Tag Archives: Jaine Fenn

#Authoring Annals – Bristolcon 2018 #Brainfluffblogauthoringannals-3 #Bristolcon2018Report

Standard

This is the first conference I’ve attended in the past two years. But I was determined not to miss this year’s Bristolcon for the simple reason is that it’s my favourite. It’s known as The Friendly Con and with good reason – the first year I came along on my own, I was invited to join one of the groups sitting in the bar by the lovely Jaine Fenn.

This year I wasn’t on my own – my writing buddy Mhairi Simpson stayed over on Friday night, so on Saturday morning we could catch a 6-something train to Fareham, where we changed for Bristol. While the GWR train was flipping cold, at least everything was running on time and we arrived at Temple Meads station just after 10, all set to consume Second Breakfast at our favourite pasty shop before braving the bitterly cold wind for the walk to the conference hotel.

We hadn’t even got sufficiently organised to decide which panels to attend, so naturally we needed to swing by the bar to sit down and sort this out. I was delighted to see Juliet McKenna and congratulate her on the wonderfulness that is The Green Man’s Heir. I’m thrilled to report there is another book in this series being written – if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, this is one of my favourite books of the year. I was also able to catch up with Sarah Ash, another wonderful author whose writing I love.

Sarah was taking part in one of the excellent panels I attended Here Be Dragons. And Yokai. And Tokoloshe. And Kupua… which discussed the pros and cons of using spirits and mythology from other cultures – when does that become cultural appropriation? Sarah’s expertise lies in Japanese mythology, including anime and manga, while Zoe Burgess-Foreman is very knowledgeable about other Asian mythological creatures in addition to also being expert in Japanese culture. The other members of the panel included Nick Hembury and Steve McHugh, while the discussion was ably moderated by Jessica Rydill. The consensus was that whenever using ancient gods or spirits, ensure you are respectful of the context and any cultural issues – Steve aptly summed it up with the phrase, ‘Don’t be a dick about it.’

The second panel I attended was also great fun – Ben Jeapes moderated a discussion about the panellists’ most hated cliché in SFF writing, which would be then voted on by the audience and consigned to Room 101 – another cliché, perhaps? The cliché that overwhelmingly got voted into Room 101 was Jo Hall’s distaste for beautiful protagonists and ugly baddies. The beautification of Hester in the upcoming film Mortal Engines was cited as an example of this insidious trend, given that her face is horrifically scarred in the books.

The final panel I saw was Writing the Non-Human which brought together Su Haddrell, who moderated, Cheryl Morgan, Gareth L. Powell, Kim Lakin-Smith and Dev Agarwal to discuss what approaches they used when writing from other species’ viewpoints. It was fascinating to see the widely differing methods these experienced and capable authors adopted when working on their non-human characters. Everyone agreed, though, that you need to have a good grasp of the environment from which they originate and a clear idea of the character and how it responds to the unfolding situation within your story.

The closing ceremony was typically warm and celebratory where the Guests of Honour Jo Hall, Dave Hutchinson and Andrew Skilleter were applauded, along with the date for next year’s special 10th Anniversary Bristolcon.

As for books – I was very restrained, only purchasing Joel Cornah’s The Sky Slayer over and above the two books in my goody bag, partly because I truly am trying to be more sensible about my out-of-control book buying habit and partly because I had a long train journey ahead of me and books are heavy… The other two I acquired were K.M. Alford’s Atlantic and the Game of Time and Tracing the Shadow by Sarah Ash.

During the afternoon in the bar, I had a long chat with Mags L. Halliday on the necessity of evolving a con-clone for the next conference. We discussed the feasibility of a device that splits you into at least one other copy, though I personally think two would be ideal – just after you pick up your goody bag and then re-absorbs your cloned copies before you reel home. I was also thrilled to see the wonderful Sophie Tallis, someone else who warmly welcomed me to my first Bristolcon, – as well as Jo Hall, who I haven’t spoken to for far too long. And it was also great to be able to have a word with Gaie Sebold and Janet Edwards.

