Friday, February 14, 2020

Valentine's Day Special: Beauty and the Bard {Tiria}

Ok, so this is not actually a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but I was stuck for a title, so there you go. Anyway. For Valentine's Day, my D&D players requested that I write a short story about how two of the romantically-involved NPCs, Lady Tiria Serys (aka the chief quest-giver) and Ardent the bard (aka Bardent), met. (They all ship this couple to some degree or another. It's great and makes me SO PROUD.) Since I was already planning to write a Valentine's Day short story, I happily complied . . . and then, because I'm an overachiever, I decided to write two versions of the story, one from each perspective. You'll find Lady Serys's side of things here, and you can hop over to my other blog to get Ardent's version. (They're more different than you'd expect.) Hopefully, this will be reasonably enjoyable even for people who aren't in my D&D campaign.



Beauty and the Bard: Tiria's Story

Sometimes, Tiria wondered if elves thought humans had exceptionally dull hearing or if they knew and simply didn’t care.

All that afternoon — ever since she arrived in Kerath, honestly — the stares and whispers had followed her. She’d thought perhaps the gala this afternoon would be an escape. It was meant to be in her honor, after all, a welcome to the newest member of the ruling nobility in Croishaid. But if anything, the tide of hushed voices behind her back had swelled. And even with a group of court bards working their calming spells and songs, she felt the mingled shame and frustration bubbling and ready to burst.

She glanced up to see a trio of elven nobles bent together, staring at her. As she did, they hastily straightened up, spreading smiles over their faces as if to hide the fact that they’d been gossiping a moment before. Tiria’s grip tightened on her glass. A year ago, those same people had offered her sympathy on her father’s failing health and congratulated her on how bravely and faithfully she tended to him and the duties he could not attend. Yet now, when she only sought to carry on his legacy, they stared at her. Scorned her.

She couldn’t take this anymore. She set down the cup on the tray of a passing servant, spun, and hurried into the relative privacy of the hedge maze that surrounded the celebration pavilion. She felt the stares following her, and her emotions swelled as she passed out of range of the bards’ spells. What had changed between a year ago and now?

Foolish question. She knew what had happened. Her father — by adoption, not blood, but no less true for all that — had finally succumbed to a long, devastating illness and joined the Divine in the heavens. And she had turned from a perceived charity project taken a bit far to a ruling noble without a bloodline or heritage. To the elves of Kerath, she was a wild card; to the other human nobles, she was an interloper. And so they gossiped. They looked for rumors to discredit her. And false as she knew most of those rumors were, that didn’t stop them from stinging.

The music faded into the distance, and Tiria stopped and sank onto a bench to compose herself. Her shoulder shook with barely-contained frustration and anger. She shouldn’t have left, she knew. She should have stayed. Departing only fed the whispers. Only showed that they held power over her. But, calming spells or not, she didn’t think she could have held out much longer. Not with the things they’d said about her father, her mother. Not with her grief a mere four-months raw.

Deep breaths, Tiria. She shut her eyes and focused on that. On the in-and-out of every breath. Divine help me, will this be my life forever? Perhaps she should never have agreed when her father told her that he wanted her to be his heir, not just his daughter, back when the illness was new.

Jaunty music invaded her bubble of calm. Tiria’s eyes popped open, and she stiffened, looking in the direction of the sound. A moment later, a man rounded the corner, plucking the strings of a lute and humming, a pensive look on his face. He looked like the people of the Errance court — dark-haired and dark-eyed and copper-skinned. But his formal finery was gold and green, the colors of no nation, and he wore no symbol pinned to his tunic or short cape. One of the hired bards, then, or some adventurer friend of Lord and Lady Kerath.

“What are you doing here?” The words came out more snappish-sounding than Tiria intended. “The party is back there.”

He stopped walking, though not playing. “So I’m aware, oh lovely lady. But they have musicians enough there already. If I did not wander this maze, who would provide fine music for pretty ladies like yourself?” He smiled, then — audacity! — winked.

“Perhaps I do not prefer music just now.” With effort, Tiria schooled her expression into her best imitation of Lord and Lady Kerath’s imperious stares. “If I did, I should not be here, listening to your playing.”

“Ah, you wound me!” He did not look particularly wounded. “A poem, then? Or an epic tale? Or perhaps simply conversation? It’s hardly right that a lady like yourself should be left alone in distress.”

“And how do you know I am in distress?”  Tiria snapped. “Sir bard, if you are lost, the party is down this path. And if you are not, and you will not leave, then I shall.” With that, she picked up her skirts, brushed past the bard, and hurried deeper into the maze.

All she wanted was to be left alone. All she wanted was for one person to look at her as they had before she was Lady Serys, not Lady Tiria. Was that so much to ask?

~~~

A hum of conversation filled the teahouse as Tiria entered, her servants and guards stripping off from her at the door. A dark-haired young woman greeted her with a bow and escorted her to one of the low tables that filled the room, assuring her that tea would be out in the moment and inquiring if anyone would be joining her.

Tiria shook her head mutely, already aware of the sideways glances of the noble and wealthy sitting at some of the other tables. There were fewer of those than there had been last week — that was some blessing. Perhaps with time, all would accept that, regardless of her parentage, she’d been given this position fairly. Perhaps she could eventually earn their true respect. Eventually.

As she waited for her tea to be brought out, she studied the teahouse. A dozen delicate scents flowed through the air, pulled from cups and pots on round tables and trays. Elves, gnomes, and halflings dressed in pale blues, greens, and pinks wove through the tables, checking on guests. Eventually, her eye was drawn to the chairs in the corner set out for musicians. Though the quiet string piece suggested a quartet at least, only one bard sat there, strumming a lute. He seemed somehow familiar, dark-haired and smiling . . .

Tiria frowned as she placed him. The bard from the party. The rude one. Well, not rude, perhaps. But he had been a bit overly set on keeping her company when she just wanted to be alone.
The bard looked in her direction, met her eye. Tiria felt her cheeks redden as she realized she’d been caught staring now. She hastily looked away — because, of course, she had to make it even more obvious. Wonderful work, Tiria. Wonderful.

The tea tray arrived: a blown glass teapot, a wirework basket of leaves, a delicate teacup, a plate of fruit, teacakes, and such. The woman who’d brought it delicately placed the basket in the pot and poured boiling water into it from a second pot, this one metal with the telltale runes of a heat spell inscribed along its base. Tiria watched; she’d been told that the experience of coming here was half the pleasure, but for all the care and ritual, it still seemed like nothing more than a pot of tea and a plate of sweets.

The woman bowed and departed. Tiria picked up a strawberry and nibbled at it distractedly. She should have found someone to come with her. She was the only one here eating alone. Foolish, that it bothered her. Six months ago, even six days ago, it wouldn’t have. She’d have rejoiced in time to herself. Now the lack of a person — a friend, an ally, even an opponent — across from her felt as shameful as if she’d walked out without half her clothes on.

The music changed, shifting to another gentle, elegant tune. Tiria tensed — this was one of the most common songs used for a calming spell — but no suppressing blanket settled over her mind.
“Pardon me, my lady, but you seem to be drinking alone. Is that true, or might I be able to remedy that?”

Tiria looked up. There was the bard standing by her table, his lute on his shoulder and a smile on his face. “You again?”

“Indeed. I fear we started off on the wrong foot last time we met.” He bowed. “My name is Ardent, as in, ‘ardent admirer of your beauty.’ And your name, my lady?”

Ardent. The name, coupled with the face, seemed familiar for some reason. Or perhaps he had mentioned it the other day and she’d forgotten. “T- Serys.” Would she ever get used to introducing herself as her country first and her own self second? “Tiria Serys.”

“An honor to meet you, Lady Serys. I have heard about you — all good things, of course.” He gestured to the empty chair across from her. “So, may I join you?”

“If you must.”  Tiria raised an eyebrow at him the way her father so often had at her when she was younger and more foolish. “I would think you had work to do.”

“As you may see, my lady, I am on break and can think of no better way to spend it than speaking with a noble woman such as yourself.” The bard sat, stretching his legs in front of him with one knee crossed over the other. “I apologize for the other day. I thought to help, but instead forced myself upon you.”

“Your apology is accepted.” Tiria sipped her tea, watching the bard’s hands. The thought that he might be an assassin who wanted to poison her tea had just crossed her mind. “But — you force yourself upon me today instead?”

“I did ask today. You could easily have said no, or this bard is annoying me; someone call the guard and have him hauled off to a jail cell. I’m told that’s a perk of being nobility.” The bard grinned cheekily at her. “I quite appreciate your not taking advantage of that particular power just yet.”

“Yet.” Tiria took another sip of tea, then picked up a teacake from the tray. She nudged the tray towards the bard. “So why approach me again?”

The bard took a lemon teacake and broke it in half thoughtfully. “I enjoy making friends. And I thought perhaps you could use one, if you would give me the time of day.” He glanced over at her. “If I may say so, my lady, I’ve heard the whispers. I’ve seen the looks. It’s not an easy thing to suddenly find yourself the target of every gossip-monger and evil-eyed old noble in the city, let alone half the continent.”

“It isn’t, no.” The words slipped out before Tiria could stop them. She stiffened, pulled her reserve back together. What was she thinking? Being so open with a stranger? “And how would you know about that?”

“I’m a bard, my lady. It comes with the territory.” He sighed. “And I’ve caught my share of scorn for other reasons as well.”

A green-clad server approached the table carrying another cup and pot of tea. She set it down on the bard’s side of the table. “Your tea, sir.”

“Thank you,” the bard said, then, once the server moved off, he looked at Tiria. “Does my memory deceive me, my lady, or do I fail to recall your ordering tea for me?”

“I didn’t. You didn’t order it?”

“No.” The bard opened the lid of the teapot and sniffed the steam. He wrinkled his nose, made a few brief motions, muttered something. In response, the steam rising from the pot turned green. “Poisoned, as I thought. Do you happen to see the Ladies Errance anywhere about?”

Tiria scanned the teashop. “I see Lady Morrigan Errance just over there.” She nodded towards the far side of the tearoom, where the red-haired woman sat with a dark-haired man — Tareth Errance, Tiria was fairly sure, Morrigan’s husband of six months.

“Ah.” Ardent sighed. “That’s a pity. It seems that would be my cue to leave.” He stood and bowed. “Thank you for letting me share your time, my lady. I hope we’ll meet again sometime.”

“I imagine we will. You seem to have a knack for it.” Tiria watched him head for the door, eyes narrowed. What would Morrigan Errance care about a simple bard? He wasn’t bad enough to have offended her musical sensibilities, nor did he seem the type to have impugned upon the younger Lady Errance’s honor. Was he just putting on airs to impress her, making out that he’d gotten poisoned tea?

Maybe. Or perhaps . . . Tiria took another sip of her own tea. She needed a distraction from the whispers. A bit of research into the current generation of Errances would be just the thing.

