Indie Review: Sarvet’s Wanderyar by J. M. Ney-Grimm

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf the last book I read sated my taste for sword and sandal fantasy, Sarvet’s Wanderyar fits the bill for another craving: epic fantasy. J. M. Ney Grimm is a master at this genre, and I’ve been a fan of her work since the first paragraph I read; this book has been on my to-read list for quite a while, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Sarvet is a young woman who suffers from a sort of palsy in one leg. Because of this, she’s held back; she’s relegated to menial chores, coddled by an overbearing mother, and–she believes–prevented from achieving her dreams. Sarvet’s need to prove herself drives her to request a Wanderyar–a year of exploring the world on one’s own–which is reserved only for young men. She’s tenacious and determined from the start, so her coming of age isn’t something that happens to her so much as something she forges for herself. This gives her a certain strength of character that’s lacking in a lot of literature. It’s easy to cheer her on and revel in her journey.

Sarvet’s disability is introduced very nicely. Subtle hints before coming out and saying it makes for a reveal that’s not surprising, but not really expected either. A good set up for what will be an important plot point; she doesn’t beat you over the head with it, a sin that is far too easy to commit in writing. This also puts the focus more on her character and less on the disability, making for a nicely rounded heroine that’s easy to sympathize with. That, in turn, makes this much more than a run of the mill coming of age novel–it’s an entrancing story with a character you care about, and desperately want to succeed.

Sarvet, for all her determination and will, is also a tad naive. This serves the story well; it sets her up as a young woman who, despite her disability, doesn’t realize just how difficult life can sometimes be. Failure is a very real consequence for her, and it’s all the more tangible because of her adolescent exuberance. You get the feeling that if she falls, she’s going to fall hard–but even if she recovers there’s an “I told you so” in the wings. The lesson is not so much in learning to succeed on her own as that sometimes, a little control is necessary.
This leads into the mother, Paiam. She’s fiercely protective of Sarvet, and while this overbearance serves as her call to action, Ney-Grimm does a good job of tempering and justifying it. Paiam  isn’t just a controlling mother; Sarvet’s resistance is making that control seem more pronounced than it is. At first I saw Paiam as the clear antagonist, but I came to sympathize with her. This makes for a complex interaction between the two characters that rages almost completely in the subtext–very clever on Ney-Grimm’s part, and very effective. In fact, I sense that there’s a whole other story for Paiam, and I’d love to see her developed in another book.

Once the action gets moving, the reader is thrown into a wild set of circumstances that move further and further away from Sarvet’s familiar, tame world. It’s an escalation that nicely reflects the issues one faces in growing up; problems seem insurmountable until they’re not–and completely trivial in retrospect. There’s a certain shift in tone here as Sarvet goes from climbing  a mountain to living among pegasi, and it serves well to show the stark differences between youth and adulthood. The metaphor may not be subtle, but it fits.

(On a side note, one of my favourite things about Ney-Grimm’s work is her treatment of fantastical creatures. She definitely doesn’t disappoint here–the pegasi seem ethereal but remarkably wise and strong; gentle but fearsome; creatures of light and gauze that are somehow the most real things in the world.)

As usual, the worldbuilding in this book is quite well done. Ney-Grimm has built a cohesive “universe” in which most of her stories take place, and each book explores similar but unique facets. I was a bit confused by some of the terms early in the book–holidays referred to as “Other-joy” and “Lodge day”–but the meaning became apparent as I progressed through the story. After I finished the book, I read a post on Ney-Grimm’s blog that explains that this lack of background is intentional. I can see her point, and agree with it–the worst thing you can do in worldbuilding is to bog the reader down with details that are, to a point, window dressing.
Otherwise, the worldbuilding is handled very well. It’s subtle in the first few pages. There’s a lot of information presented in a laid back, almost conversational way. While it left some questions for me, there weren’t enough gaps that it hampered my understanding, and what questions I had were answered before I got halfway through. Readers less familiar with Ney-Grimm’s “world” may have more of a challenge, but it’s nothing that would impede.

The moral of the story–beyond the coming of age themes–seems almost Taoist: resistance can sometimes cause more problems than it solves. It’s okay to stand up for one’s principles, but it’s the stiff branch that breaks in the wind. On the other hand, flying with the wind allows you to master it. It’s a powerful lesson used to great effect.

In the end, I have nothing but good things to say about this book, and wonder why it took me so long to get to reading it. I’ve always enjoyed Ney-Grimm’s work, but I particularly like this book–it’s one I can imagine one day reading to my children at bed-time, a fantastical adventure with a strong moral lesson. Absolutely worth a read!

J.M. Ney Grimm writes fantasy with a Norse twist. You can find Sarvet’s Wanderyar and other books of hers on Amazon, Kobo. iTunes, and B&N. She’s also on Twitter, and keeps a blog on writing (and often cooking!).

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Three Great Apps for Writers

20130911-161151.jpgNot too long ago, by beloved Blackberry went bust. I was a die-hard BB fanboy for years, but had been getting disillusioned; the OS always felt sluggish, the included browser was painfully slow, and the app store was vacant because developers preferred the much more lucrative Android and iPhone markets. So when my phone died, I didn’t go back–I joined the pack and got an iPhone.

