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Book Review: The Priory of The Orange Tree

Wow. The reviews on Goodreads for The Priory of the Orange Tree were stellar, and let me tell you they’re true! It is like the feminist version of Game of Thrones, while not half as gory nor as sexual. After a while, I was so disappointed in GoT because it was pages after pages of fights, sex, or food. I get it, real life is like that, but that’s not why I escape to books! Spoilers alert readers!

An Epic Which Breaks Traditions

The Priory of the Orange Tree reminded me why I escape to books when reality gets TOO MUCH. It’s an epic fantasy with a social structure that’s gender-equal. There are as many women rules as men (if not more), and plenty of skilled mages, sorcerers, witches, and straight-up female warriors. By warriors, I mean DRAGON RIDERS. Sounds good so far? It gets better.

“I was only observing how the fiercest of warriors can hide behind such gentle faces.”

Queen Sabran the Ninth is the last of her line, being unable to produce an heir for the queendom of Inys. Not only that, she finds out that the whole religion upon which her heritage was built was a lie. Her ancestor twisted and manipulated facts to benefit himself. No surprise there, this is just Politics 101. But what the author Samantha Shannen does that is SO COOL is she gets Queen Sabran to accept the hard facts and to DENOUNCE her religion. At the very end of the book, after everything is said and done, Queen Sabran will not only abdicate but will also change the whole structure of her queendom’s monarchy and beliefs. She plans to do this in 10 years, after which she will retire to be with her beloved Ead Duryan.

A Better World

Do you know who this reminds me of? This reminds me of George Washington. YEP. The founding father of the United States of America did not run for the presidency a third term. Instead, he purposefully stated that he wished to say goodbye and rest under the shade of his own tree. If more world leaders behaved like this, the world would be a much better place eh?

In addition to all of the groundbreaking and earth-shattering, the characters of The Priory of the Orange Tree are so REALISTIC. From the mage Ead Duryan, the dragon rider Tane, the alchemist Doctor Roos, and of course Queen Sabran herself are so three-dimensional. They all have fears, guilts, ambition, selfishness, strength, love, and solid character growth arcs. They all seem like people you would run across in your daily life, with their concerns and hopes. This makes you sympathize easily with all the different viewpoints, although some of them are in direct contrast from each other.

At the heart of this book is open-mindedness. Thinking with courage, accepting that which is different, and learning to work together despite the frameworks of distrust which has been passed on from generation to generation. It kind of reminds me of Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon.

Five Stars.

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Nisha Universe Map

MY OH MY!!! Dear readers finally, after several revisions and going back and forth with the Inez the illustrator, Chriswan the editor, and my dear husband Cung who loves looking at maps, THE NISHA UNIVERSE MAP IS HERE!

This was prepared as a complimentary document for Sacred Rituals (Nisha Sequel). Support my writing by purchasing Sacred Rituals at the shop! As always, if you are a reviewer and would like to make an honest review, I am happy to send the book for free. Just send me a message.

The map becomes an important source of information because the sequel sees our characters expanding in the locations of their adventures. The geography of the kingdom starts to play a more vital part in understanding the plot, so I decided it was time to bring out the cartographers.

Without further ado, THE MAP.

I am so pleased with how it turned out! I hope you are too. Now, for some bonus material…a snippet of the sequel. Yes. It’s happening. Wait for the whole thing, July1st!!!


Snippet of the Sacred Rituals

“Let’s rest our horses here for the night,” Mares pointed out to Saad an opening in the forest, off the side of the dirt road. There was a small stream nearby, perfect for the horses to drink from. 

“We have travelled far in the two days since we left the Border. We will arrive before tomorrow evening. It is a farther distance from the highlands where the King will be coming from. Our party is likely to arrive before them.”

Saad nodded, and they dismounted from their tired horses. 

Thank you, he spoke as he patted the steed’s head gratefully. Though the horse could not reply, Saad knew that she appreciated his gesture. 

