Me 2012

Immersed (35/80)

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They returned to the same spot they’d vacated, but the Queen was no longer next to them. Miro surveyed the ship’s environs, and saw the Moon Queen had joined the aether dancers. Whispers Rain, too, was dancing in the air, graceful swoops while partnered with a fey in the shape of a giant dragonfly. Miro saw Ardent’s eye stray in her direction, and wondered if she was imagining dancing with her. The angle of the heavy, unpleasant chain of obligation on Rain’s soul had changed. By reflex, Miro followed it to see if the holder was present.    

The thick corrupted line led directly to Fallen.

Shadow of Fallen Scent stood before a tall, white-winged centaur, deep in conversation. She had so many ugly strings on souls both present and elsewhere that it was hard to pick out an individual strand. But the centaur’s soul was another one of her victims, and Fallen’s soul was pulling on the string between them, making it vibrate with whatever she was demanding.

Miro looked around the ship’s deck to make note of any other people that Fallen had particularly thick strings upon. There were a few High Court members. It struck Miro how important Ardent must have been to the Etherium, that so much of the Court would attend a party in her honor even after a fourteen-year absence. One individual Miro hadn’t seen at court, a flying merman with the black and white pattern of an orca, stood out for the ugliness of his soul. It was a mottled thing with its good parts choked by solipsism and cruelty. Fallen’s looked worse, but it was more a distinction of scale than kind. No wonder he ended up in her debt.

The aether dance came to a close, the final notes dying away as the musicians finished their piece and did not segue into a new one.

Queen Skein of the Absolute flew along one of the aether currents to a position above the musicians on the raised quarterdeck, and hovered before the drifting streamers that hung from the rear mast’s yards. “My friends, we have come together on this joyous occasion to welcome my faithful servant and former Justiciar Ardent Sojourner back to the Moon Etherium. Ardent, I remember you have always been a great enthusiast for history and immersions. In your honor, I present the latest work from Through the Glass, a historical piece set during the time of Sundering.” A round of enthusiastic applause followed this announcement. Even Miro perked up. Immersions were a relatively new art form, a kind of shared-storytelling game. A fey artist or, more often, a large team of fey artists, would design a scenario and then assign various parts in it to participants. The best immersions were complicated affairs with hundreds of parts, each with their own story arc to explore, each intersecting with the whole. The “immersive” aspect came from a form of glamour that gave each participant a full understanding of their character’s background and motivations. Rules governed each scenario, enforcing artificial limits on fey abilities during the immersion that would make its challenges more real. Many of them involved simulated combat. Nothing that happened would affect the participants in reality, but if one accepted the immersion wholly, it would feel as if it were real.

Miro had always liked immersions. They made participants think about times and situations when problems were a matter of life-and-death, and that lent some perspective to the less dramatic woes of everyday life.

After the applause died down, the Queen continued, “Please welcome Through the Glass’s lead artist, Reflections on Water.”

The white centaur who had been talking to Fallen flew into the air beneath his queen, and spoke after a second, shorter, round of applause. “Your majesty honors myself and my friends with this opportunity. Thank you. This is a special preview of our newest work, The Betrayal, an immersive re-imagining of the events surrounding the Great Sundering. It’s never before been performed, and we hope you will forgive any rough spots in the narrative. With your good will, let us begin.” He lifted a hand, and a half-dozen other fey throughout the crowd did the same. Starlit points scattered from their fingertips to target each member of the audience, assigning each one a unique role.

Ardent broke the starlit spells before they could reach her or Miro. She walked to the caster for their parts instead. The caster was a black-and-red naga woman, who gave her a puzzled look at her approach. “Is something amiss, my lady?”

“Just want to know what parts we’re getting before we start,” Ardent said.

“My lady has the role of Prince Wind Rider, and her servant is to be Prince Loreveroro.” They were both historical figures, warrior-princes of the pre-Sundering age from the Moon and Sun Etheriums respectively. Prince Loreveroro had been one of the two princes of the Sun Host who had gone to Moon Etherium during the ill-fated ninth century Centennial Celebration. He’d died channeling for a Moon Host caster during the Sundering.

“Nope. I don’t think so,” Ardent said, flatly. “The prince doesn’t channel for anyone but me.”

“My lady, I assure you the channeling is simulated, not actual. No harm—”

“No. No simulated channeling. He is mine. I’m not risking any accidents with a never-before-performed leading-edge immersion.” Ardent waved a hand to dismiss the naga’s put-upon and offended look. “Just give me Loreveroro’s part and he can be Wind Rider. I don’t care how cute you all think it is to give our Sun Host channelers the parts of doomed Sun Host channelers. You can make him Wind Rider or we can both sit it out.”

The naga dipped her head. “Yes, my lady.” She cast the spell again, and this time Ardent did not intercept it. As Miro received the spell, he reflexively gestured to adjust the immersion as it would affect him: minimal pain, minimal acceptance of the role so it would not override his personality, and a moderate impact on his senses so that he could still straddle with the real Moon Etherium.

Too late, he realized it wouldn’t work: he had no aether with which to control how deeply he was affected. The spell settled upon him at full intensity, and Mirohirokon was gone.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy The Moon Etherium now! Or check out the author's other books: A Rational Arrangement and Further Arrangements.
Me 2012

On Writing Nonconsensual Erotica

[ Content note: this is about written kink and rape scenes. Contains nothing explicit, however.]

