Books & Blog: January 24, 2016

January 24, 2016

  • Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho
  • An Apprentice to Elves, Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
  • The Journal of Helene Barr, translated by David Bellow
  • The Arrivals, Melissa Marr

Somehow, I hadn’t heard of Zen Cho’s book until recently. But it’s a marvelous book, and I’m so glad I stumbled across it. In an England where the society of magicians is being drained of its power to actually do magic, the Sorcerer Royal (Sorcerer to the Crown), Zacharias Wythe, is increasingly under tremendous pressure to find out what the problem is and how it may be solved. Women are forbidden from using magic, but a young woman at a finishing school, Prunella Gentleman, makes an amazing find in the attic of the school. Zacharias is a freed slave, and Prunella is the daughter of a black woman and an English gentleman . . . maybe. Their stories, which twine together, are both harrowing and delightful.

Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear have written three books together in a common setting and featuring some of the same characters. Isolfr’s daughter, Alfgyfa – yes, I know, it’s a chore – has been An Apprentice to Elves who mines and lives exclusively underground. Alfgyfa isn’t unhappy and she enjoys the work, but at the same time she retains her ties to the trellwolves that provide protection for the human settlements above ground. In rescuing a young wolf who has fallen into trouble, Alfgyfa forges a bond with a wild pack of wolves, and that chance encounter changes the course of local history. Alfgyfa is much more resourceful and mature than I would have been at her age; she’s qualified to handle the interspecies romance that provides a dash of sweetness to the book.

The Journal of Helene Barr is not as harrowing as the The Diary of Anne Frank, but the fate of the writer is the same. Helene Barr, a Jewish Parisian, remains with her family in Paris when all the signs tell them to flee. She is incredulous when people start regarding her differently, people she’s known her whole life. When she has to wear the star on her chest to announce she is a Jew, she wavers between terror and defiance. Pretty Helene’s intensely social life, with parties in the country, many boyfriends, university students – Helene was very intelligent – is inevitably seen through the lens of melancholy. She didn’t intend this record of her social engagements to be read, so it’s amazing that it survived to fall into the hands of the young man she loved, who had joined the French Resistance.

Melissa Marr’s The Arrivals is a curious book. It’s sort of a western, sort of a novel about time travel, and also sort of a novel about reincarnation and magic. The Wasteland is the world in which some Americans – from several different time periods – suddenly find themselves. It’s lawless, and their job is to keep it in order. So it’s lucky that when they died they have a good chance of coming back. But nothing’s certain in this dismal world where they must make their own way and find their own destiny.

 

Blog

By now, those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter will have heard that NBC has greenlighted “Midnight Texas” for a pilot. So it’s one step farther along the way to actually becoming a television series. Monica Owusu-Breen is the writer, David Janollari is the executive producer. This is not the first rodeo for either of them. I believe that from now on things will move briskly to get the pilot done for consideration for the fall lineup. No, the actors have not been cast yet. And that’s only one of the things that has to be done before we see the results.

If the pilot is enjoyed by test audiences, then NBC execs will make the decision whether or not to put it into production.

This is all my perhaps incomplete understanding of the process. You’d think, since this isn’t my first rodeo either, that I’d be very conversant with the process, but that isn’t the case. Apparently, the writer is the last person anyone wants hanging around while the real work is being done. And it’s true that I’ve already made my contribution to the process. I confess, I’d like to watch the rest from a corner somewhere. It would be so interesting to hear some of the actors reading for the parts, for example, and also interesting to listen in on the process of making decisions about the set.

Since stone is more common in west Texas than wood, many older houses (and newer ones) are built of local stone. And I do hope they get that look right. But then, all the sets for “True Blood” looked amazing, and they weren’t much like I’d imagined them. And the town Aurora Teagarden lives in really could not look less like a small town in Georgia; but it’s really appealing. The visual world is completely different from the written world.

I’ll pass along information as I can, so you can share this experience with me. And we’ll keep our fingers crossed, right?

 

Charlaine Harris