~~~

The bard found Tiria again three days later, as she stood at the edge of Lord and Lady Kerath’s great hall, watching the dancers spin and step their way through an Elvish triavima. Without taking her gaze off the dance, Tiria addressed the bard. “I expected you would be away by now.”

“I had some business to finish. And I did hope I would be find a way to run into you one last time.” He stepped forward, into her field of vision, and bowed, offering his hand. “Will you deign to dance with a lowly bard, Lady Serys?”

“Wait until the next dance, unless you wish to have to drag me along.” Tiria shook her head wryly. “I don’t think the elves who invented this dance designed it for humans to participate in.”

“True. They didn’t consider that some people bounce rather than floating.” The bard laughed.

Tiria glanced at him, trying to decide whether to ask her question now or later. Later. When we’re on the floor. That will be safer.

They stood in silence until the dance ended a few minutes later and a waltz began. Then, the bard took Tiria’s hand and led her onto the floor. As they took their positions, Tiria said, “You know, after our last meeting, I began wondering why Lady Morrigan would bother trying to poison you. At first, I thought it was simply an odd way of putting on airs. But then I realized that you’d never told me your last name.”

“So I didn’t.” The bard nodded. “And that made you draw another conclusion?”

“That made me do research to refresh my memory. I had forgotten that Lady Morrigan had a brother. He disappeared three years ago, just after completing two years after the Bardic Academy here in Kerath City.” Tiria stepped into a turn. As she came back around, she looked Ardent in the eye. “It’s rather bold of you to use your own name when you’re in hiding, isn’t it?”

“I should have known you’d figure it out. You’re far too brilliant not to.” Ardent grinned sheepishly. “I admit that it would be wise to leave my name behind entirely, but I’m rather attached to it. Usually, I manage to vanish into the hills within a day or two of my sister’s arrival in any city, before she can make another attempt to secure her place as heir. But this time, I had something I wanted to do that I thought was worth the risk.”

“Oh? And what was that?” Tiria raised an eyebrow at him.

“Meeting you again, my lady.” He gave her a dazzling smile. “And it has, indeed, been worth the risk.”

Risking his life simply to meet her. That was odd. Almost unnerving. But . . . not necessarily a bad thing. Not when he’d shown no ill intentions towards her all this time. “I’m honored. And now that you have, in fact, met me on three occasions, what do you intend to do?”

“Depart again — as soon as this event ends, in fact. Much as I wish I could remain longer, I suspect that an extended stay would put others in danger — you included. Morri is, unfortunately, quite ruthless.” Ardent sighed. “It’s the wilderness for a week or two at least after this. After that, who knows? It’s a wanderer’s life for me.”

“I see.” The music began to draw to a close. Tiria took a deep breath. Before she could think too much about it, she said, “If you ever happen to be in Serys City and in need of a place to stay, a good bard is always welcome in my hall.”

Ardent blinked, staring as if someone had just dropped a dragon’s hoard before him and told him it was all his. “My lady . . .” He recovered, a smile spreading back across his face. “Thank you. Shall I take that as an indication that I haven’t offended you too much these past few meetings?”

“You’ve been a friendly face among too many hostile stares, even if you do have a habit of pushing your way into others’ business. Even at home, I can use another ally and friend.” Tiria quirked a smile “Should I expect to see you sometime, then?”

“Undoubtedly.” The dance ended, and Ardent bowed low, brushing his lips over the back of Tiria’s hand. “Thank you, Lady Serys. Goodbye for now.”

“Goodbye, Ardent. Until we meet again.”

Well, there you have it. What did you think of the story? Would you be interested in hearing more stories from the world of my campaign? Please tell me in the comments!
Happy Valentine's Day, and thanks for reading!
-Sarah Pennington

Friday, February 7, 2020

Elements That Make (or Break) a World

Hey'a, everyone! It is February, and that means it's Fantasy Month in the bit of the blogosphere that Jenelle Schmidt influences, including this blog! This year's themes are Worldbuilding and Fantasy Creatures, so most of my Friday 5s posts this month will align with one of those two things, or at least with the general Fantasy Month theme in general. And today, we're talking about worldbuilding elements that really make (or sometimes break) a world for me. These range from the big and mostly-obvious to the small and easily overlooked, but they're all things that, if done well, will take a world to the next level (in my opinion).

Also, on a side note, I'm still taking requests for a Valentine's Day short story over on my author Facebook page. I'm open to suggestions involving almost any character or couple from a story or book I've previously published or shared about in a book or blog, along with a situation or prompt of some kind. So, if you have requests, leave them in the comments on that post. Or, if you don't like FB, you can leave them on this post.


February is Fantasy Month:
Elements That Make (or Break) a World

  1. Language. I don't mean "inventing a whole new language," though if you can do that well, that's great. I'm talking about how people talk, the expressions and exclamations and slang and references they use. Besides setting the world apart from Earth, it tells you a lot about the culture of a particular location and what they value as opposed to other countries in that world. Also, because these expressions usually reference the lore of the world, they help keep significant figures in view and show you the impact those figures have had on particular cultures. Just as an example, you can look at the exclamations in the Tales of Goldstone Wood — in particular, comparing those used in Heartless, Dragonwitch, and Golden Daughter. In Heartless, of course, you have a great deal of "Dragon's teeth!" and "Dragons eat you!" (For those curious: that's where I got it from.) In Dragonwitch, which is set in the same country but significantly earlier, you tend to get "Dragons blast you" — similar, but slightly different. (At least, if I recall correctly you do.) But then in Golden Daughter, you have basically no mention of dragons in the exclamations. Instead, people tend to refer to Lume (who may have had a different name; but same idea). Why? For one thing, Lume is a significant figure in their culture, but more significantly, they don't have experience with dragons (which makes the events of the book even more significant).
  2. Lore. Ok, so obviously this one is important. You have to have legendary figures for your heroes to look up to. And you need to have a history of your world. But making that lore believable can be tricky; it has to be more than stories told by a bard or legends lost to time. The deciding factor? How people reference it and how it affects present events. Everyone isn't going to know every piece of lore perfectly well, and some people will have differing views, recollections, or interpretations of events. (On a side note, fantasy academia — like, real academia — makes me happy. Sanderson does this really well in the Stormlight Archive. You have Jasnah's research, of course, but you also get a lot of it in Oathbringer, even including a lot of research and scholarly debate snippets in the epigraphs, and it's awesome.) And those differing views will have effects on the current culture; a person regarded as a hero by one country may be considered the villain by another.
  3. Religion. Ok, this one is really hard to get right, and I fully acknowledge that I also don't do the best job of it. But I really appreciate it when fantasy authors put thought into the religions of their worlds instead of having a vague psuedo-Christianity or vaguer psuedo-paganism. If nothing else, put a name to the being that people are worshipping — but better still is when authors give an idea of how those beings are worshipped. Hilari Bell, author of the Knight and Rogue series, does a pretty fair job of this — she has two specific deities revered by the people, and she gives us an idea of some of the celebrations, rituals, and so forth involved in that. I'll also mention Leigh Bardugo and her Grishaverse books here. She doesn't always do an amazing job here — I'm still a bit confused about what the pumpernickel Ravka's spiritual situation is supposed to be — but the Six of Crows duology handles it a bit better, as you have two groups (the Djel and the people of Ketterdam) who acknowledge a deity and live in a way that's affected by that deity.
  4. Clothing, especially unique clothing. Speaking of the Grishaverse: I have read all the published books in this storyworld and I still have no idea what a kefta looks like, other than the fact that certain colors have certain significance, it's at least sometimes made of wool, and it can be low-cut. Beyond that, who knows? And that's an example of something that pulled me out of the story a little the first several times I encountered it. Contrast that with Sanderson and the clothing in Roshar. We have a few significant types of clothing in this world, most notably the havah. And in this case, I do have some idea of what it is because Sanderson gives us the essential elements (dress, formfitting upper, left hand covered) in the text, while also acknowledging variation in the styles. It's a small detail, but it helps make the world a little more real and tells me something about the culture. That said, even just acknowledging colors of garments can have an impact — Jill Williamson does this in various ways in the Blood of Kings series.
  5. Money. Which, as I was just discussing with Jenelle last night, next to no fantasy author actually pays a whole lot of attention to. That's kind of odd, but I don't do any better — we all tend to write characters who are utterly broke and wandering around the woods or who are so wealthy that money doesn't matter. As per the usual, Sanderson is the exception and actually does have reasonably explicit money systems in Scadrial and Roshar (not surprising in the former case, since it starts off with a heist). Interestingly, if I recall correctly, Hilari Bell also did a pretty solid job of this — again, not surprising since one of the characters is a former thief used to stretching his funds as much as they'll go.
Is it possible to make a great world that I'll genuinely want to visit without including all, or even any, of these elements? Of course. (I mean, the world of Howl's Moving Castle includes next to none of these until you get to the sequels, and Ingary is still one of the top worlds I'd like to have an extended stay in.) But they do go a long way towards making a good world really great.
What do you think? What elements of worldbuilding would you say make the most difference in making or breaking a world? Any Valentine's Day story requests? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Friday, January 31, 2020

January 2020: First DOINGS of the DECADE!

