Review

Steel and Bone Anthology Review

I was given an advance reader copy of Steel and Bone in exchange for an honest review.

Generally I would give an overall review, but I had vastly different opinions from one story to the next, so you’ll get the rundown on each of them.

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The Clockwork Seer
by Katherine Cowley: On an island of oddities, a young clairvoyant struggles for normalcy, but deadly automatons have other plans.

This story wound up with a jerky start, with rather abrupt transitions left and right, but then the story started running smoothly. I enjoyed following the mechanical prophetess, as she strove to follow her own visions through a suspenseful plot. The ending, however, seemed a little pat, even flat.

Sindisiwe
by Scott E. Tarbet: A slave girl in Zanzibar escapes a beating when a stranger in the marketplace proves her past is more than just a fairy tale.

It is with regret that I say I came away from this story with an impression of hollow trope and nothing else. It tried to be cosmopolitan, featuring many different races and cultures, but didn’t give you a true sense of any race or culture at all–except where they were such caricatures as to make me cringe. The main character seemed motivated only by the author’s poking pen, and no amount of mechanical marvels could save plot, character, or voice from being painfully 2-dimensional.

Stand and Deliver
by TC Phillips: Neither shackles, slave labor, nor the island’s deadliest inhabitants will prevent these brothers from meting out justice to their father’s murderers.

The main characters felt fully formed, lifelike and likeable, and the voice was engaging. It stretched my suspension of disbelief a bit towards the end, which was also a bit pat, but I was thoroughly enough on the characters’ team by then that I gladly forgave them that. Entertaining, with just-so touches of rage and sorrow.

Island Walker
by C. R. Simper: Kit digs her treasures out of trash heaps, but the theft of her invention leads to discoveries money can’t buy.

In Island Walker, I found my favorite main character in the anthology. She was brilliant and captivating, self-possessed, amusing; a determined underdog, to be sure, but without any real chip on her shoulder. Beyond that, there were quirks of character around the corners that marked her out as different from your name-brand heroine. The other characters were also unique and breathing, and the relationship dynamics lived and changed. The plot arc drew me on and sated me at the end, and the unobtrusive writing style showcased well the hallmarks of steampunk–not just zeppelins and steam bots, but the creative and adventurous minds behind them.

A Mind Prone to Wander
by Danielle E. Shipley: Beyond a locked door lies Rowan Charles’ death or his sanity, and the survival or extinction of his people.

Richly visual, beautifully told through the eyes of a tragic main character, this story was… hard to follow. Perhaps that’s because it centers around madness, but as lovely as the writing was, as enthralling as I found the characters, I spent way too much time saying, “Wait… huh? What?” It’s hard to get caught up in the plot when you’re not sure what’s actually happening–or why–from the halfway point and on.

Curio Cay
by Sarah E. Seeley: The future of humanity rests in the hands of three time-traveling scientists battling biomechanical creatures in the Jurassic past.

I’d call this a well-written, well-characterized long vignette. It’s conflicts were interesting, the suspense sometimes had me wide- eyed, but its main plot arc, if existent, was extremely weak. It seemed to center around a son’s attitude towards his father, which shifted… all of a millimeter? All the way from You shouldn’t be doing this, I intend to make you stop, to You shouldn’t be doing this, I intend to make you stop. Yeah, more of a big slice-in-the-time-traveling-steampunk-life than anything.

The Mysterious Island of Chester Morrison
by Kin Law: Dodging her chaperone, a debutante stumbles into adventure and romance at the World’s Fair.

Elegant, and slightly stuffy, but deliberately so, with hilarious flights of fancy and ridiculous overdramatic spinnings of the mind. I considered it the most ostentatiously steampunk story in this steampunk antho. I’m not sure whether I much like our well-bred protagonist, but I certainly do love her. It also held this little gem: “Those well-adjusted to a sick world cannot be called healthy.” Now, the plot was much too straightforward for my taste, and the ending something of a yawn, but the voice carried it well.

Revolutionary
by John M. Olsen: A dirigible captain goes down with his ship, and wakes to find himself a captive of a sky-dwelling civilization.

