Spiritwalker Trilogy Giveaway at Fantasy Cafe

Last year and now this year Fantasy Cafe has run a Women in SFF Month in April with daily posts by women writers on all things science fiction, fantasy, writing, publishing, media, geek, and so on. It’s a great series and you should check out this year’s wonderful posts.

My post, up today, talks about the gender gap in reviewing and visibility. You can find it here.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Kristen had (unbeknownst to me) contacted Orbit Books and has a set of the entire Spiritwalker Trilogy as a giveaway. Exciting! You’ll find the entry information at the post.

Character Study: Catherine Barahal (Spiritwalker Monday 8)

Over on her blog, N.K. Jemisin did a series of character studies for some of the characters in her Inheritance Trilogy. Here’s one, for Itempas.

I decided to borrow the “character study” idea for today’s post so  I could combine it with a question I was recently asked: What was your thought process for the creation of Cat? (LS)

Warning: There will be spoilers later in this post for Cold Magic and Cold Fire, but the first part is fairly general.


First, I wanted Cat to be physically confident, someone who knows when to run and when to stand her ground, and who isn’t afraid of a physical challenge. At the same time I wanted her to NOT be a person whose feelings are bottled up; Cat is very free with her feelings, she laughs and cries easily and does not judge herself for having strong feelings.

That is the initial contrast I was going for: She is both physically confident *and* emotionally confident in the sense that she doesn’t try to hide, disguise, or be embarrassed by her emotions nor does she see being emotional as something inherently weak. She wears her heart on her sleeve and she is not afraid of a challenge.

I did not want her to be a girl who needs to be rescued; I wanted her to be a young woman able to rescue herself (and others). I did not want her anger to be debilitating or shameful; I wanted her anger (when it manifests) to be clean and pure. I did not want her to be coy or retiring; I wanted her to be forthright, curious, and fully engaged in exploring all the aspects of herself that commonly unfold as people come into adulthood, like her sexual feelings, her growing understanding of how politics and the world works and her place within the world, and her concern for and loyalty toward others. I wanted her to judge injustice harshly but to feel compassion even for people who may have hurt her. I wanted her to display a sense of the absurd and to have the capacity to see joy in the world.

Most of all I wanted her to speak for herself because I wanted readers to read about a character who believes in her own voice, as I hope we all can learn to believe in our own voices.

That last turned out to be easy because the book is written in her first person narration. All I had to do was move my own “voice” aside and let the book emerge in her voice. One of the most interesting things about writing in Cat’s voice is that she’s funny. My usual serious-business epic fantasy writing voice is not funny so it has been an illuminating experience writing books that people tell me make them laugh out loud at moments.


Spoilers for Cold Magic and Cold Fire follow. Continue reading

Speculative Fiction 2012: a non fiction collection

Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary is now available in print editions (UK & US/Intl), with Kindle editions to come in May.

The collection is edited by Justin Landon and Jared Shurin and has an introduction by Mur Lafferty and an Afterword by Ana Grilo and Thea James. Jurassic London is the publisher.

Speculative Fiction celebrates the best in online non-fiction – the top book reviews, essays and commentary of the year. This first volume, edited by bloggers Justin Landon (Staffer’s Musings – US) and Jared Shurin (Pornokitsch – UK), collects over fifty pieces from science fiction and fantasy’s top authors, bloggers and critics.

It’s a great line up–click through to see their listing. My SFSignal piece “The Omniscient Breasts” is one of the included essays.

All profits will be donated to Room to Read.

A Sense of Place (Spiritwalker Monday 9)

I need to know where I stand.

That’s true in many different ways, along numerous axes, of which landscape is one.

Many years ago when I was writing the earliest attempts at Cold Magic, with its blended Afro-Celtic setting, I asked myself why not set the story in West Africa, perhaps at a seaport on the coast in this alternate universe? There were a number of reasons I decided against doing it this way, but the deciding factor was that I had (at that time) never set foot in West Africa and I have this thing–I wish I had a better word than thing–that I have to have a physical sense of the land in order to write it.

Given that much of the Jaran books are set in a steppe/plains setting with many nods to and borrowings from the history of the Mongols and other steppe peoples, you may wonder how I could then write Jaran?

That’s easy: The landscape is Wyoming, where I spent a summer during high school (at an astronomy camp, of all things).