I was talking to a friend of mine about the distinction between "rape written to titillate" and "rape written to be unpleasant/traumatic". (I am sure this is a totally normal, everyday topic, and there is nothing weird about discussing it. At least not when one is writing BDSM erotica.)

I am in kind of a strange position on this topic. I enjoy kink, including rape fantasies, but my tastes in written erotica are finicky enough that I don't look for stuff that satisfies it.  I say "finicky" because it's not that my tastes are particularly bizarre, it's that it's hard for me to gauge what will appeal to me versus what will squick me. I have engaged in some BDSM, both online and RL, but not a great deal. So while I'm not totally hypothetical about the subject, I am nothing like an expert.

My experience, such as it is, is that there are two separate axes: "Do I, personally, find this erotic?" and "Is this designed to titillate?" I may regard something as titillating even if it doesn't appeal to me personally, and I may find something erotic even if I am fairly confident it's not intended to be.

This is not quite the same as "author intent". For example, someone can intend to write a rape scene as a horrific event, but end up writing it as erotic because that's the only way they know to describe the action involved. But I suspect it's pretty common for the way the author feels about the action to affect the way it's portrayed.

But I do have a lot of trouble articulating what exact qualities differentiate "this is not designed to titillate" from "this is".

To return to the specific issue of rape: I can easily name some examples of "non-titillating rape": Captive Prince (the first book, not the series) and Even the Wingless both contain scenes of rape, and in both cases I not only felt revulsed but felt that the scenes were written to evoke revulsion. I have a harder time naming examples of titillating rape, not because I've not read it, but because what I've read is all unpublished. Either it's stuff I wrote myself, or scenes I watched or took part in on a MUCK, or material from forums or archives I browsed many years ago. Oh, wait, I read a lot of rape in historical romance when I was a teen, except that it was supposed to be romantic so they never called it rape. The Flame and the Flower is a good example of that.

It is not as simple as "is it told from the victim's perspective or the assailant's?" or "does it emphasize the assailant's pleasure or the victim's misery?" Because a rape scene written to be erotic can still be from the victim's perspective and be about how much pain the victim is in.

I think one quality of titillation is the way the action and the victim are described: titillation will emphasize the sexiness of the body and use sensual language. Certainly some tropes are common only to erotica and porn, like the rape victim who comes to enjoy being raped. But it's hard for me to say what exactly distinguishes "this is fetishizing pain" and "this is depicting pain to make the reader feel tortured". I am put in mind of the Supreme Court justice who declined to define what he meant by "hard-core pornography": "I know it when I see it".

Anyway, I write this entire long-winded piece because I'm curious if other people share this same sense, that writing kink erotica is not a matter of what one describes as much as the way one describes it. And, if you do ... how would you describe the difference between the two?
Me 2012

A Moment’s Reprieve (34/80)

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Miro kept his features frozen, but he couldn’t stop trembling. It was just a kiss. It’s nothing. It doesn’t matter, he repeated in his head, over and over. Underneath that conscious appeal to reason, panic seethed. And when they make you fuck her, what will you say then? ‘It’s only rape. It doesn’t matter’? Why are we here why are we doing this Divine, Guide, help me. I just want to be safe. He closed his eyes and breathed Ardent in, fought to steady himself. She was still clear, pure, radiant.

And called me a toy.

She has a part to play too. You gave it to her. Don’t complain that she’s doing it.

Divine, what have I done?

Ardent held him protectively against her chest, arm across his collarbone, her fingers stroking the curve of his shoulder. Like a pet. But a beloved pet, one to be protected, cherished. She and her queen were talking, but his mind couldn’t process the words. Fallen took Jinokimijin and strolled away; Miro wasn’t sure where they went.

Abruptly, the twilit world of the glass ship and its celebratory inhabitants vanished around them, replaced by Ardent’s quiet, well-lit apartment. The teleport was so unexpected that Miro staggered. Ardent steadied him, turning him to face her as she went to one knee before him. The collar and leash fell from him to land on the floor with a clatter. He looked at Ardent blankly as she peered up into his face. “Miro, honey, talk to me. How are you holding up?” He tried to recall the last thing that she’d said before the teleport, and realized it had been “I’ll be back in a whisker-twitch.”

“I’m fine,” he said, the lie automatic, mechanical. “Why did we leave?”

“Because I’m worried about you. You’re still shaking.”

Miro raised a hand, watched his fingers tremble in the air. “So I am.”

“Sugar, it’s my party and I gotta go back there. But you don’t have to. You can stay here, where it’s safe. And you can always message me if something comes up.” She laced her strong, blunt fingers through his and clasped his hand, cupping his cheek with her other. “Wanna stay?”

Yes. He fell forward into her arms, knees buckling as she took his full weight with the stability of an anchor. Still kneeling, she cradled him close, one hand stroking his head and neck. He gasped, half a sob. “Mom can’t leave. She’s stuck there. With her.”

“Mom? Wait, you mean Jinokimijin?”

He nodded, chin rubbing against her muscular brown shoulder. “Jinokimijin likes being female too, so got to be Mom as well as Dad. The Sun Queen was useless for either. I have to go back. She’s trapped at Fallen’s side; surely I can manage at yours.”

“It’s not a competition to see who can suffer the most, Miro. I’m sorry. I should’ve stopped her, done something sooner—”

“No, no, you did well. That’s how we’re supposed to play it.” He clung to her. I’m the one failing at my part. Falling apart. Guide, the Path is hard. Please help me. “You did exactly as I wished. Your intervention was timely and well-explained.” Miro meant the words as he said them, and felt steadier for it. More like himself, as if the Guide were setting his feet back on the Path, as if Ardent was a Divine gift to lean upon as he walked it.

