The Vine Witch: Book Review

The Vine Witch (Vine Witch #1) by Luanne G. Smith

The Vine Witch is best served with a large glass of wine (your choice of vintage). The perfect Guilty pleasure for those cozy October nights.

The Vine Witch

Written by Luanne G. Smith

Published 2019 by 47North

Downloaded on Kindle through Amazon’s FirstReads Program

Fantasy/Paranormal Fiction

Elena is a vine witch, more than a connoisseur of good wine, she has the ability to cultivate, in every magical sense of the word, the grapes of a vineyard to grow, harvest, and ferment the best wines the Chanceaux Valley has ever seen. Unfortunately, the wine business in 19th century (albeit an alternate universe) France has many rivals and Elena finds herself the victim of a curse, living as a frog for seven years before finally reversing the curse and returning home to find her beloved vineyard on the brink of ruin AND bought out by a lawyer of all people named Jean-Paul Martel, a man who values science over magic.

Smith does an excellent job inviting us into her new world of vine witches. I got serious Neil Gaiman vibes a la Stardust. The magical world is woven into the Industrial Revolution of Europe during the 19th century during the rise of modern science and technology’s popularity.

Besides creating a dynamic new world, Smith gives us a rollicking adventure, a delightful bit of mystery with a very satisfying twist, and a bit of romance to warm these chilly fall evenings.

I am very interested to see what subsequent books in this world will be like as it appears to be the first in a series. Fans of Stardust, Harry Potter, and alternate universe historical fiction like steampunk will enjoy this debut.

My Rating

4/5 Stars

City of Girls: Book Review

A Note from the Reviewer: I sincerely apologize for how I have been writing my book reviews thus far. I have been spoiling endings without remorse and not indicating when a spoiler was ahead. From this review forward I promise to do better about omitting spoilers (or warning about them if absolutely necessary to an honest review).

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

“In my experience, this is the hardest lesson of them all.

After a certain age, we are all walking around this world in bodies made of secrets and shame and sorrow and old, unhealed injuries. Our hearts grow sore and misshapen around all this pain—yet somehow, still, we carry on.” -Vivian Morris City of Girls

City of Girls

Written by Elizabeth Gilbert

Published 2019 by Riverhead

Borrowed via OverDrive

Historical Fiction

Vivian Morris is a 1940s era 19-year-old WASP experiencing the glamour of New York City after a less than stellar attempt at college. She goes to live with her Aunt Peg, a WWI nurse turned theatrical producer with a curious history of her own. While living at The Lily, Vivian is dazzled by the gorgeous showgirls, cigarettes, booze, and sex without consequences. The glitzy vision is shattered one reckless night and Vivian must decide what kind of girl she wants to be.

City of Girls is a book about female relationships, the complexity of those dynamics, how they are shaped by jealousies and the idea of male territory. Set against a decidedly conservative backdrop, Gilbert digs deep, showing how women can prop each other up but also how we can absolutely decimate each other.

Gilbert’s grasp of language is so natural, I can’t help but feel viciously jealous. The words poured through my brain. This was such an easy novel to get lost in, which is really saying something with two kids under the age of three.

This book is a fantastic pick for fans of classic Hollywood, WWII-era historical fiction, or those who enjoy stories with unexpected endings.

My Rating

5/5 Stars

The Tiger’s Wife: Book Review

The Tiger's Wife. A novel by Téa Obreht.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

Haunted Family Histories and a Tiger’s Wife

Téa Obreht blurs the line between reality and mythology in The Tiger’s Wife, spanning the majority of a man’s life. That man? The narrator’s grandfather whose influence on her life is profound. Set against the back drop of multiple wars which leave indelible marks on this novel’s diverse cast of characters (including several doctors, a tiger, a taxidermist, a mute girl, a deathless man who judges when others will die, among many others).

The main story line introduces us to Natalia, a young doctor trying to find her way in the dust of the latest war. She has been guided her entire life by her grandfather, a stolid aging doctor with somewhat eccentric routines, including taking his granddaughter to visit the zoo to see the tigers and carrying an old copy of The Jungle Book everywhere he goes.

Natalia learns of her grandfather’s death while traveling to deliver vaccines to children in a rural area of the country and grapples with her guilt of keeping his secret from her grandmother and mother as well as not being with him. Alongside the narrator’s struggle, the twining tales of the deathless man and the tiger’s wife reveal themselves weaving a melancholy story of regret, guilt, hope, and loyalty.

