Tag Archives: Fantasy

The Bloodstone (My April Story — Very Late — Sorry)

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“All you have to do is concentrate. Visualize the wick of the candle bursting into fire.”

I really was trying and concentrating, but at the same time, I was also thinking how I didn’t belong here.

“Trainee Ella, are you concentrating?” Mage Orvan was standing over me glaring.

I rolled my eyes and received a smack upside the head. Apparently it didn’t matter that I was the only female ever allowed to train with Mages. I was treated exactly like every other trainee, and I hated it.

I had been training for nearly a year and was making very little progress.

Mage Orvan seemed especially determined to aggravate me today. “Your year one review is tomorrow. At this point in your training, your level will be determined.” I already knew that, but he continued stating things I already knew, “Being the only girl in history capable of magic, one would think you would be capable of the higher levels.”

I sat there staring at the candle for another two hours and then walked back to my quarters. My “special quarters” as the other trainees called them. My quarters were in a tiny room above the kitchen. In the past it was used as an overflow pantry for when the kitchens were well stocked. I actually liked my room. It usually smelled like fresh baked bread and roasting chicken.

Most nights I found sitting in my room relaxing, but tonight I couldn’t stop thinking about what Mage Orvan had said. I often wondered why I was the only girl capable of magic. There had to be a reason. Tomorrow I would find out if I really belonged here or not. When trainees were tested, they had to be at least a level 5 Mage to train at the College. Levels 1-4 were apprenticed out to active fully trained Mages. I wanted badly to test as a level 5 or above, but I had no idea what the test even consisted of.

The Mages were a very secretive group and even amongst themselves there were things they didn’t often talk about. One of those things was the test at the end of year one. Even though I had no idea what the test might be, I had read enough to understand the levels.

Level 1 was a Mage capable of manipulating and controlling air; one of the essential magical elements. Level 2 was a water Mage, level 3 was an earth Mage, and level 4 was a fire Mage. A level 5 Mage could control all four of the essential elements. The levels went beyond that too, but I didn’t have any hope of reaching into those levels.Merlin

Level 6 could control light and dark. Level 7 could manipulate the structure of living things. From what I understood in my reading, a level 7 Mage could make plants grow instantaneously from seeds and things like that. A level 8 could control the will of living things. That was a sobering and terrible thought. Level 9 could control other magical beings, including other Mages. And the highest level could control time itself. Only one Mage in history had been a level 10. Merlin. Everyone, even non-Mages, knew Merlin’s story. He was the only Mage that could control all the elements, light and dark, life, and time. He truly was all-powerful. And then one day, he vanished.

I needed to clear my head and decided to go for a walk. I was minding my own business when I heard snickering behind me. Without even turning I knew it was some of my fellow first years preparing to taunt me. At that moment I would have given anything to be able to control them. I decided to just ignore them.

“Trying to decide whether you are going to be a cook or a maid after tomorrow, Ella?” I knew that question had sprung from the mouth of Trainee Jared. He loved to point out that I was a girl who clearly didn’t belong here. Although, I do recall he struggled with lighting the candle today too. I just shook my head and bee lined back toward the kitchen. I could hear their chuckles and snide comments the whole way.

The next morning I awoke when the smell of oatmeal and bacon began to waft into my quarters. I didn’t remember falling asleep last night. I was too nervous to eat, so I headed to the dining hall with just a cup of tea. The trainees, even those who heckled me last night, were noticeably quiet this morning. It seems that even bullies get serious when their fate is about to be decided.

Mage Orvan gathered us all out of the dining hall and led us to the assembly chambers. We often had lectures and courses in the hall, but today it looked a little different. We were told to line up outside the door and we would be called in individually to test.

I was the last one waiting in the hallway and I thought I was going to be sick. Every trainee but me had been in and no one had come back out, which meant they would all be watching me as I was tested.

Orvan stepped into the hall and looked at me. He opened his mouth to speak and then decided against it. Instead he gestured for me to enter the assembly.

