Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters who read!

It's a Top Ten Tuesday ... on Wednesday! *adjusts hipster glasses*

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish blog!

Woohoo! I love it when characters reflect my intense love of reading. Sometimes they read out of necessity, sometimes merely out of love, but I enjoy it when the author takes a moment to pause the headlong race of plot to give us a moment for the character and the reader to appreciate books together. It's rather meta, in a way.

Here are my top ten characters that READ!

This is rather an eclectic mix of SFF books, with adult, YA, and children's in an effort not to repeat my favorite series over and over again. 

1. Celaena from Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas

One thing I LOVED about Celaena (Review forthcoming! I have a LOT of thoughts on Throne of Glass) was her ability to be BOTH an assassin AND a fully-realized person who had likes, dislikes, and depth that didn't just align with her occupation. When she's not training for a fight to death or sassing nobles, she spends ALL her time reading voraciously, just because she likes it. I was amused when she specifically flirts with the Prince to get access to his library. And she reads everything--to the great surprise of her companions/guards/employers, who don't expect the greatest assassin of their time to be into fluffly romance novels.

2. Jean from Gentlemen Bastards by Scott Lynch

Jean Tannen is a tough guy, an all-around bruiser, a man who won't back down from any fight. He's also absolutely obsessed with old timey romances, old philosophers, and poetry. Scott Lynch is one of the best at interweaving scenes of intense action with scenes of character development and I deeply enjoyed every one of Locke's and Jean's disagreements on the value of fiction (Locke taking the standpoint of "if it's not useful I don't care" and Jean patiently defending his romances). It even helps Jean court a dashing pirate lieutenant--Ezri, one of my favorite characters, who finds common ground with Jean while she's efficiently tying him up and bantering quotes from old literature at the same time. I'm quite certain they seduce each other entirely through philosophy quotes.

3. Raistlin from Dragonlance by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis

Raist the Mage! Okay, Dragonlance as a whole is a bit of a guilty pleasure, but I've always liked Raistlin the angsty, traitorous mage who cares for no one and is unfailingly pessimistic. As part of his magic, Raist must insult everyone in close conta--I mean, read over old spells over and over and OVER again to fix them in his mind. He cares more for spellbooks than he does his own brother. He happily betrays all just to get his hand on a book. Books and magic mean literally everything to him, and he has no qualms about sacrificing everything just to get his hands on another.

4. Phedre from Kushiel by Jacqueline Carey

Phedre is one of my favorite characters of all time. She's a courtesan who's also a spy who's also a damn good scholar. She knows more languages than ANYONE would suspect (and certainly not her patrons). And she knows the power of knowledge. "All knowledge is worth having."--says her teacher Delaunay, and Phedre takes this to heart as she encounters deep-rooted plots, schemes, and manipulations though her seemingly innocent work as a high demand and highly specialized courtesan. The majority of the revelations of the extremely complicated political plot happen when Phedre is in the library, or when she and her fellow apprentice Alcuin put there heads together. All throughout the novels, knowledge and the discovery of it is a common theme. Seldom do you have a character whose deep respect for knowledge drives and unveils the plot. I love these books.

5. Maerad from Pellinor by Alison Croggon

Ah, Pellinor. This was the series of my youth (*shakes cane at young'uns*). This was--and remains--my favorite YA ever. Maerad starts off as a slave in a mountain keep. When she escapes with the help of her soon-to-be-mentor Cadvan, she's taken to a magical city of the Bards where she finds acceptance, kindness, and magic. I remember Maerad reveling in the wealth of knowledge around her--books of wisdom and magic, words of power. The entire series is an ode to the spoken word. Alison Croggon is a poet, and she absolutely writes like it. Maerad's transition from miserable servitude to sudden respect, from a crude world of pain to one of beauty and high thoughts, is one of the best written such transitions I've come across. Really lovely.

6. Nathaniel from Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathon Stroud

Another mage! Nathaniel is a young magician's apprentice who has disgraced himself horribly, and now finds his studies proceeding at the pace of a glacier thanks to the lost trust of his cut-rate master. Not to be held back, Nathaniel takes to books in intensive and secretive self-study, abandoning flesh-and-blood masters who've failed him for the masters of the past. Nathaniel's tale is that of vengeance of the introvert--believed to be inconsequential, he turns his ambitions to extreme self-improvement and makes himself a brilliant sorcerer by the power of books alone. Best of all, these books feature one of the most hilarious smartass characters I've ever read: Bartimaeus. My FAVORITE children's series.

7. Jaenelle from Black Jewels by Anne Bishop

Following with a series that is distinctly NOT children's ... Jaenelle is a young witch of unheard-of power, residing in the comfortable residence of Hell while she slowly recovers from betrayal by her blood family. Believed to be Witch, the prophesized avenging spirit who has the power to save the Three Realms from the powers of a malicious usurper, she's isolated and alone because of her potential--even the High Lord of Hell himself fears her, sometimes. Jaenelle buries herself in novels as a way to bridge the gap between herself and others of the Blood. By sharing books, she learns to trust and make friends with others who would have been scared off by her power--in return, they learn to trust her, and see her as a person, and not only Witch.

8. Irulan from Dune by Frank Herbert

 I'll admit it, I only read Dune and Dune Messiah, and I consider Dune to be the start and the END of the series because of the dissapointment in following books. That said, Irulan the Princess and Bene Gesserit hardly makes an appearence in Dune. How we know her is through the chapter headings, usually featuring excerpts from her books about Paul-Muad'dib. Irulan's strength lies in research and literature. As one of many daughters of the Padishah Emperor, she is trained in observation and mental strength. Despite the fact that she only physically appears at the very end, we learn a lot about Irulan through her writing and research. And, of course, in the end she only has the comfort of her books. Nothing more.

9. Flavia from the Flavia de Luce Mysteries by Alan Bradley

11 yr old mad scientist, detective, and A+ sister botherer! I love the Flavia de Luce mysteries because they are so FUN, and Flavia with her obsession with poisons is the best. Flavia discovers her passion in old, dusty books of Chemistry that she finds in her rambling house. Living with 2 sisters and a distant but affectionate father, she immerses herself in the sciences to occupy her mind and finds that she's actually quite brilliant at it. Flavia's obsession is a story of science and love of books--love of information imparted by old masters, whose word lives on. It's also quite useful in solving a number of strange cases that arise in the sleepy town that they live.