Saad thought he would have much-preferred flying, for it was faster and more exciting. But there was no way for him to change back into his human form when they arrived. He could not transform by himself, he needed the help both an Outer Movement and an Inner Movement magician. This was something else he found out during his time at the Border. It appeared his magic could not stand on its own, but rather it served to link up, amplify, or temper the movements. For when he managed to connect the movements, the outcome was astonishing.

Perhaps he should not have left them, Saad thought, regretting his decision to go. What was he hoping to accomplish without Faris and Nisha? Saad quickly shook his head. This would not do. He left on his own choice to seek his people. Yet deep down he was missing Faris and Nisha too much. 

Mares was an adept guide, but not the best company, nor much of a chatter. During their resting times, the soldier largely watched Saad silently without offering any conversation. On occasion, he would take out his knives and sharpen them. This evening, after eating the bread and dried fruit General Char insisted them to take, Mares took out some pistols and examined the weapon with much care. 

Saad did not feel the soldier would like to be interrupted, so he simply laid down, staring up at the stars that peeked out from the top of the leaves. He tried to count how many there were but always drifted off before he could finish. The past two nights he dreamed of the fortress at the border, Nisha, and always the green eyes of Faris. But this night he dreamed of the ocean, of stars falling into them, and of a young dark-skinned woman carrying a baby. 


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Stargazing, A Lunar Chronicles Fan Fiction

Fandom: Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Characters: Cinder & Kai, Scarlet & Wolf, Cress & Thorne, Winter & Jacin, and the android Iko.

Time: Set some time after the events in Something Old, Something New (Stars Above) by Marissa Meyer

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of the characters. This fanfic contains spoilers to all the books!!!

Our favorite characters take a vacation to the exotic Lesser Sunda Islands on a liveaboard.

Part 1 of 2.


“Not fair. Everyone gets to dive but us,” Iko complained to Cinder, looking at the crystal clear waters with longing in her eyes. Her droid body was not waterproof, so it was out of the question for her to go scuba diving. Cinder, a cyborg with a steel hand, foot, and computer implants in her brain, faced the same predicament. Cinder wasn’t bothered though. She was still traumatized over the time when she jumped off the Lunar palace into the river. Although it was an artificial river, that jump nearly destroyed significant robotic parts of her body.

“Why don’t you go flirt with the Captain?” Cinder winked at Iko. “He seems like your type.”

Iko flashed Cinder a naughty smile and headed towards the upper deck of the Rafida Adventure boat. They were all on this liveaboard for one glorious week, together with a team of local Earthen boat crew, guide, and their cute Captain. For once Thorne, the Captain of the Rampion spaceship, was calling someone else “Captain.”

Cinder’s retina scanner gave her information on the water currents, temperature, visibility, and estimation of how long everyone else would be under the water. It would be roughly 30 minutes since they were all newbies to scuba diving. Well except Wolf, who due to his genetic modification was an excellent swimmer and could handle the water conditions much longer than everyone else. But even he couldn’t stay down there just by himself.

You always need to dive with a buddy, their dive guide had reminded them during the dive briefing. Stay close to your buddy. Take care of each other. Cinder smiled. Wolf and Scarlet didn’t need a reminder to look out for each other. They did that all the time whether on land, flying over the galaxy in a spaceship, overthrowing an evil Queen on the moon. No doubt they would watch over each other under the ocean.

It was Kai she was worried about. He could swim, but he was the Emperor. She imagined the panic everyone would be in if something happened to him. Torin, his advisor, insisted on a personal bodyguard joining the liveaboard to ensure the young Emperor’s safety. This bodyguard could also swim and was an experienced divemaster. He was assigned as Kai’s buddy during the dives.

Cinder drove unnecessary fears away from her mind. They would be fine, she told herself. Andre, the bodyguard, was experienced. He knew what he was doing. She went into the ship’s engine room to distract herself. Linh Cinder, in addition to being a Lunar and a cyborg, was also a talented mechanic. Her experience revolved around androids and spaceships, but never with well, actual ocean ships.

