Saturday, 4 April 2020

D is for Dreams #AtoZChallenge

They were little things. She held five of them in the palm of her hand, little seeds the size of a Tic Tac, each a different colour.

The first was a beautiful blue, like the sky on a sunny, cloudless day. It tasted like adventure and excitement, the rush of possibility. She spat it out, afraid. The world was too vast, the future too frightening. There was no knowing how it would all end up, whether she would live a long life with the people she loved.

The second seed was lime green, fresh and bright and a little sharp on the eyes. She rolled it between her finger and her thumb before putting it on her tongue. It tasted like growth and stretching, roots digging deep, branches reaching ever upwards. She held on to it for longer, chewing enough to break through the capsule, before spitting it out as well. There was too much bitterness hidden inside.

There were three left in her palm and she wanted to throw them away. It was too risky. Life could be lived normally without them. She didn't need them.

Still, it was curiosity that finally made her stick her tongue out and lick the bright red seed. It burned on her tongue like fiery peri-peri and she dropped it immediately. In her mind, her thoughts ran to fire, the anger of a thousand tiny cuts bursting into one huge bonfire. She could burn the world down and rebuild it from the embers. But would she stay the same? This one she held for a little longer, then went out to press into the soil. Even if she couldn't handle it, she could keep it, nurture it for someone else. Someone stronger.

She went for the grey next, tasting ash on her tongue. If fire had been too strong, this bleak nothingness was too weak for her. It tasted of routine and boredom, a life of safety that was too empty, too constrained, too dead. She pondered it for a moment longer, then gave it up with a sigh. As much as she loved the quiet, it would bury her alive.

The final seed was a curious thing, purple dappled with pink. She held it up to her nose and inhaled the scent of cotton candy and morning dew, lavender and chocolate, a first edition musty with age. It sparkled slightly, reminding her of fairy dust and unicorns, and the improbable balance of being. She didn't have to taste this one to know what it would bring.

---

Pfft. This one took forever to write because I couldn't find any nice D words.

Friday, 3 April 2020

C is for Chamomile #AtoZChallenge

She sat, sipping slowly. The warm brew settled her stomach, taking away the queasiness that had been building up all morning. She closed her eyes and basked in the sweet smell of honey and chamomile. When she opened them, she drank deeply, set down the empty mug, and got up to get things done.

###

"It doesn't work that way," the healer insisted. "He's dead. You can't get anything from--"

"Just show him to me." She folded her arms on her chest and stared him down. When he didn't move, she reached out and nudged the papers she'd shown him when she entered the room.

He flipped through them again, bringing the seal on the last page right up to his nose.

"It's authentic," she said drily. "I highly doubt anyone would forge the Secretkeeper's seal just to see a dead... person."

"This is very unconventional," he protested, but he handed the papers back to her and crossed the room to where, presumably, the head was kept.

She followed close behind him. "It's not every day you find a severed head in the street."

"It was at the port," he replied, "and it was deliberately planted. By our enemies. As an act of war."

"Which makes it an even more singular event."

He opened the chest on the table and stepped aside, nearly knocking into her.

She looked in. It was a ghastly thing to behold, a severed head on a silver platter--why was it on a silver platter?--eyes still open in shock. She reached out her hand.

"Don't touch it."

She ignored the warning, taking a deep breath while wishing for more honeyed chamomile to fortify her. Nothing. Well, she'd expected that. You'll likely find nothing, the Secretkeeper had said, but we owe it to the Sultan to at least try. She shifted her fingers downwards to close the poor man's eyes, then jerked her fingers back at the buzz. There was the faintest wisp of a memory still lingering. Amazing. He's been dead for three days. She closed her eyes and concentrated.

"Well," she said when she'd gotten all she could. "Baginda Paduka will be quite interested in that."

"What? What did you find?" The healer stared at her incredulously.

She smirked a little. "Wouldn't you like to know."

"But the head--he's been dead--how--"

"Don't underestimate the powers of Impian's Justices," she said, leaning towards him. "Should I read your mind?"

He shrunk back, raising his arms in front of his head. "No! I haven't done anything."

"Of course you haven't." She looked back at the chest, and Amanah's head, and sighed. "Poor man." She closed the lid. "See to it that his head is returned to his family."

###

Mikal, Jeffett turns the Bayangan nobles against me and I am under house arrest. If he succeeds in his bid, he will do all he can to re-start the war. Suspect all missives that come under my name. Yosua.