10.  All right ... I'm stumped. I could swear that there's a Malazan character who fits this list but it's been so long that I can't remember. (Speaking of which, I NEED to get on Toll the Hounds). Who's YOUR favorite character who reads?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

REVIEW: The Martian by Andy Weir

Star Rating: ***** 5/5



The Martian by Andy Weir
Genre: Science Fiction
Subgenre: Hard scifi
Review by Silicon.
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?


The plot of The Martian is simultaneously so simple and so unique that I wonder why it hasn't been done a thousand times before. It's one of those situations that makes you think "DUH--why didn't I think of that?"

Mark Watney wakes up alone on the surface of Mars, with no companions and only a jumble of forgotten and abandoned equipment to work with. His fellow astronauts, believing him dead, have fled the planet in the only escape vehicle available. Now, bereft of any communication with Earth or chance of assistance, Mark must find a way to survive on Mars--alone--until someone notices he's still alive.

This could have become boring very fast. This could have become unbelievable even faster. It could have been simple deus ex machina. But what really makes the book incredible is that it is hard scifi. Incredibly hard scifi. Many scifi authors use handwaving to get out of the difficult mechanical realities of space travel--Weir uses these difficulties to create the plot. Every step of the way, Mark is facing believable engineering obstacles in his quest to stay alive. Every time, he uses ingenuity and knowledge to deal with these seemingly impossible difficulties. If you're like me, watching Watney THINK and show you every step of the way WHY his solution may work, give you the justification, give you the MATH, makes this a unique and thrilling book.

This is a high-tension story with periods of hopefulness and success. It definitely feels like a race against time.

Many people think of engineering like following a manual--where's the interest in that? This book puts the true spirit of engineering back into engineering--the ability to invent and use things in ways unimagined by the creators--to go off the books and build things from whatever resources you have.

Things are constantly going wrong for Watney--human error, limitations of materials, the nature of Mars itself. There's tension the whole time--you feel the impossibility of the situation every time Watney does. He's no genius, but he's forced into a situation where he has to perform at his best, just to stay alive.

The story also switches back to the control center back on Earth. You get to watch NASA operate and executives interact, and there's real tension there too. I won't give spoilers, but you watch the drama unfold from BOTH sides--how a crisis can make a varied group of people, not all of them friendly, suddenly work together.

Caveat, however: If you have 0 interest in engineering, this is not the book for you. I couldn't get enough of Watney's careful schemes to work around the latest equipment failure, but if you're looking for a human conflict-centered book, it's not this one. This is VERY man vs nature.


Like any book that focuses on a single character in isolation, a LOT depends on how well that character is realized. Fortunately, Watney is both likable and very human. He's not some kind of engineering god, and he knows that. He's not even the most important person on the Mars mission. But he's self-reliant, inventive, a joker, and relentlessly forward-thinking. He has moments of utter despair (illustrated by a stream of colorful profanities--like I said, very human), but he gets up off his feet and goes to fix those problems.

I would have expected a bit more introspective conflict--certainly Watney is a good deal more optimistic than I'd ever have been in that situation--but the book's focus is very much a man vs nature, not man vs himself. Which I also appreciated--Watney never angsts. He gets up and does shit. 

The other characters, such as the headquarters back on Earth, and Watney's crewmates, are also written very realistically, and without flair. The reactions--especially that of Watney's crewmates--to shocking, and disturbing news is very realistic. I LOVED the way that everything came together in the final drama--it's definitely the most emotional part of the book, but it doesn't sacrifice that dispassionate mental ingenuity that the entire book is built on.

I loved that the characters were varied and different--no clones here. Everyone, no matter how briefly they were on stage, was a character. The minimal character sketches--mainly shown through actions, and reactions--were well done and gave you a sense of the person while still focusing on what they were doing.

My favorite characters were Watney (of course!) and his former crewmates, whose willingness to go against The Rules at considerable risk to themselves made them heroic.

This book doesn't spend too long on characterization but it's there, quietly informing the decisions of the characters. Understated, and well done.


Was it unique? Was it relevant? Well-portrayed? Was it interesting?

Mars! Mars as a fully realized alien planet, a world well-studied yet fraught with difficulties. Let me repeat that this book is VERY. Hard. Scifi. It felt extremely well-researched and believable, which really made the conflicts of the book feel real. We can trust the author on the setting and technology, which is a MUST for immersion into scifi that is relatively close to our time.

The Martian is set in the future, but it's not a FAR future. Space missions have been to Mars before but we haven't fully explored it--it feels like our current knowledge of the Moon, almost. The technology, while it is advanced, is still close enough to current Earth technology that it doesn't feel like it's being made up. It's perfectly understandable to anyone who takes an interest in tech, and is explained well enough by Watney that few readers should feel lost. While being a novel focusing on engineering-based solutions to conflict, it doesn't drown you in tech-speak like many books do when they're trying to impress you.

I loved learning the details of the space missions and of Mars itself.

Writing Style

The Martian has several POVs, the main one being Watney's own journal. Yes, this is a diary-format book. YES, IT'S SUCCESSFUL.

The diary format means that we learn about Watney's successes and failures after the fact--but it loses none of the excitement and tension for this. It allows the author to keep the pacing up--a convenient way of skipping over boring and tedious realities of building up rovers, while still making us feel like we're experiencing everything with Watney. The best part of the diary format is, of course, watching Watney think out loud--the figuring out of the solution is always the most exciting part.

The other POVs are fairly standard third-limited from a variety of executives, programmers, workers, and policy makers back on Earth, and the POVs of Watney's crewmates on their space station.

The writing style is very understated, I would say--the most emotion comes from the reactions of people, not their descriptions. And Watney's colorful entries, of course.

The writing style was very effective for the novel.

Other Considerations

In a tech-based novel like this, it's very easy to make everything a "guy's-world" and only have token diversity and representation. It's exceedingly common for this to happen in similar hard scifi. I was expecting it, and resigned to finding only one or two very minor female characters, to say nothing of diversity.

