Book Review: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

jamaica innI just saw the movie, Crimson Peak, about a week ago, and immediately rushed to the nearest Barnes & Noble to grab a copy of any Gothic romance I could put my hands on, which is how I ended up with one of Daphne du Maurier’s most memorable works, Jamaica Inn. According to the jacket copy, it was one of three works made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock, the others being Rebecca and “The Birds”. I knew about Rebecca, but not the other two.

Daphne du Maurier is considered a master storyteller by many, and an icon of the gothic romance genre. Guillermo del Toro refers to film adaptations of gothic romances such as du Maurier’s Rebecca and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights as part of his inspiration for Crimson Peak, and as a writer, I’m hoping to sort of mentally dissect the tropes played out in both the movie and in Jamaica Inn.

There are a million articles all about del Toro and his take on Gothic romance. I don’t think the term was coined yet back in 1936, when du Maurier published Jamaica Inn, but both are chock full of the tropes we associate with that genre today. There must be a sense of foreboding throughout. The atmosphere is grim and bleak right from the beginning. The landscape is part of the sense of horror, and there’s always a big, crumbling mansion full of secrets. And let’s not forget a dark and mysterious stranger who might be a villain, or not, but the heroine is usually drawn to him despite herself.

crimson peakThe thing I really liked about Jamaica Inn is how the heroine, Mary Yellen, is fairly feminist and progressive for her time. She talks about being independent and doing “man’s work” on her farm to make a living. She’s not afraid to be alone or to stand up for herself, which she does fairly frequently. Of course, this is cut down a little by the men treating her as helpless and ignorant, just because she’s a woman, but our plucky heroine often uses this to her advantage, surprising her aggressors. Also, there is actually very little romance in this story. I think the romantic aspects are used as just another thread of tension in the plot. We’re left wondering, as Mary is, if the attractive stranger is worth trusting or not. Mary ultimately decides that she’s better off trusting herself, but she’s led astray and ends up trusting the wrong person, leading to an exciting and harrowing chase scene across the bleak and foggy moors of Cornwall.

If you’ve seen Crimson Peak, then you’ll recognize a lot of the same tropes. The lonely plot of land in windswept England. The big, crumbling mansion. The secrets of the family. And most importantly, the inability of the heroine to trust the man she supposedly loves to keep her safe; a decision that leads her to trust only herself, which almost leads to her downfall. But in the end, no man saves her, and she survives on her own wits and her ability to face her fears. The film is gorgeous and atmospheric, and exactly what you would expect out of a true Gothic romance. I think I’m pretty much hooked on this genre for the moment, and I highly recommend Jamaica Inn if you’re interested in delving into this genre yourself.

Book Review – Planetfall

planetfallThis book is amazing. I’m having trouble finding the words, so bear with me. I’m not even sure I’ve fully digested the book as I’m writing this. Let me begin with a very brief summary.

At some point in the future, humans have left Earth and established a colony on a new planet in a different galaxy. Something traumatic has happened in the colony’s past, but few people actually know the truth of it all, and the story becomes clouded by a newly established religion. There are secrets and betrayals and a deep look into mental illness that I’ve never seen in any other science fiction novel. And when a stranger arrives in the colony, the delicate balance struck by the colonists is shattered.

….

I hate spoilers. And there isn’t much I can say that isn’t going to spoil the book (at least, in my opinion), and I believe everyone should come to this book a blank slate. It should fill you up with wonder, and you should travel the path it takes you down completely uninfluenced. But I also realize that I can’t really write a review without touching on some of the events that transpire. So, go read the book and then come back so we can talk about it.

Ren, the protagonist, is infinitely human and easy to identify with. Her voice feels authentic, and her reactions to the relative isolation of being the only intelligent beings on an empty planet too far from Earth to ever go back resonate. The world building is as precise as I imagine the technology the colonies rely on to be. And so believable. The economy is heavily reliant on implanted chips, 3D printing, colony-wide networks, and recycling, and it feels completely drawn from current trends in technology we’re seeing right now. Everyone selected to be a part of this colony has a very specific skill he or she contributes to the society.

