I invited Laura Lam here last year to talk a bit about the various inspirations behind Pantomime, and I'm so pleased to have her back to do the same with Shadowplay. Both books are part of a larger story about Micah Grey, runaway, aerialist, and now... MAGICIAN.
I've gone on and on and on about my love for Pantomime—I'm so pleased that it has a spot on this year's Cybils YA Speculative Fiction shortlist—so I was deliriously happy to finally get my hands on the sequel, Shadowplay. It picks up shortly after Pantomime left off, with Micah on the run and being hunted by not one, BUT TWO different groups, and it has the same blend of feels-like-fantasy-but-is-secretly-science-fiction, AMAZING worldbuilding, strong character development, a narrator with an original voice and perspective, but who is infinitely relatable, and Shadowplay is topped off by an extremely satisfying romantic arc! Like Pantomime, the storyline has threads of trust and family, identity and friendship and justice, and it's as satisfying intellectually as it is emotionally.
I can't wait for the next one.
And now, here's Laura!
I love lists, and really enjoyed coming up with a list for Bookshelves of Doom a few months ago about books that shaped my first book, Pantomime. I’m glad to be back to talk about books that helped shape the follow up, Shadowplay. For the first book, most of my research was on life in the circus and intersex history and issues. For the sequel, most of my research was on magic, illusion, and spiritualism. There’s a mix of fiction and non-fiction.
Hiding the Elephant, by Jim Steinmeyer. I really enjoyed this book and it was probably the most useful for drafting Shadowplay. It's told in a conversational style and Steinmeyer explains how a lot of historic tricks worked. I learned how to describe the Pepper’s ghost that appears in Shadowplay from this book, and learned a lot about Robert-Houdin and Houdini, and many other lesser known magicians. Longer review here.
The Giant Taschen Book of Magic from 1400s-1950s. This was my husband’s present to me when I got my book deal for Pantomime. It’s so huge that at the moment the only place I can store it is under my computer monitor, but I still take it out and look at it occasionally. It’s incredible, full of gorgeous colour plates and great essays (first in English, then French and German) as well as countless photos with captions in all three languages. Can’t recommend it enough. I write a longer review of it here.
Hocus Pocus, by Paul Kieve. Aimed for younger readers, but it’s from the magician who worked on the set of Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban (when the map folds up on the table in the film, it was Paul Kieve underneath the table pulling the strings). It was a fun, quick read, and I’ll probably buy it for one of my nephews when they’re a little older. Longer review here.
The First Psychic, by Peter Lamont. This is the biography of Daniel Dunglas Home, one of the most famous psychics in the Victorian era, who was never caught using any tricks, even though what he did seemed to be impossible. Very fascinating. Longer review here.
Writing the Other, by Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward. I kept hearing about this short work about writing about the Other around the internet and read it. It was an excellent short work about diversity and the common pitfalls people can fall into when writing about people different to themselves, often unthinkingly. Definitely impacted certain aspects of Shadowplay, specifically regarding sexuality and race. I didn’t get around to writing a review of this one on my blog – though I should have done!
Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold. My agent gave me this book as a present! It’s a fictional telling of Carter as a magician in San Francisco. Very detailed and beautifully written. I based Maske, the magician in Shadowplay, a bit on Carter mixed with Robert-Houdin.
The Prestige, by Christopher Priest. I saw the film when it came out and it (and the Illusionist) were both great visual research. I read the book and loved it – thought it was fantastic. It sparked the idea for the magician duel I have in Shadowplay, though I take a very different focus. A few people have called Shadowplay a YA Prestige, which sort of fits, much like Pantomime was often compared to The Night Circus.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. I read this when it was hyped around its release. I did enjoy it, though wow, it’s a lengthy book! These are magicians more in the traditional magic sense versus illusion, but the delicate Victorian culture and such matches with Shadowplay as well, and I’m sure it had an effect on the book somewhere along the way.
The Tempest, by William Shakespeare. I studied this at university and I think it had a large effect on Shadowplay. Maske could also be likened a little to Prospero – a man thrown out from his rightful profession unfairly, struggling for redemption. The Tempest is also quite dream-like, and many secrets are revealed in dreams in my book.
Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. I would be remiss not including the series I’ve read at least a dozen times as a teenager. I was a huge HP nerd – waited in line for the books at midnight, dressing up with my friends as witches and wizards, reading fan fiction, the works. I think the fact that this book has a trio could be linked back to the original trio I read so often as a teen – Harry, Hermione, and Ron. I also think Rowling’s rich approach to worldbuilding influenced me, as well as having little hints in earlier books that come to prominence in later installments.
So, those are some books that I’m sure had an influence, but I’m sure there’s more that have influenced me in ways I don’t realise. I enjoyed all then of these, so if you haven’t read ‘em, I recommend picking them up for a bit of magic.
Even though the focus is different, fans of the first book will have MUCH to squee over, MANY surprises to…be surprised by and EVEN MORE to discuss, to debate, and to dissect. For instance? Well, the one that has me especially pleased is a rather huge spoiler. So I’ll keep it to myself for now.
I am bursting to talk about it. BURSTING. So if you haven’t read Pantomime yet, DO. Go out and read it, and then read Shadowplay when it’s released next month, and then TALK TO ME ABOUT IT. I’m dying here, guys. DYING.
I find it depressing that Katniss Everdeen made the list not for inspiring people to start looking at the parallels between Panem and our own present—not to mention real-life activism via We Are the Districts—but BECAUSE SHE INSPIRED SUCCESSFUL PRODUCT LINES.
Might that be why your fiction has been more readily admired in so-called literary circles—that it’s more engaged with human complexity and psychology?
It’s helped to make my stuff more accessible to people who don’t, as they say, read science fiction. But the prejudice against genre has been so strong until recently. It’s all changing now, which is wonderful. For most of my career, getting that label—sci-fi—slapped on you was, critically, a kiss of death. It meant you got reviewed in a little box with some cute title about Martians—or tentacles.
Also, this killed me: "My father knew Alfred Knopf personally. I’d had recorder lessons with Blanche Knopf when I was seventeen. Blanche—she was a real grande dame, oh God, she was scary. And I’d go in with my little tooter." Like, can you even PICTURE THAT? I can't.
And then later she compares genre fiction to poetry—because in both cases, you're writing within a form—and a response to that "I don’t read fiction because it isn’t real" statement and holy crow, I just want to QUOTE EVERYTHING.
So, yeah. It's an AWESOME interview, not to be missed.
There's Saba/DeMalo, which is to be expected. And a bizarre happier ending for Rebel Heart which is also to be expected, but which also brings Gracie-the-two-sentence-dead-child back to life, which was a bit surprising.
But then there's also one that's Saba/Lugh and Saba/Emmi.
First things first: this cover art does Rebel Heart such a disservice. So much so, in fact, that despite my EPIC LOVE for Blood Red Road, I put off reading this, the sequel, for what, over a year?
I understand that the publisher wants, naturally, to bring in more readers. And I understand that Beefcake sells. BELIEVE ME, I DO. But this cover is selling a somewhat generic contemporary sexy Western.
And Rebel Heart is not that. I'd put it in the Western family, yes. And there are sexytimes, yes. But although Saba's love for Jack is the driving force behind many of the decisions she makes in the book, the sexytimes themselves are few and far between, and are certainly not at the forefront. And a contemporary, this is not: those new, off-the-rack clothes Mr. Model there is wearing? No. The people in this world are lucky if their clothes come fourth-hand, and oftentimes, they are pulled off of dead bodies. And finally, Jack—assuming that's supposed to represent Jack—is hardly in the book at all, as the majority of the story is about Saba trying to find him.
I understand that generic sells—otherwise it wouldn't become generic, right?—but I find it sad that this series, which is SO special and such a standout in terms of voice and character and world and action and romance and plotting, didn't get treated as such by its own publisher.
WOW. I... my feelings about the cover were a tad more passionate than I realized. I apologize for the rant, I just... UGH.
ANYWAY, THE BOOK. It works as a sequel—it begins shortly after Blood Red Road ended, with Jack headed to the Lost Cause to give Molly the bad news about Ike, while Saba, Lugh, Emmi, and Tommo head out across the Waste towards Big Water, which is (they hope) safe as well as being a land of plenty—but Young gives enough backstory that new readers will catch up quickly.
