May 31, 2010

MISTWOOD by Leah Cypess


“She knew every inch of the forest, every narrow path that twisted and wound its way beneath the silver branches.  They never should have found her.  She should have been up and away long before the horses’ scent came to her, and very long before the sound of men’s whispering drifted to her ears.  Through the trees or in them, even above them, she could have fled in an instant, or hidden herself so well that they could scour the forest for days and never find her. . . .

            “Her forest was an old one, the earth covered with layers of moss and dead leaves, the huge trees covering the sky with vast foliage and wrapping thick roots around mounds of earth . . . And always there was the mist, rising through the ferns like tiny feathers, sometimes thinning to a layer of white on the ground and sometimes drifting in hazy clouds that tried to smother the trees.

            “Only a fool would ride here—a fool with an urgent need.  And somewhere, in a stirring in the back of her mind that wasn’t even a thought, she knew what they needed.  She stayed where she was until the prince rode into the small clearing. . . .

            “ . . . the prince stuck his hand into his belt pouch and drew out a thin bracelet shaped of tiny metal links, with a crystal embedded in each one. . . . ‘Isabel?’ the prince said, very quietly, and extended the bracelet to her.

            “Her hand went up without her conscious control, as if from long habit it knew what to do. . . . She did not move when the prince brought both his hands toward hers, though her arm tensed and trembled.  He laid the bracelet on her wrist, and she let out a sigh when it touched her skin.

            “The prince fastened the clasp . . . and she let him draw her to her feet. . . . She felt dazed.

            “‘Isabel,’ the prince said. . . . ‘By the Shifter’s Seal on your wrist, do you swear to serve me and mine with all your abilities and powers, to defend us and keep us safe from all harm?’”

 I read this book in two days—which is absurdly fast for me, the Very Very Slow Reader—because I had to know what happened. *  Isabel is the Shifter—isn’t she?  Prince Rokan recognised her, and bound her to him with the Shifter’s Seal.  But she can remember nothing.


            “She whirled . . . the name ringing in her head.  Isabel.  When the prince had called her by that name, it hadn’t mattered;  she hadn’t possessed a name, couldn’t remember ever having a name.  But now, in these clothes, in this room, she knew she did.  Isabel.”

            It is the prince’s sister, Clarisse, who has come to Isabel’s new room, to greet her. . . . ‘“Don’t you remember me?’

            “Isabel shook her head.

            ‘“I see. . . . No doubt you remember Rokan?’

            ‘“No,’ Isabel said. . . .

            “ . . . Isabel watched her go with narrowed eyes.  She did not like that smile. . . .  It had been an attack, of sorts, and people did fight who lived in castles like these.  Not with fists and feet and claws, but with words and whispers and influence.  Isabel couldn’t remember having been here before, but she knew.  It was a fight, or rather a game, with many players and many rules and many strategies. . . . She didn’t know how, and she didn’t know why, but she was suddenly sure it was a game she knew how to play.”

            It is the thirtieth and last day of Prince Rokan’s Challenge-sitting;  when the official hour is over without incident, Rokan is one step nearer being crowned king.  Rokan beckons to Isabel, and she and Clarisse, and Rokan and Clarisse’s younger brother Will, accompany him into the king’s private audience chamber.

            “Rokan took a deep breath. . . . ‘Nobody knows I went to the Mistwood.  We think it would be best to keep your true identity a secret for now.  I hope you’re not offended.’

            ‘“Of course not,’ said Isabel, who had no idea what her true identity was. ‘That seems wise.’

            “Rokan ran his hand over his hair . . . ‘Oh.  Good.’  He hesitated again, then blurted, ‘I don’t actually know that much about the Shifter.’

            Then you know more than I do, Isabel thought, and saw an opportunity.  She gave him her most enigmatic smile and said, ‘Tell me what you do know.’

            ‘“Most of it is legend.  An immortal creature who protects the kings of Samorna with her wisdom and magic. . . . When the realm is peaceful, the Shifter sometimes leaves the castle and goes to the Mistwood.  Then there may be no Shifter for twenty, fifty, once even a hundred years.  But when she is needed, she always comes.’

