Sunday 25 January 2015

Pathfinder Interlude/Fanfic - The Wedding of Chester Goldhawk and Kevin Wass-his-name

And now, very belated, I present Svetlana's version of Chester's wedding. It'll probably make more sense when I start catching up with events in Jvala's campaign. 

As excited as she was for Chester and Kevin’s wedding, Svetlana was grateful to have been able to spend a week or so alone with her husband first. Lounging on that sunny beach so far from all of this had been necessary for her sanity. She could still feel the pull of the waves.

And now she was back at the palace, surrounded by political enemies. Without that break, it could have gone badly: having spent weeks surrounded by demons her reflexes had become wired to a more violent response. As it was, she did her best to remember who stood where in the political web, and guarded her tongue and listened more intimately than her deliberately careless manner would suggest. Still, knowing she would soon be leaving again meant she rarely left her husband’s side, and people speak more carefully near a king.

Svetlana was dressed in Brevic colours – red, white and yellow – and her hair had been scooped to fall in elaborate waves. In contrast to Noleski’s dark tan, her skin was pink from the sun. The hall was impressively decked – less extravagant than her own recent wedding, but very beautiful as befitted such a high profile couple. The guests were plentiful.

Svetlana accepted and offered many drinks, but was careful not to actually drink anything alcoholic. She needed a clear head.

She missed the ease of their brief holiday.

Demons and noblemen. The armour for one is leather and leaves; the other, a smile. One fights you with swords and claws; the other, words and rumour. It’s tiring being surrounded by enemies.

Brevoy matters: Brevoy could be a shining jewel and she would do her best to ensure that, but what use is a jewel if Golarion is burning? Yet the nobles (the other nobles, she reminded herself – mustn’t forget she’s part of that class now) seemed oblivious, intent on scheming for their own ends.

Today wasn’t about them, it was about Chester and Kevin. But now she was queen, every day she spent in Brevoy was about the nobles and their power struggles. Maybe that’s why she’d gone on the Crusades.

She tightened her grip on Noleski’s arm as they swept round the room.

Chester was joyous as a groom should be. It still surprised her they were getting married – he’d only gone on that first date with Kevin so she and Alexei could sneak into the Trade Guild HQ but they’d obviously clicked.

The wedding was wonderful – they seemed calmer and more collected than she’d felt when it was her turn, but then again there were fewer deities here, and they were both less excitable than she. It was this blasted reception she was struggling with.

Alexei, as usual, had gathered a small entourage of dewy-eyed nobles who looked as though they were in paradise to be listening to his prose. Kieran was similarly surrounded by a crowd of people interested in what he had to say. She envied them, to be free like that. Queendom was a shackle she wasn’t yet used to. But Noleski was worth it and for his sake she would learn. And she could always escape from time to time and be free and herself.

Aaron was noticeably absent: something to do with his cohorts of assassins needing him. She liked the tiefling but didn’t necessarily trust him. Politics messing with her head again.

A group of 5 stood out. Their dress was shabbier than most there – nicer than anything she’d had a year ago, but of noticeably poorer quality than what anyone else wore. Their posture suggested to her that they were travellers and adventurers. An odd group: two humans, a dark elf, a cat-folk and an ifrit. Not a common mix. Chester saw her glance in their direction and he waved them over: members of the Pathfinder Guild who’d been tasked with investigating their rise to power.

She laughed and relaxed a little – they were as out of place as she was and somehow that made her feel calmer. She could tell she was much better at hiding her jitters than they and imagined they wouldn’t tell how much of a fish out of water she felt. A small, fluffy black cat padded over, but she didn’t need Mr Tiddles’s silent warning to know she needed to be a little careful with what she told them. Noleski, much more experienced in playing the politics game, smiled peacefully at her side and telepathically guided her answers to their questions, with them none the wiser to what was omitted.

Zabeel, the dark elf (and a gunslinger, just like Roland and fake-Roland), seemed the most overwhelmed by being presented to royalty. Wishing to calm him and help him feel at ease, she instinctively reached into her pocket dimension to pull out the bottle of her mum’s best mead she kept there. He, terrified, refused the gesture but Vernus – a swashbuckling fighter, by his stance and confidence – was happy to try some.

Their questions were straightforward enough and she was relieved that they seemed to believe she and Noleski had married for love. Nothing cut deeper than knowing not everyone accepted that; it was like a betrayal.