However, The Martian pleasantly surprised me with a VARIETY of diverse characters that made the book seem perfectly REAL. Here was no artificially white male tech world! Watney's crew is splendidly diverse, with people of multiple nationalities and ethnicities at coming together to complete a historic Mars mission--as it would be. The crew leader is a woman, as is the programmer which I thought was an excellent touch (whether or not it was intended to make a point, I felt enormously satisfied that it didn't conform to the usual All-Male Programmer trope that is so painfully common even in tech novels that purport a little more gender diversity). The control back on Earth has high ethnic and gender diversity as well. And best of all, it's all done with no fuss. No one freaks out about a woman astrophysicist, a woman Space Mission crew leader. There's mutual respect among the ethnically diverse groups shown--no cheap shots or unfunny jokes. It just is. Which is the best way to have a diverse cast.

In Personal Bias news, this was one of the lowest-romance books, highest-plot-focus books I've read ever--hurray! Human drama exists but the REAL problem is the Mars situation--again, hurray! No, I'm not saying everyone gets along perfectly For The Love of Engineering--the inter-department and interpersonal conflict expected certainly exists and causes problems (and it's not totally devoid of romance), but it's not the main conflict. It's not the main focus. You know how all those medical drama shows end up talking more about relationships than they do about diagnoses--THIS IS NOT THAT KIND OF STORY. 


Actually, I haven't read any book like The Martian.

Do you like abandoned-on-a-deserted-island stories?

Do you like high tension and race-against-time plots?

Do you actually care about the nitty-gritty of tech problems and solutions?

Read this book.


Final Remarks

You guys should be proud of me for not incoherently flailing during this entire review. If it's not obvious yet, know that I REALLY LOVED THIS BOOK. SO MUCH. It's one of those rare books that caters to the scientifically-minded without being dry and niche-y. It's accessible yet doesn't dumb down everything. It is the best hard scifi I've read so far.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Diversity (in fantasy)!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish blog!

The topic for this week's Top Ten Tuesday is: books that celebrate diversity/diverse characters!

I'm choosing to focus on the adult fantasy genre, and I'm aiming more at representation of diverse characters, and normalization thereof. You'd think that in the fantasy genre--where almost anything goes, including fairies, wizards, nonhuman entities, talking trees--we'd see a shit ton more diverse characters. AND YET. It's actually quite difficult to find books with good representation of diverse characters--books that show diverse people as normal, ordinary people.

So here are 5 books/series that stood out to me for normalizing diversities. After that, I'll list 5 diverse books I'm really interested in reading.

Many of these are series(es?) so I'll use the first book as the picture.

1. Gentlemen Bastards by Scott Lynch

Women! In equal positions of power as men! Unquestioned female leadership! Unquestioned acceptance of women in gangs, armies, nobility, magic--you name it. Gentlemen Bastards is one of the few series that doesn't reproduce old, tired tales of women who are always lesser than men. And it challenges this very quietly. It's simply there--the equality. No one questions it. No one has impassioned speeches about uppity females. And Lynch doesn't make that old mistake of claiming to have diversity in gender, yet pushing the women to the background. They are important characters, they affect the progression of the plot, they are undeniably present and important. It was refreshing.

2. Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson

Malazan does an excellent job of having tribal societies--many kinds of societies--and not having them be exceptional, weird, or out-of-place. I'd say that Malazan has one of the most diverse religions in fantasy--by which I mean it's NOT just a totallyNot of a European religion, with the more stereotypical aspects of other world religions thrown in for flavor. Malazan doesn't just have one tribal society, it has many--and they're not bizzare savages, they're just as legitimate as many of the non-tribal societies. They're important. And there's LOTS OF THEM. I love the way that Malazan doesn't differentiate between very different societies in terms of their threat to the Malazan Empire--they're all a threat. They're all dangerous. And none are considered "lesser" because of some real-world cultural bias.

3. Kushiel by Jacqueline Carey

I can't express how much I love these novels, and how sad it is that ALMOST NO ONE I KNOW has read them. Okay fine, they're very explicit. STILL. Brilliant novels.

Kushiel is a society where any kind of non-heterosexual orientation is absolutely and completely normal. There's no fuss over characters that prefer one gender over another, and the main character is clearly bisexual. It's so normal that Phedre has both male and female contracts (she's a courtesan). It's so normal that several important characters are gay. It even plays a major part in the extremely complicated (and fucking brilliant) political plot. This is a beautiful book that is fundamentally about Love--the tragedies, the manipulations, the ecstacy, and the loyalty of love. And it doesn't give a fig about how our society likes to divide love based on the genders of the lovers. It absolutely does not care. And that's really, really beautiful.

(Kushiel also remains one of the ONLY BOOKS that is stuffed with romance that I ABSOLUTELY LOVED. I'm a weird person who usually can't stand romance, relationships, and the drama within in novels--I usually just endure it and wait for the real plot to start. Man, was Kushiel an exception. Literally the entire theme of the book is love. You NEED to read this.)

4.  Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

If you've been following me on Twitter, you know that as soon as I finished this book I immediately went into a rant of epic proportions of HOW MUCH I LOVED IT.

Karen Memory is set in the American West during the Gold Rush, but it's a steampunk alt/weird West. And it's more exciting for the fact that it easily includes people of multiple ethnicities (Chinese, Black, and Indian--literally the first fantasy book I've read that actually has Indian characters), in a time that is, all too often, whitewashed.

I appreciated the way the author also normalizes the relationship between Priya and Karen, who are both women. Like Kushiel, it's accepted by other characters just the same way a heterosexual relationship would be. One of the most beloved characters in Madame's house is a trans MtF character, who is unquestioningly accepted by all to be a woman--it's just not a big deal. Most of all, I loved the way that she had multiple characters of multiple diversities--and intersectional diversity!--that were just there.

Though the book is clearly steampunk fantasy, it paints a much more accurate picture of the American West than many history books do. Which is amazing, or sad, depending on the way you think about it.

5. Acacia by David Anthony Durham

This is a brilliant series based entirely on African culture, which I loved. I haven't read any other novels which have such an immersive, well-developed, respectful African-based culture as Acacia and I really appreciated the way the society affected the characters, the plot, and the conflicts of the book. Remember all those books where the Good Pale People are battling those Weird Dark Savages, with their strange gods, unknowable customs, and undeniably backward culture? It's a theme that fantasy repeats OVER and OVER and OVER again, to the extreme distaste of many. Acacia undoes this by making the African-based culture the main one, and removing the European-based culture to the outskirts. It's a neat reversal which I wish I saw more of. I haven't finished the book yet, but I'm really enjoying it.

