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Diplonacy, Fleet Style

March 21, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Plot, STUFF BLOWING UP IN SPACE, The Craft  0 Comments

From my Space Opera novel, Stuff Blowing Up in Space.

As soon as he stepped out of the airlock, he knew the mission, such as it was, was going to hell.

They didn’t step out into a reception area—it was an atrium. Immediately he felt his marines tense up from the increased exposure. Snipers could hide in a hundred places.

Then there was the Princess herself and her four person detail, two of them obviously security.

The Princess was tall. 1.905 meters to be exact. Her hair looked like sapphire silk, made to run hands through. She had legs that went forever out of her tunic, ending in short military boots. At least the top of the tunic she changed into wasn’t diaphanous like her previous blouse, but it might as well have been. Her breasts, which his stupid battle comp proudly told him was 36C, were of the round, youthful sort.

Then her eyes. They were big and doe-like—soft amber-colored with flecks of green.

She was a light shade of purple. She was, without a doubt, the most beautiful feminine creature he had ever seen. She put Lieutenant Jennifer Polouski, the female looker of Wolfpack 359, to shame.

As they approached, she looked confused. Then she looked disturbingly hungry. Now she was, and it was hard to tell because facial expressions were somewhat different, smirking.

Yes, it definitely looked like a smirk.

Not good.

“Princess.” He bowed. As to plan, the marines did not.

“Captain.” She simply stood with her hands on her hips.

Her voice was high-but not annoyingly so.

Tilbrook looked around. Everyone had Aoe Station insignia. Bleh.

“Are we to meet the Navy personnel in a briefing room? I would like to present the data to a tactical officer.”

Now she looked positively haughty.

“No, Captain Tilbrook. No, what you are going to do is listen to every Fleet and Aoe regulation and protocol you broke in getting here, and then and only then, hear my plan.”

She gave her hair a little toss. “First, there is the manner of you trying to contact the Navy directly. This was a violation of Section 15a from Article…”

Well, crap. So much for Plan A. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a Plan B. She didn’t want him to submit. She was not intimidated. If she was hungry, she didn’t show it. She was simply annoyed.

**Ah, Skipper? You’re not really listening to this amazon quote regs, are you?** asked Mitty.

**No, Private, I’m trying to come up with a new plan, because the old one just went to hell.**

**Thank you for saying it first, Skipper,** said Kitty.

**I had such high hopes,** he admitted, **especially for all the time and money we put into it.**

**I think we underestimated her smarts, sir. Looks like her plan is to talk until you get very tired of it and slink off,** said Mitty, sounding annoyed, which was a pretty neat trick for sub-vocalization armor talk.

“…and now let’s turn to the quite rude and inappropriate actions of your helmsman starting with…”

Deep down, Tilbrook got angry. Smart and beautiful sish or no, the Commodore was counting on him. He could even be dead, and Princess here was pulling Rear-Escalon-Mother-Fucker.

**Sir, I know I don’t need to state the obvious, but every minute we listen to this purple bitch give us the riot act, Really Bad Things could be pouring out of that jump-point. It could even be war,** said Kitty. She sounded depressed.

That’s when he knew.

**New plan. Stun her escorts, zero body count. GO!**

It was as if Mitty, Kitty and his brain was connected. As he was drawing his sidearm, they were drawing their stunners and both of them were weapons-free before he was.

The snap-hiss of the stunners was loud and he dully noted his helmet had formed around his head and there was a small hiss of a seal.

His pistol was free. He aimed it at the comically surprised Princess and pulled the trigger. Dark sish blood from his expertly aimed shot spurted from her left thigh, and she went down.

***

Staff Sargent Sergei Koltsov wasn’t exactly surprised everything went to hell, although the manner in which it did surprised him. One moment the Princess was droning on and on and the next the captain and the twins threw down.

Well, so much for diplomacy.

“Squad, RESCUE PLAN CHARLIE, GO!”

The rest of the marine detail, including him, poured out of the Coolidge.

His explosive tech was moving with lightning speed. He slammed a boarding surge module into the power receptacle in the airlock, twisted the safety handle, and pulled it up.

“Fire in the hole!” the tech screamed as he slammed the handle down and everyone dived out of the airlock.

The surge module was a particularly nasty device. It debugged the power hardware and then sent a surge in various frequencies up the system until it found a vulnerability, and then it poured an enormous amount of power back up the grid.