As cool as the tech is, for me, the most important part of this novel is the psychological insight we have on Ren. As we’re drawn deeper into the story, we’re also drawn further into the emotions of Ren and damaging effects certain events have had on her. We learn about her mind just as she’s learning about her mind. And in parallel of this is her exploration of the God city – a seemingly alive structure outside of the colony held in reverence by the colonists. And the end – wow. It will just leave you with so much to think about.

My only criticism is how rushed the end felt, but I read an early copy that I received from the editor back in July, so I’m hoping that gets smoothed out a bit before publication. But even so, this is a beautiful novel, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t collect some award nominations.

Short Fiction Roundup: Halloween Edition!

This Saturday is Halloween, and what better way to count down the days than to read some free short fiction of a spooky nature? I’ve rounded up some excellent specimens for your perusal below. Enjoy!

plunderpuss_HungryDaughtersHungry Daughters of Starving Mothers

© 2015 by Alyssa Wong | Art © 2015 by Plunderpuss

by Max Gladstone

PUBLISHED ON TOR.COM | October 29, 2014

© 2014 by Max Gladstone | Art © 2014 by Dave Palumbo

Vlad has grown distant from his wife. His son has trouble at school. And he has to keep his sharp teeth hidden.

This short story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by editor Marco Palmieri.

Vlad no longer shows his wife his sharp teeth. He keeps them secret in his gums, waiting for the quickened skip of hunger, for the blood-rush he almost never feels these days.

The teeth he wears instead are blunt as shovels. He coffee-stains them carefully, soaks them every night in a mug with ‘World’s Best Dad’ written on the side. After eight years of staining, Vlad’s blunt teeth are the burnished yellow of the keys of an old unplayed piano. If not for the stain they would be whiter than porcelain. Much, much whiter than bone. Read more here.

nightmarecoverIt Was Never the Fire

He was the kid who looked at the sun too long. He hunted for lighters like sharks hunted for blood. Christ intrigued him for all the wrong reasons.

He only ate smoke.

Cigarette smoke. Wood smoke. Car exhaust. Incense. Liquid nitrogen on rare occasions.

Smoke. 

Read more here.

Lyssa_JasonRainville_LargeDisplay-500x647Blood and Stardust

by Laird Barron

PUBLISHED ON Far Fetched Fables, Episode 73 | September 8, 2015

© 2015 by Laird Barron | Art © 2015 by Jason Rainville | Narrated by Nikolle Doolin

Three years later, as I hike my skirt to urinate in a dark alley in the slums of Kolkata, my arms are grasped from behind. The Doctor whispers, “So, we meet again.” His face was ruined in the explosion — its severe, patrician mold is melted and crudely reformed as if an idiot child had gotten his or her stubby fingers on God’s modeling clay. I can’t see it from my disadvantaged perspective, but that’s not necessary. I’ve been following him and Pelt around since our original falling out. Listen to the full story here.

fantasy scrollSea Found

by L R Hieber

PUBLISHED IN Fantasy Scroll Magazine Issue #9 | October 2015

© 2015 by L R Hieber

Something heavy hung in the air the summer the ghost and I finally met. Lovecraft was right: New England is inherently odd. But, in the end, that’s a good thing…..

Read more here.

And last, but certainly not least, here’s a perfectly ghoulish tale to get you in the Christmas spirit!

poe-ho-hoOne More for Christmas Dinner

by David Barnett

PUBLISHED ON Postcards from the Hinterland, the author’s personal website

© 2009 by David Barnett | Art © unknown

Here comes Poe, tramping through the snow at the dying of the day, his passage along the slush-covered pavement kept on even keel by the ballast of the full-to-groaning bags-for-life that dangle from each woollen-clad hand.

Bags-for-life! The irony was not lost on Poe as he hefted each cotton sack to better distribute the weight. Bags-for-life! But he had never got on very well with the plastic carrier bags, hated the way they stretched and ripped, their handles cutting into his hands even through the knitted gloves he always wore, whether snow or sunshine, rain or wind.