Modern Myth Telling

Tiger’s Wife

I have rarely read such an original attempt at crafting modern myth, fable, fairytale or whatever you want to call the three storylines that this novel contains. Obreht masterfully spins what feels like a timeless tale, as timeless as any story written by the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault. The titular tale, The Tiger’s Wife is a novel that could stand on its own. In fact, my one complaint about the book is really that the conclusion made me feel like the grandfather could have been more minor character than main character to the tiger’s wife’s impact on the story overall.

The Tiger’s Wife, so called by superstitious villagers driven to desperation by the threat of war at their border, is an enigma from beginning to end. She is the child bride of the village’s butcher, sold to him when his bride to be elopes under his nose and her desperate father tricks the butcher into marrying his youngest, mute child instead.

The butcher, feeling betrayed and trapped and grappling with his sexuality, becomes violent with the girl. Far away from family and surrounded by the suspicious villagers, she must endure alone. Until she meets the young man, Natalia’s grandfather as a child, who befriends the girl after catching her feeding a tiger who had struck terror into the village lately. The tiger, of course, being the tiger in the Tiger’s Wife, is an escaped zoo animal accustomed to a life of ease and scared from his home by its bombing and starved by his inability to fend for himself in the wild. His attachment to the wife of the butcher is not unusual, except her lack of fear towards the beast.

The grandfather and Tiger’s Wife bond over the tiger, the equivalent of Shere Khan from The Jungle Book (the tome he carries near to his dying days in his jacket) to the child. The fate of the Tiger’s Wife is integral to the grandfather’s story, his guilt for his betrayal, despite his ignorance, scars him for life. This is evident in his continued fascination with the tigers, the book he carries. He has periodic meetings with who he calls the deathless man, a mysterious man who appears to never age and who cannot be killed no matter how earnest the attempt.

The Deathless Man

The deathless man is the second myth/fable/fairytale woven throughout the story. He is the nephew of Death, cursed by a betrayal to his job of reading the cups of people to tell them whether they are dying. The grandfather’s adult life is tracked by these meetings with the deathless man, the meetings always set in a dreamy kind of disbelief.

The deathless man offers insight to the grandfather on death throughout these meetings, revealing he cannot die, and that this is the aforementioned curse. Being a doctor, the grandfather is not unfamiliar with death as a concept, even without his history with the Tiger’s Wife. The connection is truly made by the identity of the deathless man’s wife to the grandfather and deathless man’s choices on those around him. His disobedience touched on the lives of the taxidermist and butcher, the grandfather and Natalia. So many threads in the tapestry of the deathless man’s life.

Flawless Prose

The Tiger’s Wife is an impressive creation. The writing is simply stunning, the descriptions, word choice, originality…truly one of the better books I have read in a while. Being a collector of literary prizes this is not wholly surprising after the fact. I did not expect to enjoy the story as much as I did. I picked up this book after reading about its receipt of the Orange Prize for Fiction in an issue of Writer’s Digest. I have read a couple of other winning novels and really enjoyed them so thought I would give this one a try.

The author exhibits such control over her language and storytelling overall. A difficult thing to do with three tales that must come together by the end. Again the modern myth making was one of my favorite things about this novel. If you love language above all else, this is a book for you.

My Rating

4/5 Stars

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Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

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What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte

Echo North: Book Review

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer.

A Good Faith Effort for Echo North

Echo North looked like an appealing retelling of the Norse tale and one of my favorite fairy tales, East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I quickly added it to my Amazon cart, anticipating a quick, enjoyable read during my maternity leave. The book did not disappoint on being a quick read.

The retelling was done fairly well, just enough originality threaded in to keep it from feeling like every other retelling. It is no East by Edith Pattou but the author made a good effort as an homage. There were some great elements to this story, but the author fell short of fully realizing her story’s potential. Some characters were memorable, but the important ones often felt flat and gray.

[Spoilers Below]

Fairy Tale Retelling

Echo North reimagines the fairy tale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, with influences from Beauty and the Beast and Tam Lin. I love a good fairy tale retelling, I’m a huge Robin McKinley fan. In some important ways, Echo North was respectful of the genre of YA retellings. However, the YA fairy tale retellings market peaked several years ago and the burden fell on the author to justify this book’s existence so far past the height of the genre’s relevance. While the book was moderately enjoyable, it was also disappointing.

Echo North Highs

What made the book stand out the most was what felt like an underdeveloped plot twist the author just realized at the end of writing the book (and didn’t bother returning to the beginning and middle to fully capitalize on). Although there is something to be said of subtly and surprise twists, this was so out of the blue it was nearly laughable. As such, the dual timelines could have made the book so special had the author taken more time to develop it.

Another high was the main character’s appearance. I like how her angst about her appearance, and the superstition her appearance ignited in those around her, drove the story.

