Friday, March 23, 2012

The Sixth Station

I always want to preface this sort of entry with the hashtag #firstworldproblems, because really? I'm a spoiled brat. My life is not a horrible miserable thing. I should not be an unhappy as I am. But...I am unhappy, and I don't know what to do about it. One way I am apparently dealing with this is by not drinking, which is likely only because I'm not by nature a drinker. Really, though, my brain is screaming this at me, more loudly with every passing second:

I just...yeah. I had an email on my last break at work today that said I hadn't got into Clarion West for this year, and while I had no real faith at all in the idea that I ever would, I just...I don't know. Hope is a cruel thing. I just...need purpose. Because I've had no purpose in my life for a very long time. I mean, I wanted to finish high school. Then I wanted to graduate university. Then I wanted to finish my pre-reg. Then I wanted to go to the UK. But in the end I pretty much arrived in Sheffield and fell to pieces because I realised that I had nothing more to do. I've been drifting around in a daze ever since. And I moved to Sheffield in 2006. I've done things since then, obviously, like travel and move around and whatnot, but...there's been no reason behind it. My driving force these days is pure miserable confusion. I keep looking for a reason I'm here and I never find it. My most defining memory of last year, for instance, is walking around the British Museum in a miserable daze on a Friday night until it closed, and when it did I sat on the steps out the front and cried because I had no idea where to go or what to do with myself. Or my life.

I'm still sitting on those steps, and I'm still crying. Months later, and I still have no idea what to do. The Clarion West thing is just a symptom of a much larger problem. I probably worded this much better in my personal blog, actually. So I'll just go plagarise myself for a moment:

"I had the news around four-thirty today that I definitely didn't get into Clarion, and wasn't a surprise so I can't claim anything on that, but it's more another kick in the guts that I just don't know how to take. My issue, you see, is that I have no purpose in my life. Whatsoever. I occasionally talk myself into believing that I could do something writing-wise, but the truth likely is that while I can write somewhat better than the average, it's not good enough to be worth more than precisely jack shit. This doesn't have to be as depressing as it sounds, actually. But to me it does tend to turn out that way, because without writing, worth precisely jack shit. I will never marry, I will never have children, I will never make any difference with my day job, and I provide very little in terms of basic human comfort to anyone I know. If I were to vanish tomorrow, I would have done absolutely nothing of note with thirty years of living. And that's what makes me want to disappear. Because honestly...why bother?"

Like I said, I'm just...not in a good headspace. And I haven't been in a long long time. Sometimes I can get around this by writing, because writing generally makes me happier. But these's just a reminder of that immortal Simpsons line: "Well, kids, you tried your hardest -- and you failed miserably. The lesson is: NEVER TRY." That's where I am right now. And it's not a good thing, because I can't just stop writing. I'm wired to write, whether or not I'm any good at it (and most signs point to the fact that I'm not). So it feels self-destructive, in a way, to continue doing something that makes me feel this way. But without it...I really am nothing.

So, yeah. Dear brain: I suppose that's the end of that chapter. We really need to break up and never talk to each other ever again.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dragging Heels

I hate this kind of evening, really -- I've spent the whole day wanting to come home and write, but now that I'm here I just haven't got the energy to do anything useful at all. And I'm giving myself a headache trying to force it. Gah.

I think I'm just feeling guilty because I told myself a month ago that by the end of March I'd have Greywater in a fit state for submission to agents, but I've fallen into one of my Old Bad Habits and haven't really been writing at all the way I've supposed to have been. It's an ego thing, to some degree; I have very little self-esteem and the thought of being rejected is still really hard for me. It doesn't help that I talked myself into applying to Clarion West just before the deadline and that inevitable rejection is going to send me spiralling into a complete pit of despair, so. I don't know.

I suppose the good news is that my experiments with Twitter Fic were somewhat successful; I managed to get myself second place in the vote with my Cthulhu-esque tale of love and sushi, which I suppose means I have yet another thing to thank Lovecraft for. We're batting three for three here, in terms of things that win competitions for me or actually get published. God, that man is probably sitting down there in hell just warming a pitchfork up for me.

