Author Archives: Rebecca M. Horner

About Rebecca M. Horner

A spinner of yarns (of the story sort, though I do crochet...and sew, and learning to make armor...)

Writing: On Historical Horsemanship…

Odd little mini-rant time. (It came up somewhere else, and honestly I don’t see this compiled anywhere? Writers need resources!) So you have things set in a pre-autonomous vehicle time period, or at least the only one that exists is the train and it don’t go everywhere. Your hero has two options: his own two feet, or buy a horse. What does this mean for your timeline and what sort of details do you need to know?

First things first: please do not go by Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. They don’t know how horses actually work, I swear, and it’s not worth the fight to try and make their mechanics apply to your story. (Seriously had to have a convo with a DM about why a harness isn’t helpful in a riding situation. It wasn’t his fault, the entry was just written very poorly and I was like, “My inner equestrian is offended.”) They also tend to box horses into neat categories, which allow me to laugh uproariously over that. If only it were that simple.

So what do you need to know? Okay, so let’s go into some pretty broad categories and we’ll go from there. You have a general, all purpose horse. A riding horse, something bred specifically for good paces and pretty looks. Your war horses, these are trained for combat situations and usually are some ugly buggers, so be prepared. And then your cart horses, which again come in two sorts depending on how heavy your load is. Yes, there are ponies, no, unless your character is under the age of 13 or so (or has never ridden before, period), they won’t be riding them. Being mounted on an actual horse was a really big thing for the nobility, the younger the better.

(There are multiple official terms I could be floating around here, but I’ll be honest. Most are French thanks to the Norman invasion of England. If you are writing before that invasion or in almost any other country, those terms would just sound weird.)

Your general all-purpose horse is just that. It can be trained to pull a cart or buggy, it can be trained to carry a person on saddle or serve as a pack horse.  Usually a combination of all three. This is what most merchants and lower owned, if they owned one at all. This horse would come up to about the chin of a grown-man, so around 15 hands or 5 feet tall. Unlike our current breed books, medieval horse breeders literally did not give a fig about colors, so they came in everything.

Now for your stupid expensive horses. A rich merchant might have nice riding horses, the nobility definitely would, but the war horses are going to be limited to those who serve in your military, whether that’s nobility or a combination of classes. Riding horses are leggy with good proportions, high spirits, and can turn on a dime. They can be the same height as a general horse, but they can also be taller, up to 18 hands, because of their legs. Warhorses, on the other hand, were stout, with lots of muscle and tended to look short in the waist and kinda awkward to watch outside of specific maneuvers. They were also remarkably calm animals, unless you threatened their rider and then all hell broke loose. Please note, these horses usually topped out at 16 hands. They weren’t tall, just strong.

So what should your horse be wearing? Believe it or not, you’re going to want to check out Western gear, it’s the closest analog we’ve got. A simple bit with headstall (no chin strap) is in line with what they wore as basics (unless you want to get fancy), and a Western saddle without a horn or quite as wide stirrup leg is more in line with what a medieval saddle tree would look like. Note, a jousting saddle would actually have an even higher front and back. They had breast collars, which I think is a very important tool because horses have slick backs. You wouldn’t see much of the fancy barding or cloth coverings outside of a joust, they just did nothing but make the horse hot.

So who is riding these horses and how fast? Having a horse at all was an expensive enterprise, but most families owned at least one because you had to get the produce to market somehow, and horses were faster than oxen (and oxen or mules weren’t always available). Please note, women would ride astride just like men. That’s why you’ll see skirts with riding slits–gaps in the fabric in the front and the back. This would let the fabric part enough to let the women sit comfortably in the saddle. The only type of side saddle that existed was basically a chair on a horse who would be led, as seen here in the Russell Crow version of Robin Hood, being used by an elderly Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Side Saddle

As for speed, well, you have options. The fastest two are the ones you’ll use in a chase scene, because they are literally only good for short bursts. A canter or lope will run you 12-15 miles per hour, and a full-out run will get you anywhere from 20 to 30 miles an hour, it just depends on the horse. But remember, short bursts. I’m talking half a minute at a run, you’d get about two minutes max at a lope, and that’s being probably overly generous. Your best bet is to alternate the slower of the two gates, trotting and walking. A trot runs about 8-12 miles per hour, and a walk is around 4 miles per hour. Some horses have what are called ambling gaits, but they slot in with canter and trot pretty seamlessly in terms of speed, they are mostly about comfort of the rider. Assume you are going to travel about 30 to 40 miles a day.

(As a note, that’s about how often you need a small roadside inn or tavern on a road. Despite what most DnD campaigns tell you, people didn’t camp out on the road very much. Even if it’s a farm that opens its barn up to travelers, there is a place to sleep for a bit of coin somewhere without camping.)

…Hopefully my horse nerd-knowledge is helpful, I just like having it all in one blog post instead of digging through seven different Wiki articles and tumblr.

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Review: Closer to the Chest

The last in the Herald’s Spy reviews! (At least until I can afford to buy the Family of Spies series, which may be a while, yay happy homeowning and trying to get my life together over here, ugh.)

