The link above is for the Kindle edition; the print edition may be further down the search list. Find the print edition for promotional pricing, or read it free on Kindle if you participate in the Kindle Unlimited program.
The novel is the first of a four-book series called Harbingers. I’ve also written a prequel. Because several of the novels are about musicians and the music they play, you can also visit my web site, janemwiseman.com, to find a play list. It’s hard to hear the music played inside a book! You can also go to my Pinterest board, janemcfw, to see some of the places and things the characters might have used, worn, visited, eaten.
The novels are:
Book 1: Blackbird Rising, the story of a young girl, Mirin, whose family has been slaughtered. As she looks for her lost sister, she is enlisted into the service of a mysterious organization, the Rising. They need her skills as a minstrel to pass messages for them, so they apprentice her to one of their members, who seems to be a traveling performer but is actually a spy for the organization. As she grows older, she discovers that the Rising is actually a group of resisters against the usurper king of the realm, committed to his overthrow.
Torn between finding her lost sister and bringing a dispossessed young queen to her throne, Mirin needs all the gifts the gods have given her—her music and also the mysterious connection she has with the blackbirds that symbolize the Rising. But at the end of her journey, will the man who forced her into the Rising be there to help her, or has he become her bitterest enemy?
If you read it, please,please, please review it on Amazon.
Book 2: Halcyon (available on Amazon in 2019; sample chapter at the end of Book 1), follows Mirin as she attempts to rescue her stolen daughter and find the man who has come to mean more to her than anyone in the world.
Book 3, Firebird (coming soon) follows Mirin’s daughter Keera as she sets out to use her arcane powers to avenge her parents.
Book 4, Ghost Bird (coming soon) follows Keera and Laorans to the Unknown Lands, a new life, and the end of her family’s saga.
Prequel: The Call of the Shrike (coming soon) tells how the saga began. Treachery! Murder! Music! Vampires! (just not the kind with pointy teeth)
Recently I was remembering Twilight Zone episode 89 (1962), the one with the big reveal so iconic I don’t even need to issue a spoiler alert for it. You know the one.
This line of dialogue, “It’s a cookbook!” has entered the culture big-time, one of the first pop culture memes of the mass media age. Here’s The Simpsons version:
A friend in an mmorpg I play told me something I didn’t know, that the Twilight Zone episode was based on a great Damon Knight short story titled, as the episode is, To Serve Man. It’s widely anthologized; I promptly found it and read it. (Thanks, Aeolith!) The television episode is fairly faithful to its source.
Knight’s story “To Serve Man” was a revelation. I love sci-fi when it’s good, but too often it’s not. Too often the author relies on high concept, maybe even great world-building, but these are not enough to make up for bad writing, plots that stretch credulity, and wooden characters. Knight was known as an insightful and brutal reviewer, coining, with fellow sci-fi great James Blish, the concept of “the idiot plot,” the kind of plot that would never happen in real life unless everyone in the place happens to be a total idiot ( https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/IdiotPlot ). Here’s a great interview with Knight about the famous controversy in which he decimated Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land–a review that Galaxy magazine commissioned from him and never ran: http://efanzines.com/EK/eI34/index.htm#budrys
Knight despised bad sci-fi writing and said so. “To Serve Man” is the opposite. It’s admirable sci-fi writing in every way, all the more so because its surprise ending actually works. I personally hate the gotcha twist at the end of too much fiction and too many movies. These twists are usually too clever for their own good, clever just to be clever. The Sixth Sense, for example, over-relies on a cheap trick to put one over on the viewer. Don’t even get me started on that thing with the crop circles, which apparently takes place during a profound drought–otherwise, no story. I’m no fan of O. Henry or any of his ilk.
By contrast, the ending of “To Serve Man” organically grows from plot and characterization. That’s the kind of surprise ending I do like, and they are rare. (The Usual Suspects comes to mind.)
The ending is not the only aspect of this great short story that works. The writing is matchless. It is simple, direct, muscular, effective. Here’s where Knight’s short story leaves The Twilight Zone episode in the dust, with its portentous Rod Serling intro and manipulative soundtrack, its bad acting punctuated with gratuitous cheesecake. And that poor silly alien! I like the Simpsons aliens so much better.