They asked about the Crusades – they’d heard about the new moat at the Star Keep and she was delighted to talk about something she felt so proud of. They knew she would be going back – how much longer did she think she’d be gone? She felt Noleski mask a small wince as her grip reflexively tightened. She relaxed it instantly whilst Noleski put his hand over hers – she didn’t think the Pathfinders noticed the small gesture that was the only outward sign of her fear. “Soon,” she laughed, “we’ve made really good progress and still have a few bits to clear up but I’m hopeful it won’t take much longer and I can be home again soon.” She looked at the Pathfinders but her words were for her husband. She wanted him to know how much she hated being away from him.

Satisfied with her comments, the group moved over to speak to Alexei – tailed by Mr Tiddles. The feline’s behaviour reminded her of the way their diplomatic advisor Gregor Blackson would normally hover whenever they were at some important function. He was around, but clearly trusted Noleski would be able to keep her from accidentally causing an incident.

She kept half an eye on the group as they spoke to Kieran, Akaros and Alexei’s strange friend, the alchemist Ezekiel. He may have been a huge help in Absalom, but there was something about him (and his relationship with Alexei) that left Svetlana unsure.

With great power comes great paranoia.

Malliard approached. Besides Noleski, the Court Magister was her favourite person in the Ruby Fortress and one of the few people she’d met in the past year she trusted absolutely – not only had he trained and protected Noleski, he’d helped them protect their relationship when it was in its infancy; before that he’d been the one to introduce her to and guide her through the crazy world of nobility, and in Restov he’d shown the power of his loyalty to other friends. She felt always safe in his presence.

Chester explained the Pathfinders had come to him a few days earlier and he’d invited them to the wedding as it seemed a good opportunity for them to meet and learn about their targets. Svetlana smiled with the half-orc and was pleased to have a bit of time away from the battlefield to talk to her friend.

She made guarded small talk with some nobles and less guarded with others, pleased to have Noleski, Malliard, Mr Tiddles and Gregor on hand. She trusted them to translate the conversations and store the information.

An explosion sounded from the direction of her room. Eyes wide with alarm, her rapier was in hand almost before she realised she’d reached for it. Noleski looked at her, equal shock registering. Seeing the blade, he nodded quickly and she ran from the hall, stroking the crystal that triggered an icy sheen to mist from the rapier.

Mr Tiddles sat on her window cill staring out. The casement was open, the coverings flapped in a breeze. Nothing else seemed disturbed. He turned his green eyes to her as the final embers of his fireball descended from the sky outside.

“I was just catching birds.”

“With a fireball?”

He slow-blinked at her “Yes. Does that seem odd to you? You’ve seen me do far stranger things… Go back and enjoy the party.”

She nodded slowly and cast her eye over the contents of her room. It seemed untouched so she relented and walked away.

You’ve done far stranger things. I’ve just never known you justify yourself before.

Saturday 24 January 2015

Feline Interruptus

You were due to be getting a Pathfinder update - Chester & Kevin's wedding from Svetlana's point of view before returning to Jvala's story - but Cat had other plans...

I'll try again tomorrow!

Saturday 17 January 2015

2015 Reading Challenge - Faust, Heartless and Timeless

I’m now three books into the 2015 Reading Challenge, between them ticking off 9 challenges.

Faust by Robert Nye
First published 1st March 1981

Challenges covered:
-         A book with a one-word title
-         A book set in a different country
-         A book at the bottom of my to-read list
-         A book with magic
-         A book by an author I’ve never read before
-         A book I own but have never read

It’s probably not surprising to you that I inherited my bibliophile tendencies from my parents. Combine that up with my step-mum being an English teacher, and you’ll appreciate their house is rather full of books. So full, in fact, that periodically they need to clear their shelves and some of the books come the way of Husbit and I. Faust is one such book and has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for several years. Given this and its one-word title, I thought it was an ideal first book to read for the challenge.