It was fascinating. The Rafida Adventure was a phinisi – a type of ship originating from the year 1906 of the Second Era of Earth. It was found in an archipelago nation once known as Indonesia. Now, in the Third Era, all the islands are part of the Eastern Commonwealth under the rule of Emperor Kaito.

Who was, at this moment, submerged underwater…Cinder again reminded herself that everyone would be fine. Her retina scanner confirmed that the statistics of accidents during scuba diving were very low. Sharks rarely attacked humans unless humans attacked them first. Plus they were only doing open water diving – only about 12 meters under the surface.

She pulled her attention back to studying the ship. It was originally crafted by master seafarers from the Bugis race, with multiple sails and soaring masts that gracefully parted the waves. Now though, they came with serious engines to increase speed. Not to mention power for air conditioners, refrigerators, scuba diving oxygen tanks, and even charging stations for androids.

The crazy idea for a reunion on this liveaboard came from Cress. Several months ago she made a trip to the exotic island of Flores with Thorne on the spaceship Rampion. They were delivering antidotes for a recent letumosis plague outbreak. Cress spent 7 years as a prisoner inside a satellite orbiting Earth when Queen Levana was still alive. After Cinder dethroned the evil Levana, Cress resolved to see more of the world – as much of the world as possible. Thorne was right there with the Rampion to support all her travel itches.

When Cress saw the phinisi ships harboring in the Flores port, she decided it was the next experience she wanted to try. And what better idea than to have all your best friends join on the adventure!

They all needed the break, but especially Cinder and Kaito. Since Cinder became Queen of Luna, her first act was to sign the Treaty of Bremen to ensure peace between Earthen Union and Luna. Her next act was to dissolve her own monarchy, paving the way to a republic governmental system on the moon. After her abdication, she was now a Lunar Ambassador in a relationship with Kaito, the Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth.

This was their first vacation since they changed history. She decided that saving the world was pretty important, but saving your mind and body was just as important. Kai usually forgot this. He always worked so hard for his people, often neglecting the care of himself. Cinder hoped some ocean, fish, and sun would recharge his energy and spirits. She hoped at the very least he would get a tan after this trip was over.


Dinner that night was filled with talks of what they saw during their dives. Wolf layered all his food with the delicious sambal luat, a local spicy sauce made of small chili peppers, tomatoes, onions, and coriander leaves. Poor Iko could barely contain her envy because she could not taste the food, nor join the dives.

Scarlet thought the luat would be even more delicious if it was made with tomatoes from her farm, but then again she was biased. The farm was her grandmother’s farm, passed on to Scarlet after the old lady died a tragic death. In fact, Scarlet’s grandmother was tortured by Queen Levana’s genetically modified wolven armies. The very same army which Wolf was a part of, but had been able to break away from. The very same army which Winter later convinced to fight on their side.

“None of my hallucinations could compare to what was happening down there,” Winter stated happily. “The corals, the sharks, and even all the tiny crazy-looking creatures! Everything is wilder under the ocean. My scary visions seem tame in comparison.”

Jacin patted her head lovingly. “Then we’ll dive more. We can even take the deep-diving specialty and explore other wonders hiding in the blue.”

“Oh, can we! I’d love to join!” Cress bubbled in excitement. “I’ve heard of dive sites which are quite difficult to access but have marvels beyond marvels. The ocean itself is a wonder – it’s a galaxy all of its own!”

Everyone had to nod in agreement. Cinder traded jealous looks with Iko. Life was not fair. Not fair at all. The cyborg felt a soft hand take her right hand-her human hand and squeezed it lightly. It was Kai, trying to make her feel better. He’s the best, Cinder thought.

“How was your day?” he asked her quietly.

“Honestly? A bit boring up here waiting for everyone,” Cinder shrugged. “I did take a good look at the engine rooms though. The machines are fascinating.” She played with Kai’s fingers, a gesture they both enjoyed.

