I recently received an ARC for A.J. Lancaster’s King of Faerie, the fourth and final (well, mostly final) book in the Stariel series. I stayed awake until 3:00 am finishing it, and I regret nothing! It also gave me the perfect excuse to reread the series and spend many a pleasurable hour immersed in the land of Stariel.
Most often, the books I enjoy best are the ones that pull you in. Books whose characters stand right up off the pages, with emotions and motivations all their own, and a chemistry between them that feels natural. Books that invite you to read them again and again because they feel like old comfortable friends. So, it’s no wonder why the Stariel series is so appealing to me. It has all of that and more, wrapped up in a beautifully imagined world where fae magic and fantastical creatures exist alongside turn-of-the-century innovations such as telephones and electricity. Glaze the whole thing with the family drama and social mores of a Regency romance, and you have the delightfully immersive story of Hetta, Wyn, and the somewhat extensive Valstar family.
I could go on and recap the series book by book, but I promise it will be a lot more fun if you explored them on your own. However, if you want to read more of my thoughts on them, click on the links below. They will take you to my Goodreads review for each book. I do not receive any sort of monetary compensation if you follow the links, nor did I receive any for the reviews I posted with the exception of the ARC I received of King of Faerie that I mentioned earlier. I wanted to write this post because I enjoyed the series enough to read it more than once and wanted to share it with others who might also.
I often sketch or doodle on what ever piece of paper happens to be handy. My muse must like the rhythmic scratching of my pencil because it has helped me get past many a writing block. I thought it would be fun to share some of those sketches with you along with an excerpt or two (or three). They are also on my Artwork and Inspirations page, and there will likely be more to come as I work on The Broken Court, a novella that picks up directly after Lumina and the Goblin King.
Chapter 2 – A Bowl of Milk and Bread with Honey
Had Lumina stayed to watch in which direction the raven and his passenger had flown, she might have seen them circle back to land just above her on one of the lone pine’s sheltering branches. Slipping off Hoax’s back, the goblin squatted down on the branch next to where the phooka was perched. Neither the distance nor the foliage were obstacles that could stop him from seeing where the fairy and salamander were dancing below. The two moved in perfect harmony around the circle of stones, the elemental within and the sprite without, flames flashing in the air between them as she tossed small offerings to the salamander. The wind carried the sweetly scented smoke up to the branch where he and the phooka sat. Hoax leaned forward so that his eye was on a level with the goblin squatting next to him. He cocked his head so that one eye looked down on the dancers below while the other looked on the face of his companion. “An interesting sprite,” commented the phooka. “Yes,” his companion replied. “And was the milk that her kitten lapped up so readily slated for the Goblin King’s table?” he asked, still eyeing his companion. “It was.” “Ah,” said the phooka, turning his full attention back to the sprite below. “That will bring trouble.” “I am sure it will.” “It has been half a century since one of the fairy trespassed against us so blatantly. One wonders if it was softness or speculation that stayed your hand.” The phooka’s comment was met only with silence. “And apparently I will continue to wonder,” he sighed. “Still, she seemed quite anxious about the kitten, and then there is the elemental. Do you think he is here by his will or someone else’s? Could she have bound him?” Again he was met with silence. The phooka sighed again, and ruffled his feathers. They stayed and watched as the night grew older, until the dance reached its natural end. The dancers stood facing each other. The sprite reached up and plucked a single hair from her head, a shimmering strand of midnight blue which she tossed to the salamander. He caught it and for the briefest instant it lay in his palm, then with a flash of emerald light it was gone. But, in its place was left a scent, a lovely scent like the air just before a summer storm, sharp and clean and filled with life. “Ah, so that answers that question,” said Hoax. “Still, I doubt it is much of a hardship being bound to her. What do you think, Crow,” he asked, drawing out the name Lumina had given to the goblin next to him. “Should I try it and see?” “And what would a fairy maid do with one such as you?” “Why, every goblin knows that answer; she would do what all maids are want to do! Pluck out my eyes and break my heart in two!” he finished with a flourish of wings and what might have been a grin on his raven’s face.