One of the reasons I’d put off reading this book is that I’ve never read the original Faust, nor seen any of the films or plays based upon it. Reading Nye’s story, I decided this didn’t matter – I’m not sure how close the two are, but the story didn’t suffer for me not having a clue. It has made me more motivated to read the original, however, and I’ll probably reread this once I’ve done so.
The tale unfolds in the form of a journal kept by Christopher ‘Kit’ Wagner, Faust’s apprentice. It starts with him telling his own history and what he knows of Faust’s, before becoming a diary of increasingly bizarre events: to me, it was never clear whether these events were real or whether Faust was mad and his madness infecting Kit. The story follows their journey to Rome, either for Faust’s salvation or damnation, depending whether it is Jane or Kit he speaks to (and are Jane and Kit actually the same person?)

The writing flows quickly and is easy to read, for all the story isn’t a straightforward narrative. The book made me laugh in places, but is not a book I feel could fit the ‘funny book’ challenge on the list.

I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading (although there is some rather lurid sex and strange scenes in it), but it probably isn’t a book for someone who doesn’t read widely and often.

Heartless and Timeless by Gail Carriger
Published 1st July 2011 and 1st March 2012

Challenges covered:
-         A funny book
-   A book by a female author (it annoys me that this is a category in the challenges, because it implies that female authors are in some way specialised or might only be read if one is prompted – the idea of the challenge is to get people out of their comfort zones, after all – but there are so many fantastic and very popular female authors out there that, without the “book by a male author” and “book by a gender queer author” additional categories, this bothered me)
-         A book with a one-word title
-         A book set in a different country (Timeless only, and not entirely)
-         A book a friend recommended

Towards the end of last year, I went on a rereading binge, starting with The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, moving onto Night Watch, Day Watch and Twilight Watch (mostly so I would finally get around to reading the fourth in the series, Last Watch) by Sergei Lukyanenko, and then the first three in Gail Carriger’s ‘Parasol Protectorate’ series: Soulless, Changeless and Blameless. This inspired me to treat myself to books four and five as a late Christmas present – I really wanted to know how the series ended.

I do have a few issues with these books, particularly in the way they are written. They are Young Adult fiction and the writing style reflects the stereotype of this: very simple and with unnecessary writing – by which I mean, we will be told something in the text that a character will then repeat in speech. It can be a little grating at times, but overall doesn’t detract from the stories.

What I find more annoying, however, is the sound of American English from the English characters: particularly the word ‘ladybug’. They are ladybirds. It grated in Blameless, but I hoped the creatures would be left behind for the later books. Sadly, not so. I still haven’t forgiven Stephen King for allowing the English character in The Langoliers to say “airplane” instead of “aeroplane” and it’s over 15 years since I read that, so it took some work to get past the same sin in these books. I know it’s very petty, but it does break the fourth wall for me and detracts from my enjoyment. (I once read something by Neil Gaiman that I now can’t find, in which he justified having his English translated into American English for things like that and for idioms and colloquialisms that would work better in one language than the other. I didn’t mind that as such, but felt aggrieved that no American author seems to feel the need to do the same when their books come over here.)

Finally, I don’t agree with the quote proudly shown on the front of several of the books: “A delicious rapier wit that recalls Jane Austen and P G Wodehouse.” To me, that implies a subtlety to the humour and writing that is very much lacking. The books are written to sound as though written in that era, but are too brash to pass off as what the quote claims them to be.

Still with me?

I really enjoy these books.

The simplistic writing style means they’re very quick and easy to read. The main character (Alexia Maccon née Tarabotti) is fierce and not always nice (the way she treats and constantly underestimates her friend Miss Tunstall, for instance), which makes her more rounded and so more relatable. The humour may be more blatant than implied, but it is still good humour that often leaves me chuckling out loud despite being surrounded by strangers on a train.

The setting is an alternative Victorian London, replete with ghosts, vampires, werewolves and steampunk paraphernalia. Alexia Tarabotti is ‘soulless’, the opposite, in many ways, of the various undead types (termed supernaturals, whilst Alexia is a preternatural). Should Alexia touch a supernatural, she renders them mortal for the duration of the contact.

The first book follows Alexia as she falls in love with and marries the werewolf Lord Maccon against a backdrop of vampires and werewolves vanishing. This is ultimately resolved and the next challenge the argumentative duo face comes when supernaturals across London are rendered mortal, an affliction that moves north and requires Lord Maccon to return to his former pack.

