Me 2012

Am I So Mistaken? (120/141)

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Wisteria fell in love with Fireholt at first sight.

Even the sophisticated suspension of the beautiful coach in which they travelled could not protect her and Byron from the jolts of the pitted stone road, but she didn’t mind. Old-growth forest rose to either side, towering trees arching over the lane with branches already budding with nuts. Spring berry bushes fruited in their shade. Narrow trails threaded between the trees and dense undergrowth: this land was a hunting preserve. It had once been reserved for the lord of the manor, but five generations ago Fireholt’s lord had opened it to all his people. Greatcat game wardens roamed the woods to prevent poaching by strangers, but enforcement was only strict against hunters who engaged in mass slaughter. Sally and Ransha, the greatcats pulling their carriage, were already chattering merrily about hunting plans as they pulled the carriage up the winding hilly lane. A second coach followed behind, bearing their luggage and servants.

This vast preserve was one of the things Vasilver’s mining plans would inevitably disrupt, and Wisteria and Byron discussed during the ride ways to minimize the damage.

“Gone sentimental in your old age, Teeri?” Byron asked during a contemplative lull. “Surprised to see you so concerned about a bunch of old trees and wild animals.”

“It’s important to the locals, and a miserable populace is an unproductive one,” Wisteria said. “Besides, Lord Nikola likes it. Oh.” She gazed out the carriage window as they emerged from the forest and into view of Fireholt Keep.

It was no longer a keep, of course: only a picturesque ruin of stone walls and eroded fortifications remained of the original keep. Instead, a lovely sixth-century house rose from within those crumbled ruins. By the standards of Vasilver or Anverlee, the house was small: a two-story building of three thousand square feet, according to county records, with the servant’s quarters and felishome detached. But it was beautiful, nestled with its back to a hill, and perched at the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean to the east. A waterfall dropped down the hillside and meandered across the landscape until it cascaded down the cliff. Several square miles of land around the brook were cleared, with tenant houses and cottages dotting it, along with a few larger homes.

As was to be expected, all of Fireholt’s staff turned out along the house’s drive to greet the approaching visitors. Wisteria knew that Nikola’s staff was small, but it still startled her to see that just seven adult humans, one adolescent girl, and three greatcats were the sum of his retainers. But the staff paled into insignificance at the sight of Nikola, standing a little apart from the servants. A middle-aged couple waited with him, gentility by their dress, but Wisteria had eyes only for Nikola. Byron made some remark on the size of the welcoming party that she did not attend.

One of Fireholt’s footmen sprang forward to open the carriage door as soon as the vehicle stopped. Nikola was there with equal alacrity to offer his hand to Wisteria in helping her alight. A thrill went through her at the warmth of his gloved hand against her skin. She met his eyes as she stepped from the carriage, and then, quite careless of propriety, fell into his arms. He laughed softly and enfolded her fast in his embrace. “I’ve missed you too,” he murmured into her hair. “Thank you for coming, my love.”

“I am so very glad you invited us.” With an effort of will, Wisteria straightened and withdrew from his arms to stand a decorous pace before him. “Mother is driving me to madness with wedding plans. I may need to petition you.”

“I am at your service in all things, Miss Vasilver.” He gave her a short bow, and another for Byron who was now standing beside her. “And Mr. Vasilver. Thank you for bringing your sister to me, sir. Allow me to present my neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Greenleigh.” Wisteria took Nikola’s arm as he conducted introductions, then the group ascended the wide steps into the house.

§


Life at Fireholt was delightfully peaceful. Nikola saw petitioners for two unhurried hours in the morning; he seldom had more than fifteen in a day. When Nikola was busy with that or his other duties as lord, Wisteria and Byron amused themselves tramping about the woods to look at old mines and make notes on the countryside, existing trails, roads, and available housing. Byron was appalled that Fireholt had no quickgas lines and relied on wood-burning stoves for heat and candles and lanterns for light. “That’s the first thing we’re fixing,” he declared.

They were not left entirely to themselves. The neighborhood – in this rural place, that term covered everyone within a few miles of the residence – had several other gentleborn families, and Nikola invited a few of them to dinner each day. He and Byron went hunting twice, although Byron was not much use with a bow. They also went fishing in the brook, which both men were even worse at – they caught not one fish, on three separate occasions – but which they enjoyed immensely nonetheless, judging by their mood on returning.

But much of the time was spent in Fireholt’s parlor or drawing room, talking, sometimes with company and sometimes alone. Byron did not believe that his sister either required or desired a chaperone and would leave her and Nikola alone for hours to talk. Which they did. Talk, that is. Also kiss and embrace and cuddle together on the loveseat. But fully clothed. For the most part.

But they discussed serious matters too, and trivial ones, and everything in between.

One afternoon, Nikola returned from handling an issue with one of his tenants to find Wisteria at work on the table in the drawing room. At her side were lists of names, charts cross-indexing names in different colors of pencil, a floor plan, a pair of scissors, and a tack-stick. She was cutting out names from the lists and arranging them on the floor plan.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Since my mother wants me involved with the wedding preparations, I told her when I left that I’d take care of the seating arrangements. I already ordered placecards and holders, but I still need to decide where everyone sits. I thought it would be interesting to be the one who gets to choose, for a change. Though I am a terrible choice for this task, since I have no idea who hates whom and shouldn’t be seated together. I interrogated Byron for details on all the guests he knows, but of course that doesn’t include any of your relations. Are there any intra-family feuds among them which I ought know?”

“Probably.” Nikola sat at the table and looked over the guest list. “Don’t put Uncle Henrik near any of the Kinsleighs. Preferably not in the same section of the hall, for that matter. Why is Uncle Henrik even invited?”

“He was on your father’s list. Is he so bad as all that?”

“Uncle James Kinsleigh duelled him four years ago for an unspecified offense against his daughter’s honor. Who, I might add, is nineteen now. Neither of them tried to kill the other so I suppose the specifics were not grave beyond measure, but I thought everyone in the family stopped speaking to Uncle Henrik after that. My mother certainly did.”

“I shan’t seat him at our table either, then. Perhaps between his mother, and…er…some other elderly female relation.” Wisteria went through the pile of unassigned names. Since the reception was a formal event, men and women had to alternate seats.

