful.

I’ve never seen craftsmanship at this level of mastery. I was absolutely stunned.

Hulan’s scrap calligraphy on parchment makes the cover of one of the books I purchased. 20140623-152105-55265781.jpg
A leather bound notebook reinforced with wood, not cardboard, makes a great companion into my own craft workshop for notes and ideas. 20140623-152210-55330319.jpg

Here. Don’t drown in your own drool. Buy yourself something nice.

Kickass, Heroic, Anti-Heroic, and Villainous Characters at ConCarolinas 2014

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

ConCarolinas 2013, as I reported at the time, presented “the best panel program I [had] seen short of a worldcon or Nebula Weekend.”

Well, Con Chair Jada Diaz, Programming Director Carol Cowles, and company, definitely kept up the good work in 2014. The panel topics were many, varied, useful to writers and

Writing Hardcore Characters James Maxey Moderates

Writing Hardcore Characters
James Maxey Moderates

fascinating to readers. As both a reader and a writer I found the two below the most intriguing of them all and among the most insightful I’ve ever attended. I’ve listed a few key points from each.

Writing Hardcore Characters
Panel description: Creating strong, kickass characters
Panelists: T. Eric Bakutis, Jim Bernheimer, Stuart Jaffe, J.F. Lewis, Claudette Marco. Moderator: James Maxey

A hardcore, kickass character:

  •   is more concerned with what s/he sees as is right than with personal loss or danger.
  •   will do whatever the job requires, whatever the job is, whatever the danger or fallout.
  •   is very clear on what s/he is fighting for. Killing isn’t the point. The quest/crusade is.
  • Note: it is the heart and spirit of such a character, not the cause s/he is fighting for, that creates the hard, unyielding, steadfast core.

Issues in writing a hardcore/kickass character:

Writing Hardcore Characters Michael G. Williams and Claudette Marco

Writing Hardcore Characters
Michael G. Williams and Claudette Marco

  •   This character begins so strong and determined that changes leading to his/her development in the course of the story can be hard to find.
  •   Is there a tiny crack in the armor s/he has been living with from the start?
  •   What will s/he do when the goal becomes impossible?
  •   The character must stay true to self, however the self may change.
  •   Talk is cheap. Let the reader see him/her doing the things that make them kickass.
  •   For comparison, pair him/her with a sidekick (sidekickass?) who is less competent, or much more competent in different ways.

The Art of the Anti-Hero (very likely also kicks some ass)
Panel description: There’s a fine line between creating the lovable rogue and creating a dislikable cad. Here’s how to walk the fine line.

The Art of the Anti-hero Jim Bernheimer, J.F.Lewis, Alexandra Christian, Tamsin Silver, Michael G. Williams, Moderator Allen Wold

The Art of the Anti-hero
Jim Bernheimer, J.F.Lewis, Alexandra Christian, Tamsin Silver, Michael G. Williams, Moderator Allen Wold

Panelists: Jim Bernheimer, Alexandra Christian, Emily Lavin Leverett, J. F. Lewis, Tamsin L. Silver, Moderator: Allen Wold

Varieties of the Lovable Rogue:

  •   Good guy with faults and/or flaws.
  •   Bad guy with some redeeming values.
  •   Shoots first, but on the right side.
  •   Has an iron-clad code of conduct, but it’s not our code.
  •   Does the bad thing to stop the horrible thing.

Varieties of the Dislikable Cad:

  •   Willing to do anything to satisfy his/her own wants.

    The Art of the Anti-hero Allen Wold Moderates

    The Art of the Anti-hero
    Allen Wold Moderates

  •   Committed to own cause, won’t be balked by the sensibilities of others.
  •   Pursues own motivations which, this time, line up with the protagonist’s or the need at hand.
  •   Has an iron-clad code of conduct, but it’s definitely not our code.

Differences between the Hero, the Anti-hero and the Villain:

  •   The hero sets out to sacrifice him/herself for the cause, the anti-hero is surprised when it happens.
  •   The hero does what s/he must to benefit the other, the villain does what s/he must to benefit him/herself.
  •   The hero and anti-hero are capable of setting aside their own motivations. The villain cannot or will not.
  • Note: Everyone is the hero of his/her own story.

My thanks to all these panelists. I will read such characters much more intelligently, and hopefully write them as intelligently as these writers do, in times to come.

Photography courtesy of Judith W. Ross.