Consider Poe. A man was never better named, some might say. Consider that tombstone brow, the sparse hair the colour of ashes, the sallow complexion, the nose that hung from his face like a death sentence delivered by a stone-faced judge. Consider the thin line of a mouth beneath that nose, straight and true like the final layer of bricks sealing a man into a cellar, say. Consider the eyes, grey and dry, very much like the afterlife might look. Read more here.

Want more? Check out Nathan Ballangrud‘s “Skullpocket” over on io9!

Book Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Wow. This book is everything I wish Game of Thrones had been. Seriously.

Joe Abercrombie has created a world as real as our own, filled with subtle shades of grey between Good and Evil. He has created a protagonist you can really empathize with who has to navigate a world full of treachery and initial impressions can be reversed by deeds and companionship.

I think it’s rare to find an epic fantasy novel that is so full of nuance and where things are not black and white. Sure, Martin does this very well in the Game of Thrones series, but I felt like those novels were just a slog to get through. Abercrombie has a tightly written, fast-paced action adventure novel filled to the brim with political intrigue and echoes of war all the while building characters that really resonate.

Yarvi is the hero of this story, and he’s also disabled. Imagine a coming-of-age story about a boy that would probably have been best friends with Tyrion Lannister, and see how he does when the worst is thrown upon him. I love that this story champions intellectual prowess over physical strength. And the plot twists! Nothing was predictable, and the story just grabbed a hold and wouldn’t let go. This is definitely going on my list of favorites. I highly recommend it.

I’ve been blurbed!

Remember when I reviewed DARKWALKER by E.L. Tettensor a little over a year ago? Well, the sequel (Master of Plagues: A Nicolas Lenoir Novel) is out, and on the very first page is a list of blurbs from reviewers, and I’m one of them! That was a fun thing to discover yesterday.

IMG_2810

Thoughts: Why Science Fiction and Fantasy Matter

MagicspawnI was saving this blog post for December, but I think in light of the events in Ferguson, MO last night, now is a good time to post this. This is probably going to be the most emotionally difficult piece that I’ve ever written for the public, so bear with me!

I was born in Florida and raised in a small town in South Carolina. I went to a primarily white private school. My parents are hard-working blue collar individuals who felt that making sure their child had a good education was the key to their child’s future success. I received a scholarship to Winthrop University, a small public college that was vibrant with diversity and a strong liberal arts program, and I majored in English. But this is getting off track from the point I hope to make here. The point is, as a young child, I was a poor white kid going to school with rich white kids. I didn’t know many people of color, and I didn’t know anyone who was gay, or otherwise different from the homogeneous group of people I went to school with. Those who were different, like me, were bullied because they made good grades, or read “weird” books, or doodled dragons on all of her class notes.

715kRSlUABLWhen I was 14, I was extremely excited to get the book club catalog and order books through my school. That particular year, I saw a book cover that caught my eye. I had no idea what I was in for when I ordered the whole trilogy at once. What I saw was a nice looking guy and a pretty white horse. What I bought was Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price, The Last Herald-Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. What I read in those pages forever changed my life. Those books were the first fantasy novels that really stuck with me. It was the first time I could read about someone who was so different from me but had problems I could relate to on some level. Vanyel, the protagonist of the series, is very young and has realized that he’s different from other men. He is bullied for loving music and not wanting to practice fighting. His father never really bonds with him because they don’t understand each other, so Vanyel is sent away to school where he discovers he’s shay’a’chern, or a homosexual.

