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Shadows of Self

Shadows of Self - Brandon Sanderson The initial Mistborn trilogy -- The Final Empire through The Hero of Ages -- was a bit of a let-down, after all I had heard about it, despite it playing around with the usual fantasy tropes. It felt like it tried too hard, and despite an interesting magic system and some fantastic world-building, the story didn't do it for me. But I had read The Rithmatist and enjoyed the hell out of it, so I didn't quit on the series. Good thing, too, since The Alloy of Law took all that world-building and gave us a lighter, more gripping, more readable story.

Shadows of Self is the next book in the second part of the Mistborn series, which is the start of a new trilogy following on the events of The Alloy of Law. So, this is the fifth book in a series which is the first in a second trilogy, following a stand-alone novel featuring the same main characters that feature in this novel. Got it? Anyway, the novel follows along the same style as The Alloy of Law, with more humor and a less epic story arc, though there are hints that something big is brewing. Plus, even though we know that this book takes place in the same universe as the initial trilogy, Sanderson makes the connections more direct and specific in this book (and yes, that ties in with the "something big").

I like the addition of the humor in this second arc in the series. The first trilogy had little touches of it here and there, but it wasn't a large part of the series; it was a serious story with serious characters (serious). Here, there's more irreverence, though not so much that it makes the story any less serious. Sanderson doesn't waste time with getting that across, either, since these are the opening lines:

Waxillium Ladrian, lawman for hire, swung off his horse and turned to face the saloon.

"Aw," the kid said, hopping down from his own horse. "You didn’t catch your spur on the stirrup and trip."

"That happened once," Waxillium said.

On the other hand, Wayne's habit of stealing things by trading worthless items for them grow a little tiresome. Occasionally, what he picks up is useful to the story, but mostly, it's a characteristic played for laughs. Over time, it became less funny.

The book's main conflict is political in nature, pitting the low-born against the nobles. It's similar in theme to The Final Empire, but it's not quite as heady. There's more to the story than that, but it begins with Wax and Wayne (and Marasi, who has become a member of the team) investigating a mass murder at a party held by the brother of the governor. The story flows from there, touching on points from the previous four novels. It's a good self-contained story, but it's also a good start to the larger story that (I expect) will be covered in the next two books.

Speaking of which, I think series that follow that structure of self-contained stories that follow a larger arc work much better than "This is one big story that we broke down over several volumes" work better. A Song of Ice and Fire is the exception to the rule, but overall I prefer stories that can work by themselves or as part of a larger work. The first trilogy in Mistborn didn't succeed as well as the last two books have.


Binti - Nnedi Okorafor I've been eager to read this novella since I first heard about it. There was something about the cover, the title, and the suggested culture of the story that appealed to me. I hadn't read anything by Okorofor, or even heard of her, before I heard about this book, but everything else set my expectations pretty high.

The story is about a woman of the Himba people, who is the first of her people to be accepted to Oozma University, a planet-wide learning institution. Her people are of the Earth, almost literally; they live near a salt-water lake, and their fresh water supply is scarce enough that they bathe using a mixture of clay and plant oils, so their hair and skin is always coated with it. It would be easy to call her people "tribal", but as Okorafor says in her narrative, "that's what they called humans from ethnic groups too remote and 'uncivilized'".

Okorafor is of Nigerian descent, and her main character is dark-skinned, with thick dreadlocks, so it's easy to assume that the novella is about race and African culture, and in a way, it is. While Okorafor uses both as thematic elements of her story, the story itself is about how people grow from being enemies to friends. So much of modern race relations is about taking that same step, but it doesn't feel like the story is beating you over the head with its message. In the end, the story is about empathy, honor, and honesty, and how those things bring people together.

I also liked Okorafor's style. It's very understated, to the point of it almost being simple, but at the same time, she's conveying the story and emotion easily and effectively. It reminded me a little of George R.R. Martin's style, though they both have their own distinctive voices. I'm also reading a book written by a poet, and the lofty, lengthy language of that story, and my slow progress through it, makes me wish for the same story told in a simpler style.