Chapter 10 – Autumn Equinox
“I am sorry Mistress, what are you asking me to do?” “I am asking you to help me carry this little seedling to the Goblin King’s Keep,” Lumina said patiently, not for the first time. “I still don’t understand,” said the silver cat. “Dearest,” she said, her exasperation plain. “You know perfectly well what I am asking of you.” “Yes,” the silver cat admitted with bemused patience. “I understand that you want me to carry that seedling.” “You do?” Lumina said, bafflement replacing exasperation. “Yes. But I am a cat,” he explained. “And why does that matter?” Lumina asked. “Cats don’t carry things,” he said matter-of-factly. “That’s what ponies and phookas are for.” “Neither are here, dearest. And you carry things,” she pointed out. “After all, what do you do with the mice you catch?” “I eat them.”
Chapter 5 – The Fairy Queen’s Round
Lumina’s eyes searched through the goblin host of their own accord, passing over its bogels, boomen and powries, henkies, glastigs and bodachs without stopping. She saw the blue face of muilearteach and brown fur of the wulver, but the familiar dark coat and feathered visage which she had hoped for, was nowhere to be seen. There was, however, another in the throng who caught and held her gaze. The Goblin King watched as she spun past in a dance that now seemed infinitely slow. His eyes captured her as neatly as a butterfly in a net. If the Queen’s hair was sun gold, then his was starlight, falling heavy and straight over a coat of cobalt blue. Two silver antlers swept up and back from his brow. The planes of his face were sharp, his eyebrows straight and fine. His lips, beautiful and cold, held a small secret smile as he looked at her. And then the dance swept past him, out of the reach of his smile though it lingered in her mind long after he was beyond her sight. A painful fluttering filled her chest, like a million moths dashing themselves to pieces around her heart. After centuries of absence, could it be anything else but her trespasses that would bring the Goblin King back to the Queen’s court?
Summer is a great time for butterflies in South Florida, and I decided my more than a little wild butterfly garden could use even more wildness.
Every morning swarms of butterflies dance their way through the garden, dozens and dozens of them fluttering around the firebush and the jatropha tree. One day I may even be able to capture that magic with my camera, but don’t hold your breath!
Book fairs are like treasure hunts for those of us who love to read; wonderful places where we can discover books we may have never seen otherwise. A chance for us to search out new and interesting authors.
Do you remember the book fairs they would have at schools (do they do that anymore? I might be dating myself 😀 ) I loved them, and found many hidden gems at those fairs. So needless to say, I was very excited when I had the chance to be a part of the Fantasy Romance Book Fair. Of course, the books there are are not ones you would find at a school book fair. However, if you like fantasy or romance, or stories that have a little bit of both, go take a look here. You will find a buffet of books to fill your summer days with, including Lumina and the Goblin King. It only lasts until the end of June, so go take a look. There are fantastical worlds and compelling characters just waiting for you to fall in love with them.
There are very few things that can compare to the feeling you get when you open your kindle to find the story you wrote there looking back at you. I can tell you, however, that holding the physical book in your hands takes that feeling to a whole other level.
Lumina and the Goblin King is the first full length novel that I have ever done a layout for, so my lack of posting shouldn’t come as a surprise. The process was time consuming and quite the adventure. There were so many things to consider, even beyond the words on the page. I had really wanted the cover to have a classic fairytale feel to it. I also wanted the book to be a good size, comfortable to hold in your hand, and easy to carry in a bag. All in all, I am absurdly happy with how the whole thing turned out. Though to be honest, this picture is actually of the first print proof. I am still waiting on the second to arrive. It seems that even after literally a dozen readings, and two trips to the editor, you still find there are some words that have gone missing or even extra words that have added themselves to sentences. Who knows, maybe goblin mischief is to blame!
Anyway, to celebrate the release of the print edition of Lumina and the Goblin King I am offering the ebook for free on Bookfunnel until the end of May. Or if you are open to writing reviews for free books, go to Booksprout and take a look.
We rarely get frost this far south, but even if you don’t take that into account, Florida is a crazy place when it comes to weather. In just a little over one month we have gone from frost to flowers to fruit.
And the bowl of tomatoes was just the first of many! I have since collected several more and started to mill and cook some of them down for sauce.
I would love to see pictures of the weather where you are, so if you have some, share them. Who knows what new places we might see!
I have mentioned my early reading adventures in several posts now, and recently I have had another come floating up from the depths of my memory… Disney’s read-along books.