There was no connection with the antagonist–I never understood what made him so adamant that their information shouldn’t be shared. He didn’t seem to have any life to him, and honestly, the female main character seemed hardly better. The conflict seemed a bit dull, as did the conclusion. The first scene was well-written and engaging, though, and I cared about the captain’s fate for the first half of the story before the interest gained by the first scene just petered out.

The Steel Inside
by Gail B. Williams: Darkness lurks in Sarah’s forgotten past, kept hidden by those who claim to be her devoted husband and loyal servants.

My first thought was that the first scene really dragged out the main character’s seemingly useless observations and sensations. Fortunately, that was the last negative thought I had about this story. I was swiftly drawn into and on through the story by its sense of mystery. Like the main character, I felt that a lot of details of the tale seemed off. I shared her underlying discomfort as she searched–sometimes fervently, sometimes reluctantly–for answers. And the ending… well, she wasn’t the only one stunned by the revelation. Well-played all around. This ties with Island Walker for my favorite tale in Steel and Bone.

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

Last week, I gave my thoughts on Vicious, by V.E. Schwab. This week, I delve into A Darker Shade of Magic, as promised.

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Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—trickier than they hoped.

*****

My feelings about this book? Fear.

Not right off, mind. I started with curiosity, as the pages gradually unfolded the workings of these four parallel Londons stacked neatly atop one another, the workings of magic, the workings of the minds and hearts of Kell and Delilah. The worldbuilding satisfied me; never a dam bursting with information to overwhelm the reader and clog the story, but plenty of rich detail tucked between one plot point and another.

But from the outset, I was faintly ill-at-ease. In a good way.

Perhaps it was the tone, almost pleasant, but stained at the edges with a discontent and darkness. Perhaps it was Kell’s mismatched eyes, one pale, one the edge-to-edge black of an Anatari–a blood magician. Perhaps it was an early and unexplained visit by White London’s ambassador, the one other known Antari in any of the realms. Is he the villain? I wondered, or is the situation far more complicated than that? Time (and Schwab’s straightforward and largely seamless writing) would tell.

Whatever the cause, I had the definite sense that the balance between these worlds might be threatened far too easily. And of course, it was. The fear began, then, at first trickling in, then thickening in a steady incline throughout the whole of the book. V.E. Schwab knows how to set the flame under a plot and turn it hotter, ever hotter, until everything is engulfed in an explosion of tensions at the climax.

But while interesting and fully-fleshed worlds, finger-tingling new magic systems, well-woven plot arcs, and marvelous infinity-coats (Did I not mention Kell’s enviable coat of many dimensions?) are wonderful and even necessary, in my eyes, books live and die by their characters. The world(s) get five stars from me. The magic system? Five stars. The plot? Five stars. The dialogue and one-liners? Five stars. The coat? Six stars. The characters?

*Sigh* Four stars. Now, that’s not too bad a rating, but it’s just a little sad for me when compared to the excellence of the rest–and to the absolutely magnificent cast of persons Schwab created in Vicious.

I liked them. Kell, young and immensely powerful, was a good blend of sweet and cocksure, happy, but touched with bitter melancholy. Lila, I first feared would be a typical brash tomboy character, but while brash and tomboyish, she’s also a blase adrenaline junky who takes a fierce delight in life, and has a refreshing lack of angst for a teenaged girl. Even when she’s cutting throats.

They were good. Just not great. They were… almost complex. Almost vivid. Almost breathing. Almost superb. Almost captivating. Perhaps part of the fault lies in the fact that the entire novel covers a relatively short amount of time–less than a week, I think—and they were in the thick of a flurrious plot for most of it. But they simply fell short of popping off of the page.

Here’s the oddity. Most of the secondary characters, I’d give five stars. Holland, the hard and humorless White London Antari. His pale, super-creepy twin rulers. Rhy, Red London’s crown prince, and Kell’s adoptive brother, the embodiment of “charming rouge,” but more than that as well. Even the Grey London tavern keeper, and the Red London fencer.

Even with the two main characters at four stars, the book averages out to five stars for me, though, and I eagerly await the release of A Gathering of Shadows, second in the to-be trilogy. Perhaps I’ll find what I was looking for in Kell and Lila there. And if not–there’s sure to be another crop of lines to make me grin. I’ll leave you with these.