Sometimes, they simply exploded.

More often than not, they sent a surge all the way through the system, burning cutouts until the main power plant completely shut out that portion of the grid.

And that’s exactly what happened. Power went out in their station section, the atrium they found themselves in bathed in sudden darkness. Not even the emergency lighting turned on.

Excellent.

His optics went into night-vision mode.

That’s when he saw the twins and the skipper thundering towards him. Only, Tilbrook had the Princess over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry.

Oh shit.

“Back in the ship! Back in the ship! Back in the ship!” he screamed over the tac-channel.

As his squad retreated, they all fired flash-bangs and the world for anyone not wearing proper armor and looking into the atrium went white.

***

Ensign Fredrick Hernández aka “Rookie” aka “Steady Freddy” was surprised the Princess was in his airlock, but his orders were clear. Rescue plan Charlie called for him to “GTFO” as soon as the Coolidge’s outer airlock door closed with all personnel on-board, and that’s what he did. Since he was combat docked, he blew the flimsy boarding tube and punched it.

“Coolidge! You are to heave-to immediately! Coolidge!” This was from the security channel.

ECM Tech Ensign Gina Kipply, sitting over to his left, punched a virtual button on her console. A pre-program routine started, the first of which was to send massive jamming on all comm frequencies. The comm chatter ceased.

The Coolidge shot out Aoe Station’s space like a speed demon from hell, burning hard towards the FTL safety line, and if anyone had bothered to look, they would have noted she was breaking all the system speed records in the process.

The Quiet Intensity of Falling to Pieces

February 21, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Plot, The Craft, The Wife Unit  2 Comments

I’ve given up on hit stats, and gauge my blog posts in how they connect with readers in three ways, in order of increasing popularity:

  • Did anyone comment?
  • Did anyone send me mail?
  • Did anyone link my post on their blog and comment?

The link is the Holy Grail of popularity indicators. While my post yesterday did not generate any links, it sure hit a nerve. It took one reader by surprise, and even the Wife Unit told me I needed to put warning labels on things like that.

Heh. Insert sheepish grin here. Whoops. Someone emailed me and asked why I wrote that. Why indeed.

Quite simply, my work-in-progress is kicking my ass. This novel is, unfortunately, a creative and emotional vampire.

Contemporary Young Adult was never on my horizon. I love reading it, I just never saw myself writing it. My love for genre fiction is deep, and more than that, I have such fun writing science fiction and fantasy. But when the plot for this novel hit me along-side the head, I knew I had to drop everything and write it.

The emotional intensity of my work-in-progress is high. The situation my main characters find themselves in is as absurd as it is heartbreaking, and as I approach the ending the intensity and emotional impact increases dramatically. I find myself in need of a creative outlet in order to not, um, explode or something. Because that would be messy.

I wrote The Pilot simply as a need to express the emotions bleeding from my work-in-progress. It was write it or fall to pieces.

Yes, that post was merely spill-over.

Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt

January 04, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  0 Comments

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For anyone new popping up on the scene, I target my book reviews towards novelists (you can find my prior reviews here).

Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt was my holiday me me me book, but it turned into much more than that. For the novelist interested in speculative fiction, Darkship Thieves is a course of science fiction om nom nom nom with a major serving of romp and romance.

Here’s the book blurb:

Athena Hera Sinistra never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in finding out the truth about the DarkShips. You always get what you don’t ask for. Which must have been why she woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in her father’s space cruiser, knowing that there was a stranger in her room. In a short time, after taking out the stranger—who turned out to be one of her father’s bodyguards up to no good, she was hurtling away from the ship in a lifeboat to get help. But what she got instead would be the adventure of a lifetime—if she managed to survive . . . .

You can always count on the publisher, Baen, to deliver some classic sci-fi with a bit of the libertarian thematic, but Darkship Thieves is a not-so-subtle homage to Robert Heinlein, and that is one reason it is worthy of study. Once a reader gets into that, the book comes into its own in a major, major way, and how Hoyt does this is a bit of the ‘ole awesomesauce.

Essentially it goes like this: any Heinlein fan is going to read this book and start grinning like a dork about a quarter of a way through it. Halfway through the book the little science fiction libertarian in you will go “this is soooooo good,” but then, like the dogs of war unleashed, the novel takes off on its own and doesn’t end until the reader is breathless.