I walked into the room and my fears were realized. All the other trainees were sitting on benches to one side and would have a front row seat to my shame.

Orvan swept past me and stood behind a small table. On the table was a stone. “Do you know what this is?” asked Orvan.

I thought I did but I’d never seen one, only read about them. I took a stab at it anyway. “It’s a bloodstone.”

“Correct,” Orvan said. “This is the test. You will pick up the stone and hold it for exactly one minute. In that time, the stone will transform and this will tell us what level of magic you possess.”

A bloodstone. That was the test? I couldn’t believe it. A bloodstone was a crystal that recognized magical energy. When a Mage picked it up, it would change from it’s normal clear resting stage to a shade of red or pink. The more powerful the Mage, the redder the stone changed. When the Mage set the stone down, the stone returned to it’s normal state. It was actually a very good use of the stone’s properties.stone

“Pick up the stone.” I could hear snickering coming from the section where the first years were seated.

I took a deep breath and picked up the stone. When people look back at their lives, they say there are moments when they felt time stand still. Well, this was one of those moments for me. I picked up the stone and whatever being watched over us, paused in her labors to look down at me. I could feel every eye looking, not at me, at the stone. In the instant I picked up the stone, it changed.

The stone was deep crimson. It certain light, it looked almost black and then the light would shine on it and you could see the red swirling within.

When I remembered to breathe again, I looked at Orvan. He looked confused and for once, he didn’t look mad at me. I also noticed that every Elder Mage that was sitting behind him was now standing. There wasn’t any snickering coming from the other trainees.

One of the Elders spoke, “It must be a trick.” And like that, time began again. I couldn’t focus on what was happening around me, but I picked up snippets.

“She’s just a girl.”

“Cheated, clearly.”

“There’s no way she’s a higher level than me.”

“Unprecedented.”

“Silence.” Orvan spoke finally. “Sit the stone down, Ella. The Elders must discuss this.”

I returned the stone to it’s cushion and took a step back. I looked down at my feet. I didn’t know what any of this meant, but somehow I knew I was not to blame for what happened.

I stood there for several moments and there was talking and whispering all around me. And then the room got quiet again. I looked up to see Orvan staring at the stone very intently.

The stone had not returned to it’s resting state. The stone should have been clear again by now, but it remained crimson.

Orvan stood up very straight and addressed the Elders. “My friends, we all know what this means.” The Elders nodded in unison.

“All trainees will return to their quarters now, someone will be along later to report your levels. You are dismissed.” As the other trainees shuffled past me I saw many emotions on their faces – curiosity, rage, jealousy, confusion, and even fear.

I was left alone with the Elders and Orvan. The Elders gathered around a group of statues. The statues were a permanent part of the assembly room. I remembered the first time I saw them, I thought they were very life like. All of the statues were animals of various shapes and sizes. They were true to life in size.

Orvan spoke, breaking my train of thought, “Ella, these statues are your final test.” He must have seen the confusion on my face. “Pick up the bloodstone and place it at the feet of one of these statues.”

I still didn’t really understand what was going on but I realized this was part of my test. “Which one should I pick sir?”

And for the first time since I met him, Orvan smiled at me kindly. “I cannot tell you that. Pick the one that resonates with you.”

I didn’t have the foggiest idea what that meant, but I walked amongst the statues looking at each one. There was a unicorn, a house cat, a dragonling, and even a dire wolf. I walked past others and thought what on earth could all this mean? I had no idea which one to pick. Then I stopped in front of an owl.

This was the one. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew. I put the stone at his feet and the statue burst into flame.

I was so shocked I fell back. Smoke clouded my vision and I thought I heard flapping wings. I heard other Mages cough and felt the air swirling around me. Before I could cry out for help, something landed on my knees.