***

Bad magic, Kell had called it.

No, thought Lila now. Clever magic.
And clever was more dangerous than bad any day of the week.

***

He would see her again. He knew he would. Magic bent the world. Pulled it into shape. There were fixed points. Most of the time they were places. But sometimes, rarely, they were people. For someone who never stood still, Lila felt like a pin in Kell’s world. One he was sure to snag on.

***

“Sure I do,” countered Lila cheerfully. “There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London,” she recited, ticking them off on her fingers. “See? I’m a fast learner.”

***

“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”
“Seen what?”
Her smile widened. “Everything.”

***

Word on the Wind: Surrogate Sea review and character interview

It’s here, the book we’ve all been waiting for ever since its magnificent cover reveal: Wilderhark Tales book six, The Surrogate Sea! (If you weren’t waiting for it, why on earth not? Have you not read the other Wilderhark Tales? Ah, well, we won’t hold it against you, so long as you repent and change your ways.)

One thing I’ve always appreciated about the covers of the Wilderhark Tales novellas is that you can actually judge the books by them: they’re beautiful, they’re stylistically different from most of what one sees on the market, and each one seems better than the last.

Opening with tears and danger, and ending with tears and love, this may well be my favorite of the tales to date–but then, I’ve always favored twisty plots, broken hearts, and the machinations of trickster gods.

Oh, maybe Austeryn isn’t a proper deity, but the manipulative master of rain and fog is certainly a capital-T Trickster. The elemental shrouds everyone’s plotlines in such thick deception, there’s little guessing where the tale will end up. Personally, I like to be kept guessing, I like to be surprised, and I love to root for a sneaky antihero.

(I also love rainstorms, but that’s nearly tangential.)

To date, Miss Shipley has written mildly rocky tales, fraught with as much amusement as angst, and tidily tied up with a happily-ever-after-until-next-time. In The Surrogate Sea, she maintains her wry-and-dry humor, but weaves a terrible tangle that can only end in tears. Whose? There’s no telling.

This book hurts. It hurt the characters, it hurt me, and it’ll probably hurt you.

Maybe I’m an awful person, but I love it for that.

Amazon ~ CreateSpace ~ Kindle ~ Nook
If you pick it up quick, you could be eligible to
win cool prizes as outlined over at D.E. Shipley’s Ever On Word blog.
^_^

But before anyone goes anywhere (oh, fine, pop off to pick up the book first if you’d like, but do come back,) Sy and I have a few questions for the sly South Wind mentioned–and beautifully pictured–above.

Welcome to our blog, Austeryn. Would you explain to our readers what your specialty is?

“It’s all in the name, really,” says the wind, smiling. “The meaning of ‘Austeryn’ is what I am: Slaker of the earth’s thirst. My jurisdiction is warm, water-laden air. I bring the rain and mists, general humidity and dew. Essentially, if it’s damp out, it’s my doing.”

Being air and water, you could assume any form you choose. Why that of a man, and why this one in particular?

“Oh, I don’t always choose to look like this. I’ve adopted any number of appearances, over the ages – winged creatures, water creatures… the Sea has been known to enjoy when I take the seeming of a leviathan. But the human shape is my second favored default, after formless invisibility, because the Sky’s kings are human-shaped. You know how it goes,” he drawls. “The powerful and well-to-do set the fashion.

“As for why I chose these specific features, that was a matter of personal taste. Hair black like a storm, long that it might fly wild and free as the rest of me. Musculature that, were I merely a man, would suggest I am one of the stronger of my kind, for I am indeed among the strongest of the winds. And eyes fogged over that they might not be too easily read. Too many people give up their secrets through their gaze,” he tsks. “I am not so careless.”

 You denizens of the sky have something of a rocky family relationship, from what I’ve seen. Who are your favorite Welken elementals, and who are your least favorites?

“I make it a point to get along with everyone, as much as may be. The more people who feel you’re on their side, the friendlier they’ll be toward you, and that just makes life easier. Of course, my heart will always belong to the Great Sea, but as she is not strictly of the world above, I will limit my answers to Sky residents only.