“Mph.” She stroked his back, unconvinced.

Reluctantly, he pulled back to look at her face. “We should return, before anyone wonders why you left.”

Ardent snorted. Her grip slackened but she didn’t let him go. “Let em wonder. You sure about this, sugar?”

Miro took a deep breath, held it in, released it. “I am. Thank you.” He touched his fingertips to her jawline, his hand steady again. “For asking. For getting me out for a moment. It helped more than you can know. But we should go back. I want Mom to know she’s not alone.”    

Ardent crinkled her broad nose as she stood again. “All right. But I want us to have a signal, if you need me to get you out of there again. Like this.” She touched her pinky finger to her thumb. “You do this and I’ll know you’re in trouble. And if I have to unchain you again and we get separated, then you message me if you can’t see me or if you’re not sure I can see you. All right?”

He nodded, smiling. “Yes. Thank you.”

“Mph.” She conjured the leash and collar upon him again, and they ported back to the gathering.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy The Moon Etherium now! Or check out the author's other books: A Rational Arrangement and Further Arrangements.
Me 2012

Frederica, by Georgette Heyer

I read Frederica over the weekend. This is a romantic comedy set in 19th century England. Like the other Heyer novels I read, I found the comedy worked better than the romance. The orphaned 24-year-old female protagonist has charge of her three youngest siblings (12, 16, and 19), and one thing I particularly liked about the book is that the male protagonist's relationship with the two youngest is not an afterthought. He doesn't cultivate their affection or put up with them for the sake of Frederica. It would be more apt to say that the youngsters cultivate his affection and he finds himself powerless to resist them. Having found myself on occassion wrapped around some small child's finger and doing the most tedious things because they looked all hopeful at me, I can relate. :D The protagonists are both pretty likeable, and the male protagonist exerts himself to become a better man over the course of the novel -- but not because Frederica actively reforms him, which is another point in its favor. I like characters to redeem themselves rather than be coaxed to redemption by some outside force. The comedy in the novel is more understated rather than laugh-out-loud absurd, as in some of her other books. I'll give it an 8.
Me 2012

Now Kiss (33/80)

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Ardent could tell at once, by watching them, why Fallen’s suggestion had not troubled Miro. The Sun Host fey were performing the wrong dance in the wrong way for the wrong music, and they were brilliant. The aether dancers were hypnotic, yes. But the nearly-mortal Sun Host dance was remarkable in its own way for its absence of glamour and magic. They relied on trueshifted flesh alone, and it was astonishing what they could do with it. It was considerably more impressive than the dances Ardent had seen in barbarian villages, probably because both Miro and Jino had recently trueshifted forms that hadn’t had time to lose muscle tone or flexibility from their original peaks. Ardent was pleased, though she suspected neither Fallen nor Skein were getting what they’d hoped for. And maybe it’d be better if they did. Otherwise, they’ll keep prodding for it.

Fallen stood beside her as the dance unfolded, her dark mouth compressed in a thin line. “You know he’s only using you, don’t you, Lady Sojourner? That boy wouldn’t be here if he didn’t think he could get his parent free of our bargain.”

Ardent smiled lazily, bracelets chiming as she folded her arms. “I know he thinks he’s using me.”

Fallen glanced sidelong at her. “Then what’s your game, Lady Sojourner?”

“Winning. C’mon, Shadow of Fallen Scent. You heard his oath to me. He’s not squirming out of that.”

“Then what’s his game? You cannot honestly believe he showed up to bet his life’s service for your aid on a game everyone knows you’re an expert at.”

Ardent laughed. “Well, he did carefully word the deal so he could cheat at Turns.” She grinned. “He significantly underestimated how much he’d need to cheat to beat me, though.”

The corners of Fallen’s mouth turned up in answer. “Like father, like son.”

“Ha! Is that how Jiji ended up in your service, too?” Ardent kept her expression one of mild amusement, and hated herself for every word of this conversation.

“Something like that.”

“Heh. Pretty sure that wasn’t the kid’s only play, though. He’s High Court, and the Sun Queen’s brat to boot. She wouldn’t give a broken spindle for Disgraced Jinokimijin, but she’ll want her boy back. This way, he makes them send a negotiator for him. And his extravagant oath to me is a bargaining chip for him to use, by way of demonstrating his determination not to leave his father behind.” She shrugged. “He knows he doesn’t have any leverage with Moon Etherium. Bet he knew I didn’t have any leverage with you. But his whole Etherium? Expect they can muster something worth our while.”

“And his father means enough to him that he’ll bet his life on it?” Fallen watched the two dancers, pale blue eyes slitted in thought.

Ardent gestured to them. “Isn’t it obvious? I mean, just look at them.” Dancing together, moving together, they were more than just similar in appearance. They had the coordination of a true partnership. She watched Miro toss Jinokimijin into the air, confident she would catch the spar. Jinokimijin descended on her hands, sure that her son could support her. Then the throw into nothing more than a silk streamer, Jino sliding down it, certain that her son would catch her when she fell. Ardent hoped she was doing a better job convincing Fallen of her indifference to Miro than she was herself. This isn’t just because he’s pretty, or because channeling from him is an incredible experience. It’s the way he puts his whole self into everything he does: no half-measures, no holding back. Hard not to admire that. I really have to stop admiring that.

