For those wordsmiths or just the linguistically curious, Merriam Webster has a page where you can explore what words were coined in years from 2016 to far back in history. Everyone knows what a watercooler is, right? It’s the emblem of modern office gossip. Surprisingly, the word dates from 1807 and refers to a method of dispensing refrigerated water. The word definitions are available by clicking on any word in the list. Enjoy, have fun, and maybe challenge yourself to a period story where two or more of these words pops up. https://www.merriam-webster.com/time-traveler/
It may look like a cute little house cat, but the black-footed cat is considered the deadliest cat because of a high metabolism and an impressive 60% hunting success rate. This threatened wild species lives in three African countries. https://www.livescience.com/63992-deadliest-cat.html
…and the longing for all the things that human company ought to bring but seldom does.
~ From the painter’s daughter by Penny Blake
This is a collection (mostly reprints) of odd tales, poems, and pieces falling somewhere between with elements of both. At times, I found the writing choices jarring with too much repetition or awkward word choices, but then in the next moment, I’d be swept up once again into the narrative cadence, trapped inside a universe unlike my own and yet bearing a feeling all too familiar for comfort.
I rarely read one-author short story collections, and a book of poetry even less frequently than that, but these tales resonated with me and kept pulling me back when busy life tried to distract. The book contains ancient tales of time forgotten; parables with modern reference in themes if not scenery; female…though not always feminist…narrative; and sarcastic, biting narrators who mock the innocence of the reader’s expectations, forcing you to revise your perspectives.
If you’re looking for a quick easy read, I doubt you’ll find it here, but if you seek to have your mind pried open to let alternate tales in that speak of those forgotten or pushed away, you’ll be well satisfied by what exists within these pages. It is a book for monsters, after all, with that word defined by no other characteristic than society’s rejection.
I found mythpunk intriguing as a concept. I’ve been a student of many mythologies but the term speaks to a self-aware othering that lacks the bombastic nature of most mythology. Instead, it replaces such arrogance with a snide, sarcastic undertone calling into question the easy answers other Western mythologies might offer. It’s quite an experience.
I give you here my thoughts on the pieces. These aren’t reviews as much as glimpses into the effect they had on me.
This is almost more poetry than prose. A winding, repeating, blast of details and destiny. Powerful and absorbing not like a traditional tale, but like the cry of hungry wolves who have found prey. It tells a story bigger than itself and infectious in its voice.
An odd, cyclical tale composed of many tales in one with the poetic cadence of stories told in the dark night not by the victors but by the monsters they killed. This destruction comes through fear, avarice, and revenge against acts already driven by vengeance where innocence has long been lost in the process.
This is a poem of grief, horror, and boiling anger that will strip the bones of the victors.
The Road Back Lost
I have read this story before in its original publication. It is a fairy tale with a literary tone expressing the side of those who cannot conform or are not allowed to. These are called monsters, and cast out or torn down, but choose that rough freedom over the harsh molding into an image not their own.
Bizarre, surreal, and recalling a tale with roots I don’t recognize if it exists outside of this story at all. A mood piece, a sinking into madness, a hope unwon, and yet maybe. We are left to wonder.
The Gingerbread Dragon
A lovely variant on the three brothers with the costs of peer pressure and the need to be as you truly are.
beyond the veil
A poem about ownership of self while others try to steal or lay claim to it.
the painter’s daughter
Beautiful story half in poetic form that speaks of creativity, and the spirit or soul filling an artist to bursting until there is nothing left but to spill it out and set it free.
Ado — when all is lost
Odd moment of clashing perspectives.
Another moment, this of being devoured, of passion turned to possession and a soul cage. Many of these tales are but glimpses that reflect back the haunting I find in the words.
the child and the crow
A fascinating, and very odd, fairy tale about a place oh so near and yet far apart. Lyrical and nonsensical at once, but the type of tale about belonging and following the path nature chose for you whether you understand it or not, a message that could be misused but in this context makes sense.
A mix of story and chanted poem showing the passage of tradition from one generation to another with its changing pieces and lost meaning.
the queen and the huntsman
Interesting tale of devotion and love with a truly snarky narrator.
the crow’s tale
A tale that is not a tale, but one with echoes to modern times. Very true to the narrator being a crow as myth presents the creature.
This is the final piece in the collection, but I didn’t make a specific note, writing my thoughts about the collection as a whole instead. That said, this short prose poem mirrors the themes of the rest with the ordinary turned monstrous, potentially harmful and yet beautiful all at once.