And now for the 5 TBR diverse books! Here's some stuff I'm looking forward to.

6. Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs.

7. A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham
The city-state of Saraykeht dominates the Summer Cities. Its wealth is beyond measure; its port is open to all the merchants of the world, and its ruler, the Khai Saraykeht, commands forces to rival the Gods. Commerce and trade fill the streets with a hundred languages, and the coffers of the wealthy with jewels and gold. Any desire, however exotic or base, can be satisfied in its soft quarter. Blissfully ignorant of the forces that fuel their prosperity, the people live and work secure in the knowledge that their city is a bastion of progress in a harsh world. It would be a tragedy if it fell.

Saraykeht is poised on the knife-edge of disaster.

At the heart of the city's influence are the poet-sorcerer Heshai and the captive spirit, Seedless, whom he controls. For all his power, Heshai is weak, haunted by memories of shame and humiliation. A man faced with constant reminders of his responsibilities and his failures, he is the linchpin and the most vulnerable point in Saraykeht's greatness.

Far to the west, the armies of Galt have conquered many lands. To take Saraykeht, they must first destroy the trade upon which its prosperity is based. Marchat Wilsin, head of Galt's trading house in the city, is planning a terrible crime against Heshai and Seedless. If he succeeds, Saraykeht will fall.

Amat, House Wilsin's business manager, is a woman who rose from the slums to wield the power that Marchat Wilsin would use to destroy her city. Through accidents of fate and circumstance Amat, her apprentice Liat, and two young men from the farthest reaches of their society stand alone against the dangers that threaten the city.

8. Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler
Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny (from Africa to the New World) unimaginable to mortals.

9. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region. The aggressors, the Nuru, have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand and instinctively knows that her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means "Who Fears Death?" in an ancient African tongue.

Reared under the tutelage of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers her magical destiny--to end the genocide of her people. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to grapple with nature, tradition, history, true love, the spiritual mysteries of her culture-and eventually death itself.

10. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose -and change - their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters.

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.

(I should also mention Le Guin's Earthsea, which I have read, which is amazing, and which also has a "reversal" with regards to what you expect the main character to look like. Bonus!)

Tell me your favorite diverse fantasy!

Monday, July 13, 2015

REVIEW: Low Town by Daniel Polansky

Star Rating: *** 3/5



Low Town by Daniel Polansky.
Genre: fantasy.
Subgenre: low fantasy.
Review by Silicon.


In the forgotten back alleys and flophouses that lie in the shadows of Rigus, the finest city of the Thirteen Lands, you will find Low Town. It is an ugly place, and its cham­pion is an ugly man. Disgraced intelligence agent. Forgotten war hero. Independent drug dealer. After a fall from grace five years ago, a man known as the Warden leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs. Every day is a constant hustle to find new customers and protect his turf from low-life competition like Tancred the Harelip and Ling Chi, the enigmatic crime lord of the heathens.

The Warden’s life of drugged iniquity is shaken by his dis­covery of a murdered child down a dead-end street . . . set­ting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. As a former agent with Black House—the secret police—he knows better than anyone that murder in Low Town is an everyday thing, the kind of crime that doesn’t get investi­gated. To protect his home, he will take part in a dangerous game of deception between underworld bosses and the psy­chotic head of Black House, but the truth is far darker than he imagines. In Low Town, no one can be trusted.

Overall, I'd say I liked this book, but it didn't hit any kind of urgency for me to continue reading others. It had a number of unusual elements (the main character's occupation, the city itself), but it felt ... incomplete. Rushed, almost. Honestly, it felt like an average debut novel to me--good elements, potential, but not quite polished and smooth yet. I'm not sure if it is actually a debut novel [NOTE: look that up]. Many of the problems I had with it were fixable; the kinds of things that get better with practice and editing (which is why I give debut authors 2-3 books in a series if they come out as ***, while I'm harsher on experienced authors).


When the bodies of children start showing up all over Low Town, main character the Warden finds himself compelled to go searching for the killer. First by choice, then under an ultimatum from Low Town's Secret Service, which suspects HIM as the murderer--conveniently, as they f--king hate him. Given the Warden's unique position as a fallen former detective, and current drug dealer, he has access to both sides of the law and is perfectly placed to go hunting.

The plot was ... okay. It wasn't so much a detective novel as it was a thriller. The Warden instantly focuses on a suspicious aristocrat who acts pugnacious, sneaky, and underhanded. Furthermore, the Blade (aka suspicious dude) is in cahoots with an even more suspicious guy--asshole magician dude (Sorcerer Brightfellow)! Who the Warden instantly makes enemies with because why not.

Actually, that describes a lot of the book. So many vendettas against The Warden--understandable, cause he ditched his police job to go sell drugs, I guess, but man are these Secret Service guys fouling up their OWN investigation. The Warden isn't a man afraid of starting MORE vendettas either--even if it would be more in his interest to make friends with someone.

Yes, there were Clues, but it really wasn't a mystery story. You, the Reader, basically had to accept whatever deductions the Warden makes because he knows Low Town better. Cool, cool, maybe it was intended to be a thriller after all. Except the motivations for it becoming a thriller didn't really make sense.

Secret Service Guy 1: Dang, someone is killing kids.
SSG 2: Hey, remember that guy we hate?


But then the Warden gets off because he reminds Old Man the leader of the SSGs that he was a pretty awesome detective.

So Old Man is all, okay you get 1 week or else we're blaming YOU.

Now, this did not really make sense to me. Cool, the SSGs get to torture the guy they hate but doesn't that leave the REAL killer out on the streets, merrily murdering more kids? There's literally no evidence that the Warden is the murderer, except that he finds the first body. I guess their motive is to REALLY MOTIVATE the Warden into solving the crimes for them. Except Idiot SSG (Crowley) + Co. keeps trying to murder him while he's solving the crime.