“Have you done our table yet?” Nikola shifted to stand, leaning over her to look at the floor plan and resting a hand on her shoulder for balance.

“Oh, yes, I did it first. I don’t want to do any of the rest, to be honest, but I didn’t suppose it would be quite the thing to take eight guests for myself and leave the other four hundred to someone else to deal with.”

“Do we truly have four hundred guests?”

“Four hundred thirty-two, to be exact.” It’s not too late to elope, Wisteria thought.

“Did one of us want a large wedding? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me.”   

“Our parents, I believe. Well, mothers, at least. Though my father has not once complained about the cost, so I daresay he is pleased too.”

“Because it’s not too late to elope,” Nikola added.

Wisteria covered his hand on her shoulder with hers, amused at his echo of her own thoughts. “Funny you should mention it. But no, I have disappointed my parents enough times in my life already. You do not mind so much, do you?”

“Only the delay.” He kissed the top of her head, then frowned as he studied the seating chart. “Why is Lord Comfrey at our table?”

Wisteria turned to look at him, tilting her head. “Where else would he be?”

“Anywhere else. Did he say he’d attend?”

“Of course. He was one of the first to respond.” Wisteria was perplexed and a trifle anxious. Had Nikola somehow learned of Lord Comfrey’s proposal? If they had fallen out over me wouldn’t he have spoken to me of it before now?

Nikola twisted his mouth in what Wisteria had learned to recognize as a bitter expression. “Of course he would. Appearances must be maintained. Well, they don’t have to extend to him sitting next to me on my wedding day. Put him somewhere else.” He peeled back the name cutout – the tack-stick used removable glue – and stuck it to a random spot on the floor plan halfway across the room from their table.

“But why? Hasn’t he been your friend for years?”

He straightened, crossing his arms. “That’s what I thought too, but I daresay we have both been mistaken.”

Wisteria twisted in her chair to stare at him. “How could we be mistaken? He saved our lives.”

Nikola turned away. “Don’t you start too. Look, I know how great a debt I owe the man, but that doesn’t mean he owns me. Fine, put him wherever you like. I can pretend one more time to be cordial if he can.”

Wisteria tried and failed to see how this statement followed from hers. “I do not speak of indebtedness, my lord; I simply do not understand how Lord Comfrey’s actions could be taken as anything but those of a friend. He has always been welcoming when we see him, and he’s been an attentive companion to me since our engagement. Do you know, he never speaks anything but praise of you? Even when he jests. He might tease me for my fixation with analysis, but you would only be faulted for being ‘too principled’, or some such quality no one could possibly take for a failing. If there is some information I am missing, I should like to be enlightened.”

“Well. Appearances can be deceiving.”

“I am aware of that, and no one is more likely to be mistaken about appearances than I am. But I am not speaking of cues; I am referring to his actions. When I told my father that I intended to meet with your abductors, Lord Comfrey and Fel Fireholt supported my decision against his objections. Before I left, Lord Comfrey told me privately that he would pay any ransom they named. I do not understand how that could be the offer of an enemy or even someone who is indifferent. Will you not speak to me of your reasons?” Had she not promised Lord Comfrey that she would keep his proposal confidential, Wisteria would have blurted out an apology on the spot. Does he know about that carriage ride back from the ball? But why would he blame Lord Comfrey for that and not me?

Nikola was not looking at her, the sharp lines of his handsome face in stern profile as he stood to one side of her chair. “You’ve seen a great deal of him, since I left Gracehaven.”

“Less than before you left. He calls once a week or so.” She hesitated. “Are you jealous, my lord?”

He glanced at her then. After a moment, he gave her one of his wry lopsided smiles. “Perhaps I am.”

“Lord Comfrey has been unexceptionable in every respect since the betrothal, I assure you,” Wisteria told him. She stood and placed her hands on Nikola’s folded arms. “I am very fond of him, I admit, but I want to marry you.”

Nikola blinked at her for a few moments, mouth open but not speaking. Then he unfolded his arms to embrace her and bury his face in her hair. She hugged him close in return, resting her cheek against his chest. “I wish I could tell you my reasons,” he said. “But…you do not feel ill-used by Comfrey?”

“Not in any way.” More the converse. “Next to you and Byron, there is no man I would trust more. Am I so mistaken?”

“I don’t know.” He kissed the top of her head, arms curled snugly around her shoulders. “Perhaps I am.”




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Me 2012

Even the Wingless, by M.C.A. Hogarth

I've known about
Even the Wingless
for several years but never read it, because I lean towards genteel, fluffy fantasies and this is a story full of sexual violence and torture.

But recently, I've been in the mood for something dark and intimate, and with the third book in the series just out, I figured I would finally give it a try.

Somewhat to my surprise, I loved the book.

It does have some weaknesses: it's a book about diplomacy between two interstellar nations, the Alliance and the Empire, and the complexity of politics on that massive scale is glossed over. The backdrop of nations feels more like a painted image than a living thing that twists, turns, and wreaks havoc behind the scenes. Further, there were points where I wanted the characters to succeed by brilliance and instead the results felt more like chance.

This aside, the story has a lot to recommend it. Lisinthir is delightful, especially in the first half of the book, where his wit, courage, and insight all shine. Watching the Slave Queen evolve over the course of the narrative is remarkable, and the way the two characters rely on each other's strengths is wonderful. I especially liked that the Slave Queen's ability to simply endure, which looks like helplessness, was in its own way a power.

I'd expected to have my suspension of disbelief tested by the set-up: The Alliance and the Empire are described as "allies", but the Empire openly enslaves, tortures, and rapes Alliance citizens at their court. Yet it hangs together well: they are not "allies" in any usual sense of the word" rather, the Alliance is attempting detente. The Alliance doesn't want to start a war unless they have to, and they're not sure they'll win if they do. So they are tolerating things that, say, the modern USA wouldn't tolerate. (And of course, even the USA has put up with some pretty flagrant crap: the Iran hostage crisis comes to mind.) The Empire is technologically sophisticated yet their court spurns the use of any weapon that's not innate; this makes sense in the context of their culture and the entire heirarchy on which it's based. It's not obvious how they became an advanced society while retaining a horrific feudal culture that seems more likely to stifle innovation, but there are hints that suggest possibilities. It worked.