The rewrite idea is working both for and against me, but if the good days overcome the bad ones, I might still squeak out a win. I’m still way in the negative, but I have more words than I am behind.
Rather than rehashing the ups and downs beyond posting my daily stats at the end, I wanted to share something fun and interesting that happened yesterday. As a quick reminder, I’m rewriting an older book where the story was solid but the writing less skillful than I should be able to manage now. I’ve ended up making more tweaks to the actual story than I was expecting, but they’ve been small world building changes I couldn’t have conceived of when I first wrote the book. I didn’t know the answer until writing book two, I believe, or late in book one. Going back to the skill question, I didn’t edit to add depth back then but just to clean up the text.
Anyway, as I was listening to the read aloud of the original scene (that process change is really working for me), I made a quick note of a simple change and moved on. It wasn’t until I applied that note to the new version that I realized the layers of complexity beneath it. I’d completely missed them the first time, which goes a long way to validating this techniques for the remaining 25, or more, older manuscripts. I’m going to quote the text below because this is not a spoiler and I think it’s a clear demonstration of what I’m doing.
Here is an excerpt from the original scene between Sara and her sister talking about being chosen to become a flyer:
Sara shook off the touch. “What do you know? You’re always trying to convince me I won’t be chosen. I will be. I’m sure of it. You just don’t want me to be chosen.” She glared at her sister, not caring that Patria only wanted to help.
Patria bit her lower lip, looking hurt for a moment before deep lines appeared between her eyebrows. “Why are you so sure? Why do you want this so much? Don’t you realize what you risk? Do you have to put Da through it all over again?”
Sara threw her arms up, almost grazing her sister. “It’s not about Da, or about you. I belong with them; I feel–” She stuttered to a stop, realizing what she’d almost said.
Her sister paled for a moment, then shook her head slightly and continued. “Sara, there’s no way to tell, no answer, until you face the power stone. Either you change it or not. No one, not even the rockminder, knows before the test. And every single one of those tested think they’ll make it change, every one.” Patria blew at the wisps of hair surrounding her face, her hands firmly planted on her hips.
“I will change it. You’ll see.” Sara sounded a lot less sure this time even to herself.
The key phrase is “And every single one of those tested think they’ll make it change, every one.” In the original version, Sara is too self-absorbed in her fit of temper to hear the implications behind it.
This is the new scene, or rather a portion of it because a lot changed. Do remember this is now raw rough draft, please:
She pulled Sara back against her, but Sara shook off the touch, her attempt at patience failing.
“The council kept you here instead of sending you off to Silverrush, so you can keep Da company. You’re always trying to convince me I won’t become a flyer, but what do you know? I will be. I’m sure of it. You just don’t want me to be chosen.” Sara glared at her sister, no longer caring Patria spoke out of love. “You want me here for you, for Da, but never for me.”
Patria bit her lower lip, hurt shadowing her eyes before deep lines cut between her eyebrows. “Why are you so sure? Why do you want this so much? Don’t you realize what you risk? Do you have to put Da through it all over again?”
Sara threw her arms up, almost grazing her sister and sending a scatter of water drops over both of them from the mug she’d forgotten she still held.
“It’s not about Da,” she said after an awkward moment. “It’s not about you either. I belong with them. I feel–” She stuttered to a stop when she realized the words pressing against her tongue.
Her sister paled as though she heard them as well. “There is no way to tell. No answer until you face the power stone no matter what you think you feel. Either you change it or not. No one, not even the rockminder, knows before the test.”
The moment when Sara thought the rockminder sought her out rose crystal-clear in her memory, distracting her from Patria’s words.
“…every single one of those tested think they’ll make it change. Every one.” Patria blew at the wisps of hair surrounding her face, wearing an odd expression.
The look, and Patria’s words, shocked Sara when she finally put them together. “You wanted to be a flyer. For all your telling me no, you wanted to be chosen as much as I do.”
Both hands on her hips, Patria frowned at Sara. “And you see how well my testing went. Most are disappointed. Not some. Most.”
For all her sister tried to return to the previous conversation, the idea of her sister ever longing for the sky would not be sent away. “Why? I thought you loved the weaving.”
A sigh shuddered through Patria’s slender frame, her sister more a match to Da than Sara would ever be. The need to give her sister the hug Sara had pulled away from made her step closer, but Patria turned away as though she could not bear to let Sara see her pain.