Hey'a, everyone! It is the last day of January and a Friday, and that means it's time for the first Doings post of the decade! WOOT WOOT. I have no idea why I'm making such a big deal about this, but it's something different, so we're going with it. Anyway. January's been one of those months where it feels like it's actually two or three months stuck into one, so that's been interesting. We'll see how much I remember to recap.

Writing!

  • So, as far as writing quantity goes, I'm doing great. My goal was 300 words or 30 minutes of writing per day, five days a week, and though the start of the month was a little rough, I had some really good days and I currently have a really nice streak going. My total for the month so far is 24,214 words, not counting whatever I write today.
  • The majority of that has been on D&D stuff, both because that has a closer deadline (I need to have a new session every Friday) and because D&D is currently easier to write than my novel. Around the beginning of the month, I planned out all the episodes for the semester, so I just have to expand my summaries into actual playable session outlines.
  • I've gotten some done on Blood in the Earth/Soil, but not as much as I'd like. Again, D&D is higher priority and easier, and all the bits of my novel that I'm really excited about seem very far away. I mean, yes, they'd be closer if I worked on the bits that I'm writing now, but . . . yeah. I did manage to finish one notebook and start a second, though, which is exciting!
  • (D&D is going great, though. We've had two sessions so far this month — we had to call off one because of someone's birthday — and everyone seems to be having a good time. And I'm putting Plans in motion, and everyone just hit level 5 and it's all very exciting for me.)

Reading!

  • I really haven't read a lot in January — I've been knitting, and I haven't had many gaps between classes and such in which to sneak a few chapters.
  • I finished King of Scars literally the day before Christmas break ended, and I have kind of mixed feelings about it. In all fairness, I really should have realized that, no duh, reading Nina's POV would be a constant reminder of that one bit at the end of Crooked Kingdom that I really disliked. Somehow, Zoya ended up being the best POV character in the story, which is impressive given how much I disliked her in the original trilogy.
  • Two of my other main reads were retellings: Shadowkeeper (Hades and Persephone crossed with Castor and Polux) and A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Beauty and the Beast). Shadowkeeper was a great concept with an execution that was ok but could have been better (though it's still worth the 99 cents that it currently costs as an ebook). A Curse So Dark and Lonely has been on my TBR list for a while and is definitely one of the better Beauty and the Beast retellings I've read. The characters were great, and, wonder of wonders, people actually tried to communicate with each other after they argued instead of being huffy and stubborn. WILL WONDERS NEVER CEASE. Also, it's excellently twisty.
  • I'm finishing up the month by rereading the Illuminae Files, which I intended to do over Christmas break but didn't have time to read. I thought I'd just hold off on them until my next break, but then I ended up with a spare hour Monday afternoon during which I was too tired to do anything productive, and I was right next door to the library, so I figured I'd see if they had the first book . . . and they did, so I reread it in three days, and it was just as good as I remembered it. I think the reread was made better not just by the fact that I could pick up hints and clues and such but also by the fact that I took the AI class last spring and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey as a part of that, so I was reading the bits about AIDAN kind of in light of what I'd gotten then. I'm currently partway through Gemina, which is also as excellent as I remembered. (Actually better, since I'm attached to Nik this time around.)
  • I'm also keeping one of my reading goals and reading outside the speculative fiction genre! Currently, I'm reading How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems, which is the most recent book by Randall Munroe (aka the guy behind XKCD and What If?). It is, as you might expect, excellent and hilarious and highly enjoyable. Absolutely would recommend.

Watching!

  • I really didn't watch a whole lot this month. I saw about two-fifths of The Scarlet Pimpernel (the one with Ian McKellen in it) and thought it wasn't bad, though I didn't get to the part that I actually wanted to see (aka the part that's the book proper and not the flashback material put in chronological position). It was long and late and I wasn't feeling well, though, so I didn't finish.
  • The roommate and I have also started watching (rewatching in her case) season two of Avatar: The Last Airbender. We've gotten through the first 2 episodes, which includes the "Cave of the Two Lovers" episode. That . . . was a thing. Also, Sokka in that episode is basically me during a lot of D&D.

Life!

  • In case anyone was curious: the homemade artisan bread that I was working on when I posted my last Doings post was delicious. The loaves fused oddly, which wasn't great, but they tasted amazing. Definitely going to make those again once I'm home.
  • But there will not be any baking for a while because, guess what, I'm back at Cedarville.
  • For my last semester.
  • Please insert the appropriate nervous screaming noises here. (If you've lived in the same dorm as me for any length of time, you probably have a pretty accurate idea of what that sounds like.)
  • Anyway, yes. It's my last semester. I'm enjoying most of my classes, and even the two classes that I'm not crazy for, I like the people there and I'm glad to be taking one last class with them, if nothing else.
  • But I'm basically in two web design classes (Web Design II and my independent study) and it's a lot, but I'm really enjoying it. Coding and scripting and such are weirdly satisfying in a way that graphic design and writing aren't, and I can't really explain why, but yeah. It's great. I like it. There's about a 30% chance that I'm going to find a way to work these skills into my PWID professional project (read; basically a pre-capstone project), though it kind of depends on what my professor and I decide.
  • I'm also back in a class where the amount I talk during discussions actually affects my grade, and it's surprisingly hard to adjust after a full semester (possibly a full year?) with no classes like that.
  • Outside of classwork: my roommate got Sentinels of the Multiverse (aka one of my favorite strategy games ever) for Christmas, so we've been playing that a fair bit whenever we both have a decent chunk of spare time. I've gotten to test out different heroes, which is fun. My favorites are definitely Fanatic (basically a paladin with wings; she smites evil a bunch and occasionally heals people) and Chrono-Ranger (time-traveling cowboy and bounty hunter whose effectiveness is directly proportional to how many bounties he has out at any given time). I've also determined that how much I enjoy playing a character is determined as much by aesthetic as it is by mechanics.
  • My online D&D group is also still going strong. We had some MAJOR REVELATIONS dropped on us, not last session but the session before that, and some of us are still processing that, but we have a very clear objective in front of us right now, which is nice! And it does not involve negotiating with dragons other than the one in the party! Which my character is very happy about!
  • Also this month was CU Lead, which is a leadership conference that all org officers are required to go to. It was not a fabulous day — it rained, some of the vital conference information was only available in an app that I couldn't download, and there were a lot of people. But it was a lot more helpful than last year's conference, with more practical advice and less theory and devotional-type stuff, so that's good.
  • Additional not-terrible thing: CU Lead was the Saturday before MLK Day, and for the first time ever, we got MLK Day off from classes. So we had that day to make up all the homework and social stuff we didn't have time for on Friday, at least. And the chem club had a game night that evening, which was fun. (Oddly, the chem club game night was more fun than the Inklings game night this past week, even though I knew fewer people by far. I think it has to do with the personality dynamics of the people in the club.) And my roommate and I went to the Mexican restaurant down in the town for lunch, which was completely and utterly delicious.

February Plans

  • I have two basically-final projects that I plan to start this month (my Honors colloquium project and my aforementioned professional project) and it's so weird to think about that. Plus, of course, I have the usual projects and reading and such.
  • Writing-wise, I plan to keep going with roughly the same goal as I had this past month, but I'm upping the amount a little to 500 words or 30 minutes of writing, 5 days a week. I could probably go even higher if I wanted to, but I don't want to overdo anything, especially since I don't know how much time class projects will take up.
  • That writing, by the way, will hopefully include at least one, maybe two, Valentine's Day short stories (because it sounds like fun and I currently don't get to write any romantic scenes in my WIP). Watch for more about that on my Facebook page sometime today or tomorrow.
  • February also means Blind Date with a Book at the Cedarville University library, which I am super psyched for! I'm curious how they're going to handle it this year, but I'm sure it'll be great. I'm going to read so many books this month, haha.
  • Outside of that, D&D and orgs and such will probably proceed as per the usual. I do have a couple D&D and other tabletop RPG one-shots that I'm either running or participating in, which I'm excited for. (The one-shot I'm running is set in Eberron, which means I get to be steampunky and I get to mess around with an artificer NPC, so that'll be super fun.)
  • And, yeah. That's pretty much it. But I think it should be plenty to keep me busy.
How was your January? Have you been able to keep any of your resolutions or goals from the start of the New Year? What plans do you have for February? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Friday, January 24, 2020

If Baili Met Breen (And Related Potentialities)

So, the other day, I was contemplating the fact that I write an awful lot of multilingual characters for someone who's solidly monolingual. (I really do, if you haven't noticed. I have more multilingual characters than monolingual ones.) And that started my thoughts down another trail: what would happen if the main characters of Blood in the Snow and Mechanical Heart met? Who would get along well? Who would fight? Granted, it's not something that's likely to happen (given the current lack of the appropriate magical and technological knowledge on both ends), but if it did . . . and if they somehow could understand one another despite different languages and deafness and whatnot . . . Well, I had such fun imagining the possibilities that I just had to share.
 