“But I’m glad you all had a great time. And that everyone surfaced safely.”

“I did. It was the best fun I’ve had in a while,” answered Kai, with a dreamy look on his face. He was remembering the gentle body of the giant manta ray, flying through the waters like an angel. “Oh and the turtles! Cinder, they were huge! I think I saw one as big as my body!”

Cinder laughed. She rarely saw this side of him, this face which was like a happy little boy. He usually had so many problems etched into his forehead. She leaned forward and kissed his cheek.

“I’m really happy for you. I’m glad we’re here.”

On her other side, Thorne rolled his eyes and was about to groan, but Scarlet shot him one of her silencing glares.

“By the way, did anyone notice all the trash?” asked Scarlet, frowning. “There was plastic stuff everywhere. Isn’t it supposed to be bad for the marine animals?”

“It’s bad for all of the underwater environment,” Iko piped up, glad that she could contribute to the conversation again. “My data is showing me that there are more than 200 million tons of plastic thrown in these waters every year.”

“Damn. Can you imagine if our neighbors were throwing trash at our farm, and we couldn’t get rid of it?” Scarlet turned to Wolf, shaking her head angrily.

“Better to get rid of our neighbors then,” he snarled in response.

“Take it easy there!” Thorne protested. He quickly hid the plastic water bottle which he was drinking from.

“You know, these islands are part of the Eastern Commonwealth…” said Kai slowly. “They’re so remote and away from the capital that they don’t usually get much attention. But I think I can look into something to help marine conservation around this area.”

Winter clapped in excitement. “That would be wonderful!”

Jacin, ever the realist, had to be the devil’s advocate. “It won’t be that easy. Top-down initiatives are never easy, especially this far away from the source of power. You would have to work very closely with locals here.”

Everyone turned towards the boat crew, who were hanging around behind them waiting to clear up their plates. They smiled innocently back at their guests.

“I bet I can make some kind of program…” muttered Cress to herself. “Some kind of game translated into the local language for the kids to learn about their oceans better.” She was already busy punching codes and ideas into her portscreen.

Cinder coughed loudly. “This is great everyone. I’m glad we’re thinking about this. But look it’s supposed to be a holiday, not a working visit. Let’s stick to the having fun plan and do our research and work later. We can always come again.”

“I wouldn’t mind parking the Rampion here for a month or two to analyze what we can do,” Thorne suggested. “Cress and I can easily keep you all updated.”

“My data feed is showing me that there are many traditional ways – local wisdom – from the old women in the society. I bet you can ask them for information and ideas,” added Iko.

“Correction: you’ll have to ask them. Everyone knows old women harbor the most knowledge,” Scarlet reminded the Emperor. No doubt she was thinking again of her grandmother.

“Great! It’s a plan.” Cinder stood up, taking pulling Kai with her. He obliged happily. “I’m sure Emperor Kai will follow through. But for now, how about letting the crew clean up and we do some stargazing.”

Continued to Part 2: Winter and the Komodo Dragon.


Endnotes

1. This is my first fanfiction! Feedback much appreciated.

2. The Rafida Adventure is an actual liveaboard that can take you to the Lesser Sunda Islands. If you ever want to book a trip with them, you can use my promo code : airinrafida2021 for a special discount!

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Book Review: Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles)

My oh my, I hear the screws of my head getting hooked on Marissa Meyer from now on! I completely blame my Mad Tea Book Club Co-Founders Krisandryka and Sherry H. Gosh where do I even begin. Let’s start by saying that I am biased towards fairy tale retellings. I love retellings with a fresh perspective and stronger female characters. The first Marissa Meyer book I read was Heartless, which was a retelling of Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. I gave that 3 stars because the heroine was just plain annoying at times. Cinder gets 5 stars though!