“I thought if I became a flyer, I could go find Muther. I could bring her back and Da would be happy again. I didn’t want her dead any more than Da.”
The answer came out on a whisper, faint enough Sara could pretend not to have heard if she wanted to. The wisdom it held, though, stunned Sara into silence. She longed to become her mother. Patria wanted to save her just as she tried to save Sara.
Before the quiet could grow too deep, Sara forced her voice into a cheerful tone as she said, “So the council chose weaving? You seem to find such joy in it.”
One of the reasons I thought the rewrite would be easy is I lived in this world, and with these characters, for years. Surely I knew everything there was to know about them. As the above change proves, the answer is not exactly.
It might seem like a simple change, a moment where the past reflects on the present, but there is a little more significance than you might realize. The echoes of this moment will play out in later scenes and books.
Their mother was lost when Sara was almost too young to remember her. Patria has been both older sister and mother through most of Sara’s childhood. It isn’t until this moment that Sara sees her sister as a person in her own right.
The scene went from a simple confrontation between a whiny preteen and her mother figure to a revelation. Sara recognizes Patria as someone who exists outside their relationship as much as within. She never imagined her sister had faced the same situation with similar hopes and dreams of being chosen and yet every child goes through this transition to adulthood. Still, Patria’s reasons had nothing to do with what drew Sara to the flyers.
If you go back to the original scene, Patria said as much from the start, but in the old draft, Sara (read me) didn’t even notice. This is one of the reasons I decided to redo this from scratch rather than just putting the book through another edit pass. The writer I was and the writer I am are different, and I’m better at seeing those kinds of gifts than I used to be. It was a lovely insight and one, I believe, that makes the book stronger and validates the decision to handle it this way.
Here are the promised stats up to yesterday. As you can see, there have been a couple of very good days, which is where the hope comes in. As of yesterday, I’m running 6,566 words behind.
Between gobbling up Hornblower and a fascination with deep waters, this book easily caught my eye. I was not expecting it to have such a traditional, and therefore predictable, plot, but ultimately, The Brotherhood of the Black Flag was a fun read with compelling battles and likeable characters.
The main character McNamara has significant character flaws, including being a bit of a paladin while not smart enough to recognize dissembling, but he does show some character growth. Captain Reynard, in contrast, offers a more complex element in his transition between deadly pirate and honorable citizen. Not that McNamara didn’t have his likeable traits, and he certainly knew his way around a sword (though slow to recognize the weaknesses over the strengths at times). Catalina is a beautiful blend of damsel in distress and self-sufficiency, if a little too trusting in the power of love.
The writing has several weaknesses, especially in the beginning chapters. These read more as a recap of a missing book 1 than an introduction to this story. At the same time, if you’re looking for a fun pirate tale with clever sword fights and some interesting ship-to-ship battles, you’ll find it here. The story reminded me of playing the original Sid Meier’s Pirates, and the maneuvers read true to my knowledge of sea and sword.
Oddly, where the disclaimer at the front made me expect distasteful but generally accepted views of the 1700s, the characters seemed more true to the non-romanticized and yet modernized tellings in their attitudes. The women were neither saints nor brainless weaklings (a pleasant surprise), and neither were they caricatures. The depiction of slavery seemed accurate to my understanding without dwelling on the horrific details, something not true of maritime punishments not for squeamish readers.
The historical background felt solid, the story events blending into the politics of the time with the Jacobite unrest and a despised king. After the beginning chapters, for the most part it integrated better into the story (where both the history and McNamara’s personal history stops the story dead several times). I’m glad I didn’t let the rough start turn me aside because the later writing issues were much more tolerable, especially once I understood what type of story it was. I think it would have been a stronger book if it started with his arrival in Jamaica, but then the necessary historical grounding would still need to blend smoothly into the story after that point.
The endnotes are worthy of a mention. They discuss some of the research the author completed for this story, and the sword fighting, come to life as well as giving more detail on the historical events used as the foundation upon which this tale is set.
If you’re expecting a brand new take on the era of piracy or masterful writing technique, you’ll be disappointed. If, however, you seek to be entertained as you explore the twisted politics and duplicitous people of the time through the perspective of a man willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good, there’s a lot to enjoy. Despite the traditional plot, the characters do come up with some interesting solutions to seemingly impossible problems while the difference between loyalty bought by threat and coin or by deed is a strong element.
P.S. I received this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review.