The book's core strength, its true glory, lies in the portrayal of the relationships between the main characters and the complexity of their emotions. The story navigates a whole range of emotional states: fear, pain, horror, pleasure, love, hatred, anger, hope, despair, and more. These are powerfully, at times overwhelmingly, depicted. The transformations of all the characters -- and everyone is strikingly transformed before the end -- are difficult and plausibly conveyed. It is an intimate, personal story.

The book is full of depictions of rape, sexual violence, misogyny (oh the MISOGYNY), dominance contests, humiliation, etc. None of this is written for titillation: it is not a remotely erotic novel. Nor is there any sense of authorial approval or even liking for it: none of this is okay. None of this is remotely okay. There is a certain fascination with the power exchange involved, with the emotional response of characters to all this horror. That gets a fair amount of loving detail. Most of the abuse itself is dealt with in few words and not explicitly described.

I found the work as a whole compelling and engaging, the kind of story that devastates in the best way, and that uplifts by the end. I rate it a 9.
Me 2012

The End of the Season (119/141)

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Nik saw Sharone Whittaker a few more times while she was still in Gracehaven, once to test if she had a Blessing for mind-healing. To no one’s surprise, she did not. Other tests determined she did not have one for physical-healing or for plants, and the two people with a Blessing for stone who observed her doubted she had one for stone either. Which left her as a riddle to the community: some did not believe she had any connection with the Savior at all. But Nik wasn’t the only one who felt, upon speaking with her, that there was more to her “Mr. Brown” than a mere imaginary friend, and she was certainly neither possessed nor impaired now. She was happy and healthy, to all appearances a normal little girl even if she did attribute the occasional flash of startling insight to her intangible friend. At length, the enigma as yet unsolved but with assurances that it was nothing they needed to fear, her parents returned with her to the Vastings of Kinder.

After the Ascension season was over, Nik lingered in Gracehaven for a little while. This was not unknown for him, but in the past his reason to stay had been Justin and clandestine; this year it was Wisteria and everyone knew it. The openness of their relationship was one of its many attractions; it gave him one area of his life where he no longer had to mask his feelings. Nik still felt that proposing to Wisteria was the best decision of his life, even as he hated what had happened between him and Justin because of it.

But he was never my friend. All that changed is now I know it.

Ignoring that change became more difficult after the season ended and Gracehaven went back to work. It should have been easier, because there were no longer a myriad of social events where he’d run into Justin and consequently be called upon to feign normalcy.

But for six years Gracehaven had meant Justin to him, and the lightened social calendar just highlighted Justin’s absence from it. Much as he loved and treasured Wisteria, he could not forget Justin. No matter how much he wanted to.

Thus, after a week of post-Ascension Gracehaven, Nik opted to return to Fireholt and ready his estate for its new mistress.

He and Wisteria exchanged long letters full of affection; indeed, in some ways her correspondence seemed even more loving than she had been in person, where he might be misled by her neutral tone and expression. The way she wrote of Comfrey did concern him, though. Comfrey had taken it into his head to befriend Wisteria, and Nik found it difficult to trust the man’s motives in so doing. What possible interest could he have in her? According to her letters, they spoke mainly of business, but Nikola could not believe the viscount’s sudden interest in his betrothed was coincidence. But surely he would not court an engaged woman out of spite. Nikola didn’t believe Comfrey spiteful anyway. Only…indifferent. But he could not imagine what Comfrey hoped to gain from Wisteria’s friendship. He wanted to caution Wisteria not to trust the man, but could think of no reasonable way to do so without revealing the entire story. And he had told Comfrey he’d keep his secret. So he said nothing.

In the early spring, Nikola invited Wisteria and her brother Byron to visit Fireholt. Nik dreaded entertaining on his limited resources, especially guests like the Vasilvers who were accustomed to the best of everything. He’d been living more frugally than ever since his return, but so many of his expenses were fixed that it was hard to cut back without laying off staff or postponing necessary repairs. He knew Wisteria was already aware of his circumstances and was not truly concerned she’d change her mind on seeing for herself his estate’s condition. Still, he did what he could to present it in the best possible light. His staff was more than commonly anxious to please. Only the greatcats were relaxed and mellow in the weeks leading up to the Vasilvers’ arrival.

By means unclear to him, Nikola had acquired an additional two greatcat…bodyguards, he supposed. They weren’t trained warcats like Anthser, and they weren’t on Nikola’s payroll – in fact, they paid him for their room and board – and they rotated out every four weeks. As they were officially guests of Anthser’s, no one asked them to do any work. The first pair, Oliver and Heather, Anthser had introduced back in Gracehaven as visiting friends, and had been among the greatcats who’d kept vigil over him during his time in the cottage. But Nikola noticed that even after his recovery, either one of those two or Anthser was always within earshot, keeping watch over him. After they were exchanged for a second pair, who behaved identically, Nik was no longer willing to credit that they were there to keep Anthser company. Nik suspected Anthser of hiring them, but both they and Anthser denied it. Nik supposed he could have denied them his hospitality and ordered them off for trespassing if they persisted, and on the one hand he hated the idea of unpaid employees. On the other hand, having an extra two sets of paws around was comforting. Nikola was no longer pathologically afraid of abduction, but he was aware that the world was not as safe a place for him as he had always assumed.

Anthser was, nominally, still Nik’s employee. After Nikola’s recovery, Anthser had insisted at first that he didn’t want to get paid any more. “I don’t need a job and I don’t want one. I’m just going to hang about and eat your food and take up your space and do whatever I feel like. You shouldn’t pay me for that. It’d be like salarying a friend for keeping you company.”

Nik had accepted this for two weeks, by which point it had become clear that “whatever Anthser felt like” was “being a hyper-vigilant warcat and making sure no one even thought about bothering his lordship over anything”. Nik no longer asked him to run errands – or asked him to do anything else, for that matter – but Anthser volunteered to carry him wherever he happened to be going eight times in ten. At which point, Nik insisted that if Anthser wasn’t going to accept a salary he was going to hire another warcat and force Anthser to stop working. Anthser had negotiated down to half his former salary: “I’m still not running errands for you, you know.” Nikola was not happy about the whole affair, especially since his family had never paid Anthser what a warcat of his caliber could make elsewhere. But at some point, it did not feel worth fighting over any more.