Synopsis

Cinder is the first book in The Lunar Chronicles. Taking place in New Beijing under the Eastern Commonwealth of Earth, Linh Cinder is a cyborg with a talent for fixing broken things. She has a reputation as the best mechanic in town. This brought Prince Kai (soon to be Emperor Kai) knocking on her booth asking if she could fix his android Nainsi. This first momentous meeting unfolds into a swooping inter-species romance! It’s complete with evil witch Queens, spaceships, and a metal foot in place of the traditional glass shoe.

If you can’t already guess, this is based on the classic Cinderella story crossed with the popular manga Sailor Moon. With that in mind, yes, everything is rather predictable. But the author spins a heck of a fun story anyway, especially if you are a fan of Usagi and her sailor armies. To be honest, this was one of the biggest pulls for me: the fact that it had oriental elements mixed into the narrative. So many fantasies are based on a western point of view, but Cinder had a good mix of eastern and western cultures.

Cinder and Kai

I think this is one of my favorite relationships in young adult fantasy! The two are on par with each other and they treat each other as best as they know how to. Their relationship develops naturally even though there was obvious attraction from the first moment. Cinder kept her level head around the hot young prince, while Kai did not show off his power or status. The young Prince is actually showing himself to be a promising leader with a very responsible mindset.

Supporting characters like Iko the android, Evil Queen Levana of Lunar (who is set out to marry Kai to get control of Earth), and the infamous stepmother Linh Adri were all well proportioned throughout. One of Marissa Meyer’s strongest traits is in creating protagonists that you actually want to hang out and be friends with. Keep your eyes open for the rest of reviews, plus a fanfiction that I decided to write!

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Movie Review: Wolfwalkers

Oh oh oh. I’m sure you have all had this experience, where you see something interesting and decide to try it with no expectations at all. That was my case with Wolfwalkers (2020). It is an animation based on Irish folklore, directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart. The story revolves around two girls. The first is a young girl hunter named Robyn Goodfellow, whose mother has died and is now living only with her father. The second is a wolfwalker named Mebh, who is a girl during the day and a little she-wolf cub at night.

Wolfwalkers pleasantly surprised me and won me over with the gorgeous artwork, anti colonization theme, women empowerment message, and friendship amongst different creatures. It reminded me of Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, although with completely different artwork concept.

“I don’t want them to put you in a cage,” the hunter Bill said to his daughter.

“Can’t you see? I’m already in a cage!” shouted Robyn.

Synopsis

The Lord Protector whom Bill works for insists that the hunters kill the wolf pack that lives in the forest. Their death will show that the Lord Protector can control the forest, and as such is a brutal show of his power. Of course, his voice represents the voice of God, so everyone must listen. Everyone, but the rebellious Robyn and her mysterious friend Mebh.

Robyn met Mebh in the forest, where the cub accidentally bit Robyn to help save her from a trap. This bite turns Robyn into a wolfwalker like Mebh, and so Mebh shows Robyn the secret place which is the sanctuary of the pack. In this magical cave lies the sleeping body of Mebh’s mother, who has been in that state ever since her wolf body went missing months ago. Mebh is determined to find her mother, and Robyn promises to help her.

However, Robyn’s rebellious behavior attracts attention from the Lord Protector. Thus he instructs Bill to keep a reign on his daughter, or “reigns will be put on her.” As a result, Bill forces Robyn to work in the scullery (kitchen) under the watching eyes of other maids.

Will Robyn be able to fight back against her fearful father? Is her and Mebh’s friendship strong enough to overcome the many differences that lie in between? Will Mebh be reunited with her mother and protect their pack, or will they all be annihilated by the Lord Protector?

Please find out for yourself and watch Wolfwalkers. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the Academy AwardsGolden Globe Awards and BAFTA Awards. You won’t be disappointed at all!

A special perk of this beautiful movie is the song Running with the Wolves by Aurora.

Go row the boat to safer grounds
But don’t you know we’re stronger now
My heart still beats and my skin still feels
My lungs still breathe, my mind still fears

But we’re running out of time
Oh, all the echoes in my mind cry
There’s blood on your lies
The sky’s open wide
There is nowhere for you to hide
The hunter’s moon is shining

I’m running with the wolves tonight.