            “ . . . ‘You left ten years ago, and at the time you were called Isabel.  I was a child then, but . . .’ He faltered . . . . ‘We weren’t sure you would come back.  When you left there were . . . circumstances.’

            “Running through the snow, blood trailing behind her. . . .   Pain.  Terrible, terrible pain . . .”

Okay, I know I’m cheating, but don’t you have to read this book?**  Or maybe magic, royal intrigue, hidden enemies, fatally creepy secrets, and waking up with total amnesia in the body of a creature who can catch a thrown knife carelessly out of the air and return it to a would-be assassin, even when that would-be assassin is the high sorcerer;  whose grip is literally, not metaphorically, like steel;  who can ‘shift’ her eyes to see in the dark, and her ears to hear whispers through a wall,  “‘a creature without a heart, without a soul’” . . . maybe this is no big deal to you.  Pity.  You’re missing a great, late-night, I’ll-turn-the-light-out-in-a-minute, really-I-will read.  “She felt alive with power, completely nonhuman;  her skin might swirl away into mist at any moment.”

            But if Isabel has no heart, what is the strange draw Rokan has for her?  Is it just her oath—the Shifter’s oath—to protect him?  And is it only that the Shifter is uncanny and unknowable that he is so uneasy in her company?

            “Rokan was once again certain he had done the right thing in riding to the Mistwood. . .  . She was smart and strong and fierce, and she would stop at nothing. . . . ‘I thought you might be able to protect me.’

            ‘“Of course I’ll be able to protect you,’ Isabel said almost absently. . . . She turned and left. . . .

            “ . . . Rokan dropped back on his pillows, limp with relief.  She was going to do it.  She was going to watch over him.  Best of all, his biggest worry had just ceased to exist.  She didn’t remember what had happened last time, the real reason she had fled to her woods.

            “Of course I’ll be able to protect you.

            “She never would have said that if she remembered.”

Mwa ha ha ha ha.*** 

* * *

 * I would have said that the quality of the open-endedness with which it finishes is a set up for a sequel, but I could be wrong. 

 ** If you need more convincing, you can read the entire first three chapters here:

 *** And if you want another, highly creative approach to book reviewing: 

Scroll down.  It’s the second one.  But you’ll want to read the other ones too.  Unless you don’t enjoy laughing.

Heroic Move: Guest blog by Jeanne Marie

(I know it’s summer where many of you are now, but try to think back to winter, when all this transpired…)

Hero flew home from a two week post-proposal holiday visit* on a Sunday. We had spent a good bit of time during that visit discussing re-location options, pros and cons of seeking work remotely, etc. On the drive to the airport Sunday evening, Hero said “OK, do you want me to move here? Because I’m serious – I could be back later this week. What do you think?”


So, on Monday,** Hero gave two weeks notice at his job in Texas, and indicated to them that if they didn’t NEED two weeks, he’d kinda like to be gone sooner. They were sorry to see Hero leave, but were willing to cut him loose immediately with minimal paperwork. Tuesday, he attended his farewell party and luncheon, and said his good-byes to co-workers and friends, and began packing up his Honda Civic in order to drive up to Kansas City – permanently – on Wednesday.


Wednesday at 8:00am Hero called me with a status update…he had been up since 5:00am, and was STILL packing!! He expressed total surprise at how much stuff he had compared to how little stuff he THOUGHT he had. “I really believed I lived a pretty Spartan existence, but obviously, not Spartan enough!” he groused. “I really wanted to be on the road by 6:00am!!” My best advice was “if it doesn’t fit, push harder,” mumbled through the pre-caffeinated haze of my own exceedingly late night*** trying to move furniture around to clear a space for Hero’s ManCave.+

Finally, at around 11:00am, Hero drove out of his former life, with as much of his stuff as he could fit+ wedged into the Honda. Everything else, Hero left in the apartment for the next tenant (who inherited a very nice set of table lamps, probably the one thing Hero most regretted having to leave). Here’s photographic evidence…