They came with a record that slid into a pocket in the back of the book and I loved them! All of a sudden, books became interactive. I remember running through Sherwood Forest with Robin Hood and Maid Marian and escaping with Penny, Miss Bianca and Bernard in The Rescuers. They also helped me to learn to read at a very young age.
When my daughter came along, things had changed a little (and I don’t just mean in my life :). By then, read-along books came with CDs of course, instead of records or cassette tapes, and you could find them much easier. We would play them in the car on our way to school, or at night when she was *supposed* to be going to sleep. If you have ever read my About page, you will know that sleep was an elusive thing for us in those days.
Recently though, I began to learn a second language, and I found that children’s read-along books are still a great way to learn to read. Of course, technology has made it even easier. You can find websites like Reading’s a Breeze that have interactive books for all different levels of young readers. Best thing for me of course, is that they have them in different languages, like English (US and AU), French, Italian and Spanish. And they have plans for even more languages in the works! I would highly recommend you go take a look, especially if you have young readers just learning to read, or if you are like me, an old reader trying to learn something new.
Obviously, I love children’s books (just look at the Books page on my blog), but how much I loved reading them, when I was once again learning a new thing, amazed me. There’s an excitement very reminiscent childhood that sort of pounces on you, surprising you with the enjoyment of something simple and satisfying.
I first read The Swan Maiden by Howard Pyle in those wonderful red books that I had found tucked away in my grandmama’s house. I loved the idea of a young woman who could turn into a swan, a three eyed witch who lived in a house that shone like fire and the barley woman made of honey and barley meal. For some reason, these images captured my imagination as a child, and I returned to read about them again and again. Which probably explains why this retelling, out of all the previous retellings that I have posted, comes closest to the original work. Like “Princess Golden-Hair and the Great Black Raven” it first appeared in Pyle’s book The Wonder Clock, published in 1887.
Just a quick reminder, all these tales are unedited, so there will be typos and grammatical errors. Still, I hope you enjoy reading this retelling.
The Swan Maiden
Once upon a time there grew the most beautiful pear tree. It stood in the very center of a castle garden, surrounded by high walls, and from its branches hung exactly twenty-four perfect golden pears.
The king, whose garden it was, adored this pear tree and took great delight in going out every morning to count the twenty-four golden pears that grew from it. However, one morning when he went to visit his beloved pear tree, he found only twenty-three golden pears hanging from its branches. He spent the rest of his day questioning everyone in the castle, from the youngest scullery maid to the captain of the guard, but no one knew anything about the missing pear. The very next morning it happened again, despite the extra guards that had been set to watch over it the whole night through. Frustrated, the king called his three sons to him and set them a challenge. Whoever could catch the thief would be given half the kingdom, and inherit the rest after the king’s death. The three princes talked amongst themselves and it was decided that the eldest would try first.
So that night, the eldest prince sat beneath the pear tree, gun in hand, and waited for the thief to show itself. But when the morning came, another golden pear was missing and no thief had been seen. Strangely, the prince found that he could not say what had happened the night before. He swore that he did not remember closing his eyes, even for a moment and had been as surprised as anyone to wake with the morning sun on his face. Embarrassed, he urged the second prince to take his turn the following evening.
But the second prince had no better luck than the first. Bewildered, they ceded the next night to the youngest prince.
Now all three princes were handsome, brave and true, but the youngest was perhaps just a little cleverer than his brothers. While the first two princes had taken their turns, he had talked with the palace guards whom the king had first set to watch the pear tree. Most did not remember any more than the princes had, but one old soldier recalled hearing the most beautiful music for just a moment. Then the next thing the guards knew, they were waking up with the cock crowing a welcome to the silvery morn. The story made the youngest prince wonder. So when evening came and it was his turn to watch for the pear thief, he had a plan. He sat at the base of the tree with his gun across his knees, just as his brothers had done the nights before. But, keeping in mind what the old guard had said, he used softened wax to stop up his ears, which meant he was as deaf as a post while he kept his vigil. Which is why when midnight came and the unearthly music began to play, the prince heard none of it. In fact, he was wide awake when a couple of hours later the branches above him began to shake. He saw among the leaves an enormous swan reaching with its beak for one of the golden pears. Slowly he raised his gun, and took aim… only to find a breath-takingly beautiful woman in his sights where once the swan had sat.