Of all the novellas that Tor has released over the last couple of months, this was the one I was most excited to read. Witches of Lychford was just okay, and I couldn't make it more than 30 pages through The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, but Binti met and exceeded my expectations. I was impressed with the story and my response to it to want to read more of her fiction.

The Vorrh (Vintage Original)

The Vorrh (Vintage Original) - Brian Catling I'll admit, I didn't give this book a lot of time to impress me. I made it fifty pages before bailing. But it's written by a poet, who also does performance art, so you can rest assured that the prose is lofty, prevailing, and dense. Plus, when you're writing a fantasy book where almost anything is possible, and then refer to someone turning inside out instead of just being shocked, you're going to give the impression that someone actually turned inside out. You have to rein in your language in these circumstances.

There seem to be hints of really good ideas buried beneath the prose, but I'm not willing to put in the level of work required to dig them out. I don't consider myself an anti-intellectual, but the book strikes me as being self-indulgent and overwrought.

They Thirst

They Thirst - Rowena Morrill, Robert R. McCammon This is another book I've been moving from house to house, from state to state, for several years. I think I had this book when I was still in college, and I graduated in 1994. So ... dang, twenty-one years at least. I was big into horror when I was in high school, and that interest stayed with me through and beyond graduate school, so I read most of what McCammon had written up to that point, and really enjoyed it. I remember tearing through Swan Song in one weekend. So when this one came up in my reading list, I was excited to finally get around to reading it.

The problem with reading something like this is that my tastes have changed a lot since then, and that I'm a different person from who I was back then. I still enjoy a good horror story, but having read so many of them, what I call a good horror story is different from this book. It's about vampires, which is fine (I think it's required for a horror author to have at least one of these in their body of work), but ultimately it's a very ordinary vampire story. It's certainly better than the dark, brooding, emo vampire stories that have taken over the genre, but there's nothing extraordinary here to set it apart from other vampire stories. Considering that this book was published in 1981, that might not be a fair criticism, but it's true.

The good thing is that a talented enough writer can take an ordinary type of story and make it engaging enough to enjoy it. 'Salem's Lot is a great example. Little of what King writes could be considered ordinary, but when you look at the structure of that story -- one person against a vampire invasion, the slow takeover of a town, the main character losing a loved one to the vampires, and then a hard-won victory at the end -- it follows the same basic tenets of other vampire stories. But King's characterization and plot skills set the story above and beyond any ordinary vampire novel, making it something extraordinary.

McCammon has these same skills, but somehow it's not enough to elevate the story to being a classic like 'Salem's Lot. McCammon has said before that he doesn't think much of his first four books (They Thirst being the fourth one), because he felt like he was learning to write in public, and I wonder if that's the reason the book feels insubstantial. (Interestingly enough, McCammon references his own Bethany's Sin, one of those four book, in the narrative. One of the characters doesn't think much of it.) It's hard to be too critical of issues with the story knowing that, but there was still stuff that caught my attention. Here, McCammon has a habit of changing points of view suddenly in the middle of a chapter. In some cases, this is handled well, but in others, it's jarring. It wasn't uncommon to have him tell most of a chapter from one character's POV, and then in the last paragraph jump to someone else responding to that character. It felt clumsy, sloppy even.

McCammon doesn't shy away from going big, though, with the scope being the entire city of Los Angeles. The events of the novel happen in about a week, with the goal of the vampires being to take over the entire city of eight million people. That scope means there are a lot of characters, with a lot of them getting a lot of face time in the story. Not all of them wind up being long-term characters, and my guess is that McCammon wanted to create a connection between the reader and the character before making them a victim, but it didn't work for me. They felt too cliched, too two-dimensional to really sympathize with them.

There was still a lot to like in the story. Things happen quickly, and it reminded me a little of a zombie plague. Interestingly enough, I finished watching Fear the Walking Dead while I was reading this, and one of the things I liked about that show was the character who said, in the second episode, "When civilization ends, it ends fast". The same is true of They Thirst. Plus, McCammon included a massive sandstorm near the end of the story, which I thought was used to great effect.

