Blackbringer by Laini Taylor

My posts are going to focus primarily on reviews, thoughts and info about crime novels and shows, but there will be exceptions.

One such exception is Laini Taylor’s novel Blackbringer.

While not fitting within my general crime/mystery framework I want to review Blackbringer because, one, since I’ve taken her idea of the snick and used it as inspiration it seems only right and two, I love it.  I love everything about it.  When I’m struggling with my own work and I want to remind myself that great writing and storytelling is possible this is one of a handful of books that I turn to.  In other words:  the snick of Blackbringer overwhelms me and I can’t help myself!

So.  Laini Taylor has written a number of excellent books and I’m very eagerly awaiting the November 6th release of Days of Blood and Starlight, the sequel to the wonderful Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

But Blackbringer has a special place in my heart.  It is one of those books that I came across by chance, just browsing in a bookstore.  I liked the cover art (done by her husband Jim Di Bartolo) and idly picked it up.

The first line is:  “The wolf tasted the babe’s face with the tip of his tongue and pronounced her sweet, and the fox licked the back of her head to see if it was so.”

Instant snick.  And it didn’t let up.  For me this is one of those rare books that satisfies from beginning to end and everywhere in between.  There weren’t just a few chapters or characters or bits of writing that I liked – I liked it all and I’m not even usually a faerie type of person.

As any novel writer knows it’s agonizing to write good book jacket style copy but here goes with a brief summary:

Magpie Windwitch, a small, fierce faerie, still young at only 100 years old, is trying to protect her fading world by capturing one devil at a time with her band of brothers – a motley collection of crows.  Great magic has all but disappeared.  Few faeries even know that a fine weave of magic is all that holds the world tenuously together, but Magpie finds herself at the centre of a race to stop that weave from unraveling.  She and her crows meet a cast of wonderful, curious and traitorous creatures as they fight to save their world.  This excellent, fast-moving tale is told in rich, deft prose that gives the reader time to enjoy each marvelous word without ever bogging down the story.


I’m not usually so effusive but, honestly, I really think it’s that good.  I know that some of you won’t agree with me.  We’ve all been in the position where we’ve recommended a book or a movie we love only to have the other person trying to find a polite way to tell us that they couldn’t get through the first 10 pages or minutes.  It is fantasy and the target audience is age 9 and up, not every adult reader’s cup of tea, but I highly recommend that you give it a try.

The wolf tasted the babe’s face with the tip of his tongue and pronounced her sweet, and the fox licked the back of her head to see if it was so.”

I mean, come on.


Interesting Aside:  Laini’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone has been optioned by Universal Pictures.

Interesting Aside 2:  Hodder, the UK publisher for Daughter of Smoke and Bone, is running a promotion for the book — you can enter to win a trip for two to Prague!

Congratulations to Masterpiece!

Congratulations to PBS’ Masterpiece for receiving 37 Primetime Emmy nominations!  The more accolades and awards they get the more excellent shows I will hopefully get to see!

Side Note:  For all the Downton Abbey fans out there check out this link for a few hints about what’s in store in the upcoming season 3 (airing September, 2012 in the UK and January, 2013 on Masterpiece)

Crime/Mystery TV News — Flavia de Luce and Lewis

Award winning Canadian author Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries have been optioned by Sam Mendes of Neal Productions (think Call the Midwife).  See details here.

A clever, poison mad, lonely 11-year-old girl sleuth, a 1950s English country house setting… What could be better?  This project will probably be some time in the making but I think it could be really good.  Definitely something to look forward to.

In Lewis news…

If you’re not already watching, the latest season of Lewis is currently (July 2012) being shown on PBS on Sunday nights.  In a recent interview Laurence Fox (Detective Sergeant Hathaway) said that the next series of the show will be the last one – so enjoy it while you can!

If you’ve never watched the show I’ll say that while some critics may feel that the plots get a bit needlessly involved, I could watch Inspector Lewis and DS Hathaway just sit and drink beer by a river all day long, let alone wander through the beautifully lit byways of Oxford for a bit of crime solving.

