Yes, I will take a break from writing to challenge myself with ... more writing!
At present I have a setting of archipelagos of a drowned continent (cue legends of churchbells ringing underwater) after some ill-defined disaster (maybe Reality collapsed?) and two young characters. One is the daughter of scientists in an isolated research station, crippled by a birth defect that fused her legs together (and yes, the Little Mermaid--notDisneyfied--is invoked). The other lives with her grandmother, and is much closer to the Little Robber Girl in archetype.
There will be a scene where the second girl rows to another island full of statues of jet, of people staring into the sky, the former population of the island, and hacks chunks off the statues to take back for fuel. (Yes, this was in a dream of mine, and it was too weird not to use.)
That's all. It may turn out kind of dark, even though the sun shines a lot on the islands, beams sinking down through the clear water to show the drowned buildings of the valleys below.
And it may turn out totally incoherent. Because that is the chance one takes.
Next, because it's been a while since I caught up on this--
Recently read: Darkborn, by Alison Sinclair. First in a series (trilogy?) but works as a stand-alone.
Intriguing worldbuilding - due to a goddess's curse, the world is divided into two races (maybe 3) those who live by night and are scorched to death by the sun, and those who live by day and cannot abide shadow. The Darkborn race cannot see, but have a sonar sense called sonning.
There are a bunch of questions raised by this arrangement, in my mind, and some are answered in this book, others presumably in the next. A few I thought were handwaved, but maybe they'll be covered properly later. Overall the author does a good job of incluing rather than info-dumping.
The first book is set, as you can guess from the title, in the world of the Darkborn, who are wary of magic and prefer technology - they have steam trains and clockwork automatons, though Sinclair doesn't really push the steampunk aspect. The society feels early 19th c. Anglo-French - they even have the beginnings of psychotherapy, which I thought was a really fascinating touch.
Balthasar Hearne is a physician who also treats nervous disorders, married to a gentlewoman who is hiding her magical talents (she'd lose her place in society, already precarious by her marriage). When a former love comes to his door minutes before the deadly sunrise, he is forced to shelter her - only to discover that she is about to give birth to the child of a mysterious lover. He delivers her twins and realises that one of them at least can see.
After that, things move quickly. The mother tries to murder the children by exposing them to daylight (a method of execution among the Darkborn), then thugs come after them and kidnap one of Balthasar's young daughters. In the meantime, the Shadowhunter, Ishmael Strumheller, is set on a secret and possibly suicidal mission by his spymaster, the crippled Vladimer, which will see him aiding Balthasar's wife, Telmaine - and unwillingly falling in love with her.
Overall recommended, for original worldbuilding and attention to court intrigue and commoner politicking both. There are hints of the next book in the Hearne's Lightborn neighbour, Fiamma of the White Hand, a female mage and assassin, and in the risk of outright war between Darkborn and Lightborn, possibly encouraged by the mysterious Shadowborn (creatures of the wild Shadowlands).
Another in the Blackbird Sisters series - Cross Your Heart and Hope to Die, by Nancy Martin. This time, impoversished socialite Nora Blackbird is covering a fashion show for a revolutionary new bra developed by Brinker Holt, whom she remembers as a bullying, unpleasant adolescent. Murder (naturally) occurs soon afterwards, and the hotting-up of Nora's romance with Michael (son of a well-known crime family) is chilled by his becoming a suspect.
The soap-opera side of the series develops nicely (I don't mean this as derogatory, only to distinguish it from the mystery side) with Nora's sisters continuing their messy, complicated lives, Michael's mob connections being a real obstacle to their being together rather than just a fillip of bad-boy spice, and Nora's career developing rather than being in stasis. The mystery is pretty easily solved, but there's a fair bit of amusement about the fashion industry in between.The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan, Random House 2010, book trailer here:
It's tempting to summarise this book as "George A. Romero does The Village" (I suspect Carrie Ryan felt utterly sick when The Village came out) but that would be a disservice.
Mary is a passionate, questioning teenager living in a walled village ruled by the Sisterhood. The Sisterhood teaches that there is nothing outside but the Forest and the Unconsecrated. But they are hiding a girl named Gabrielle, who comes from somewhere else, somewhere outside ...
This is an intense, harsh book. Ryan doesn't mute the horrors of Mary's world, and she does a good job of balancing the deadly and constant threat of destruction by the Unconsecrated with the immediate adolescent misery of hopeless love. The fact that Mary must be married and having children so young, that she doesn't have the freedom to date and break up and make up again, that the choice she makes will be the one she must live with forever, does keep her agony from being trivial, even to an older reader who never experienced adolescent love.
She also, I think, does a good job of handling the worldbuilding by keeping a lot unknown and unknowable to our pov character. Much of what Mary does know turns out to be lies or mistaken, so the reader is in much the same uncertainty as she is.
Where I might fault the book is characterisation. The male characters, Travis and Harry, are lightly sketched, and I never really got a clear sense of why Mary loved one and was repelled by the other. I wondered whether characterisation was sacrificed to pacing (the book is fast-moving) or a reflection of the unreasoning nature of her affections. The brother, Jed, is more fully realised.
There's a sequel out - The Dead-Tossed Waves - which I will almost certainly buy.
On a lighter note, Magic Below Stairs, by Caroline Stevermer, Dial Books 2010
"Frederick Lincoln is the sort of boy who works hard, does what he's told, and uses his head. But when he's plucked from the orphanage to live 'below stairs' with the servants as a footboy for a wizard, that is easier said than done.
"Unbeknownst to him, he's accompanied by a mischievous brownie named Billy Bly. The wizard has forbidden all magical creatures from his manor. But Billy Bly isn't about to leave Frederick, and when they discover a hidden curse on the manor house, that might turn out to be a very good thing indeed."
This was a nice light read. I was pleased to find an orphan hero who doesn't have a Tremendous Destiny and isn't the True Heir to anything. Frederick has the old fairy tale virtues of hard work and kindness, and is duly rewarded. (I also did a bit of happy hopping to see the Belly Blind featured in a novel.) The characterisation is light, as one might expect from a middle-grade novel of 200 pages, but Frederick does have some convincing conflict, misery, and jealousy to get through, and some good friends to find.
The setting is after Sorcery and Cecelia, after the marriages and before the children.With apologies to Terri for any inadvertant additions to her TBR pile.