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Me 2012

Weekly Update

My February goals don't list weekly updates, but since I remember and this week is quick:

* Finished 8 headers for RA this weekend
* Posted a review of C.S. Pacat's Kings Rising
* Did a little writing on Birthright (not enough to actually finish a scene, though)

My big goal for February is "finish the remaining headers for RA", which was only 17 at the start of the month. On Saturday, I started doing some late at night, thinking "It's the first weekend of the month. There's no rush." And then I remembered that I'm going to Conflation on the last weekend in February. And I'll be renting a car on the second-to-last weekend and will not want to spend it at home doing headers. That leaves ... two weekends. Including this one. Er. Guess I better get on that, then.

Anyway, I can do a bunch more this coming weekend and/or a few on weekdays, so shouldn't be too hard. It'll be nice to finally be done with these. I like having the illustrations for each post, and I've a little anecdotal evidence that they have driven some traffic to the serial, so I'm not sorry I did them. But they do take a lot of time. If I ever do another serial, I'm gonna make a batch of generic illustrations to rotate through instead. This time FOR SURE. c_c
Me 2012

No Longer Friends (118/141)

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Justin and Nikola were no longer friends.

Oh, there was no open hostility between them: Nikola didn’t scowl when he encountered Justin in a social setting, made no sharp remarks, offered no veiled insults. Indeed, in public he behaved just as he always had: gracious, friendly, civil, even warm. Justin reciprocated, offering the same appearance of easy, open friendship. In public, no viewer would think there had been a break between them.

In private…

There was no “in private”. They saw one another at events hosted by mutual acquaintances, where Nikola never strayed from a group of fewer than three and was often with Wisteria. On the occasions that the Strikers invited Justin for dinner, there were at least a dozen other guests and Nikola’s presence was required to entertain them until such time as some other social duty was certain to call Justin or Nikola away. For the two invitations to dinner parties that Nikola accepted from Comfrey, Nikola arrived with Miss Vasilver and left early, with an unimpeachable excuse each time. When Miss Vasilver was not about, there was always some other group. Invitations to hunt and to bowrace were both politely declined “due to prior engagements”. There likely were prior engagements, even, but Nikola of old would have offered an alternate date.

Nikola of now did not want to take any chance of being alone with Justin.

What was left was a hollow mockery of their former friendship, all appearance and no substance. The amiable public facade which had once concealed deep intimacy now concealed a vast empty gulf.

Justin felt the lack keenly. Sometimes, when he was telling a story at a party and Nikola was listening and laughing along, or when Justin and Nikola and Wisteria were all three offering droll commentary on a particularly insipid ball, Justin could forget that well-hidden animosity. For a time, he could pretend to himself that Nikola’s distance was but a product of his additional obligations to his betrothed and the stress involved in the wedding preparations.

Then they would meet by chance in some empty hallway, outside the lavatory or wherever, at a society event, and Nikola would give him a look of cold hostility and an icy “My lord” before hurrying away, and Justin would know that this was no matter of happenstance.

Distractions abounded: the Ascension season was nothing but one entertainment after another. Justin attended the galas and parties and theater performances, went to shadowed back rooms for anonymous assignations, forced his body through grueling exercise routines, tried to forget himself in noise and sensation. But at the end of every day, he was alone with the knowledge that he would always be alone. There could be no pleasurable anticipation of his next night with Nikola, nor his next day either.

There was nothing to look forward to at all.

It hurt, and Justin didn’t know what to do about it. Perhaps it was his own fault, for walking out on such an angry, bitter note. Perhaps he could have sent a note, apologized or at least explained that of course Nikola was not nothing to him, could never be nothing. I want so much more than friendship from you, but friendship would be better than this. But what could he write that would be enough and not too much, too dangerous to risk falling into unknown hands? And why must I always be the one to humble myself? After all I’ve done and risked for love of him, why must I still prove that I am his friend?

Some days Justin hated that he cared at all, wished he felt as coldly towards Nikola as Nikola did to him. If he tried, he could work up a righteous anger on the topic and sustain it for a while.

But mostly, it felt pointless. Everything felt pointless. Justin continued his activities out of habit, and for that occasional glimmer of forgetfulness, those moments near Wisteria or Nikola in some crowd, when the present was pleasant and ordinary and he could pretend it was real.

He intended to keep Miss Vasilver as a friend and had been thus far successful. If Miss Vasilver believes me capable of disinterested friendship why cannot Nikola, who knows me so much better? (Because he knows me so much better, of course.) He’d managed her news rather better than Nikola’s, perhaps because he’d spent some time contemplating how he would handle it.

Part of him wanted to seduce her still, to claim her body before Nikola could. (They are not yet wed; if I persuaded her to give her virginity to me, would she break with him and wed me instead? If he knew, would he break with her?) Justin desired Miss Vasilver more the longer he knew her, but he respected her too. He rather suspected that any attempt he made would end in humiliating failure. Even if she were receptive, she deserved better than such manipulative treatment. So he took care to avoid any circumstance that might tempt him otherwise.

At times he wondered why he bothered, wondered if it might not be better to seize at any chance, no matter how slim, that might end the dark pall that had fallen across his life. Who was he trying to impress by taking the high ground? Miss Vasilver? She already knew how little honor he had, given that he’d revealed Nik’s intentions to her and proposed himself. Nikola? Justin was never going to regain his good graces. The general public? Perhaps. Justin had put considerable effort into cultivating his reputation and some part of him, the part that said ‘this too shall pass’, did not want to throw that away for nothing. And it very likely would net him nothing.

And I still have Wisteria’s friendship. Do I want to risk losing that, too?

It was not as much as he wanted, but it was something, and Justin had little enough of true value to him now.




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Me 2012

Rejection (117/141)

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After dinner, Lord Nikola – Wisteria still could not think of him without the title – and she made the announcement to her parents. Which was, unsurprisingly, well-received by them.

Courtesy of Lord Comfrey, Wisteria had had several days to come to terms with the idea of Lord Nikola proposing to her. She had more-or-less resolved in advance that, after giving Lord Nikola as full a disclosure as she could, she would accept if he were still interested. So she had little right or reason to be surprised at finding herself engaged.

She was anyway.

Even more astonishing was Lord Nikola’s revelation that, first, her oddities were not only mental in origin but likely treatable, and second and more amazing, that he did not advise treating it. It had never occurred to her to look on her handicaps as anything but obstacles to be overcome. That someone might care for her not in spite of but because of them was nothing short of miraculous.