Echo North Lows

Hal, the love interest, is probably the dullest romantic character I’ve ever read. I felt no chemistry between him and Echo and wasn’t necessarily rooting for his rescue by the end of the novel. So Echo could have saved herself 10 years and gone straight home for all the affection they showed each other. There were no heart pounding moments and no knuckle biting romantic scenes that justified Echo’s feelings or actions towards Hal.

Mokosh is perhaps the most underserved character the author introduced. She was interesting, mysterious with a depth I envied for the love interest. Unfortunately the author let this beautiful character’s story fizzle out with no real resolution.

My Rating

3/5 Stars

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Daisy Jones & The Six

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Daisy Jones & The Six: Book Review

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones & The Six Book Cover

Daisy Jones & The Six: Not All About the Music

I should preface this review by saying that I am not a huge fan of 70’s rock. I don’t hate it or avoid it, I am just very lazy when it comes to finding music. While I can appreciate the classics, I am usually content listening to Top 40 hits on the radio. Daisy Jones & The Six (check out the Goodreads synopsis) does not require its readers to love 70’s rock or rock music in general.

This book is about more than rock and roll. (Rock n’ roll?) This is a story about faith, faith in others and faith in ourselves. It is a love triangle but not the obnoxious kind. There are no clear answers and regardless of your personal opinion on Billy Dunne’s choice at the end, nobody leaves totally satisfied. The heartbreak bleeds through to the end, happy ending or no.

Story Format

The book is written as an oral history. Instead of paragraphs or chapters in one POV, each character is speaking to a narrator who is interviewing them. The identity of the narrator revealed until the end was somewhat surprising. I did not see it coming. The author’s choice to write the story as oral history interviews makes sense once the narrator’s identity is revealed. It adds a layer to the story that a traditional past tense 3rd person POV or 1st person POV would not have provided.

The Dunnes

When I picked this book up I had no idea the story would include themes of family or parental sacrifices. When we meet Billy Dunne, he seems like the quintessential rocker, ambitious, dedicated to the sound, shaggy and into drugs. The author throws Camila into his life and she changes the story’s trajectory. Camila is Billy’s serious girlfriend pre-breakout and he marries her once he signs a record contract. Billy is not a family man, he is a man who marries a family woman.

Camila is not a hero. She is a fighter. She is a settler. Camila loves her children more than herself and more than her husband. When he cheats on her and reveals his drug addiction, she refuses to leave him or let him leave her. Again, this is not heroic, but I respected Camila’s tenacity and her continued faith in Billy. Far more women are right to leave their spouses who act in this way, especially when children are involved.

“I think you have to have faith in people before they earn it. Otherwise it’s not faith, right?” Camila says of her commitment to Billy and that defines her place in this story.

Daisy Jones

This is not a book solely about the relationship between Billy and Camila or his addiction and struggle to remain clean.

Daisy Jones is a headstrong, overly talented, under ambitious teen when we meet her. Gorgeous and born into privilege, Daisy has never had to work hard for things she wanted, except her parents’ genuine attention and affection. She is invisible to them unless they need a prop to get ahead professionally. Daisy benefits from a series of opportunities that leads her to meet The Six, including lead singer Billy Dunne.

Daisy, addicted to drugs from a young age, shares the same addiction problems as Billy. This is one of the things they bond over, eventually.

Billy and Daisy’s relationship is complicated. There is attraction, chemistry, in the beginning. Billy’s resistance to their chemistry makes him angry. He keeps his distance as long as possible, knowing inevitably they would end up in a position where that sexual attraction would overpower their professional relationship.

It does and we get a heartbreakingly close yet so far kiss scene when Billy and Daisy finally come together to write the album for a collaboration arranged by their record label. The narrator touts the album as one that would change rock and roll forever.

The Six

The rest of The Six are not satellite characters. They are integral to the story, the band’s success, and the band’s ultimate downfall.

Graham Dunne is Billy’s devout younger brother and band co-founder. He falls head over heels for the band’s keyboardist.

Karen, the keyboardist, remains steadfastly independent throughout the story.

Eddie and Pete are brothers. Eddie is a guitarist, constantly feeling he is competing with Billy Dunne but never admitting there is no competition. Pete is the drummer with no real devotion to the band and a girlfriend back home he stays faithful too.

Warren is the band’s carefree comedic relief, there for the music and the drugs and never taking himself seriously.

The Rise

The Six sign to a record label and release an album prior to teaming up with Daisy Jones. They experience success, largely thanks to Billy’s on-stage charisma and devotion to songwriting.

Teddy, The Six’s manager and Billy’s mentor/father figure, hooks them up with Daisy Jones who released a smaller album of covers prior. Even he could not have foreseen the meteoric rise of The Six with Billy and Daisy’s chemistry.