So where does the final book in this series take us? Someone is blackmailing and then threatening the noble women in Valdemar high court. While normally not too big of a bother and a part of the political game, this time there is a definite malicious edge to it that Amily can’t quite ignore. Meanwhile, Mags finds that businesses being run by women are facing an increasing level of hostility and sabotage. Both events correlate with the introduction of a new religion in Valdemar that is misogynist at its core. It will take approaching both sides of the problem, plus Mags putting himself into a dangerous situation, in order to unravel the truth for the protection of Valdemar!

First impressions, this was the story that Misty wanted to tell. Both of the prior books were just build up to it, allowing for her to introduce characters, skills, and concepts in prior books so she could get to this story. It’s the only explanation I have for the plot being that much tighter and everything being more in keeping with what I expect from a Valdemar book. This means it finishes on a high note, at least, though I fear most loyal readers are going to skip this series entirely as a result.

There were parts of the plot that worked for me, and parts that I just cringed my way through. I like the idea of the enemy being a religion that is preaching against women beyond bad stereotypical roles. I resent that it was Mags who got to go to the bottom of it, that the idea when Amily first presented it was scoffed at or seen as her making leaps in logic, and that despite it being a very female forwarded plot, it still felt like men were the main heroes of this story. Maybe I’m just too harsh of a reader, but when I figure out that these are the people who are doing something wrong, and then when a female character points it out and gets told to either wait as others investigate or until there is evidence of actual wrong doing… It just rubs me the wrong way.

On the plus side, I did find the church having two Gifted of their own among their ranks to be nice. Usually Heralds are either against normal people or people with regular magic, so seeing those with mind magic who aren’t Chosen by the Companions and how they can end up being used for nefarious purposes by a religion was cool. I also appreciated the emphasis on how expensive books were and how women were the best to copy those texts in the days before the printing press. It’s something I don’t think many people appreciate due to how prevalent the written word is in our lives, but Valdemar has always made a point of emphasizing how important the oral stories and thus the Bardic gifts are, and for good reason.

I like the idea of the Queen’s ladies, the group of handmaids, and I’ve seen similar concepts before, but ugh, I feel like there is so much wasted potential as a result. I don’t think enough was done with them besides making them a spy network that Amily has access to, and I feel like between Amily, these girls, and some of the resources they have, we could have written Mags out of the book entirely. I get the importance of male and female power balance, but come on. We don’t have nearly as many female Heralds as the focus of books as it is, being denied it yet again was just irksome.

For me, Closer to the Chest was the closest that this series has gotten to a traditional Heralds of Valdemar book. But overall, the series just felt tired. Like there were certain scenes that were what Misty actually wanted to write, or certain plots and subplots, and the rest of the book was just a vehicle to get to them. One of my writing professors once said that unless a scene excited you, you needed to edit it to death until you did like writing it or cut it entirely. I wonder if that could be applicable to this series for Misty…


Review: Closer to the Heart

Okay, I’m going to try and get back in the swing of things here!

The next in the Herald’s Spy series, Closer to the Heart deals with Amily and Mags’s wedding….sorta. They quickly take care of the legal side of it, which is a good thing. The formal state wedding turns into a distraction to be wielded against outside forces. Two of Valdemar’s neighboring countries (you know the ones, no one can spell them) are threatening to wage war against Valdemar for threatening their fragile peace due to a child king over one of their countries. While Mags investigates the funding of the rebellion with his mining experience, Amily serves as a distraction and works to maintain diplomatic relations until they can put a stop to it.

Plot wise, the story was at least a little amusing. I felt like the wedding should have been kept a secret to be a cool reveal at the end rather than just being a part of an early plot arc like it was no big deal. But at the same time, that could have made the ending too crowded, so I understand why it wasn’t done that way? I’d have to see drafts going both ways to decide, and obviously, Mercedes Lackey is not among my writer buddies. XD The return of Kirkball was not on my favorite list, but at least she kept it short and it was moderately entertaining since Mags couldn’t be on Companion back this time, so we got to see him actually handle a horse.

I liked the more earthy, proud and take charge maid that we had in Keira, who was a welcome change from the silly little newt from last book. The expansion of Nicholas’s mentor was also at least moderately entertaining, though I found him slightly insufferable. Maybe I’m just over the suave, debonair types. Maybe it was because we saw too much of him as the wise, perfect mentor and not enough to make him seem human. Bleh. I wish we had seen more of him with his wife, that might have saved him. Instead, I was more interested in Tuck and Linden because at least they had personality and problems and flaws that I could empathize and relate to, and a real relationship.

Speaking of relationships, I liked how Mags and Amily got to see a little bit of each other’s worlds in this book. Mags got to pretend to be among the nobility for real, Amily learned how to roof walk from his group of scamps. It was a refreshing change to their relationship. This also opened us up to more about their everyday life and how that worked. Seeing some of the lower Courts work was something that I wildly welcomed. We keep hearing about Heralds stationed there, but rarely got to see it actually happen and what those duties mean. Even if Mags was bored silly, I was glad to finally have that reference to world building, and it was done in a very organic way rather than being forced.

Mags was pretending to be a noble-type, but it was in among his home territory. I feel like this was a wasted opportunity. While we knew none of his old mine owner’s family was going to be around, or it was highly unlikely at any rate, I feel like we could have seen more of either him with someone from that old mine or even in the same area… I don’t know, it just didn’t feel like it had the emotional impact on the reader that I felt it should have. I felt like it got covered up with Kirkball and other nonsense instead. Especially because we saw very little of this setting in the first book due to his emotional state, so we had a lot of high expectations and then they weren’t met.