I'm glad I read the book, to bring myself one book closer to reading all of McCammon's horror novels (Mine is still on the shelf), but I'm not sure if I could recommend it, save to the most hardcore of vampire fans. Then again, people who have read and enjoyed McCammon's works would enjoy it for the curiosity factor, if nothing else. I can't rank it among his best novels, though.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps - Kai Ashante Wilson I made it about 10% into the book, but found nothing but a bunch of bro-banter and excessive profanity (which may be redundant). There was no hint of a plot, and what characterization had taken place by then didn't appeal to me.

The Order of the Stick Snips, Snails, and Dragon Tales

The Order of the Stick Snips, Snails, and Dragon Tales - Rich Burlew Snips, Snails, and Dragon Tails is more a curiosity than anything else. It collects all of the comics written for Dragon magazine before its demise, and like the previous two collections, nothing in those strips is required to understand the ongoing story in the Webcomic. Since there were only 30 of those strips, he padded out the rest of the book with some one-shot stories, one-page gag strips, and other content that don't really belong in the OotS canon. I liked a good bit of it, but what makes the Webcomic shine is his ongoing story, and the content in this book isn't really a part of it. Like On the Origin of PCs, I feel like this book is really aimed toward folks who can't get enough of the series (though his final strip for Dragon was kind-hearted and poignant).

Witches of Lychford

Witches of Lychford - Paul Cornell Tor has published a lot of fiction for free on its website. I'm not much one for reading long-form fiction on my laptop, though, even as I make a transition to reading some things electronically (if I can buy the book for $150, or an e-book for $2.99, it doesn't take a doctorate to figure out which is preferable), so I haven't partaken of those freebies. I will, however, purchase an e-book to read on my phone when I have a spare moment. Witches of Lychford is one among a handful of novellas that Tor is publishing both as e-books and in print. This is the first in that series that I've read.

I expected to like this a lot, because as much as I've outgrown horror as a genre, I still dig a good, spooky story. The story winds up being less horror and more rural fantasy (sort of an antidote to urban fantasy), even though there's a lingering threat to the entire world's existence within its pages. Had that been the only thing to disappoint me, I might have liked the story more, but it also had some weird moments that didn't make sense to me.

The story is about three women -- an old woman who believes in magic and lines of power and dimensional protection via the layout of a village, a younger woman who is a reverend but is questioning her faith, and another younger woman who is into New Age philosophies and treatments -- who work together to eliminate a threat not just to their village, but also to the entire world. The women are the titular witches, though only one of them could be classified as such at the start of the story (or even the end, now that I think about it). The threat they fight is ostensibly a major supermarket chain that wants to move into the town and disrupt their lifestyles, but since we're talking witches here, there's more to the chain than meets the eye.

I had trouble getting into the story, partly due to the lack of characterization here. Judith, the older woman, is probably the best drawn of the three witches, but even then, the cantankerous old woman who still believes in fairies has become enough of a stereotype to not be original. Lizzie and Autumn , the reverend and New Ager, respectively, are drawn well enough to distinguish them, but not enough to make them feel real. Even Lizzie's struggle with her faith is used mostly as an afterthought instead of making it part of her character. Her obsession over her dead husband is somewhat more convincing, but not enough to make her vivid. She's more a character study than a character.

I also find the tone of the novella to be off-putting. It's supposedly about magic, which makes me expect it to be somewhat serious, but then in comes the terrible threat, and I expect it to be darker, but then here comes the slapstick comedy and sarcastic remarks that don't fit the rest of the story. Some of it could be due to the lack of characterization, but I wanted Cornell to pick one tone and stick with it. His attempts at humor, at the very least, fell flat with me, and don't feel like they belong.

For me, this is an inauspicious start to what I wanted to be an extraordinary series of stories. The rest could improve (Binti by Nnedi Okorafor is the one I hope will knock me down), but I might have should have started with another of these novellas to get started. I see that Witches of Lychford gets a lot of praise, but it didn't do much of anything for me.