The Driver’s Seat…

Behind the Driver’s Seat…

The Passenger Seat…

I think he was afraid to open the trunk to take a picture of it for fear that stuff would come flying out…

Hero had gone barely a mile when a problem arose – the Highly Intelligent Honda Civic, having weighed the contents of the passenger seat, had determined that an actual passenger was sitting there but wasn’t buckled in, and started beeping at Hero to rectify the situation. Every 5 minutes. “BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP!!!” For thirty seconds every five minutes. One irritated Honda quickly became one irritated Hero. He knew that he wouldn’t get any significant distance down the road before breaking things if he couldn’t convince the car to stop beeping, so he pulled over, and after some jostling, buckled in the Grecian urn, coat and ceramic serving bowls, as seen above.

Things went fairly well for the first hours of the drive. He called periodically to check in, and reported on the vagaries of the radio stations he heard while driving through Oklahoma.++ I had warned him about the toll road in Kansas, so he was prepared, but he was impressed with the great flatness of the state+++. It wasn’t until he passed Wichita under cover of gathering darkness that things started to get dicey.

A blizzard had moved through the northeastern portion of Kansas/Missouri, and had dumped a bunch of snow the day before, and more was expected. I had been worrying about this, and had suggested that Emporia would be a good place to stop for the night. I didn’t like the idea of Hero driving on treacherous roads in the dark. He kept saying “We’ll see when I get there.” I hovered over the internet, on the Kansas Department of Transportation’s road conditions website, and kept telling him, “Listen, the highways after Emporia are all PINK, which means completely ice-and-snow packed! And, there isn’t anywhere good to stop BETWEEN Emporia and Kansas City!” But, when Hero got to Emporia, he felt that road conditions were still pretty good, despite all the pink on my screen, and decided to forge ahead.

In the normal run of things, Emporia is about an hour away from Kansas City proper, and about another 30 minutes from my house. Snow had been falling steadily at my house for most of the afternoon, and I had actually shoveled the driveway twice by the time Hero got to Emporia. I was more than a little worried about Hero continuing in this kind of weather, but after expressing my concerns, I bit my tongue. The first half of the post-Emporia run wasn’t too bad – he had fortuitously gotten behind a sand truck, and was making good time with good traction as a result. The problems developed when the sand truck turned off the highway, and Hero faced another 100 miles of freeway in the dark all by himself during what was turning into a WHITE OUT BLIZZARD.

For over an hour, I sat INTENTLY hunched over my computer, telling him how far the next town was, while Hero read off mile marker numbers, in case he got stuck or had to pull over. While no doubt a good idea, the methodical ticking off mile marker numbers wasn’t really helping my nerves, or his! Hero told me later that it was the kind of driving where you are white-knuckled and don’t DARE take your eyes off the road. Both of us had sore hands from muscle fatigue!

I was honestly amazed when he finally (FINALLY) reported that he had reached the metro area, and could discern the lights of civilization. But, almost immediately, another problem arose – there was an accident at a freeway exit he needed to take, and the exit was completely closed! Luckily, I have always been pretty good at cognitive mapping, and with that skill plus Google maps, I was able to direct him to another exit and side road detour. Unfortunately, no effort had yet been made to plow the side roads, the snowfall having been too recent and too thick,^ and Hero’s speed was reduced to a crawl. After a much lengthier detour than either of us liked, Hero was able to get back on the freeway, which was a least mostly plowed.

From that point on, things were much less stressful! The in-city freeway wasn’t ideal, but was better than the long haul between Emporia and the metro had been, and Hero made good time. Soon, I was giving him the exits and turns leading to my house, while I moved my car so he could back into my driveway^^. I admit, I literally started bouncing up and down and squeeing when I saw his headlights coming down the street! Hero backed into my drive after a nine-and-a-half-hour ordeal, and I whisked him inside for hugs and hot chocolate, leaving unpacking the car for another day. It was hair-pullingly frantic there for a while, but hey, now I get to say that my Hero drove 500 miles through a blizzard to be with me!