In other news, thanks to my little glee-fest over the movie Thor and the fact I mainlined The Almighty Johnsons this weekend, I'm having Lots of Feels about epic Norse poetry. As in, I may have to start reading it. This can't be a good thing. I did, however, acquire a book of Maori myths from the library yesterday, mostly because I commissioned a picture of Pania, Erik, and Rowan weeks back and it's just coming through, I want to write a ridiculous spin-off wherein the token Maori flatmate, the half-selkie and the not-actually-a-witch adopt a taniwha and THEY FIGHT CRIME. My subconscious is bleeding, I tell you.

Obviously, I'm going insane. I hope everyone else is doing better than me...I kind of feel like I should be doing something about that. But really, my brain's in two minds about that.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pieces In A Parlour Game

At some stage today I really going to have to get out of bed and get dressed. If only because my mother sent me a quilt the other day, and after two successful days of teaching the cat she's not allowed to sleep on it, she's now sleeping on it. Curled up like a snail. Why must cats fight so many of their battles with the power of CUTE? It's not FAIR.

But I seem unable to do anything of note, really. Although due to a sudden desire to actually watch Thor properly, I am now utterly in love with Loki Laufeyson and have recently also been reminded of how much I love trollin!Tony Stark. Because he be trollin'. Always with the trollin'. ...dammit. I'm not actually in any fit state to be forcing myself to write, but I adore smartasses, and Tony and Loki definitely qualify as smartasses. And after seeing the trailer for The Avengers I want to see this movie just to revel in the smartassery of their inevitable ham-to-ham combat.

But yeah. The little black dog of depression is doggedly dragging along at my heels, and making it very hard to write anything, which is a bit of a bugger because I'm in such a bleak place mentally that some fantastical escapism is really what I need right now. I just can't summon the energy to work the spells for myself, as it were. I did, however, notice that the voting for the Twitter-style love fic competition is up at last.

SpecFicNZ February Twitter Love Contest: the entries are there, and one of them is mine. If you have the time -- and they ARE only 140 characters long at most -- go have a read, and a vote. It's an interesting little concept, and I did enjoy seeing what others came up with too.

In the meantime, I suppose it's back to trying to work out how to get out of this bed. And no more quilty for kitty, dammit.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why Does Love Do This To Me

For a variety of reasons, I've never been a fan of Valentine's Day. Partly it's connected to my birthday, which was yesterday; as you might have gathered from the entry yesterday, I spent most of the day wishing I was dead. Valentine's doesn't tend to help this feeling at all. Still, on Sunday I went to Isengard, as you can see above, and that cheered me up even before I went into the deep dark hell of birthday!depression. Mostly because I went by horse. I like riding horses. I also got to see the tree that Bean!Boromir died most dramatically under, as Sean Bean is wont to do. WILL THAT MAN EVER LIVE THROUGH ANYTHING, I ASK YOU.

At any rate, I had a terrible morning and was only cheered up when I got home and discovered that the three Valentine's commissions I'd ordered at the start of the month were waiting for me over at deviantart. I had sworn at the time I'd write some drabbles to go with them, so I've spent the last couple of hours writing them. I have three couples, and because I'm all for the Equal Opportunity Pairing, we have the pairings today in three flavours -- one male/female, one male/male, and one female/female. Although the male in the m/f pairing is admittedly bisexual leaning towards gay, not to mention one of the girls in the f/f pairing is probably by default straight, but is totally IT'S OKAY IF IT'S YOU for her partner. D'aw. (Actually, one of the males in the m/m pairing probably qualifies as something dangerously close to a Depraved Bisexual, while the other is actually functionally asexual. I never claimed this was a simple fluffy Valentine's thing, did I...?)

