Review: The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel

You might remember we reviewed the Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, in which a magical girl ended up at a magical school, collected nearly a dozen magical friends, joined a dueling society, investigated a mystery, saw an omen that heralds the doom of worlds, headed off an attack by an army of dozens of mind-controlled students, saved the entire campus, and provided support for a battle that involved the dragon that used to be Professor Moriarty.Not bad for the first week, huh?

No. Sorry, my mistake. It’s not bad for the first five days of school. Take that, Harry Potter.

How do I know that book one was the first week? Because book two opens only a few hours after the end of book 1, and states she’s only been there five days.

If the books get any more dense, we’re going to have to call Rachel Griffin “Jack Bauer.”

And no. There are no spoilers in the opening. Trust me, that’s nothing without the context. Because it’s even MORE awesome in context.

And then, we have book two, The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel. The plot wraps up a lot of plot threads from book 1. And there’s a lot to wrap up: the raven that heralds the doom of worlds; the Outsiders from other worlds; the “Lightbringer,” the ones behind Moriarty; the one behind THAT threat; Rachel’s relationship status; the story behind Rachel’s father and his work as an agent … there’s an awful lot kicking around. And we aren’t even going to get into all of the new various and sundry plot elements.

In spy novels, most people will cite John Le Carre, usually for good reason. As far as I’m concerned, his crowning achievement were his George Smiley novels. The middle book of his Carla trilogy was called The Honorable Schoolboybook 1, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, ended with the discovery of a mole in MI^, and his unmasking. Much of the second book is walking back the cat — going through the mole’s history and discovering exactly what havoc he hath wrought upon the spy service during his period working for the other team.  Much of The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel proceeds forward in a similar manner. Book one was so dense, and the implications from them so vast, we essentially need an after action report just to get a good idea of the fallout.

In fact, the first 100 pages of The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel handles: recaping the first book, reintroducing the characters, walks back the cat on the enemies from book 1, as well as sets up the conflict going forward.  Not bad, huh?

So, if you think that the first book ended a little abruptly, without any follow through, there’s a good reason for that. It would have added another 50-100 pages. This follows hot on the heels of book 1, only hours after the battle royale is over. Even Terry Goodkind waited for the next day before the blowback kicked in. But don’t worry, there is enough solid data here that you can read these books back to back without it being a problem. How do I know that? Because I have three other people I convinced to read these books who did just that. And I’m going from #2 directly to #3.

On a Superversive level, it works fine. We have good guys, bad guys, a relatively clear sense of right and wrong (Rachel’s a 13 year old who worries over right and wrong, so things go a little gray, as we are in her POV), a charming little romance in the middle, men are men, girls are girls, and there will be chivalry or THERE WILL BE DOOM. (Long story. Bit of an in joke. People who have read the novels will get it). So, yeah, I think it covers that threshold.

On a Pulp level, if that’s what you’re into, let’s see … we have dark demonic forces trying to destroy the world, human sacrifice, magical duels, divine protectors, small dragons, huge dragons, shape shifters who turn into dragons, a superhero, and a breakneck pace so fast that this one is the slower of the two novels, and I still finished 400 pages in a day. If that’s not Pulpy enough for you, I suggest reading the books to see everything I left out.

For those of you who fear the repetitive nature of YA books … no. Not at all. There is nothing repeated here. In fact, this one continues to wrap up plot threads left over from the first books — there actually were plot threads dangling, but I didn’t realize it with all the screaming, chaos, and running about in the grand shootout in the finale. I’m almost afraid to see how the series will end…. answer: in fire, probably.

And good God, the references. Everywhere. I think you need a degree in classical literature and be in on the jokes of three different languages and five different cultures in order to get all of the little hints and nods and such in the novels. But that’s a general observation, not specific to this book.