In related news, and as balm to the upcoming loss of Lewis, Endeavour, the Morse prequel that aired earlier this month on PBS, has been commissioned by ITV for a four episode series so we won’t have to give up on the Morse/Lewis universe entirely.  Of course (of course!) there are always the original Colin Dexter novels to turn to as well.

Any Lewis or Flavia fans out there?

Memorable Supporting Characters – Erica Burgoyne in Josephine Tey’s A Shilling for Candles

I am, of course, an admirer of many of the great British fictional detectives: Morse, Dalziel and Pascoe, Inspector Alan Banks, Miss Marple and Poirot, Inspector Roderick Alleyn, Miss Silver… But much has been said about these characters (I reserve the right to say more myself!) and I’d like to spend a bit of time on some of the secondary or even momentary characters that I really enjoy.

In Josephine Tey’s golden age mystery A Shilling for Candles the character of Erica Burgoyne appears on only about 40 of the novel’s 238-odd pages.  Despite her limited time on camera it’s Erica that always comes to mind when I think of this book.

It isn’t that I didn’t enjoy the story as a whole, I did, or that I don’t like Tey’s main character Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant, I do, it’s just that sometimes a secondary character grabs you from the moment they arrive on the page and suddenly you find that you’re reading for that character — waiting impatiently for them to show up again despite the fact that there may be absolutely no plot consistent reason for their presence!

Erica is the seventeen year old daughter of the Chief Constable in the county where Inspector Grant is on a case.  She enters the story over 40 pages in:

“The door breezed open, after the sketchiest of knocks, and in the middle of the floor stood a small, skinny child of sixteen in shabby tweeds, her dark head hatless and very untidy.”

She gets me right away – of course I do have a soft spot for tomboys and characters who don’t seem to care what other people think about them.

She gets peripherally involved with the case because she thinks that the handsome prime suspect couldn’t possibly have committed the murder.  Not, refreshingly, because she’s been won over by his good looks, but because she thinks (quite dispassionately) that he’s too much of a wimp!

The three short chapters in the middle of the book where she conducts her own small investigation is my favourite part of the novel.

I’ll admit that Tey’s mysteries, including this one, are not ones that I can totally immerse myself in.  The world only fades away in sections (like the ones featuring Erica) and there are the inevitable class, race and gender ideas that snag for me – these books aren’t contemporary novels set in the 1930s – 1950s, they were actually written and published during that time.  Nevertheless, I think that all of her novels are very well worth a look for anyone who likes their mysteries of the British and/or less bloody (at least on camera!) variety.  Or really for anyone who likes good writing and great characterization.  Josephine Tey isn’t considered one of the great golden age crime novelists for nothing and Erica isn’t the only character who is so wonderfully and skillfully realized.

If you’d like to know more about Josephine Tey (real name Elizabeth MacKintosh and also a noted playwright), or if you already know her work and enjoy it, you might want to check out Nicola Upson who has created a mystery series where the main character is Josephine Tey.

I wish someone would make Erica the main character of a mystery series — if she’s that clever at seventeen she should make a very fine grown-up sleuth!

Closing note: I haven’t seen it, but apparently A Shilling for Candles was the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s Young and Innocent (1937).  The movie is apparently quite different and focuses almost entirely on the prime suspect (the handsome young man) and Erica Burgoyne!  Perhaps the scriptwriters were as taken with her as I was.

Closing Note 2: Okay, I’ve just watch the film.  What can I say?  I like Hitchcock but in terms of a comparison to the novel… It is very different; far more romance and comedy than mystery.  I definitely prefer the Erica of the novel.

Has anyone else seen it?  How do you think it compares to the book?

The Snick – not the Snark

The Snick is a term coined, as far as I know, by wonderful YA author Laini Taylor to refer to that moment of certainty, that feeling you get when you hit on the just-right plot idea, image, line of dialogue, etc. that is true and right for your story.

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