Now, all these pictures were done by the awesomely talented Kayla, who goes by the handle ThePlanPony at deviantart. Go and tell her how awesome she is, would you? BECAUSE SHE TOTALLY IS. Besides, she's still taking on more couple commissions for Valentine's this month. I'm tempted to get another few myself, so...if you have any characters of mine you'd like to see in a fluffy picture and drabble, gimme your suggestions. In the meantime, here's the story so far:

Ever Afters

Aleksandr still felt guilt for a lot of things. Key amongst them were the way he’d left his sister, and then he was constantly troubled by the way he couldn’t be sure he’d ever be able to love the paladin the way he knew the other man loved him. But as he stood in the window of their latest inn, his thoughts drifted to another, to a woman he so very rarely allowed himself to remember.

The silver moon was probably the reason why, he thought with dim melancholy. Its pale orb reminded him of her pallid colouring, of the way she had always seemed a shimmering silhouette against the dull reality of the world she’d been forced to live within. Though he’d not known of her true form for so long, he’d realised from the beginning that she was something different. Something more. A dream, perhaps. And all dreams by their very nature were fleeting.

His hand rose, the tips of his fingers pressing to his lips. For all he tried not to think of her often, he could so easily conjure up the memory of her kiss. Those pale lips had tasted of saltwater; had it been the remnants of her lost ocean home, or simply her tears? Aleksandr had never quite decided. And he’d never been given the opportunity to find out again. In the end he’d never even been able to hold her, not properly, not the way people did in stories. Though they’d been of a height, even with the effects of his own illness upon his body he’d known she’d have been light in his arms. She would have floated there, silent and perfect and real.

Aleksandr closed his eyes, pressed his forehead against the cool glass. It was perhaps better to remember her as she had been at the beginning, not at the end. The first night they’d met she had descended the stairs in the darkness, and then stepped out into the rain. Freshwater had dripped all over him from where it beaded upon her hair like pearls, and her long fingers had been so light as they’d traced the blue veins just below the surface of his skin.

He is dying, she had whispered, but now she was dead and he was alive, and he opened his eyes. The sword of the water-god hung limply in his hand. As he looked down at its iridescent weight his lips twisted into a grim smile. What kind of a hero could he ever claim to be, when he had left the maiden fair to die?

If he closed his eyes again, he could imagine instead the difference of their lives, if it had ended like the stories he’d loved as a child. In those legends the prince always saved the princess – and so often at the last minute, just as things seemed their most hopeless. He wouldn’t have just saved her life, either. In the prince’s house Alyria had been little more than a wraith, a lost lingering shadow. But if Aleksandr had been a true hero, he’d have found her scales, he’d have given them back to her. Then those pale eyes would have danced with the knowing mischief of a siren, and her lips would have pursed with promise and pleasure. She’d have been happy, the sea-song upon her lips spilling forth from deep within a heart that beat with the rhythm of the waves.

“We’d have been happy,” he whispered, and imagined his arms around her shoulders, her pale hair spiralling about his fingers. “I’d have saved you, and we would have been happy.”

His hand tightened about the sword, unknowing; with a sigh, he opened his eyes. The silver blade glinted in the moonlight, cool and smooth. It reminded him of the ice that had broken all across the lake the night she had died. The night her water-god had taken her home, and all because he hadn’t been enough of a prince to save her.

Turning from the window he slid the blade back into its invisible sheath, both winking from view. His paladin would be waiting for him below, and for all night had fallen Aleksandr knew the time for dreaming this evening was over.

He cast one look back to the lake, found it shimmering and silver and silent. Then, he nodded, and walked towards the door. That sad little story had finished, and there was another one yet to be written. He could but hope he’d learned enough to find this story the happy ending it deserved.

In Media Res

It might have been a difficult prospect, to find him – the reticent seneschal had been unable to tell Ryennkar anything more than “the youngest son is somewhere on the back of the estate.” Said estate comprised several hundred acres of both forested and open land. Yet as he exited the back gardens via one of the heavy gates in the high stone walls, he caught a flash of red up on the ridge and smiled.