I did like the way that the tools were being worked into clothing and other disguises, with the addition of Tuck to make it happen. We know that several reigns down the road, the Heralds have all sorts of odd tools, and now we know how they get the designs! Or at least the basics, we all know how things evolve with time. I am all for rogue and spy types having hidden tools and weapons on them, though, and this really brought me a pleased, smug sense of pride in their cleverness, even though I wasn’t the writer.

Overall, this book left me feeling a little…meh. Like, yeah, there were bits of humor and flashes of things I liked, but there weren’t enough to make me absolutely love this book like I did some of the prior ones. But at least the plot wasn’t recycled this time, and even if it didn’t flesh out the emotional impacts as much as I would have liked, it brought in some good world building for the series as a whole in a way that didn’t feel forced. If you don’t already love Valdemar, I would suggest starting elsewhere. But if you’re already invested, it’s decent.


Tabletop RP: Picking My Character Class

Okay, first of all, if you are a mechanic person who slaps a name, physical description (if that) and back story onto your character right before the session, turn your eyes away! The following post will horrify you!

Because I am a writer first, and damn it, I am going to pick my classes that way.

So what does that mean for me when I approach the table as a player? Well, I find what I want to emphasize. Whether that’s an interesting class, a racial variant, or if I have a personality type that I want to build, I have a “core part” that is my beginning. I’m going to use my newest character (who has yet to start her campaign) as an example. While I was browsing the races out of boredom, I stumbled upon the Vishkanya race for Pathfinder. They seemed pretty interesting, and then I saw they had a rogue archetype called a Deadly Courtesan. This class stayed in the back of my mind, and after Ginny went on a plunge into Indian mythology, I had to apply all of her babble that seeped into my brain somewhere, so I picked the Vishkanya Deadly Courtesan as my core beginning.

That being said, sometimes I’ll start with a concept I want to recreate. Hekate was actually me wanting to play a (sane) version of Diva from Blood + …she then spiraled off into her own thing, but that’s what I started with, and then she turned into this darkness specialist and I am now helplessly amused by her. Sometimes I have a personality or appearance first. I sketched out this emo-esque medieval character with some interesting jewelry, and eventually that person morphed into Jadzia as she was developed.

Alright, I have my core. Now I need to do a little fleshing out. If I don’t already have a class, this is where I figure out what class fits my core, what race, what variants do I want to apply? (This is where Hekate’s darkness specialty started.) I’m not building the character so much, because I’m not rolling stats or figuring out feats or buying items, but I’m getting a broad overview of my character. This will help me make the decisions later about skills and feats and everything else, so it’s a really important part of the character building process.

With my new rogue, I started by picking out where she was from, so I’d know what culture to do. Of the options at the time (which since shifted but my background survived), the one that made the most sense for what the heck I was doing so far from where my people would normally be, especially considering the core of a Deadly Courtesan, was for her to be a slave in a large empire. I started pulling every bit of culture I could find on the web for both the country and for her people, trying to get an idea of what her life would be like. And then I went digging for names that fit that culture. Danika. No last name.

With a name and her concept now firmly filled out in my head, I start with the mechanics. I start rolling stats, deciding what the key stats were going to be, and throwing in skill points to the skills that I think make the most sense. For a bit of random, I rolled some dice to establish her height and her weight, which ended up giving me a big clue as to her story. I mentioned to my DM that I wanted her to be literate only in her people’s language, though she can speak Common. I also decided she wasn’t just a slave, but a very recently escaped slave, based off of how underfed she was (her height and her weight were not in proportion at all), and as a result I gave her a bare minimum of supplies. I took a few Traits, just to make things interesting, and a racial variant. Since Deadly Courtesan is a bit odd, sort of a rogue/bard hybrid, I had to pick some performances. Thanks to mine and Ginny’s Lindsey Stirling obsession, those picks seemed obvious.

And then it was time for feats. Ya’ll, I suck with feats. Thankfully, because I was running Hekate around this time, I knew a bit about what I wanted to do to at least start with. I have no intention of making Danika a duplicate of a rogue I’m already running, but there are just some basics that it can’t hurt to take. I hate cross bows, so no point to the archery side of things. So Weapon Finesse and Two-Weapon Fighting it was. Planning the rest is going to have to wait until I see where the story took us, and which parts of her character I need to emphasize. (My fellow player is thinking we should take all the Teamwork Feats we can.)

So that’s the icky mechanic side done. Now I needed to decide how much fleshing out I wanted to do. Sometimes, I give my DMs a small book. Sometimes, I give them a few sentences. Danika ended up being pretty simple. She’s an escaped slave from Cheliax, very recent. I gave her parents information as well as some of her siblings (I rolled a dice for the number and sex of each, then found names). And that, I decided, was enough. In my head, her personality started to develop. She is very bitter and angry over her people being enslaved, and worse about the position she was pushed and trained into when she was a teenager. Now she’s determined to use those skills to earn her freedom, long enough for her to get her vengeance on all of Cheliax. So while she will dance and play for crowds to earn her dinner, any one stupid enough to grab her without her consent will find themselves stabbed with one of her poison kunai.

