It is with great excitement, deep thanks to my long-suffering agent, and many thanks to the acquiring editor and staff that I announce that Solaris has acquired my latest book, Knave of Secrets! Coming 2022 — official announcement below. (Please forgive the image.)
To say that Katharine Duckett’s debut novel picks up where Shakespeare left off in The Tempest is more than a little inaccurate, Old Will wrote a weird play about a cruel wizard bent on enslaving every creature he meets and abusing his enemies as much as his borrowed powers allow — but, you know, there’s like love and drunks and stuff so it’s a comedy? Duckett proposes some very good answers to questions left open by the play, but more importantly examines this 400-year-old fever-dream with the lens of a careful reader and reveals some of the worms in its core.
Please allow me skip the part where I provide some examples of the excellent prose and plotting and jump right into the stuff I want to nerd out about. [Some spoilers, I suppose.]
So, the big question, of course, is “who was Miranda’s mother”? Prospero doesn’t have much to say about her in his extensive As-you-know-Bob-ish exposition speech. Duckett places her very firmly in an unusual place — the underworld. The palace in which Miranda lives/is confined has many tunnels beneath it, and it was there that the mad Duke studied his magics. The entrance most commonly used during Miranda’s Milanese mischiefs is right behind a statue of Virgil. And her mom’s name? Beatrice, called “Bice”. [Cue lit-nerd excited squees at Dante’s Inferno reference.]
So is this Beatrice Portinari? Did Milan join Naples during her lifetime? Or is it just the name? Further research will be reported upon here. Either way, the blending of two Italian fantasy stories in this book is delicious.
And here’s another question, one I wasn’t clever enough to realize even should have been a question: where is Antonio’s son? Ferdinand blathers about “the Duke of Milan and his brave son being twain,” a line I completely missed. So one of the “others” always entering and exiting with the Milanese is the son of the usurping Duke? Doesn’t that bear a little more screen-time? Duckett comes through again with this little tidbit.
Caliban is the son of an exiled Algerian woman — why does Prospero treat him as a monster? (The accusation of attempted rape in the play is managed in this book by presenting it as a possessive Prospero’s misunderstanding, which works well with the “Prospero is an evil prick” interpretation (to which I subscribe)). Are we just supposed to think it’s ok that the wizard keeps putting Miranda to sleep with magic? Was Antonio wrong to wrest power from his brother, considering that Prospero by his own admission ignored his civic duties? What was the old bastard studying so intently anyway? And does everyone really just welcome him back? Plenty to explore here, and the author satisfies every curiosity.
The power of words makes an appearance several times (including some very much appreciated mocking of Prospero for his histrionics), my favorite of which is the question of Caliban’s language. Prospero taught him Italian (enough to curse in it), but what did the poor guy speak before then? Are we truly to believe he had no language at all? Language in this book holds the key to power, yes, but also to respect and understanding between people of different cultures. (Not Prospero’s forte).
The only thing missing, and this is only because I’m a huge game nerd, is a chess scene. Ferdinand and Miranda spend a quiet moment playing chess in the play, and a moonlit match in the gilded rooms of the palace would have been the last drop of icing on this very good cake for me — but near the end, Miranda is chided for speaking not of her heart, but of politics, “the chessboard of kings and queens, where all of us are only pieces.” I think we can safely say the author covered all the bases.
Also, the cover is awesome. Go read it!
“I watched Crazy Rich Asians. There was a scene with this game with tiles. It was beautiful — the colors and the clacking….”
These are the words of a woman who clearly wants me to go out and buy a mahjongg set and a book and go crazy over the whole thing.
Games as story-telling tools are My Thing Lately, so I had to find the scene and obsess over it. Not really knowing the game, we get the point — older woman beats younger woman, but younger woman reveals she could have won and chose not to. But HOW? I MUST KNOW.
Mahjongg is sort of like rummy, if rummy scoring was more complicated and had awesome names for hands like “Catching the Moon from the Bottom of the Sea”. Match sets, knock before your opponents can get a good hand, score what you’ve got. I’ve got a book, so it should be pretty straight-forward, right?