Have you come across this movie? What did you think?

PS: If you like wolf and magic put together, the book A Wolf for A Spell by Karah Sutton is a great fun read.

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Book Review: Heartless

My fellow co-founders of the Mad Tea Book Club Sherry from The Cozy Library and Krisandryka Wijaya recommended Heartless. In fact, Marissa Meyer is Sherry’s favorite author! With such high recommendations, I thought I had to check it out. Spoiler Alerts!

Synopsis

Heartless is a delicious, flirtatious, and absolutely MAD retelling of how the Queen of Hearts (from Alice in Wonderland) became so angry, vengeful, and well…heartless all the time. Given the title and the subject of choice, we all know where the ending is going right?

Obviously, the relationship between the protagonist Lady Cath and the mysterious court Joker Jest was not going to go well, even before those two characters were ever conceived. Alas, a sad destiny. But oh, the build-up! Marissa Meyer is great at building up the chemistry between the two of them, and slow cooking them into each other’s lives.

All our favorite characters from Wonderland are here. The Hatter (who is not yet mad!), Cheshire the invisible-invincible-infuriating cat, and even the monster we all love to slay: the Jabberwock. Thinking about it, I wonder why no one has made a retelling of the Jabberwock’s story…a little ugly beast dejected by the other creatures, his environment destroyed as a result of the ever-pressing humans into his natural environment…okay there’s an idea for you writers!

Too Long?

As much as I enjoy Wonderland and all its loony characters, I felt like this book was rambling on a bit too long. Lady Cath is extremely indecisive in choosing her dreams over the expectations of her parents. She is equally as flimsy in choosing between the mysterious Jest or the silly but kind King. Several of the back and forth scenes also did not add anything to the plot, nor to the characters’ developments.

The ending still packed a punch despite being obvious (the creepy Three Sisters even prophesied it). However, I was so impatient that by the time I got to the ending, I was not as heart-broken as Cath.

All in all, 3 stars. Would I venture to read more Marissa Meyer’s stuff? YES, because I do love fairy tale retellings. I just hope the other protagonists are more decisive than this one!

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Book Review: Iron Hearted Violet

15/60 books in my Goodreads challenge! 25% of the way, yay to myself. Kelly Barnhill‘s Iron Hearted Violet is exactly my type of reading: young adult fantasy with a strong female heroine. I lapped it up in a couple of hours. The Who Girl Who Drank the Moon also by this author blew me away, so I decided to try this earlier book. Before proceeding: Spoiler Alerts!!!

It’s interesting that you can really note how an author advances in his / her writing, as the prose in Iron Hearted Violet is not as smooth as The Girl Who Drank The Moon. Some changes happened rather quickly without solid reasoning or explanation, and sometimes characters were introduced and re-introduced (the Captain Marda) without a certain reason as to why the special treatment if they were only minor characters.

A Fantasy to Challenge Beauty Ideals

Princess Violet was born ugly, unlike her beautiful Queen mother. But what she lacked in looks she overflowed in wits, energy, and vitality. The country loved her until an old creature called the Nybbas saw an opportunity to use Violet’s looks against herself and everyone else. The schemes of the Nybbas sowed insecurities inside the Princess, and soon our heroine starts to self-destruct. Something worth mentioning is that in the illustrations, Violet looked just fine-she didn’t look ugly at all.

I liked that the ideal of beauty was challenged, but I did not agree with the choice of the challenge. In Iron Hearted Violet, real princesses had to have long beautiful hair. Of course Violet then asked this from the Nybbas, and later found out how annoying it was to have long beautiful hair. I personally don’t have anything against it. In fact, in some Native American and shamanistic cultures, hair was recognized as part of the person’s very soul and energy. That’s why shamans grow out their hair.