The last touch for me is a doll maker that lets me come up with a picture. Danika ended up with three, because I purchased two different head veils and a reversible cloak to help her hide from those who would turn her in as a runaway slave.

Danika Character Sheet

Danika All

Is this the only way to build a character? Not hardly. Is Vishkanya or Deadly Courtesan some favorite races and classes? Oh heck no. But for me, that’s not how I build my characters for a story, so why would I build them that way for the interactive, storytelling experience of DnD? Instead, I pick something that interests me, that I will enjoy playing.


Writing: What Your Writing Teacher Never Told You About Querying

Alright, buckle in folks, time to pour some tea and make a salt circle that is probably going to get me in loads of trouble later. But there’s some things that current professors don’t know about the querying process, because most of them have had agents for at least the last five to ten years, and thus aren’t aware of some of the new quirks. Let me tell you the myth as I heard it. Be prepared for lots of rejections, insert Stephen King story about the railroad spike here. Feel lucky to get even one agent’s attention, and then you can shop later once you have proven your books sell. Your relationship with your agent should be like finding a spouse, so feel free to be a little choosey and patience.

Let’s tackle this bit by bit. Let’s start with the rejections. I am going to say 60 to 75% of the time, you aren’t going to get a response at all. The silence is meant to be a rejection, but for those with outrageously long wait times, that can be painful as all get out. Sometimes, you’ll at least get an auto-response saying that your query was received and here’s how long you’ll have to wait, but don’t bet on it being accurate. The only part that is accurate is expect lots of either returned or ignored type rejections. There’s even more agents now than ever, so you’ll have a huge field to go through. You definitely need to verify every agent that you run across–there are a lot of predators out there taking advantage of the high numbers of agents.

As for lucky getting an agent… Okay, here’s a weird trend I noticed. Very rarely did anyone I hear squealing on Twitter or QueryTracker say they got one agent. Because the next step after one positive reaction…is tell everyone else that you got an offer. It became clear to me that agents rushed to anything anyone smelled at being decent. All it took was one offer, and you could end up with nine or ten offers because one person took the time to decide your book was worth something. It’s a lot like the pitch events on Twitter, with all the agents flocking to whatever someone else liked. It seems like a lot less investment in one person and a lot more following the pack. But because of this, and publishers only putting out a few new books a year and trusting too much in their best sellers and putting all their money in one basket, it’s a lot harder for good books to get read at all.

As for being choosey and patient, well, I agree with the patient part. I was perhaps overly patient. But choosey? That depends. As part of getting your query letter, synopsis, and first fifty pages prepped, you definitely also need to really boil down what you need from an agent. In my case, I had to have someone who enjoyed some element of fantasy. Everything else, I was a lot more flexible on, but I was aware of the “tags” in case it was on someone’s no list: LGBTA+ friendly, romance could go either way, female protagonist, young adult. Know what an agent absolutely has to have an interest in, and then be aware of the other aspects of your book in case it will turn an agent off. I would also look at other writers’ critique of querying an agent on Twitter or QueryTracker. Writers will usually post warnings, such as people never getting back to you even after you give them a full, or warnings of stuff going on in agent’s personal life so have extra patience. But after that? Keep the field as broad as you can. Once you are out of agents, you are out.

Back to me being too patient. I figured out in my process where my line in the sand was, and that was communication. I would wait and wait and wait, as long as the agent kept in touch with me and told me that they weren’t going to meet the deadline they gave me, but here was the updated one. I would wait for months if not a year if you kept in contact with me. Why? Because I understand that life happens. I’ve had the flu twice this year already, and I lost every pet but one last year. I know it dearly. As long as you are talking to me, I will give you the time you need. But ignoring me when I ask for updates after you’ve missed the deadline is now my newest pet peeve ever. I highly recommend that you figure out where your line is, so you can approach queries without it being a frustrating process. As soon as your line is crossed, withdraw your submission and move on.

I’m not really bitter about the querying process. Do I think it’s antiquated? Yes. Do I think it could be a lot better managed? Yes. Will I do it again for White Dragon, Black Lark? …Eh. It’s going to depend on if it is long enough to actually be considered by agents as a book, since most don’t represent novellas. It stands a better chance than Ten, which is the stepping stone of a series and it appears that agents aren’t playing with series anymore. But I will definitely be approaching querying from a different stand point, now that I know how things have changed. I’ll probably do the pitch events first for an initial interest, and then start combing Query Tracker.

Look, getting published is hard. It’s a constantly evolving game. I’m not mad at my professors for not preparing me–they are out of that game, and have been for a while. They all have agents, and can even play against them if they need to because they have the experience and contacts to do so. But someone starting out in this business doesn’t have that, and everywhere you go digging, you’ll find people looking to charge you hundreds of dollars to prep your book for agents, and that’s just crap. Unless your grammar or plot structure is just awful, it isn’t going to do anything except slap a coat of paint over a barn that your agent (if you do get one) will ask you to rebuild anyway.

So just go in with open eyes, and try to see what is trending or starting to trend for agents. I’m not saying write to trend, that’s near impossible. But it will at least let you know if you need to sit on a manuscript until series are big again (or give up and go self-published with that bit), or if fantasy has gone down a weird path you can’t follow and you need to wait for it to swing around your way again…or maybe the weird path is your way and you need to hurry and finish! Keeping your thumb on how the query game is changing is the biggest piece of advice I can give you. Otherwise, you are going to come in confused from the start like I did.


