Tag Archives: epic fantasy

Book Review: “Crossroads of Canopy” by Thoraiya Dyer #AWW2017

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Thoraiya Dyer is bringing classic High Fantasy back!

 


Crossroads of Canopy is Thoraiya Dyer’s debut novel but by no means her first foray into the world of Speculative Fiction. Dyer is a well-known short-story writer who has won four Aurealis awards and three Ditmar awards. As such her turn to novel length writing was highly anticipated, and she has not disappointed. The Epic Fantasy canon can now add another novel.

Classic Fantasy tropes are respected throughout this novel. We all know that a special child is usually required and preferably parentless. This pervades most of Speculative Fiction and beyond. Luke Skywalker thinks both of his parents are dead and so is raised by his uncle and aunt until a couple of robots show him the light. Harry Potter’s parents are dead so he is raised by his evil uncle and aunt until he receives word from an owl. Superman, dead parents, dead planet. Frodo Baggins, adopted. All of these guys for one reason or another do not have their biological parents anymore, and they receive a higher calling to leave their old life and become the super-bestest heroes ever. Awesome right? 

Dyer does a similar thing. Her main character, Unar, has less than loving parents. They think of their child as slave labour. In fact they are literally going to sell her to become a slave. Unar decides that she will run away rather than be sold into slavery. It is through this slight change in the dead parent motif, that Dyer gives her lead character more agency than other orphan heroes. It is not until after Unar has already made the decision to run away that she receives her “calling.”

As soon as she makes the decision, Unar’s heart races. The smell of quince blossom and wood fern fills her nostrils. Something inside her chest, like a seed sending out tiny root, begins to grow there. No idea she’s ever had has felt so right, yet the sensation is distressing; she clutches at her rib cage.

Unar gets this special feeling as a result of having made a decision, she is not simply dragged off unwittingly by a wise guide, she willingly chooses to leave and then receives her calling. Having the decision come first gives Unar an active role in her life in a way many popular, heroes of epic fantasy do not. From the start the reader knows that Unar is a person of action and capable of making tough decisions.

Despite this kick-ass aspect to Unar the reader knows that she has a softer side and has sympathy for her from the outset.

Unar Lies as still as a twelve-year-old can lie.

Eyes shut tight, anticipating her mother’s pleased and surprised reaction to her day’s work, she breathes, deliberately and deeply, with intent to deceive, in the wreckage of the cot that belonged to her sister. A curtain divides the cot from the rest of the hollowed-out, one room dwelling. The corner twitches. Tickles her foot. Father checking on her.

Unar’s bent arm is her pillow. She keeps her legs curled so they won’t dangle over the splintered edges. The cot bars have been broken off to burn for fuel but the body remains whole.

Father thinks she’s sleeping. She’s never been so wide awake. He lets the curtain drop.

“It’s time to sell her,” Unar’s mother says from the other side of it, dashing Unar’s excitement to dust.

We are introduced to an excited little girl who just wants to make her mother happy. A little girl that we then witness being callously betrayed by the people who are supposed to love her. To them she is simply a product to be sold rather than a little girl to be loved. This is heart-breaking to witness but also provides context to Unar being emotionally distant at times later in the novel. Her parents wanted to sell her, we also learn that her baby sister was swept away by floods; Unar has had a horrific life in the twelve short years before she runs away. Being strong and distant is an understandable coping mechanism and not simply arrogance over being the “chosen one.”

Crossroads of Canopy has the scope of a Raymond E. Feist novel. There are thirteen gods. There are different factions following each god. The gods are at the top of the hierarchy, walking amongst people in bodies of flesh and blood. Just under the gods are their body guards, after them are those who have received the calling to serve the gods, and below them are of course the slaves. Slaves being the lowest of the low without any agency at all. Unar, who we see as a strong person, with amazing talent, could easily have been one of those slaves.

On top of that there are layers within the world. Those who live in the canopies of the great forest are the most blessed, those who live below, considered less, and the world of the ground is seen as a dirty hole that is best avoided. My favourite nod to classic Fantasy is that the creatures from different areas actually look significantly different like in a J.R.R. Tolkien novel. As early as the first chapter we are introduced to a truly fantastical creature.