And Hoyt does this with an exploration of love and honesty, two great libertarian themes so worthy of needing exploration in science fiction.

Heinlein was the master of the libertarian thematic but he also dabbled on the edges of libertarianism beyond the personal affirmation and the economic delivery from tyranny. The core of libertarian philosophy centers around peaceful interactions between people in a “trust, but verify” relationship. A person has to believe in the overall good of mankind, yet expect the odd duck to cause problems and thus plan accordingly.

Thena finds herself as the obligatory fish-out-of-water in a libertarian society after being rescued by Kit, a genetically modified pilot who makes a living stealing power from the terrans. Kit brings her to Eden, a large asteroid with refugees from a nasty war back on Earth. Eden is, for the most part, an anarcho-capitalism society.

Oh, but Kit. Kit is so nakedly honest, so honorable (not to mention a bit of a studmuffin), Thena falls in love with him. She falls hard. She’s a product of a declining civilization, a civilization kept together through understated oppression and slight of hand. When encountering pure goodness, it drives her a little crazy, and she is drawn to Kit not so much because he can get inside her head (literally) but because Kit is simply Kit and no one else. Hoyt brings out the craziness in Thena as she realizes the core of her beliefs are a lie, and then, like a master novelist, Hoyt dials it up to eleven when Thena finds out her life has been a lie.

Thena, my fellow writers, kicks-ass throughout the entire novel despite all of the setbacks a cruel universe throws at her. And yet, when faced with the prospect of losing the first real taste of love she has ever known, she goes on an unholy libertarian rampage that is both epic and intensely personal at the same time.

I could prattle on and on about how Darkship Thieves is a marvelous science fiction book in a classical sense, with wonderful uses of technology and some truly clever settings. At its heart, however, it is a romantic love story wrapped up in a personal coming-of-age yarn about good triumphing over evil.

For a novelist in any type of speculative fiction, I give the novel five slices of bacon up out of five.

The Pericles Commission by Gary Corby

December 06, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  61 Comments

Update: Comments closed, winner selected!

pericles commissionHere I insert my standard disclaimer: I target my book reviews to novelists.

Also, if you would like to win a FREE copy of The Pericles Commission, comment on this post. I will select a commenter at random and mail you the copy. You need only to have a valid postal address somewhere in the world. The contest ends December 13 at noon, Pacific Time.

The Pericles Commission is a wonderful debut novel by researcher and writer Gary Corby. A murder mystery set in ancient Greece, the novel is also a political thriller, a coming-of-age-story and a cultural study all in one tight, little, whirlwind package of historical mystery goodness.

And Corby pulls it off masterfully.

Thus, I give you a disclaimer. If you are a novelist who likes to write murder mysteries (as I do), this book will make your head spin. Corby’s artistic creativity at putting a mystery together has the capability of frying your poor writer brain if you attempt to deconstruct the novel beyond its entertainment value.

The plot goes like this:

Early one bright, clear morning in Athens, 461 B.C., a dead man falls from the sky, landing at the feet of Nicolaos.

It doesn’t normally rain corpses. This one is the politician Ephialtes, who only days before had turned Athens into a democracy, and with it, kick-started western civilization. It looks very much as if Ephialtes was assassinated to stifle the world’s first democracy at its birth.

But Ephialtes has a lieutenant: a rising young politician by the name of Pericles. Pericles commissions the clever young Nicolaos to expose the assassin.

Nicolaos walks the mean streets of classical Athens in search of a killer. He’s totally confident he’ll succeed in finding him.

There are only a few small problems. Pericles is looking over his shoulder, critiquing his every move. Nicolaos would like to get closer (much closer) to Diotima, the intelligent and annoyingly virgin priestess of Artemis. He’d prefer not to go near Pythax, the brutally tough chief of the city guard. It would definitely help if the main suspect weren’t Xanthippus, a leading conservative and, worst of all, the father of Pericles.

But most of all, what Nicolaos really needs is to shake off his irritating twelve-year-old brother, Socrates, who keeps making helpful suggestions.

Can Nicolaos save Athens, democracy, and the future of western civilization?

Oh, how I loved Nicolaos, and Corby’s voicing with his main character leaves a reader not so much seeing the wonders of ancient Greece through his eyes, but living it in a visceral, immersive escapism that I had not experienced in a murder mystery since Vernor Vinge’s Marooned in Realtime.