Review: Closer to Home

(Forgive me if this is even more rambly than normal, I’m getting over one hell of a cold followed immediately by getting the flu. I delayed posting just to make sure I was in a quasi-decent head-space.)

Probably because the story about Mags’ continued to wind much longer than her normal books, or possibly as a marketing ploy, or maybe even because of a massive time-skip (like more than normal), but either way, Mercedes Lackey actually continued into multiple series with the same character, rather than others dropping in on new protagonists. I love the first series, and since I got all of the others together in a bundle, I thought I would review the second half for the blog, with a possibility of coming back to the others. (Not sure on that, they were pretty tight and I can only gush so much.)

Closer to Home picks up as Mags and the others are returning to Haven. Lena and Bear have settled somewhere with positions, and he and Amily are trying to establish themselves back into their new lives. But to their surprise, an accident that almost costs the King’s Own Herald, Nickolas, his life gets Amily Chosen as the new King’s Own…except her father, also Nickolas, doesn’t actually die! Mags managed to keep common sense among everyone, pointing out that this means there now allows Nickolas a lot of freedom, as well as providing training so that when the prince inherits, his Own is already up to speed and prepared to work with him. And they get at least partially settled quickly, because there’s a massive feud among the nobility that is threatening to send all of Haven up with it.

I was relieved that the cast of characters was changed up a bit with this book. As much as I loved Lena and Bear, the case was getting very blotted by the end of the last series. She weeded out the cast to its main core needed in Haven now as adults, and that let her add new players as needed. (Also, Lena about drove me nuts and I wanted better girl representation.) This story really gave us a chance to see a working couple who weren’t lifebonded, who weren’t well established in that relationship, and they are having to figure out how to make it work through life changes. That’s a huge thing!

I also felt like Misty did something really brave and important with this series, which is addressed the female nobility characters. Every time she’s used them before, it was either part of being life-bonded, or as part of exceptions to how everyone else behaved. This time, she was right in our faces about how the female nobility were supposed to act, and how if you didn’t have the power to do otherwise, acting against it was going to get you slapped down. I felt awful for Violetta, but with the clear explanations of the other women, you could see how she got herself in trouble and while it was unfair as hell, I couldn’t argue against it within the context of the world. And members of the world acknowledge it sucks and it’s wrong, which… since the nobility lasts for a while longer in the timeline, that’s about all it can do.

The plot….ugh, the plot. I felt like she had this one event that she needed to make happen, and then went, “Well, now what? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, with a twist!”…sorta. Like it stopped even being a nod to the plot and went full-on-commitment about halfway through and I’m sitting there going, “I know how this ends, everyone dies, why am I still reading?” She gave it like a half-twist, but it wasn’t enough to save it for me. On one hand, I’m glad she kept it to something besides wars and assassins, that is a welcome change and I applaud her for trying to branch out. I just wish she hadn’t borrowed a very tired and often repetitive plot to do it with. Even the twist was just making “Romeo” even more of a jerk than he is in the original, that isn’t a whole lot of work!

Worldbuilding wise, not a lot got added to here besides like I said, the female nobility finally being touched on as far as what is considered normal. There being “two” King’s Own Heralds is different, but I don’t think it was touched on very much. I think that probably has to do with the shoe-horned feud plot, since she usually does better with a little more original work. I do find Amily’s Gift to be a cop-out. I want to read the one-shot with Lan and see if she mentions it with Pol, who reportedly has a little bit of every Gift. Otherwise, yeah, I’m not horribly impressed with it. I’d have preferred to see real Animal Mindspeech. It’s come up I think once with a character we’ve met for any period of time? But it gets mentioned all the time.

Overall, I wouldn’t call it a disappointing read. I like the characters, and I like some of the world building elements. Considering I’m planning a similar series-split with the same character, it’s almost a study for me on what to do and what not to do. My annoyance over Shakespeare being reproduced is probably a mostly me thing (I see it….a lot…and I’m probably overly salty), so I definitely still recommend this book to others. But definitely read the prior series so you have the attachment to the characters, otherwise this may seem unnecessarily harsh.


Review: Tempests and Slaughter

I approached Tempests and Slaughter with a healthy amount of both caution and interest. On one hand, it was more of Numair and that always makes me happy. He and Daine are my OTP in Tortall. On the other hand, this is a prequel. I was going to have to put up with Valarie, guaranteed, and with one of the worst villains in Tortall history being viewed as an okay guy. Blegh. But I finally knuckled down and read it. While I don’t regret it, it definitely wasn’t what I expected either.

Not yet Numair Salmalin, Arram Draper is a young boy at the College of Mages in Carthak. Tempests and Slaughter tells of his late childhood/early adolescence, as he rises with the ranks of powerful mages with the growth of his Gift. As he grows farther away from his family and home in Tyra, he has to learn not only who he is and what he can tolerate, but also who his friends are becoming. In the end, plague hospitals and arenas decide for him where his limits are. Now if only he can bring his only two friends, Valarie and Ozorne, along with him.