“Of those,” he says, musing, “I would say I am closest with my elder brother, Aquinore. The arctic wind is something of a brute, but I rather like that about him. I can rely on him to be simple and sadistic; little to no unpredictabiltiy. Our younger brother, Euroval, is just as endearingly cruel, but more erratic. Peskier, too, though his thunder and lightning do add undeniable panache to my rainstorms. I have the least use of all for our little sister.” His lip pulls into a subtle sneer. “So small. So sweet. So… Sun-favored.”

“You have a certain reputation for clever manipulation,” Sy notes. “One sly bastard to another, could you relate the most satisfying victory you ever won with cunning? Spoilers excepted, naturally.”

“Well…” Austeryn’s humble tone is belied by the set of his smile. “I suppose there was that one small instance in which my silver tongue saved the world. Perhaps you’ve read an account of it – or your author may have, as it was published some time ago in a literary journal in her world. I’ve heard it rumored that my own scribe means to re-release it in her next Wilderhark Tale book – a collection of short stories to precede the final volume in the series. I’ll admit I’m pleased,” he says, mists swirling in his gust of anticipation. “I may not be the hero my world deserves, but I was certainly the one it needed right then.”

“You watched from the wings as your two kings vied for the hand of a human princess. Did you think it foolish? What was your personal view of humankind—and has it changed?”

“I thought it… peculiar,” Austeryn says cautiously. “All the millions of human girls that have ever lived, and both Sun and Moon get their hearts set on one? I’ve personally never seen what all the fuss is about. And though the fact that the kings’ appearance is so human-like may be indicative of some correlation or another between them, humans have more in common with insects than with a wind, scurrying little ground creatures that they are. Such do I know of humanity as a whole. But individually…” He pauses. “Perhaps a human may prove in some way worthwhile, in one takes the time and bother to figure out how.”

“One last question,” Sy says quietly, “Concerning Surrogate Sea. Your plots spun this tale in a circle and turned it on its head. Without giving anything away, can you tell me… Was it worth it?

“Worth it?” The wind’s movement lessens, his fog settling low. “Is a hurricane worth it? Does the beautiful, breathtaking ferocity make up for the ruin of property and loss of life? Not many would say so. But worries of ‘worth it’ will not stop a gale. I blow as I must. And the earth is resilient.” He rises to go, hooded eyes turned away. “Time will tell whether the same may be said of the Sky.”

The Sun’s Rival Release

Sun's Rival Novella

 

Sun's Rival Excerpt

 

Sun's Rival Available

Amazon and CreateSpace for paperback, Kindle and Nook for e-book.

 

Sun's Rival Review

 

The ever-prolific Miss D.E. Shipley has recently released the fifth novella in her Wilderhark Tales, a charming series of fairy-tale retellings and mash-ups.

The Sun’s Rival takes the Wilderhark world to a whole new level–and in a slightly different direction, being her magical realm’s take not on a fairy tale, but on the ancient story of Psyche and Cupid. As golden as anything Miss Shipley’s words have wrought before, as fraught with peril, as full of love and love’s hard choices, this story focuses on the truth of beauty, and the eyes that behold it.

As a reader, I most loved the way the Wilderhark world expanded, the new elements this book brought into play. Of course I also loved the chance to see my old favorites again, Edg and Rose, and like most fans, I delighted in see the children of beloved characters, and amused myself spotting elements of their parents within them.

Vivid individuals once again characterize Shipley’s story–characters loveable, hateable, obnoxious, confusing, admirable, frightening, and everything else that people can be.

As a writer, I wished there was a way for the mid-book reveal to pack a little punch–I was unfortunately unsurprised, but since some readers might be, I will refrain from spoiling it. While it didn’t surprise me, however, it did make me happy, and as there were some other, more emotional shocks to the system at the time, I’ll let it slide.

On the whole, the book was a beauty to match the heart of the princess inside.

Sun's Rival Prizes

 

Win these prizes by entering your this friendly local Rafflecopter giveaway. Or, you know, don't. The fewer people that enter, the fewer rivals vying for those gorgeous pendants...

Cry of the Nightbird: release and review

Hey. Syawn here.

