Tag Archives: Celine Kiernan

Book Review Saturday – ‘Resonance’

I made good on my vow to devour the latest Celine Kiernan novel, dear readers. It is entitled Resonance. It is… well. It’s fair to say that it’s somewhat beyond description. It’s like all the best bits from a variety of genres, mashed up together into a seamless whole, which has left me utterly bereft at its passing.

Oh, and also, it has left me in search of a new career, for I will never write anything half as good as this book. I have, officially, given up the mantle of ‘writer’. I am not fit to blot Celine Kiernan’s ink nor sharpen her quills, and all that. I’m thinking of retraining as an organ-grinder.

Image: celinekiernan.wordpress.com

Image: celinekiernan.wordpress.com

But now for the review.

I’m in a muddle as to how to even begin to describe this book. It has a bit of everything – mystery, suspense, Gothic horror, the supernatural, science fiction, historical fiction, romance – and yet it’s more than any of this. It is, very resolutely, itself, and it sits just outside of definition. If this makes it sound like a mess, then forgive my muddled prose, because it most assuredly isn’t. It’s a complex story in the hands of a master craftswoman, and it’s utterly absorbing.

It’s the late nineteenth century in Dublin. Two young people, Tina and Joe, who have been friends since their earliest days, are hard-scrabbling their way through life using whatever talents they possess. Tina is a seamstress who makes costumes for the stage and Joe is a cab-driver with big plans for his future, and Tina’s. Into their lives stumbles a young man from New York named Harry, who is in Ireland to ply his trade as a magician, and finds himself at a loose end when the theatre he’s engaged to work at cancels his string of performances without notice. They encounter a wealthy benefactor named Lord Wolcroft and his mysterious coachman, and soon the three young people find themselves kidnapped, removed from their lives in the theatre district of a run-down, tenement-infested Dublin, and spirited away to a snow-bound mansion in the Irish countryside where an assortment of strange individuals live: Raquel, a woman who lives through, and for, her dolls; her ‘living’ children, who are a pair of characters I will never forget; Luke, the groundskeeper, and the villagers, who greet the returning Wolcroft with something akin to hunger.

Something very strange is going on in this manor house. People do not age; adults obey the cruel instructions of a pair of savage children; snow and ice keep the house locked in perpetual winter; strange lights glow far beneath the surface of the frozen lake. And beneath the house, deep in the cellars, a Bright Man lies captive.

Uncovering who (or what) this Bright Man is, what his strange power over the house and its inhabitants is and why he appears differently to different people, is one of the strands of this novel. Another is Tina and Joe’s story, which shows them willing to sacrifice anything for one another, their love – so long left unspoken – finally coming to the fore. A third is the story of Harry, itself so pleasing and with so many ties to reality (I don’t want to give away his identity here, but suffice to say that his depiction gave me great joy). A fourth is the relationships between the people who live in Fargeal Manor – Raquel, Cornelius (also known as Lord Wolcroft) and Vincent, along with the absent Matthew and the terrifying children – and how they interlock. Learning about their history with one another, the ties that bind them through the centuries of life they should never had lain claim to, the pain of Matthew’s loss (and his eventual fate), and what drives them is absolutely fascinating in its own right, and it’s a testament to this novel’s strength that, here, it’s only one immense plot thread among many. The settings are perfectly described (the theatres so real you can smell the greasepaint, and Fargeal Manor so convincing that you look up from reading and half-expect to see the grinning children standing in front of you), the plot is never anything less than gripping, and the characters – particularly Cornelius, for me, for reasons I can’t even describe – burrow into your mind. Even though you’re reading about fantastical events and set-pieces which are beyond the realms of reality, every word rings true and believable. Every page saw me hungry for the next. The ending is perfect.

There are shades of (good) Anne Rice here, and also hints of classic (by which I mean nineteenth-century) science fiction. The book is dark, at times terrifying, and even though it’s a story about three teenagers (Joe, Tina and Harry are all in their late teens), it’s really not a YA book, which is what I was expecting. In fact, this book confounded all my expectations. I thought I was getting a supernatural romance (and I did, in some respects) but in so many ways, the book isn’t even about its teen protagonists. The book is about life, and what you’ll do to preserve yours just as it is, and it’s about greed, and hunger, and the terror of change. It’s about sacrifice and self-loathing. It’s about love, but not just in the sense of romantic love – love of one’s friends, family, home. Love of one’s soul. It’s about religion, metaphysics, science, the mind, and magic. It’s about cruelty. It’s about the interplay between wealth and want, the landed gentry and the starving Irish poor, the Colonies and the home countries. It’s about corruption and decay.