Obviously it is not that the landscape IS Wyoming but rather than the plains/plateau landscape of the American west is the one I could draw from for the Jaran novels’ setting. In the same way, there is a little bit of London in Adurnam (Spiritwalker), and a bit of Puerto Rico in Expedition. The landscape of the Crossroads trilogy is a melange of the California Mediterranean climate, the Tierra Caliente of Guerrero (Mexico), Japan, and even Hawaii (although it is not an island setting), plus bits and pieces of the Oregon where I grew up, which is a far more varied landscape than many people realize who only think of its famous coast and the central Portland to Eugene river valley.

On Twitter, writer Susan Elizabeth Curnow (in response to me begging for a good topic for this week’s Spiritwalker Monday) asked me how the weathers and flowers of Hawaii influence my writing, which made me think about landscape and how much I feel the need to be grounded in place. Living in Hawaii (where I wrote all three volumes of the Crossroads trilogy) definitely influenced the novel in that there is very little cold weather, and the people who live in the Hundred call “cold” what others would call “warm.”

There is another way Place influences me. Before we moved to Hawaii, we lived in State College, Pennsylvania, aka Happy Valley, a place I never felt comfortable and certainly never loved (as, for instance, I loved the rural Willamette Valley of Oregon where I grew up) or felt any form of deep connection.

Hawaii has that sense of deep connection for me. If I walk out the door I am always happy to see the Waianai Mountains, and the clouds pouring over the Ko’olau Mountains, and the gulch, and the green, and the ever present vastness of the ocean that surrounds this old eroding extinct volcano.

So for me I thrive on a sense of place both in terms of needing to feel a physical sense of understanding the landscapes I’m writing about and to feel a physical sense of feeling well being about the landscape I live in.

I say this not to suggest that everyone else must feel this way, only that I do.

How much does a sense of place — in either of these ways or in some other way — figure into your writing? Or your reading?

Publishers’ Weekly reviews COLD STEEL (with a star)

The first review of COLD STEEL (publication date: June 25*) has appeared in the wild, and I’m thrilled to say that it is a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Here is a link to the actual review (it has mild spoilers).

And here a pair of quotes:

Elliott wraps up her marvelous Spiritwalker trilogy (Cold Magic; Cold Fire) with triple helpings of revolution, romance, and adventure on an alternate Earth where elemental fire and cold mages vie for power, and revolution is in the air.

. . . .

Elliott pulls out all the stops in this final chapter to a swashbuckling series marked by fascinating world-building, lively characters, and a gripping, thoroughly satisfying story.


* It is probable that print copies will show up in bookstores a bit earlier, based on the drop for Cold Fire, but ebooks will drop on 25 June.

Katharine Kerr’s Deverry sequence (Spiritwalker Monday 10)

Starting with Daggerspell (1986), this epic fantasy series of fifteen novels follows events in the land of Deverry over hundreds of years while maintaining a storyline that wraps tightly around itself in the manner of Celtic interlace.

Rather than describe the plot or characters, let me explain why I believe those of you who have not read this series should absolutely pick up the first book.

1) After reading through fifteen volumes with many characters, I can still name and describe ALL of the major characters and many of the minor ones because I became so invested in their stories. Memorable characters with compelling story-lines equals a gripping series.

2) Kerr’s world is not static. Her technique is subtle but assured as she unfolds how a culture changes over time. Villages become towns become cities. Warbands expand into armies. The political structure of the early kingdom shifts from more localized centers of regional power to a more centralized kingship. The spinning wheel is invented. When my spouse, an archaeologist, read Daggerspell, he said, “This is the best depiction of a chieftain-level society I’ve ever read.”

3) In other words, the world feels real and acts real. As with the world in Sherwood Smith’s Inda series, I believe Deverry could exist somewhere. After reading the books, I feel as if I have been there. I still think about events and dramatic moments in this series frequently, rather as I do memories from my actual life. That’s how much the narrative worked its way into my mind and heart.

4) This series offers a master class in how to use third person omniscient narration.

5) Not only has Kerr done her linguistics homework but she has fun with it. Do enjoy the asides in the prefaces that discuss pronunciation and language. Names and pronounciations change over time, and different societies have different languages and thus different names and different ways of speaking. It’s all woven seamlessly into the whole, not at all intrusive or awkward.