A flicker of aether as Fallen cast caught her eye; it was a subtle spell, a snag of Miro’s foot for no more than an instant. Ardent might’ve missed it had she not had the remnants of a reveal-spellwork in her vision. Before she could react, Miro was stumbling – and then caught, by another’s spell. Ardent looked for the source, and spotted the traces of the aether from it on the fingers of Contemplation After the Storm. She was watching the performance intently, and applauded when Miro completed his catch. She wondered if Storm’d done it for Miro’s sake, or to spite Fallen, or – most likely – as an artist who hated to see artistry spoiled. I’ll have to thank her for that later, whatever the reason. Ardent applauded as enthusiastically as any in the crowd of fey. Their Sun Host servants returned and knelt at the feet of their mistresses and the Queen.

“A creditable performance,” Skein said. “Sun Host’s mastery of such…old-fashioned skills is considerable. Perhaps it’s for that reason that you are in Moon Etherium, where they’ll be of use to you, when nothing more…modern…is. You may rise.” Ardent gritted her teeth. Skein couldn’t disparage the performance itself without losing credibility with her people – but she could still twist it into an insult for Sun Etherium. The skill needed to take a magnificent and unrehearsed performance and make a snide jibe out of it might have been impressive were it not so petty.

“Yes, well done,” Fallen cooed as the two Sun fey stood. “Aren’t they adorable together? Such a fine catch deserves a reward! Give your savior a kiss, Jiji,” she commanded. Obediently, Jinokimijin stood on her tiptoes and kissed Miro’s cheek. “Not like that. A proper kiss.”

What in the name of Justice is wrong with you? Ardent wanted to demand, almost badly enough to undo all the careful work she’d just done to position her interests and Fallen’s as, if not aligned, at least not in opposition. Miro’s carefully blank expression flickered for a moment, then he turned like a golem to face Jinokimijin as the little fey girl looped her arms around his neck. He swept her backwards and leaned over her as she pulled her head to his. They kissed like lovers, like dolls, with all the trappings of passion and none of the substance. Fallen watched with a thin dark smile at her own tasteless joke. Ardent stepped forward. “That’s enough, Miro.” She put her hand to his collar, leashing him again. Miro straightened as she put her hand on his shoulder, and set Jinokimijin down again. His face was as still as wax, betraying nothing, but Ardent could feel him tremble under her fingers. She pulled him to her, his back against her chest, and curled her other arm across his front. She directed a cool look to Fallen. “I’m very possessive of my toys. You understand.”

“Oh.” Fallen made a lazy gesture, and Jinokimijin was leashed and chained again. She reeled her in to kneel at her feet. “Of course I do.”

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy The Moon Etherium now! Or check out the author's other books: A Rational Arrangement and Further Arrangements.
Me 2012

Your Way or My Way? (32/80)

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Miro understood why Fallen had made this suggestion. It was impossible for them to aether dance, and she assumed that whatever parody they did of it would provide her and her queen with some amusement. As petty slights went, it was petty in the extreme.

But it would give him a chance to talk to his father again. And if matters in the Moon Etherium went badly, he might not have another such chance. So he embraced it, and walked with a neutral expression, arm-in-arm with his parent, to the center of the glass deck. “Shall we do this your way or my way?”

“Oh, your way.” Jino leaned against his arm as they walked. Her voice was high and light, a breathy young girl’s. “My way hasn’t been going so well. And it’s easier to switch from yours to mine than the other way around.”

“True.” Miro turned to face her. All around them, Moon Etherium fey danced. They wore a hundred different shapes and sizes, from dragons and ogres to tiny sprites. They jumped, floated, and flew through elegant patterns, using party streamers and aether currents for abrupt changes of directions, narrowly avoiding collisions by fey evasion.

Miro dismissed them all from his thoughts, along with the chaotic Moon Etherium spread beneath their feet and the watching High Court, waiting for their unwilling jesters to make them laugh. He and Jino drew a pace apart and bowed to one another. They did have certain advantages of which Fallen might not be aware: the Sun Etherium regarded dance unaided by aether as an art form, and practiced it occasionally. And Miro and his father had spent a great deal of time in the Broken Lands and even mortal worlds, investigating one phenomenon or another, and conserving aether accordingly.

They rose from their bows and came together. “Do you know this music?” Miro asked.

“I think so. It’ll remain slow and in /-0.1em4 time for ten measures and then segue into something…wild.”

“Lovely.” Miro touched the palm of his right hand to Jino’s left and rested his left hand on his partner’s hip while she put a hand on his shoulder. Having his father be female didn’t bother Miro: while Jino had a general preference for male forms, it wasn’t a strong one. Miro had seen her choose female shapes many times in the past. Miro wasn’t used to dancing with Jino at her current size, but Peli took joy in being much too short for Sun Etherium standards, so the relative difference in their heights was not an unfamiliar sensation.

What did give him pause was the inscription on his parent’s arm: Property of Shadow of Fallen Scent. It wasn’t a tattoo, as Miro’d assumed from the glimpse during High Court. It was a brand, white skin raised and haloed by red.

They turned a slow, clockwise circle on the deck. Miro’s eyes slid again to the brand. “How are you?”