So my author finally published something. One novella, and you can only get it on your computers and phones and Kindles, and it doesn’t even feature me, but hey. It’s a step in the right direction, so I need to be all encouraging and supportive.

In interest of doing just that, I’ll tell you why you should read it even if I’m not in it.

First of all, it’s in my world. Next, it does feature Joreth, the leader of an assassins guild, who has my knowledge of how to play one’s underlings, and my love of knives. (I would like to think my skill level is superior, having begun training at a younger age. In both.)

Unlike me, however, he is a man replete with unwise passions. Tsk. The teenaged lordling in the same novella does a better job of keeping his head; for shame. Ah well, we can’t all be me.

But enough chit-chat. Time for an honest review.

“Wait, a review?” Tirzah asks, startled. “But you’re… isn’t that… you’re in my head!”

Which doesn’t mean I have no objectivity. Brace yourself, author. First, fine readers mine, have the blurb and cover.

*****

“Look—it’s a shadow, creeping on the wall.
Look—it’s a nightbird, feathered, black, and tall.
Look—o’er your shoulder; think ye twice,
Look—out, ye wicked rats, pray he finds ye nice.”

Risen suddenly to lordship of the fiefdom of Cavernad, young Ferlund struggles to fill the shoes —and carry on the marriage engagement— of his late father. Doubly sorrowed by the old lord’s death and his duty to part ways with his common lover, Ferlund also seeks to pursue his suspicion that his father’s death was no accident…

Elsewhere in this fantasy-tinged novella, another man is recently risen to power. Joreth, formerly an assassin by trade, is newly the master of the assassin’s guild responsible for the elder Lord Cavernad’s demise. Wren, a servant girl deeply enamored of her new boss, seeks to gain his favor, and happens upon his strangest secret.

A lone vigilante stalks this landscape of cloak and dagger, sense and madness, and grudge and ardor old and new; the preying Nightbird stands in judgement of injustice masked by night or noble station.

In this tangle of stale bitterness and fresh affection, who will stand justified, and who will fall condemned? And will the cry of the Nightbird sound loud enough to go down as more than a washerwoman’s four-line ditty?

*****

A bit long-winded as blurbs go, if I do say so myself… my full-length novel doesn’t get that much back-o-the-book yattering.

Fortunately, I cannot give the same complaint to the tale in question. The pacing was excellent, with the viewpoint switching very regularly, but no more (nor less) than was needed for the twenty-five thousand word tale of intrigue and adventure to be told well.

The writing style was smooth and largely unobtrusive, but not to the point of blandness, lending a pleasant but mild aroma to the tale itself.

The characters were were well-defined, distinctly themselves–and largely loveable, sometimes in spite of being themselves. Humanly flawed and often confused, but rarely to that point where you want to smack them upside the head for it, these were people any budding thief lords would want to ally with: the high-minded nobleman, the bitter assassin, the “overlook at your own risk” servant girl, and the sweet but desperate pretty one.

(The Nightbird, on the other hand, is a bit more of a wild card. Might be safer just to knock him off if you ask me. Anyhow, jumping back from The Young Thief Lord’s Handbook to the review…)

The action sequences were engaging, walking that fine line between bogged-down-in-detail and what-is-even-going-on-here, and provided the much needed interludes between all the feelings everyone kept carrying on with.

However, I’m not quite certain about Duncan’s portrayal of the ending scene. While certain others who have read the scene make report of crying, I’m not sure what the tears are all about. It was an almost abruptly definite ending to a character arc that could have been stronger.

“It was as strong as it could be reasonably made,” Tirzah protests. “I didn’t want to overplay it!”

Ah-ah-ah, Duncan. Authors aren’t allowed to defend their decisions in the middle of a review. My position is my own, and I think Wren’s character arc ought to have been stronger. There’s a comment section open to take your arguments after.

My objections taken into consideration, I give it four stars out of five. Very nicely done, Miss Duncan. I might even invite you onto The Ink Caster blog for an author interview. Yes, it is gracious of me, isn’t it?