While not an unobservant person by nature, Arosek had become so involved in his work that once he’d climbed the hill, Ryennkar found it all too easy to sneak up on him. Childish games were not generally his favoured indulgence, but with scarcely a second thought he went to his knees behind his oldest friend and placed his hands over his eyes.

Arosek stiffened, charcoal stopping dead halfway through the arc of one rich curve. Then, his hand relaxed; Ryennkar could feel a smile pressing his cheeks upward. “Ryenn?”

He raised an eyebrow, though he’d effectively blinded the other man. “How did you know it was me?” Pressing closer, his next words were a scarce whisper dropped into one ear. “I could have been anyone.”

Arosek gave a half-snort, far more amused than it was exasperated. “You’re not just anyone.”

Only just suppressing the flash of pleasure this proclamation brought with it, Ryennkar leaned over Arosek’s shoulder and gave his work a curious look. “I thought you’d stopped painting.”

“I’m not painting. I’m drawing.”

With a chuckle, Ryennkar arched deeper into the natural curvature of his friend’s spine. It had been too long, since the last time he’d allowed this. “Drawing so often leads to painting,” he murmured, and he felt Arosek’s smile dim, just a little.

“Not always.” He paused, and when he spoke again Ryennkar could remember the sadness he’d last seen in those dark eyes, all those months ago. “Just…sometimes. Maybe.”

The silence that fell between them was broken only by birdsong, by the soft rustle of the wind through the leaves of the Aekar Forest below. But they were up on the ridge, the forest and the house and entire world held at a distance. Pressed against Arosek’s back, Ryennkar’s chest rose and fell in rhythm with the other man’s shallow breathing. He still did not remove his hands from his eyes. “You didn’t even know I was coming,” he said, soft, and Arosek nodded.

“No.” Something like a smile felt to be returning to his wide mouth. “I’m glad to see you.”

“But you can’t see a thing.”

“I see enough.” Gently he pulled back, angling his body around. Ryennkar let him go, but before he could drop his right arm Arosek leaned back upon it. One hand rose to rest upon his chest, just over Ryennkar’s heart.

“I see you now,” Arosek whispered, sketchbook and charcoal slipping from his lap to vanish into the long fronds of the scented grass.

“So do I,” he murmured, and leaned forward to capture his lips. Sometimes a kiss was only always that. But as Ryennkar steadied himself, palm gathering charcoal dust while his fingertips brushed the sun-warmed grass, he thought that kissing could become something more. He’d always been good at talking Arosek into taking up his brush even after he’d laid it aside with the admonition that this was the very last time.

Best-Laid Plans

“I don’t see why we have to stay in a place like this.” Nan surveyed their surroundings with a critical eye, her brightly-coloured lips pressed into a plump and inviting frown. “Can’t we just stay in a little alehouse or something?”

Alara had to smother an entirely unlady-like grin. The other woman might insist her liking for the smaller and more intimate lodgings to be just because she enjoyed the easy camaraderie she could strike up with the owners, but Alara knew it was more that Nan had never felt the slightest bit comfortable with the trappings of the so-called higher classes. While she was content enough to watch Alara dress up – and had proved rather adept at getting Alara both in and out of even the most complicated high society gowns – she’d never accompanied her to any of those types of events without a great deal of cajoling. Occasionally it had even degenerated into outright bribery, though Alara had to ruefully admit she’d enjoyed those moments just as much as Nan herself clearly did.

“I wanted something a bit more relaxing, tonight,” she said instead, quite mild. “So I felt that these…charming…surroundings were entirely in order.”

Nan screwed up her small nose as she peered around the opulent room, noting the rich sofas and the ottoman set before the great picture window that faced the west. “I thought you had a dinner party, you said?” she asked, and crossed her arms; Alara had to regret the obstacle this presented to an otherwise quite lovely view. “Look, if it’s all the same to you, I might just go take a room in that little inn we saw back near the city walls. You can swing by and pick me up in the morning, yeah?”

