Thursday, March 28, 2013

By Darkness Hid: Book Review

Achan Cham is an orphan, a stray. That is to say, Achan is nothing more than a kitchen servant in Er’Rets, the slowly darkening world of Jill Williamson’s By Darkness Hid. He is a slave, a nobody. He has no memories of his parents, no security, nothing—except for a big attitude against somebody, and except for the fact that he somehow catches the attention of Sir Gavin Lukos, one of Er’Rets's knights.

The only thing Achan can’t understand is why Sir Gavin would want him as squire—a thing usually forbidden to strays like Achan. Also, he finds that a kitchen slave who trains to become a knight’s squire is bound to catch somebody’s attention, particularly when the kitchen slave trains in sword craft. For Achan, that someone happens to be his legal master, Prince Gidon.

Meanwhile, across the kingdom, Vrell, nearly a somebody, chooses to hide as a nobody. Her story turns into a backwards sort of fairytale, where Cinderella becomes a char-maid—or at least, an apothecary’s assistant—to avoid the late king’s son. That is, to avoid the same soon-to-be-king Prince Gidon. The same Prince Gidon who happens to be Achan’s personal antagonist and bully. And behind Gidon is Lord Nathak, regent of Er’Rets, with his own plans to darken this confusion.

Then Achan finds he has the ability to hear voices in his head.

I read By Darkness Hid a couple years ago, about the time I attended one of Williamson’s workshops at a writers’ conference. The first book in the Blood of Kings trilogy, By Darkness Hid won the 2010 Christy Award for Visionary fiction, and it starts Achan off on a classic fantasy journey, which continues through To Darkness Fled and From Darkness Won. More recently, I’ve also read Williamson’s Replication: The Jason Experiment, an Alaskan high-school story of sorts, with a good dose of sci-fi thriller thrown in.

For me, the Blood of Kings felt clunky at times, more so in the second and third books, but they were worth the read. Williamson spends time developing her characters and her world, one of the main reasons I enjoyed the books and still remember them as well as I do. In fact, after finishing the trilogy, I found that one of the details (about skinning a bird) was amazingly accurate—I saw someone use the same trick with a grouse.

It’s been a while since I read the Blood of Kings, but earlier this month, I found By Darkness Hid available for free on Kindle, and I’ll probably reread it soon. [At the time of this post, the promotion was still available, but it appears to have ended. You can still find the book here, or you can also find podcasts and an interactive map of Er'Rets here, on the series's webpage.]

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Cast of Stones: Book Review

Some people want desperately to catch other people’s attention.

Some people—Errol Stone of Callowford, for example—just want to be left alone, to be forgotten and to forget.

Not yet nineteen, Errol already knows how to forget, and to hide behind the ale pot. He’s quite good at it too—until a church messenger hires him to carry a message to an old hermit, and a simple errand drags Errol into an intrigue, a conspiracy, and a deadly plot.

Last month, I read a blog post by Patrick Carr, describing the writer's act of creation and mentioning his own novel, A Cast of Stones. The post intrigued me, as did the premise for the novel, so soon after, I jumped at the chance to read the story myself. The rest was pure fun.

Throughout A Cast of Stones, Carr creates a world not far from what might be, reinventing the medieval church structure, and infusing his story with a very real degree of power, mysticism, and corruption. The story is heavy on details, in a good way. By the time the book is underway, barely through the first chapters, Errol has already stumbled into a crate of stones that carry writing only one other person can read, a renegade member of the king’s guard, a church nuntio taught to repeat his message by rote and then forget it completely, and new cure for poison. Nothing is quite as it seems, Errol discovers. He can’t trust even his friends to tell him the truth.

Carr’s Cast of Stones is a very real world story, dealing with violence, some drunkenness and a little suggestiveness at times. When Errol first sets out, he is a pretty hopeless drunk, which becomes a key point in his character growth. He's also pretty sharp at noticing other people's looks and motives. Overall, I would recommend this book only for teens and adults, but I do recommend very much. If you like fantasy, if you like action and suspense, if you like well-drawn characters, if you like the possibilities to be stretched, if you like a good story, this is a book worth reading. It’s a book I’m planning to keep on my shelf and read again when I get the chance.

The sequel, The Hero’s Lot, is set to come out in July. I’ll be watching for it then. In the meantime, you can find out more about the author, including his blog, at

[My thanks to Bethany House for providing me with a complimentary review copy of A Cast of Stones in exchange for my honest opinion of the book.]

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A 25¢ Pay Increase?

...Aren't you glad times have changed! I found this sign a few weeks ago, posted by one of my former instructors:

Read and enjoy!