The Order of the Stick: Start of Darkness

The Order of the Stick: Start of Darkness - Rich Burlew Start of Darkness is lengthier than On the Origin of PCs, not just due to its page count, but also because he only focuses on two characters instead of six. In addition, while Burlew has already taken pains to give us the back stories of the protagonists, the antagonists appear to be evil for the sake of being evil. Here, he gives us an understanding of why they're the way they are. Xykon has never been a complex character (aside from his ability to stay one step ahead of the heroes and come up with nasty punishments), so his background reflects that, but Redcloak's complexities make him an interesting character, even if we don't like him that much. Here, Burlew gives us why he's a complex character, and gives us more insight into his motivations.

The Order of the Stick: On the Origin of PCs

The Order of the Stick: On the Origin of PCs - Rich Burlew Burlew's skill at characterization are what makes his Webcomic engaging, and the same is true with this prequel book. Each of the protagonists have traits that everyone can relate to, making it easy to root for the Order (even Belkar, because, yes, we've all had homicidal thoughts before). It was fun seeing the events that brought the Order together, though even Burlew tells us in his foreword that nothing here is essential to understanding and enjoying the ongoing Webcomic. I can attest to that. It's a fun diversion, but what background you need to know about the characters to understand their motivations is already there. The book is just for those who can't get enough of the series.

Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth

Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth - Judd Winick I'm a huge fan of Judd Winick. I first discovered him through Frumpy the Clown, and then moved on to Barry Ween before working my way back to Pedro and Me. The first thing I liked about his style was the artwork, then the wacky sense of humor, then his ability to inject real emotion and significance to his work, and then his ability to create taut, engaging stories. It's always struck me as odd that I came into reading his stuff for the funny, and then wound up sticking with it for its importance.

Hilo is a new series, aimed toward a younger audience, so the profane wackiness of Barry Ween is missing, along with the serious issues of Pedro and Me. This isn't to say that the series is missing either the wackiness or the seriousness, but it is missing the adult version of both. Hilo is a boy who crashes to Earth (spoiler!), losing his memory, and is discovered by D.J., the youngest of a large family, all of whom are successful in their own way. D.J., in his own words, is not, but he easily and quickly makes friends with Hilo, and helps him discover who he is. Along the way, his friend Gina gets involved, and as the three of them learn more about Hilo, they work together to solve that mystery.

I love the art style here, and it's much more effective than it has been in the past. Winick's style is cartoonish by default, and in the past, when he has to draw serious scenes, the artwork takes on a different tone that doesn't quite fit. Here, I didn't notice it as much. The characters still look serious, and their expressions are effective and emotive, but they're not quite so different from the cartoonish style as to make the segue jarring. I also liked the way that Winick drew the antagonists in a different style, making them a little less precise, a little messier. It set them apart from the protagonists, and gave them a different feel.

The story isn't complex, but it's engaging, and the characters are wonderful. It touches on moments of poignancy amidst the action and humor, which, again, is a given when it comes to Winick. I'm pleased to see that he's still working on new series, and I'm eager to see where he takes this story. I trust him to do good things with it, so I doubt I'll be disappointed.


Library of Souls - Ransom Riggs Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was a nice surprise of a book to me. It looked different, and creative, and it more than met my expectations. I loved the idea of the book, along with the quiet magic that populated the story. It had a gentle touch, despite some violence, and I thought it succeeded quite well.

The rest of the series had a lot to live up to, and in the end, those books didn't succeed quite as well. Hollow City was all over the place, both with its characters and settings, and while Library of Souls gets a little more contained, it still doesn't quite match the wonder of that first book. There are still a lot of great ideas and imagery peppered throughout the novel -- on par with Clive Barker and China Mieville -- but the storytelling itself fell flat. Momentous events didn't feel like they had any real significance, and what moments Riggs attempted to make more resonant still felt two-dimensional. Near the start of the book, one of the characters has died, and it's told with such matter-of-factness that I expected it to be just a rumor. Instead, nothing ever comes of it, save for a couple more mentions of that character's death, all of which feel about as significant as the first mention.