After allowing the woman to get as far as the door, she spoke just one word. “Nan.”


Ignoring Nan’s half-suspicious question, Alara crossed the room with an elegant stride, halting only when stood before the great red upholstered couch. Dropping her riding cloak, letting it pool upon the floor in a lazy fashion she rarely indulged in, she turned to take her seat. Beneath the cloak she still wore her preferred riding outfit. When she stood, the panels of the dress hung in demure lines from the wide belt, giving the illusion of a proper skirt. But when she reclined back in this way, crossing one long leg over the other, it split up both sides. Nan’s eyes widened, then focused upon the expanse of skin revealed between the mid-thigh height of her boots and her hip. Alara smiled, propped one hand behind her head; Nan’s eyes immediately leapt to her chest. Though her mouth opened, no sound came out. Alara chuckled, soft and knowing, and Nan gave her an accusing look.

“I…you said you had a very important dinner tonight.”

“Be a dear and lock the door, would you, Nan?” she asked, and licked her lips. “I do believe that dinner? Is already served.”


So, that's me for the day. I suppose I should go and get some sleep before work in the morning. Joy! And I have to admit with some shame that these days, whenever I think of Nan and Alara? All I get in my head is this. Oh, dear...

Monday, February 13, 2012

I Will Go Down With This Ship

As they watched the last of the lifeboats pull away from the stricken vessel, the golden-haired man took her hand and held it tight.
“You should have gone with them,” the captain said, each word soft and broken. “There was no need for you to stay.”
“Yes,” came another voice; both turned their heads slightly to find silver eyes accusing upon them both. Their owner leaned against the railing, back purposefully presented to the shadows that disappeared into the darkness upon the water. “Yes, you should have gone with them, and me with you.”
The golden-haired man shook his head. “No,” he said, simple and honest. His hand tightened. Though her fingers trembled, his remained as steady as the shore they had long since lost sight of. “No, my place is here.”
The man, silver both of eye and of hair, shook his head and looked away in disgust. But even as he watched the winking lights of salvation drift further into the desolate distance, he made no motion to jump overboard, to join them. He’d made his own decision long ago.
The captain, still with the golden-haired man’s hand about hers, turned. There were others who had chosen to stay upon the deck of the sinking ship. Two women stood together, both dark of hair; one was far taller, her hair in elegant spirals to match the graceful lines of her burgundy evening gown. The other, her arm firmly about that slim waist, wore her hair ragged and loose, her heavy skirt flaring out in a riot of bright colour.
“Don’t say anything,” the gypsy-girl said before the captain could speak. “I ain’t going nowhere. I know where I’m needed.”
“But it doesn’t matter,” she replied, her dark eyes swimming with tears. “This is my ship. You don’t have to stay.”
“We helped build it.” The tall woman’s words were even and brooked no nonsense, nor even any reply. “We’re entitled to make that choice for ourselves.”
But the captain had to wonder otherwise. The lady-knight would go nowhere without her companion, and the gypsy-girl had been the first to refuse to disembark. “We’ve only just met,” she had said, managing to be somehow both sensible and utterly ridiculous in the same breath. “I can’t leave you here all alone now!”
But the other couple had no such excuse. They’d been present almost the very longest, he dark of hair and so very tall next to the woman’s tiny stature. Her own blonde hair seemed darker than normal in the chill midnight air, but her face had become almost as pale as his.
“If you’re scared, I can call a boat back.”
The blonde girl started, then looked over. Her rounded features held a rueful expression. “I think I understand better than anyone that this is where I’m meant to be,” she said, and gave her tall companion a small smile. “Besides, he wouldn’t go without me…and I suppose all endings should go out with a song.”
He nodded, eyes bright with a dark amusement as he lifted his violin. “What would everyone like, then? A dirge, a jeremiad? Or maybe just some Glenn Miller, to be really perverse about it…?”