Now, I’ve seen that Jagi doesn’t like having her book compared ti Harry Potter. I know. It’s not fair to JK Rowling. But I’ve given book 1 to other people. And they read only 10% into Unexpected Enlightenment and decided that it was a deeper and richer world than Potter. And the farther in we go, the deeper everything is. Or maybe it just shows us how shallow Potter was and we never realized it. There are no johnny one-note characters here. Everyone has different emotions and moods and personalities. Hell, I think Rachel went through more emotions over the course of any five pages of The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel than the entire body of Hogwarts in 7 novels. That may be unfair, but I don’t think so.

In The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel, you see more sides to people we’ve already seen. Whether it’s the magical prince of Australia, or the Artful Dodger and his pet dragon, or even Vladimir von Dread (I’m almost certain that his family crest reads DREAD IS BAVARIA. BAVARIA IS DREAD, but I haven’t asked yet). In fact, if she ever wants to do an anthology, I call dibs on von Dread shorts, he’s just that interesting. It is a vast and colorful crew, and I suspect we’re going to see more of their own backstories as time goes on.

At the end of the day, the Rachel Griffin novels are very much in the tradition of Narnia. As one reviewer once sniffed, “These are too good to be wasted on children.” Heh.

SHORT VERSION: five out of five. Go read it.

The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

The Love at First Bite series. 
    

April Puppy of the Month: Souldancer

It’s my unalloyed pleasure to report that Jon Mollison, Nathan Housley, and the Frisky Pagan have chosen Dragon Award winner and CLFA Book of the Year Finalist Souldancer as April’s Puppy of the Month book.

Brian Niemeier - Souldancer

Jon kicks off the festivities with a preamble drawn from his experience of reading my work.

We here at the Puppy of the Month Book Club have a knack for picking the first book of a series.  We’ve done it with The Swan Knight’s Son, The Chronicles of Amber, catskinner’s book, and Nethereal.  It’s high time we revisited at least one of those universes, and none of them are as deserving as Brian [Niemeier’s0  It was the very first Puppy of the Month, and it only took ten months to get to the sequel.

That’s really too long.

Not just because it’s too good of a series to languish that long, but because this is a challenging series to read.  Frankly, Nethereal kicked my butt.  Brian’s writing is deceptively dense and is thoroughly riddled with multiple references and layers of meaning that completely escaped my typically shallow reading.  It wasn’t until Frisky and Nate [joined] in the conversation and started pulling on threads that I realized how knotted were the stitches that made up the Nethereal sweater.  They introduced me to whole new dimensions in reading, and pushed me to approach the Book Club – and my other writing – with considerably more intellectual rigor, and to devote more time and thought to my own posts both here, at my blog, and over at Castalia House.

Jon and his colleagues really do deserve a round of applause. I’m honored that they find my writing worthy of their considerable analytical skills. Based on their previous Puppy of the Month book reviews, it’s safe to say we’re in for a treat.

Frankly, I’m always a bit taken aback when readers say that the Soul Cycle is unusually dense in content and complex in terms of plot. It’s all perfectly straightforward to me.

Then again, I’m the author, and I read everything in the exacting, contemplative way that Jon found most effective for reading Nethereal. I suspect that it stems from a mild, undiagnosed learning disorder that explains why I a) have an extremely slow reading speed and b) practically memorize almost everything I read.

Anyway, I think that Jon will find the going easier with Souldancer. The first book got most of the setup out of the way, letting SD’s story hit the ground running. It will certainly be interesting to find out what the Puppy of the Month reviewers think.

Jon continues with a brief review and some speculation on Souldancer’s prologue. I won’t confirm or deny his conjectures, except to say that Almeth’s pilgrimage to Kairos has more pertinent and far-reaching effects for SD and the entire Soul Cycle than he expects.

For those who missed the Puppy of the Month Book Club’s epic, multi-part review of Nethereal, you can catch up here. Note that PotM reviews are intended as read-along exercises, so if you haven’t read Nethereal or Souldancer, it is highly recommended that you remedy the situation before diving in.