“Terrified.” Jino had her head tilted back to watch her son’s face, and followed his look. “Not over that, it’s just looks. Fallen likes dramatic things,” she said, and Miro wasn’t sure if that was the whole of it or not. “I am worried for you. What are you doing, Miro? What was that business in the court about? Don’t tell me anything you don’t want Fallen to know.”

“I made a deal with my lady, Ardent Sojourner.” The measure closed; they switched hands and turned counterclockwise. Miro spun Jino out and reeled her in again with her back to his chest. “I am honoring it.”

She pressed her cheek to his chest, letting him lead her through another turn. Softly, she asked, “Are you still with me, Mirohiro?”

“Always, Mom.” He spun her again, then brought her back face to face with him. “How bad is it?”

“Bad. I wish you hadn’t come. That oath. Did you have to swear that oath? Don’t answer me.”

Miro smiled. “I’m fine. More worried about you. Adolescent’ doesn’t suit you, Mom.”

“Do you think not? And Ele always said I was childish. Besides, it’s sort of fun.” She stayed in place as Miro took a step back in their dance, and then brought her left leg up smoothly to rest her sandaled foot against his shoulder, torso almost parallel to it, right foot still on the ground. “I can’t remember the last time I was this flexible without aether.”

Miro put his hands about her waist and lifted Jino enough to let her right foot point and trail the glass deck as he carried her through the movement. She felt feather-light in Miro’s current form. Jino put her hands over Miro’s, and he paused to take them. She arched backwards, almost impossibly far for a movement unassisted by aether, then tucked her right leg up. For a moment, she was suspended entirely by Miro’s hands on hers and her knee against his chest and foot by his shoulder. Miro’s muscles tensed with exertion. Then Jino launched her legs off of him to turn a somersault in the air. Her hair followed in a perfect arc, while her hands twisted in his. They released one another as she slid into a perfect sidesplit on landing. “Showoff,” Miro murmured.

“We did say your way. Spin?” Jino offered her hands. Miro took them and danced back a pace, turning quickly as he lifted Jino by her arms. Instead of standing, Jino kept her legs spread, letting centrifugal motion carry her into a spin, long hair whipping behind her. After a few revolutions, she folded her legs with knees tucked together, and Miro slowed to set her down, spinning himself in the opposite direction, aether-enspelled hair flaring around him like a cloak, coat following the motion. He slid to a stop in a crouch, one leg almost straight behind him, the other bent under him to support his weight. He leaned forward to touch his fingers to the glass deck, and looked to his partner. She was curled gracefully on the sides of her legs, torso angled towards him, breathing deeply.

Miro grinned and sprang to his feet in a sprint. He caught Jino up under her arms and set her down, gliding into a stately turn. “How’s your stamina?”

“Not as good as it could be,” Jino admitted, between deep breaths.

“How’d you get Fallen to give you enspelled hair?”

“She’s very vain. If I trip over my hair while she’s promenading me, it makes her look bad. Why did Ardent give you yours?”

“Ardent Sojourner is power-hungry,” Miro said, because he wanted Fallen to believe that, “but not cruel.” They reversed their turn. “Can you tell me what Fallen is doing?”

“I am forbidden from discussing my mistress’s activities,” Jino answered, as Miro dipped her back at the end of a turn. She grinned mischievously. “But I can tell you what her activities aren’t. For example, she isn’t gathering any natural iron.”

Miro’s eyes widened, thoughts going to the necessary items for different kinds of extractors for the phoenix rose. “Has she gathered any firebuds?”

“No.” Jino gave a small smile. “She’s never worked with firebuds.”    

Miro allowed himself a moment of relief. With firebuds, Fallen could have made a working extractor – or extractors – before acquiring the phoenix rose, and had the devices ready and waiting for use with the bird. He’d thought that wasn’t the case, given Fallen’s lack of overt activity with the phoenix rose so far, but it was still good to have it confirmed. He pressed on with the inquiry: “Has she amassed natural aloe? Trinodon? Platinum?” He pulled Jino upright and danced backwards several steps, going through the list as Jino answered negatively to each. He focused on the ones that couldn’t be made by aether: materials that had to be harvested or mined by hand, and needed to be pure, not reused from some prior purpose. Miro turned and dipped her again as he asked, “Alabaster?”

“I can’t answer that,” Jino said, arched backwards, hair sweeping the glass deck. Miro smiled grimly and continued the interrogation. ‘Ivory’ also couldn’t be answered. They were dancing with Jino’s back to his chest again when Jino warned, “Music will go wild at the end of this measure.”

“Let’s go wild with it. What are you up for?”

“Fly me.”

The shift in the music vibrated through the deck with a new grinding beat. There was no time to ask if Jino was sure. Miro shifted his grip to her ribcage and turned as Jino folded her legs to let Miro support her. He lowered her for wind-up, then raised her high and tossed her into the air.

She soared on the momentum of the throw, arms outstretched. She grasped one of the ship’s glass spars and whirled around it, legs together at first, then split to clear the bar lengthwise. She shifted mid-spin to straddle the spar, hooked one knee around it, dropped to hang upside down and reach for her son. Miro raised his arms, back arched, to meet her. Jino pressed her palms to his and released the spar with her legs to handstand on his hands. This would be a great time to have some aether, Miro thought. Both their bodies trembled with tension, balanced too precisely. He lowered them, one leg going back, and Jino sprang off his hands to flip to the deck.