“I’m thinking something some The Fountain,” volunteered the gypsy-girl, and then looked wounded at the look this earned her from her knight. “What? I can watch incomprehensible art-house films when I want to, thank you very much!”
“But not Together We Will Live Forever,” the captain spoke up, sudden and very nearly violent. The black-haired violinist frowned.
“But that’s the simplest piece, as a solo.”
“Make do.” She paused, again nearly on the verge of tears. “Please.”
He sighed, even as the golden-haired man gave him a pleading shrug. “Death Is The Road To Awe, then,” he said, and cast the steep incline of the boat’s deck an incurious look. “By the time we need serious accompaniment, I don’t think it’ll matter much anyway.”
“Fair enough,” said the last of her companions. A young man with tangled brown hair, dressed in hoodie and jeans, moved up the deck from the waterline that crawled ever further upward, even as the boat’s unnatural incline grew steeper. “Might as well make the most of it. Too bad I didn’t bring a viola or something, I could have helped out.”
The dark-haired man shrugged, violin already under his chin. The mournful first notes began to murmur into the darkness moments later, and the boat seemed to sigh beneath them. Its time drew nigh, and it knew it. Even so, the captain looked to the brown-haired man and gave a wry smile.
“Are you sure about this?”
He only shrugged. “Doesn’t make much difference to me,” he observed. “Besides, Morgan’ll bring her boat back around to see if a decent drowning’s done me a bit of good. I’ll be fine.”
“But this is a different kind of death.” She swallowed hard. “You might not live through this one.”
“In the end, none of us might – whether we’re here with you, or drifting somewhere in the darkness out there.” He waved a hand, and then slung the whole arm companionably around her shoulders as he looked to the violinist. “Huh. If I’d known how bad you’d gotten I’d have hired a dance band to play Abide With Me.”
She smiled, even as the tears began to fall. “I don’t think it makes any difference,” she whispered. “Though…having you here…”
As if on cue, they stepped forward. Even as the deck tilted alarmingly, the captain sank to her knees with the golden-haired man always at her side. He wrapped his arms around her; on the other side, the gypsy girl did the same, burying her head in her neck. The elegant lady-knight put her own arms about the girl, and the blonde girl knelt before her captain, arms about her waist. The brown-haired youth put his arms about the captain’s shoulders, face buried in her hair. “I suppose it’s almost time,” he whispered, and she shivered at the light touch of his breath against her throat.
“I guess so,” she murmured back, as the silver-haired man curved his body against the side of the golden-haired man he would never leave. The captain looked up, felt comfort in the distant twinkle of the lifeboats in the distance even as the ship beneath her gave a dreadful groan. The musician stuttered in his playing, and she could feel the little group losing traction. The cold dark water awaited, patient as always, enduring in its knowledge that one day she would give in to its sinister siren call.
“It’s time,” she whispered, and held out her hand. The musician paused, and then raised the violin to his chin again.
“I’ll play on.” And as the captain closed her eyes, waiting for the end, she heard his music rising, ever seeking the crescendo that would signal the enlightenment that waited only at the end of all things.
Then the water swallowed them all whole, and she knew no more.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Brevity Is The Soul Of Discretion

I really haven't made any effort thus far to make any goals for this year, writing-wise, which really says a lot for the fact I am absolutely useless at that sort of thing. I've lost all self-confidence for starters, but I just need through it, I suppose. To that end I sucked it up and entered the Twitter-length fiction contest I mentioned the other day, against my own better judgement. Ha. I also had an interesting little experiment, because an email had come through from the kindly folk who run NaNoWriMo about Pitchpalooza.

In essence, this is just about pitching your NaNoWriMo novel to these people and hopefully winning a prize. The trick is that you have to do it in two hundred words. As you've heard from me already, brevity is not my forte. At all. So I took one look at the email, laughed, and said YEAH RIGHT.