Partly because I so admired it the first time I read it, and partly because it shares some themes with a fantasy novel I myself am writing, I recently re-read Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana.
The main character of my own novel is a musician, as are some of this novel’s, and my own novel is set in a fantasy-historical past torn by rebellion and political strife. There the resemblance ends. Tigana is a long and immensely detailed and dense novel about a culture lost in the war between two powerful rival sorcerers. The protagonists of Tigana (there are several) are biding their time, waiting and plotting for the day when they can restore Tigana, their lost city-state in a fictionalized Renaissance Italy, to its former glory.
When I first read it years ago, I was mesmerized. The plot and characters are complex, the world-building is superb, and the background of political strife, as Kay stated in the afterword to the 10th anniversary edition published in 1999 (ROC Fantasy), was inspired by such actual events as the Prague Spring, Maoist China, and the Irish Troubles (p. 675).
Now, re-reading it, I was a bit dismayed by the length of the thing (673 pages in the edition I read), the overly-convoluted plot developments, and the lack of focus on any major character. In a way, though, it’s a precursor to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, where we readers thread through the intertwined plot lines of dozens of characters.
This technique, in fact, goes back to the very roots of door-stopper fantasy in Renaissance works such as Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1636 pages in the paperback edition of the two-volume translation by Barbara Reynolds) and, in the English tradition, Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1248 pages in Thomas Roche’s 1979 paperback edition) and Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia (869 pages in the 1977 Maurice Evans paperback edition). These works use a narrative technique known as entrelacement–multiple interwoven narrative lines. Famously, of all the many such narrative lines in The Faerie Queene, only one of them ever comes to completion (Marinell and Florimell, if you’re interested), probably because poor Spenser died before he could finish the thing.
Nevertheless, in Tigana‘s narrative through-line, there’s a consistent drive to the finish–the attempt to restore the lost glory, even the lost name, that was the city-state of Tigana.
The characters are complexly interwoven, and they are complexly drawn. I really admired that aspect of the novel when I first read it and still do. One of the major characters of the novel, the concubine Dianora, sets out to destroy her enemy but discovers the hand she’s dealt is much more complex than she had realized. Likewise, one of the major villains of the novel is capable of horrifying evil (such as using a magic spell to burst the head of an enemy) yet turns out to be an oddly sympathetic, even heroic figure.
The end of the novel comes to a satisfying conclusion, but it is embedded in a very ambiguous atmosphere. There are extremely important matters we find out about two of the main characters that only we readers know. Other characters, including characters who care for them deeply, are left in the dark. And. . . SPOILER ALERT–sort of–coming here: the last sentence of the book returns us to a mythic creature, the riselka, who makes repeated visits to characters in the book. In the folklore of Tigana‘s world, when a creature called a riselka crosses your path, this is what you can expect (p. 245):
One man sees a riselka
his life forks there.
Two men see a riselka
one of them shall die.
Three men see a riselka
one is blessed, one forks, one shall die.
The novel leaves us there. I don’t mean that we’re left hanging where the plot is concerned, or where the plot takes the characters. Those matters are all nicely resolved. But the world Kay draws for us is a frightening place where Fate drives the characters in unexpected directions, and that’s our last impression as we close the book. I personally found it very satisfying.
A devoted readership has grown up around Kay’s fantasy novels, and rightly so. He continues his long, distinguished career as a fantasy novelist, beginning with the Tolkien estate’s choice of Kay to edit J. R. R. Tolkien’s voluminous fantasy material after his death, to Kay’s 1980s trilogy The Fionavar Tapestry, to his many award-winning fantasy novels set in a fantasy-historical world. I haven’t read all of them, although I have read many. In fact, I have a vivid memory of the first time I read a Kay novel. I thought, “Wow, this is very interesting historical fiction.” And then I realized that there were two moons in the sky of the world I was immersed in.
True fans congregate around Kay’s web site, http://www.brightweavings.com. You can even find a fascinating collection of academic papers about Kay’s fantasy works posted there, including essays on Tigana. I’m one admiring reader who enjoyed my return trip to the world of Tigana. Readers who are truly devoted should go to the web site. A bonus is the entertaining and interesting collection of Kay tweets you can find there.