After the announcement, her mother didn’t want to do anything but discuss wedding plans and dates and set preparations in motion. Lord Nikola made his escape by promising to send his own mother as sacrifice in his place. Wisteria had no idea how to extricate herself from the task. She told her mother up front and repeatedly that her sole preference was “as soon as possible” and otherwise she was indifferent on the matter of location, invitations, colors, theme, and every other conceivable aspect. While her mother nodded and agreed, her behavior gave no indication that Wisteria had been believed or even heard.

When Lady Striker called with both her daughters to congratulate Wisteria and speak of wedding plans, Wisteria resorted to sneaking away outright. She excused herself to go to the lavatory, passed Mrs. Warwick a note on the way out to beg her to cover for her absence, and fled.

She stopped at her office first to get the folder she had worked up on the Colbury evaluation, put a suit jacket over her dress, and directed Sally to take her in the gig to Comfrey Manor. I can apologize to Mother later. This cannot wait.

Lord Comfrey had guests when she arrived; since her attire and folder signaled a professional call, Comfrey’s butler directed her to wait in his office.

A quarter of an hour later, Wisteria was seated at his conference table and engrossed in the file when Lord Comfrey stepped into the office. “Good evening, my dear. This is an unexpected pleasure; I would never expect you to work on that during the Ascension season. In fact…” His smile faded as he walked to join her at the table. “I ought to pay your fee and cancel the request; I no longer have the need to sell.”

“Oh, I truly think you ought to divest yourself of your stake in Colbury Textiles,” Wisteria told him. “But I did not come on business.” She stood before he had moved to take a seat, feeling the joy of recent events ebb out of her, an empty ache filling her heart. How can this be what I want and yet not at the same time? “Lord Nikola proposed to me today, and I have accepted him, my lord. I did not want you to learn this from another source.”

“Ah.” He stood motionless for a moment, then smiled. “Congratulations to you both, my dear. I trust you will be very happy together.”

“I believe we will.” She wished she could read his expression. “I wish I could marry you both.”

Lord Comfrey laughed. “There’s a notion! As if one marriage were not trouble enough. What kind of Paradise would it be where one might have several?”

“A more perfect Paradise?”

“I do not think you will find many who would agree. Come, my dear.” He offered his arm. “I should not keep my guests waiting. Let me show you out.” As they walked together into the hall, the lord added, “Thank you for telling me yourself, Miss Vasilver. That was well done.”

“You deserved that much. A great deal more, to be honest. I am sor—”

“Never apologize, my dear,” he interrupted her. “I should have made the same choice, in your place.” They had reached the front door. The footman opened it for them, and Lord Comfrey escorted her down the steps to hand her into her gig. “Be well, Miss Vasilver. I look forward to seeing you again.”

“Good day, Lord Comfrey.” There were a thousand things she wanted to say: had there been a moment, any chance at all, she would have blurted something inappropriate out. But she was in the gig before she knew it. I wonder how he does that, she thought as she asked Sally to take her home. I am sure my parents would love to know. Watching Lord Comfrey stroll back inside, tall and strong and graceful, the embroidered trim of his jacket flashing in the winter sunlight, she ached with loss and desire. How can I love them both so much, when I am only permitted one?

The remaining weeks of the Ascension season passed in a blur for Wisteria: all of the usual social events piled on top with all the details and chores of planning for the wedding. The date had been set for early summer, driven in part by the timing of the queen’s schedule. As a count’s heir, Nikola had the privilege of a royal officiant for his wedding and Lady Striker hoped the queen herself would do the honors. According to Nikola, the other part was that both their families wanted them wed at once, “for fear we might reconsider.” Wisteria’s mother lamented that a mere five months was insufficient to all the tasks that must be done for a proper wedding. Privately, Wisteria wanted to elope.

She did not suggest elopement to her betrothed, mostly because she was sure he would agree and she felt that, after all the times she had disappointed her parents and even his, she owed it to them to do this one thing properly. Or as close to properly as she could manage.    

Wisteria gave the question of treatment for her mind’s peculiarities considerable thought. On the one hand, her inability to read and express emotion as others did had always troubled her. To smile, laugh, cry, and so forth as a natural response had been a childhood dream that she had never quite outgrown.

Yet it was useful in ways: her exaggerated reputation for patience and calm was due to the difficulty people had in discerning her feelings, for instance. And while normal people who could read emotions picked up on cues that she missed, it did not stop them from getting into stupid misunderstandings. If anything, it made the stupid misunderstandings worse, because where Wisteria would ask for a verbal explanation, others would rely on inaccurate nonverbal communication and their own assumptions. Do I want to be normal?

‘Normal’ was out of the question anyway. She doubted any treatment would take her interest in finance and analysis away, or instill a love of clothing. But: more normal?

In the final analysis: no.

As frustrated as she was by her limitations, Wisteria liked the person that she was. That person had been formed in meaningful part on her limitations.

Besides, I can always seek treatment later, if I change my mind about changing my mind. It’s not as if my healer of minds is going anywhere.

Lord Comfrey continued to call on her, to her surprise. Not as often – once every week or two – but he was as pleasant and attentive a companion as before she’d refused him. They would speak on a wide range of topics, but always circumspect ones. After the first couple of visits, Wisteria realized that he had to still be managing her, so deftly she could not even describe how he did it. But he ensured she never brought up any subject that might prove disagreeable, and likewise that they were never alone where she might be frank about her feelings.

Her very conflicted feelings.

As far as she could discern, Lord Comfrey had lost all romantic and sexual interest in her the moment she told him she would marry Nikola. Which was good! Even if Nikola was willing to overlook her transgressions, she would prefer he did not have to. Wisteria knew she loved Nikola and had a confidence of at least ninety percent that she wished to marry him even more than she wished to marry Lord Comfrey.

But she still desired Lord Comfrey.

Wisteria was glad for his visits, grateful that he enjoyed her company because she treasured his. Yet it was difficult not to be close to him, not to be open with him as she was with Nikola.