Jino’s landing was slightly off balance, but she recovered well. She stalked towards Miro, one hand raised palm out, and Miro moved backwards in time to her advance as music swelled around them. Jino dropped her arms and ran to him. You are mad, Mom, Miro thought, but when she jumped, he boosted her lift and sent her soaring again. Miro twisted to watch her. She caught one of the silk streamers and rocked upon it, one arm wrapping about the upper portion and the other lower, her back against it. She went down in a controlled slide as the streamer circled above the deck, losing momentum with each pass.

Miro spun across the deck to position himself beneath her when she dropped. Just before he reached the spot, something tripped him and he started to fall. Miro twisted as he fell, trying to recover, knowing he wouldn’t be in time. Music crashed to a climax around him.

An unexpected current of aether intercepted him, gracefully positioning him with one leg bent almost double beneath him and the other straight, arms out to catch Jino as she fell into them. The music fell, notes scattering like drops of rain, white blonde hair surrounding them like a halo. Jino curled gracefully into his embrace. Miro cradled her to his chest, pulse pounding, breathing too fast, until the last notes died away.

Applause rose in its place; the assembled guests had stopped their own dancing to watch the Sun Etherium fey. “Well done, son,” Jino murmured. Miro took a few moments longer to recover, but finally stood and set Jino down. Arm in arm, they returned to their mistresses, while Miro wondered if Fallen was the one who’d tripped him, and Ardent the one who’d caught him.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy The Moon Etherium now! Or check out the author's other books: A Rational Arrangement and Further Arrangements.
Me 2012

Brood of Bones, by AE Marling

I haven't written a review in a long time. This is because I haven't finished reading a book in even longer. Brood of Bones is the first book I've finished in 2017.

I started several other books, and have arguably reduced my to-be-read-pile by a few because I threw books out of it. I don't know. I might give some of the books I gave up on quickly another chance; one was "this is a gay romance and right now I really want to read a book with some girls in it and not ALL BOYS ALL THE TIME". But I was pretty grimly disappointed with the start of some others.

Anyway, I feel like I was being exceptionally judgy about book during this time, so Brood of Bones probably deserves bonus points just for making it past the "meh" barrier and getting me to read it to the end.

This is the first of the Enchantress series, which is currently five books. I don't know if Marling plans to release more, but it looks like all of his writings to date have been in this setting (though not this series), and with overlapping characters.

I didn't like it as well as the other two books I've read by Marling, which is a pity because Brood of Bones is the first and the free one. Ironically, the one weak spot in Dark Lord's Wedding -- the climax -- was my favorite part of Brood of Bones. The story leading up to the climax dragged on too much for my tastes, with the protagonist either unsure what to do or pursuing options that I could tell weren't going to work. But the climax was very satisfying and proceeded well from everything established in the story so far.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about this book -- the protagonist is determined to Do the Right Thing, and to help people even at personal cost. While Hiresha has a number of flaws and in some ways is hard to like as a person, her strong moral compass is admirable. And I liked that she had various flaws that made sense in the context of her society.  A lot of characters in fantasy have attitudes very similar to contemporary American ones regardless of how different their culture is, and I appreciated the effort put in to make Hiresha a part of her world.

Overall, I will give this one a 7, and will probably pick up the second book in the series at some point, given that I like Marling's recent work.
Me 2012

Why Are You Doing This? (31/80)

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Fallen’s arrival distracted the Queen from tormenting Miro, so it had that much going for it. The silver fox-tailed woman wore a blue suit with a long dress jacket and soft ankle boots. Diamonds spangled it in a starswirl pattern that was dangerously close to echoing their Queen’s skin – one of the few fashion mistakes even Ardent didn’t need to be warned not to make.

Fallen was still forcing Jinokimijin to wear a girl’s shape. The Sun fey looked like a fifteen year-old female version of Miro, complete with the same floor-length white-blonde hair. Her costume was an obscene mockery of Sun Etherium formal wear: a short bustier held together by chains in place of tunic, a thong instead of tights, the open jacket made of lace and so short in front it barely covered her breasts. Loops of silver chain dangled over her thighs and jingled over her bare stomach from the bottom of the bustier. She was still leashed, with her hands and feet cuffed and chained, albeit with a few feet of slack between the chains. Jinokimijin’s youthful, pretty features were blank, devoid of all expression. She followed in Fallen’s wake down the sparkling semi-solid aether path out of the fountain.

While the queen watched them, Ardent bent to murmur to the still-kneeling Miro, “You can get up now, sugar.” He rose as if commanded, but he did not lift his head to meet her eyes. As far as she could tell, he was playing the part of obedient servant flawlessly: calm, placid, and unperturbed by the queen’s unpleasant tone and insulting insinuations. Ardent, meanwhile, was struggling. She wanted to put Skein over her knee and spank her, then demand some answers. What, for all Love and Justice, are you doing? I expect this hateful nonsense from Fallen, but you? I thought better of you.

Fallen strolled over to them, a little smile on her black lips, and went to one knee before her queen. Jinokimijin dropped when Fallen stopped, the enslaved fey going to both knees and sitting with her rear against her feet, head down. Long hair fell like a curtain around her, veiling her better than the scraps of clothing did.

Skein bade Fallen rise. “Ardent and I were just talking about you, my Surety.”

“Were you? I hope our erstwhile Justiciar remembers me fondly. Welcome home, Ardent Sojourner.” Fallen met her gaze with pale blue eyes and a cool, insincere smile.

“Thanks,” Ardent drawled. “Didja miss me?”

Fallen bared her teeth. “Your absence was noted by us all, Lady Ardent.”