It’s the best book I’ve read this year. I just can’t give it any higher recommendation than that. Brava to its brilliant author.

Ten Authors I Would Love to Meet

Yes, yes. All right. The more astute among you might have realised that today’s blog post is, basically, a Top Ten Tuesday topic, hosted as usual by The Broke and the Bookish – and, it being Wednesday, I have a cheek to even consider using it. But I’m throwing the rulebook out the window again, mainly because I can (and also because it’s fun).

So. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

I write a lot on here about authors I love, and so I’m really going to try to talk about people today who are not only new (ish), but also writery people I really want to meet. I’ve also realised that I’ve actually met (or been in rooms with, at the very least) several members of my literary firmament already – Neil Gaiman, Jeanette Winterson and John Connolly spring to mind – so they won’t feature here. This made me feel quite lucky, but also a bit peeved that I had to knock three stellar writers off my list.

In any case, here we go. In no particular order, here are ten authors I’d love to meet, and maybe – who knows? – it’ll happen one day.

Erin Morgenstern

Image: wordandfilm.com

Image: wordandfilm.com

I read (and loved) Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus the second it was published, as is evidenced by the fact that I own it in trade paperback. It’s a gorgeous, imaginative romp through a landscape full of well-drawn and beautifully described characters and settings, flavoured with plenty of magical realism and oodles of ethereal romance. It’s a wonderful book, and for months after its publication I had friends from all over the world recommending it to me in gushing, breathy tones; I was always very glad (and perhaps even a little smug) to tell them I’d read it already. So, I’d love to meet Ms Morgenstern, simply to tell her three things: I love her book, I love her surname, and I’m impatiently waiting for her to write another novel.

Jim Butcher

Mr Butcher writes (among other things) the funny Dresden Files series of novels about Harry Dresden, the only wizard in the Chicago phone book, which I’ve been following for some years now. I don’t have the complete series, but it’s something I keep meaning to rectify, as the stories are compelling, scary when they need to be and hilarious most of the time, and Harry is an excellent character (if, perhaps, a little too invested in the physical attributes of the women around him – but that’s meat for another post). I love the fact that there’s a kick-ass female cop (Karrin Murphy) as well as a scary-as-all-hell Fairy Queen (Mab) who provides more than enough in the line of ‘fierce adversary’, and together they almost make up for Dresden’s occasional lecherous thoughts about other people of the lady persuasion. Plus, I love Mouse, Harry’s otherworldly guard dog, and Bob, the wisecracking skull, and just – everything about this series. It’s fun, sure, but it’s clever fun. I think Jim Butcher would be an excellent person to hang out with for a while, so he’s on the list.

Celine Kiernan

Celine Kiernan is an Irish author of some renown (and not a little talent) who I talk to occasionally on Twitter. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that our paths will cross someday, but until they do, she’ll go on here. I adore her Moorehawke Trilogy, and her wonderful Into the Grey is one of the best children’s novels (in fact, just novel novels) I’ve ever read. So, if I do ever get to meet her, it’ll be basically me babbling about how insanely talented she is before slinking off in a cloud of embarrassment. (But not before getting her to sign all my copies of her books, of course).

Her new novel, 'Resonance', which I don't have yet. But, rest assured, I will before too long. Image: celinekiernan.wordpress.com

Her new novel, ‘Resonance’, which I don’t have yet. But, rest assured, I will before too long.
Image: celinekiernan.wordpress.com

O.R. Melling

O.R. (or Orla) Melling is an Irish-Canadian writer whose work, particularly The Singing Stone, a novel about Celtic mythology, the Tuatha de Danaan, and the mystical power of stone circles made a huge impression on me as a kid. I’m not sure whether Melling is still writing, but simply because her work has stayed with me for over twenty years, I’d love to meet her and thank her for all she’s done for me as a writer and a reader.

Kristin Cashore

Cashore’s Graceling series is one I love, and I follow her blog for its sheer wit, intelligence and broad scope. She seems like an interesting and clever person, as well as an extremely talented author, and I’d love to meet her simply to learn more about how to live a life of elegant simplicity. At least, this is the impression I get from her writing; perhaps the reality is somewhat different! She has created some of the best female characters I’ve ever read, and I’d love to talk to her about how she wrote them, where they came from, and where she’s going next.