I also had issues with the relationship between Emma and Jacob. There was a lot of wishy-washiness about it in the second book, but then in the third book, it becomes a definite thing. The L-word is tossed around, there are moments where neither character wants to live without the other, etc., but then at the end of the story, Jacob's all set to go back to the real world. There's angst, and brooding (for about two pages), but it seemed out of sorts between two people who supposedly felt that strongly for each other. And then there was the whole bit with Emma being over 100 years old in a sixteen-year-old body, falling for someone who was really sixteen. It's like Edward and Bella in reverse, and it's no less creepy for the gender roles being reversed.

The story itself didn't feel very organic. It seemed to go from event to event on autopilot, with little connection between one moment and the next. Characters appeared when necessary, the setting became what the story needed at a given time, and betrayals occurred without any real context or motivation. Foreshadowing felt nonexistent, and I felt more like the story was paying service to the events, rather than the other way around. I can't remember feeling this way about the other two books, but it's possible they were like that, too, and I just didn't realize it.

I think the story is a decent conclusion to the series, but it doesn't feel as significant as the first book. It's certainly an improvement over the second book (instead of getting bogged down with a lot of characters in a lot of different places, this time it's Emma and Jacob, in one setting), but for all the wonder that the first book contained, neither of the subsequent volumes could recapture it. Folks who've read the first two books will definitely want to see how it ends, though.


Jacaranda - Cherie Priest Like Tanglefoot, Jacaranda is a short story set in the world of The Clockwork Century, even though it has little to do with that series all together. Also like Tanglefoot, this is another attempt at a horror story, instead of an alternate-history steampunk story. In fact, aside from the fact that one of the characters was featured in Ganymede (and that he gives a brief summary of events in that novel), it doesn't have any connection to the rest of the series at all. The biggest curiosity regarding this story is why it's considered to be part of The Clockwork Century; the tenuous connection adds nothing to the story, and I think it would have made more sense to feature new characters and make this a standalone, non-series story.

In Jacaranda, our main character is a priest with a tarnished background, called to Galveston, Texas ahead of a hurricane in order to help at a haunted hotel. People die by unseen forces in the hotel, usually in gruesome ways, and a nun who is a guest at the hotel sends a message to the Father to come and help. What he finds is something beyond understanding, but not beyond his control. It's important to keep in mind that the story isn't about whether the hotel is actually haunted; Priest makes it clear that, yes, it's a haunted hotel, and doesn't waste any time getting to that point. The story is definitely supernatural, not just in the hotel, but outside of it, as well.

The story is an effective one, even if it doesn't fit with the series proper. It's atmospheric and eerie, and Priest populates the story with characters who serve a purpose to the story, instead of just being filler. The hotel has a reputation, so guests are sparse, but still, there were enough characters in the novel to justify setting the story in a hotel. The story was a little too short to be fully invested in all of the characters, so it was hard to be affected by what deaths do occur in the story, but Priest creates them sufficiently enough so that you at least feel sympathy toward the victims.

I would like to see Priest return to The Clockwork Century with a story that truly belongs in the series. I was pleased with this novella, more so than I would have expected given its ever-so-slight connection to the rest of the series, and Priest is a talented writer who can work in any genre, but making it a part of The Clockwork Century just seems like a way to draw readers to the story who wouldn't otherwise read it. It feels like a cheap marketing technique, despite the fact that the story worked so well.


Fiddlehead - Cherie Priest Though there's one novella following Fiddlehead, this novel brings to a close the events that Priest began with Boneshaker. What began inauspiciously has far exceeded my expectations. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, I'm not a fan of steampunk, but if this series is what steampunk is, then maybe I've made a grave error. On the other hand, it just might be that Cherie Priest is an outstanding writer who could write about anything and make it entertaining. My money's on the latter supposition.

Fiddlehead is probably the most expansive of the books in the series thus far. We see a reprise of characters we've seen before in the series, along with some new ones, but this time we even have Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant as characters. The story revolves around ending the Civil War (which has been going on for twenty years now in Priest's alternate history), using a weapon of such destruction that it rivals that of the atomic bomb in World War II. The action surrounds the characters who believe that such a weapon is the only solution, and those who believe that it is no solution at all.