So, let’s get it out of the way. I love Tamora Pierce’s writing. I’ve had my style compared to her a couple of times, and it always makes me squee because she has such a way with prose that it just flows, smooth and clear. Thankfully, she spared my overly imaginative butt too much medical in the hospitals, but the way she did it is very real to how people who are in those professions describe how they feel after it is over. I really valued her return to third person and in normal chapter format. It wasn’t so heavily cluttered with slang that I needed the dictionary in the back just to wade through until I adjusted to the dialect, but it was there enough to carry the culture of the world across. It was a little different, because the narrator is a boy for the first time for an entire book rather than a short story, but after a couple of chapters, I managed to fall in with it. I think it’s interesting how she keeps exploring new formats and narrators, rather than sticking to formula.

World building wise, she had some room to play and it shows. Carthak was barely hinted at beyond the capital during the Immortals quartet, and while some of the short stories have touched on other countries as part of the empire, we haven’t seen all of it. There’s a curious mixture of African cultures, and I use that term in relation the continent as a whole. At times, I see the south and the tribal influences, but further north it is reminiscent of Egypt and it’s interactions with Europe. I also saw bits of South Africa, if only because of the way the ruling class appears to be of light skin versus…everyone else. This is also the first time we saw how a mage was trained, from the ground up and without pesky fighting training to overlap, and while at times I felt a little like the magic systems were too muddled, that is more personal taste than anything, and it was interesting to see how magecraft is taught for the Gift when there aren’t deities involved.

Characters is really where this book could have made or break for me. I knew I was going to like Arram, because I liked him as an adult. It was curious to see how clumsy and unsure of himself he was as a boy, though, and how easily swayed he was by others around him until he found his backbone. I also wasn’t suspecting his healing magic to be at the forefront, but then, his entire history is so secretive, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Valarie… Ugh. All of my problems with Valarie still exist. I mean, her “kitchen witch” label aside, she really just irks me. I don’t think that will ever change. I don’t like manipulation like I see her doing, even when it is for the sake of those she considers friends, at least without some sort of moral code behind it, which I know she’s lacking in. And then there was Ozorne. He could have gone wrong very quickly, but thankfully Tamora never forgot what he was going to become. The brief flashes alone were enough to sooth me, and then she dropped his ambitions, his goal to unite everything under one Empire, and at that point I knew he was the same person we knew, it was Arram who hadn’t realized it yet. That is going to be fascinating to see continue, and I’m beyond curious to see what the tipping point will be.

As for other characters, the teachers rotated around so much, I had a hard time nailing down a favorite. I did like Yaven and how he applied something most people would consider silly to help Arram concentrate, and how that evolved into other lessons. Sebo and her ties to the crocodile god were also interesting. Oh god, the crocodile god was hilarious, I was very amused by him and his interactions. My only complaint, if you could call it one, was Preet, if only because she seemed like a plot device more than a character. The lack of mention of her to Daine in prior books also makes no sense. But then, we don’t know how Preet’s plot is going to end, so I could end up being placated.

This definitely reads to me like there’s one more book, possibly two, in this series, but I don’t think it’s going to be a quartet and I’m leaning towards just one more like the Aly Cooper books. That seems about right to me, because really this is mostly bringing some light to a mysterious back story that I’m sure fans like me have been wondering about since the first books with Daine. I can’t wait for the next book and to see where this story is going and how it will dove-tail with where we first met Numair.


Tabletop RP: My Top 10 Spells

Everyone has favorite spells that they use, and thankfully most of them transition between editions without losing too much of the fun. Some spells are good for causing shenanigans, like Grease, others just do an insane level of damage that is always fun to inflict on enemies. I decided to list my favorite spells, at least one for each level (sorta), and why I enjoy them so much, therefore why you might like them for your character.

Please note that this list is for arcane casters only, such as wizards, sorcerers, warmages, etc. I’ll do another list of my favorite divine spells later, since I do enjoy playing oracles mixed in with my rogues and sorcerer types. I am also a bit of a blaster-type mage when I have magic (thus why I like warmages so much). My lists rarely have things that just entangle somebody or create alarms, and are more likely to cause maximum amount of damage that fits within the character’s particular theme (because sometimes, you gotta pick something besides fireball because it offends the ice mage).

Zero Level Spells/Cantrips
….No one likes these, why would I pick one here…? These are little spells that really, I pick based on the campaign.

1st Level Spells
Magic Missile is a must have. It’s a guaranteed hit whenever any enemy is annoying as hell, and you can shape them to reflect your character. I always approve of customization options.
Snowball is a Pathfinder spell of this level that has been a go-to for one of my characters too, it does some decent damage and has additional affects that can go in hand. Perfect for the ice mage, lol.

2nd Level Spells
In your early levels, you are working to maximize your spell selection so not only are you strong in your specialty, but you aren’t completely screwed if your DM throws something your way. Now, Jadzia didn’t bother learning Shatter because one of my party members already had it, but as Psyche, it was one of the first things I picked because if we met a golem, I wanted to be able to fight it. So definitely my first pick for 2nd Level.

3rd Level Spells
…Sadly, my favorite spell is a homebrew creation because I am playing an ice specialist and the DM thought it hysterical to create “Iceball” which functions exactly like Fireball, just with ice. That being said, Fireball is also a great spell, so if your DM won’t go for the giant snow/ice ball of doom, it is your first chance to really start slinging damage around.