Stephen King

So, yeah. A weird one, this. I have a mixed relationship with Stephen King’s work, insofar as I think he’s a genius 85% of the time, but every novel I’ve read by him (with the exception of The Stand, which is a perfect work of art) has lacked something – usually, a coherent conclusion. I’m working through his Dark Tower series at the minute (or trying to, at least), and I think there’s nobody to match him in terms of characterisation, dialogue and description – he writes so well, you live the story he’s telling. But I will never, ever forgive him for the ending to Under the Dome. Just, no. I’d love to meet him to ask him what the heck that was about.

Yes. This was my face after finishing Under the Dome, too. Image: huffingtonpost.com

Yes. This was my face after finishing Under the Dome, too.
Image: huffingtonpost.com

Frances Hardinge

So, I know I bang on about Frances Hardinge a lot here. But she has to be on this list. I want to know how one person can be so imaginative, and yet so cool and individual and, more than anything else, where on earth she gets her hats from. I also really want to read her newest book, The Lie Tree, and this is basically a plug for it, so yes. I’m going now.

Catherine Webb (or, whichever pen-name this author is going by at the current time)

No matter what she’s calling herself, I would love to meet a woman who was first published as a teenager, who writes books of astonishing accomplishment, and whose brain, frankly, appears to be staggeringly impressive, simply to ask ‘how is it all done? Mirrors? String? Alchemy?‘ There must be a secret, somewhere.

Philip Pullman

Just to thank him for Lyra Silvertongue, basically. Probably through veils of grateful tears. I’m sure he gets this a lot.

William Goldman

Because The Princess Bride has defined my life. No joke. For wit, wordplay, linguistic and narrative trickery and sheer storytelling brilliance alone – not to mention an awesome cast of memorable characters, some of the best dialogue ever written and an imaginative scope which has rarely been equalled. And that’s just the novel. The movie’s even better. I’d love to shake William Goldman’s hand (and then never, ever wash again).

And yes, it's a kissing book. But I don't even mind that! Image: hellogiggles.com

And yes, it’s a kissing book. But I don’t even mind that!
Image: hellogiggles.com

So, there’s my weird and eclectic list. (It’s not all that weird or eclectic, really, but humour me). Fancy giving it a go yourself? Do let me know if you do; I’d love to see how my choices stack up against yours!

Wynter, How I Love Thee

Good morning, all.

This is not the view from my window. I wish it was, though.

This is not the view from my window. I wish it was, though.

I haven’t gone crazy and started misspelling the word ‘Winter’ (see blog title), and this isn’t another blog post about how much I love the season that comes at the end of the year. So, have no fear. Trust me, gentle reader. Today, I want to write about my love for another kind of winter – Protector Lady Wynter Moorehawke, to be precise. She is the central character in Celine Kiernan’s ‘Moorehawke Trilogy’, which I finished reading a few days ago. I’m not quite sure what took me so long to get to these books, but I suppose it’s better late than never!

I first came across Celine Kiernan’s writing when I picked up her standalone novel ‘Into the Grey’ some time ago; this book is such a masterful piece of work that I read it twice, straight through, before surfacing for air. Telling the story of twin boys in 1970s Ireland struggling to cope with being uprooted after their house burns down, and who then have to deal with a visitor of the otherworldly variety, it’s an amazing story. It has one foot in the First World War, bringing that period of history face to face with the boys’ own lives; they suffer what it was like to ‘go over the top’, and to face mortal terror, in their own version of a battlefield. It describes the unbreakable love between siblings, and shows how far into danger the love of a brother can bring you. It’s not only brilliantly and evocatively written, but I found myself deeply moved by it, too – possibly because anything to do with the First World War touches my heart, but mainly because of the rich, believable characterisation and the relationships between the two sets of brothers at the heart of the story. I highly recommend it, whether you’re a young reader or not!

