T. Kingfisher

Review: Clockwork Boys (Clocktaur War Book 1)

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Review: Clockwork Boys (Clocktaur War Book 1)

Convicted criminal Slate knows she’s not the first choice to lead an expedition into enemy territory. Heck, she’s not even the second. No one else has managed to find any useful information on the rampaging Clockwork Boys though, so she and a smart-aleck assassin, a failed paladin, and a misogynistic scholar have been press-ganged into infiltrating a neighboring city to find something, anything, that will save the Dowager’s City from the invading army.

It’s an act of pure desperation on the Dowager’s part, but Slate is hopeful for her little band….she’s actually hoping they’ll all manage to kill each other and save everyone else the trouble.

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Review: Summer in Orcus

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Review: Summer in Orcus

1. Don’t worry about things that you cannot fix.

2. Antelope women are not to be trusted.

3. You cannot change essential nature with magic.

– Instructions in a stained-glass window, written on a book carried by a saint wearing purple sneakers

Eleven-year-old Summer dreams of adventure…but if she’s honest about it her idea of “adventure” involves a little freedom from her over-protective mother. It would be nice to do things like go to camp, or ride a Ferris Wheel, or maybe just take a bath without someone checking every five minutes to make sure she isn’t drowning. She certainly never planned to step through a magic portal and wind up all on her own in a strange new world with a weasel on her shoulder, but then who does?

Starting life as an online serial, T. Kingfisher’s latest book Summer in Orcus dives headfirst into a land of bird aristocrats, manticore cheese, snail marketplaces, and a masked warlord serving the mysterious Queen-In-Chains. It all starts when Summer has a chance meeting with Baba Yaga, who sends her on a journey to find her Heart’s Desire.

It might have been helpful if Baba Yaga had told her what that is.

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Review: The Raven and the Reindeer

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Review: The Raven and the Reindeer

I read The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher (known as Ursula Vernon to her friends, and ursulav to those of us who follow her on deviantart) back in February and I loved it to pieces, but I didn’t write the review right away. Fast forward six months and I thought if I want to do a good review, I ought to read it again.

No kidding, it’s even better the second time around. And the first time it was amazing.

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Review: Bryony and Roses

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Review: Bryony and Roses

Everyone should be familiar with the fairytale of Beauty and the Beast: a father takes refuge in an abandoned castle and picks a rose without permission, so his beautiful daughter must come live with the Beast, who she restores to humanity when she agrees to marry him. You’ve probably seen quite a few versions, all with the same basic story. Fortunately Ursula Vernon (writing as T. Kingfisher) has created a version that’s a lot darker, quite a bit stranger, and just far enough off from the original that it becomes an entirely new story.

Bryony would never describe herself as a beauty, but just like in the original fairytale the cost of taking a rose leads to her being trapped in a mysterious mansion with someone who’s been cursed to be a Beast. This version of the tale still has the daily marriage proposals, and the invisible servants who cater to Bryony’s every whim. But there’s something else odd going on in the mansion, with strange footsteps in Bryony’s room at night, and bizarre dreams, and there’s something the Beast isn’t allowed to say, because the entire house seems to be alive. And it’s listening.

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Review: The Seventh Bride

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Review: The Seventh Bride

Ursula Vernon, also known as Ursulav, has been the purveyor of the weirdly beautiful, and the beautifully weird, for over a decade now. Her artwork is impossible to categorize; if you were to start combining random words out of the dictionary you’d have a good chance of accidentally describing something she’s painted. Anthropomorphic saints? Plenty to choose from. Swamp landscape teacup? Got a beautiful one of those. Feral strawberry, cantaloupe sandals, and a biting pear? Yep, yes, and you’ve probably already seen that last one.

In 2008 Vernon started writing and illustrating her own children’s books, and she recently released several short stories written under the pen name T. Kingfisher. This couldn’t have been better news, because as much as I adore her art, what really drew me to her work were the descriptions she included with the art. They’re such a wonderful combination of the bizarre and the totally mundane. The short descriptions often led to longer slice-of-life stories, my three favorites being The Saints of San Axolotl, The Golem Girl, and the incomparable House of Red Fireflies. In Kingfisher’s most recent release she follows the same format she started with her short story collection Toad Words,  taking familiar elements from fairy tales and turning them ever so slightly off kilter.

More than a children’s story, not quite an adaptation, The Seventh Bride tells the tale of a hapless miller’s daughter, dragged into a world of imprisoned brides and stolen gifts. It’s too much to ask of anyone, particularly someone who can’t even keep the big swan at the millpond from stealing her lunch every blessed day.  But she’s got a hedgehog, so at least there’s that much going for her…

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Review: Toad Words, and Other Stories

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Review: Toad Words, and Other Stories

Talking stags, on the other hand, were nearly always bespelled royalty, and fairies, who could theoretically choose to look like anything, nearly always picked white cats or black horses. Fairies are very beautiful and very vain and they haven’t got the imagination to fill a thimble. And they never learn from their mistakes.

I’ve followed Ursula Vernon over on deviantart for years, mostly for her gorgeous paintings and collages of clockwork creatures, animal saints, hamster warriors, and other beautifully absurd beasties. Almost more than the art, though, I loved the descriptions. She loves to drop the reader smack into the middle of a new world, one she created just to explain why she drew an Iguanodon in a gardener’s hat, or because she liked the name “bramble dragon” and needed a place to put one.

Between deviantart and her blog, I’ve gotten hooked on her writing, and was hoping to someday own a book of her short stories. So you can imaging all the cheering when I ran across “Toad Words, And Other Stories.” (Written under the name T. Kingfisher, since she writes a lovely series of children’s books and likes to keep this slightly more adult work under a different name.)

It’s a book of re-told fairy tales, all in the quirky, matter-of-fact-in-the-face-of-total-nonsense style that I’ve always loved. They’re often dark, sometimes sad, but always endearing, even when they’re disturbing. She’s taken the stories we’ve grown up with and asked why people stuck in a fairy tale would do the things they do. She also assumes we might have only heard one person’s side of the story; who knows what actually happened.

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