Lowering his gun, he removed the wax from his ears so that he could hear what she was saying. “Don’t shoot, king’s son,” she pleaded in a lilting voice, as sweet as birdsong. “I will not,” the prince promised. “Though I will admit, pretty thief, it is mostly for the chance to know you better.” “I am not a thief by choice,” confessed the Swan Maiden. “My mistress is the witch with three eyes, and it is she who sends out me every night to bring her back a golden pear from the king’s tree. And if you want to woo me, then it is she that you will have to free me from.” “Then so I shall,” said the prince, already quite enamored with the lovely woman sitting the branches above him. “She lives far from here. Over seven high mountains, and across seven deep valleys with seven wide rivers running through them. Are you bold enough to go that far?” she asked. “Oh yes,” he said confidently. “I am bold enough, for that and much more.” “And are you clever enough, I wonder?” “I am,” he said assuredly. “We will see,” she said, jumping lightly from the branch to land gracefully in front of him, becoming a swan once more. “Climb on my back then, king’s son and hold on tight.”
Once he had done as she bade him, the great swan spread her wings and sprang into the air. Through the night sky they flew, the stars a blanket above them. Below them rose seven high mountains, which fell into seven deep valleys with seven wide rivers winding through them like silver ribbons. On and on they flew until he saw, in the distance, a dark hill crowned by a house that shone like fire. “Yonder hut is where the witch with three eyes lives,” said the Swan Maiden. “If you are bold enough, knock on her door and when she asks what you have come for, ask her to give you the one who draws the water and builds the fire, for that is myself.” With that, the great swan landed on the top of the hill. The prince slid from her back and she flew off again, over the top of the roof.
The prince stepped boldly up to the door, as he had said he would, and knocked with a rap! tap! tap! The witch herself opened it. “And what do you want?” she asked. “I want the one who draws the water and builds the fire,” he answered. The old witch scowled at him (which with her three eyes was a frightful sight indeed). “Very well. You can have what you want, if you can clean my stables tomorrow between the rising and setting of the sun. But you should know, if you fail in the doing, then you will be torn to pieces, body and bone,” she warned him and shut the door in his face. The brave prince would not be scared away by empty words. So, stretching out along the ground, he waited for the sun to rise.
The next morning, the witch came and led him to the stables where he was to do his task. The stable was huge! In it were at least a hundred cattle, and it looked as if it had not been cleaned in ten years. “Here you are,” said the witch handing him a pitchfork and broom, cackling all the while. Then she left him. The prince did not hesitate despite the impossible task, instead setting to his work with a will. But he might as well have tried to bale out the ocean with a pail. Because though he worked harder than any ten men could have, by the time the sun was high in the sky, he had made almost no headway.
At noon he was surprised to see the lovely Swan Maiden standing at the stable doors, beckoning to him. Leaving his pitchfork and broom, he went to join her. “When one is tired, one should rest,” she said taking his hand in hers. She led him to a sunny spot just outside the stable. There she sat and bade the prince to join her and lay his head in her lap. So he did, happy to take her advice. After all, he had gained nothing from working so hard at his task, and perhaps if he were to take a moment, a clever solution would come to him. The prince lay with his head quietly in the Swan Maiden’s lap, watching cloud ships sail across the sky, while she combed his hair with a golden comb. He was thinking so hard of a way to complete his task that he did not even realize that he had fallen fast asleep.
When he woke, the Swan Maiden was gone and the sun was setting. In horror, he jumped up and went to the stable, only to find it clean as a hungry man’s plate. The prince had barely recovered from his shock, when he heard the old witch’s footsteps coming up the path. Swiftly, he set about, clearing away a straw here and a speck there, as if he was just finishing his work. “You never did this by yourself!” exclaimed the witch, her face as dark as a thunderstorm. “That may be so, and it may not be so,” said the king’s son. “But you lent no hand to help. So, now may I have the one who draws the water and builds the fire?” “No,” said the witch shaking her head. “There is more yet to be done before you can have what you asked for. Tomorrow, if you can thatch the roof of this stable with bird feathers, no two being the same color, and do it between the rising and setting of the sun, then you can have your sweetheart and welcome. But if you fail, I will grind your bones finer than malt in a mill.”