It was not that she felt any lack in her relationship with Nikola, save that it was not yet consummated. With the betrothal, they were afforded more privacy: ample time to cuddle and speak of whatever they chose. They could likely have gotten away with doing more than simply cuddling, but Nikola insisted on circumspection – some nonsense about proving his respect for her. Still, after waiting so long already, Wisteria reasoned she could survive another few months. So they were waiting. Impatiently. Perhaps when she was wed, her fantasies about Lord Comfrey would cease. Not to mention her fantasies about Nikola with Lord Comfrey. Which she truly should not have and there was no reason to think that Lord Comfrey had been Nikola’s lover, and even if he had been Nikola had made it plain it was over. So it was outlandish and insulting and offensive and oh so very, very sensual. She would never speak of it, of course: Nikola had entrusted her with his secret and she did not need a list to know one did not betray a secret. Just as she could say nothing to Nikola that could suggest that Lord Comfrey had been the man of whom she had spoken with longing. Risking her own reputation with an ill-chosen word was an easy mistake for her to make, but Wisteria had discovered that her mind was more than willing to put in the effort to protect the men she loved.



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studious

Kings Rising, by C. S. Pacat

This is the third book in a trilogy; I think it's the last, though perhaps the author will write something more about the characters.

I have many feelings about this series.  MANY FEELS. Of the three books, I liked the second, Prince's Gambit best. The first, Captive Prince, I found absolutely harrowing. The second was much less harrowing: there was still violence but it was less intimate: conflict rather than abuse. The difference between being under the constant threat of death and the constant threat of torture. IN THEORY, I should be more worried about death, but in practice I find the prospect of torture worse. Sometimes I wonder if that's a side effect of depression. When you're used to fantasizing about death as an escape, it doesn't seem nearly as terrifying as having to endure horrors much worse than the life that left you suicidal. Anyway, maybe it's just me, but I found the first book engaging but traumatic. The second book was a fantastic exploration of the characters, still with lots of conflict and tension, but also lots of "protagonists being brilliant and talented in order to improve their position".

Kings Rising opens with several chapters that I found even more harrowing than the first book, because now instead of horrible things happening to characters I didn't care about, these were inflicted on ones I loved. I found it powerful but, to my surprise, not unpleasant. Books that do horrible things usually make me want to stop reading, but here I just wanted to see what would happen next, whether it was awful or not. And I wanted explanations: a reason for some of the extreme emotional abuse being dished out. So that impressed me, that throughout reading it I never wanted to put it down. (I did, because I had to work, but I didn't WANT to.)

Kings Rising displays an emotional intimacy of considerable range: not just love and lust, but the kind of deep cruelty and pain that only happens when someone loves a person who mistreats them, whether by accident or design. There are many highs and lows, and I rode them often with glee. Even the lows; I think that's because this is a romance and I was depending on a happily-ever-after, rather than being abandoned in a pit of misery. This was also well-done and engaging.

Some of the characters in the book are brilliant planners, and there's a sense of wonder, the I-didn't-see-that-coming-but-I-should've, that I love when I see it well-done. Of all the things one can hope for in a romance, this is one of the least likely to get. Pacat delivers it, multiple times, through Kings Rising. Unfortunately, this means that when it's NOT delivered, it's all the more disappointing.

The climax in particular felt overwrought rather than brilliant. One of those where the characters are in way more trouble than it looks like they can possibly get out of, and then they manage it, and on the one hand you're glad, but on the other you're like "that rescue wasn't very plausible or brilliant". This is my problem with the common 'up the stakes' advice writers get: the more trouble protagonists are in, the more likely it is that the solution will throw me out of the story by seeming too unlikely.

But my biggest fault with the book is it ends like a page after the climax. I HATE THAT. If you're one of those people who likes Hollywood endings, where the credits roll 30 seconds after the protagonists win, then you will be fine with this. I am not fine with this. I don't want to get kicked out of bed right after the climax: I want some post-coital cuddling. SHEESH.  This one actually annoys me much more than the lack of brilliance in the climax, because I know how tough it is to balance a challenge for your characters. But how hard is it to write some pages of your characters dealing with other loose ends, or living happily together, or SOMETHING after the big resolution? I'm not asking to be blown away by cleverness here, I just want to have some denouement.

I am going to stop nitpicking here, because the truth is that my complaints are based in significant measure on my expectations. I expected a 9 or even a 9.5 from Kings Rising, and I only got an 8. And the disappointment will make me review it like a 7, and it deserves better than that. This is an emotionally powerful book with many brilliant moments and flashes of genius. It is a flawed diamond, to be sure, but still a diamond, and still recommended.
studious

January Update

Health/Fitness
I went for a twenty-mile bike ride last weekend! Because the weather was actually nice despite it being January.

I also gained 3 pounds last week because I ate tons of junk food. Oog. I did well on not eating too much the last couple of days, at least. Maybe it's the start of a new trend!

Writing
I think I wrote like half a scene since my last update. I'm at 8.5 scenes total for January, and two bullet points finished.

The Business of Writing
BOOK. I uploaded Further Arrangements to Amazon and Draft2Digital on January 31. I am not quite done with the book, though, because the print version is still in final stages and will need to be proofed and uploaded. Amazingly, the e-book version populated to all four stores within 36 hours and without any weird "why isn't it working the same way when I buy it from this outlet that it does when I looked at it before uploading and in the distributor's upload-page previewer?" glitches.

(Have I talked about this book launch enough yet? Here, let me post some more BUY links just in case ... Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks)

I also did all the associated tasks with BOOK: cover art, dedication, acknowledgements, updated author bio, interior illustrations, book blurb, placement in SFWA's new release newletter, etc. It's a lot. Easier than last time, though.

Art/Other

  • I had a goal of 13 headers and finished 15.

  • I also did a number of Twitter-prompt sketches -- 12-15

  • I did 14-16 or so sketches of hands. Maybe someday I can draw a hand that looks more than vaguely hand-like.

  • Oh right and BOOK COVER. Plus some bonus interior images (title page for the collection, and also one for each story. Mostly because I'd already drawn more for the cover than actually fit on it.)

Socializing
I saw a couple of friends from St. Louis last weekend, and we went to the Toy & Miniature Museum. The miniatures were as amazing as I remembered. I want to shrink myself down so I can live in one of those dollhouses.

Happiness
A few bad patches, but overall, pretty good. I was very stressed out about the book launch on Sunday and Monday especially, but I'm mostly back to normal now.

Also, did everything on my goal list for January AND MORE so go me.

