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Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton

Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton coverJust noticed that I hadn’t cross posted this review here yet – whoops. This was written for Slacker Heroes and first posted there in April.

I’ve just finished (and loved) Sacrificial Magic and Beautiful Creatures so, given that this one also has spells and magic in it, it’s fair to say I’ve been in a witchy phase this year. Way more fun than vamps & weres.

Have just checked Goodreads and the sequel to Blood Magic (The Blood Keeper) should be out later this summer – fab. I’ll definitely be reading it.

Got any suggestions as to other spooky-dark stories I can try in the meantime? Let me know!

Here’s the review –

It’s been a month or so since I finished Blood Magic, and I keep being disappointed when I pick up my Kindle and remember that I’m reading something else now, that I’ve left that world and those characters. I’d say that’s a sign of a good book, wouldn’t you?

It’s the story of seventeen-year-old Silla, a girl whose hands are heavy with the rings her father gave her, one for every birthday since she turned nine. A father who committed suicide after killing her mother. Silla was the one who found their bodies, but she’s sure there’s more to the events than has been discovered. She’s looking for answers in the mysterious book that arrived after their death. A book of spells written in her father’s hand.

Silla’s not the only one whose parents had secrets. Nick, the long-limbed new boy, has memories he’d rather forget, but coming back to the town his mother grew up in is stirring up the past and linking him to Silla in improbable ways.

So, we’ve got magic, death and secrets straight from the start. Yum! I’m a sucker for some good ol’ runes and pentacles, and the spells and rituals in this were very satisfying, very cool. We also get crows cawing and circling and beautiful, tree-heavy graveyards. These images are recognisable and classic, but felt fresh and aren’t something I’ve read much of recently, outside of Stacia Kane’s Downside series (which is definitely for an older readership). It felt fresh for YA, and the writing is atmospheric and compelling.

The narration swaps between Silla and Nick and it drew me in really quickly. I loved the way Gratton describes Nick, “He was so gangly and tall. Like half-grown animals, when their paws are still too big, and their legs way too long, and you know they’re going to grow into it all eventually and be the handsomest thing you ever saw”. I think it sums up the gawkishness of teenage boys very well, and emphasises how these characters are nearly – but not quite – on the verge of adulthood. I don’t think Nick would really be that into me, since he goes for bird-thin, blood-covered, fucked up 17-year-old orphans and I am almost exactly the opposite, but I’d still be happy to help him with his homework. Silla’s a teenage drama student whose parents both died recently in a gruesome murder-suicide, so of course her chapters are a little over the top with purple prose, but it works. It’s authentic.

Silla and Nick fall for each other very quickly – that’s not a spoiler, since their feelings are clear from the start. At first the speed made me twitch – was this realistic? – until I remembered high school, and how emotions, friendships, love and hate really did move that fast. I don’t know how we managed to pack in so much drama between Double Maths, netball and French but believe me, we did. A whole social network could dissolve and reform in a day, and people were always dating someone else’s ex or crush or brother or something – who knows why, did we think there weren’t enough boys to go around or something? Anyway. I don’t think a teen audience or someone familiar with that would find the speed of the relationship or the intensity of their devotion hard to believe.

The power of the spells and the shadow hanging over these two grows stronger with every chapter and I raced through to the end, despite the novel’s length. I see from Tessa’s website that there’s a stand-alone companion novel coming out this year, and I’m already looking forward to reading it. Another sign of a good book. Pick it up, let me know what you think. And if you see a strange figure in a graveyard, just stay away from it, alright?

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The best kind of problem

I’ve been relatively quiet online recently, because I’m revising my book and it’s totally absorbing*. Right now, at least; I expect a sticky, scary stretch will come along, but I’m not there yet. I bought Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel course as a Christmas present for myself, and it’s GREAT. Cuts out a lot of flailing by giving me specifics to work on each week, plus the forums are really helpful. These things make me happy. Definitely recommended, if you’re looking to avoid flailing too.

(*plus, my iphone is still broken so I have to actually, like, get up and turn the computer on in order to be online. My laziness often overrides my social-media urge).

My only problem is that other things make me happy, too – especially books by Stacia Kane. Here I am, deep in revision, proud of my swotty, good-girl focus, and along comes a book I know I’m going to drop everything to read – Sacrificial Magic is out in the UK today! I read each of the first three Downside novels in a day and I’m sure this one will be as gripping, and as good. So that’s at least 24 hours of my writing schedule written off, while I catch up with Chess and Terrible.

Even worse,  Bring Up the Bodies is also out today – the sequel to Wolf Hall that I’ve been itching for since I heard it was being written. If I’d noticed when I pre-ordered that they’d both be released at the same time I would have kept my weekend free. Instead I’ve made plans and will have to leave the house and spend time with real people, grr 😉

Any genre-heads who haven’t heard of these are forgiven for seeing ‘Wolf’ and ‘Bodies’ in the titles and assuming I’m reading horror. Nope – they’re the story of Thomas Cromwell, and Wolf Hall was exactly the kind of well-written masterpiece that puts one off ever trying to write anything at all, because it will never be as good. You know the sort of thing. Disgustingly excellent.