But as Mhairi and I trudged back to our hotel when we finally called it a night, I was aware that if only I had my clone alongside, I could also have managed to meet up with Sammy Smith, Jessica Rydill and Rosie Oliver among others – as well as attend those panels I missed, such as The City As Protagonist and Spaceship Top Trumps as well as Sophie’s silk painting workshop. Maybe a cloning device will be available next year – the need is surely great at all Cons, but particularly at Bristolcon – the Friendly Con.

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 1st August, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #Can’tWaitWednesday

Standard

40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Hidden Sun – Book 1 of the Shadowlands series by Jaine Fenn

#fantasy #adventure

Rhia Harlyn is a noble in Shen, one of the dozens of shadowlands which separate the bright, alien skyland. She has a missing brother, an unwanted marriage proposal and an interest in science considered unbecoming in her gender. Her brother’s disappearance coincided with a violent unsolved murder, and Rhia impulsively joins the search party headed into the skyland – a place whose dangers and wonders have long fascinated her. The dangerous journey brings her into conflict with a young rebel stuck between the worlds of shadow and light, and a charismatic cult leader who believes he can defeat death itself.

It wasn’t the lovely cover, or the premise that prompted me to go for this one – it was the author. I really like Fenn’s writing and loved her Hidden Empire series – see my review of Principles of Angels here. I’m looking forward to the start of a new, exciting series!

Review of Queen of Nowhere – Book 5 of the Hidden Empire series by Jaine Fenn

Standard

This is the fifth book in this excellent series – read my review of Principles of Angels here. So would it continue to be as gripping as the previous offerings? queenofnowhere

The Sidhe look like us. They live amongst us. They have fearsome mental abilities and considerable physical resources at their disposal. And their biggest advantage? No one believes they exist. Almost no one. Bez is fighting a secret war against them. Always one step ahead, never lingering in one place, she’s determined to bring them down. But she can’t expose the Hidden Empire alone and when her only ally fails her she must accept help from an unexpected quarter. Just one misstep, one incorrect assumption, and her Sidhe trap – her life’s work – could end in disaster. Worse, if Bez fails then humanity will be lost to the manipulative and deadly Sidhe…

As is apparent from the back cover blurb, this book veers away from the regular protagonists we have been following to date. Instead, solitary data-hacker genius Bez takes centre stage. I really enjoyed her spiky, paranoid personality as she tries to stay one step ahead from the authorities while fighting the Hidden Empire. Fenn pitches us right into the middle of the action from the beginning of the book, with the tension pinging off the page. Bez is not remotely cosy or particularly approachable and to make me care so much for her so quickly is a harder trick to pull off than Fenn makes it look.

That said, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading the Hidden Empire series, then don’t be afraid to jump aboard. While there is a considerable backstory, and you would clearly benefit from reading the other four excellent books, Fenn’s writing is too slick and accomplished to leave her readers flailing around in confusion.

I also enjoyed the fact that despite the epic nature of the story, which spans a number of worlds light years apart, Fenn manages to mostly keep the focus trained on a small handful of characters, thus raising the stakes for the reader. And the stakes are high, because like a growing number of speculative fiction authors, Fenn isn’t afraid to kill off major characters. I stayed up reading far later than I’d intended to discover what happened next. And yes, there are some big surprises along the way – and not all of them are happy ones. Did I see the finale coming? No. And I’m really looking forward to seeing where this interesting series is going to go next – because, being Fenn, this could go anywhere. 8/10

Review of Downside Girls – short story collection by Jaine Fenn

Standard

This collection of four standalone stories, with a foreword by Alistair Reynolds, features some of characters from Fenn’s debut novel, downsidegirlsPrinciples of Angels. It isn’t a surprise that someone has jumped at the opportunity to publish further stories in this fascinating world, where the Angels are augmented female assassins principally employed to kill politicians that the electorate have judged to be inadequate. One of the ironies in Fenn’s world is that the Angels are taken from the feral underclass who eke out a living on the underside of the floating Kesh City, most of whom are far too busy trying to survive to bother with voting…

I read Principles of Angels, the first book in her Hidden Empire series, after meeting Jaine Fenn at Bristolcon last year and while I enjoyed the story, it is her world that has lodged in my head ever since. Her clean, unfussy writing style belies the layered intricacy of her worldbuilding, where her protagonists are completely ringfenced by their extraordinary environment which Fenn manages to depict as entirely normal. It’s a neat trick to pull off and a lot harder than Fenn makes it look. The slightest sense of flourish on the author’s part would have immediately undermined the gritty edge of reality confronting her characters.