Into the Grey Book cover

But, to business. The Moorehawke books are also mind-bogglingly good, if completely different to ‘Into the Grey’. Wynter Moorehawke, daughter of the marvellously-described Lorcan Moorehawke, Protector Lord and right-hand man to King Jonathon, is our heroine. We read of her life as she learns about a secret and deadly ‘Machine’, the use for which is kept tantalisingly under wraps until the very last book. She’s intrigued by this, and wants to learn more about it, despite the fact that her normally fearless father dreads to even hear it mentioned. Meanwhile, Jonathon’s kingdom, which he has worked diligently to build up, is under threat – his heir, Alberon, has disappeared, and rumbling rumours are coming back to court that he is planning to topple his father. In the first book, ‘The Poison Throne’, we’re introduced to court life and the delicacies of protocol needed to manage a kingdom, including the difficulties that arise when the ‘legitimate’ heir disappears. Wynter is a Lady, and very close to the King and his family, but not technically part of it. This is a wonderful way to allow the reader close access to the heart of the kingdom, while still allowing her the distance to be a critical voice.

Book Two (‘The Crowded Shadows’) sees Wynter, her friend Razi and the strange, yet enticing Christopher Garron set off in search of Alberon. Razi is Alberon’s older, but illegitimate brother, and is an unpopular choice as heir because he is a ‘Musulman’, or of Arabic origin. It turns out that Alberon is drawing all the disparate tribes of the region together, including those which are normally mortal enemies, apparently to march on his father – something his friends can’t bring themselves to believe. Book Three (‘The Rebel Prince’) brings the story together in a rich and complex way, finally allowing us to see Alberon’s true purpose, and we follow the friends as they race against time to reunify the kingdom. The power of the terrifying ‘Machine’ first mentioned in Book One is finally revealed, and in the final battle, I read with my breath held, the book trembling in my grip, waiting to see who would live and who would be lost.

These books are brilliant. I loved them, particularly ‘Poison Throne’ and ‘Rebel Prince’ (‘Crowded Shadows’, I felt, dragged a little in the time it spent describing the characters’ time among the Merron, one of the tribes of people in the kingdom whose existence is threatened by the political manoeuvring), and I fell in love with Wynter Moorehawke straight away. For me, a girl who can talk to cats, see ghosts, wield a carpenter’s toolbelt and also sit, ladylike, at a state dinner while being completely aware of which lord wants to murder the others, is a girl worth loving. She’s brave, passionate, loyal, skilled, funny, compassionate… I could go on. But what I love the most is that she’s just a girl – she’s not the prettiest, most delicate, most wonderful little flower of the kingdom. Kiernan describes her in earthy terms sometimes – she has bodily functions, she swears, she gets dirty, she sweats, she struggles to cope with being a woman on a long, dusty campaign trail among a bunch of men, and I can’t tell you how much I loved this. The narrative doesn’t linger on her physical appearance (this tendency to describe women through their physicality really got to me when reading ‘1Q84’, for instance – every female character in that book is described by the size of their breasts, no matter what, and it really grated on me); we know she’s considered pretty by some of the men, and we know she’s loved and desired. But that doesn’t define her. She’s a rounded, real character, able to perform the duties of a courtly lady on one hand, yet also capable of lacing on her workboots as a carpenter’s apprentice on the other.

There are things I wish I could change. Wynter’s ability to talk to cats isn’t used enough, I think, and I wish her father’s story had ended differently – this is possibly because I was a bit in love with Lorcan Moorehawke, too. I loved the fact that she could see ghosts, and I know this couldn’t carry on beyond the first book, but it doesn’t stop me wishing for it. I was a bit confused by the Machine (perhaps this was the intention), and I think I sort of got it mixed up with something else mentioned in the first book; when the Machine is finally revealed, then, I was a bit confused. But that might be just me. I was thrilled by the use of the Irish language all the way through these books, and I thought the love story was expertly judged and delicately described. I loved Razi’s character, and the complexities of being ‘other’, and a dark-skinned man in a light-skinned court.

If you’re looking for books for teenagers (or, indeed, anyone) which are complex, multi-levelled, historical (albeit an alternative history!), layered, funny, moving and marvellously written, ‘The Moorehawke Trilogy’ can’t fail to deliver. I really recommend them.

If you’ve also read them, and feel like sharing your opinion, I’d love to hear it!

How was your Weekend?

Happy Monday!

It’s sunny here, and the trees at the end of our garden are golden, which automatically puts me in a good mood.  The light is wonderful, and it’s the sort of day that begs you to go outside – as soon as I’ve written this, I’ll go exploring for a while.