* * *

*cue harps and sweetly chirping birds

**yes, Monday – the VERY NEXT DAY

***2:00am – WAAAAAYY past my usual bedtime!

+ManCave: recliner and TV/computer NOT included! Bookshelves, yes, though…

++SNORK!! Hey, I used to live in Oklahoma, I remember what that was like…

+++where, a few years ago, some bored grad student “scientifically” determined that Kansas actually is, on average, flatter than your typical pancake…

^ about six-eight inches, which isn’t much for some places, but is significant here

^^ which was again under a blanket of snow…but, at least not a six-inch thick blanket!



See what came in the post today.*    The Penguin-Putnam autumn ’10 catalogue.  Yaaay. 

               PEGASUS gets a double page spread which is deeply cool, and we already know the cover art is splendid.  And I love the ‘dump’ (aka 9 Copy Floor Display) with ‘their special bond threatens the very foundations of the kingdom’ in flashy print across the top and Ebon flying down the corner.

                But my evil cowishness is overwhelming me just a trifle and whose bright idea was it to set the excerpt entirely in italic so you can’t tell the difference between the narration and the silent-speech which is supposed to be in italic?**  All right, all right, it’s only catalogue copy.

And then we have:  

. . . There are more lines and subdivisions and imprints and blah and whatever than I can keep track of, but I am a little confused by the fact that SUNSHINE has Speak on its spine and its copyright page:  ‘This edition published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group USA’ but appears in the Firebird pages of the catalogue.  Whatever.   It can say it’s published by the Chocolate Fireguard Press so long as it gets in the shops.

                  Sigh.  I don’t always see catalogue copy, and this edition of SUNSHINE was smashed through at the (ahem) speed of light at something beyond the last minute, so I didn’t see catalogue copy, and I’d much rather they got the book out there so I’m not really complaining.  But I always fret about the requirement to give the plot away to make people want to read any book . . . one of my favourite things is a book by a favourite author or that comes so highly recommended that I DON’T HAVE TO KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT when I start the first page . . . and I wish they hadn’t used Con’s name here in the copy.  Sunshine herself doesn’t learn it till the end of the first part, you know?  And she learns it in a very specific way which, if somebody hasn’t already frelling told you, should give the first-time reader a little frisson. . . . 

                 Oh, and for anyone who hasn’t thought of this yet, if you click through on the photos and then click again on the little magnifying glass icon, the text is all perfectly readable.

And just in case the new SUNSHINE isn’t in your local bookstore***, I didn’t show you the back of it, did I?  I LOVE THE GLITTER.  THE GLITTER IS SO WONDERFUL

And this is the amazingly hot new jacket art for the trade paper sized edition of CHALICE coming out this autumn.  This is a flat so called which is just what you think it is:  the flat of the jacket before it’s been bent around a wodge of pages.     The new CHALICE flats arrived a few days ago and gosh aren’t they pretty–and I’d seen the art for the front, but I hadn’t seen that excellent deep violet back inset–and then to my total stomach-curdling horror I saw the line they’d slapped in above my name on the front:  Newbery Award winning author. 

                   This is a hot button with me I’m afraid.   My Newbery Medal is over thirty years old, for pity’s sake, and while it’s true that a Newbery never goes away, it’s not the defining experience of my career either–and the ‘kidlit’ label is not popular with me, and has got even less popular with the advent of the Printz, which is specifically for YA, and makes the Newbery in comparison look even more kiddie lit than ever.   So the rule for McKinley is that you can put the frelling Newbery on the back cover (which they had also done already:  lighten up, guys) or inside the front cover but not on the front cover.

                 Meltdown of McKinley.  It’s a flat, that means the jackets are already printed, there’s nothing anyone can do.  But I fired off a pathetic, drooling plus heavy blood loss email to Merrilee, who contacted the editor who’s overseeing all this . . .  and, may she be tattooed all over with the lovely golden glitter off the new SUNSHINE (which she’s also responsible for, just by the way), SHE SAID THEY COULD FIX IT.  So it’s now going to say something like ‘best selling and award winning’****.  But the really funny thing is . . . look at the catalogue version of the front:  National bestselling author.