If Baili Met Breen (And Related Potentialities)

  1. Baili and Josiah bond surprisingly quickly over their similar roles in their stories/worlds. It's not, like, instant friendship, but Josiah's good at drawing people out, and he and Baili quickly find their common ground (they're both royalty, both working for the rights and benefits of a lower class, both dealing with court life and all that comes with it). They share stories, which turns into sharing strategies, which turns into an all-out "ideal society, what's it look like" discussion. They also compare notes on people trying to kill them, 'cause that's also a shared experience. Meanwhile, Chouko and Luis also bond pretty quickly over their shared roles as reason-speakers to idealistically heroic royalty.
  2. Xiang kind of geeks out a bit over Breen and Luis's inventions. Fun fact that comes up a little in Blood in the Snow and a lot in Blood in the Earth/Soil: the Liu dynasty is known for being particularly interested in scholarship and study of the world, and Xiang is no exception. And while his primary interests are medicine and magic, not engineering and invention, he still finds Luis and Breen's work really storming cool. Breen doesn't entirely know what to do with his particular brand of enthusiasm, but Luis quite enjoys getting to show off a bit. (Xiang also pulls Baili over to see the inventions that he finds most interesting; Baili is also very impressed but not as excited.)
  3. Regardless of what communication-enablers are put in place, Gan and Baili both get Grace, Josiah, and Breen to teach them some sign. It's actually Gan, not Baili, who makes the request, but Baili joins in as soon as she realizes what's going on. They both pick it up reasonably well for the amount of time they have, but Gan is both better at it and more into it than Baili is. (This is partially because Gan's attitude is "I can think of five different ways to use this, also, languages are interesting," while Baili's attitude is "This is reasonably interesting and a fun bonding experience!")
  4. Because it's in the title and must, therefore, be mentioned: Baili and Breen get along, but definitely are not instant best-buddies or even instant friends. They both respect each other and what the other has had to go through and is now trying to accomplish, but neither one leaves their encounter thinking "Ah, yes, I would go out of my way to spend time with this person again at a later point." And they're both honestly pretty ok with that. Baili, as has already been mentioned, prefers spending time with Josiah (and also Grace), and Breen finds Chouko, Azuma, and Gan a bit easier to deal with.
  5. Josiah, Breen, Baili, and Xiang are all rather concerned (to varying degrees) about the potential implications of Bloodgifts and blood alchemy if combined. The first time Bloodgifts come up, Josiah and Breen actually freak out a little (in the sense of "Wait, blood-based magic, we thought these were ok people, not blood alchemists . . . oh, wait, it's not blood alchemy, it's actually ok, no one is dying over this, we're fine"). And the first time blood alchemy comes up, the topic doesn't go very far before Xiang starts wondering (out loud) what would happen if the blood alchemists got their hands on the blood of someone like him or Baili, and should they possibly move to a more secure location with more guards (not that he and Baili couldn't protect themselves, of course, and not that they don't trust their friends to also protect them, but he has almost lost Baili once and he would rather not have it happen again). Everyone ends up fine in the end, of course, but it still causes some stress on both sides.
What about you? If you've read both Mechanical Heart and Blood in the Snow, what are some other interactions you think might occur if the casts of the two were to meet? Alternately, how do you think the cast of either Mechanical Heart or Blood in the Snow (or both) might interact with the cast of your WIP? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Dragon Types That We Don't See Enough

Hey'a, everyone! This week's post topic comes courtesy of my lovely roommate, who suggested it when I said I was going to write a dragon-themed post this week. (Why dragons? Yesterday, if you missed it, was Dragon Appreciation Day! I celebrated by posting pictures of my cute dragon stuffies on social media and writing a D&D episode featuring a dragon that most of my players appreciate quite a bit.) Today we're talking about dragon types and interpretations that we'd like to see more frequently in books and other media. I'm including some wished-for dragon types from my roommate, some from me, and some from both of us. Of course, if I'm putting it on this list, it's safe to assume that I'd like to see it more often too, so . . .

 Dragon Types That We Don't See Enough

  1. From my roommate and I: Asian-style dragons. Asian-type dragons, like a lot of Asian fantastical beings, are tragically underused in literature. I know they're featured in the Invisible Library series (yet another reason I love those books) and that's the only one I know for sure. But I feel like there's a lot of untapped potentials there . . . and I feel like certain authors (*cough*KyleRobertShultz*cough*) could have a lot of fun with interactions between Asian and Western dragons if they showed up in the same series.
  2. From my roommate: More human-shaped dragons. In the sense that they're dragons that can take on a humanoid form as well as their dragon form but they still act like dragons and they're not under a spell or whatever. (And yes, I have told her about Invisible Library and the Afterverse.) This is actually a pretty fun trope, one I've used in a few of my yet-to-be-published books, and I agree that it's rather underutilized. (At least, outside of sketchy fantasy romance novels . . . And, on that note, I'd like more of these human-shaped dragons to be not primarily objects of desire or desiring after other characters . . . can they just be friends with their non-dragon companions? Please?)
  3. From me: Dragons in more personalities and archetypes. At the moment, I feel like dragons get typecast a lot. You have the Kilgarrahs (ancient mentors who mostly give advice in varying degrees of crypticness), the Saphiras (loyal and dedicated companions who provide support and offer to eat antagonistic people), the Smaugs (villains of immense villainy), and the Celestes and Gymns (can be large or small but aren't on the same level as a human character). You do sometimes get dragons who play other roles, but those are comparatively rare, and I'd like that to change.
  4. From my roommate and I: Dragons with unusual and non-traditional hoards. Ok, yes, Jessica Day George did this and did it super well, but why is no one else doing it? Give us a literal book dragon. Give us a dragon who hoards blankets, the softer and cozier the better. Give us a dragon who hoards replica dragons, everything from statues to paintings to stuffed animals. As my roommate suggested, give us a dragon who hoards emotions or experiences and whose hoards' physical element seems to have no unifying factor because everything is connected to something bigger than itself. Or give us a dragon who has an obsession in place of a hoard. There are so many things you can do with this and no one is doing it. It's tragic.
  5. From my roommate and I: Intelligent pocket dragons. Look. We want all the other stuff on this list, yeah. But what we and everyone else really want? Tiny, brilliant, imperious dragons. Dragons that can fit in your pocket or ride on your shoulder but can think and communicate with all the devious, mischevious intelligence of a Saphira or a Smaug. Miniature grumpy librarian dragons. Mischevious dragon companions who get way too excited over puns and wordplay and riddles. The dragon equivalent of Bard Eanrin. Please, someone, make it happen.
What types or interpretations of dragons would you like to see more frequently? And have you read any books that feature dragons in the ways my roommate and I would like to see more of? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Actually Terrible AIs You Didn't Know You Needed

This post topic is brought to you by 7 A.M. Sarah, who apparently channels her inner Tumblr weird-blogger when she's tired. Have fun. 

What's a sci-fi story without a surprisingly human (or inhumane) AI? Ever since someone realized that you could use ones and zeroes and code to make computers seem like they can think and reason and make decisions and develop consciences, we've been sticking them in narratives left and right. It doesn't matter if it's strict sci-fi or sci-fi adjacent stories (like superhero narratives); a sufficiently cool AI makes everything better. Of course, a competent AI may make things too easy for our intrepid heroes. The solution? No, you don't make the AI the villain. You create an AI in the spirit of Wheatley and the useless box*, one that's mostly useless, yet more or less lovable. And if you have trouble coming up with one, never fear. I have a helpful list of five terrible AI ideas to get you started.


Actually Terrible AIs

  1. Sand(wich)Net. Originally intended for gathering and analyzing information on massive numbers of individuals for purposes of threat detection and defense, this AI, for reasons unknown, instead collected a huge database of peoples' favorite sandwiches. Despite numerous attempts to train it for other purposes, it always returns to sandwich data. Occasionally, however, its defense protocols will be triggered, at which point it will stop at nothing to keep the detected threat from getting their preferred sandwich type.
  2. InVisionary. This android was developed as a prototype of a new "race" that would live and work alongside humankind. Due to a mixup in programming, however, it communicates exclusively in motivational speaker quotes and bad web design advice. The project was mostly abandoned after this failure, though the android has developed a small internet fandom, mostly composed of people who believe that the android's shared quotes online hide a secret message.
  3. Future Explorer. This AI is intended to deliver accurate-as-possible predictions of future events of almost any type. And it does! It's amazingly accurate, in fact! The problem, unfortunately, is that it processes and loads so slowly that every prediction appears at least 24 hours after it would be helpful and/or relevant.
  4. CuriAIsity. Created by the small, optimistic portion of the InVisionairy team that didn't abandon the project, this android was intended to serve the same purpose as the original. However, when this android was turned on and its systems connected to the internet, the prevalence of cat pictures and videos on the web led the android to recognize cats and kittens, not humans, as the true masters of society. The android has since dedicated the rest of its existence to helping, serving, and caring for all of catkind that it encounters. Its makers attempted to use it as the foundation of a cat daycare and boarding center, but the center closed after the android refused to give up the cats it was entrusted with.
  5. CARL (Chronological Authority on Relevant Lore). CARL was designed to be a history-teaching tool that would allow students to "interact" with various historical figures, both famous and not. It worked very well until its chronologically-bound linguistic terms database got scrambled. It was quickly retired, but not before convincing a significant number of middle-schoolers of several linguistic improbabilities, notably the idea that George Washington and his contemporaries frequently used the term "Groovy."
Your turn! Share your terrible and useless AIs in the comments; I want to hear what you can come up with! Or just tell me which of these you'd most like to read or write about.
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

*Yes, I know, it's not actually an AI, but it got the point across, didn't it?

Friday, January 3, 2020

(Belated) November + December 2019 Doings!

It feels a little weird to be doing a recap post for November and December of last year after doing all my New Year 2020 posts earlier this week, not gonna lie. But I also know that if I don't do this post, I will eventually need to look back at it for some reason and then be frustrated that it doesn't exist. (For the record: I do occasionally go back and reread my Doings! posts, so this isn't out of the question.) So, let's get going. Because I'm covering two months, I'm going to try to stick to just the highlights and general themes — which is really going to be all I remember anyway.

Writing!