There is a certain purity in murder mysteries. There’s a dead body. Sometimes more. The stakes are high, and beyond the expert voicing and characterization, the gem of The Pericles Commission is its sheer relentlessness.  For this novel is relentless in the stakes. Corby ratchets them up again and again and again until a reader is left almost panting with tension, reading furiously as nothing so much as the fate of humanity is on the line.

This novel happily dances around thriller territory and simply calling it a historical murder mystery is an understatement.  If you are a writer, don’t let the fabulous research blind you, or the mesmerizing voicing nor the purity of how the setting comes alive. Never has a historical book been so much fun to read. It was intelligent escapism at its highest form, and that, dear writers, was simply awesome. The Pericles Commission is not so much a novel as it is crack for mystery lovers.

Don’t forget to comment below to win a chance at a free copy!

Good vs. Evil in the Shade of Ink

November 19, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  0 Comments

Ah, the life of a consultant: the move from one contract to another.

Perfect for the little ADD Monster inside all of us.

This is an exciting re-engineering contract. I get to plumb the depths of the undocumented and air our all the deficiencies.

So, what does that have to do with writing or reading?

Nothing! Ha! But I am behind in my blog list of things to do (as you can see by the lack of updates). This always happens when I switch contracts. I need to find my rhythm. I am almost there.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the artistic expression of the battle between Good vs. Evil. Then I watched this movie:

The Indy movie Ink is gathering hype, as it should. The pacing is masterful, right from the slow beginning to the crescendo of the ending. The extraordinary clever writing. The understated special effects.

But, dear 9.3 blog readers, this is, at the core, a story of Good vs. Evil in the most basic sense to its most insidious. It encompasses every major Good vs. Evil thematic you could possibly imagine wrapped up in a glorious narrative rapture, from the overt to the slices of gray so thin you can see through them.

I don’t normally review movies, but I will review Ink after I post my next book review.

Bottom line: If you have a Good vs. Evil theme in your writing, don’t even talk to me until you’ve seen this movie.

The Why

October 16, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Characterization, Plot, The Craft  0 Comments

Some whys need no asking. There is no reason to ask “why” someone broken into my car and ate my Altoids and took all my D&D dice, he just did. Nor was there a profound why when King County Sheriff returned my dice. It was the deputy’s job, and I was thankful.

True story, by the way. But I digress.

A writing friend asked me for some advice. After the “I am not published” disclaimer, I told her if she really wanted to improve her characterization, she needed to start asking the hard questions about herself and be prepared to deal with the truth of her self-assessment.

I gave her a kissing example (no, I did not kiss her, geeze). Why, when I was a young man in my teens, did I kiss one girl and not another?

The easy answer would be opportunity. That’s only a small truth to a larger answer. Did I kiss the right girl, or the wrong girl? To not answer the question of kiss, for a writer, is to make the unsaid claim that kissing isn’t important.

The romantics in us know that kissing is everything.

Right?

Right!

Self-reflection can dive into the danger zone. Mistakes we made are a part of us and to wish they were not leads to self-loathing.

That’s the rub. The writer has to look past that. She has to answer why. Sometimes the answer is full of regret. There is no second-guessing in the almighty pursuit of the why. Even guilt is a substandard emotion when digging at ourselves for the truth.

This leads me back to kissing; kissing is visceral. It is a physical act of desire, passion, lust and love. Sometimes at the same time.

Mmmmmm kissing mmmmmm

Oh wait, what were we talking about again? Oh, that’s right. Writing.

There is always the story of the boy or girl that got away. And that’s why I brought up kissing. It’s more than the boy and girl that got away as a universal story of longing, regret, and loss. It’s the reality of not kissing. Think about it. It’s one thing to say “oh, that’s the one that got away,” and quite another to say “we never kissed yet I can close my eyes and feel her lips on mine.” Never held hands. Never made love. Never fought, never made up. Never admitted a mistake with a sheepish grin.

The why. Always the why. Don’t tell me why that one got away. Tell me a story about why you didn’t kiss.

Son of Ereubus by J.S. Chancellor

September 26, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, The Craft  4 Comments

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Every epic fantasy series worthy of a recommendation from me and my friends pays homage to what I call fantasy je ne sais quoi.

I will attempt to describe the indescribable anyway.