She finished writing down the message that Amanah had held as his last thought and wondered if the man had known that she would be able to extract it. Mind-reading was such an imprecise gift and very few Justices could read from the dead, especially one that had been dead for such a length of time. Still, his name indicated that he came from Impian, which could mean that he might have more than a passing knowledge of the gift--maybe he had sisters who were gifted Justices themselves.

Like me.

She sent off her findings with the messenger who had been waiting, made herself another cup of honeyed chamomile, then curled up on her bed. She took a deep draught as she dropped the mental walls she'd erected in the morning.

Grief crashed over her as Jujur finally mourned her dead brother for the first time today.

---

Okay, I opened the dictionary at random and picked the word Chamomile. Which led to this unexpected story that's somehow tied in to the WIP I'm working on right now. I don't know if it will actually happen in the story, but eh.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

B is for Bayangan #AtoZChallenge

Bayangan comes into view in the evening. The walls surrounding the city are still blackened with fire, partially crumbled from the last war. No effort seems to have been made to rebuild them. We pause for water by the gates, where a large party awaits us.

An open carriage, white trimmed with gold, stands ready. The two white horses harnessed to it paw at the ground and toss their manes. Permaisuri Layla takes the hand of a groom and steps up into the carriage, arranging her skirts as she sits down primly. Ayahanda is brought up behind it. They rearrange his chains so that his hands are bound before him to a bar that runs across the back of the carriage.

There’s a short discussion amongst them, then Temenggung Jeffett mounts a large, black horse. He raises his parang, shouts an instruction, and we set off.

Inside the city walls, rows and rows of shacks have mushroomed in the ruins of old houses. The buildings are haphazard and there’s rubble everywhere. The stench of decay and sewage permeates the air.

Is this what Maha will look like in twenty years? I cannot imagine returning to a place like this. I cannot imagine why they haven’t rebuilt, why neglect pervades this part of the city. Is it the lack of money? Lack of resources? If Bayangan really needed resources, why have they given up the treaty and the marriage alliance for this? Surely continued trade would help Bayangan more than whatever plunder they’ve taken from Maha?

The deeper into the city we go, however, the more prosperous it gets. Wood turns to brick and stone. New buildings tower above us. There are some remaining patchworks of blackened stone, but most of the buildings have been rebuilt. We pass a large marketplace where all sorts of wares are on display. It is here that we stop first, where many of my countrymen are led away.

The Bayangan citizens come out to watch, lining the cobbled streets or peeking out of high windows.

“Behold your triumphant Permaisuri!” the soldiers that precede us shout, blowing their trumpets and waving flags.

Trade comes to a temporary stop. The Bayangans cheer for their permaisuri and their army. They jeer at us as we pass, pelting us with rotten fruit. Slowly we proceed through the throng, boxed in on all sides by sharp parangs and ugly, angry faces. The road narrows, inclining upwards. Walls rise again to greet us as we reach the end of our journey.

The Bayangan Castle is tall and narrow, made of scrubbed white stone. There are no large, wide windows for the breeze to flow through, only narrow slits that squint and sneer at us. It is a defensive place, built to repel others, unlike the Mahan Palace, which is gentle, open, and welcoming.

The gates open with loud clanks and the crack of whips, a great maw opening to swallow us whole. There are no open balconies or large gelanggangs, only suspicious turrets and the one crowded courtyard we’re being herded into like cows.

The slam of the gates closing behind us is a knell of doom.

---

Here's a short excerpt from The Weight of Strength, Mikal's reactions when he and his fellow captives see Bayangan for the first time.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

A is for Amazing! #AtoZChallenge #bookreview: Writers of the Future 36

L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 36: Bestselling Anthology of Award-Winning Science Fiction and Fantasy Short StoriesL. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 36: Bestselling Anthology of Award-Winning Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Stories by L. Ron Hubbard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As anthologies go, I really, really like this one. I don't think I'll talk about every single story--there are 4 additional/commissioned stories and 3 articles PLUS the 12 winners for the year--but I can safely say I did not dislike any one of them. At most, there were maybe two or three which just left me puzzled.

Here are the ones I loved the most:
A Word That Means Everything (Andy Dibble)
THIS was an unexpected gem. I started it a little warily, wondering if it was going to be a bad take on Christian mission work, but ended up with a very intricately written story on cross-cultural missions and Bible translation... to aliens, of course. While trying not to be eaten by lamprey.

Stolen Sky (Storm Humbert)
This starts off with so much hope, so much joy and wonder at discovering new things, but ends on such a bittersweet note. That last line... oof.