The hands are presented for us to see clearly, which is nice. The elder’s:
And the younger’s:
And right from the get-go, I’ve got trouble. No idea what that bendy cucumber tile is in the elder’s hand (next to the three Nine Circles). But, the game has random unmatched tiles that give you points if you draw them, so maybe it’s just a different printing of one of those. (Cue frantic, useless googling of mahjongg tilesets.) I’ll just see what the book says.
Well, the book has seven different games in it.
If I take the Cantonese game, it looks to me like the elder wins. But that can’t be right. None of the other variations seem to work either.
Well, why not download an app that scores mahjongg hands? Couldn’t be simpler! Except for when the app is for Japanese-style scoring. The elder definitely wins that one.
Fortunately for me, someone who actually knows what they’re talking about posted about this. It doesn’t go into full detail on the scoring, but it does clarify that this is the Singaporean game.
It even explains the cucumber.
The author goes through the trouble of scoring the younger woman’s hand:
SCORING RACHEL’S HAND
If you’re really curious, here’s how Singaporean rules would have scored Rachel’s hand:
Half Flush (hand composed of all one suit plus honors): 2 points
Fully Concealed Hand (no pong or chow sets revealed in front of her): 1 point
Animal tile: 1 point
She scores no points under Singapore rules for the flower, since it’s associated with the 4th seat, which is neither her seat nor the “prevailing” seat (East is dealer in this hand).
That’s 4 points, out of a typical maximum per round of 5. Every player would pay her $16, for a total of $48 for the hand. Singaporeans play a low-stakes version of mahjong!
But what about the elder’s. Well, let’s try it: She has:
3 9 bamboo
3 8 bamboo
3 white dragon
2 red dragon
3 9 circles
And I think that’s everything. So… equal hands. But the wikipedia article doesn’t take into account “fans” (doubling opportunities), as noted in the site listed as a reference. So maybe the elder won twice as much?
It’s worth noting that the they both have two red dragons hidden. Thus either could only get what they wanted (a valuable triple) if the other gave up and broke her pair.
Thus ends my adventure in trying to score mahjongg hands from a movie without knowing what I’m doing. I hope in Crazier Richer Asians they play again, but there’s a misunderstanding as to if they’re playing Old Rules or American, and they both have ridiculously good hands for their respective systems. If not I plan on stealing the idea. From myself.
I don’t know if you had a chance out the Netflix Castlevania series, but I started watching it right around the same time I started playing a tabletop RPG using the Genesys system. Enjoying both thoroughly, I naturally decided to build a Castlevania mod. You can find it in the Games menu above.
I fear the Genesys make-your-own-setting system is going to prove extremely addictive. Just check out this forum for all the IPs and original concepts people have built already. You want Mass Effect? Dinosaurs and cowboys? The Prisoner? There’s… a lot.
Another post on tor.com, this time about Tak.
A friend got my playing Tak before I had read the books. I… still haven’t finished them. I thought I’d go with an audiobook for the second one. I’ve been listening for a loooong time.
Also, I’ll be doing Nanowrimo again this year. Any year anyone says “hey, you doin’ nano?”, I immediately say yes. Just having conversations about our novels is worth the price of admission. Which is nothing!
The latest news is a post of mine on Tor.com: https://www.tor.com/2018/09/13/asimovs-guide-to-shakespeare-exists-and-you-need-it/
It was a blast to write, and I am looking forward to having the chance to work more with them.
The last few seasons have been all about the job, which has meant precious little writing. I did pull myself together well enough to write a story recently, and am finishing up the latest draft of the novel I’ve been working on.
I’ve read some great stuff, and am currently relishing Hard in Hightown, an in-world noir novel from Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s the first time I’ve seen this particular brand of meta, and I recommend it.
Stay strong, friends!
The latest thing in Quill is the White Box, which adds some RPG elements and changes the setting to a classic fantasy world. Adventure follows!)
Adventure: The Demon Haunted Tower
To Guhlo Chom, Keeper of Tomes, member of the Parliament of Beggars,
All librarians are like to us dwarves, after a fashion. You know the value of quiet, of darkness, and of old things well-used. This natural kinship was clear as new crystal when we met in the shadows of the Haunted Forest, and it is on the bond forged in those dark events I must now rely. I write you for aid, one old Beggar to another.