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle

@BrianNiemeier

The Whippersnappers Talk About School Reading Lists

This Sunday, the Whippersnappers will be discussing the relationships between schools and the arts, with the main focus on school reading lists. Do they hinder or help a child’s reading? What kinds of books are children being made to read today? What books should kids be reading?

We’ll have many different perspectives on this subject, including those of Orville and Juss Wright, who are still in high themselves! We have much to talk about, so come listen along and join the discussion!

Sunday, 3pm EST! Be there!

 

Ruining Beauty

I have seen very few movies in the theater, compared to the average America. The number of movies I have seen twice is even smaller. The number of movies I have seen more than twice could be counted on one hand.

There is only one movie that I saw in the theater six times: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Why did I—or I should say, we, for I saw it each time with my husband—love this movie so much? A bit of history…

I grew up out of step with the kids I went to school with, partially because I lived in the world of imagination, and many of them did not. My greatest joy was a trip to the local library, from which I would return with a stack of books as high as I could carry. I could read a book back then in a day or maybe two, and every new book was a journey into wonder.

As a bookish, imaginative person, my childhood was a lonely place. Very few of the other kids understood why one would bother with such foolish things. Books did not make them “burn with the bliss and suffer the sorrow of all mankind.” * Daydreaming was a thing that was mocked.

Things changed drastically when I reached college. St. John’s offered an entire campus filled with people who wanted nothing more than to lose themselves in a good story. I used to joke that the entire student body was made of from “that one kid from your high school who never did well in gym class.” (This is unfair, as SJC sports some excellent athletes.) After years of feeling ostracized, it was amazing to live and study in a place where I felt like I fit in. I might be friends with a fellow student or only a passing acquaintance, but I felt like we understood each other in a way that had been lacking in my home town. It was as if we breathed the same air.

I met my husband (author John C. Wright) at college, though we did not date until later. He, too, was a bookish sort, both writing and reading in all his spare time. We lived in the world of stories and books.

When it came time for our wedding, John drew the illustration for the invitations himself. He put on it a frog and a cat—figures from a story he had told me in our early courting days. Our wedding cake sported a black cat and a frog with a crown instead of a bride and groom figure.

For the thank you card, John drew a svelte cat in a wedding dress…and a handsome prince—as if the kiss of the cat-princess had transformed the frog into a prince.

This was John’s own feeling of what had happened to him when I came into his life.

I think you can see why the two of us fell in love with the cartoon movie, Beauty and the Beast. That small town girl who felt out of place and sang about her love of books and stories could have been me. The huge beast, alone and outcast, whose life was transformed by love, could have been John.

The moment when, wishing to please her, the Beast shows Belle a library filled with books from floor to its towering ceiling…practically nothing else they might have chosen to put on stage could have been so magical for us.

Fast-forward four children and many years, and word comes out that Disney is making a live action Beauty and the Beast with the charming girl from Harry Potter and that handsome, delightful actor from Downton Abbey. Remakes can be a chancy thing, but the Cinderella remake, staring another Downton Abbey alum had been totally delightful.

They had managed to update the story slightly, to appeal to modern sensibilities, without ruining any of its charm or magic. And Lily James was so sweet and innocent and appealing. Frankly, I liked her version more than the original.

They had done such a beautiful job with Cinderella, they could do Beauty and the Beast well, too, couldn’t they?

I was hopeful.

Very hopeful. And my daughter was so excited about the movie.

I think the moment I began to worry was when I found out that Emma Watson, the actress playing Belle, was some kind of Feminist Ambassador to the U.N.—and she had been allowed to update Belle.

Update Belle? How could you improve on the most wonderful heroine ever.

Then, I read this:

“Emma Watson noted how in the original Beauty and the Beast
didn’t provide much of a reason for why Belle was an outsider
other than she simply liked books…”

I think this may be the most tin-earred statement I have ever come upon. Is it really true that modern youth are so separated from the past that they don’t know how alone, how ostracized, how out of place intellectuals have always felt in small villages? Could she really not know?