A Plethora of Supporting Creatures

The stable boy Demetrius proves a great supporting character, while the Nybbas is truly a villain. There was no gray in-betweens in Iron Hearted Violet. The antagonist was a dirty lying creature to its core. Any sympathy you show the creature will be used against a you-just look at what happened to the Mad King of the Lowlands. His body basically was eaten from within by golden fire breathing lizards that were armies of the Nybbas.

There is an old wise, fairy/leprechaun lady called Auntie who continuously calls another younger fairy/leprechaun “idiot.” This kind of language doesn’t sit right with me, even if I know the context is love. Maybe the word “silly” will do?

The star of the book was, of course, the dragon. The last dragon left in Violet’s mirrored world was ancient, old, broken, and frankly in a deep depression. Violet manages to befriend the dragon and operate a procedure that returns its youth and power. Together, they defeat the Nybbas.

Having just watched Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, I realized how very different are portrayals of dragons in western fantasy literature in comparison to eastern fantasy literature. This fascinating topic deserves a blog post to itself, but suffice it to say for now that anything with girls, dragons, calm reliable supporters, and magic is a recipe I like.

The execution though could have been more polished. My rating is 3/5.

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Finished Writing Nisha Sequel!

I am SO EXCITED!

The Nisha sequel is another novella format with 24 thousand words (the first one had 21 thousand words). There are two backstories: Faris’ and Saad’s backstories which I had actually written last year right after I finished Nisha. Then I put it away and started writing narratives for Sketches and Regrets.

The plan was to pick back up on the sequel in December. Away at a small island diving and writing -sounds pretty dreamy, doesn’t it? Well, too many things happened that month (read about my dad getting Covid). I’m just glad we all made it through the year.

Thus here we are at the beginning of 2021 and I had no other excuse. I thought if I was going to write I might as well hack away and punch at the keyboard. I think something about the years of concert pianist training paid off because I am VERY disciplined. And I can punch at keyboards pretty fast 😀

Battle Scenes in the Nisha Sequel

What was challenging for me was the first battle scene between some of our heroes and their enemies: the Aklums. I never wrote a battle scene before and didn’t know where to start. Research saved the day. This writing blog had great tips on creating fast-paced battle scenes.

I also read up on some epic battle scenes from Tolkien and Nancy Springer (The Book of Isle). After that, there was not much else but to just go and try it. One Sunday afternoon I woke up super early (about 5 AM) to condition myself. I drank some water, opened the laptop, and just dove in.

I’m so glad I kept at it because the next battle scene became easier. There are 2 battle scenes in this sequel, and they are crucial to the plot. The feeling after finishing the last chapter of the sequel is exhilarating!

A writing mentor Devika Brendon posted this on her Instagram several months ago.

From Devika’s Instagram post: July 24 2020

Well the draft is now in the trustworthy hands of my editor: Chriswan Sungkono. Wish me luck everyone!

Nisha is available in eBook and audiobook format at the shop.

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Series Review: The Book of Isle

After I finished all of the Enola Holmes series (check out that review), I decided author Nancy Springer must be on my favorite writers’ list. Imagine my delight when I saw that she also wrote my favorite genre: fantasy! In fact, she is more known as a fantasy writer than for mystery series. One of her favorite sets was the Book of Isle (in 5 novels).

I bought the Kindle boxset for 21.99USD – making it just over 4USD per book. GREAT DEAL readers! Alert!

The 5 books were my 4th to 8th reads of this year for the read 60 in 2021 Goodreads challenge. I finished the whole thing in 2 weeks. That should tell you how irresistible her stories were. The Goodreads description of the series called it a “classic epic fantasy in the grand tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien.”

Synopsis

On the island of Isle, gods, goddesses, and magical beasts lived together with humans. Some were good, some corrupt, some downright evil. Ellid, a lady as fair as the sun fell in love with Bevan, son of the High King and the goddess of the moon. Their relationship triggers events that resulted in the rebuilding of a peaceful kingdom. Generations and legends go by until the changeling Dair befriends the cursed wanderer Frain, and through their bond peace in the mainland is able to be restored. Ok, so it’s the usual fantasy plot. But isn’t that why fantasy readers read fantasy?