6) An extremely well drawn and workable magic system whose practitioners become adepts because of the degree of study and work they put in rather than through “natural talent.” While it is true that some people have an affinity for magic, you can’t become powerful through “chosen-ness.”

7) Dragons.

8) Dwarven women. Not at all what you think.

9) Some of the societies we meet in Deverry are patriarchal and yet Kerr continually gives women important roles and a variety of roles. Her women characters have agency.

10) Not all of the societies we meet in the series are patriarchal. They are varied, and unique, and interesting, with their own histories and languages (see 5, above)

11) The way she creates the institution of the “silver daggers” (disgraced men forced to “hire themselves out for coin”–which is seen as dishonorable in this society) and then threads it through the entire sequence. Brilliant.

12) In the early books especially, all politics are local, and lords’ warbands are fairly small groups of fighting men. Kerr, a football (NFL) fan, used her observations of the dynamics of football teams and games as part of the way in which she created the relationships between the warriors and the way battles — before, during, and after — are fought. It’s not noticeable. I just happen to know she did it, and for me the way she delves into the psychology and tactics and strategy of warfare in this type of society comes across as quite realistic and never cliched or stereotyped.

13) Which Deverry hero is the hottest? A lengthy discussion (may contain spoilers). This post was part of deverry15, an online tribute to the Deverry sequence upon publication of the final volume.

14) You can read through deverry15’s posts and links HERE.

15) The Deverry sequence is probably my favorite post-Tolkien epic fantasy series.



[I would love to do a read-through of the entire series (the kind of thing they’ve been doing for a while not at Tor.com with other epic fantasy series, mostly by men) but at the moment I do not have time to administer it.]

Tanita S Davis: MARE’S WAR

Two teen sisters who don’t really get along that well are forced by their parents to accompany their eccentric grandmother on a cross country trip, thus ruining their summer vacation plans.

Along the way, their grandmother begins telling them the story of how and why she left home and joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) in World War II with the 6888th, the only “all-African-American, all female unit to serve overseas.



I really adored Mare’s War, which is a Young Adult contemporary fantasy (combined with a YA historical) There are two narrators: Younger sister Octavia tells the “Now” story and Mare (the grandmother) tells the “Then” story. This is not a dark, grim novel although it deals with serious subject matter. It’s sometimes funny, always humane, and the ending packs an emotional punch. (It brought good tears to my eyes.)

The dynamic between the sisters felt real to me and never became tedious or overwhelming. Their relationship with their grandmother, whom they do not quite understand or appreciate, is believably developed. Mare’s “then” story is engaging and vivid, and meanwhile Davis pulls off the difficult trick of educating the reader about a much overlooked piece of history without ever once making it feel didactic or educational.

I’m not particularly comfortable “reviewing” books. All I can say is that I highly recommend this novel. It’s an “easy read” without being simplistic (harder to pull off than it may seem), and a lovely story.


On the efficacy of cold magic (Spiritwalker Monday 11)

On the efficacy of cold magic, with an aside to cold mages and their antipathy to technology.

By Habibah ibnah Alhamrai, natural philosopher and lecturer at the University of Expedition

 It is well known that the great mage Houses are anathema to the technologies developed and developing in the Amerikes, especially those so abundantly useful in Expedition and other areas where the technologies have been employed. One might assume that the cause of this antipathy might be that much of these technologies are the handiwork of the Trolls, and that the mage have, in general, an inborn hatred or even natural dislike for their species. One would be totally mistaken.

The mages do not care about the Trolls except that they create and perpetrate many new technologies that the mages find repulsive, or rather that they find unuseable and from which they are repulsed. Part of this is undoubtedly physical, but some may be psychological in the sheer inescapability of their being cold mages. A common example of this physical repulsion can be seen in nearly any locale where gas light has been installed and is currently enhancing the environs of most normal citizens. We know that gas light is produced in lamps designed specifically to allow small amounts of gas to expand inside the globe and ignite and burn, thereby providing light and a bit of heat. The heat in this case is useless as the globes are high above the street, but the light, because of that height, shines down upon the ground and illuminates the surrounding area.