Goals for coming month
I am still feeling somewhat ground down by the effort of turning Further Arrangements into a book people can buy, so I don't want to make an ambitious list of goals. Let's go simple.

  1. 17 headers. That'll take me through the end of the serial.

  2. Talk to Alinsa about putting something on ladyrowyn.com other than a redirect to rationalarrangement.com. Probably nothing fancy, just an "I'm an author, here's my books, here's links to my LJ, Twitter, and RationalArrangment.com".

  3. Write some fiction. Doesn't have to be Birthright. Doesn't have to be any particular quantity.

That'll be enough.
Me 2012

Proposal: Part Two (116/141)

Further Arrangements, adding to the story of the characters from A Rational Arrangement, is now available and on sale for just $2.99! Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks

RA Header 116

“Yes! And let me make this attempt properly.” Nikola shifted her from his lap to the cushion, then stood. He dropped to one knee on the floor before her, took one of her hands for reassurance – she looked so composed, and he all but trembling with nerves – and swallowed. “Miss Vasilver: I am ready to set aside all my philandering ways and cleave only unto you, if you will do me the very great honor of becoming my wife. Will you marry me, my lady?”

Her hand squeezed his as he awaited some reply, but his spirit sank as she remained silent. Finally, she asked, “Are you quite sure you wish to give up philandering?”

“For you? Absolutely. I have no entanglements, no illegitimate children, if that is your concern.”

But she was shaking her head. “No, it’s not that. It’s that I am not sure I am suited to the standards of marriage.”

“I…Miss Vasilver, if you are decided against me, you may feel free to say so; there’s no need to—”

“No!” She spoke quickly, interrupting him. “It’s not that I do not want to marry you, my lord, I do, marriage has been my goal for so long that you cannot know, you cannot imagine my happiness at being asked by you, by a man I esteem so much, one so principled, capable, attractive, even Blessed – you are everything I ever hoped for in a husband.” Nik blinked at her, stunned by the praise and apprehensive about the ‘but’ that must be coming. “I would be delighted to wed you. Only I fear I will not be the wife you expect or deserve. I had always thought, well, everyone marries, surely I can manage it, but everyone is not like me—”

Nikola rose enough to brace a knee against the couch and took her face in his hands to kiss her, silencing the flood of self-doubt. “Please, my lady. Let me be the judge of that. My mother has pushed a half-dozen or more conventional, unexceptionable girls into my path. I do not want to marry an ordinary woman who will be just what everyone expects. I want to marry you. Extraordinary, exceptional, unexpected.”

“Oh,” she said, faintly. “But…um…what if you do not have sufficient information to make an accurate judgment? I never did get you that due diligence report on myself.”

Nik took a deep breath, steadying himself against the rush of conflicting emotions: fear, passion, hope, nervousness. He focused on Miss Vasilver: her long face was composed but her light brown hands were clenched together, anxious, her gaze off to one side in concentration or embarrassment. “I have seen you defy and attack a man in my defense with both your own hands tied. I am not unaware of your character, Miss Vasilver. Is there something in particular you think I ought know and do not?”

“I’m afraid I’ll be unfaithful,” she blurted out. “That is – I was so forward with you when I oughtn’t have been and everyone has always told me that men despise such behavior in a woman—”

“I was there,” Nikola said, mildly. He resumed his seat beside the dark-haired woman. “‘Despise’ is not the word I would use. I am proposing to you, you know. I like your passion.”

“But what if I am the same way with another?”

He couldn’t help smiling at the way she phrased it, as if her actions might suddenly be beyond her control at any moment. “Miss Vasilver, I think you underrate your—-” he stopped mid-sentence, with a sudden awful premonition. What if she truly is afraid her actions will be beyond her control? “Are you – do you—” I love your mind, please, please do not ask me to change it. “Remember those pages of your document that so distressed my parents?”

She nodded. “My judgment can be so shockingly poor, my lord, there’s something horribly wrong with—”

Nik touched a gloved finger to her lips, not wanting to hear. That’s not a petition, she did not ask me what was wrong with her – “It did not distress me, my lady. I went to that meeting predisposed to dislike you, your parents, and everything about the situation. But instead you charmed me. With your very bluntness, your willingness to not merely consider but confront and address the ways that marriage fails some of its participants. Why would you think this makes you unsuitable for marriage? It is half the reason I am asking you! Perhaps that makes me unfit for the institution, in which case it is surely best that we be unfit together. If fidelity does not suit you – well, I should like you to be discreet; I do not wish to be a laughingstock. But I am not a jealous man. If you find you wish a lover in addition to and not in place of me, I do not think it an insurmountable obstacle to our matrimony.”    

“Oh. Truly?”

He smiled. “Truly. Is there…another man, then?”

“Oh…I do not think I ought to say. Is that the same as saying? Do not ask me his name, I beg you. I do not think anything could come of it regardless, I make such a hash of things.”

Nik swallowed against an unexpected surge of jealousy. Who is he? A gentleman? Some impoverished tradesman or a servant, too low class for you to wed? “Would you rather marry him?”

She shook her head. “No. I should rather marry you both, in truth.”

Nik smiled involuntarily. “I’m afraid that’s not an option.”

“So everyone tells me. If I may only have one, I will choose you. If you are sure—” She stopped as Nikola swept her into his arms again and kissed her thoroughly. As uncertain as her words had been, there was no shy hesitation in her response now. He caressed her side and down one skirt-covered leg as she twined her hands through his hair and pressed against his chest. Nik found he didn’t care why she prefered him to this unnamed suitor, whether it was for his title or Fireholt or his Blessing or – whatever. The important thing was she said yes!

“I am quite sure,” he told her after he paused for breath. His jacket had come off at some point in the last couple of minutes and his waistcoat was open. Delicate hands stroked over his shirt as she nuzzled experimentally at his cheek.

“Oh, thank you,” she murmured, kissing his neck just above the collar. “I am so very happy, I do not have words for it.” She clung tighter to him, as if to reassure herself he was real. “I do so want to be a good wife to you. I will do my best to be true, and not be a disappointment or an embarrassment to you. If I were not always making so many mistakes obvious to everyone else – but I will do better. For you I feel I could learn to be anything.”