The smoke cleared and I was surrounded by the Elders, all of which we clapping or smiling. What on earth was happening? I looked at what was now perched on my lap. I was staring into the eyes of the owl. The owl who moments ago had been a statue. And then before my brain could process any of the thoughts passing through it, the owl spoke.owl

“Hello, Merlin.”

“I’m not Merlin.” I managed to stammer before I really knew what I was saying.

The owl turned its head sideways at a very disconcerting angle and said, “You are, and you aren’t. But you will be.”

Review of the Nebula Awards Showase 2013

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Every year I try to read the Nebula Awards Showcase anthology. If you don’t know, the Nebula Awards are given for Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writing. I look forward to the collection every year. And last year, I started ordering the older copies from Abebooks.com. (I love that site). I almost have every year now.

Anyway, when I read, I have a tendency to compare what I’m reading to other things that I’ve read. I try to judge a book on its value alone but in this case, I can’t help it. So, as I was reading the 2013 collection, I was comparing it to the 2012 anthology.

In all honesty, I thought the 2012 collection was better. Now, to be fair though, there are still some really great stories in the 2013 set that I would highly recommend. However, the new book just didn’t wow me like last year’s did.

Before I talk about some of the stories that I did like, I wanted to add one other thing you should know about the Nebula Awards collections. They usually feature poetry. Yes, you read that right. Sci-fi or fantasy poetry. And I’m here to tell you, it can be pretty weird.

Weird poetry aside, some stories that I think are really great from this collection:nebula awards

1. “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu

  • This story is truly magical. It’s about the relationship between a mother and her son. I don’t want to tell you more than that, because it’s really, really, really great.
  • It’s one of those stories that isn’t your typical sci-fi or fantasy story but I’m so glad it’s in this collection.

2. The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman

  • I love this story! I couldn’t get over the complexity of the universe that this author created just for a short story. It’s about a girl and her learning about the past. It’s also about an ice owl, but I won’t tell you what happens other than that.
  • When I finished reading this, I was hoping there was more. I would love to read a novel length work set in the universe created by this author.

3. Excerpt from Among Others by Jo Walton

  • This, as you can guess from the title, was a snippet of a novel that they included.
  • The novel is now on my “To Read” list.
  • The excerpt introduces us to one of the main characters, a girl, who is about to go to boarding school. I can’t add more than that, not because I don’t want to give anything away, but because there’s not much else to go on from the snippet. I have to admit one of the reasons I say this is worth reading is because it peaked my curiosity and now I need to know what happens.

4. “Sauerkraut Station” by Ferrett Steinmetz

  • If you only had time to read one story from the collection, this would be my choice.
  • Unlike some of the other stories, this story is more typical. It has some known sci-fi devices. It is set on a space station. There is a war going on that involves two different factions with different belief systems.
  • What isn’t typical about this story. The main character is a girl who lives with her female relatives and together they run a “truck stop” in space. In particular, their station is known as “Sauerkraut Station” because they serve sauerkraut that they make themselves right on the station.
  • I can’t explain why exactly this was my favorite out of all of them, other than I just thought it was really well written. For a short story, it was very complex.

5. “Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen

  • This story is about our world after aliens have arrived and blocked out our sun. In order to survive, the humans that endure are forced to live deep in the ocean near vents that produce heat.
  • The story is also about the generation of children who are born down in the ocean. They want to see the sun. They form a “cult” like group that worships the sun. Eventually, the teens steal some subs and make their way to the surface because no one has been to the surface in years. Guess what they find when they get there…. I’m not telling. Read the story. It’s good.

There are many more in this collection but I felt like those five were the highlights. One of the things I love about the Nebula collections is a lot of time the stories that are featured aren’t your typical sci-fi and fantasy. There aren’t a lot of dragons or light sabers. Instead, there are a lot of characters in a vast array of settings surviving and being a part of some very unique universes.