The third book sees them separated: as a werewolf, Lord Maccon cannot father a child, so when Alexia discovers she is pregnant he kicks her out… Which didn’t sit right with me. Not just because it’s a horrible thing to do – fiction often deals with people doing or suffering horrible things – but because so much has been made of how fierce Lord Maccon’s love is for her and also that he is mortal when they touch… Nonetheless, an exciting tour of Europe follows, introducing and building on several secondary characters and fleshing out the world.

Overall, I was a little disappointed with the last two books. I may have found the motivation for book 3 (Blameless) unlikely in terms of Connall Maccon’s character, but the story itself was strong. This recurs with the actions of some of the characters in Heartless and the story itself felt a bit too disjointed to completely overcome that (although I found a heavily pregnant but active main character refreshing). Timeless was better in terms of continuity but still lacked something of the energy of the earlier books.

Throughout the books, little bits of information about Alexia’s father, Lord Maccon’s former pack and many of the secondary characters are given in a way that leaves you hungry for more. The information was given in larger reveals in both Heartless and Timeless, and maybe this was part of why I felt the books weren’t as strong. They finished the series adequately, but I couldn’t help feeling they could have been much better.

Black and White Photo Challenge

I got tagged for this on Facebook a little while back and meant to share on here. The idea is 5 black and white photos shared over 5 days - like many people I know, I did a mix of old and new photos.

1. The Pier

I took this on my phone during my lunchbreak when I was working in town 4 or 5 years ago. It's one of the few photos I've taken where I really knew what I was after and managed to capture it. I'm really pleased with the composition of this photo, so it was an obvious one to start with.

2. Cat

I wanted a photo of Cat for my second photo, but she's not a big fan of being photographed so I dug a photo of her that I think shows her nicely, cropped and edited a bit to get this image.

3. Christmas Tree

I've shared this one here before, but I originally took it for the challenge. Playing around with lighting and the editing software that came with my tablet and am fairly happy with the final result - although I should have been less lazy and moved more of the clutter from the background.

4. Tree

Less pleased with this one - again, taken specifically for the challenge (this time using my phone), I should have waited for my neighbour to use her car and (I think) taken the photo from a lower angle. Once I'd realised what I wanted to change, though, it was chucking it down outside and my neighbour's car was still there. A project for the future, maybe.

5. Dice

Well, it wouldn't be my challenge if I didn't manage to get dice in there somehow ;-)

Friday 16 January 2015

Aberrant: interrupted by the real world

There have been several reasons why I’ve become so far behind with my Aberrant updates (and hence Pathfinder) over the last weeks. Christmas and a change in job have been the best excuses, but there’s another and it’s one I’ve been reluctant to talk about here because it’s more personal and darker than I’d normally want to share here – but I’ve come to the realisation that I need to in order to get past this delay and back on with the story (especially as I have very little free time at the moment so need as few distractions as possible to stand any chance of getting back on track).

So first, a bit of Aberrant update I haven’t yet given.

Alistair, son of Jennifer and Benedict St John, may only be a couple of years old, but his Nova nature gives him the behaviour and appearance of someone in his late teens and an emotional maturity greater than most people of any age. When he reappeared on the scene, Chrissie was not surprised at his growth as she’d become very close to Jen following Benedict’s death/disappearance – offering her emotional support as one of the few people who knew that Benedict was more than human. As a result, she’d watched Alistair grow. He calls her ‘Auntie Chrissie’.

((Husbit doesn’t entirely understand why I get a kick out of roleplaying things that seem like mundane life, but I really enjoy the character development that comes from this.))

In a scene I’ll relate properly later, Alistair joins our heroes and, getting Adam and Chrissie alone, puts a question to them: “Do you really think Dad is dead?”

Chrissie and Adam want to reassure Alistair, but there is no reassuring answer to that question. Knowing Alistair’s maturity, Chrissie answers as honestly as she can: that she doesn’t know. If anyone could have survived Vienna, Benedict could and she can’t quite picture him being dead – but she doesn’t know.

“But if he isn’t dead, why isn’t he here? He’d better have a really good reason for leaving me and Mum.”

It was partly some very good acting on the part of my GM, but this was a knife through the heart to me and I thought I was going to weep.

See, my Mum died when I was 5. It’s often said (and was certainly said around me, when adults forgot that children comprehend what they hear) that small children ‘bounce back’. It was implied that we (my siblings and I) would be able to deal with her death without any outside assistance.

