Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

Talking Books: The Drowning City by Amanda Downum

This one caught my eye because of Isyllt, the heroine. As my current work in progress involves a necromancer (albeit in a different time period), I was curious to see Downum’s take on “The Dark Art.”

Isyllt is both a necromancer and spy for the nation of Selafai, hoping to keep the expansionistic Assari Empire in check by fueling a growing insurgency in the Sivahra jungles. Accompanied by her body guards Adam and Xinai, she begins to infiltrate the port city of Symir seeking out contacts within the rebel factions.

The book doesn’t utilize the typical fantasy trappings, instead using South-Asian cultures as a core influence. In addition, black powder weapons are used in limited form, just enough to make that particular element stand out. I caught one or two modernisms, but they’re easily overlooked due to the atypical setting. Symir comes across as an analogue of Venice with it’s canals and it’s flooding or sinking, but the Far Eastern touch makes it unique. The world-building is effective, enough “neat stuff” is presented without overwhelming the reader.

One aspect of the magic used here is the focus on gemstones. They’re mined not only for material value but also for magical potency. One thing I liked was that diamonds were a favorite among necromancers for ability to trap the souls of the dead. More interesting was the cultural stigma tied to what we would consider the most precious of stones. It caught my attention and like a lot of the “little things” it kept me interested and turning pages.

Isyllt is a respectable character — no novice, no damsel in distress here. She’s not the type of heroine that goes through the novel unscathed either. One moment that impressed me in particular is where an exhausted Isyllt catches this black powder grenade in a wounded hand and rusts the shell to powder before the fuse sets it off. It was a scene that I could easily visualize and the writing flowed as smooth as the action that transpired in my mind’s eye.

On the downside, she did seem to get lost in the flow of events. I don’t know I can find that a fault of the character — she’s not passive. It took me some time to realize that a lot was taking place in this novel. Isyllt gets swept with the tide, to use an apt metaphor, and the only problem I can see is that in the end she gets something of what she wants, but it’s not entirely by her hand. It’s about the only real flaw I can cite in the book, but how things transpire helps overcome that. One of the secondary characters went from minor to important, and I can’t tell how organic that was because of how the greater action was presented. Part of the problem might have been my ability to follow the names of various characters — they don’t come across as Scrabble draws, but the Asian influence did tend to muddy the waters some.

Despite that I’m still interested enough to continue reading “The Necromancer Chronicles.” This is an impressive novel, willing to look at the greys of the world without being overbearing.

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One Year Ago…

Actually, that’s not where this starts. Let’s set the WayBack Machine to:

Three Years Ago:

15 June, 2009 — I get off the bus and walk down Fifth Street towards Ross Avenue. Quick stop at the cafeteria for some breakfast, then up to my desk for the day’s work. Then I get a call from Conference Room 5. It’s my boss, or rather, my boss’s boss, Jim. He needs to see me. I head back, and there he is — with someone I immediately pinged as being from HR.

That was it. The only detail in that conversation I remember was that I wasn’t at fault for anything, my position had just been eliminated from the org chart. Jim gave me some time to gather what I could carry from my desk (he shipped the rest to me), and there I was, standing outside my now former place of employment with my backpack, info on my severance package in one hand and a voucher for a taxi cab in the other.

Two Years Ago:

June 2010. I had become complacent, the very thing my Dad — who made a living out of helping people find jobs — warned me about. The severance (which was generous) was running low, and I had to face the indignity of filing for Unemployment. I was searching for jobs half-heartedly, trying to move into technical writing without going out and getting the supporting skills to have pulled it off. I could have afforded it too, but I was… not willing to follow through. It didn’t help that some consulting firms and head hunters were calling me up for short term contracts in places like New Jersey or the Carolinas for positions for which I had zero qualification.

One Year Ago:

June 2011. My bank account is almost dry. I had to pay Federal taxes on my unemployment (yeah, figure that one out). I had a promising interview with a company — via one of the good headhunters — that ended up falling through. I hadn’t been writing either. My complacency had led to an “I’ll do it tomorrow” attitude when it came to writing.

In telling this story to others, I’ve mentioned I was very close to giving up and joining the Carpenter’s Union. I wasn’t kidding. My Uncle Dave and my late Grandfather had made life-long careers there. I knew I could do the work. While I was considering my future, author Brian Keene makes a very convincing plug for CONvergence, a rather large geek-fest in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was fiscally desperate, and I looked at my 401K at Mellon and said, “Well… shit… hell with it.” Yep, I broke that piggy bank. At the same time I decided on a last hurrah: CONvergence (because Keene said so, and if it went awful, I could just say it was his fault) and GenCon. One last ride because if I┬ábecame a carpenter, I’d need that 401K to keep afloat while working on a smaller income than I was used to.

Never let it be said that amid moments of brilliance (i.e. wiping out my grad school loans), I don’t manage acts of sheer stupidity. I literally signed on for CONvergence the week before, so I made arrangements for Zaphod, who was still quite the kitten, and loaded up the car for a long road trip (a round trip plane ticket had a $600 price tag).

That’s where the stupid kicked in.

First, I was worried that my unemployment check wouldn’t come in. If I didn’t have that, I was screwed six ways from Sunday. Instead of getting on the road at 5 AM, I slept until 7 or 8 o’clock to check my bank account. Bingo. There was the money, so off I go. Then I had to pull over in Ohio for a phone interview with UPMC. That took about an hour. End result: stuck in Chicago gridlock for three hours. Last time this happened was my first trip to GenCon, which inflicted mild dehydration. This time I was over-hydrated with nary a rest stop in sight.

What started as a 15 hour drive dragged into 22. It was the first time I seriously used those 5-Hour Energy drinks. There’s a warning on the label that says take no more than two per day. I was on my third by the time I got to Wisconsin. In the last two hours I was sounding like the bastard child of Ozzy Osboure and Charlie Sheen.

But I made it to CONvergence. And I had a blast.

11 Months Ago:

A consulting firm calls me. Says there’s an opening at Fed Ex that’s right up my alley. I say sure.

10 Months Ago:

11 August. I’m pulling into the lot at Fed Ex for the first time. Oddly enough, I’m working as a consultant for the same people I interviewed with back in February of that year.

7 Months Ago:

1 December. I did something right. I became a full-time employee at FedEx.

One Week Ago:

My first performance review. I’m apparently a keeper, and my manager is genuinely optimistic about how good a match I am for the company and that I’ll be a success. That may sound like manager-speak, but believe me when I say it isn’t. I know what manager-speak sounds like — my coworkers and my managers really do have faith in me. I’ll be honest, it fucking scares me because I now have to step up and make things happen. But I know I can do it.

Tonight:

I’m going over travel plans for my second trip to CONvergence. I’m flying this time, saving myself the Jekyll/Hyde transformation that could have totaled my Saturn if not for Divine Grace. Ironically, it may be my last visit there for a while. I’m back down to two weeks of vacation a year, and I’ve got to make the most of it.

Regardless, I’m going back and reveling in the madness of my kind. With the Muse back, more wicked than ever, it’s sign that I’m on course with who and whatI want to be.

Glad to be back folks. It’s hero time.