I lived that life—the life Belle sings about so eloquently. I was that girl.

Because I read books.

That is why I loved Belle so much, too. Because she was such a perfect portrayal of the bookish girl.

I saw elsewhere that Watson picked inventor for Belle because, otherwise, “What did she do with her time?”

Again, that shows such an egregious lack of understanding of life in the past as to be truly alarming. There was a reason every man used to need a wife. Taking care of daily needs was a full-time job. Either you had servants to do it for you, like the Beast, or you had a wife—or in this case, daughter—who saw to the daily needs while you worked, or you did it yourself, and probably could not make a good living, as these things took so much time.

Even in the movie, we see Belle go shopping—a daily task, as there is no refrigerator, feed the chickens, and perform other daily tasks. Believe me, if Belle found time to read in among the responsibilities of daily life, that was quite amazing.

Also, Watson so misunderstands the bookloving mind that she decided that the only reason Belle is not traveling to go on adventures like that herself is: because her father is too overprotective and won’t let her go.

Never mind them being too poor to travel widely. Everyone knows the only reason Medieval young women were not jetsetting around the Continent was—overprotective parents.

How booklovers see everyone else

But daily life aside, let’s return to Emma Watson and Belle. Since reading books couldn’t possibly make Belle so odd, and she had to fill her oodles of free time, Feminist Ambassador Watson decided to make Belle the inventor.

Before I go on, I feel constrained to say: female inventors are wonderful. Everyone loves Girl Genius. And one could write a wonderful version of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale where the beauty was an inventor.

But that is not the story Disney told. And Disney’s story cannot become Inventor Belle’s story and still work.

Why? You say, Why not just watch the movie and see?

Well…think about it. Think about the structure of the story–a story I know so very well, having watched it so many times.

If Belle is an inventor, then books are not the sole bright spot in her dreary village life. So, why the song? Why does it matter that “she doesn’t know it’s him till Chapter Three?” Why does the bookseller give her a book she loves—if inventing is the center of her life?

If Belle is the strange beast, a female inventor in the Middle Ages, then that should be what stirs her heart. Making things, tinkering, bringing ideas to life should be what she sings about—what lights her inner candle.

Either Inventor Belle has no time for books, and they are just a side hobby and the song should be about inventing.

Or, Inventor Belle loves books, and inventing is a side hobby, in which case, it is a distraction and unneeded for the story.

Worse…what happens later?

To cartoon Belle, seeing the library was the answer to everything she desired.

But to Inventor Belle? She has to like the library not for itself, but for what it can teach her about inventing. In which case, a workshop filled with the right tools could have done just as well.

The library is no longer as important to her.

Worse, in the cartoon, Belle’s father is an inventor, and his problem is eventually solved by one of his inventions.

But if Belle is the inventor, she has to solve her problem with one of her inventions—totally changing the story.

Or the story ends the same way it did before, and her being an inventor is now just frosting, in which case, she really wasn’t an inventor in any important way, was she? She could just as easily have been a painter or a pastry cook.

Or a girl who loves books.

 

*–quote from the Hindu holy book, The Mahabharata. This was one of my father’s favorite quotes.

 

 

 

 

The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III: Now Available for Amazon Kindle

I’m pleased to announce the official release of the third thrilling volume in the award-winning Soul Cycle, The Secret Kings.

About The Secret Kings

 
Campbell Award finalist Brian Niemeier’s highly acclaimed Soul Cycle speeds toward its climax in the thrilling sequel to Dragon Award winner Souldancer, The Secret Kings.

The god of the Void is free. Aided by a Night Gen fleet, Shaiel’s fanatical Lawbringers spread his Will throughout the Middle Stratum and beyond.