Billy and Daisy record a single for The Six’s second album and tour with Daisy as their opening act. The tour is a particular struggle for Billy, freshly clean and Camila is pregnant with twins and with a toddler in tow.

Daisy staunchly continues on her path to destruction, drugged out and dating a shady agent who keeps her too doped up to realize she is unhappy with him. But Billy and Daisy on stage when they sing their single is magic.

Those moments where they are together singing cements Daisy’s involvement in the next album and the band’s new name, Daisy Jones & The Six.

The Fall

Despite fame, expanded tour dates, rocketing album sales, and merchandise, Billy and Daisy’s raw attraction causes discord off-stage. They come close to an affair while writing The Six’s third album but Billy pulls away. Daisy realizes she can’t have Billy and Billy realizes he wishes he could have Daisy.

He goes home to his wife and children and the love triangle collapses.

Throughout the relationship drama, the band members feel auxiliary to the band’s success. Billy blows Graham off when he approaches him with an emergency. Graham reevaluates his relationship with his brother and his commitment to the band. Pete confides in Eddie that he is leaving after the third album’s tour to marry his girlfriend and settle down.

Daisy’s drug addiction is the final nail in the coffin for Daisy Jones & The Six. Daisy must look at herself honestly after eloping with an Italian prince she barely knows.

Camila disillusions Daisy of any final hope she may have had of Billy returning her affections.

The album goes platinum and the band breaks up.

Final Thoughts

This was the first genuinely enjoyable book I have read in awhile. A book that is just fun AND good. It wasn’t life-changing. The insights weren’t original necessarily, and the characters won’t be enshrined somewhere for all time. Daisy Jones & The Six is a quick read and enjoyable. Sometimes, that’s all we need from fiction.

My Rating

4/5 Stars

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Camp NaNo Update: Day 2

Novel Research: My WIP Research Process

Novel research can be a daunting task if you are not the type who gravitates to research, study or spending hours on minute details. Unfortunately for those types but fortunate for people like myself, research is critical to writing. Whether research for you means learning about specific types of military vehicles or the ranks of nobility in 14th century Europe, you are (probably) going to have to look something up along the way.

When to Conduct Novel Research

As you begin writing the first draft of your novel you may find yourself questioning the minutiae of setting, plot, character, etc. You can start your research here, or may even have already conducted extensive research before writing a single word if you are a good planner. If you’re a pantser, you may find yourself glossing over specific details to avoid the research until the first draft is complete.

While putting off research is okay sometimes, you may want to take the time to ensure the story you’re crafting makes sense. You may create a plot based on an inaccurate detail that completely derails your second draft, basically meaning your novel needs rewriting. Where the particulars contribute substantially to your plot, even if you are not a planner you need to conduct some research to corroborate these details. If you take the time now to insert accurate details, you will save yourself time and frustration later. Researching while writing the first draft can also be an excellent trigger for writer’s block!

Where to Conduct Novel Research

So, you want to start researching a detail in your story. Where do you start? Google is the most obvious place for most people to begin searching. My day job is a Reference Librarian and Information Literacy Instructor at a community college academic library. That means I spend all day telling students not to Google their research. Our students have access to expensive research databases which allows them to prioritize their research origins. If you are not a student, or you struggle with research, you have a few other options that aren’t Google.

Public Libraries

Yes. I am a librarian advocating for you to visit libraries. Conflict of interest? Maybe. Public libraries are excellent research hubs for the beginning writer AND the seasoned writer. Why pay for books, databases, or magazines when you can get them for free? Many public libraries purchase the same database subscriptions that colleges have. They also accept recommendations for resources so if the library doesn’t have something if you ask they may get it. The public library is filled with people who are there to help you.

Wikipedia Resources

Wikipedia is not exactly a reputable site. There is a degree of accountability in the structure of writing and editing. You create a free account and correct inaccuracies. During my Freshman Year Experience class, we experimented by deliberately changing a Wikipedia article to make it inaccurate. We charted how long the false information remained unchanged. My material remained incorrect for weeks. That was a lot of views during this time that fake details were portrayed as trustworthy. However, users cite outside resources at the end of Wikipedia articles. This section is a gold mine of research opportunities. Explore these links and exercise critical thinking in determining if that source is accurate itself.

Check the site type (.com, .gov, .edu., .org, etc.). Look at the date the site was last updated. See if the site has an about page and read about the authors and their intent.

You may think researching to this degree is overkill for fiction but if you encounter a reader who is an actual expert you run the risk of alienating them.