In my case, at least, that was bollocks.

Small children have shorter attention spans, so it can look like they are dealing when they aren’t. They still run and play and read and build lego, and can look like they are fine but that’s only half the story, because they are also dealing with this huge, huge grief that they have none of the knowledge and experience an adult has to help them deal with it. (This, by the by, is why I wasn’t surprised when I read this report that says there are more deaths in kids cartoons than adult thrillers: children learn from stories, so these and some of the more brutal fairy tales help prepare them for later loss.)

Back to Aberrant, however, and my hugely visceral response to Alistair’s distress stemmed from one of the defensive shells I put up to protect me from the truth of the horror of losing my Mum when I did: I convinced myself that she wasn’t dead; that she’d needed a break from raising us and everyone had got together to help her achieve this by pretending she was dead and wouldn’t we be pleased and amazed when she came back?

After a few years, I started to feel cross. It was taking too long for her to come back; surely she would be back soon? But I rationalised: she might not want to see me, but at least she was still alive.

It was many years – more of my life with her dead than alive – before I reached a point where the idea that she might not love me outweighed the idea of her being dead. It was still a while longer before the first overwhelmed the second and I finally – finally – accepted she was dead.

To hear that coming out of someone else’s mouth* – to see it in someone else’s body language – it was a bit too much for me and I’ve been reluctant to write up because it would mean thinking about it. But I’ve ripped that plaster now, and I’ll hopefully get back to writing up plot properly.

I love you Mum. I'll always miss you, but I know how much you loved me.

*It’s happened once before, watching a BBC documentary on Eddie Izzard where he was talking about his mum and it was as if he was reading my script. I was alone and wept for what felt like hours.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

2015 Reading Challenge Intro

I’m taking part in a reading challenge that’s doing the rounds on Facebook.

I’ll be letting books count towards more than one heading for several reasons – I have a fairly busy year planned and didn’t have the time to read as much as I wanted last year. I’ve also found I write less the more I read, and I want to get more of my own writing done. If things go well, I may change my mind and try to read a book for each category, but I’d rather start this way and not feel like I’ve let myself down if I don’t manage it.

I’m currently reading Faust by Robert Nye. My Dad and Step-Mum are sincere bibliophiles who periodically run out of shelf-space, at which point Husbit and I tend to acquire new books. This is one that was passed to me some years ago and has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read ever since. It also has a one-word title, is set in a different country, is by an author I’ve never read before, has magic in it, is making me laugh, and is a book that has been at the bottom of my “to-read” list.

I’ve just picked up two books by Gail Carriger (Heartless and Timeless, parts 4 and 5 of the ‘ParasolProtectorate’ series). I re-read the first three in the series between Christmas and New Year. I was on a bit of a re-reading kick, starting with The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and moving onto Sergei Lukyanenko’s ‘Watch’ series (which would have covered a few categories, had I known of this challenge sooner - though I've just learned there's a fifth, so I may still be able to use this) before picking up Soulless again. These (Heartless and Timeless) count as one word titles and I think set in another country for at least one – and they’re written by a woman.

The paperback version of PatrickRothfuss’s The Slow Regard of SilentThings comes out in October of this year and I’m really excited about that. It will definitely count as an unread book by a loved author.

My OU course books will certainly count as non-fiction, though I’ll probably find other options on this.

The book started but never finished concerns me a little – this gives me Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which I started a few months ago but found hard to read on my tablet (I kept wanting to make notes in the margin or highlight bits of text); Don Quixote, which I was reading on my e-reader and found to be very hard going with insufficient interest in the story to get me past that; and a book I started in my last week of middle school, thinking I would have time to finish it but ultimately not and had to return to the school library. I can’t remember what it was called, let alone who it was by, but the premise was that Elizabeth I was reading her mother’s diaries. I think (though I may very well be wrong) that the title included the word ‘labyrinth’.

The book I should have read at school but didn’t is also causing a dilemma, because I genuinely can’t think of one. I might read one of Shakespeare’s history plays – I read most of the plays I was meant to at uni, but struggled with the histories.

As I go through, I’ll try to give reviews (or at least mini reviews) of the books I’m reading. Book reviews is something I’ve been meaning to do here for a while anyway, so this is good motivation.

Anyone else taking part in the challenge? Any particular books or categories have you particularly excited or worried?