                 The ways of publishers are mysterious.  But I’ve got three really great covers here.  Yaay.

* * *

* Yes.  I can use a little cheering up.

** The evil cow is also going to point out that even the 2nd of November is November, not October, and it’s not an October book, it’s a November book.

*** Shame!  Shame!

**** Snork.   I can also make a cherry pie.

Death is a low chemical trick played on everybody except sequoia trees*


I’ve been on a train all day, going to visit an ailing friend—a probably dying friend—a friend who, just by the way, the world can’t do without, let alone my private feelings on the matter.  I am not in a good mood.  Blood, spit and damnation, but this system sucks.  I want to speak to the management.**   The subordinate mortal bureaucracy is clearly run by idiots.

            I’m also frelling shattered.***  I give the ME credit:  it pretty well held off all day† and even more or less let me drive home†† but the moment I fell through the door ††† . . . farewell voc . . . vocab . . . vocabula . . . words.  Farewell walking.  Farewell sitting upright in a chair. . . .

            So what do you do under emotional duress?  I haven’t got time for the pages and pages and pages in the private journal option (or, probably, the intestinal fortitude).  But there’s still poetry.

            This is the one that came immediately.  It’s funny, I was a late convert to Emily Dickinson‡‡;  she was much too niminy-piminy for me.  I never made the mistake of thinking the emotions weren’t there, I merely felt she had put frock coats and antimacassars on them—trammelled the hell out of them.  But there are times when putting your personal scourge in a frock coat is the best plan you’ve got.  There are a lot of terrific poems about death, but most of them are on to untrammell the hell out of you.  Today Emily is just what I want:

 Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.

And, even odder that this should force itself on me, the following.  I had to study this in school, and haaaated it.  I’m an island!  Don’t you talk to me about clods!  I came to John Donne backwards, by his love poetry‡‡‡.  But this one, to me, is a prime example of how true things become clichés.  This whole poem (except it’s not a poem, it’s a meditation arranged to look like a poem) is one long (or really one rather short) duh.  

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

And last, Robert Frost’s Death of the Hired Hand, which has nothing to do with the case, except that it’s a poem about death, and I love it, and . . . find it consoling, even when it has nothing to do with the case.  And when I don’t have any friends actively dying at the present moment.  If you don’t instantly recognize it by the title, it’s the one with the famous line ‘Home is where, when you have to go there,/ they have to take you in’ from the skeptical Warren, and the kinder Mary replies:  “I should have called it/ Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”

 I hope you’re all home and safe and warm.§ 

* * *

 * J.J. Furnas

 ** And no, Luke isn’t doing very well either, although they’ve patched him up as well as apparently they can and will probably send him home soon.  Three bleak cheers for the National Health Service, because he will (probably) need round the clock care, which his family wouldn’t be able to afford. 

*** I did get most of two books read during my long exile from on line.^  One of them is fabulous and will duly make an appearance on these virtual pages.  The other one . . . well, I suppose the author might still pull her plot structure out of a closet and snap it up like an umbrella—whing—and finally begin protecting her shivering readers from the cold rain of credibility.  But while the writing is lovely and creepy and atmospheric the story makes no sense.  This bothers me for some reason. 

^ Zowie.  Gotta get that iPhone.+  The poor old RaspBerry is just not up to coping with on line.  We struggled through finding another connection on the British Rail site when I caught an earlier train from Mauncester, which certainly beat sitting helplessly and fretting, even if the information turned out to be wrong, but cruising or working or even [blush] tweeting?  No way. 

+ Mwa ha ha ha ha ha 

† Although I could hear it drumming its fingers impatiently 

†† Although it’s a good thing Wolfgang knows the way.  See, this is one of the reasons I don’t want a new car.  I don’t want to have to teach it where everything is.   And what if my next car is the internal combustion engine version of trying to teach Chaos to pick up his feet to have his harness put on? 