And I discovered something: I was using my Blackberry for very particular purposes, but I was missing out on a lot of innovative apps that would help my writing and my work. Now, I don’t intend to stay with the iPhone–I love my Android based Kobo Arc, so it makes sense to go with an Android phone–but these apps run on both systems. And I’ve found them indespensible:

Any.do

I’m a fan of checklists, and every time I upgrade a device, I search for a good list app. I’ve found the ultimate in Any.Do. It’s intuitive, robust, and it syncronises across my phone, Kobo and even an extension in my Chrome browser.
It couldn’t be simpler. When you launch the app you’ll see a list of your to-do items. You can add an item by pressing the + symbol, and the iPhone and Android devices accept voice input. You can then organise by due date (even pushing items to “someday”) or create folders. I have folders for Work, Personal and based on different projects with related tasks. When you complete a task, you can swipe to strike it off the list and–the fun part–shaking your phone will clear finished items.
Any.Do has also introduced a “Plan Your Day” feature, which will walk you through items that don’t have a due date so you can set priorities. Ask Any.Do to remind you in an hour, set it for tomorrow, or push it to next week. This is an excellent app, and I have it up on my work computer constantly through the day. If you want to keep track of progress and tend to forget the little details, get this now.

Any.Do has also built a Calendar app. I’m just getting used to it, but I like it a lot better than the native Iphone calendar. It’s clean, fresh, and simple–plus it lists your to-dos from Any.Do, and you can set it up to cycle through different images in the background. They’re also working on mail and notes apps, which I’m eager to try. Check them out!

Springpad

Which leads me to Springpad. A note taking app is essential for me, as I tend to have ideas in the most inconvenient places. If I don’t write it down right away, I’ll forget it–so having a note app on my phone is great. I don’t much like the native apps because they’re not that helpful, beyond writing stuff down. So I’m always on the look for a better one.20130911-161251.jpg
I settled on an app called Catch, which was simple to use, organised things into folders, and had a web plugin. Unfortunately, they’re gone now and no longer support the app.
Instead, I’m trying Springpad, and so far I really like it. You can organize notes into books as well, and it’s very easy to navigate between notebooks. The best part is the web plugin–set the shortcut on your toolbar and all of your notes are accessible from the browser. This is a godsend for writers; you get an idea on the bus, jot it down on your phone, and by the time you’re home you can launch Chrome and the notes are there, ready for you to put into your word processor.
Springpad also has a really nice interface. It’s not unlike Pinterest, and captures your notes in a series of tiles you can share. Springpad also has a Search feature, which lets you find other people’s notes, share ideas, and collaborate on projects. You could set up an account at work, and give each employee access–everyone adds their ideas and it’s all put down in one place. My wife and I use it for shopping: you can create a checklist, which we use for groceries, and both of us can access it at any time to add items we need.
This is note-taking meets social media, and it’s a really nice combo. After using it for only a couple weeks, I’m a convert.

I should also mention the note taking heavyweight, Evernote. Many people swear by it, and it’s got its good points. Personally though, I never liked it; I’ve found the interface dull and counterintuitive, and it just never seemed helpful to me. To each their own.

Pocket

This is the one app I’m really excited about these days. I never really got into RSS readers, as they seemed to be pretty redundant; why download an article to read offline when the device you’re using is constantly online? The one application I can see is turing off your wifi or being in a location that doesn’t have access; not wanting to use your airtime is a good reason to use this app, but when wifi is so ubiquitous nowadays, it seems pointless. So I never bothered.

Until Pocket. I’ve been playing with this app for only a few days, but I’m hooked. I’m seeing the appeal of reading a headline or wanting to look something up, but not having the time to delve into it–Pocket lets you save that webpage or article and puts it in a queue for later reading. Again, simple as pie, but powerful if you use it right.
This app has solved a problem I didn’t realize I had. Although I don’t tweet much myself, I read twitter very often, and love getting interesting articles or hearing about releases from fellow Indies. When I come across a link I like, I tend to forward it to my email so I can check it out on a PC–many webpages just don’t display well on a phone browser.

Pocket allows me to get around that with no fuss. Just send it to the app, and it’s there when I’m ready. The best part is that Pocket has a web extension–I’m a fan of that integration, you can tell! If I come across a website I want to look at when I have more time, I can send that to pocket too. I’ve already got a nice list of things to catch up on.
Pocket also has some nice integration with other apps. I have yet to play with all the features, but you can send links to Pocket through Twitter, email, Digg, GReader, and more–over 300 apps and counting.

And here’s the really great news: Kobo recently announced that Pocket will be integrated in all its readers. You’ll be able to open your Reading Life to access all your Pocket pages. This brings e-reading to a new level; effectively it’s an electronic newspaper curates to your exact specifications. The feature is set to launch on September 13–I can’t wait to use it!

That’s it for today, but keep an eye on the blog for an upcoming interview with David A Hayden, and a review of Sarvet’s Wanderyar, by J. M. Ney Grimm!