I did not know any gay people at that point in my life. I think I barely knew what “gay” meant other than mean kids calling each other “gay” if they were different in any way. I think we had briefly discussed it in a health class, but there was no real way for me to know what it meant to be gay. This book opened my eyes to a whole new world, and not just in a fantasy sense. Using other terminology I think helps the reader get past emotionally charged words like “gay” and “lesbian” and “homosexual” and get straight to the heart of the matter, which is that this person is different from most people in his world and his emotional struggles are incredibly real and valid. I was bullied for being different. I was called a “lesbian” by my classmates even though I’m not one. Very few people reached out to me to find out who I really was as a person. Vanyel struggles with life or death situations with people he loves as well as that internal struggle we all go through when we’re trying to figure ourselves out. I could put myself in his shoes and see what it was like to be gay. And I could see that love and compassion for other human beings regardless of who they love is how we survive in this world. I could also see that being bullied is a survivable situation, and that I can be strong and loved and successful regardless of what people said about me.

downloadWhen I moved to New York, I met an avid reader of Tor’s books at New York Comic Con. We became fast friends, and shortly after, he came out to me and another friend. We were among the first few people he had come out to in the city, and he had only just prior to that come out to his family. He was in his early 30s at the time and had never told anyone he was gay before that. He spent his entire life hiding his true self because he was afraid of judgement, afraid of what his church would say, and afraid of how his family would react. He spent too many years praying that God would change him and make him not gay. I gave him the Last Herald-Mage trilogy partly because I knew he could identify so strongly with Vanyel and partly because I wanted him to understand that I could be empathetic to his situation too. That I wasn’t going to judge him, and that I fully accepted him for who he is no matter what. That he deserved happiness the same as all of the other human beings on this planet do. He is one of the brightest lights in my life, and one of the happiest people I know today. I have never met someone who has struggled so much and ended up being one of the most optimistic people I know. You cannot know him and not love him.

I may be getting a little long-winded here, but I also wanted to talk about my recent experience of seeing Interstellar in the theater. As you can probably tell, I grew up strongly on the fantasy side of things. I wasn’t terribly interested in science fiction despite the fact that I loved actual science (only museums, not classes!). Ender’s Game was as important to me in high school as Magic’s Pawn was, and for largely the same reasons. Compassion for others, especially when they are different, is a key lesson in that book, and I’ll never forget it, but I wasn’t really into much else about science fiction. Over the weekend, I saw Interstellar, and I, personally, was blown away. This piece of science fiction includes the human story of survival condensed down into a father’s struggle to make sure his children survive on a dying Earth. The message at the end of this movie is full of hope.

Science fiction allows us to imagine possible futures for the human race and give us hope that we might have a future despite the fact that sometimes our species can be so full of darkness. Fantasy can allow us to understand the world through the eyes of people who are very different, including race, sex, orientation, and even species. And all of this, to me at least, is why fantasy and science fiction matter. So, for Thanksgiving, I want everyone to think about the science fiction or fantasy novel that helped open your mind you when you were growing up, and I want you to donate it to a library in a struggling community. I think we can all make a difference in the world one book at a time. And I think it’s time we stopped being outraged and started doing something to make the world we live in a better place.

December and January Titles from Tor/Forge

The holidays are coming soon, and the publishing industry in NYC slows down quite a bit, so I thought I’d go ahead and post the new titles for December and January before everyone goes on vacation. I also want to point everyone to Netgalley, where you can find our first in series books, stand-alone titles, and debut authors. Just make sure you have a legitimate blog address in your profile if you want someone to approve you for a title! All other review inquiries can be directed to torpublicity@tor.com.

Tor

9781466807723_FC 9781466810198_FC 9781429986427_FC 9781466800823_FC 9781466828445_FC 9781466847293_FC 9781429945691_FC (1) 9781466858442_FC

December 2 –
Sustenance by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Carbide Tipped Pens edited by Ben Bova and Eric Choi

January 13 –
The Whispering Swarm by Michael Moorcock
The Just City by Jo Walton
The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley
Unbreakable by W. C. Bauers

January 27 –
Pacific Fire by Greg van Eekhout
Inside a Silver Box by Walter Mosley

Forge

9781466834347_FC 9781429922593_FC 9781429997232_FC 9781466869806_FC 9781466804258_FC

December 9 –
You Know Who Killed Me by Loren D. Estleman

January 6 –
Retribution by David Hagberg
The Body Snatchers Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

January 13-
Moonlight Water by Win Blevins and Meredith Blevins

January 20 –
Mark of the Beast by Adolphus A. Anekwe