This collection can be read without having ever picked up a Jaine Fenn book – in fact provides an excellent introduction to Fenn’s writing and the world.

Collateral Damage – When Vanna Agriet accidentally spills her drink over an Angel it could spell death, but instead it leads to a rather peculiar friendship. This story provides an insight into the life of an Angel, and their unique role within society is explored from an enjoyably oblique angle, compared to the political machinations that drove the plot in Principles of Angels. I particularly enjoyed the twist at the end.

Death on Elsewhere Street – The downsider Geal hopes for a better life topside, only to find herself embroiled in a ‘removal’ by the Angel Thiera. This is another story that explores the role of Angels – and what the consequences of becoming society’s official assassins can be for those involved. I found it all the more powerful that it was told from the viewpoint of someone else caught up in the action.

Angel Dust – Downside, Isha’s brother Rakul brings a little black box home with him, and sets Isha on a journey that takes her to a meeting with the most powerful man in Kesh City. This story is the one in the collection that highlights the grim conditions in Downside as Isha struggles to deal with the fallout when her brother becomes embroiled in one of the gangs. I particularly enjoyed the incident where Isha narrowly avoids death when she’s drawn to the ornamental fountain playing Topside, only to receive an urgent warning that it is poisoned to prevent citizens from drinking free water…

The Three Temptations of Larnia Mier – Larnia Mier, a talented topside musician and instructor, is injured after witnessing a removal first-hand. As her abilities diminish, new possibilities open up. This is the odd one out. Larnia Mier comes from the privileged part of Kesh City – Topside. No gritted, giddying journeys for her to gather sufficient water, hopping over holes in the walkways that could plunge you to your death…

The other interesting difference with this story is that it is told in third person point of view, whereas the others are all narrated in first person viewpoint. Yet, it’s my favourite… I’m still trying to figure out why – I’m a sucker for gutsy heroines from hard backgrounds and first person pov is always the one I’m attracted to, both as writer and reader. I found her fascinating in Principles of Angels, too. Fenn has her brittle, solitary personality absolutely nailed, and I think she leaps off the page. I also very much enjoyed the ending – initially, I figured this was going somewhere more predictable and less tricky and hats off to Fenn for giving us this less tidy, yet far more convincing conclusion to this story.

As Reynolds mentions in the Foreword, short story writing is demanding in ways that novel writing isn’t, and in order to produce an anthology of successful short stories takes a high degree of writing skill. Fenn’s Downside Girls not only is a great addition to her list of published books, but also demonstrates her talent.
9/10

Fantasycon 2012 – My Highlights

Standard

It’s a whole year since I first dipped my big toe into the Conference scene – starting with last year’s Fantasycon held at the Royal royal_albion_1Albion Hotel in Brighton. It turned out to be my favourite – both Bristolcon and Eastercon were wonderful, but for my money Fantasycon is the one for a bibliophile, with its heavy emphasis on books, writing and authors. So, a year later would I still feel the same way?

This year I brought my husband along. John is also a speculative fiction fan, so I knew he wouldn’t be moodily mooching along at my side, wishing he were elsewhere. Have to say, the Royal Albion Hotel is also a firm favourite. Yes… I know the checking in procedure is a long-winded nightmare; that the subterranean rooms make a sauna feel chilly; that the whole place – frankly – has seen better days. But on a sunny day, the light streams through the huge sash windows in the Regency lounge and the view out to the pier and the sea is just fab. And while it isn’t the last word in efficiency, the staff are invariably friendly.