Digital Collections

There are a plethora of digital resources available online. Images, ebooks, videos, and audio (radio broadcasts, etc.). The New York Public Library is one example of a collection of publicly available digital items that can be used for research. The Library of Congress is another primary source. One of the big inspirations for my novel was The Hammer of Witches. The full text is available online and provided me with a lot of information about witch hunting practices and how they were persecuted. Many older books can be accessed for free in full online through various reputable sites like Project Gutenberg. Aside from LOC, NYPL, and Project Gutenberg, there are less scholarly, artistic platforms like DeviantArt and Pinterest. Content on these sites is added by online users. These are more useful for inspiration though Pinterest can be helpful for storing your research in an easy to view and access platform.

Online Forums

In addition to these resources, there are online forums. Online forums should always be approached with caution. The community determines the usefulness of the information you can find in forums. Writing sites with forums like NaNoWriMo and Writer’s Digest are helpful. Subreddits for writers can also be useful. You can post for advice on conducting research, search for beta readers who can help you catch inaccuracies, or search for perspectives that are similar to your characters to garner a more honest representation. Your peers can be a valuable resource if they approach your inquiries with the right intentions.

Fact-Checking the First Draft and Beyond

Once you have completed your first draft, you still have some research to do. If you didn’t check the details central to your plot, mark your first draft up noting where more information is needed. Verify details, even small ones. The tiniest inconsistency can propel the reader out of your story.

  • What are the properties of an herbal remedy?
  • What did armor look like in France in 1365?
  • How did priests determine who was a witch in Germany in 1450?

However, these are my specific research questions. Wherever you explore something you are not sure of, check the detail.

  • Who was President of the U.S. in 1914?
  • What are the symptoms of lupus?

I recommend printing the first draft and either highlighting or using a pen to mark everywhere you need to insert research or check the facts.

With every read through, a second draft, third draft, etc. you will be looking at where you can improve/strengthen your manuscript. You cannot be overconfident. You need to doubt yourself and check, double check, triple check your story.

Check out my other posts on writing!

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And When You Finish That First Draft…

Prepping the First Draft: A Second Draft Diagnosis

Appetite

I counted the carrot sticks again to be sure there were only five. I couldn’t allow myself more than that. Pressing a hand to my gurgling stomach, the bottom of my ribcage prominent against my palm, I forced myself to pace my chewing. I was in control. I could resist gobbling them down, and I could resist eating a whole sandwich for lunch. Food, eating, and my weight was the only thing in my life I could control and by God, I was going to have some control.

Twenty minutes later I chewed the last of the final carrot stick though my stomach still grumbled in anger at the meager offerings. I would not eat again until dinner, and then I would only eat half a salmon fillet and a half cup of brown rice with water.

I checked the time on my desk computer, noting an upcoming meeting. I glanced down at my phone, but no messages showed on the unlocked screen. Of course. It had been weeks since my husband had texted me at work, just to say he loved me. Or even ask what I wanted for dinner. He knew the answer to that readily enough now.

Still, I sighed in disappointment, the carrot sticks feeling heavier in my stomach than they should have.

I stood from my desk and made my way to the bathroom. The sick twisting feeling in my back could only be alleviated by purging my meal.

Resting my forehead on the porcelain basin after I emptied my stomach, my face flushed with self-loathing. I didn’t blame my husband for ignoring me. The work hours no doubt offered him a much-needed respite from me during the day. I blamed myself for not being more appealing, for hoisting my problems onto him.

I was trying. I wanted to carve every imperfection out of my body, starve away the person he had grown to hate, purge every negative thought and emotion I had shared. I wanted to be remade, renewed. Completely changed. I stopped eating. My weight plummeted from 154 to a respectable 108. But that left me too dizzy and angry. I added the minimum amount of food needed to function back to my diet, the numbers thankfully staying the same on the scale. And I reveled in the feeling of being able to shape my body, to control what went in and out for once in my life. I wanted my old self to waste away and start over as someone new. Maybe then I could make him love me.

Check out my other short stories!

Machine Men

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Wicked Women

Novel Ambitions 2: Another #FlashFictionFriday Sneak Peek at My Current WIP

Viviane awoke to a shout from Rose, who’d sat up so quickly from her sleep that she’d forgotten the height of the bunk and banged her head on the wood. Cursing, Rose rubbed her head vigorously and glanced at Viviane before falling back to the bed in relief.

The vision, Viviane remembered. She’d seen her in some trouble on deck at night. Viviane had tossed and turned, sweating in the stale cabin air, stomach heaving with the contents of the small chunks of bread she’d eaten for dinner. She’s wanted fresh air so badly, could taste the salt air that leaked in so excruciatingly slightly from the small porthole above their heads. She could imagine the relief she’d feel gulping air, driving away the stink of the old wood boards, the damp wool blanket, and her own bile that seemed to sit at the back of her throat.