Everything that I loved about Blood Red Road is here, and then some:
Saba's voice continues to be outstanding, both in terms of her dialect and how she expresses herself: she's gruff and stormy; easily angered; from the outside, to people who didn't know her, she'd seem like an implacable, dangerous, often-terrifying person; but much of her anger comes from how deeply, how piercingly she feels things. She's not infallible, she's not selfless, and she doesn't always make the "right" decision... but it's totally understandable why she's become a legend in her own time, and it's totally understandable why, despite her every attempt to push people away, they keep coming back.
Blood Red Road was about Saba trying to find her twin brother, Lugh, but now that she's found him, she finds that life can't go back to the way it was, that they can't go back to the way they were. And so, despite how much of this book is about Saba and Jack, a whole lot of it is about Saba and her siblings. It is, despite the post-apocalyptic world, the constant action and adventure, a story about family.
It's also a story in which violence has long-term effects. Not just in that people die—and they do, which alarming regularity—but in that Saba is still processing some of the actions she took in the previous book: in particular, her very own "Kiss me, Hardy!" moment. Logically, she knows that she did the right thing—she gave Epona a clean death, rather than a long, lingering, rapey death—but as most of us know, logic doesn't help to stave off guilt.
And then there's the world. It's harsh, it's gritty, it's mean—Young doesn't gloss over the hard facts of the kind of evil that people are capable of—but it isn't black-and-white. The villain, DeMalo, is a zealot, and his methods are absolutely revolting... but he's got a vision of making the world a better place. (Albeit just for certain people.) He's charismatic and passionate and smart, though, and it's understandable why Saba is A) drawn to him and B) tempted by his pitch.
I do think that some readers will be irritated by the whole everyone-falls-in-love-with-Saba thing. But here's how I look at it: she's pretty much the Chosen One. Some people see her as that, even. So gaining followers—platonic and romantic—kind of comes with the territory. And the three suitors are representative of three different kinds of relationship: DeMalo looks at her as the Angel of Death, and he wants (possibly subconsciously) to tame her, to ultimately manipulate her into a subservient role; though Tommo has grown into a man, and a good one at that, he's not on Saba's level in terms of well, anything; it's only with Jack that she stands with as an equal, in terms of respect and trust in each others' capabilities. Jack loves her for who she is, not as a symbol, like DeMalo, and not as a hero, like Tommo, but purely for being Saba.
Um, so yeah. I guess you could say that I liked it?
These projects and their teams are all attempting to address the need for greater diversity in the fiction available to young people in particular—for teens of all kinds to be able to ‘see themselves’ in stories—and as the main character, not just the best friend or minor supporting character who assists the straight white able-bodied American protagonist along their journey.
Publications like Kaleidoscope and Inscription, then, are not only useful in producing new material for the teen readers out there, but also in helping to raise awareness in the publishing community of the needs of young readers.
...I wrote about Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s These Broken Stars, which started out as 'Titanic in space' but rapidly transformed into a survival/journey across an alien planet:
Although he’s likable enough—his Jerk Moments are far fewer than Lilac’s, and are usually fueled by necessity—Tarver isn’t a hugely interesting character, as he’s one of those super strong, super sensitive, super mature, borderline all-knowing heroes who develops a lurrrve for the heroine, but keeps it under wraps Because He’s Beneath Her, etc., etc. As he’s already pretty much “perfect” at the outset of the story, he doesn’t have much growing to do, so there’s little-to-no character development on that front. Lilac, meanwhile, does quite a bit of changing.
Even though the cover doesn't make a whole lot of sense, I continue to think it's totally gorgeous.
Last Tuesday (26 Nov) representatives from the country’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — the Haya’a — raided several bookshops selling the novel H W J N by Ibraheem Abbas and Yasser Bahjatt’s, demanding it’d be taken off the shelves. H W J N is a “fantasy, sci-fi and romance” novel about a genie who falls in love with a human, and is a best-seller in Saudi Arabia.
Our source, who wishes to remain anonymous, says the book is charged with “blasphemy and devil-worshiping”. They add that the ban appears to stem from a Facebook post accusing the novel of “referencing jinn [genies] and leading teenage girls to experiment with Ouija boards”.
Jinn and Ouija boards? Well, heck. Now *I* want to read it.
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