But watch a carriage carrying a cold mage through the streets and it is easy to see the problem. As the carriage approaches the light, the light dims. When the carriage is beneath the lamp, the light is nearly invisible. And when the carriage passes, only then does the light begin to brighten and eventually burn to its natural state.

It is widely known that cold mage houses are heated by an indirect method originally invented and employed by the Romans. It might be thought that they use this old style through some propensity toward ancient knowledge. That thought would be wrong. While it is unclear if the cold mages themselves would actually suffer much from the coldness, their spouses and children are not possessed of their abilities and certainly will. Therefore, cold mage manors must be heated in some way. This indirect method, though in some ways less efficient than direct heating by stove or fireplace, is nonetheless the only method available in an abode where cold mages reside. These Roman heat pipes are just that, pipes beneath the floors of the rooms that carry hot water or air. The heat source must be located somewhere away from the main house so that the cold magic cannot reach it, as not only will a cold mage put out a fire in near proximity, but it will also be impossible to relight the fire until the cold mage has departed. Generally, the mage houses place the fire building up hill from the house at a spring location so that water can be heated and then flow naturally down to the manor house itself. As far as can be understood, cold mages have had difficulty with fire for their entire existence, but, since little is known about the early days of the cold mages, little can be said as to how they adapted to their difficulties and adopted the Roman methods.

On the essence of cold magic, its spontaneous generation and use.

Cold magic is not an old ability. It did not exist during the height of the Roman hegemony. During that time, while various magics undoubtedly existed, cold magic did not. It is only due to the Salt Plague that cold magic could come into existence. One need not repeat here the history of the salt plague or the ghouls that emerged and destroyed entire civilizations. Nor the subsequent migrations and resettlements. The history may be read in any one of many treatises, but a simple explanation may be found in the workman-like discourse found in “Concerning the Mande Peoples of Western Africa Who Were Forced by Necessity to Abandon Their Homeland and Settle in Europe Just South of the Ice Shelf,” by Catharine Hassi Barahal of the famous Hassi Barahal Kena’ani lineage.

Let it be said that one fortuitous result of the plague, or rather the migration caused by the plague, is that the Mande from Africa met the Celtic druids of the north. Obviously, not all Mande were equal in either wealth or magic. The wealthy of the Mande married into the princely Celtic houses of the north, while those possessing magic found the Celtic druids to be of a kind, joined together with their societies and their houses. The combination led to the emergence of strong mages who had the ability to wield the power of the ice. This merging of two disparate elements formed the mage Houses.

However, not all or every merging of Mande with Celt produced or to this day produce cold mages and not all cold mages are equal. Because cold magic does not show up at birth, and because all joining does not produce a cold mage, the current mages have taken to occasionally plowing somewhat far from home and only reaping the outcome if it seems favorable. At this point, the lineages of the Celtic druids and the Mande run throughout many of the villages and towns within their realms so where a cold mage will appear is unknown. The biology of this phenomenon is undoubtedly fascinating but is not yet understood.

It is widely known that scholars believe that magic could be explicated on scientific principle if only those who handle magic were not so secretive.  It is my thesis that much of cold magic can be explicated using only the principles of natural history and the sciences without the aid of the mages. In fact, help from the mages would probably serve only to further confuse.

For example, it is widely held by the mages and others that the source of cold magic is in the spirit world. That the source of the vast energies available to the mages is somewhere hidden in that world. The path to that energy may be in the spirit world, but the source of the power is the ice that covers the entire northern portion of our planet and on whose edge we settle. It is doubtful that if the Celtic druids had been the ones forced from their homes to settle in the Mande area of Africa that cold mages would today exist. Perhaps in that environ, the essence and control of fire magic might have become dominant. However, the vagaries of the gods forced the Mande to the north to sit on the edge of the source of their great power.

“The history of the world begins in ice, and it will end in ice.”

The Celtic bards and Mande djeliw of the north say this, but they do not know how correct they are. The Romans may have believed the world began in fire, but now, ice rules, as do the cold mages. The power of cold is extraordinary. Anyone in the proximity of a cold mage releasing his power will attest to this. Area wide storms of wind, ice and snow rain down upon those in the path of a cold mage’s ire. Liquid freezes and solid objects become so cold they brittlize and shatter. Through the spirit world and into the ice the mages reach, releasing the power. The ice is the ultimate source.