Nik shivered at her words. “I don’t want you to be anyone but yourself.” The shapes of her mind filled his senses, the atypically rational connections standing out to him now, and the accompanying lack of instinct. That’s not a demon. Her mind is beautiful and fascinating and she did not petition me. ‘There’s something horribly wrong with me’ is a figure of speech. It doesn’t mean anything. He hugged her close, shutting his eyes, and knew he was making excuses to remain silent. “I do not believe there is anything wrong with you as you are, my betrothed. Do you…do you truly think yourself flawed?”

“Yes, certainly,” she answered, without hesitation. “In all sorts of ways. My body doesn’t express my feelings as it ought – my parents took me to dozens of healers when I was small and no one could ever determine why, and it’s as if because I cannot express them I cannot read emotion either. And things that are obvious to everyone else, like, oh, how one ought not discuss any of the important details of marriage when one is considering an engagement, or why one cannot marry more than one person, or – oh, the list is endless. Why I oughtn’t do things that feel wonderful, like kissing you.” She kissed him to demonstrate, and for a minute Nik forgot the topic and the accompanying sense of dread.

But she paused to breathe, gazing at him with a calm, neutral expression while he was flushed and stunned by desire, and he knew he could not just ignore what she’d said. “Ahh…so you’ve seen other mind-healers?” Not me. I would remember your mind anywhere, even if we had both been children at the consultation.

“No, my lord, it’s not that I’m—” She cut herself off, tilting her head at him. “Oh, it is, isn’t it? The healers couldn’t find a problem because it’s not my body that’s wrong but my mind. You can see it, can’t you? Why did you not – oh, of course you wouldn’t, you said you don’t ask people if they have a problem. But this is wonderful, Lord Nikola, will you fi—”

Nikola covered her mouth before she could finish, before she committed herself. “Don’t – please, wait.” Reluctantly, he shifted her from his lap to the sofa and stood, needing to clear his mind to think. He paced the polished hardwood floor of the small parlor. “Miss Vasilver, your mind is, yes, most unusual. I do not say ‘defective’. There are connections that your mind makes with reason and that other minds make by instinct, and that…that might explain the symptoms you describe.”

“This is very exciting, my lord,” she said, head tilted. “But is it not something you may repair? You do not seem pleased.”

“It’s not—” Nik dropped to one knee before her and clasped her hand. “I don’t know if I could change it. If you find it so troubling as that – very likely the Savior would alter it, if you wanted but—” he held up a hand to forestall her “—please consider what you are asking first. The Savior will not alter your mind in a way that makes you unhealthy or less sane, but it can – will, in the case – make you less like who you are now. Wisteria, I love the way your mind works. I love the contract that you made full of all the important details that no one is supposed to discuss, and I love your list of topics not to talk about, and I love that you made a list, and I love you. As you are. I do not imagine that I will stop loving you if you ask the Savior’s aid here, and if you petition me of course the Code obliges me to honor your request. But I do not want to change you. You are not insane, or dysfunctional, or – anything that is not wonderful. You may not be typical but typical is overrated in my opinion. Please, consider seriously whether this is truly what you want.”

She watched him for a long moment, silent, and he had to throttle back the urge to press further arguments upon her. “You love me?”

He blinked at her. “Of course. I asked you to marry me.”

“Lots of people get married for reasons besides love.”

Nik glanced to one side. “Not me. It’s all right, I do not expect you to feel the same—”

“But I do.” She leaned forward to embrace him. “I love you,” she said, matter-of-fact. He rose, sweeping her into his arms. That lack of expression isn’t self-control. It’s just how she is. How she will always be, if I am lucky. Footsteps sounded in the corridor outside as they were kissing, and Nik set Wisteria on her feet and smoothed her dress and sleeves to suit decorum again before hastily buttoning his jacket.

A maid tapped at the half-open door. “Mrs. Vasilver wishes to know if his lordship will be staying to dinner?”

Nikola took Wisteria’s hand and squeezed, thinking of the news they had to announce. “I will be very happy to.” The girl curtsied and withdrew. “I suppose that’s our cue to stop hiding here.”

“Oh. Regarding what you said, my lord, on petitioning—”

“Please, take all the time you need to consider.” Nik smiled at her, a little forced, and swallowed. “There is no rush at all.”

She nodded, curtseying to him. “Thank you, my lord. I shall.”



Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? A Rational Arrangement is now on sale for $2.99! Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
Already bought A Rational Arrangement? Further Arrangements contains three more novellas in the same setting, and is also on sale for $2.99! Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks

Sale ends February 15, so buy now!
studious

Book Releases by Others!

Some of these launched today, some of them are just "soon", but I was surprised by how many books that I wanted to read are coming out at the same time as my own*. So I am sharing!


This one, I planned. When I realized that I wasn't going to have Further Arrangements ready to publish until February, I decided to launch it the same day as Kings Rising. There was no good reason for this, except that it meant I could spend today reading Kings Rising instead of obsessing over my book sales. Which mostly worked, in fact. I finished Kings Rising earlier today, and longer review to come, but the short version is: good book, had some issues with it, glad I read it, very engrossing. I haven't read any of the others in this post yet, because seriously I do not read that fast any more.


The sequel to Unbound, which I reviewed a few days ago. There was lots and lots of upheaval in the setting by the end of the last book, and I am super-excited to see how things shake out in this one. Also, I am impressed by the way Hines wrapped up the major plot threads in Unbound, but left so much in flux as far as the world went. Nice trick! This also came out today.


The latest Vorkosigan book! The ARC came out last year, and the e-book went on sale in January, but the hardcover launched today. This is a new Cordelia novel, and I know nothing else about it, but I like almost everything Bujold's written, so pretty sure I will enjoy this too.


haikujaguar opened pre-orders for this book yesterday, and it will be out next Monday. Featuring some of my favorites of Micah's characters! I've already got my copy on order.


This has the coolest table of contents I've ever seen. Go on, just look at the preview and you can see it. :9

And special mention to ursulav: her The Raven and the Reindeer isn't out or up for preorder yet, but it's to be released in "early February", so soooooooon.

... I actually think there were more, but I can't remember what. @_@

EDIT: Oh hey I remembered one of them!



This is a "light novel", which is a form popular in Japan and I don't know how it differs from a novella. Anyway, it's by the author of the fanfic "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality", and I'm quite curious to see how he does with orig fic.

* Did I mention Further Arrangements is out today? I probably mentioned it. A few times.