That suited the prince well enough. So at sunrise, he took his gun and went into the fields. But if there were any birds there to shoot, he did not see them. By the time the sun was high in the sky, he had downed only two, and those were of the same color. At noon, the Swan Maiden came to see him as she had the day before. “One should not tramp and tramp about all day without any rest,” she said. Taking his hand in hers, she led him a spot where the grass was soft and sweet smelling. There they sat and he laid his head in her lap. Again, she combed his hair with a golden comb until he was fast asleep.
He opened his eyes to see that the sun was setting, and his work was done just as it had been before. When he heard the old witch coming, he hopped up onto the stable roof and began to lay feathers here and there, for all the world as though he were just finishing his work. “You never did that work alone!” exclaimed the witch when she saw the stable roof with its thatch of feathers. “That may be so, and it may not be so,” said the king’s son. “But all the same it was none of your doing. So, now may I have the one who draws the water and builds the fire?” But the witch shook her head. “No,” she said, “there is still another task for you to do. Over yonder there is a fir tree. At the very top of this tree is a crow’s nest with three eggs in it. If you can reach the nest and bring back all three eggs without losing or breaking a single one, and do it between the rising and the setting of the sun tomorrow, then you may have that which you have asked me for.”
That suited the prince just fine. So, the next morning he woke with the rising of the sun and headed off to find the fir tree. Finding it was not hard for it was more than a hundred feet high. Climbing it proved much harder. It would take ten men, standing on each others shoulders, to reach the bottom branches. The trunk itself was as smooth as glass, from root to tip. Despite that, the prince tried his best to scale the fir tree, and for all his trouble he could only make it up a few feet before sliding right back down. He might as well have tried to climb a moonbeam. By and by, the Swan Maiden came as she had done before. “Are you to try and climb the fir tree?” she asked. “Indeed,” replied the prince. “And how are you fairing?” “None too well,” the prince admitted, sheepishly. The Swan Maiden smiled at him. “Then perhaps I can help you,” she said. She unbound her braids until her golden hair hung down all about her and lay piled high on the ground around her. Then she began to sing. She sang and she sang until the wind began to blow. Catching up the maiden’s hair, the wind carried it up to the top of the fir tree and once there tied it to the upper most branches. Quickly the prince climbed up the shining strands until he reached the very top. There was the nest with three eggs in it, just as the witch had said. He gathered them up and carefully went back down the same way that he had come up. Once he was back on the ground, the wind came again to loosen the maiden’s hair from from the fir’s branches, and carry it back to her. She bound it up, just as it was before. “Now listen,” said the Swan Maiden, “when the witch asks you for the crow’s eggs that you have gathered, tell her that they belong to the one who found them. Do not worry, she can not take them from you, and they are worth something, I promise you.”
At sunset the old witch came hobbling along to where the prince sat at the foot of the fir tree. “Have you gathered the crow’s eggs?” she asked. “Yes, replied the prince. “They are here in my handkerchief. And now, may I have the one who draws the water and builds the fire?” “Yes,” said the witch, “you may have her, only give me my crow’s eggs.” “No,” he said firmly. “The crow’s eggs are none of yours. They belong to the one who gathered them.” Realizing that she would not get them that way, the witch tried another. “Come, come now,” said the witch in tones as sweet as honey, “there should be no hard feelings between us. Before heading home with what you came for, you should have a good supper. After all, you have served me faithfully, and it is ill to travel on an empty stomach.” So she led the prince back to the house. There she sat him down, saying that she would set the pot on to boil, before going to sharpen the bread knife on the stone doorstep. While the prince waited for the witch, there came a tap at the door. And who should it be but the Swan Maiden. “Come with me,” she said, “and mind that you bring the crow’s eggs. The knife she is sharpening is for you, and so is the pot on the fire. She means to cook you up this very night and pick your bones in the morning.” The prince followed the Swan Maiden down to the kitchen, and there they fashioned a figure made up of barley meal and honey. The Swan Maiden dressed the figure in her own clothes, and together they placed it on a stool that was sitting in the chimney corner by the fire. There it sat, soft and sticky, but looking much like Swan Maiden in the soft light. The real Swan Maiden led the prince from the kitchen and through the front door, which was opposite the one where the witch sat sharpening her knife. Once they were out under the evening sky, she became a swan again and taking the prince on her back, she flew away.