I hope everyone had a good weekend.  I spent mine recovering from a heavy cold, reading a lot and doing quite a bit of baking.  Yesterday, we went to the cinema to see ‘Looper’ just before it leaves; I was a bit scared to see it, because I thought it would be very similar to my WiP in some respects.  Turns out it wasn’t at all like my WiP, and it was also a good movie, if a little full of unanswered questions.  Somehow though these don’t seem to matter, because the film overall is entertaining and well-paced.  I’m not sure what they did to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face to make him look so different, and I’m also amazed by how good a job he did in ‘impersonating’ another actor in the movie (I don’t want to give too much away in case anyone hasn’t seen it yet!), but it was pretty impressive.  It made me wonder whether it’s easier to get away with unanswered questions and sticky, problematic plot holes in the media of film as opposed to in writing.  Perhaps I’m wrong!

I also read some books.  I’m afraid to say how many in case you think I’m a nutter.  Sometimes my husband gets a bit afraid when he sees me reading; I think, secretly, he fears I may be an android.  (I’m not, I swear!)  One of the books I read was ‘The Poison Throne’ by Celine Kiernan, an award-winning Irish author.  I absolutely loved it, and I can’t wait to read the second and third book in the Moorehawke Trilogy (‘Poison Throne’ is Book One, obviously).  I’m amazed by how books have now really taken on the mantle of ‘tutorials’ for me in recent months – not only am I reading them for enjoyment, but I’m also learning from them more than ever before.  I always admired things like narrative voice, structure, characterisation, imagery and so on in the books I read, but now that I’m mid-way through my own effort to create a finished book, I’m really taking note of how other people manage the things I feel I have problems with.

Celine Kiernan is a wonderful writer, and she’s deservedly award-winning.  Things I learned from ‘The Poison Throne’ include:

How it’s all right, even if your book is action-driven and full of tension and serious Goings On, to have funny dialogue and very amusing scenes; it doesn’t derail the tense bits;

How to use details to make something seem real – for instance, Wynter and her father in ‘The Poison Throne’ are carpenters, and Kiernan uses just enough information about what they do to give us an authentic sense of it, without overloading us with the nitty-gritty and making us feel like we’re drowning in sawdust;

How to handle action scenes, and make them scary and real without coming across as corny;

How to create a confident, self-assured, charismatic protagonist without making her seem arrogant, and how to pitch a voice which is appropriate to a person of the age my own main character is.  I really found that hard, so reading this book gave me an insight into what’s suitable.

As well as all that, it was a wonderful story which gave me such enjoyment, and it’s full of well-fleshed characters, each with their own voice.  I loved how her characters hint at their hidden depths and their back stories, and I really loved the political intrigue of life in the kingdom.  I really got a sense of the suffocating nature of protocol and how horrible it must be to have to do something for fear of angering the king in ‘The Poison Throne’ – the punishments for crossing ‘Good’ King Jonathon are laid out very clearly!

I still haven’t dared to revisit my own WiP; the more I leave it to settle, the more my ideas around it are becoming clear.  Details I could add are occurring to me and certain plot problems are beginning to work themselves out, so I suppose leaving it to settle for another few days might be a good thing.  I suppose, too, it’s good to stay away from it until I really start to miss it – that can only strengthen my desire to make it as good as I can.  Here’s hoping, at least.  Meanwhile, I’ll look a bit like this:

Whether you’re writing, editing, or (like me) percolating, I wish you well.  Have a great day.


Hello, all.

I’m not feeling very well today. I’m exhausted, and a bit achy, so I’m going to have to take it easy, even though I’d much rather be working.  I’m reading ‘The Poison Throne’ by Celine Kiernan (I’m not finished it yet, but even so it gets a huge ‘recommended’ sticker from me!) and it’s inspiring me so much that I’m itching to get back to my own book. But, sadly, I know I just can’t do it.

I’m hoping that tomorrow I’ll feel better, and that the Lemsip I’m imbibing at a furious rate will keep me going. It might even be a good thing to be forced to take a little time out, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. I’ve just been reading a wonderful blog post which talks about the importance of taking your time and not being impatient (a difficult thing, for writers): http://ermurray.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/tortoises-live-longer-than-cheetahs/   The point being made here is not so much to look after your health for fear of burnout, but to take the time to craft and hone your work – but it’s a good point, regardless!

I think I’m finally realising I need to look after my health, as well as maybe – once in a while – taking it easy and understanding that you don’t have to do everything in your whole life simultaneously. I’m the kind of person who likes to push myself as hard as possible, but sometimes your body just says, ‘Ah, here. Time for a break, now.’ It’s important to listen to that little voice!

So, we’ll talk tomorrow. Till then, stay well and happy.