I wish I could give spoilers because the Final Motivation Reveal was actually really good, and made the random child murders make a whole lot more sense AND provide a chilling end result, but you find that out in the last 100 pgs or so, therefore NO SPOILERS. (I wasn't too fond of the perpetrators, but the motivation was excellent). I feel like the ending needed more foreshadowing--you could feel it was supposed to be a twist, but it wasn't very surprising, to me.


I felt the characters (with an exception of Celia, who was just the Pretty Smart Innocent Love Interest) were well done. I liked the Warden, who was fallible but also very human. Wren was probably my favorite character (stubborn kid who follows the Warden around determinedly). I also liked Crispin, the Warden's former fellow detective, and the relationship of distrust but also grudging respect between them was excellent.

The Warden is a belligerent, occasionally stupid guy who fits in well with the lowlife found in Low Town. He's definitely not a Gary Stu, thank heavens--it would have been very easy for the Author to write that he was just a Fallen Moral Man, who just needed love and purpose to find his way! Fortunately the Warden is a survivor, a fighter, and probably a drug addict. I've never read a book where the MC sells drugs for a living, so that was refreshing and different. I was curious as to how he could do his job and solve crimes given HOW OFTEN he took hits off his own stash, but hey. Maybe he's used to it? We get hints of regret for leaving his former life, but he doesn't angst. I enjoyed the Army flashbacks that show how MC moved from street urchin to soldier to detective to drug dealer. Though his whole fall from grace wasn't really explained, or emphasized. It probably was briefly, but I can't remember so it must have been very short.

The Crane, the kindly old magician who takes in lost children without judgement, was also very well done.

Celia irritated me completely. Her character type tends to, though.

I did like the innkeeper, MC's best friend and former fellow soldier. He made sense, and felt very real.

A lot of the Bad Guys seemed like just that--Bad Guys, with Bad Motives, and Bad Attitudes, and probably Bad Breath. This gets better near the end (TWIST!) but they weren't very grey for the majority of the book.

My major issue with this book was, as I said before, character agency. For the majority of the time, it felt like the Warden was just being pulled around by the plot. It didn't really feel like he was making the choices. 


The setting was excellently done. I enjoyed Low Town, a dirty fantasy city where everyone is an asshole and knows it. It felt real, gritty, and dangerous. The Warden deals with a lot of unsightly characters. Even though there is magic in this setting, it's not overplayed except for its use in the plot (terrifying mystery magical creature let loose! Magicians suspected!). I did like the touch about the Crane's wards holding back the Plague, which the Warden remembers with fear from his childhood (those flashbacks: really well done). There's a lot of fights, and the Warden gets beat up more than once. I just wish that more trickles of worldbuilding had been allowed to come through--I really didn't get any sense of the history of the city, its relationship to neighboring cities, the religion, etc. A lot of the worldbuilding is just dropped abruptly into the story in a few brief words, but there isn't enough for me to really feel the connections--Low Town felt very isolated to me: an island of setting in an amorphous sea of worldbuilding you couldn't really see clearly.

So, what we got was good, but I wanted more.

Writing Style

Also good! This book is written from the first person perspective of the Warden, a stylistic choice that can easily lead to angst, incessant introspection, and annoyance for the reader if s/he doesn't like the MC. None of that was an issue here. You get to know the Warden but you're not wrapped up solely in his thoughts and opinions. And you never feel like he is Always Right because he's the FPOV--he's wrong plenty of times, and makes stupid mistakes too! Which he acknowledges! That was great.

Overall the writing style was not overly descriptive, but not plain either--you did get a good sense of the city, the characters, the personalities that the Warden meets.

Pacing was ... okay. I didn't really feel the urgency that the Warden must have felt when he got his ultimatum. It felt like short periods of intense action followed by slower sequences of eating, drinking, and doing drugs. The ending felt distinctly rushed. I know it was supposed to be a twist, but it wasn't really surprising. There is an excellent line from Agatha Christie's Towards Zero that describes it--"She was like a child who, by clutching her fist tightly over a sweet, drew attention to her hidden treasure." (paraphrased from memory).

Overall, I enjoyed the writing style. It was a first person POV done well, which is rare. 

Other Considerations

Great, now I get to talk about the Heretics.

The Heretics, also known as the Kiren, are the people that occupy Kirentown, a stereotypical Chinatown as you might see in stories such as James Bond. The Kiren deeply frustrated me because I really, really did NOT want to see them as real-world parallels but it was impossible NOT to. The main Heretic we come into contact with is Ling Chi the Bond Villain. The rest of Low Town society is done really well. Why, oh why, did the book need to include such a clear and obvious stereotype such as Ling Chi?! WHY? The Warden speaks normally with everyone else EXCEPT our dear Bond Villain, with whom he assumes a bizarrely indirect, "formal" way of speech that is supposed to indicate Ling Chi's exotic and strange culture?
I bowed very slightly. "My most intimate confidant does me honor in marking my absence."
It was hard to read and difficult to understand and completely unnecessary. Yes, the Warden is good friends with the Kiren and appears to be accepted into and accepts their culture but it still felt ... weird. Good Guy Warden doesn't treat Heretics with dismissal and mockery, cause he's a Good Guy! Yay, cookie!

This was further emphasized by the way the author occasionally uses "white" to refer to the non-exotic, non-Heretic, non-Kiren people.

I guess, yay there's some representation of non-Western cultures. At least that happened? And they're not all evil?

I'm probably extra-pissed at this because it was ALMOST OKAY. ALMOST. But no. Research, people!

Gender-wise, there were very few female characters, but only one was an outright idiot. The others were competent and likable (especially the seer), even though they were mostly in minor roles. Wasn't really bothered, but it is something to note.


If you liked the focus on Camorr in Locke Lamora, the nasty city underworld of gangs, and the corrupt officials, you'd like the similar focus on Low Town in this book.

If you like asshole characters who are bad and don't want to be good, yet aren't black-and-white Evil Dudes, you'll like the MC of this book.

If you like races against time that aren't too fast, you'll like the pacing in this book.

If you're curious about how a drug-dealing MC can save people, try this book.

Final Remarks

A lot of the book felt like "it was almost good, BUT--". It came VERY CLOSE to being awesome.

I feel like a lot of the issues I had with it were fixable, and probably will disappear in future books. They were very similar to what I see in basically all debut books--rushed pacing, problematic worldbuilding trickle (though here we had too little info, rather than too much). Bad guys that are Too Bad. Character motivations that didn't 100% make sense. The problematic Ling Chi, who would've vanished or changed with a bit more research and sensitivity.

