Flame in the mist

Flame in the Mist, set in a world strongly based on Medieval Japan, tells the story of Mariko, the daughter of an important Samurai lord who is betrothed to the younger son of the emperor of their land. On her way to the capital to get married, her party is ambushed. She can escape into the forest, but everybody else is killed. For reasons of her own, she then decides not to return home, but to discover who wants her dead and why. In order to do that she dresses up as a boy and joins an outlaw group called the ‘Black Clan’ and from there the story takes off.

I have to say I’m rather conflicted about this book. There are some aspects of it I liked a lot, but others I’m not so fond of. So let’s start with the good:

The world! I love reading fantasy novels inspired by Eastern cultures and the world of this one is well researched.

The language – it’s rather flowery and probably not to everybody’s taste, but I thought it fitted the theme of the novel well and enjoyed even the more far-fetched metaphors.

The characters – for such a traditional society the heroine Mariko is surprisingly modern in many of her attitudes (for example to pre-marital sex or women’s roles), but on the other hand she’s got spunk and I also liked some of details the author added to flesh her out, for example that she’s got an interest in inventing things.

The not-so-good:
The magic – I would have liked a better idea of how magic works in this world. Perhaps there will be a better explanation in the sequel, but as it is, it’s frustratingly vague and does not seem to follow any rules.

The plot – this unfortunately asks for a lot of suspension of disbelief. To give an example, Mariko is kept as a virtual prisoner in the camp of the Black Clan and has one of the outlaws spy on her secretly. And yet they never notice she’s a girl dressed up as a boy? All the practical considerations like finding a place to pee out of sight or menstruation just do not seem to exist in this world.

So for my taste, overall Renée Ahdieh got a lot of things right and quite a few wrong. Yet I will probably still read the sequel ‘Smoke in the Sun’, simply to immerse myself in this world again (and because I hate not knowing how a story ends!).


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Elephant Thief is live

Releasing a new book or fanfiction story always feels a bit like letting a child go out into the great, wide world and hoping that people will like it!

I suppose it’s all the time and effort you invest as an author, the enthusiasm you feel while writing, and the wish that your readers will see the characters and world you’ve created through your eyes and fall in love with them.

So today I launched my youngest offspring – Elephant Thief – a fantasy romance. It’s available as both eBook and print edition and I hope you’ll have as much fun reading it as I had writing it!

Elephant Thief on: Amazon  iBooks  Kobo  Nook  Smashwords

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Elephant Thief

I’m so excited to announce that my new book ‘Elephant Thief’ will be released on July 8th and can now be pre-ordered at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and Nook.

Set in the same world as ‘Bride to the Sun’, but some three hundred years earlier and to the north, it chronicles the adventures of Arisha, a young Wood mage.

From the blurb:
When magically gifted Arisha runs away from an army camp with her elephant Hami in order to save him from death in battle, she thinks she’s in deep trouble. However, she soon discovers that things can always get worse.

Escaping across a war-torn country, they are captured by the enemy’s leader. Rhys, known as the Eagle and with a reputation as a cold blooded killer, wants to use the elephant to take revenge on Arisha’s people and needs her to control Hami.

Arisha is ready to fight him every step of the way, but to her annoyance, instead of throwing her in a rat-infested prison, he behaves with honour. Grudgingly she comes to respect him and they find themselves drawn to each other despite their differences.

But can Arisha bridge the gap between opposing countries and personalities before the decisive battle is joined?

A tale of elemental magic, almond eyes, daring escapes and feathers.

If you want to get a taste of the story, an excerpt of the first three chapters is available here.

I hope you’ll enjoy it and would be ever so pleased if you left me a review!

Elephant Thief on: Amazon  iBooks  Kobo  Nook  Smashwords

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Thick as Thieves

Megan Whalen Turner is a great writer and any story by her is worth reading, but I have to admit Thick as Thieves will be my least favourite of the series. Perhaps it is because I went into it with the wrong expectations, thinking it would involve more intrigues by Eugenides (‘The Thief’). But though he has his fingers in it from the start, he doesn’t come into the story until the very end and far too briefly for my taste.

Instead the story revolves around Kamet, a slave in the Meden Empire, and his adventures as he runs away with the help of an Attolian soldier (who happens to be a character from an earlier book). The world building is thorough, as always, and I enjoyed a look at this new corner of Megan Whalen Turner’s world. Also the characters were quite interesting and their interactions subtly drawn. However, I just couldn’t quite warm to Kamet as to the narrators of the other books.

As it stood, the whole story seemed quite peripheral to the rest of the series and I really missed seeing more of the characters I’d come to like from the earlier books. Also, since it’s basically a travelogue involving two men, there’s a dearth of female characters in this book.

Having said all that, it’s still a good read and the series as a whole is well worth reading if you like tales of intrigue and surprising twists and turns. Also the world, based on an original mix of Greek and Persian sources, is deeply layered and a joy to explore.

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Why the West rules – for now

This is a question that anybody who is interested in Chinese history will eventually ask themselves. After all, the Chinese invented so many things: paper, printing, gunpowder, the compass, paper money – the list is endless. And early in the 15th century Admiral Zheng He led a fleet of 300 ships as far as East Africa (amongst other things he brought back a giraffe for his emperor). At a length of 400 feet, his flag ship would have dwarfed Columbus’s Santa Maria (85 feet). And yet, some 400 years later, in 1860, the English sent a force half-way around the world and defeated the Chinese, in the process looting the Imperial Palace and even carrying off the Empress’s lapdog (christened ‘Looty’ by its new masters).

The book opens with the imaginary scene of it being the other way round and the Chinese taking Prince Albert hostage to live out his life in China. Ian Morris then asks the question why events did not play out that way, taking a very long view starting from the first humans to leave Africa. In order to compare the Western and Eastern cores of civilisation (he defines the Western core as originating in the fertile crescent and then slowly moving west) with each other and over time, he even devises his own system of measuring human development.

While I do not completely agree with his conclusion that the West’s advantage is mostly geographical – due to plundering the New World – I found it interesting to follow his large scale tour of history and to see how the advantages and disadvantages of geography changed over time. He identifies a ‘hard ceiling’ around 42 points on his scale that both Rome and China’s Northern Song Dynasty failed to break. Interesting enough, in the eleventh century the Chinese had a Renaissance movement of their own and had started to build industries using coal, but that development got abruptly curtailed when nomadic Jurchen invaded China and occupied the northern half.

Reading the book, was thinking of how many AU scenarios would have been possible. What if Roman Empire had coped better with the Visigoths displaced by the Huns, could it have endured longer? What if the Arabs had conquered Europe, would the Europeans have had quicker access to their science, perhaps even an earlier Renaissance – or else no incentive to go exploring in the Atlantic? What if the Ming emperors had decided their voyages of exploration were worth the expense and continued them? And though Ian Morris claims it’s ‘maps not chaps’ that make history, there are a few individuals that certainly shaped history, for example Genghis Khan. What if he had never been born? There is material for a dozen alternative history novels here!

In conclusion, this is an interesting book for anybody who would like a large overview of the development of human civilisation and the forces driving progress. In the final chapter, Ian Morris also tries to look into the future, providing food for thought.

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