Yellow and Pink (Leah Ning)
How many times would you be willing to reset your life to be with the one that you love? This story takes a look at grief and letting go, and the things people will do out of desperation.

Foundations (Michael Gardner)
I found this beautiful and yet a little eerie.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Galaxy Press. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

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Here's a note to self not to sign up for stuff when you're bored.
A's a cop out of what I actually plan to do for A to Z, which is flash fiction, because I woke up lazy today and realised that I'm supposed to post my regular book review anyway.
I suppose I shall just change my goal to be flash fiction on days except wednesdays, and then worry later about how to fit the alphabet in for the rest of my reviews. HA.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Welp! It looks like I'm staying in for another three weeks!

Malaysia has just extended its MCO order to end on April 14... which means I'll have another three weeks of staying in.

This isn't much of a HUGE change for me, personally, but "Eh, I don't feel like going out" has a different connotation than "I'm not allowed to go out".

Work on the WIP is going fairly well: I passed the 30K mark on Monday, and will probably buckle down to get out another 15K to 20K by the end of the week.

Look at that!
Work-wise, I have 3 projects to keep me busy for a while.

At any rate, since I probably won't have any distractions (other than facebook, twitter, and following COVID19 updates, ha!), I decided that I might as well participate in the A to Z challenge again. 


I don't know what I'm going to be doing yet, except that it will be flash fiction. If you have any topic/theme/word suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comments.

Hope all of you are keeping safe, staying healthy, and staying at home! 


Wednesday, 25 March 2020

#bookreview: Girl, Woman, Other | Bernardine Evaristo

Girl, Woman, OtherGirl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well. That was an interesting read.

I've read one other book by Bernardine Evaristo, Mr. Loverman, because it was on our MA reading list and she was teaching that session. I liked it so much I bought (pre-ordered) Girl, Woman, Other (oi too much money ke?) in hardback (omg anna how are you going to bring all these big, fat, heavy books home!), but also because omg I've been invited to her book launch I should gooooooooo and get the book siggggnnneeeed (I went. I did not get the book signed. Book launches are crowded and noisy and awkward, also I had pre-booked for Phantom but in hindsight...).

Minor fangirling aside, I finally got round to reading the book this week after putting it off for ages because obviously free review copies with upcoming publishing dates take priority over books I bought that were published a year ago. But I HAD TO READ IT SOON because of the Booker thing and all that; the TBR is neverending, y'know?

But about the book.

Girl, Woman, Other is easy to read. It feels like speech, like these twelve women (womxn?) speaking to you
narration flowing into speech, everything is fluid and leading you somewhere
prose-poetry, or poetry-prose
whichever way you put it
it speaks to your soul, wrenches at your emotions
you have to nod and go, yeah, I feel you
not denying history, reality, but dragging it out to be acknowledged
and even if you're not black nor British
you relate

Girl, Woman, Other is also difficult to read. It takes a while to get used to the style it's written in, it takes a little time to figure out the patois and pidgin, but most of all, it takes a lot of effort to follow the connections as Evaristo points you from one person to another and then back again. (Was this person mentioned before? Oh yeah, so-and-so's friend, I forgot. Wait, I did not expect that connection, huh!) She doesn't sugarcoat the dark stuff, but neither is it graphic.

I think it is, overall, a good read, an eye-opening read, and I may one day revisit it again.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

#coverreveal: Shadow Light | Sarah Delena White

Presenting... Shadow Light!


Night lived in a tower at the end of the world.
Her name was Layla, and the world did not know her.

Day had no tower.
His name was Aeric, and the world held no refuge for him.

Yet with the evil Coroc and his army of shadowfiends terrorizing the lands, Layla and Aeric must work together to restore light and hope before all is lost.

Night and Day must unite to save all peoples from eternal, terrifying evil in this lyrical tale that combines the wonder of George MacDonald’s fairy tales with the beauty of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion.

Shadow Light releases on 31 March! Preorder on Amazon now.
Add to Goodreads

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Author bio
Sarah Delena White was raised by wolves in an alternate dimension. She writes eclectic speculative fiction that reworks mythology with a fine balance of poetry and snark. She's an experienced world traveler who loves to weave world folklore and ancient concepts into vibrant, original story worlds. She is the administrative manager for Uncommon Universes Press. When she's not writing, she can be found making elegant designer bead jewelry, traveling to festivals as a professional ballad singer, drinking tea, and seeking to create the perfect latte. She can be bribed with dark chocolate.

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