But it was also a well done FPOV, a great city that really came to life thanks to the main character's interactions with all sorts of people, a novel main character that I didn't hate and rather enjoyed, humor, and good character relationships. I especially appreciated the fallible but not angsty MC--a guy who got shit done, but didn't call himself a hero, or try to be one.

Overall, it was a fairly decent book. A solid ***.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Would You Rather Book Tag: I'm It!

Thanks to Wesaun at Oreos & Books for tagging me in my first ever blog tag! *confetti*

With that said ... I'M

I hope you get that reference.

Would you rather only read trilogies or standalones?

The saner covers.
 FREEBIE QUESTION! Serieses (someone please tell me the plural of 'series' so I stop embarrassing myself) forever. Trilogies forever. All the books. All the sequels. When you've got a good thing going, why stop at one book? Or three? Or ten?

I'm a fanatically patient person with books, and am willing to give well-reviewed and recommended books a long time to build up into awesomeness. Multiple books are ideal for me. I get VERY ATTACHED to my beloved serieses.

Would you rather read only male or female authors?

How gender bias makes me feel.
I don't choose to read books by author gender, actually I rarely consider who the author is when selecting the next book to read (unless it's a familiar name). All my book choices are based on recommendations, cool summaries, and tbh pretty covers.


Given the state of the book publishing world (and the world in general), where the odds are stacked quite firmly against marginalized groups, this strategy does come with a rather unfortunate effect. Like I said on the #weneeddiverseblogs tag on twitter--Even as a staunch feminist and minority WoC, 3/4 of my bookshelves easily represent only a small slice of society. Which is fortunate enough to have advantages many of us don't.

It's harder to be extensively marketed, harder to make a splash, and harder be respected, as a woman author (how many of us have heard dismissive readers say, "Oh, I don't read women authors, I don't like reading about sappy romance."?). Publishers simply publish, and push forward, more male authors. Society's patriarchal bias means that readers see, read, and recommend more male authors. Ah, I see that you want data, O Discerning Reader. Here's an excellent analysis in Clarkesworld Magazine of gender bias in professional SFF markets. If you want an even more intense analysis, repeatable through the years, check out the Strange Horizons' Count. I've linked the 2014 Count, but they've been doing this every year.

With that said, I do make an effort to add more female authors, and more intersectionally diverse authors (which means minority ethnicity + woman, or LGBTQIA + minority ethnicity, etc.) to my TBR pile. I ignore author characteristics entirely while selecting the next book to actually read, but I try to make my TBR pile more representative of society as a whole. Unstacking the deck in my own personal bookshelves, you might say.

But I certainly wouldn't read only one gender.

Would you rather shop at Barnes and Noble or Amazon?

Life mission: get to this bookstore.
Dang, this is hard. I love physical bookstores. But I also love a variety of choice in books.

B&N, I've found, has a severe dearth of fantasy genre books and almost never updates its shelves, except in the case of highly sought or hyped books. Which I don't tend to read (I read 5 yrs behind the genre usually because I'm cheap and MMPB are waaaay cheaper than HB). But ... you can physically touch the book, see the book! Amazon is good if you already know what you want, browsing is hard. But I can get so many more books from Amazon than B&N.

I suppose I choose Amazon, then. But I get to keep used bookstores, yes?

Would you rather read only 5 pages per day or 5 books per week?

Oh, dear. 5 pages per day? Only 5? 35 pages per week?

5 books per week, hands down. My TBR pile will accept no less.

Would you rather be a professional author or reviewer?

I have carefully considered this question.
 Well, you've seen my writing on this blog, but no reviews (YET).

Oddly enough, I don't really intend to become a professional author, despite the fact that I'm pretty involved in the writing community. At one point I did--but then I started to read Miss Snark's blog, keep up with publishing news, and realized that all the work (especially marketing) required of the author wasn't something I wanted to do. Maybe I'll publish short stories someday, but never novels.

Professional reviewer? Hmm. I like reading books. I like jumping around and telling people about books. Reviewing books is hard, though. I'm just the average reader, after all. My credentials for reviewing books are that I like books and read a lot of them. But I basically have three dials on my internal assessment compass. 0 : THIS WAS THE MOST AWESOME THING EVER, FLAIL. 1: Meh, was okay. 2: THIS SUCKED SO BAD OMG, LET ME SING THE RANT OF MY PEOPLE.

(In my reviews on this blog, I do intend to be a bit more expansive than that obviously. But that's basically my gut reaction after finishing a book)

So, if I had to choose, I think I'd pick professional author. Just because I think I could do that a bit more ... professionally.

Though if GIFs and memes are totally OK in Professional Reviews by Professional Reviewers ... that may change.

Would you rather be a librarian or a bookseller?

The letters don't fit *twitches*
EASY. Librarian. Cause I can't sell anything to save my life. Librarian is all the recommending and none of the selling. Plus I can lurk around and peer at people suspiciously over my glasses and SHH the annoying idiots who insist on long phone conversations while the rest of us are busy READING.

Would you rather read only e-books or physical books?

Physical books. The E-Reader is NOT A THING to me, I deny its existence and despise the trend of electronic-only stories. Why? Why this hate, you say? It's extremely selfish. My eyes are not okay with long periods of staring at screens. Plus I read crazy slow on screens--so slow that I irritate myself and go mad.

And I just really like the weight of a book, the action of turning pages, the ability to take it wherever I want without needing a plug or battery, and of course the added bonus of confusing fellow public transport riders with the extravagantly ridiculous covers SFF is often blessed with.

Ah, Darrell K Sweet, you are a legend. An odd one.
Watch out now, for by the powers invested in me, I tag:

Mars @ Mars is Cool
BD aka Rin aka J.C Wright @ J.C Wright
Andrea @ Overstuffed Bookcase
Kaye @ Watercolor Moods
Angie @ Pinkindle

(if any of you don't want to be tagged / have already done this let me know and I'll tag elsewhere! And please let me know if I did something wrong. First tag and all.)


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Writing assassins for fun and profit (but mostly fun)


Today we're talking about writing assassin characters! (first post here).

Diamine Oxblood ink looks exactly like blood btw.