As readers, we enjoy books but wallow in the really good ones. My buddies and I chew through fantasy novels like a Rottweiler puppy going through a bone. Here at Rehabilitated Hack Writerville, however, we review books for fellow writers. I target this book review to novelists, not simply readers.

Real fantasy has an intangible quality that makes it distinctive and attractive and this has little to do with world building and more to do with raw, creative talent that one could say is the voice of the book.

Son of Ereubus by J.S. Chancellor is like a warm piece of olive bread slathered generously with fantasy je ne sais quoi. So very delicious. Oh, did I eat the whole loaf? Whoops.

On the surface, leave no doubt that Son of Ereubus is creepy as hell. I would not call it a horror book but there are many horror elements on display. Indeed, the level of creep is so persuasive that, like the inhabitants of the human world and their protectors, a reader gets used to it. There is a certain, brutal aesthetic to the plot.

Underneath the surface, however, is a complex tale of which I’m not going to attempt to describe, so let’s just go with the back of the book:

Since time immemorial, Man has lived in fear of losing his soul to the darkness of Saint Ereubus. For generations, the Ereubinians have wielded that power and ruled like gods. Three thousand years ago, Man irresolutely placed his faith in a mythical world. That world, Adoria, now holds Man’s final hope. As the last stronghold of Man is threatened, the fates of three strangers become forever intertwined and everything they once believed will be irrevocably changed as they discover…

Their time has run out.

Chancellor packed Son of Ereubus so full of Epic Plot Goodness, it makes that plot summary akin to saying your favorite vacation spot in the entire world is “nice.”

That, my writing friends, makes the book worthy of study. Seriously. The plotting for this fantasy novel is incredible.

And that’s just getting started, for Son of Ereubus is a rare novel indeed: it’s character driven epic fantasy.

The characters Ariana and Garren are the yin and yang of the novel, and they both compliment and repel each other in a perverted harmony.  Ariana is a  powerful yet feminine character who seems continually frustrated that she is able to outthink everyone around her, yet they treat her as a “normal” woman, which she is so very not. I love Ariana. So spunky. So sassy. So in need of getting laid.

But I digress.

As much as Ariana is a special treat to read in a fantasy story, Garren, my friends, completely runs away with the novel. I was a quarter of the way into the book when I closed it and looked at the cover and went “Yesssss, this is going to be so awesome!”

Garren is the anti-hero and even before he grasps the ugly horns of self-determination, he strangely becomes a sympathetic figure. How Chancellor made me feel pangs of sympathy for such an evil fuck, I have no idea. Chancellor’s voicing with Garren is as complex at the mythos and plotting of the novel. She tricks the reader into thinking Ariana is a creature of chaos—wherever she goes, she sows the seeds of change. Compared to Garren, however, Ariana is a piker.

This is what pulls Son of Ereubus into brilliant epic fantasy. The creepy Armageddon undercurrents with the intertwining, complex plot and mythos combined with outstanding character voices come together in a wondrous opening novel of a trilogy.

Like I said, earlier, however, Son of Ereubus is fantasy je ne sais quoi and I believe that comes from the intense themes hiding behind the action-infused plot along with all the other hallmarks of an epic fantasy novel. It’s war, in Son of Ereubus. It’s not just a war for man and the souls of the human race, but also a war between good and evil, fate and self-determination and even a war between hot-blooded lovers.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the Guardians of Legend series, for Son of Ereubus was pure epic fantasy awesomesauce.

Am I Just Weird That Way?

September 12, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Plot, The Craft  3 Comments

Sometimes I want to write the end of the book, then the beginning, then the middle and then fill in the rest.

Does anyone else have a desire to do that or is that my music training coming out?

Cinders by Michelle Davidson Argyle

August 29, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  8 Comments

Disclaimer 1: This is a book review for novelists. There are many other reviews about Cinders, this one is for those who like to write books.

Disclaimer 2: I placed 3rd in one of Michelle’s short story contests in a blind judging. Please don’t think I’m doing a bit of quid pro quo, because I can assure you I am a vicious reader.

I always thought Cinderella was a bit of a whore.

You can’t blame Disney’s Cinderella for being a whore. The girl’s stepmother and sisters abused her, making her life a living misery. Going back to the classic tale, we can all put ourselves in her shoes (get it—put ourselves in her shoes? Oh, I am so clever!), and who can resist the charm of the Prince searching for the girl who enticed him and then taking her away to live happily ever after?