“Bring your pet over by hers, Fallen,” Skein said. “I want to see them side by side.”

Jinokimijin started to stand as soon as the Queen spoke, but Fallen jerked at her leash anyway. “Come along, Jiji. Stand there.”

Ardent folded her arms across her chest, wondering how much channeled sun aether it would take to use force against another fey, wondering if she already had enough. Calm down, girl. If Miro can take it, so can you. Jinokimijin’s expression had finally altered when she saw her son, no longer blank, but fearful. Miro faced forward like a mortal soldier, not looking at anyone or anything as his parent moved to stand next to him, silver chains chiming.

Skein laughed in delight, hands clasped before her. “I knew Sun Host all looked alike, but I had no idea how much! Even their faces! They’re like mirror images of each other, in opposite genders.” Miro was nearly a foot taller than his parent, in their current forms, and he had the build of a muscular man in contrast to Jino’s slight feminine frame. Still, the relationship between them was marked, especially among Moon Etherium fey who rarely saw such similar folk as, say, mortals. “Did you two coordinate their attire? It’s charming.”

“Great minds think alike.” Fallen smiled again. “We must have had similar inspirations.”

Punching her would be a waste of aether, even assuming it worked. She’s not worth Miro’s sacrifice. Moreover, the best revenge will be in finding the phoenix rose and taking it and Jinokimijin away from her. That thought, if nothing about this situation, made her smile. Ardent said, neutrally, “That costume certainly is inspired.”

“We should have them perform together. I know! Let’s have them dance. The music’s still playing! Won’t they be cute, dancing together?” Fallen laughed at her own suggestion.

It was a funny idea, if one had a cruel sense of humor. The Sun Etherium fey could hardly aether dance, given that they had no aether, and would doubtless look ridiculous trying. Ardent was deciding which reason to use for refusing when a movement from Miro caught her eye. He’d turned to look at her, and there was determination in his eyes. You sure you want to do this? she thought, looking at him, wondering if she was reading his expression right. He pulled his shoulders back, standing Sun-Etherium-erect, unintimidated. “All right,” Ardent said. “Sure. Let em dance.”

She put her hand to Miro’s collar to unleash him. For a moment he leaned his cheek against her fingers, eyes closed. Then Fallen had unchained Jinokimijin, and Miro took his parent’s arm to escort her to a cleared space on the glass deck.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy The Moon Etherium now! Or check out the author's other books: A Rational Arrangement and Further Arrangements.
Me 2012

Amateur (30/80)

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Music swelled as The Queen of the Moon Host descended the aether path. Her midnight skin sparkled with galaxies and nebulas. She wore white with silver accents: silver sandals, opaque tights, a loose tunic that bared her shoulders, belted with a necklace of silver and stars, with slashed sleeves to expose her dark star-dusted skin. Silver and diamond jewelry dripped from her long ears, capped and dangled from the points of her antlers, encircled her wrists and ankles. A long translucent white cape trailed behind her, held aloft by tiny fairy golems that moved with her. Additional will-o-wisps swirled about her, like comets trapped in her orbit.

Mirohirokon only spent a moment to take in the sight of her, then long habit from life in the Sun Etherium had him fall to one knee with head bowed. Around him, the rest of the Moon Host turned to their Queen and knelt as well. Even the chaos of Moon Etherium respected some customs.

The Queen walked among her silent, kneeling subjects until she reached Ardent. “Ardent Sojourner. Rise.”

The satyress rose to her hooves. Queen Skein of the Absolute was by no means short, but Ardent towered over her by over a foot. The satyress dipped her head as the queen gazed fondly up at her. “Your majesty.”

“Welcome back, Ardent.” The Queen clasped Ardent’s shoulders. Seamlessly, the Queen shifted her size larger as she stepped forward and embraced her returned subject on an equal footing. A surprised Ardent hugged her in return. Quietly, Skein said, “You have been missed, old friend. Come see me tomorrow.” Ardent blinked at her and nodded. Her majesty stepped back, returning to her original size. Her voice rang out: “Tonight, let the whole of Moon Host celebrate your return to us!”

That was the cue to the attendees to rise. The artists performing the music changed from the queen’s arrival theme to a lively song. Some of the guests resumed their conversations, but others took to the air, aether dancing among the streamers and currents.

The Queen continued to monopolize Ardent’s attention, asking questions about life in Try Again and how she was settling back in at the Etherium. Ardent spoke to her as easily as she had to any of her friends, with warmth and no particular deference. Whispers Rain had retreated out of sight at the change in music, perhaps to join the aether dancers. Miro remained at Ardent’s side, silent. For several minutes, the queen ignored him. Then she glanced sidelong to him. Long black fingers extended to catch the chain of his leash, perhaps a foot beneath the collar. To Ardent, she said, “I am pleased to see you are keeping your new pet in hand.”

“It’s little enough you ask of me, your majesty,” Ardent answered. It was the first time in their conversation she’d used the honorific.

Skein of the Absolute smiled. Pointed white teeth glittered. “Indeed, it is. I would not trust just anyone with a prize of such value, you know.”

“I’m honored.” Ardent crinkled her nose. “Though I’d be more honored if Fallen wasn’t the other person you trusted.”