  • NaNoWriMo occupied most of November, obviously, and is 50% of why I basically didn't post at all in November. As you may or may not remember, my goal was to complete a nonfiction piece and a D&D episode every week, and I pretty much accomplished that. Was it anywhere near 50K? No. But I didn't think it would be, so I'm counting it as a win.
  • I have also determined that I have roughly the same relationship with creative nonfiction as I do with poetry: it can be fun to write, and I can do some really cool stuff with it, but it's not my natural state. I can't just sit down and write creative nonfiction if I haven't been mulling over an idea for a few days (a fact that caused more conflict than I'd like between my professor and me). Fantasy, on the other hand — if I'm not burned out and don't get distracted, I can sit down, review where I am in my novel or my campaign, and get a solid chunk of writing done regardless of how "inspired" I am.
  • But I did submit some of the pieces I did to actual lit journals and stuff, so we'll see if anything comes of that.
  • And Season 1 of my D&D campaign had a pretty good finish! Everyone had fun, and while the finale wasn't quite as awesome and amazing as I hoped (mostly because all the prelude to the final battle took waaaaay longer than I expected and we were all tired by then), I think it still worked well. And I've been working on Season 2 over break, and I have about half the episodes summarized. (Are they the half of the episodes I need? No. But they're there.)
  • In terms of actual novel-writing, I was able to write some over Christmas break. I've adjusted my novel's timeline a little to make certain things happen sooner than I originally planned. And I'm still trying to figure out how to get my POV characters to actually interact. But I'm excited about what's coming up, and I'm hoping that I'll be able to work on it a lot more this coming semester.
  • And, of course, I wrote the New Year's short story that I posted a few days ago! If you loved Luis in Mechanical Heart, you want to meet Luis, or you enjoyed last year's New Year's story, please do check it out!

Reading!

  • I actually read a surprising amount in November? Most of which I could've sworn was in October? But apparently, I did a lot of stress-reading.
  • Definite highlight of the two months: Sorcery of Thorns, which is basically one of my top three books of the whole year and absolutely amazing and yeah. In case you missed my Best of 2019 part two post, it's pretty much what might happen if someone took Howl's Moving Castle and crossed it with The Invisible Library and Abhorsen. So, yeah. It's amazing. Read it.
  • I've also been working through the Grishaverse books over Christmas break. So far, the original trilogy was ok but not amazing (other than Sturmhound, who is awesome), the Six of Crows duology is as excellent the second time around as it was the first, and the four chapters I've read of King of Scars are solid but cause considerable pain in the feels.
  • The main highlight from November was Death Be Not Proud, which is Snow White in jazz age New Zealand. It's every bit as good as that description implies, and I definitely recommend giving it a read.
  • Besides that, I read H.L. Burke's latest books, and both were pretty enjoyable. Heart of the Curiosity is steampunk, which Burke does well, and features a sister duo who I greatly appreciate. And Prince of Stars, Son of Fate was fun and twisty and somehow made the forbidden romance trope work in a way that I liked for once.
  • And, of course, I have to mention Heather Dixon Wallwork's The Enchanted Sonata, which is a pretty delightful retelling of The Nutcracker and which was my Christmas read for this year. It's more of an inspired-by sort of book, though, when it comes down to it . . . but, honestly, most Nutcracker retellings are more "inspired by" than "retelling." I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I don't think it had quite the same spark as the author's other books.

Watching!

  • I basically watched nothing at all at Cedarville, mostly because I didn't have time to watch anything.
  • At home, I watched the usual Christmas movies — A Charlie Brown Christmas, White Christmas, The Grinch. I finally watched the new version of the Grinch and thought that it was ok, but it's far less powerful than the original. (I have a long-ish diatribe on why that is, and it hinges a surprising amount on the Grinch's treatment of Max. If you're curious, ask in comments.)
  • I also watched a couple more episodes of Doctor Who (I'm almost done with Season 2), an episode of Psych, and the first two episodes of an anime called Made in Abyss because I needed something to do while knitting and didn't feel like listening to audiobooks. Doctor Who was good, though the episodes I watched were all a bit weird. Psych I watched because I'd seen two partial episodes while watching over friends' shoulders and enjoyed those, but I don't think it's a show that I'll continue watching on my own — the concept is fun; the humor and main character are more enjoyable when you're not watching alone. And Made in Abyss is . . . interesting? A bit weird, but the concept is good.
  • The most recent thing I watched (and possibly the best thing) was The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (as usual, I'm about a year behind everyone else). It was honestly a really good movie — it kind of felt as though someone had combined The Nutcracker with Entwined and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I saw a fair number of the twists coming, but not from a mile away, and artistically speaking, it was a pretty gorgeous film — frosted fairytale-toyland aesthetic with some delightful hints of steampunk throughout. A bit cliche at times, but still, I'd rewatch it.

Life!

  • The semester is over; glory hallelujah. It was a great assortment of classes, and I learned a lot of cool stuff, but I had too many high-workload classes and too many extracurricular responsibilities going on at the same time, and that became very apparent in November and December, and the quality of my work suffered because of it. And, yes, everything got done on time, and I'm fairly satisfied overall with how my final projects and exams and such turned out in terms of quality, I am not 100% satisfied with the grades I got. And I know it doesn't matter long term, but . . . yeah. It happened, and I'm going to leave all the school stuff there.
  • (I did learn how to do paperback binding, though! And actually bound multiple paperback books! And taught other people how to do it too! So that was cool.)
  • There were three highlights to November: birthday celebration, Thanksgiving, and cheese night.
  • For my birthday, my friends and I went to the new Mexican place that just opened in Cedarville and then went to the Ayo dance showcase, and it was a seriously awesome time. I'm not sure if I enjoyed the food or the showcase more, to be honest. But I do know that I'm definitely going back to the Mexican restaurant.
  • Thanksgiving was fun; my sister, my sister's roommate, and I drove back together, and we survived the trips both there and back. It was nice to have some relaxing time at home, and I got to do some baking. (I made two types of roll, one regular yeast and one sourdough, and both turned out well.)
  • And then when we got back, we had cheese night in my dorm. My roommate and I have been toying with this idea for a while; basically, we invite a bunch of people to get together, bringing with them assorted fun and fancy cheeses and things to eat with cheeses, like crackers and grapes and apples and sparkling cider, and then we just hang out and have a good time. And it was a very good time! Even though I was loopy for most of it! I ate much yummy food, and we played Avalon, and it was just generally a lot of fun.
  • December, of course, was mostly occupied by Christmas, which was had in stages: the TDK Christmas party in November (a success), Christmas with my roommate (featuring gingerbread cookies that she decorated while I did statistics homework, because situational irony is a thing), Christmas with the Bible study (featuring a kids' Christmas play that didn't involve people playing multiple roles, along with some very delicious baked potatoes and a surprising number of people my age) and Christmas at home (featuring me, as usual, working until the last minute to get knitted gifts done).
  • Christmas at home also featured a lot of baking; I made super soft molasses cookies two days before Christmas, sourdough pizza Christmas Eve, and a cranberry apple pie on Christmas day. (And I helped my mom with biscotti because I've never made it and want to learn how.) Everything was pretty delicious, even if my sister thought I put too much cheese on the pizza.
  • AND I FINALLY MADE A SOURDOUGH LOAF THAT WAS THE RIGHT SHAPE! Behold the beauty:
  • (And then I made another loaf for my aunt when she came to visit after Christmas and it was not as pretty. But oh well.)
  • (I'm also currently making a non-sourdough artisan loaf based on the latest baking challenge on Sally's Baking Addiction, and I'm super excited to see how it turns out.)
  • As I mentioned two points ago, my aunt and cousins came to visit after Christmas. It was nice to see them again, and we went to the Air and Space Museum while they were here, which I haven't been to in ages. I kind of ended up getting separated from the rest of my family at the very start of the museum . . . but it's fine. I had fun.
  • New Year's Eve was also pretty fun; we got together with our Bible study as usual for an early countdown and lots of good food. And I got to see some of my old friends who moved away two summers ago, so that was fun.
  • I feel like a lot of these highlights center around food. Mostly bread and cheese. I'm not entirely sure what that says about me.

January Plans

  • I already talked about writing plans in my 2020 Vision post, but as a recap: I'm aiming for 300 words or 30 minutes of writing per day on either my novel or my D&D campaign. I'm also going to try to start gathering some info that I need to figure out my rough publishing plan.
  • (I'm also messing around with a D&D one-shot for some friends who are interested in trying D&D but don't want to commit to a full campaign yet, so we'll see what happens with that. My main campaign takes first priority, obviously, but I have a rough outline for the one-shot, and . . . yeah. We'll see.)
  • Classes start up again next week, so obviously, that's going to take a lot of my time. I'm excited, though; I have my last two professional writing classes, two web design classes (well, one and a half), a graphic design class, and a one-credit honors class. And even though I have a 9 AM and an 8 AM, I have nothing in the afternoons any day except Monday (when I have the honors class), and I only actually have two hours of in-class lecture time per day (with, again, the exception of Monday). Online classes are glorious.
  • (I'm also hoping very much that I can do a repeat of last spring semester and get a couple weeks ahead on one of my web design classes so I'm not as stressed later on. That would be nice, but we'll see how it goes.)
  • Speaking of stress, as I mentioned in my 2020 Vision post, I really need to buckle down on figuring out the after-college stuff. So, applying for jobs, obviously . . . but also thinking about grad school? Maybe? My parents recently brought it up as a possibility that I should consider, so I need to figure out if it's worth doing now, later, or not at all. And obviously, that'll take longer than just January, but I need to meet with people and get advice and all that sort of thing.
  • Beyond that, most of my plans revolve around trying to make sure I have time to do fun stuff like watching Avatar and other shows with my roommate, actually going to Nerf wars (and maybe ASL club, if I manage to relearn enough of what I've forgotten), and having a board game night or two (assuming other people have time for that . . .). Y'know, fun stuff with friends, since I only have a few months left with most of them. (And now I'm sad . . .)
How were your November and December? Did you get any good books (or other stuff) for Christmas? What plans do you have for January? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)    

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020 Vision

Well, here we are: the start of a new year and a new decade. I’d like to say that it feels hopeful or weird or whatever, but, let’s be real: it feels a whole lot like yesterday did. After all, when you get right down to it, the first day of the New Year is just another day to which we arbitrarily assigned a particular meaning. There's nothing inherent about this particular sunrise that somehow lessens the problems of the time behind us or makes the time ahead of us more hopeful. We're still the same messy people we were yesterday; it's just that today, we have a little more motivation to try to be better.