He dropped suddenly, suspended by clawed toes in front of her, upside-down with his skirt hems held in one hand, loincloth and concealed throwing knives showing, grinning, making her gasp. It wasn’t right, to have feet like that. Unar had heard rumours that those who served Orin, goddess of birds and beasts, were permanently changed in size and shape, but nobody had ever mentioned to her that the Bodyguard of Ehkis had the grey toes and talons of a sooty owl.

Going back to this traditional model of having creatures from different areas actually look different, rather than all being super sexy humans, opens up a whole range of actions and predicaments that cannot be achieved with merely the human form. This is followed up, with more references to the differences that people from other areas possess, in chapter two and continues on throughout the novel.

Unar examined this one closely for the first time. The woman had the baby-sick skin but not the deep forearm scars of Understorian warriors with retractable “claws” for scaling trees. She couldn’t be a slave taken in war, but instead must have been born a slave. Nobody had set snake’s teeth in place at puberty to form a grown fighter’s magically grafted climbing skills.

And last but not least, Dyer pays tribute to the randy teen trope. Don’t kid yourself, this is important in Fantasy. Think about Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ Wise Man’s Fear who managed to be so great in the sack that he out classed the fairy of sex despite being a gawky teenager. And let’s not forget Robert Jordan’s Rand (should be Randy) al’Thor and his menagerie of lusty ladeez who are absolutely gagging for it, and him relatively happily bed hopping. The ladies of High Fantasy are no exception, with Kristin Cashore’s kick-ass heroine Katsa going weak at the knees for Po. Not that Epic Fantasy only has horny teens, the adults are pretty lustful too; I’m looking at you Chris Bunch and your continuous references to “oiled up” penises…. I might just go reread some Bunch… for… reasons. Anyway, Dyer’s Unar is plenty lusty. She’s celibate but still has enough urges to keep us secretly-lustful Spec Fic readers happy.

Instead of dwelling on it, she remembered how her whole body thrummed, like a hanging bridge in high wind, at the thought that Aoun might have undressed her.

Excuse me whilst I go smoke a cigarette…. I’m back, just remembered that I don’t smoke.

Although Dyer includes many tropes from Fantasy, Crossroads of Canopy is still fresh and original. This is because of the lush setting, the unique characters, the detailed hierarchy, and Dyer’s distinctive authorial voice. I cannot recommend Crossroads of Canopy highly enough but don’t just take my word for it, you can read these other reviews here:

https://ventureadlaxre.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/review-crossroads-of-canopy-by-thoraiya-dyer/

Book Review: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

 

Also, keep an eye out for a review of this book to appear on Newtown Review of Books   because they always quote a code for a discount at Abbey’s Books Shop  for all the books that they review.

 

Thoraiya Dyer, Crossroads of Canopy St Martin’s Press PB 336pp $34.99

Learn more about the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge here.

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Thoraiya Dyer: #Robinpedia 

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Thoraiya Dyer is an Australian writer of speculative fiction and archer. She has won several awards for her short stories and is well regarded by commissioning editors who describe her as an absolute pleasure to work with. She is so well regarded within the speculative fiction community that I was completely surprised, yet delighted to discover that she did not have a Wikipedia entry yet, so it is with extra pleasure that I write this entry.

Thoraiya has published more short stories and novellas than you can poke a stick at and collected four Aurelius awards and three Ditmar awards in the process. In 2017 she released her first full length novel, Crossroads of Canopy book 1 of The Titan’sForest Trilogy, through Pan MacMillan.

And can I just say a big personal thank you to Thoraiya Dyer for turning her hand to long-form epic fantasy. For those fellow readers waiting in the wilderness for Patrick Rothfuss’s third installment of The Kingkiller Chronicles, we now have something to get us through those lonely nights, Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer. I fully expect to see some Kvothe and Unar fan fic soon. It’ll be pretty racey. PRoth, you now have my full permission to take until this trilogy is wrapped up to get part three of yours out. I’m not entirely sure if your publisher or other fans will accept my authority but it’s worth a try…. My own three kids don’t accept it and the oldest one is only five. Sigh. 