 

 

Indie Review: Wrath of the White Tigress by David Alastair Hayden

One of my favourite genres to read is fantasy, and I’m partial to a certain sub-genre: sword and sandal. I love the Conan stories, and so I’ve been looking forward to a book that has a similar flavour: Wrath of the White Tigress by Davaid Alastair Hayden. Hayden has a unique flair for fantasy that’s pulpy in all the right ways. These are tales of sword and sorcery you would have found in Weird Tales or other magazines from the days of yore.

I don’t usually pull quotes from a book in a review, but I’ll do so here because it reflect the story so succinctly. It’s a conversation between the main character, Jaska, and his saviour.

“I’m thoroughly corrupt. I don’t deserve life.”
“You did evil, that’s true, but you weren’t in control of your actions, weren’t you?”
He shook his head. “I should have been.”

Jaska is a Palymphar, a sort of knightly order that ostensibly stands for right and honour–but which has become decadent, violent, and corrupt. Jaska is the worst of them, and his…indulgences…are legendary. As the book opens he’s sent by his master, Salahn, to capture the temple of the White Tigress, a powerful goddess which Salahn wishes to imprison. Jaska is waylaid by the high priestess of the temple, Zyrella. After an altercation with the White Tigress herself, Jaska is converted to the cause of rescuing her.

What follows is an adventurous romp involving a sea battle, spoiled cities, wolven creatures, oracles and prophecies, and lots of bloody battles. This book is just fun–but it’s also pretty hardcore. Hayden writes a series of young adult novels that take place in the same world, but White Tigress is certainly rated M for mature. There’s sex, blood and gore galore, and the book makes no apologies for it. But at the same time, I wouldn’t say it’s gratuitous–it fits in with the tropes of the genre (without the flagrant sexism of the Conan stories).

One thing that really stuck me about this book–and Hayden’s writing in general–is the amount of research that’s been put into it. It’s obvious that he has an affinity for Eastern culture, and things such as weaponry and meditation techniques feel authentic to the book, while serving as a respectful nod to the cultures that inspired them. Quite a lot went into the world building, (something I’ll touch on in an upcoming interview), and it comes through as a well thought out and vibrant setting. It lends a unique aura to the book; it’s not Persian or Indian or Chinese, but a cohesive combination of them all.

Also impressive is the way magic is presented. As I’ve mentioned before, Hayden uses an intriguing system of magic: spirits of  a long dead race have been captures in stones called Qarvra, which allow the wielder to command powerful spells. Some are more adept than others, and this gives a nice range of powers that can be tapped into. It’s an elegant system; all too often magic is used as a deus ex machina, but not here. It adds a crucial element to the book without becoming center stage.
Alongside the use of Qarvra is another system: Star magic. This is shown only once or twice, and it’s enticing–I certainly want to see more. Nalsyrra (who also appears in Hayden’s Chains of a Dark Goddess,) is Ojaka’ari, a mysterious creature who is granted extreme power by the Star Spirits. She’s in the service of Salahn, but her fealty is to the Star Spirits, who grant her the gift of prophecy. She’s a compelling character, and I wish she had been explored more fully, but what we have of her is tantalizing. But, to go into her story any further would have taken away from the book’s plot, and we couldn’t have that!

The characters are, by and large, great. Jaska is well written and the anguish over the choices he’s made in the past is a clear call to action; Zyrella is a sensual and strong woman who serves as a great foil for him; Ohzikar, a templar devoted to Zyerella, has a wonderful arc in his dealings with Jaska. Even characters with small roles like the oarsman who befriends Jaska or Nalsyrra’s lover are well developed and interesting.
There are some flaws, however. Salahn, despite being a great villain, is rather flat. He’s totally evil, and besides on small passage that shows a bit of redemption for him, he’s single minded. He’s easy to hate (good in a bad guy), but he’s not complicated. This is especially apparent because Jaska is such a wonderfully drawn and complex character.
There are also quite a lot of characters in the book. That’s to be expected for a story of this scale, but by the end of the book I found myself wanting to know more about interesting figures for which there’s little time for development.

The only other real issue I had was that at some points, the Point of View changed rather regularly within a chapter. This didn’t happen too often through the book, but when it did it was jarring; sometimes I wasn’t sure who was “leading” the story, and found myself going back a page or two. It doesn’t really disrupt the narrative, though, and if such passages were separated by some sort of divider it would have been crystal clear.

Finally, the ending. No spoilers, I promise! I rather liked how everything was tied up by the end; there’s a certain amount of tradgedy I didn’t see coming, and it fits the world and tone of the book very well. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want them to, even if you are a hero. It’s a well placed surprise, and one that rounded out a very enjoyable story.

All in all, Wrath of the White Tigress is what I’ve come to expect of Hayden’s work–thoughtful, exciting, and filled with adventure. There are a lot of nice little bits of worldbuilding here and there that really put a stamp on his style and voice. And it’s just plain fun–the fight scenes are awesome. Check it out!

 

Wrath of the White Tigress is available on Kobo and Amazon, along with several other great tales from the same world. You can also find David A. Hayden on Twitter, or on his own blog