STANDOUT MOMENTS
Meeting up with friends I only get to see at conventions – like Mhairi Simpson, Justin Newland, Roy Gray and Susan Bartholomew is one of the main joys of coming to these events – as well as meeting new folks like Lynne Stephens, who managed to combine Fantasycon with a business trip from the US. Talking about science fiction and fantasy books to people who actually know the authors you’re on about is very empowering.

alchemistofsoulsI’d already started reading Janet Edward’s science fiction YA book, Earthgirl, before arriving at the hotel, but found it absolutely compelling – so found the time to finish it AND discuss it with Janet, which was great… I’ll be writing a full review of it in due course.

Another book I picked up while at the Con that I managed to complete, was Kim Curran’s Shift – another enjoyable read. And then started in on Anne Lyle’s historical fantasy The Alchemist of Souls, another thoroughly quality book, which I acquired while here. And one I will also be reviewing…

I bumped into Jaine Fenn (literally!) while bopping in the disco, author of the wonderful Hidden Empire series – and she asked me to do a review of Downside Girls, her new short fiction book where the stories are all related to the characters in Principles of Angels. Of course, I said YES PLEASE.downsidegirls

The Open Mic Poetry Event – I went along to support Susan – and had a really enjoyable time. The poems covered a wide range of subjects and were generally of an impressively high standard. Roy Gray actually allowed me to read one his poems – though I was kicking my stupidity in not bringing some of my own stuff. My highlight was the wonderful Tina Rath, who actually knew her work well enough to perform it – and her poetry is a superbly creepy and funny.

I attended a fair number of panels – although the heat in the Fitzherbert Room was something else – and I think it’s a testament to the endurance and professionalism of all the panel members that by the end of a sweltering hour, they were still speaking and thinking coherently, while I was just plain melting…

220px-Juliet_E_McKennaKeeping It Real – This, for me, was the outstanding panel of those I managed to attend. Juliet McKenna is always excellent – intelligent and amusing. Brent Weeks proved to be a confident and adroit Moderator, while Adrian Tchaikovsky and Jasper Kent both were able to speak with the authority of experienced, established authors and although Benedict Jacka was clearly nervous, he also had some interesting insights. I could have happily sat and listened to these five authors speak for the rest of the morning.

The Quiz – Just like last year, this was insanely difficult. And I contributed absolutely nothing to my team, which actually did well, thanks to the likes of Amanda Rutter and Anne Lyle… However, watching Sarah Pinborough and Joe Abercrombie try and keep control of the proceedings was hilarious.

 

Brent Weeks’ Reading – He not only endured the heat of Room 132, he overcame it to perform his reading in a tour de force that brent-weeks-credit-travis-johnson-photographyhad his fans all groaning aloud by the end of the session, as his protagonist died in a hail of bullets. It was on the edge of the seat stuff – before he confessed that particular scene wouldn’t be making it into his latest book. Probably…

The Editorial Process – This Masterclass by Gillian Redfearn of Gollancz was excellent. She discussed the common faults authors make and how we can correct them, before moving onto to explaining how she approaches an author’s work, and the stages a manuscript goes through when being edited by a publishing house.

willhillHow To Write and Sell a YA Novel – Another high point. Will Hill was informative and very generous with his wealth of experience without being remotely patronising. As someone who is working on my first YA book, I found his advice invaluable – I think the Conference was worth it just for this particular session…

The Disco – This was a blast – I missed last year’s effort. Everyone was bopping around for all they were worth. And then, of course, there was that dance-off…

It’s always sad when feelings get trampled (actually, it was a minor miracle that no one ended up being squished underfoot when Joe Abercrombie and Tom Pollock went head to head…) Have to say, it was THE highlight of my Conference. Did the right man win? Anyone who has visited Joe’s blog recently will know his feelings on the subject. I bought him a drink the bar the following morning, when his devastation was apparent.  All I can say, is that if there was any kind of fix, I wasn’t aware of it. No doubt the inevitable Enquiry into the matter will produce a Report in Due Course. In the meantime – keep dancing, Joe…

My book addiction kicked in bigtime. John and I staggered onto the train home with 28 additional books in our luggage – which added to the 31 already stacked by my bedside means that my 2 year old grandson is now in imminent danger of being buried by a bookslide every time he scrambles off our bed.