How to write assassin characters

Everyone has a different aim in writing their characters and I'm not any kind of expert so I'll refrain from telling you THE RULES. You're not here for a general "what makes a good character" spiel and I'm not giving you one.

Instead, what makes assassin characters special? What considerations do you have to pay attention to for an assassin that you wouldn't for, say, a mercenary? What makes an assassin character ring true?

To find out (puts on safari quest hat) we'll have to delve into The Life of An Assassin.

"On your right, a Hopelessly Romantic Assassin sits by the watering-hole and angsts about his life."
It's just a job--or is it?

Does your character party by day and assassinate by night? Or are they a lifer--a person whose entire being, entire future, and entire aspirations center on their identity as an assassin?

Great benefits, like lifelong enemies. Never be bored!

While most of us can't relate to murdering people for profit (I HOPE *stares at everyone meaningfully*), perhaps we can relate to the simple dichotomy of Why We Do Our Job. Example: I'm gonna be a scientist. I'm most definitely not doing it for the generous (*dies laughing*) payout. I'm doing it because science is such a central part of my life that I will GO INSANE IF I DON'T DO IT EVERY DAY. *coughs*. The payout is secondary. Whereas for other people, their job is mainly a source of income that they use to do stuff that they like in their off time. How does your assassin see their job?

DO THEY EVEN HAVE ONE? *dramatic music*
Maybe they're a lifer who's in it because they love dangerous challenges. Maybe they love slipping in and out of "secure" buildings unseen. Maybe assassination is higher paying than spying. Or maybe they're poor as hell and bizarrely good with a knife, but too scrawny to become a gang tough. Who knows?

Figuring this out for your character will give them more depth than just "I'm an assassin because I'm an Assassin Character Type."

An Assassin's Life for MC

 So you wanna be an assassin, MC? Well, have you got what it takes?

Have you considered that assassination is more than just killing people and getting paid?

Here's some considerations you should be thinking about before you sign on the dotted line:

Are they really cheering YOU on? (source)
Your Associates

Assassination is probably not the most legal thing, so you gotta know your criminal underworld. Where do you fit in? Are you a loner? How do you keep good relations with the gangs? In a gang? How much choice do you get with your contracts? In a Guild? How does the Guild stay afloat--how much freedom do you get? Can you leave? If you kill a mark who's big in the underworld, how do you avoid getting assassinated yourself? Or do you just not kill anyone whose death would be problematic for your day-to-day life?

No one, not even loners, works in a vacuum, so you want to know where your friends are and how much they can help you--and how much you'll have to help them.

Just watch your kidneys.
Your Business 

Who pays your coin? If you're in a Guild, maybe the Guild takes care of the tiny details of tracking down the customer and making them pay if they try to cheat you. If you're working alone, how do you ensure you're getting paid?

How do you get word out that you are looking for contracts? What's your marketing strategy, and how do you make sure it doesn't backfire and burn you when the King's Guards get wind of your little business and decide to come calling?

You're going to make enemies in this life--no question about it. Do you know how to keep those revenge-seekers off your back while not disturbing your profits? What about other assassins--are they cool with competition? Or are you going to be fighting tooth-and-nail for every contract?

Do you think assassins would play video games?
Levelling Up

Let's say skillful assassination is kind of a niche market. How did you learn this pretty taboo business? Did you have a Master Assassin--did you learn in the Guild--did you pick it up off the streets to keep from starving--were you forced into it by your gang? Your style, your skills, and your confidence will depend tremendously on how you first learned the job.

Skill stagnation is bad for any freelancer--you can't just be satisfied with your current level of murderous ability if you want to move up, get bigger contracts, or feel your way into more stable markets. Who do you go to when you want to learn more? Or do you figure it out by yourself (somehow)? How?

I think I'm more North-by-West. Compasses: more complicated than you'd think.

Your Own Personal Moral Compass

Unless you're a granite block, you're not going to have 0 psychological consequences from willfully murdering innocents (and you'd be a pretty bad assassin too). You've probably, consciously or not, made a deal with yourself or found some kind of justification that allows you to take on this job. But you've got to know your limits.

Are you cool with blackmail and corruption? Will you blackmail a witness--will you kill the princess and steal her jewels too?

Your limits may be different than your friends, but you've got them too. What are they, and how will they affect your job?

Great, you just erased the wrong person. Well done.

What happens if you get caught? Something pretty nasty, huh? Something you probably want to avoid. You're an assassin, not a lawyer. If they catch you red-handed (literally), you're in for it. You've got to know who's doing the catching, how good they are, and how to avoid them.

You've got to avoid leaving unwanted witnesses, but mistakes do happen. What will you do with them? Kill them? They might be on guard. Leave them be? Your security and secrecy might be out the window.

What if your mark is damn good at playing dead and you're in a rush? What happens when you f--k up a contract, and how do you fix it?

I have to keep ALL THAT IN MIND while writing? *sets manuscript on fire*
No one is expecting you, The Author, to have answers to all of these questions. But your character will (whether you know them or not). Just like you the writer know the writing business. Doesn't your work sometimes get affected by the Winds of the Publishing Industry? Your Assassin MC's work also gets affected by the Winds of the Assassination Industry. And the Criminal Industry. And the Winds of the Political Backstabbing Industry. And they'll react accordingly. (They're also awesome ways of adding interesting conflict to a story, or deepen the character).

Well, that was long. I promise the next section will be shorter [future Si falls over in disbelief]. Because it's--

How not to write an assassin character

Until it ended in fire a sentence later.
It's way less fun to talk about Bad Writing than it is to talk about Awesome Writing so correspondingly I'm not going to expand on much stuff here [future Si dies laughing] because 5 mins on TV Tropes (which I will NOT go on) will explain it with much more colorful examples than me.

Let's start with the worst offender.

The Invincible Assassin

 NO ONE, let me repeat, NO ONE will give a shit about your character if they are a Mary Sue Powerhouse of Incredible Talent and No Real Faults.

You know how there's always ONE perfect person in any class that gets straight 100%'s without studying, is the teacher's favorite student, wins all the awards and has the neatest handwriting ever?

And you, slogging through your textbook with your smudgy graph paper and barely-B's, studying like your life depended on it and only scraping through?