I continue to search for the treasure my father failed to find, and my path has led me to a village. I thought at first a blight had fallen on the land. The little town is ringed with farms bearing no more than miserable dead crops, and this at the height of the harvesting season. But as my feet carried my past this tragic scene and into the village proper, the ill cause became evident.
A grim tower of obsidian looms over the village like stalagmite ready to fall. The people of this poor place, drenched in dread, tell me the building appeared full-formed on a moonless night some weels ago, and that they have suffered since. The crops withered. The livestock froths and stamps itself to death. The children have grown silent and cold. The dogs are gone. A clever woman like yourself knows what this must mean.
Rumors echo around this place as to who lives atop this poisonous fang, but I have come to believe a sickened weaver of magics is the cause of this. I heard tell of a band of broad-backed youths who tried to approach the tower and were surned away by an invisible magic defence. I have seen such things used by those practiced in the arcane arts.
There is one precious book in particular which has the information this suffering town needs: the Spire Libiris. You know me to be a dwarf who respects the knowledge of elders and would treat this book as the invaluable treasure it is. I must borrow it, Guhlo. This town needs to kill that blasted wizard, and I must help them if I am to find the information I need. As a Beggar, and as a one-time axe-mate against the dark creatures of the forest, I beg your aid. I ever be,
Result: Guhlo wishes Karlsek well but cannot send the book. Instead he has scratched out a relevant page from the book to help. Karlsek enters the tower, faces many trials, and faces the wizard. Despite his power Karlsek finally bests him, and he agrees to leave and never return. (see QWB for details)
Scenario – The King
Character – The Knight
Skill – Inspiration
To His Majesty King Gerald, Master of the Independent State of Prian,
Please forgive me for writing you, Gerald, and not one of your underlings. This is a matter of importance. It will not wait to be passed along by bureaucrats who will only do so when it they can gain some advantage from it. I hope that the fact that we have met face to face will excuse my directness. You and I spoke for a moment at the Lights Festival three years past, when you commented on my horse’s grooming. I do not mean to insult with over-friendliness after such a brief encounter, but I have seen something frankly alarming.
I was on my way to patronize my blacksmith yesterday evening. The path from my estate into the city leads down from the fields and along the farm fences of some half-dozen of my peers. I have ridden this path scores of times. I recognize every building, every rick, the children of every farmer. As I passed the weather–worn barn that belongs to the Ninstock family, I saw something I did not recognize.
Just inside the door there was a funny hooded man crouching over something. The first thing I noticed was that he was a dreadful big bloke. I’m not one who looks for a fight, but if one finds me I prefer it to be over quick, and I’ve no need to prove myself by squaring off against some giant.
I leapt my horse over the stile and rode up to the barn door. A lot of times just the sight of an able man on horseback is enough to scare off any vagrants or bad-doers. This fellow, though, just straightens up and looks at me. This gave me a good look at the blighter’s face, which might be useful. He’s got a deeply buggered face, all scars and burns. Out of that messed-up skin he still managed grow a furry lip.
He grins at me and tries to run past me. He’s a fast one, but I manage to get hold of his cloak as he darts past me. To my shame, I lost him in the fields. I thought he might have been some thief, but I found sneakily hidden in a pocket of the cloak a bottle of what I think must be some evil poison! I knew then he must have been an assassin on his way into the city to kill you. Who else would carry such a thing? I wrote you straight away. Please heed my warning and set your guards looking for a man of that description for your safety.
Your loyal knight,
Sir Antoine de Feuille
Result: The King does not respond. Several days after Antoine sent his letter, he is visited by the royal guard and brought to prison for his disrespectful letter.
Yoon Ha Lee’s doing some tiny!fic writing prompts on Patreon. Here’s one of mine.
“Either your information is bad or you’re a plain idiot.” The enchanter’s knuckle-runes glowed a shade darker as he whispered, making the sheets of metal the green of old glass. “This is spring steel. The Cadois aren’t making weapons out of this.”
The spy smirked. An enemy ship’s hold was no place for an argument. “Just do your job.”
As the ‘chant worked his fingers and mumbled his spells, the spy did the thing he hated most — he explained himself.
“The Great Horloge needs a new mainspring, and this metal is going to be used for it. Every clock in Cadogna is set to the Horloge. Your enchantment is giving us control over the entire country’s time. So do it right.”