4th Level Spells
There’s a series of spells that I used with Psyche that were by far my favorite spells. Different spells, there was one for each element, including Force and Sound, and they had additional affects depending on the element. I loved those damn things, plus I always knew how much damage I was dealing, I just had to look up the effect, and I could cater it to sensitives if the enemy had any.

5th Level Spells
Oddly enough, my favorite 5th level spell is defensive. At this point, I usually have a solid base of offensive spells, and I’m ready for something that not only defends my squish mage butt, but will also help my fellow players. Fire Shield, Mass, gives the entire party a line of defense, as well as attacking enemies.

6th Level Spells
Dude, Chain Lightning all the way. It does lots of damage, it continues to do more damage as you level, and can attack more targets or the same target multiple times. And if you are facing foes in metal armor, it does even more damage. I love it.

7th Level Spells
Here is where it really starts to depend on what problems my mage has run into when fighting. Do we keep getting hoards that attack us and we are way out numbered? Or is it something really big that we have to hammer through? Usually, this is why I take a mass-area spell, because I have enough one-on-one spells and could use a wide-coverage. So go with Fire Storm or something similar.

8th Level Spells
For 8th Level, your spell options really start to narrow down. You don’t learn as many of them, and you don’t get to cast as many times per day for spontaneous casters. For my favorite, gotta go with the multi-tasker and use Great Shout. It’ll damage golems, traps, and other objects, as well as doing a good chunk of damage to enemies even before you apply meta-magic to it.

9th Level Spells
Really, I have only gotten here once before, so it’s harder for me to pick a favorite or one that I am most likely to use. (Jadzia may yet get there and I’ll change my mind, but eh, we’ll see.) Considering the celestial theme that Psyche had going on… Gotta go with Meteor Swarm as my go-to final spell for this list.


News: Self-Publishing and Mystic Riders!

Thought I’d give you all an update this week to start off the new year with my plans! Thus why the delay till the 1st. (And then this time next year I can wonder what happened, right? lol)

So first bit of exciting news: GinnyZero and I have launched a blog for our MMORPG! Mystic Riders MMO is our baby project, a non-combative P vs E RPG that we are approaching from a narrative-first direction. It is a game for girls, with lots of options for customization and story paths (okay, not Detroit: Become Human levels, but paths!) that is for horse lovers and adventurers who may or may not have secretly creative/girly sides…or not, the choice is literally yours. All you have to have is a love of horses and exploring an open world and ranging series of stories that will all make sense in the end. (I hope, I will have a lot of pans in that fire!)

We’ve gotten a large chunk of the story concept and mechanics figured out, so while we are in the middle of writing everything and getting an organized list what’s left that we can’t do on our own, we can be stirring up interest! Right now it’s just the blog, I’m hoping in the next couple of months to get us set up with a bank account so we can do a tip-jar sort of thing so if you all want to throw us five bucks here or there, we can commission concept art. There’s also a twitter, @MysticRidersMMO, that is retweeting all of the various game thoughts in one place (because that is required, jeebus), tweeting whenever the blog updates, and (yes, AND) will be participating in writer games once they get out of the holiday slush because…well, we keep learning new things about our characters while doing it, and isn’t it fun to learn that with us?

Unlike here, where it is basically me babbling at you once a week, there’s a little bit more going on over at Mystic Riders MMO because Ginny and I aren’t just writing for writers and readers, we’re appealing to players and developers and parents. (Apparently I have good instinct for informative carrot talks to parents…? Who knew?) So while my awkward self is providing blog posts on Saturdays, with editing and additions from Ginny, Ginny is posting on random Tuesdays with quotes, pictures of what is inspiring us, and maybe some links to music or videos as needed. We have lists and piles of inspiration stuff, we want you all to see it and get an image of what we want this game to be so hopefully we can convince others to help us make it a reality.

Another plan is for Sun’s Guard: Ten. I am out of people to query, and honestly, I’m rather annoyed at the whole agency view anyway. So I am withdrawing my last one (because lack of communication is my biggest pet peeve ever) tomorrow morning, because I’m taking the holiday at least halfway off. As for self-publishing, I have a coworker who has very generously volunteered to do my book covers, and he is honestly very good, I’m ecstatic to have him helping. If I can get his work back on my personal time track, what I will probably do is release Sun’s Guard: Ten on Amazon on either the rough-date I have the book taking place at, or on Caley’s birthday, whichever lines up best with his own schedule.

I really just need a week before the release to run it through spell check and reread for typo purposes again, as well as edit one section for questionable copyright purposes, and it is ready to go without someone giving me a concrete critique of the current draft. (And I have tried.) Once we’ve got the book cover done and I figure out how I want the summary to go, we should be in good standings. I am planning doing a digital release AND a printed release through Amazon…I’ll probably buy it and Ginny’s books to sit on my self at the same time, not gonna lie. Though lordy do the shelves need organized at some point this year… My twitter will be a few weeks of promoting the book, and then the blog will have a few writing posts that are as non-spoilery as possible (definitely for later books….questionable for the first book) about my process with Ten that I haven’t already talked about. Then it’ll return to normal until the next book, lol.

Speaking of next books, Ginny has given me a side project by accident via me getting a writer’s block on Caley’s next book, probably caused due to the stress of querying, so until I’m unstuck later and not drowning in getting other stuff for Mystic Riders set up so going back to my list of things to do for it, I am poking at a stand-alone book. My monsters-of-the-world book idea fell apart on me, showing that not all fanfic can make the leap to original pretty obviously, but this one is a lot more self contained. It might actually be pretty short, even for me, so more of a novella, but I am hoping to get it out to you all at some point too, because I’m pretty excited about it.