Do you seriously like Miss 100%?

Do you want to read a story about her perfect life?

Sorry, dying giggling.
Then why do you think someone wants to read about your assassin character who spars for 1 hour and becomes Blademaster Extraordinaire, who kills 20+ guards without blinking an eye, who is never rushed and never messes up anything significantly, and who never really struggles.

Yes, assassins are awesome, but the danger is that Awesome is a continuous scale. At the left end you've got Failure McIdiot, who can't do anything and probably gets beat up by the neighborhood pre-schoolers. At the right end you have Invincible No'One'Cares.

The thing is, you can't have a character be consistently Epic without having Epic become the new normal. And then we readers get bored.

Don't lie to yourself and have your character's Biggest Fault be "Honesty" (though if you write a tale where Honesty legitimately f--ks up your char's life, that is Cool and not Lying). Don't make them be That Guy in the interview.

If your assassin is going to be a Blademaster and a Master Magician, consider arranging their life so it sucks anyway. Dynamic characters are born of lives that suck majorly. Mary Sues get life on a platter.

Overdoing the Angst

Why me? Why?
Yay, your character isn't a block of granite! Oh no, now the entire book has become a series of whiny "Why Me?" monologues that any Half-Elf would be proud of. Darn.

How much your assassin regrets being an assassin depends, of course, on you and your character. But if they hate it with the fire of a thousand suns, it would be great if they did something about it, instead of lecturing the reader via passionate self-hate soliloquies.

Not cocaine.
Use angst like salt. No angst (aka The Emotionless Assassin), and the dish is bland. Too much angst, and you're throwing your dinner in the trash. Both extremes are bad. But used just right, and you can really enhance the quality of your creation. (I made a metaphor! Yay! This doesn't work with cocaine, btw.)

Stupid Decisions

You have disappointed Elrond.
Hi, I like throwing knives.

But my assassins don't try to throw knives at well-armored guards pacing parapets while they cling to the craggy surface of the castle wall, inches from death and discovery at all times.

Black cloaks are cool.

But maybe a bit out-of-place at that Royal Ball where your assassin is trying to murder the King?

Everyone needs friends!

But does Assassin MC really trust their spy-informant friend with news of their latest contract, even if Spy-Informant promised really, really sincerely not to tell, and has deep blue beautiful eyes that MC just can't resist pouring out their secrets to?

Stabbing people in alleys is boring.

But smarter than following them into their ultra-high-security Castle of Protection, where their Wizard Guards are waiting at all times with special assassin sensors and InstaDeath Fire Cannons. Maybe Assassin MC likes pointlessly complex and difficult plans. But do they like living more?

Stupid decisions make stories exciting when natural consequences arise. But when MC repeatedly does stupid things and sails through life anyway ... the reader might be raising their eyebrows incredulously. Or headdesking. Ow.

The Assassin that Learned Too Fast

*coughs loudly*
Is your assassin infiltrating a Rival Assassin Guild and posing as a novice? Did they spend their past life merrily killing off aristocrats for profit? Cool, they can learn the trade in 1 hr.

Anyone else--remember Miss 100%?

Remember the previous post, where I flailed about how awesome assassins are because they had to actually take effort to become awesome?


It's too much! Go ... without ... me ...

In the end, you're the author. You make the decisions.

But be honest with yourself.

This has been an episode of Si's Least Favorite Things: Assassin Char Edition.

How to write whatever you want  

I'll never be not amused by this meme.


Ah, the SFF genre. Where we can get away with all kinds of fantastical settings & characters. Where we're free of the dreary reality of people's boring lives.

Why can't we have black-cloaked Blademaster Spy Assassins, who are beautiful and beautifully flawed, who are never defeated but still remain humble somehow?

The answer is: sure we can! Power to the authors!

You have nothing to lose but the chains of writing advice!
The dismal answer is: We have to still make them relateable. And most normal readers aren't going to relate to perfection.

I'm giving you shit about black-cloaked invincibles, but truth is I have (more than one) dark souled stabby MC who hasn't been defeated on-screen and who inspires terror in The Peasants by their very name.

And that's okay. Because there is balance.

How REAL writers build characters.
It's kinda like creating an RP character. You've got 100 possible points to make up their skill stats, but you can't give them 80 in Wisdom and 80 in Charisma both. Yes, simplistic character creation. But it makes you aware that sometimes, your imagined character is just too good. That they can have significant advantages but also need significant disadvantages.

The reader wants to be swept off into a fantasy realm of amazingness and magic, but also wants to be fooled into it. Realism is the authors tool to fool the reader to believe hey, this is real. Yes it is. Right now. Real stuff. 

Use realism as a tool to sell your awesomeness to the reader. It's good for both of you. You can get away with quite a few "Mary Sue" characteristics if you make MC's life suck anyway--and suck for real. Those are the stories we want to read.

And that's okay!

If you read good assassin fiction, you'll find that a lot of these characters, on the surface, have a lot of those Unforgivable Tropes. But they're still awesome anyway! And not irritating! Why? Because their struggles are real. When we read assassin fic, we're not thinking "Yes, I totally relate to the difficulty of murdering a King using only medieval weaponry and no Google." We're thinking, "Ugh, I know that feel when your boss tells you to do something freaking impossible and you have to deliver anyway." The problem with Too Awesome Assassins isn't their skill at parkour, it's their skill period. If that makes sense.

Don't blame the black cloak, blame the idiot inside it I guess?

So go forth and write fearlessly! Be free of trope hate! Build strong characters!

The First Cliche.
And if you want to throw all that out the window and write an epic about Invincible the Best, no one is standing over your typewriter with a taser.

(Once I wrote an entire 20k story about an assassin whose ENTIRE PURPOSE IN LIFE was to be the amoral counterpoint to the Super Moral Adventurers she was travelling with. The angst! The transparent symbolism! The rants-disguised-as-arguments! I should have just titled that story Angst in Long Form. But I did write it (no one has or will read it). And I DIDN'T DIE. SO in the spirit of NaNo--GO WRITE THINGS.)

Join me and a lot of other writers! NOW.
Up next (in MUCH SHORTER FORM I PROMISE YOU) is Examples from Real Live Writers--and their Real Published Books! Assassins in the fictional world!

And finally ... RANDOM MEMES.