All that said, it is a good time for looking back and looking forward. 2019, on the whole, was a pretty solid year, and I'm hoping 2020 will be equally solid. Admittedly, the last three or four months have been tough, but they're behind me and I have hope that the next five-ish months will be easier. So, let's get on with the review, shall we?

2019 Reviewed

Writing

  • Soooo the whole “set a writing goal every month” thing? Didn’t work out so well this year. And by that, I mean that I don’t think I ever explicitly set a monthly writing goal outside of NaNoWriMo once Mechanical Heart edits were done.
  • Actual writing quantity wasn’t bad, though. I wrote a total of 61,340 words and edited a total of 110,628 words. Some of those overlap, though, as major rewrites (like I did on much of Mechanical Heart) count in both categories. 
  • As far as the major writing goals I set last year:
    • I successfully edited and published Mechanical Heart, and so far the response has been largely positive. (Thanks muchly, everyone!)
    • I wrote somewhere between 30 and 50% of a new novel, Blood in the Earth/Soil. Obviously, I still have not decided on a title. My current plan is to get to the end of the book and decide which one is more thematically appropriate. 
    • I did not work on Dust of Silver or Once Upon a Dream. I thought a lot about Dust of Silver and its world and sequels — ok, mostly its sequels. Thinking about sequels makes me more likely to work on the initial book, though, so it’s something.
    • I also didn’t put together a rough publishing plan, as I was too busy actually publishing things the first half of the year and trying to write something to publish the second half of the year. Oops. 
  • Outside my original goals, I learned how to write creative nonfiction and wrote roughly a dozen creative nonfiction pieces of varying lengths. (I can’t actually post any of them because the professor requires us to submit things for publication in lit journals and such, but oh well.) I also write a D&D one-shot and half a campaign (with the other half to be written in the near future).

Reading

  • My final reading count for the year is ___ books. I initially set my goal at 77 books, and I raised it two or three times over the course of the year. I did read a lot of fairly short books at the beginning of the year, so that helped.
  • And I have once again failed in my attempt to read more old books unless you count the fact that I read all 12-ish Oz books back in February. I mean, that comes out to the same number as one book per month, but . . . they’re not as varied as I intended, that’s for sure.

Life

  • Despite the best efforts of last semester to murder me, I continue to survive in college. And now there’s only one semester left. What the actual pumpernickel.
  • I also continued my internship from two summers ago last summer. I put in fewer hours, but I’m still happy with the work I did. 
  • I did not make it to RealmMakers, mostly because money, but I did seriously consider it. I did go to Nashville, though, so that was cool.
  • I kind of dropped my language practice with both German and Irish midway through last February/March. I feel vaguely bad, but I had to much on my plate at the time, and I just never picked it back up.
  • I was selected as Honors secretary a second year. The dynamic of the board this year is very different from the year before, but it’s not a bad difference. I’m still enjoying the opportunity to help make my favorite org on campus happen.
  • I attended the first of probably-many weddings for people my age whom I consider friends. This isn’t actually an accomplishment, but it is a sort of milestone, so I’m mentioning it.
So, that was 2019 in a nutshell. Time for 2020 goals! As usual, these aren’t hard-and-fast things but rather things that I’d like to accomplish if possible.

2020 Goals

Writing

  • Even though it didn’t work as well as hoped in 2019, I once again want to set and achieve a writing challenge eleven out of twelve months. Part of the reason I failed this past year is that after I finished Mechanical Heart, I was too burned out to do as much writing as I felt I should be doing. Hopefully, if I allow myself a month without a writing challenge at some point during the year, I’ll be more likely to succeed the rest of the time.
    • My challenge for January is 300 words or 30 straight minutes of writing, editing, or worldbuilding per day, five days a week. I know 300 words is achievable, though not without a bit of effort; that’s just two or three pages in a notebook or a section or two in a D&D session plan. 30 minutes should also be doable, even once I’m back on campus, but it’ll help me stretch my writing stamina back to where it used to be.
  • What projects do I hope to accomplish this year?
    • I want to draft and edit Blood in the Earth/Soil and have it ready for publication in late 2020 or early 2021. I don’t think that the Arista Challenge is going to happen this year; the timeline as I understand it requires too quick a turnaround. (There’s a chance, but I’m not banking on it.) I still want to publish in 2020 if possible, though.
    • I also want to draft at least one short story/novelette set in that world. I have two ideas that I’ve been toying with, one that I came up with in the middle of editing Blood in the Snow and one that I thought up this past fall. Both focus on secondary or minor characters from Blood in the Snow, though only one is a fairy tale retelling. I’d like to write and release at least one of them this year, especially if Blood in the Earth/Soil gets pushed back to 2021.
    • In addition, I still need to figure out a rough publishing plan. This is going to start with talking to some authors who’ve done both small-press and self-publishing or large-press and self-publishing. Which is mildly intimidating, even though I follow and have interacted with several such authors. But once I do that, I can start sorting out the rest of the plan.  
    • I need to finish my D&D campaign. This is a much more contained goal, since I have a deadline for each session and for the end of the whole campaign. And this semester, I hope to be a little more organized with my campaign planning.

Reading

  • I’m going to start with a goal of 99 books this year instead of playing it safe with 77. I think I can afford that after the success of the last two years. Besides, if I do my Afterverse catch-up read, I’ll have at least a dozen fairly short books right there.
  • In addition, I want to read at least 12 books that are outside the speculative fiction genres. I feel like I should at least try to branch out a little more. Plus, people keep recommending contemporary and historical fiction books that actually sound fairly good, so maybe this goal will give me more motivation to read those.
  • Plus, those books can overlap with a second attempt at reading one book per month (or 12 total books) published before I was born. Yes, I am steadily relaxing my attempts at reading older books. My hope is that once I achieve it one year, I can start making it harder again.

Life

  • Obviously, my main life goal at the moment is to graduate and figure out my life. I’m pretty sure that “figure out my life” means “find a full-time job,” and I’ve been saying as much pretty confidently to people for the last year, but lately my dad has been encouraging me to think about grad school, so . . . I don’t know. Much like the whole “figure out publishing” thing, I need to talk to people with more experience before I make too many decisions.
  • Pick up German and Irish again or learn more ASL (and get better at what I do know. Basically, do something with learning other languages. It’s helpful for writing and it’ll come in handy if I ever manage to go overseas. Less practically, I have a vague dream that if I ever get married and have kids, I want to raise them to be at least somewhat multilingual. But I can’t really do that if I can’t speak the languages I’m trying to teach them.
  • Figure out if the side project I came up with last spring-ish is actually feasible and, if so, start making it happen. I don’t want to give too much info yet because I don’t know if this is something that’s actually that feasible or practical. But if it does work out, it’ll be really cool and might make me a little money, so, yeah. I hope I’ll have time to make it work.
  • Get back into photography. Since we moved to New York, the amount of photography I do has significantly decreased, and it’s kind of making me sad. Plus, I feel like I need to relearn a bunch of what I used to know and a bunch that I should have known already but ignored because I was thirteen or whatever and didn’t care about technical details. Of course, that requires time and ideas, so . . . we’ll see what happens.
How was your 2019? What would you say was the best thing that happened to you or that you accomplished this year? Any big plans or goals for 2020? (Or small plans or goals?) Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)    

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New Year's Dream [A Mechanical Heart Short Story]

So, I originally wasn't going to do a New Year's short story this year, but then I had this idea, and, well, things happened. This takes place the winter before Mechanical Heart, so no worries about spoilers. That said, you might want to hop back and read "New Year, New World," last year's New Year's story.

New Year's Dream: A New Year's Short Story

It was supposed to be a quiet night. A peaceful one, even, if such a thing could be had on Crossings Night. Luis had been planning it for weeks. His family would be out at various celebrations. Josiah, of course, was busy with the royal Crossings Night ball, with its rich food and wine and lavish costumes and four — four — different sets of musicians to rotate in and out so the dancing wouldn't stop until the dancers grew tired. And that left Luis to welcome the coming year in the best possible way: alone, in his workshop, with an abundance of projects to tinker on and the remains of the eggnog to help the process along.

Of course, it couldn't last.

Luis's first warning that something odd was afoot came when every miazen crystal in his workshop sudden blazed with brilliant white light, nearly blinding him. His next was the sight of two people in colorful robes who dashed out of thin air and ran smack into his workbench.

"What in blazes —?" Luis leapt to his feet and cast about for the nearest weapon. He grabbed his largest screwdriver and a small knife, feeling keenly the inadequacy of either.

The two didn't seem to notice him. One — a young woman with dark skin and a wild mass of black curls — recovered first. She straightened and spun around, bright green robes swirling around her, and made a series of sharp slashing motions through the air in front of her. Sign language, like Josiah's sister used? But there was no one there for her to be signing to . . .

Something else began to appear, faint and shimmering. Luis could make out the hint of a huge, dark form, gleaming . . . teeth? Or perhaps claws? Yes, claws; they were becoming more and more real at a quicker rate than the rest of the being.

The other person, a man with severely mussed dark hair and a bruised face, pushed himself to his feet. "Shut it! Quick!"

"Patience. I'm working." The girl made a final slashing motion. The claws became suddenly solid and dropped to the floor, leaking blood. The rest of the being disappeared. "See? We're fine."

I have to be dreaming. Luis took several deep breaths, trying to calm himself. Either that or finishing off the last of the eggnog at dinner had been a severe mistake. "What just happened? Who are you, and what are you doing in my workshop?"