This is why one of the few things that a powerful cold mage fears is the Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt will identify mages who overstep their bonds, who use their power too much, too often or too impulsively, and sweep down and remove that mage from the mix. We can not know the machination of those in the Wild Hunt nor the rest of their ilk, but they monitor and punish not just simple mortals, but the cold mages, for those of the Wild Hunt own the ice.

While I can not explain to you how the mages channel their power from the ice, nor whether that power is limited or limitless, I can explain their use of that power and why they themselves have a repulsion to fire and technology. We all know how fire can change metals in the forge or pottery in the kiln, but cold can do the same if wielded by a skilled mage. Take glass for example. For most of us, a broken pane of glass can only be repaired by remelting and pouring a new pane, but a cold mage can take those shards and knit them into a whole. How can this be done with cold rather than heat? We know that glass is amorphous, if the two edges are held together, the mage can make the components at the edges move and intertwine thereby fusing them together with intense cold. In this case, there are no crystals to reunite or layers to re-adhere. Just as the masses of ice on the glaciers move, melt and reform under the great mass of the ice, so a mage’s touch can cold press the glass into reforming.

One does not often see a mage re-forming glass, but one does see the effects of a mage’s presence on fire and technology. The principles of fire are well understood, but a short explanation is appropriate here. In general, heat, from a fire, friction of rubbing, concentrated sunlight or striking of flint on steel warms the material to be burned, and when the temperature rises sufficiently for the substance to become gaseous, the material ignites. The material remains lit and burns because the fire of burning itself provides more gaseous fuel for the fire. An easy example to see is a candle.  An ember transferred from the fireplace ignites the wick which burns rapidly until it approaches the wax. The wax melts, moves up the wick, evaporates and ignites and the process continues until there is no wax left.

When mages enter areas where there is fire of any kind, the intense cold presence around them sucks all the warmth from the area. The flame can no longer consume the material, be it wood, candle wax or gas, because the heat is drawn into the mage and the fire dies. Fires cannot be lit in the presence of a mage because the cold aura prevents any of the materials from igniting. Even if a spark from flint can be created, the materials will not burn.
The effect of this sucking of energy on a fireplace fire or candle are transient and while the mages dislike them, they are merely annoying. The presence of large furnaces, like the ones created in Expedition to run the boilers that power the factories, contain much more energy, and while the mages have a similar effect on a factory as they do on a candle, the great heat absorbed by the mages is no longer simply annoying, but can begin to eat into their very essence. This, I believe, is why the mage Houses are so opposed to the new technologies. They fear first, that the presence of so much technology producing so much heat will interfere with their magic, but they fear foremost that the technology will become all pervasive and interfere with their well being, melting them and eroding them from inside.



@ A’ndrea Messer 2010

Science writer A’ndrea Messer wrote this piece “in the style of” an early 19th century paper or lecture. The character Habibah ibnah Alhamrai appears in Cold Fire.

A’ndrea and her colleagues at the Research Communications unit of The Pennsylvania State University have a blog: Research Matters.

COLD MAGIC on sale (Kindle & Nook)

Today only (April 4) Cold Magic is on sale for $1.99 on at Amazon/Kindle and at B&N/Nook. AND at iBooks.

If you haven’t read it or if you read it from the library and want a copy or even just TELL YOUR FRIENDS (or enemies–whatever): Now’s your chance.

Now is a good time to start the series regardless if you’ve not read it yet, with COLD STEEL coming out in June. [And while the official publication date is June 25, if I go by the example of Cold Fire’s soft launch back in Sept 2011, there’s a chance the trade paperback will start hitting stores earlier although the ebook won’t drop until the official day.]

From: The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal (Spiritwalker Monday 12)


Cat Barahal, in the fencing salon (preliminary sketch by Julie Dillon)

I’m collaborating with fabulous (& now Hugo-nominated!) artist Julie Dillon on a chapbook (she’s illustrating, I’m writing) titled “The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal.” It will be published by Crab Tank.

If all goes well the chapbook should be available by the June 25, 2013 release of Cold Steel.

More details and information (including bonus art) forthcoming.

Please feel free to signal boost this, as I’m practically beside myself with excitement about Julie’s gorgeous art.

Also, if you think it is something you would buy either as a print or digital copy, please let me know in the comments.