But she’d stayed. Even when she wanted to unbolt the door and jump into the sea from the misery of it. The fear she’d seen in Rose’s eyes only rivaled the fear she’d seen in them when she described her visions to the Shepherdess. It wasn’t a suggestion. Rose knew it to be her fate if she crossed that threshold in the dark of the night. Viviane wanted to prove that her visions weren’t set in stone, that she had free will and she would save herself by heeding the warning. Nothing would drag Viviane outside, no matter how ill she felt. At least not until the sun rose and she could find relief safely.

They made themselves as presentable as possible, no mirror available in the small space. Viviane dressed Rose’s hair and refused Rose’s offer to do that same for her. She opted to braid her hair in a long braid that she kept draped over her shoulder, partially obscuring the mask that was sure to draw attention and superstitious interest.

Smoothing their ruffled gowns, they unlocked the door and stepped out. The hallway was dim. A ladder led them up into the bright sunshine on the deck. They squinted into the light, covering their eyes with their hands as they sought out Christian among the men scurrying over the ship’s deck, engaged with predetermined chores. One short man with a frazzled beard streaked with gray-barked at them to move as he stomped past with a thick rope slung over his shoulder. He ran towards the mast, jumping up and clinging to it before scurrying up as deftly as a squirrel.

“Wow,” Rose breathed. “I did not think a creature like that could move in such a way.” Viviane covered her mouth, stifling a giggle. They moved to the railing and Viviane raised her head to the wind, breathing in deeply and exhaling all the stale air from below deck from her lungs. It felt like magic, the effect of the crisp, damp breeze blowing over her face and filling her chest.

The sea, a slim channel of water compared to the stories of seemingly unending water of the oceans, seemed like it could stretch on to eternity. It was dark blue in the bright light of day, capped with white waves that made the ship vibrate when they collided. But watching the static horizon in the distance, Viviane did not feel sick at the jolting movements. She felt a little like she was flying, standing there with only the wood banister pressed into her stomach, no obstructions in her line of sight. They crested a wave, and the ship sailed up and then dipped, and she allowed herself a laugh at the thrill it gave her.

Rose, by contrast, had turned a little green at the sight and clung to the rail. She obviously would prefer to return to their cabin below, safe in the hollows of their bunks. But Viviane could not imagine returning to the interior of the ship with the view spread before her.

Viviane thought, if she could never return home, perhaps she could turn pirate and explore the sea, maybe even take to the open ocean. Pirates were allowed eye patches and such, so maybe her mask wouldn’t seem so out of place among them.

Remembering the thin wooden shell belatedly, she grasped it, ensuring it was firmly tied in place despite the gusting winds and jolting deck. As she felt it, she noticed the attention they were getting. The sailors moved slower as they passed, sizing the girls up. Their cloudy red eyes lingered on Viviane though, on the mask and they frowned. Some made signs to ward against evil. Viviane felt her joy dissipate and her shoulders curled in again, trying to make herself smaller.

“Good morning, Mademoiselles!” Christian greeted them cheerfully as he raced to meet them on deck. He was panting, covered in a sheen of sweat already from the morning’s labors. But he was grinning broadly and seemed unperturbed by his promised assistance.

Viviane thought it was odd, that a nobleman’s son would so willingly commit to physical labor. He had trained with the King and his soldiers, she knew. But that was different. That was considered honorable by others in their circle, almost a sport. This kind of labor was backbreaking and grueling and humbling. The established hierarchy placing him firmly at the bottom, a grunt to be bossed around by men who couldn’t even read.

But he seemed so alive in spite of it. Happy even, to be working with the sailors. For the sailors. Viviane corrected as one barked an order at him and he scurried away to complete the task, throwing a grin and promise to meet them for breakfast back over his shoulder.

“It isn’t normal, no,” Rose answered her unspoken question. “Eden would never allow sailors to boss him so. But he is a little more petted it would seem. That’s probably my fault, and Father’s.” Rose laughed.

Viviane laughed too. She couldn’t picture Eden in the same situation, sleeves rolled up and sweat dripping from his temples. He was a royal, half-child as he was. He was a full-blooded dandy.

“I miss him,” Rose continued. “I wonder if he made it back to the castle safely. And if anyone noticed his disappearance so close to ours.”

“I wonder what they will do when they notice ours,” Viviane added. Would they question her mother? No doubt they would. And the miller, perhaps. Others knew of the escape route, they would know where it led. Could he deceive them into thinking he knew nothing of them?

Perhaps not. Viviane sent up a prayer that the miller would avoid imprisonment and punishment for their flight. The Princess didn’t need another’s fate lying heavy on her conscious.