As for the witch, she came in from sharpening her knife to find the prince gone. Try as she might, she could find no trace of him. In a rage, she stormed through the house until she came to the kitchen and saw the figure that was sitting there. “Where is your sweetheart,” the witch asked the barley woman, thinking it the maiden herself. But of course the barley woman did not answer. “Answer me you ungrateful creature!” she cried. “Or do you hope to protect him by staying dumb?” Raising her hand, she slapped the barley woman as hard as she could. Her hand stuck fast in the honey and barley meal. “What! How dare you hold me!” Slap! – she struck the barley woman hard with her other hand which also sank in deep. So there she stood, unable to get herself unstuck from the honey and barley meal, and could still be there to this day, for all we know.
As for the Swan Maiden and the prince, they flew back over the seven high mountains with their seven deep valleys and the seven wide rivers winding through them. They flew on and on until they came near the prince’s home. There the Swan Maiden landed in a great wide field that lay only a few miles from the king’s castle. It was there that she told the prince to open the first egg. He did as she suggested, and what should he find inside but the most beautiful little castle, made all of gold and silver. He set the palace on the ground and it grew and grew until it covered a whole acre of land. Then she bade him to break the second egg, and out came great herds of cattle and sheep, enough to cover the meadow where they stood. Finally, she told him to break the third egg, and from it came scores of servants all dressed in gold and silver livery.
That morning when the king woke and looked out his bedroom window, there stood a splendid castle of gold and silver shining in the morning light. The king gathered his people together and rode over to see how such a thing had come to be. On the way, they rode through the herds of cattle and sheep, fat and content where they grazed. And past the rows of servants, dressed all in gold and silver, happily going about their labor. On they rode until they came to the castle gate, where the prince waited for his father. Their reunion was joyful. Only his two elder brothers seemed unsure, thinking that youngest of them, having found the pear thief, was to inherit the whole of the kingdom. But he soon put their minds to rest, he had more than enough of his own and saw no need to have his father’s kingdom as well.
The youngest prince and the Swan Maiden were married and a grand wedding it was. The guests made very merry while they danced the whole night long. As the night grew older and the wedding guests began to depart, the prince sat happily with his new wife and watched them all go. “Despite what I had promised you when first we first met, I can’t say that I did much that was very bold or clever. Save to follow your advice when you gave it,” the prince admitted to his new wife. The Swan Maiden smiled brightly at her husband. “Some may say that is true, and some may say it’s not. As for me, I would say there is no clever thing than that.”
Some of our oldest stories were told in pictures. Even today, there are some wonderful books that tell their stories without any words at all. Their pictures, seeds that take root in the imagination, blooming into a different story each time we look at them.
The Silver Pony by Lynd Ward is one such book. I was pretty young when I first read it, and at first found it so odd that it had no words. The wonderous thing about the book was that a new story emerged each time I looked through its soft gray-toned pictures. The adventure changing just a little as I imagined what it would be like for the boy visit far off places on the back of his silver pony with wings.
Words are wonderful things, but they are by nature defining and sometimes their lack can be freeing.
More recently, I came across Journey by Aaron Becker which I just learned is the first in a trilogy. I found this book to be beautiful! I loved the story and for some reason its lack of words made it even more powerful to me. And the art was not only wonderful, but gave the story exactly the right feel, using color to carry you along on on a fantastical adventure.
So if your mind is feeling adventurous, try a book without words – you may be surprised at the stories you will find.
This post certainly falls into the random thoughts category!
I was going through pictures, looking for ones I can put into a calendar for this upcoming year; however, the pictures that seemed to keep grabbing my attention were the ones of food. Ummmm, food! One thing all of us share in one way or another, whether its in abundance or a lack of, whether you hate it or love it.
I have always found that the description of a meal, of how it looks, of its flavors and scents, is one of the things that can truly draw me into a story. It adds verisimilitude, engaging my senses so that I can more easily lose myself in the tale it’s telling. It also can help if I am having trouble getting into my writing; providing an easy place for my imagination to take that step, from the world I am living in, to one of the many I am imagining.
And now my daughter is asking me “what’s for lunch?” so I guess I’m not the only one whose hungry! 🙂