Teg Cross, whose mercenary career took him to hell and back, finds the old world replaced by a new order on the brink of total war. A fateful meeting with a friend from his past sets him on a crusade to defy Shaiel’s rule.

Meanwhile, Nakvin strives to muster a last-ditch resistance in Avalon. But can worldly kings and queens stand against divine wrath?

The Secret Kings cover - clean

Thanks to my international team of publishing experts, including my lovely and talented editor L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright, my astounding cover artist Marcelo Orsi Blanco, and consummate professional formatters Jason and Marina Anderson from Polgarus Studio. This book wouldn’t exist in its current wonderful form without you.

Special thanks to all of my outstanding beta readers for helping me to polish the manuscript and get the book out the door by Christmas. We made it!

On the subject of early readers, initial reviews have been unanimously positive. Just because they’re beta readers, that doesn’t mean they’re sycophants. These guys have been some of my most rigorous and astute critics going back to Nethereal, so I’m inclined to trust their judgment.

To be completely honest with you, I wasn’t expecting quite this kind of response to The Secret Kings. I knew that the book was good, but I’d expected a reception on par with Souldancer, which is still my personal favorite entry in the series. SK is actually shaping up to be the fan favorite, which is fine by me. I work to please my readers, and if you guys are finding yourselves increasingly entertained by each new book I write, it means I’m succeeding at my job.

The Secret Kings - Front and Back Covers

On further reflection, it’s not surprising that this book resonates so well with audiences. There’s a nigh-universal hunger for good space opera, and The Secret Kings definitely fits that genre–even more so than Nethereal did. Compared to both of its predecessors, SK features more space battles, more fight scenes, and more overall action, all tightly wrapped into a little over 400 print pages.

The most common reader observation about The Secret Kings is that the previous two books in the Soul Cycle make more sense in light of the revelations it contains. That’s probably because SK ties together plot threads and character arcs from Nethereal and Souldancer in satisfying ways. In terms of things making more sense, it’s not that I didn’t give readers all the pieces in the prior two books; it’s that I’ve now provided categories that help frame the puzzle. As a result, the answers can be seen more clearly.

I’ve also provided sword fights, space werewolves, another kind of space werewolves, disintegration rays, space jellyfish, multiple flavors of teleportation, true friendship. long-awaited revenge, and even a touch of heartbreak. Because a little bitterness gives contrast and context to sweetness.

The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III is available now from Amazon for Kindle. The trade paperback is currently undergoing review at Createspace and will be available any time now. I’ll update you as soon as the print version goes live.

In the meantime, please enjoy The Secret Kings with my heartfelt thanks.

For those who haven’t read the first two books in the Soul Cycle yet, I haven’t forgotten about you. Nethereal and Dragon Award winner Souldancer are both on sale now for $3.99 each.

Get all three exciting novels today and get ready for the fourth and final Soul Cycle book, which you’ll find a preview of in The Secret Kings.

Happy Anniversary, Nethereal!

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier

My indie publishing adventure began one year ago today when my first novel, Nethereal, went live on Amazon.

It’s been a wild ride, to say the least. In the past year, I’ve released my first book’s sequel, Souldancer, put together a second edition of Nethereal based on your feedback, got nominated for a Campbell Award, and received a coveted BOOK BOMB from super author Larry Correia that you guys made the fourth most successful he’s ever done!

Book Bomb
Do not underestimate the power of a Book Bomb!

It’s been said that half of self-published authors only earn $500 a year and sell about 250 books.

When I started this little publishing enterprise, I had no idea what sort of outcome to expect. It was entirely possible that everyone would hate my writing–or worse, ignore it.

Thanks to you, my growing ranks of readers and my fellow author friends, my first year sales have crushed the numbers cited above. I can’t thank you enough.

I now know that it’s possible to self-publish for a living. There’s still some altitude to gain before I reach that lofty peak, but it’s now much closer than the ground.

No turning back now.