††† Where I was greeted by hellhounds so ravaged by despair that they had eaten their lunch for the dogminder.   Clearly I should go away more often.  Hmmmmm

‡ It’s not all bad.  I’m much too tired to do any tidying up. 

‡‡  It may have all started with A Narrow Fellow in the Grass:  I like the whiplash unbraiding in the sun—which then wrinkles—even better than the ‘Zero at the bone’ which is the famous line. 

‡‡‡ ‘Thy selfe must to him a new banquet grow’—a line from the no-nonsense-ly named ‘The Brides [sic] Going to Bed’.  He wrote a whole series of epithalamiums and never mind the holy vows and all that, they’re all totally about getting laid.  Or of course the famous poem, To His Mistress Going to Bed, which gave the Mary Whitehouses/Tipper Gores of his day spasms: ‘ . . . Off with that girdle, like heaven’s zone glistering/  But a far fairer world encompassing . . . To teach thee, I am naked first:  why then/ What needst thou have more covering than a man.’ 

§ Not too warm.  But we’re back to woolly jumper/pile of hellhounds weather here in Hampshire.

Better photos


Plants are better at sitting still.

                 I take GAZILLIONS of photos because I’m going to hang them on the blog and then I forget or get distracted or can’t decide which six hundred and forty-two over the other six hundred and forty-two, or fiddle around with cropping till I no longer know what I was trying to do*, or I have a rant I must rant that night, or . . .

                 So let’s have some spring garden photos. 

                  Front of cottage.  Remember I said that I’d asked Atlas to build a brick planter so when the SUVs come barging out of my over-the-road neighbour’s driveway it hurts them more than it hurts me for a change?  I got tired of replacing large, expensive pots.   I got especially tired of replacing large, expensive pots when not once did anyone ever knock on my door and say gee, I’m really sorry, but I just crushed the living daylights out of your large expensive flowerpot, because I am an incompetent twit and shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of a tricycle let alone something the size and firepower of an SUV, or words to that effect.  There aren’t any streaks of paint on it yet.

                 It contains two roses, three clumps of sweet peas, and about fifty-three snapdragons.  It should be pretty good in another month or so.

Close up of those pink tulips:   Angelique.   Mmmmm.

This is now round the right-hand side of the house.

As you see.  This is about a fortnight later than the previous photo, and the apricot tulips have given way to more PINK.  I think these are Douglas Bader.  I’ve forgotten the name of the purple ones on the right.**

                And those are Apple Blossom geraniums peering through the kitchen window from the inside.  You can just about make out a few more peering out the sitting-room window in the first photo.

Pink. . . .

One track mind?  Moi?

You will have noticed this in the photo of the side of the house.  It’s because I don’t have enough little pots of things in my life.  There’s a similar piece of foolishness to the left side of the door, which you can see in the front-of-cottage picture.  I’ll give you a tour of the stair some other evening.

               It’s very frustrating, because there’s this whole wall, but I can’t put anything too bulky on it or no one will get past it to go up said stairs, which are naturally also a botanical obstacle course.  You will also have noticed a Small Hanging Basket above and to the right of this shelf.  If you were paying attention you may have noticed the extremely chic and fashionable Hanging Basket Liner.  Yes.  It’s a plastic shopping bag.   The frelling birds rip the proper liners to tiny dangling non-retentive fragments, so when you try and water the basket it cascades off around the edges.  If these petunias are up to their advertising, you won’t be able to see the chic and fashionable liner in a few weeks.

And I said something about roses last night, didn’t I?  Agnes.  Just beginning to roar into flower.  

* * *

* Cut out extraneous feet, elbows and other wildlife.  Also the dustbins.^  I wish I knew how to remove overhead wiring.  No, no, I’d be dangerous if I knew how to Photomangle.  I’d also never get anything else done. 

^ Free PEGASUS bookmark to anyone who finds the dustbin I couldn’t cut out.

** They might be Bleu Amiable.

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