Ok, so it’s the usual fantasy plot. But isn’t that why fantasy readers read fantasy?

The magic is ancient good against evil, not unlike CS Lewis’ Narnia. It’s not children’s fantasy though. It’s for adults, although thank goodness she writes so much better than GRRM (Game of Thrones slowly became only about sex, war, and food). Nancy Springer delves deep into human nature, exposing love, lust, greed, ego, and a longing for death that is a constant theme from Book 1 to Book 5. Her battles were fast and action-oriented, but never more violent than is necessary.

A feminine epic fantasy.

One of my favorite things about the Book of Isle was how un-patriarchal it was. Goddesses were as powerful as gods, sometimes even more so. The One (the creator of the world) was genderless, never mentioned as “he”, nor “she”. In Book 5, a goddess gets the revenge that she sought because a human king had shamed her. This act was not seen as an act of revenge that spiraled out of control. Rather it was portrayed as a fair act because the king completely deserved it.

Like Lord of the Rings, the Book of Isle often used poetry form to communicate older myths that existed within the island. It worked very well, adding an air of grace to the tales. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading the Book of Isle.

Do you like fantasy? Have you read this series? What did you think?

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Super Heroines of Classic Young Adult Fantasy

Growing up with my nose in books, fictional characters were as real to me as everyday people. Their wits, courage, and attitude facing adversity inspired me during my moments of challenges. Here are five of my favorite super heroines of classic young adult fantasy.

5. Matilda from ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl

Matilda Wormwood is considered a misfit and a failure by her irresponsible parents.

Often neglected, she learns to take care of herself with the resources available to her which included intelligence and telekinetic powers. She also shows some leadership skills when she rallies her classmates to defend their beloved Miss Honey from the evil principal: The Trunchbull.

4. Princess Eilonwy from ‘The Chronicles of Prydain’ by Lloyd Alexander

“I’m Princess Eilonwy. And you’re in bad trouble, aren’t you?”

The headstrong, talkative, kind and brave Princess Eilonwy of Llyr is definitely someone I would want on my team, whatever the adventure is. She is an enchantress by heritage. Her relationship with Taran the Assistant Pig Keeper is interesting because it develops from friendship first and evolves into a romantic relationship as they grow up in the course of the five books.

3. Hermione Granger from ‘Harry Potter’ by JK Rowling

JK Rowling is currently under a lot of heavy criticism about being a transphobe (someone who irrationally fears a transgender).

Her devoted fans have turned against her, including many actors from the movie series. This gives me many mixed feelings, as I literally grew up with the Harry Potter books. In the end, I decided to keep Hermione on this list because she is surely one of the most brilliant witches in the history of magic! On top of that, she is also loyal to her values even when it gets really tough.

2. Miri from ‘Princess Academy’ by Shannon Hale

Miri and her sister Marda come from a small village on Mount Eskel where the community mines for a living.

When the Capital decides the next Queen is to come from the mountains, a temporary school is set up so the mountain girls can be educated. Here Miri learns to read for the first time. Hungry for more, she digs into history and learns some truths that eventually save her village. The heart of the ‘Princess Academy’ trilogy is the importance of education. Freedom is freedom to learn, and a woman can be powerful when she has the necessary knowledge.

1. Sophie Hatter from ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ by Dianne Wynne Jones

I am a huge fan of Diana Wynne Jones. Guess what, so are authors such as Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Robin McKinley, and JK Rowling.

‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is one of her most popular fantasy books, especially after being made into a box office animation by Studio Ghibli. Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three daughters. In the land of Ingary, this means she is cursed to live a dull life at home. She is doubly cursed when the Witch of the Waste turns her into an old woman. Sophie then goes on a journey to find the Wizard Howl to help her lift the curses. In the end, it is Sophie that lifts her own curse while saving Howl in the process.

Who are your favorite fictional heroines? Let me know in the comments!