“After fourteen years, still you have no love for her? But hers is less valuable than yours, you know.” The Queen glanced at Miro. Her round eyes were solid silver, no whites or pupils. Her fingers tightened on his chain, and pulled it down hard. He bent his head, then dropped to one knee at her feet. It was more graceful than stooping, and he could no more resist her aether-enhanced strength than he could evade her grasp. Helpless. She laughed. It was not a kind laugh. “He does that easily, doesn’t he? Do you have a lot of practice kneeling, Sun prince?”

“Yes, your majesty.” Miro focused on his breathing, on calm, on pretending that laugh didn’t rankle. Amateur. She’s an amateur.

Another giggle. “Why do you suppose that is, Ardent? Who did you practice kneeling for, Sun prince?”

“My mother the queen. Her senior husbands. The crown princess.”

“Such a dutiful child. I bet they liked having you kneel before them, little princeling.” His chain clinked between her fingers. “Do you think they knew they were training you to kneel for the Moon Etherium?”

“Your majesty.”

A little jerk of his chain; he controlled his expression, but the collar bit into his neck and his head went up reflexively. “That’s not an answer, princeling.”

Miro bowed his head again. “No, your majesty. They did not.”

“If only they’d known. Think how much better you could be in your new…position.” The Moon Queen wasn’t a monster; he could read that much in her soul. She was no beacon: like everyone’s, her soul paled in comparison with Ardent’s clear, radiant colors. Skein was venal and proud, her soul streaked by petty grudges and cruelty. But there was good in her too: magnanimity, dedication, purpose. She had nothing to compare to the rotting corruption that pervaded Fallen’s soul. Miro wondered why she was doing this to him, what she was hoping to gain from it. “But you know who to bow to now, don’t you?”    

“Your majesty. Whomever my mistress chooses, your majesty.”

The Queen smirked as she returned her attention to Ardent. “I could almost like them, when they know their place. Is something troubling you, Ardent?”

“Hmm? I’m at a party in my honor, your majesty. Whatever would be troubling me?” Ardent’s bland, neutral tone didn’t sound convincing to Miro.

The queen didn’t press it, however. She dropped Miro’s chain with a little flick of her stardusted fingers, as if releasing something distasteful. The music mutated to a new theme, dark rolling notes, and Skein of the Absolute turned to the aether fountain. “Look, Shadow of Fallen Scent has brought her new toy too.”

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy The Moon Etherium now! Or check out the author's other books: A Rational Arrangement and Further Arrangements.
Me 2012

So Different (29/80)

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Floating trays bearing hors d’oeuvres drifted amongst the fey guests. Miro sampled some of the confections as he listened to Ardent catch up with her friends. Many of those present were talking about him, but few bothered to talk to him. He’d been at plenty of gatherings in Sun Etherium where that had been the case; it had long since lost the power to wound. Especially under circumstances like these, when he’d deliberately arranged to be a subject of conversation who’d be beneath talking to. The food was exquisite, artisanal combinations of real food with aether. Someone had put a great deal of care into preparing these delicacies.

“How do you find the Moon Etherium, your highness?” a soft voice asked near him. It took a moment to realize he was being addressed. He turned to see Whispers Rain hovering not far from Ardent’s back, watching him with big golden eyes. She’d delivered the question sincerely, with no mocking stress on the honorific.

“Fascinating,” he answered. “And Mirohirokon or Miro is fine, my lady. My Sun Etherium title is rather out of place, under the circumstances.”

“As you wish, Mirohirokon. You should call me Rain; I’ve never been anyone special in the Moon Etherium.”

Miro glanced to Ardent, who was deep in conversation with Contemplation After the Storm. “I daresay there’s at least one person who’d dispute that.”

Rain followed his gaze. She smiled, cheeks dimpling, but shook her head. “Is the Moon Etherium so different from the Sun?”

“Oh yes. The Sun Etherium is very orderly, at least on the surface. All the architecture is thematically unified from the outside, a city of gold and crystal. Variance in form and lines, to a degree, but…” He gestured to the wild, chaotic city that spread below their feet. “Nothing like this, where even structures on the same block don’t match one another. And the people are the same way. Everyone in the Sun Host looks much like this.” He gestured to himself. “Not exactly the same, of course. Different heights and builds, different skin tones, different facial features, and some wear animal ears, or tails, or wings, though they’re much less popular than here. But you wouldn’t see anyone as tall as Ardent is, or as small as you are. And the two of you aren’t even extreme, for here!”

Rain giggled. “I think Ardent’s a little extreme for anywhere,” she confided, and he smiled. “It sounds so strange, to have everyone look so similar when they could look like anything. Why do you do that?”    

Miro considered that. “There’s a social pressure to conform. You need to be a little different, of course, to be interesting, to get attention. But anyone who’s too different…the crowd will turn on them. They’ll be laughed at, mocked, scorned, until they moderate their appearance and actions to fit in again.”

“Oh.” Rain’s eyes loomed even larger and rounder in her brown face. “Did you like it there?”

“No,” he answered, softly. “Sun Etherium is beautiful, in its way. There’s a wonder in that harmony, in that sense of being part of a vast unity, far grander than any individual piece. I do not say it is inherently bad.” Not all of it. “They aren’t an evil people.” Not all of them. “But no. I did not like it.”

Rain parted deep blue lips to reply, but a stir in the crowd around them caught her attention. She turned to look to the top of the aether fountain-path. Miro looked as well, and saw an antler-crowned figure attended by a half-dozen tiny golems.

The Queen had arrived.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy The Moon Etherium now! Or check out the author's other books: A Rational Arrangement and Further Arrangements.