The woman turned around, pushing her curls back from her face. Her eyebrows rose slightly when she saw Luis, and then she gave him a lazy smile. "Sorry 'bout that. It's nothing for you to worry about. I'm Carrie, and this is Tamison. Who're you?"

Her accent sounded like caramel tasted: rich and warm, with more than a little stretch in the vowels. Luis blinked, then took Carrie's hand and shook it. "Luis Kronos. I think that if you're barging into my workroom, it's something I have a right to worry about."

"We're just passing through." Carrie smiled like she was enjoying her own private joke, while Tamison groaned. "Mind telling us where we are? Then we'll leave you to your . . ." She looked around. "Your whatever this is."

"Kronos Clocks and Gadgetry. This is the back workroom." Luis paused, noted the lack of recognition on either face, then added, "Upper Rivenford? Chania?"

"Chania?" Tamison's face grew red as the trim on his robes. He turned on his companion. "You used the wrong coordinates! Now we're not just in the wrong world; we're in the wrong dimensional orientation!"

Carrie blew out a long breath and put her hands on her hips. "I wouldn't've used the wrong coordinates if you'd've just gone on and told me the right ones the first time I asked instead of going on about secrecy and the will of the Wizard Council."

Tamison drew himself up proudly, offense written clear as newsprint across his anger-blotched face. "I was following orders!"

Luis held up a hand, his mind finally having caught up from where it had stuck a few moments ago. "Wait. Wait. The wrong world?" He blinked twice, then dropped his screwdriver, reached up, and started flipping through magnifications on his work goggles, hoping that somewhere in the transitory blurs between lenses, the two would disappear or at least resolve into something more reasonable, like a few friends playing a joke on him.

But the pair remained present, as they were, and the massive claws continued to slowly leak blood onto the wood floor. Luis pulled off his goggles and shook his head. "You're mad. Or I'm mad. Or dreaming."

"Dreaming, yeah. We can call it that." Carrie gave him another slow smile. "And in a moment, you'll wake up and we'll be gone." She gestured in the air again, her motions slow and swooping this time. Then she paused, frowning. "Or perhaps not."

Tamison frowned too. "It's not working. That's odd. There's more than enough ambient magic to power a short-lived portal, even one going between perpendiculars instead of parallels . . . wait." He turned to Luis. "What day is it?"

"It's Crossings Night, the last night of the year," Luis replied slowly. The fact that Carrie had agreed that this was all a dream suggested that it really wasn't a dream at all, but he didn't have a better explanation  . . . not unless all this was real. "What do you mean, between perpendiculars?"

"You've heard of parallel dimensions?" Tamison asked. "They're like that, but oriented differently. It's complicated." He turned back to Carrie. "We must be losing alignment!" Then, over his shoulder to Luis: "Quick, what's the time?"

Luis gave the man his best unimpressed look and gestured around the workshop at the dozens of clocks hung on the walls between shelves and toolboards. "Look for yourself."

Tamison glanced around and sagged slightly. "Ah. Yes. It's . . . oh, dragonsbreath. It's only half an hour to midnight. And by midnight, the alignment will be lost and we'll be stuck here and in this world's parallels for who-knows-how-many years, thanks to someone's haphazard portaling."

"Someone just saved your skinny rear from a mad sorcerer and his hoard of crazed werecats," Carrie huffed. "Where's the most likely spot to be aligned still?"

"Ah, well . . ." Tamison licked his lips nervously. "Usually it's a south-to-north progression . . . and high spots usually have the strongest connection between dimensions . . . moreso if they have a strong concentration of magical energy . . ."

"North, up high, lots of magical energy." Carrie turned to Luis. "What do you say, Luis Kronos? You know this city. Anywhere that fits the description?"

"Well . . ." Luis hesitated. "There is one place . . ."

But could he risk sending them there? After all, no one was supposed to enter the clock tower lest they risk draining the magic from the miazen crystals at an increased rate. But, then again, if these two were already magic, perhaps it would be all right.

"There's a clock tower," he said, finally. "It's north of us, and it's one of the highest spots in the city, and it's powered by magic."

"Perfect." Carrie's smile returned. "Care to show us the way?"

Again, Luis hesitated. It would be so much easier to stay in, to stick to what was left of his plan and hide out in his workshop. He imagined the crowds and lights and noise outside and grimaced.
But . . . if this was a dream, he wouldn't really be going out. And if it wasn't a dream, he couldn't leave these two in the lurch. True, he could give them directions, but it would be faster to just show them.

"Fine." He pulled his goggles back up. "It's a good thing for you that it's Crossings Night. You'll blend in better since everyone is already costumed. You'll need masks, though."

"That's easy enough to solve." Tamison gestured, and something shifted. Luis blinked. Masks had appeared on the two's faces: a small black domino mask on on Tamison and a larger, more elaborate green mask on Carrie. In addition, their robes had somehow changed so they looked more like costumes and less like clothes. A white shirt collar poked up from the top of Tamison's robe, and the front now hung open to reveal a waistcoat and trousers. Carrie's robes had become more fitted in the bodice, and the shape suggested that she was now wearing a corset and a full skirt beneath them. In addition, a tall, pointed hat with a bit of filmy pink fabric attached to the tip had appeared on Carrie's head, nestled among her curls.

Carrie looked down at herself and sighed wearily. "Lovely." She looked at Luis. "Won't you need a mask too?"

Luis tapped his goggles. "These will do well enough. Now, let's go."

He led the way out of the shop, locking it behind them, and up the crowded streets. Even at nearly midnight, musicians and dancers still made their rounds, tailed by crowds of masked revelers dressed in dramatic blacks or brilliant rainbow hues. Their laughter and shouts mixed with the music into a joyful, chaotic cacophony. Luis grimaced, remembering all too keenly the reasons he hadn't wanted to come out tonight, and sped up.

He guided Tamison and Carrie as quickly as he could up towards the clock tower. Occasionally, some of Luis's friends or acquaintances would call out to him, inviting him and his companions to join them or pretending offense at the fact that Luis had rejected them in favor of a pair of strangers. Luis just waved and hurried on.

Thankfully, the crowds thinned as they moved further and further into the wealthy part of town. Here, the celebrations were mostly held in shops and homes. Luis caught glimpses of a few through windows, though he mostly didn't look, even when they passed the Clockmakers' Guild Hall where Luis knew his parents would be celebrating.

By the time they reached the clock tower, less than ten minutes remained 'til midnight. Luis tried the door. "It's locked." He checked his pockets — nothing. "And I don't have my locksmith's tools."
Tamison peered at the lock. "And it looks to be steel and iron. Unpleasantly resistant to magical meddling."

Carrie put a hand on the side of the tower. "That's a pity. This place is just bursting with ambient magic." She straightened her shoulders. "We'll just have to try from here. Unless . . ." She eyed the roof of the tower with a speculative gaze.

The color slowly drained from Tamison's face. "Oh no. You wouldn't . . ."

Carrie smiled — sharply, even wickedly. "Of course not. You're welcome to stay here. I'm sure you'll find this world plenty enjoyable while you're waiting for the dimensions to align in a safer location."
"Don't even think about it." Tamison scowled. "Fine. We'll try it your way."

"I thought you'd come around." Carrie turned to Luis and put a hand on his arm. "Thanks for your help. Whatever happens, we appreciate it. Assuming we don't fall, we probably won't see us again, and I'll make sure you don't remember us except as a dream like you thought we were. It'll be safer that way — less risk that someone will try to get information from your memories and hurt you in the process. But if you don't mind, wait around until we're gone to make sure we don't fall and die."




"I will. Glad I could help. Good luck, wherever you're headed." Luis glanced from Carrie to the tower roof. "What exactly are you doing, by the way?"


"This." Carrie grabbed Tamison's arm. Then both lifted off the ground and rose higher and higher towards the tower top.

Luis watched, gaping. Twice, their progress faltered and they dropped a foot before recovering and continuing to rise. But at last, they alighted on the roof of the tower, barely visible in the darkness. Luis had to squint to make them out, but he thought he saw Carrie gesturing, stepping forward —
Then something in his mind went blip, and his vision blacked out for a split second.

Luis blinked and looked around. What was he doing here at the clock tower? On Crossings Night of all nights? He'd planned to spend the evening in his workshop with his inventions, he remembered that much. And then . . . had he fallen asleep? He vaguely remembered something hazy and dream-like: a girl in green, a monster, people flying, and an urgent need to . . . do something. Had he sleepwalked all the way out here?

The tower struck midnight, the bells ringing out brilliant and clear over the city. Luis stared up at the top of the tower instinctively. In his dream, he'd needed to get to the top of the tower for some reason. But that was nonsense. No one could go up in the towers.

And yet . . . Luis frowned. Was that a shadow on the clockface? Something moving inside?

Nonsense. Luis shook his head and set off down the street as the last bells died away. He was sleep-deprived to even think of it. Honestly, he should've just gone to bed an hour ago rather than staying up to greet the new year.

And it was the new year now. Luis grinned. Tomorrow — today at this point — Josiah would come by with leftover fancy food and tales of what happened at the royal ball. And he'd have some new goal for the year, something big and impossible and shining and noble. Who knew what it would be; Luis would be happy just to get into the Inventors' Guild. And who knew? Maybe this would be his year. He'd just have to wait and see.

Friday, December 27, 2019

End-of-Year Book Freakout 2019!

Here we are again: the end of another year and another six months of books to recap (counting from the time of my mid-year book freakout)! I actually am freaking out a little in this post, 'cause I've read some amazing books in the last six months. But we'll get to that in a minute.