Getting back to Thoraiya Dyer and #robinpedia, Book 1 of The Titan’s Forest Trilogy is phenomenal. It has the scope of Feist with the deft touch of Marillier. It truly is a master work, one we’ve been lacking for so long. I was like a kid again whilst reading Crossroads, with that same level of curiosity and excitement. And the characters from different areas actually genuinely look different. They’re not all just super sexy humans. I honestly didn’t even realise how much I’d missed truly great epic fantasy until I read this.

When she’s not writing Thoraiya is shooting things with an arrow. She loves the standing stillness and focus of target archery as it helps clear her mind. Fellow writers looking for a new approach to mindfulness might do well to try archery out. It has certainly worked wonders for Thoraiya who has an absolutely prolific output.

Find Thoraiya Dyer’s website here.

Find Thoraiya Dyer on Twitter here.

If you have any information you would like added to this entry please leave it in the comment section.

Learn more about Robinpedia here.

P.S. Yes, I’m already fully aware that I am dyslexic.

Garth Nix Workshop: @garthnix presents at @asauthors

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Yesterday I had the great privilege of attending a workshop run by speculative fiction juggernaut author Garth Nix through the Australian Society of Authors.  Garth Nix has been described as the James Bond of the speculative fiction author world. And for good reason. He’s  smooth, he’s witty, he is internationally successful  and, he knows his business in and out. Coupled with the fact that he rarely does workshops he truly has a reputation for being an international man of mystery.  I jumped at the chance to go, because quite frankly I’d book in to see him read the yellow pages, it’s Garth Nix. However, the question lingers, is he reclusive because he can’t teach or simply because he is so incredibly busy writing, drinking expensive spirits and fighting crime. I can now confidently tell you that it is most certainly the latter.

Garth Nix did something very rare in his workshop, he addressed the ‘Art’ of writing and gave very specific business advice. In my experience workshops tend to focus on the ‘Craft’ of writing and gloss over the other two, whereas Garth Nix divided his time evenly between the three. I’m a bit of a workshop whore so thoroughly appreciated this unique approach. If you’re a bit of an over workshopped hag like me and occasionally suffer from itsallbecomingabitsamesameitis I would thoroughly recommend watching like a hawk for any Garth Nix courses that  come up. You will not be disappointed.

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Stop rambling and just tell me what he said. Okay, I’ll give away a few takeaways from the workshop but because what you take out of a writing course is purely personal the real benefit can only be truly attained by attending them. We are all on different writing  journeys so what inspires us, what we need to learn, what makes sense to us, is all different. So please keep that in mind. It all depends… but here’s a few thing that I learned.

Books are successful because they transfer emotions. You need to put emotions into your characters that in turn transfer into the readers. As such you need to fill up your emotional reservoir.

Write what you know does not mean write an autobiography. You know so much more than your actions. You are a sum total of everything you have read, seen, heard, felt and done. In short, you know so much more than you think you do.

Keep writing. If you finish a book write another story, if you put a book aside write another one. Just keep writing.

Don’t go too wild on your first novel. Learn the craft well before you start being too experimental. A tight focus with a straightforward structure works best for beginners. No need to reinvent the wheel just for the sake of it.

Don’t just rely on grammar to construct beautiful prose. Remember rhythm and euphony.

You need to decide if you’re writing for long or short term gain. Your approach to what and how you write will be different.

I shall leave my giveaways there, I hope to see you at the next course.

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Speculative Fiction Festival at #NSWWC

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Be Careful What You Wish For

As you all know I can’t resist a good festival so I of course went to the Speculative Fiction Festival at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre run by Cat Sparks. A good time was had by all. My main take-aways from the day are listed below. Enjoy.

Garth Nix

  • Garth Nix is so brilliant and so talented that he sold his first short story at the age of 19 to a magazine he didn’t even submit to. No I don’t feel like elaborating on that story because the specialness might decrease and I prefer to keep him godlike in my mind.
  • Garth Nix states that there are no dead manuscripts. A manuscript might not sell simply because it does not fit with the appeal of the time, in another five years it might suddenly be in. Don’t ever throw away manuscripts, resubmit, recycle, repurpose them.
  • Garth Nix said that I could sit in the same sunny spot as him. I died and the ran away. Totes kept my cool…

James Bradley

  • Initially thought that he would live out his days as a poet in poetry excellence of the most poety kind. Turns out he unfortunately needed to have written more than six poems to do this.
  • If you win a cheque, don’t lose it, the organisers of whatever competition or award you won it for will be pissed off that they have to rewrite it.
  • Authors get rejected all of the time. Don’t let rejection deter you because even if you have one success that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a nasty rejection lurking around the corner.