Go, buy it, enjoy it, have your appetite whetted for the superior novel waiting in the wings! And get a sneak preview of my own hitherto-unrevealed prologue at the end of it!

http://www.amazon.com/Cry-Nightbird-Tirzah-Duncan-ebook/dp/B00J3Y6ZOE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1395871447&sr=8-1&keywords=Cry+of+the+Nightbird

A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation

I tried, a few times, to read Strunk and White, and never did manage it. I tried reading a few other grammar books, I tried looking up grammar guides online, and every one left me confused, upset, and still with little idea how to write any better than I did.

Then I found A Dash of Style, by Noah Lukeman. It did far more than I’d have asked of such a handbook. It revolutionized the way I looked at words and the tiny marks that guide them. The subtitle isn’t kidding when it reads “The Art and Mastery of Punctuation.”

The book trains your eyes to the subtle differences that separate a masterful sentence from a weak one, like a Jujitsu master trains your hands to the differences between a powerful wrist lock, and uselessly twisting someone’s fingers. Or like a chef learns that the difference between a simply good soup and the great soup he wants to make is a pinch of this, and a dash of that.

Here’s the full review I wrote on Amazon.

The Spirit Thief

You may remember me wailing with joy, two blogs ago, about winning the Eli Monpress Omnibus, by Rachel Aaron. I have completed the behemoth, and am here to wail with joy about having done so. I am also here to shove you into a bookstore to follow my footsteps.

The Omnibus consists of three books, The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion, and The Spirit Eater. While I would recommend the Legend of Eli Monpress Omnibus, (partly for its price and mostly for its spectacular cover art– go check it out!), I will focus on Spirit Thief for now.

There are tons of reasons to read Spirit Thief, but I fear many of them would be spoilers. So if you want to know why you should read it, to the last detail, I’m afraid you’ll just have to read it. But in case you want something of a review before you run off and pick up a copy, here are three pre-packaged reasons. I kept them as un-spoiling as possible.

1) Eli Monpress, the wizard thief at the heart of the tale. As I suspected, ‘wizard thief’ refers to the fact that he is both a wizard and a thief, not to his being some sort of wizard-stealing thief. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried his hand at wizard-napping– Spirit Thief begins with a king-napping, after all. Calling Eli Monpress “ambitious” would be an understatement, people. This fellow is in it for the glory, fame, fans, but most of all, he’s in it to raise the price on his head. What thief wouldn’t love a high bounty? …Besides the sensible ones.

2) There’s magic in the world! Well, such would be assumed in a fantasy novel, but I found this magic system fascinating and novel (pun not fully intended). This is a world where everything has a spirit (hence the proliferation of ‘spirit’ in the various titles), and if you’re a wizard, you can wake them up and have a chat. If you can catch them in the right mood, they might do you all kinds of favors. Some wizards are better at this than others, and for some reason, Eli is the best of them all– Unless, of course, the spirits he speaks to were frightened into submission by a spirit Enslaver…

3) Here. If you doubt me, read the first two chapters for yourself. Go on, I dare you. If you don’t have time to read it all, read the first chapter. It’s short, and it’ll intrigue you. If you don’t have time to read the first chapter, read the first section. It’ll intrigue you. If you don’t even have time for that, read the first few paragraphs right here:

In the prison under the castle Allaze, in the dark, moldy cells where the greatest criminals in Mellinor spent the remainder of their lives counting rocks to stave off madness, Eli Monpress was trying to wake up a door.

It was a heavy oak door with an iron frame, created centuries ago by an overzealous carpenter to have, perhaps, more corners than it should. The edges were carefully fitted to lie flush against the stained, stone walls, and the heavy boards were nailed together so tightly that not even the flickering torch light could wedge between them. In all, the effect was so overdone, the construction so inhumanly strong, that the whole black affair had transcended simple confinement and become a monument to the absolute hopelessness of the prisoner’s situation. Eli decided to focus on the wood; the iron would have taken forever.

He ran his hands over it, long fingers gently tapping in a way living trees find desperately annoying, but dead wood finds soothing, like a scratch behind the ears. At last, the boards gave a little shudder and said, in a dusty, splintery voice, “What do you want?”

“My dear friend,” Eli said, never letting up on his tapping, “the real question here is, what do you want?”

…Intrigued?