I hope you’ll join me on the way up. And bring a friend.

What does the coming year hold? What’s really exciting is that I have no more idea what to expect this year than I did last year. Anything could happen!

One thing I do know: Soul Cycle Book III, the penultimate entry in the series, is coming along quite well. I’m aiming for a late 2016 launch, so watch this blog for updates and release dates.

In the meantime, what’s an anniversary without gifts?

Nethereal, the SFF book that started it all, is on sale today for $2.99 in the Kindle Store.

Already own Nethereal? Get the even better sequel Souldancer right now for the same low price!

Have you already read Nethereal and/or Souldancer but have been waiting to leave a review? What better time than on this auspicious day to share your informed opinions with me and Amazon’s customers?
Honest Amazon reviews benefit authors in several ways. For one thing, they figure into the Kindle Store’s ranking algorithm. Plus, Amazon ramps up their promotional efforts for books with 50 or more reviews. Last but not least, feedback is good. I read every review, and as Nethereal 2nd ed. shows, I listen to reviewer feedback.
Writing a review can seem daunting, but don’t worry! It’s perfectly fine to leave something as simple as, “I really liked this,” or “The story wasn’t to my taste.” Every little bit helps.
Thanks to all the folks who have already left reviews. If you’d like to express your opinion, please consider leaving a review for Nethereal, Souldancer, or both today.

Nethereal BOOK BOMB!

I’m proud to announce that today I’m joining forces with best selling author Larry Correia to BOOK BOMB! my breakout SF-fantasy novel Nethereal.

What is a BOOK BOMB? I’ll let Larry explain:

For those of you unfamiliar with Book Bombs, what we do is pick a good book and a deserving author that could use a publicity boost, and then all purchase their novel on the same day on Amazon. Since Amazon updates its sales rankings with this rolling average algorithm, the more books bought on the same day, the higher it gets in the rankings. The higher it gets, the more new eyes see it, and the more new readers the author is exposed to. Success breeds success, and most importantly the author GETS PAID.

In this case, the lucky author is me 🙂

I’ll actually be posting the Book Bomb post the night of the 17th, because it appears that Amazon now has about a ten hour delay before the sales register. Gone are the wild west days where a book would begin climbing an hour after the Book Bomb started, and it isn’t nearly as awesome to hit the peak at 2 AM when most people are asleep and won’t see it.

You might be wondering how Larry selects books to bomb. Here are his stated criteria:

Why did I pick Brian for this month’s Book Bomb? First, I really liked the book. Second, he’s just starting out, and he’s a super nice guy.

Thank you, Larry! I’m honored to be lavished with such high praise from an author as accomplished as yourself. Your manatee will be released on schedule at the agreed-upon site–which is a relief, because he’s halfway through my last drum of Cheetos.
Anyway, welcome, members of the Monster Hunter Nation and all readers who’ve taken an interest in the BOOK BOMB! Here’s a foretaste of what Nethereal has in store.
About Nethereal
A woman like no other who longs for acceptance.
A precision killer inspired by the dream of his captain.
The last member of a murdered race, fighting to avenge his people against the might of the Guild…and the dark powers behind it.
The Sublime Brotherhood of Steersmen holds the Middle Stratum in its iron grip. Jaren Peregrine, last of the Gen, raids across fringe space with Nakvin—her captain’s best pilot and only friend, apprentice steersman Deim, and mercenary Teg Cross.
Hunted by the ruthless Master Malachi, Jaren and his crew join a conspiracy to break the Guild’s monopoly with an experimental ship. But when its maiden voyage goes awry, the Exodus flies farther off course than its crew could have imagined.
OK. You know about the book. Larry has recommended it. Get over to Amazon and buy it! Nethereal (Soul Cycle Book 1)
And for those who already own Nethereal, the even better sequel Souldancer is on sale now for $2.99.
Thanks again to Larry and everyone who’s helped to make this BOOK BOMB! a success.