Half an hour later I was furiously editing an attempt at a query letter for Greywater I had been working on in December or something. I'd given up at around three hundred and fifty words. So, I got to distilling, and I's such an interesting exercise, and I really ought to try doing it for a lot of other things I've written. I love to write, obviously, but I'm freeform and highly indulgent. I don't really edit very well. But the Twitter fic and this two hundred word pitch taught me to be more selective about my words, cutting away the chaff and going for the evocative rather than the merely elaborate. It also gave me hope, that I'll be able to edit this first draft of Greywater down from 167k to at least 150k, if not lower. Because that is my goal, this year. Getting that to a submissible state and then submitting the hell out of it.

For posterity, here is the synopsis. In the meantime, I am tired from a long walk and I need some sleep. As usual. I'll probably just go back to talking to Arjit about his obsession with wielding the sword of a pacifist in a war said pacifist never wanted. Or so we were led to believe. Hmm.

When Major Otho Calenta, on leave from active service, is summoned to the prison-city of Aran Nomese to convince a reclusive inmate to lead her once-lauded army into battle, he doesn’t know how he’s expected to achieve his goal. Not only is a she a centuries-old water elemental sorcerously imprisoned by the earth-god of his country, he knows already the bitter taste of crusades long since lost.

Raised from childhood to believe his duty is to take up his sword and protect the innocent, upon arrival at the broken-down palace of Greywater Otho feels obligated to attempt his mission. But between the peculiar machinations of the lupine Attorney-General of Lonan and his own troubled conscience, he sees little reason to incite a pacifist creature to murder. His reticence only grows when a prickly friendship mixes curiosity and craving between them.

Greywater is a novel set in a fantastical world where love and lust shadow a tale of loss and longing, where a soldier and a creature of ice and water meet on an unequal field to engage in the oldest battle: the one where you must learn to save yourself before you even dream of trying to save anyone else.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Te Karanga

New Zealanders are, in general, a fairly odd sort of folk. Of course I'm allowed to say these sorts of things, being that I am one, but it's relevant to the post because I'm actually trying to do something constructive and write a little review of a book I read just recently.

Now, although I've had vague intentions of reading this book for months I only got around to it because I heard mention of a competition run by the authors, and though I knew it was too late to get into that I went ahead and ordered the book in question anyway. It's called Phoenix Rising, and it's the first book in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. The second's out sometime this year, I believe, and yes I will be laying my hot little hands on it. But the other reason I wanted to have a read was because one of the protagonists is a New Zealander.

When you come from New Zealand, you tend to have...a weird relationship, with seeing your country or your people on television or in cinemas or in books. It's...not common. I mean, we have our little publishing houses and film/television studios, but it's not a huge thing. I mean, the first time I saw London I was a bit agog because the whole city's like a giant filmset come to life, in my mind. I presume I'd think the same of New York, if I ever get there (yes, I am still bitter about the hurricane, shut up). I mean, I go overseas and can't go three streets without tripping over a fellow Kiwi on their travels, but in terms of popular mass don't see a lot of New Zealanders around the place. Or much of New Zealand, to be honest. (I still cackle about one of the few times I've seen Dunedin in print, it was named for its proximity to R'yleh. I always KNEW it was a hellhole, but come on!)

Still, although Phoenix Rising is set in ye olde londontown, in the late eighteen hundreds, one of the two protagonists is Eliza Braun, and she's a New Zealander. Actually, they name her by what proves to be both something of a descriptor and a perjorative -- she's a "colonialist." Which I found mildly hysterical for a couple of reasons, but mostly because my automatic reading of the word is in a Māori accent with a couple of added adjectives, as in "bloody thieving colonialists." Oh, dear. And before you look at me askew, by birth I myself am a Bloody Thieving Colonialist; my direct heritage is Scots and English, not to mention I have English ancestors who moved to Ulster at a time when the Irish didn't much care to have the English dropping by the neighbourhood. It's in my blood, obviously. With that said, as a Kiwi who has lived in the UK, it's far more common for us to be named as Antipodeans, which is also hysterical in that our true antipodes actually only make landfall in Spain. Er. I've also been asked if "Kiwi" is an insult, and been looked at truly askew for naming my ethnicity as Pākehā. God, I love being a New Zealander.