“Hopefully we will hear something when we reach land and find asylum,” Rose answered. If Eden was able to return unnoticed. If he could get a letter out. If that letter found its way to wherever they were headed.

There were so many ifs. Viviane felt a little hopeless as the questions and conditions piled up.

Christian returned, noting their concerned expressions. He reached for their hands, taking one of their in each of his. “We will make it,” he promised, his face set with determination. “We will change this vision, save your family,” he nodded at Rose. “And you will return home to your mother,” he nodded at Viviane, squeezing her fingers gently, allowing his thumb to stroke her palm in secret.

Viviane flushed but met his gaze. She nodded back, gulping to keep the tears from escaping.

Christian, Viviane, and Rose ate breakfast with Captain Ashe who, despite his grizzled appearance, was educated and soft-spoken. He could tell they were not telling the truth of their identities, could see the excellent breeding in Rose and Christian, their expensive educations, their health that marked a lifetime of always having enough to eat and a warm bed.

He noted Viviane’s mask with the same suspicious glances as the sailors but said nothing, directing most of his conversation to Rose and Christian who were trained diplomats in any case, Viviane was relieved by his inattention and ate her breakfast heartily, empty from the scant dinner and her nighttime seasickness. Breakfast consisted of thick porridge and cured ham. Viviane was not complaining as she gulped down the steaming spoonful, feeling her belly fill pleasantly. The meat was precious, in short supply for the servants of their castle and usually disguised with gravy in stews that could be stretched to accommodate them for more extended periods of time.

It was well-preserved and flavorful. Viviane savored the salty taste on her tongue, before swallowing. She was enjoying the food so much she did not hear herself addressed until Rose nudged her foot beneath the table.

“Captain Ashe wanted to know if you were enjoying your breakfast?” Rose repeated, smothering a laugh with a cloth napkin.

Viviane flushed and nodded vigorously trying not to choke as she swallowed the mouthful she’d been appreciating.

“I can see you get a pretty simple fare where you are from as well,” he said to her directly. His tone was not accusing, and she relaxed as she swallowed finally and could speak.

“Yes, our chef does his best but the winter seasons are always a little difficult,” Viviane replied.

“The Lady has a chef?” The captain asked, eyebrows raised at Rose. She’d explained their positions in no great detail to the captain while Viviane had been devouring her meal.

“My family does, yes.” She replied.

“But you choose to travel quite simply.” He pressed, gesturing to the cargo ship’s hold. Even the captain’s quarters where they ate was a plain room, the wood rough-hewn and pieced together without thought for ornamentation or polish. “Your family could not afford to place you on one of the passenger ships?” His eyes jumped to Christian who had worked out the details of their passage, fully aware of his bargain to pay their way through his own labor.

“Honestly,” Rose began.

Viviane felt her spine tingle, and her blood ran cold. Would she tell him the truth so quickly?

“My family doesn’t approve of my journey.” Rose lied, but not quite lied, smoothly. “They would prefer I stayed home but told me if I could find some way to procure my own passage I would travel to the continent. I seek training from a master, you see.”

“What sort of master?” The captain asked, his tone switching from wary to conversational.

“A master of magic,” Rose replied.

Viviane started at that. That was the truth. And a dangerous fact.

The captain only stared at her, swirling a glass of brandy in one hand. The liquid was thick and clung to the sides of the glass.

“Magic,” he did not sound surprised. Or confused. Captain Ashe merely studied her, tasting the word on his lips.

“Why do you seek a Master of Magic?” he asked finally.

Rose grinned back at him, charming and pretty. Poised as a Queen and very nearly one.

“To learn it.” She admitted.

Still, the captain was not shocked. He did stand though, moving slowly, almost lazy.

He closed the door to his cabin which had been left open to catch the fresh ocean air, barking an order at an errant sailor before closing it slowly. Intentionally.

He turned to face the small band, studying them. They were young and inexperienced travelers. It was apparent how vulnerable they were, especially shut in Captain Ashe’s quarters, surrounded by men loyal to him, surrounded beyond that by miles of sea.

Viviane gripped Rose’s hand under the table. She squeezed her fingers back, in reassurance or realization of their predicament, Viviane could not tell.

“I knew you were one of us,” he said, sitting back down in his chair and scooting forward to rest his elbows on the table before him. Again, he was casual, unhurried.

“What?” Viviane was the one stunned.

Captain Ashe turned striking purple eyes on her. “A witch,” he clarified. “Or wizard in my case,” he chuckled, waving away the issue of semantics.

Christian and Viviane were dumbstruck, sitting silently and wondering how they had ended up here, face to face with a ship captain wizard.

Rose leaned forward too, propping her elbows on the table and placing her chin in her hand, observing him coolly. She seemed unfazed by his revelation.