And now that I’ve been back from Fantasycon 2012 for almost a week, my memories of the whole conference are backlit with the warm friendliness of everyone I encountered. A big thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make it possible – it was great!

Review of EBOOK Principles of Angels – Book 1 of the Hidden Empire series by Jaine Fenn

Standard

I met Jaine Fenn at Bristolcon, where she was the sole female science fiction writer speaking on the various panels. I had a chance to chat to her during the evening and made a mental note to get hold of her writing. I’m very glad I did, as her debut novel on my Kindle made a long train journey zip by in a blur of excitement and action.

principlesofangelsKhesh City floats above the surface of the uninhabitable planet of Vellern. Topside, it’s extravagant, opulent, luxurious; the Undertow is dark, twisted and dangerous. Khesh City is a place where nothing is forbidden – but it’s also a democracy, of sorts, a democracy by assassination, policed by the Angels, the elite, state-sponsored killers who answer only to the Minister, their enigmatic master. Taro lived with Malia, his Angel aunt, one of the privileged few, until a strange man bought his body for the night, then followed him home and murdered Malia in cold blood. Taro wants to find the killer who ruined his future, but he’s struggling just to survive in the brutal world of the Undertow. Elarn Reen is a famous musician, sent to Khesh City as the unwilling agent of mankind’s oldest enemy, the Sidhe. Though they come from different worlds, Taro and Elarn’s fates are linked, their lives apparently forfeit to other people’s schemes. As their paths converge, it becomes clear that the lives of everyone in Khesh City, from the majestic, deadly Angels to the barely-human denizens of the Undertow, are at risk. And Taro and Elarn, a common prostitute and an uncommon singer, are Khesh City’s only chance.

I know that my rant about blurting blurbs must be getting tedious – but I have heavily edited the above because if I hadn’t, you would have encountered a couple of major Spoilers in the opening action. Once more, I am grateful that I never read the back cover before starting a book.

So… this floating city with the privileged living a vastly better life than the underclass who – literally – struggle for survival under their feet – is it convincing and does it rise above the inevitable clichéd feel of that description? Yes – in my opinion it certainly does. And I’ve been startled to read some really unpleasant, sneering reviews about this book. What places it outside the norm for this genre is that Principles of Angels is completely character-driven. Perhaps the omission of a limited omniscient info-dump is perplexing some of those reviewing the book.  Well, it’s fine with me – I happen to think one of the reasons why Fantasy is currently trampling Science Fiction underfoot, is that the majority of best-selling Fantasy authors write punchy, character-led stories which readers find accessible and engrossing. And a large number of Science Fiction writers don’t…

Fenn drops her readers right into the middle of the action in Taro’s viewpoint as he battles for his life – his character sings off the pages from the start and continues to sparkle right through the book. He survives as a prostitute and while Fenn doesn’t flinch from showing us the seamy underbelly of such a trade, at no time does she slide into gratuitous detail. Overall, I felt the world-building was strong and convincing – we see slices of Khesh City from both above and below and I particularly liked Taro’s disorientation when he reaches Topside. The other detail in this book that I appreciated was the dialogue – complete with appropriate slang. Stupidity or absentmindedness (lethal when negotiating hanging walkways with holes or climbing nets) is known as being gappy; in comparison anything commendable is bolted.

The other main protagonist is off-world visitor, Elarn, who is on an unexpected singing tour. Her character is far more opaque – though it rapidly becomes clear that her tour is a cover for another mission. Khesh City is further fleshed out as we get to experience it through Elarn’s viewpoint as a newcomer with access to all the privilige and luxury the City has to offer. However, her plans quickly go awry when she encounters charismatic politician Salik Vidoran.

The pace sweeps onward from the first page and gets ever faster as we reach the climactic ending, which more or less ties everything up while leaving a couple of major issues dangling for the subsequent books in the series. Which means I’ve more opportunities to visit Fenn’s rich, engrossing world. Yay!
9/10