But yes, Eliza's a Kiwi, and you can tell by both her speech and her action. She's adorable, although she's also a femme fatale, as such. She has an armoured corset, for crying out loud. Although I was most charmed by her vanity pounamu pistols, set with hei-hei. It's such a lovely little detail that probably just sounds cool to non-Kiwis, but sets our little hearts a-flutter. I also enjoyed the fact that when Eliza got well and truly plonked she decided to sing the national anthem, much to Books's dismay. I personally have no idea when the thing was written, but it was a lovely little touch. Because honestly, drunk New Zealanders in London? Will reel around with their baffled British mates singing songs from the homeland no-one but us has ever heard of. Ha.

One thing I did have a giggle at, though, was the way Eliza's colleagues called her a "pepperpot." And while Eliza is indeed a fiery redhead with luscious curves, carries knives, and has explosive theory down pat, when English blokes talk about pepperpots I only get one mental image. Oops.

But instead of going on about my love for a countryman, I should talk about the actual story. It's a solid steampunk adventure, in which the odd couple are thrust together due to circumstance and forced to work together to save the Motherland from certain doom at the hands of a shadowy secret society (NO ROMANS ALLOWED...sorry, Rory). From that you can see it's a very straightforward story; this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it's told well, but there weren't a lot of surprises. I still enjoyed the ride, though it was mostly for the characters we met along the way.

I've already extolled Eliza, so onto Books -- and you can guess from the name combination of Books and Braun that Books is the brains and Eliza the brawn. There is a bit of irony, too, in that Books's first name is Wellington; Eliza never mentions where she's from, from memory, but Wellington IS the capital of New Zealand. Or at may have been, then? Our capital moved a bit in the early years (and considering some clever bint built Wellington on a major faultline, it's still a bit Howl's Moving Castle for some people). With that said, whether Wellington was the capital then or not, the steampunk history of the piece means it's an alternate reality to our own. I mean, Prince Albert died in some sort of crazy experiment, for starters. And there are AIRSHIPS. Everyone loves AIRSHIPS.
...and I'm shunting aside poor Welly here. Er. He's quite lovely in his own right; I have a softness for his kind of character, and he's basically Ianto Jones. Which dovetails neatly with the fact that I was expecting this to be all a bit Torchwood...which it was, and wasn't. (I'm not saying that it's aliens, but...actually, it wasn't aliens.) I'm not actually a fan of Torchwood, it was just...all flash and no pay-off, and went so hard on the fanservice that I imagine even Misato Katsuragi would have been "Dude, too far." Phoenix Rising did have a moment where I had to think Captain Jack would have been In Like Flynn, but overall it was far more solid and therefore a far more enjoyable read.

I'm trying not to be too spoilerish here, I guess, so I should probably get around to shutting my mouth. But it's safe to say that this was a fun read, for all it mostly kept to the tropes of the genre rather than subverting them. I'd like to see a little more of that, really; it would mix the pace up a bit, and keep me guessing. As it was, I knew where there book was going pretty much from the get-go, though I did have one surprise I won't mention just so I don't ruin it for anyone else. The writing style is also very easy to read, and is so strikingly visual I actually have to wonder if the book wouldn't be better as either a graphic novel or a film. Which isn't to say it doesn't work as a novel, because it does -- it's just that I have to think the personalities of Books and Braun would lend well to a more visual medium. (This series needs a massive fandom. IT NEEDS MASSES OF FANART, DAMMIT.)

So, this review has been utterly muddled and you probably wonder what on earth I actually thought about the book. I liked it. I really did. Despite the fact I found the story to have few true twists, the characters were compelling enough to keep my attention -- and it really is the characters I come for. Eliza was just a wonder from the start, and Wellington joined the party with some lovely character development over the novel that made it all worth it. So, I'd say if you want a nice steampunk read, give this one a whirl. I'm definitely waiting for the next one to make landfall soon. <3