(Ginny says she can see one of my DnD characters and her current love interest in it, I am arguing back that there is only so much fluff the DM can give me before it gets awkward for both of us, this is how I get my fluff! And then there was digging for play-bys to use as my models, which was harder than I expected for my knight…)

So besides an MMORPG, Sun’s Guard: Ten, and possible future novella shenanigans, the blog is going to continue the same. I have a stack of new books to read, though I don’t think I’ll be reviewing all of them, I FOUND THE GINNY BOX by unpacking the closet so I have plenty of fodder that way though, and I have thoughts and feelings on several RPG characters to continue to talk about. It’s going to be a great year, if a busy one!


Writing: Teenage Characters and Aesthetics

Sponsored by last night’s DnD session and poor Jadzia, who gained two items. Now, for beginning reference, Jadzia is a juvenile silver dragon whose favorite form when she’s shape changed is a late-adolescent human with silver dragon bloodline traits. An elegant goth late-adolescent human. She actually hoards gem stones of a very specific series of colors (no yellows, oranges, bright or true greens although super dark or milky and pale greens are fine, or reds, unless they are the deepest, darkest shades of red like her lipstick), and rejects anything with gold metal work. Her primary hoard items feature star sapphires (her favorite) and are a belt of magical gem stones that fit these rules. She dresses in a flowy pretty dress with vest and corset work to add structure all in black and charcoal grey.

Her first newly gained item last night I tweeted about, a lesser ironward diamond. It basically is a different type of magical gem stone, and being a smokey grey diamond, it fits just fine. The problem is that second item, which as a player, I wanted. I wanted badly. It was a rod of Piercing Cold. This lets me ignore or at least help combat with benefits Jadzia herself has so if we’re ever in a fight against her brothers or other family who we haven’t met yet, I’m not screwed with her being specialized in cold/ice themed spells to a high extent.

The staff part was fine–it was ice blue. The topper, though… The topper was deliberately made to rub her the wrong way. It’s an angry snowman with a knife.

Jadzia was balking so bad, ya’ll. I wanted it, but she was going, “SNOWMAN! NO!” and ugh. It was a long few minutes and we had to poke at dragon greed to get her to take it. Thankfully, her trying to change it to match her aesthetic is actually planned into the DM’s goal for the thing, so no hurt feelings. But there was some confusion when I mentioned the twelve year old was THAT attached to her aesthetic. Some of it was fellow players forgetting, which considering how she normally looks and her usual maturity, it’s hard to remember that she’s only 48 and that’s barely entering puberty by dragon standards. But I think a little bit of it is that for male writers, even the best ones, they don’t quite understand it.

I’m not saying aesthetic isn’t important to pre-teens and teenagers in general. I know for some boys, it’s just as important as breathing. But then I also know that there are people like my brother, who can and will wear warm colors with cool in such a way that if he was doing it with super nice clothes, I’d cringe. Even I can get pretty lax when I’m in casual mode. But for some people, it is life, and the truth is, many of those people are preteen and teenage girls.

Some of that is cultural. We have most of our societal pressure about our appearance pushed onto us as girls between the ages of 11 and 19…which is cruel and unusual, because that is when your hormones and body are doing weird things and you have very little control over anything, yet have to start planning for the rest of your life. Fretting over how you dress and what colors you can’t stand anymore is an easy way to re-establish that control. Some of it is personality. I am naturally an extremely fussy person about color because I can tell dye lots apart even with the smallest of differences, and that’s about the age that people really start taking an interest in fashion, and apply themselves to a very specific look.

As a juvenile dragon, Jadzia is not only in that mindset, she is stuck in it for the next several decades…if not centuries, I’ve not looked at the higher dragon age categories. So for me, I really have to keep it in mind that she is very concerned with appearances and how she is perceived. Particularly with her high level of responsibility, since she’s the most powerful of her clutch and the only female on top of it. She has decided for whatever reason that the gothic look is how she wants to be seen–possibly because she wants to be seen as serious and grown-up, overcompensating for her real place in development. To her, this is just as important as any moral or ethical question she could be put in, because at her age, it is just as important.

In case people still don’t get it, let me explain it in terms of an appropriate holiday metaphor. Intellectually, I can acknowledge that a green, gold, and red Christmas tree is pretty and festive. I will compliment it and may even investigate for reference for a character who might like it. I still want it no where in my home. My Christmas colors are silver and blue and I decorate more with snowflakes and plain deer than Santa Claus or snowmen. (An occasional penguin might sneak by, but shhhh.) Am I so set in my ways that I won’t accept a pretty gift? No. But will that gift actually get hung up in the house? I’ll wait and see if I change my mind, but it’s a no promises situation. I’m also double the maturity level of a teenager.

A lot of male writers do a good job of understanding that this is a thing for young girls, including the guys that I play DnD with. Even some girls don’t experience it and can be confused, depending on how they grew up and their personalities, and then have to try and write it correctly. But sometimes I don’t think writers completely understand it, and that’s what I hoped to try and explain better.

Happy holidays, everyone, and I’ll see you on the cusps of the New Year.