“I know you knew. I felt the same. I felt that you possessed magic. Strong magic, from the scent of it.” Rose’s nose twitched as she noticeably sniffed the air around them. Viviane flushed, trying to surreptitiously sniff the air as well. All she could smell was the ham, the grease all that remained in a golden-brown smear on her plate.

“You can smell it?” Christian asked in amazement.

“Kind of,” Rose said to him. “I can smell something, and I only now realized what it was, thanks to a vision.”

“You had another vision?” Viviane asked. She hadn’t even noticed. It had been nothing like her unusual behavior the night before, the panic, the undiluted fear of what she’d seen.

Rose nodded. “Of Captain Ashe, his powers, and how people with magic identify each other.” With a knowing look at Viviane, she added, “And how he should sleep with a dagger under his pillow tonight to avoid an attempt at mutiny.”

Flash Fiction Friday: The Beast Within

This Flash Fiction Friday story is my submission to the Writer’s Digest Your Story competition. The prompt was the featured image, the challenge to write less than 650 words based on the image provided.

Flash Fiction Friday – The Beast Within

Kaysee squinted into the dark tunnel that spiraled beneath the mountain. Cold air breathed into her face between the rusted iron cage that seemed meant to deter people from entering.

“What do you think?” she asked her boyfriend, Jordan, who stood slightly behind her, peering over her shoulder.

“Why not?” he shrugged, grinning. He was excited. He’d already turned on his headlamp, prepared for spelunking.

“Yeah, let’s do some exploring,” Jordan’s best friend, Matthew, agreed.

Kaysee eyed the opening dubiously. Somebody had placed the grate there to block the entrance, maybe to keep people from falling in. Or maybe for another reason.

The grate was heavy and moved grudgingly. Jordan and Matthew grunted as they lifted in tandem, barely raising it an inch from the ground. But it was enough to shift from the bulk of the cave’s entrance.

Jordan went down first, feeling with his feet for footholds as he lowered. Kaysee turned on her headlamp, trying to push down the feeling in her stomach that they should not explore this particular place. As she dropped down behind Matthew, she peered around. The entrance was short, and they all had to crouch, but with the lamp, she could see the ceiling of the cave rose several feet just beyond the light of the entrance. They crawled to the cavern and stood, allowing themselves a minute to adjust to the darkness within.

Puddles reflected in their headlamps and Kaysee could hear the water dripping from the ceiling several feet above.

Jordan and Matthew made weak attempts at echoing yodels as they splashed over the cavern floor, heading toward the openings that branched from the opposite side.

There were two; one seemed to slant upwards, seemingly back to another surface exit. Was that exit blocked as well, Kaysee thought. The other dropped steeply, leading further underground. Jordan and Matthew made a beeline for that opening, pulling rope from their packs. Jordan peeked down and whistled. The shrill sound bounced all around them, and Kaysee winced.

“This cave is a gem,” Jordan said, his smile broad and dimpled.

They made their way slowly into the hole, grasping crumbling hand and footholds. Rocks clattered far below, much farther than Kaysee cared. But her boyfriend seemed excited. She breathed deeply, bracing herself for his sake. He owed her a date night though, she thought.

Distracting herself with thoughts of cheese plates and rosé, Kaysee reached the bottom of the tunnel, stumbling a little at the sudden feel of flat earth beneath her feet. Matthew and Jordan were already moving on, lights flickering over the walls erratically as they chattered.

Their voices seemed unnaturally loud, and Kaysee wondered if they could dislodge any of the ceiling with the noise they were making.

A thunderous groan from within the darkness quieted the men. Kaysee felt her blood run cold and the sweat turn clammy on her brow.

“It’s probably just the earth settling.” Matthew finally said, though his voice was much quieter than it had been.

They walked on, slower, warily eyeing the walls and roof.

They walked until they came to another large cavern. A pit plunged into the most profound black Kaysee had ever seen in the middle of the room. They sidled up to the ledge, testing each step for weakness.

Jordan turned his headlamp up a notch, studying the pit.

“How far down do you think this goes?” he asked Matthew.

“We could find out?” Matthew replied, slapping his palm with a rope and lanyard.

Another deep noise filled the cavern. Kaysee, Jordan, and Matthew stared into the pit. The sound had emanated from its depth. Kaysee took a step back.

“I think we should leave,” she started to say.

A gust of hot wind erupted from the crater.

Red eyes blazed in the darkness. Then faded back to black.

Check out my other Flash Fiction Friday stories!

The Gospel of Eve

Machine Men

Search for more stories using “Flash Fiction” in the search bar on my website.

Interested in the Writer’s Digest Your Story Competitions?