Review of Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

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CooperOverSeaUnderStone1st book of The Dark is Rising Series

I have wanted to read this series ever since I saw the movie The Seeker. I thought the movie was okay, but I could tell while I was watching it that there was a lot of something left out. The script of the movie seemed very incomplete to me. Perhaps this is because the movie is based on the entire series, not just one book, and so far I have only read the first book.

The first book though is really great and so much better than the movie. I can’t wait to keep reading this series. While I was reading this book I didn’t feel like I was reading a book written for kids. What I mean by that is that the story is complex and even though the main characters are children, they are well written. Too many juvenile books that I’ve read make the children characters very one dimensional. Cooper doesn’t do that. These kids are smart and brave, but they still see the world with childlike wonder.

Another part of this story that I enjoyed was the villains. They are sneaky, and everything they do seems malicious. I thought they were great villains that didn’t do anything terribly diabolical (other than being evil).

I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but the basic plot is that there is a great battle for good and evil going on in our world that most people don’t know about. A few though, like the characters in the Cooper novels, get caught up in this battle. In order to prevent the darkness from conquering our world someone must prevent the villains from finding artifacts that will give them an advantage. The children accidentally get pulled into finding an artifact hidden in the time of King Arthur.

You won’t be disappointed. This is a great story.

Double Review: Jhereg and Yendi by Steven Brust

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Cover of "Yendi"

Cover of Yendi

This review is going to cover the first two books of the Vlad Taltos series.

Cover of

Cover of Jhereg

I picked these books up because my brother in law always raves about them. I think these might be some of his favorite fantasy books, and now that I’ve read two of them, I get why.

I can’t tell you if the series stays good throughout because I’ve only read the first two so far, but I want to tell you what I like about the series in general and then I’ll get to talking about each book.

To start with, the series is great because it is not your typical fantasy novel. Many fantasy authors feel the need to write massive tomes that involve histories and back stories until you can’t remember who’s who and what’s what. This series doesn’t do that. In fact, Brust spends next to no time explaining what happened in the first book while you’re reading the second. I think this keeps the pacing of the book and doesn’t bog you down with unnecessary details.

Another thing I like about this series is that even though there is a dragon in the book, the whole world doesn’t revolve around the dragon. Some fantasy novels make the dragons more interesting than the people who are with them. That is not necessarily a bad thing, I really love the Temeraire series, but this series is different and that’s a nice thing – variety is good, especially in a genre that can be formulaic at times.

A third reason I enjoyed these books is that the main character is a bad guy. He is an assassin, which means he is technically bad, but he is also the hero and the guy you root for. This is not the first series to focus on an assassin or the first to make you empathize with a bad guy, but I just like that he is not all goody-goody.

Now, for the first book – Jhereg. This is the first book in the series so there is a bit of history included just to make the readers more familiar with the world that Brust is creating. However, as I said before, he doesn’t bog you down with this. The one part of back story that I wanted explained a bit more was about the different races of the world. There are 17 races from what I can tell and the first book only discusses a few of them. I assume the others come up later on in the series, but still I wanted to know what they were.

The pacing of the novel is fast. The best way I can think to explain the pace of this book is that it felt like watching an episode of a show rather than watching a full length movie. Does that make sense? Basically, I feel like there is more to come.

The characters are really great and well-rounded. The main character is Vlad Taltos and he is very complex. Is he good? Is he bad? I feel like there is a lot more to him and that alone makes me want to read the rest of the books.

As for the second book, Yendi, it actually takes place before the first book chronologically. When I first started reading it took me a couple of chapters to catch that. I wasn’t expecting the second book of the series to jump back in time, and the story of Yendi tells us even more about how Vlad became who he is without feeling like you are reading one long flash back.

I admit that I also like that all of my favorite characters are back, especially Vlad’s dragon (humanoids, not lizards) friends.

Again the book feels like an episode of a much longer story yet to be told. I can’t wait to read more of these books.

If you are looking for a quick read from the fantasy genre, I would recommend these. Also, if you don’t love fantasy that is like 8000 pages long, these are quick reads that give you great stories.