Also, I totally fell for Cromwell.  These aren’t romance novels, but he was so well drawn, so complex and real that I sigh every time I think of him. My poor Thomas.  Sigh. I am so looking forward to spending more time with him.

The only flaw with Wolf Hall was that there were about twenty other characters also called Thomas, who were invariably all in the same scene talking to or about each other, and neither ‘Thomas’ nor ‘he’ were useful signifiers as to who did what. One of the drawbacks of reading on a Kindle is the relative difficulty of flicking back a few pages or referring to the index to see who’s who. Still, better than having to haul a 600 page hardback around, and a useful writing lesson learned – not to give all my characters the same damn name. There, I’m gaining on Hilary Mantel as I write…

I don’t know which book I’m more excited about. The only reason I’m starting Sacrificial Magic first is because it’ll be the quicker read. The Downside books aren’t short, but they are fast-paced and I always inhale them in one or two sittings, whereas Wolf Hall – woah, that was 674 pages, and Bring up the Bodies is 608. Wolf Hall was the first book I ever read on my Kindle, and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have read it if I’d had to lug a book of that size around.

Instead, both of these new books weigh nothing at all (or not?) and were magically delivered to my Kindle by the Amazon fairies overnight, which was thrilling to wake up to, in the same way that eBay purchases always feel like (free) gifts when they arrive.

Back later. Gone reading. X

Source: last.fm via Jenni on Pinterest

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In praise of Fringe’s wardrobe department

Spoiler status: this post is about Season 4, Episode 18. I don’t think it’s spoiler-y for anyone past episode 2 of this season but YMMV so, please, proceed with caution if you haven’t been watching recently.

There were a couple of moments that led to my favourite scene in this season’s Fringe. First, Walter packing a case to cross to the other side, even though he wasn’t meant to stay for more than a few hours –

[Olivia] Walter, you do realize that we’re just walking through a door.

Then, when the investigation did indeed involve staying for a few days, his acceptance of Faux-livia’s invitation to stay at her place –

[Walter]  I’d appreciate that, thank you. I shall refrain from sleeping naked.

These little moments led to the vision that was Walter, padding through the house in the middle of the night, dressed in a silky, glittery dressing gown which the wardrobe department should totally get a prize for.

You might assume it belongs to Olivia – it is certainly feminine, and he is staying in her house – but it fits him just fine, and he’s a man who’s middle belies his sweet tooth. I very much doubt that a gown belonging to buff Agent Dunham would cover enough of Walter to spare his decency. Or our eyes. No, I’m sure the gown is his, and he packed it himself, and it suits his character so wonderfully that I’m still thinking about it a few days later. It’s a genius detail that reflects something we love about Walter –  how he’ll always chooses pleasure over convention, and usually not realise there was any other choice to make.

I bet it’s a real thrill to be a wardrobe person and come across an item which is perfect for your character. How does it work? Do they get a budget to go shopping specifically for the cast, or do they keep an eye out when shopping for themselves? Like, they’re out buying ordinary things for themselves, maybe a vest or a new pair of jeans, when in the corner of their eye they see it – the perfect gown for brilliant, tragic Walter, or a sexy black jacket that cocky, futuristic Agent Lee would love.

Comparing the doubles is one of my favourite things about this series – I’m always watching to see how the writers and wardrobe differentiate between the characters. It’s more than the ear-pieces that the alternates wear, or the blimps in the sky overhead. It’s more than the classic ‘Rebel wears hair gel, Nerd wears glasses’ trope, though that’s definitely in play. It’s their expressions, the way they walk, how they look at each other. Anna Torv has played at least three different women this season – all Olivia, all different enough that I reckon I could tell them apart just by listening to how they spoke. There must be something there I can steal and use in my writing.

In many ways, Walter is the TV character I’d most like to be. He’s self indulgent, blasting his favourite music from stacked-up speakers with no care for the neighbours, eating whatever he craves, whenever he likes. He’s usually crammed full of psychedelic drugs, while either padding around naked or in slinky robes shot through with shimmer. He’s dearly loved and well respected, indulged by the government because he is a genius. He has a pet cow and he sees Joshua Jackson every day. All of these things would make me very happy indeed.

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Things I have done since I realised I could finish writing my novel in one week

Cleaned the bathroom, including inside the cupboards

Eaten a whole cake

Finished three knitting projects

Decided it’s important to watch all of The Walking Dead immediately

Decided it’s important to learn how to use the knitting machine I’ve owned for eight years

Googled the lyrics for ‘Reproduction’ from Grease 2

Gone through the 600+ books on my Kindle, organising them into folders and reading all the samples

Listened to all the extras for Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater and wondered if I should learn to play an instrument too

Organised all of my toiletries into separate bags

Read about the difference between bourbon and whisky

Learned how to make an Old Fashioned

Washed four loads of laundry

Pinned 200 pins

Gone to the beach

Watched a whole series of Bones

Replaced the lightbulbs in all the things in the house that needed new lightbulbs

Replaced the batteries in all the things in the house that needed new batteries

Learned how to make bracelets from shoelaces

Updated my blog.

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