Kate Forsyth

  • Submit your manuscripts typed. Publishing houses don’t generally accept ones hand written in an exercise book that you have illustrated yourself.
  • Always be brave and keep on persevering. Never let your own fear or ego hold you back.
  • Kate Forsyth signed a copy of Impossible Quest 3 for my niece. I am now the favouritist aunt ever.

Marianne de Pierres

  • Internal logic is key to ensuring that your work is believable and accepted by the reader.
  • Marianne de Pierres says she doesn’t know how she feels about a lot of issues hence her characters have different views and she allows them to sort through bigger picture issues. Her works are explorations not morality messages.
  • Write to you personality style. That being style, genre/subgenre, length, strength of message etc. You have to write your novel not somebody else’s.

Stephanie Lai

  • Stephanie Lai starts with a human/scientific problem and then develops the story around that.
  • Stephanie Lai leans towards short stories because she loves quick immediate communication and gratification.
  • Stephanie Lai says to keep the science real but the world fun and fantastical.

Isobelle Carmody

  • Isobelle Carmody crowd funded her book before crowd funding was a thing. That’s how cool she is. She sold shares in her first book for $30 each and agreed to give the money back should she ever be published.
  • Isobelle Carmody has never been rejected. She humbly claims that it is because she takes so long to write her books that publishers are too scared to say no lest she never write another one or takes even longer next time.

Bruce McCabe

  • Bruce McCabe starts with real life problems being explored in scientific labs today, then moves out twenty years and explores what will be happening with those issues and advances.
  • Bruce McCabe feels that trying to box Science Fiction into a narrow definition isn’t productive. That there is a whole spectrum of sci fi ranging from hard to soft and they’re all equally valid.

Pamela Freeman

  • Okay, I am so spun out by what she said to me personally that I cannot even remember what she said on her panels. It would have been insightful too because she always says really good stuff. Pamela Freeman told me that she had read my ebook What Happens in Book Club… and had laughed so hard that she had to read bits to her husband. I nearly died in fangirling overload. I’m not confident that I am actually awake and this isn’t some extended dream. If I truly am awake… GO ME!

Now the bit that you really want, WHAT DID THE PUBLISHERS SAY THEY WANTED?!?

FableCroft Publishing

They are looking for sci fi. Middle Grade and YA. Make sure you read their submission guidelines or Tehani Wessley will cry. You don’t want to make her cry do you?

Ticonderoga Publications

They like anthologies. Love them! So write an awesome short story. Just don’t be sexist, and violent for the sake of shocking rather than for the sake of the story, otherwise Liz Gryzb will cry. You don’t want to make her cry either, do you?

Just quietly, I did pitch to one of the owners the idea of making a The Voice / Literary Pitching crossover show. They weren’t down with it, so if you have any great ideas like that, don’t pitch those to them. Russell Far rather kindly pointed out that although spinning chairs would be fun, they don’t actually see the person pitching as it is, only their words. Good point Russell, good point. However, if there are any TV execs out there who like my idea I am prepared to except my millions of dollars now.

Pantera Press

Their rep was so warm and wonderful that I think everyone wants to now submit every manuscript to them. Seriously, he was lovely and so caring. He was the Rick Martin of the Panel because he had such passion. The rep in attendance likes Romance so I think we’re all switching just to work with him.

Momentum

Genre fiction with a very clear audience in mind. So none of that boundary hopping, all over the place, wishy washy stuff. Keep it tight, keep it focused, keep it commercially appealing.

Harper Voyager

Wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of Epic Fantasy. But please don’t use humour in your submissions, or guilt trips over the fact that your family will starve if they don’t pick up your manuscript. They don’t like that.

Bloomsbury

Submit through the UK website

Hope to see you at the next festival.

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