A few quick stats before we get started: I have read a total of 130 books and 38,656 pages this year, plus a little bit because I have a few reading days left in the year. (For those of you concerned: I'm finishing out the year with assorted rereads, namely the Six of Crows duology and the Illuminae Files and maybe the Reckoners trilogy, so there's no risk of my discovering something amazing and then regretting the fact that I couldn't include it in this post.) That's significantly up from last year's count, which was 107 books and 33,968 pages. My average rating, on the other hand, is down from last year, only 3.7 versus 4.1. Apparently, I read better books last year. Oh well. About 31 of this year's books were in this half of the year, which is only about a third of what I read in the first six months — though that does make sense, since the second half of the year contains two low-reading months (July and November) and fall semester kind of killed me.


1. Best book you've read in the second half of 2018:

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
I read this book shortly after Christmas break started, and I haven't entirely stopped screaming about it since. Not internally, at least. It's like someone crossed The Invisible Library with Howl's Moving Castle and then added a dash of the Abhorsen Chronicles to round it all out. It's amazing. It's got a stubborn, fierce, indomitable apprentice librarian and a dashing, disreputable, snarky sorcerer and magical books and equally magical libraries and high stakes and action and romance and just so much awesomeness. I'm probably going to end up rereading it sometime early next year; it's just that amazing. If you haven't read it yet, go grab it now.

A few runners-up, though none of them come anywhere near the amazingness that is Sorcery of Thorns:

Death Be Not Proud by Suzannah Rowntree
It's a non-magical murder mystery retelling of Snow White set in Jazz Age New Zealand. And Suzannah has managed to figure out Megan Whalen Turner's method of keeping secrets from you even when you're really close in character's heads, and she does it to excellent effect here.

What If? by Randall Munroe
This is nonfiction, but it's really fun nonfiction! Basically, the author/artist of xkcd answers all kinds of weird science-ish questions in serious (though snarky) ways. There's a lot of explosions and things lighting on fire. It's awesome.

2. Best sequel you've read in the second half of 2019:
I honestly didn't read a lot of sequels to things this half of 2019. On the upside, that means it's not as hard to choose a book in this category.

I quite enjoyed both books in this duology, but I may have liked this one a little more. It's hard to say. I like the relationships and the world, and Arynne and Kay are both pretty great characters. 

3. New release you haven't read yet but want to:

 
The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman

I honestly didn't realize this was out until a week or two after its release, which is tragic because I'm intensely excited for more Invisible Library. It's got Irene and Kai and a heist and Fae/dragon partnerships; what more could I want?

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson
Lower on the priority list, but I do want to read this sooner rather than later. Though maybe later would be better, given what some reviewers have said about the ending cliffhanger . . .  

4. Most anticipated release for next year: 
Oddly enough, this was my most anticipated read for this year too:

Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Come on. I want more Eugenides. If this gets put off another year, I'll . . . well, I probably will end up being too distracted by other books to notice, but eventually, I'll realize it and be sad. Y'know how it is.

Also releasing next year: Stormlight Archive #4 by Brandon Sanderson! It has a release date! And a tentative title! (Rhythms of War, if you hadn't heard.) Though not a cover. But it's coming out November 17 of next year, and I can't WAIT. The only reason it's not my top most anticipated read is that technically I've been waiting for Return of the Thief longer. 

5. Biggest disappointment:

Ugh. I hoped that this would be a fun contemporary-fantasy with an Asian setting, and it was all of that . . . except for the fun bit. I actually ended up DNFing it because I disliked the main character so much. Life is too short for arrogant annoyances like this one.


6. Biggest surprise:

 Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
So, I finally decided to get with the times and read the rest of the Grishaverse books (the ones that aren't Six of Crows, mostly so I could read King of Scars) . . . but Shadow and Bone did not thrill me, so I was honestly expecting a succession of meh books until I got to my Crows reread. But then Siege and Storm ended up being really good? And, yeah, it was mostly because of one character, but it still counts.

7. Favorite new-to-you author:
Haven't really got one, but I did finally read a full-length novel by C.M. Banschbach (Oath of the Outcast, if anyone is wondering), and it was pretty good, so . . . does that count?
 
8. Newest fictional crush/ship:
Ok, so if we're being 100% honest, I am crushing a little bit on Nikolai from the Grishaverse books. Not, like, hardcore, but . . . y'know. If he were real and asked me out, I would seriously consider saying yes. (The answer would probably depend on where he was in his character arc, to be completely honest.)
 
Also, ships. Glorious ships. I don't have a ton of new ones, but I have one that I'm really enthusiastic about, and that is —
  • Elisabeth and Nathaniel (Sorcery of Thorns). They remind me of Sophie and Howl in all the best possible ways, and they compliment and play off each other really well, and they have each others' backs and protect each other and . . . oh, stars. I love them, ok? I love them so much.
  • Kay and Arynne (Ice and Fate duology). I normally get really annoyed by the whole forbidden love/betrothed to one person but fell in love with someone else drama, but it works really well with these two. They've got a good dynamic overall.
  • Alina and Mal (Shadow and Bone trilogy). Ok, I have gotten the impression that this ship was not a favorite with a lot of readers, but I liked it. Yes, Alina and Mal had some communication issues, but no more than any other standard YA couple. And I really wanted the childhood best friend to win for once in the romance.
9. Newest favorite character(s):
I feel like I'm probably going to repeat myself a bunch here, but let's go anyway, 'cause I want to yell about Sorcery of Thorns more.
  • Elisabeth (Sorcery of Thorns). Elisabeth is magnificent. She's blunt and straightforward and 100% ready to fight whatever the heck she has to in order to save the world, and she's also quite brilliant about figuring out the best way to go about things . . . but she's also very human? Basically, I would like to be her, please and thank you very much.
  • Also, Nathaniel (Sorcery of Thorns). Nathaniel may be my new favorite magic disaster boi.  He's sassy and brilliant and pretends he doesn't care but clearly does. And he reminds me of Howl from Howl's Moving Castle. Obviously, I love him immensely. And he manages to have angst without being annoyingly angsty, which is nice.
  • While we're on the topic, Silas (Sorcery of Thorns, where else?) is pretty great as well. He's . . . complicated? But he reminds me of a cross between Calcifer, Mogget, and Alfred Pennyworth, he's a magnificent balance of "actually super dangerous and probably a bit evil if not kept under tight control" and "secretly intensely noble," which is great. 
  • We also have to mention Sturmhound (Shadow and Bone trilogy). I love this man. He's snarky and clever and cocky in a fun way, and he has a knack for brilliant, dramatic, perfectly-timed entrances, and he's astonishingly practical and straightforward. But he's also noble and brave and reasonably sacrificial and just generally excellent. Also, did I mention he's the captain of multiple (flying!) privateer ships? Basically, he's a stellar example of one of my favorite archetypes, and I love him.
  • Moving on to some books that I haven't yelled about yet: Hesina (Descendent of the Crane) is a lovely protagonist, even if her POV sometimes feels a little detached. She's a princess trying to uncover the truth of her father's death and trying to do what's best for her people . . . and she struggles so much, but she's trying so hard, and I just appreciate her, ok?


10. A book that made you cry:

Hello, yes, we were just talking about this! This book is very good if you like political fantasy-mystery, which I do. And it's got a lot of interesting family dynamics and motivations, which I appreciate. And it's just generally excellent until you get to the end, in which the author basically shatters your expectations and breaks your (and Hesina's) heart . . . at which point it's still good, but it hurts. 

11. A book that made you happy:

 
The Game by Diana Wynne Jones

This is a clever, short novella that's really hard to talk about without spoilers, but it's delightful and has an excellent twist on some mythological stuff. Also, more family stuff. It's lovely.

12. Favorite reread this half of the year

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
Did I just read this for the first time in January? Yes. Did that stop me from rereading it over Thanksgiving break? No. Do I have regrets? Only the fact that I stayed up too late basically every night of break because I was reading it, but otherwise, no. Captain Grimm and Gwendolyn and the Spire are worth it.

I may also have reread Spindle and Masque, despite the fact that I just read them for the first time last February . . . they're good books, ok? And they're excellent de-stressors, which is what I needed, and Howl was back in Virginia, and I'm saving The Beast of Talesend for when I catch up on all the Afterverse books at once.

13. Favorite post(s) you've done this half of the year:
Probably my post on what happens when an AI tries to do my job. But I also had a lot of fun with my posts about books I'd give to the Mechanical Heart characters, AUs I wish were real, and magic powers I want for mundane reasons.

14. Most beautiful book you've bought/received this half of the year:

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson
My parents got me this for Christmas, and I'm quite excited to read it. The cover is more gorgeous in person, but it has this nice texture and debossing and it's just really well done. And given that it's Andrew Peterson, I'm pretty sure the content will be just as beautiful as the outside.

15. Any other books you want to babble about for any other reason?
As per the usual, I'm taking a moment to mention the books that I wanted to read this year but which got pushed aside by other books:
  • Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean. This is the second year that this book has been on this list. I actually won an ARC of this from Emma over at Awkwordly Emma, which makes me feel even worse. The main reason for the holdup is the Blood in the Snow sequel — any time I'm starting to write or really involved in writing something in a more specific subgenre, I get caught in this weird tension between "I want to read other books in this subgenre so I can see how those authors did things" and "I don't want to read any other books in this subgenre because I'm worried I'll pull too much from those books," and the latter almost always wins.
  • A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigit Kemmerer. This one moved up several spots on my TBR list because of the cover — I absolutely love it and I used it a lot in one of my graphic design projects this past semester. Unfortunately, that same project didn't leave me any time to actually read the book.
  • The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen. Again with the problem of reading the subgenre I'm writing. This one probably would've been better, since it's based in Mongolia instead of China, Korea, or Japan, but . . . yeah.
  • The Faraway Castle books by J.M. Stengl. I actually own the first four of these now — I heard that book 4 is a King Thrushbeard retelling, and that pushed them up the priority list a bit. Not enough for me to actually have set aside time to read them, though.
What were your favorite 2019 reads? Any favorite rereads? Or major disappointments? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)