The classical definition of a whore is somebody who does things for selfish reasons. Add a bit of the magically seduced prince, and there you have it.

Thus, it was with trepidation that I started reading Cinders, attracted to the book because I love novellas and I thought the cover was smashing. It was supposed to be a coming-of-age-story with a bunch of girly girl mixed with whimsy. I was even expecting talking animals.

Goodness was I mistaken.

Cinders by Michelle Davidson Argyle is a literary wonder with perfect, sparse prose obscuring a multi-layered depth that is haunting as it is breathless. When I finished the book, I just sat there in my chair outside staring at the trees in the sun. Cinders captivated, disturbed, infatuated, crushed, bewildered and beguiled me.

It’s difficult to know where to begin on an in-depth review with something so overwhelming complex born of simplicity, but there is the obvious. The prose.

Argyle’s delicious, sensual, twilight and shadow prose.

Here is one example:

Not yet. Let me sing you a song.” He sat with her near a bush with white flowers, the same ones in her hair, and as he sang, the smell of clover grew stronger. He helped her lie down. Petals fell from his hair when his lips brushed hers. She closed her eyes and saw Isaac bruising Rose’s horse, his arm moving up and down, the cat licking her paws.

See, I’m a red-blooded American Male. I like my steak waved in a warm room, apple pie and watch movies where stuff blows up in space. A productive evening for me is when I’ve managed to clean all the guns without running out of CLP.

Yet, that excerpt right there made my heart go pitter-pat. I read that and I was breathless, the feeling you get when you look at a girl for the first time and realize you’re crushing hard.

For the writer, Cinders is a decent into the visceral, as that example shows.  It’s not a la la la literary going to describe a flower in twelve metaphors visceral, but a dark, sensual, haunting flowing river of words that sits at the bottom of your gut like a fiery Cognac. Argyle’s prose is sparse, her mastery with such few words speaks to a deep, creative talent, and she uses her creativity to breathe life into the lifeless.

In Disney’s adaptation, Cinderella is a story about a girl becoming a woman in order to escape her awful life while snagging the man of her dreams in the process through magic and rodent Tom Foolery.

“Cute talking animals” is code for “this is a child’s story for entertainment” and as such that’s what Cinderella, the character, was.

Argyle’s characterization is so fascinating and her Cinderella is a compelling, complex figure different from the original literary tale before it. It is impressive how Argyle turns a vapid fairytale shell into a young woman, but Cinderella here is a wonderful, flawed person yearning to make her own choices.

And make them she does. I was rooting for Cinderella through the entire book because her yearning selfishness, even though justified, was tragic to behold.  Even at her worst mistakes, at least she made them. Choice. Has there ever been such a literary theme worthy of published words?

But I digress.

How I loved that seductive, lethal yet empathetic Cinderella. What, you say? Cinderella? Lethal? Seductive?

Oh, yes. That and more. Cinderella makes mistakes, and people die. Cinders, my friends, is a book with an impressive body count, like any good fairytale. Despite the darkness that Argyle serves up as pebbles falling into a still lake, the book isn’t about death, but about life: living, learning, and loving.

She also loves, oh how Cinderella loves. Her love is consuming and fearful; she loves with her mind and her body, and her passions and desires elevate her from her magical prison of her own making while driving her to the cliff of despair. Argyle pulls this off with mastery for the complex wrapped around the simple.

Cinders is a love story, but it’s also a coming-of-age-story, and the truly amazing part of this novella is the themes and plot intertwines to the point where it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two. It’s also a raw story with under-the-radar world building, a world that comes alive in the fewest words possible. The setting is so vivid, it mesmerizes the reader who turns page after page and all too soon, the end of the book comes like a punch in the gut.

The ending is a study in perfection, a true “didn’t see it coming, but should have,” moment of pure bittersweet. That’s the summation for the writer: Cinders is a study in perfection. The perfect cover. The perfect tagline. Even the bookmark is perfect. The perfect story. Perfect prose. The perfect novella. It’s magical. You could stick this novella in a time capsule, move it forward two hundred years, and for the lucky reader who dug it up, she would say “oh!” and yearn for more.

Argyle banished Disney’s whore from my mind. It was as if she never existed, and in her place is a woman of empathy and beauty, a mixture of danger tempered with love.

Perfect.