Priest's characterization skills have improved remarkably since the first book, and it's no surprise that here her protagonists are easily likable and sympathetic, while her antagonists are easily despised. There's no questioning loyalties or intentions; her characters are drawn just right. I had predicted in my review of The Inexplicables that another character would feature in this novel, as he had been in the previous two, and while I was right, the character went in a different direction than I would have expected. Priest didn't cheat the way she made that reveal, either; all the hints and foreshadowing she dropped in the other two books supported the way that character came clean in this novel.

In her foreword, Priest writes about how this is the end of her original series, but we already know that she has followed this up with another novella set in that universe. I'll be disappointed when I finish that one (which I expect to start as soon as I finish writing this review), but it sounds like she isn't averse to revisiting this world and its characters. This is a relief, since these stories have been a refreshing taste of what good, entertaining fiction is all about.

The Inexplicables

The Inexplicables - Cherie Priest I can't get over how good these books are. Priest has an ear for dialogue and a good understanding of human behavior; she builds up compelling, intriguing plots full of action and adventure; she creates vivid scenes and characters. On top of that, she creates a series that's ostensibly steampunk, but is actually an alternate history series instead. There's so much to like here, it's no surprise that I'm tearing through these books like I'm addicted.

With The Inexplicables, Priest falters some. The entire story is told from the point of view of one character, Rector Sherman, who was the young orphan who sent Zeke into the walled city in Boneshaker. Now, he's a full-on sap addict who's far more interested in himself than anyone else. He's not the most likable character, and his self-centeredness leaves him with little loyalty to anyone. He doesn't strike me as an anti-hero, either (his successes have more to do with him being with other people than with anything he does himself), so it puzzles me why Priest chose to have him as our POV character, unless it was to further the point she appears to want to make about the Blight, the sap, and its effect on people. Being an addict, Rector can help her shine a more personal light onto what it means to be addicted to the substance. It doesn't help make him any more sympathetic, though.

The series has been fascinating so far, with each book being a different adventure featuring a different character, but the adventure here is less compelling. This time, the conflict surrounds protecting the walled in city from new invaders, and protecting the surrounding city from the rotters inside. It's all self-contained, with the action compressed into the final hundred-or-so pages, and less time is spent on the antagonists than in previous books, making them caricatures instead of characters. In addition, Priest chooses to include a new supernatural element to the story here, which doesn't really fit in with the overall tone of the previous four books. I'm not going to spoil it, but it wound up being laughable. The story features a lot of rolling-of-the-eyes, not just in the characters, but also in the reader.

I mentioned in my review of Ganymede that there was a character featured in that novel who was intimated as being untrustworthy, and he showed up here in The Inexplicables, too. Priest again suggested that there was something about him not to be trusted, but again, it didn't go anywhere within the story itself. Given that she's been pretty good at foreshadowing in the individual stories, my money's on Priest featuring him in Fiddlehead, the final volume in the series proper. If not, then she's been running a red herring through two books now.

Each book in the series has been a singular adventure featuring (mostly) new characters, and that's true with The Inexplicables, as well, but to me it seems like Priest is building up the series to talk about the Blight. She's also writing about the Civil War, protracted here into a 20-year fight, and while each story stands on its own, overall there's a bigger fight going on, with much larger stakes. I think Fiddlehead will address those issues, and bring them all together into a final conclusion. I'm eager to see how she wraps up the overall story.


Ganymede - Cherie Priest With Ganymede, Cherie Priest continues to tell the stories of her 19th Century alternate United States, complete with extended Civil War, airships, and the undead. This time, she takes us to New Orleans, where we meet Josephine, the ex-lover of Andan Cly, who has asked him to come to her city to help her transport a ship. Also in New Orleans is an outbreak of the animated dead, with which Cly is familiar, though why they're suddenly showing up there is a bit of a puzzle. I could tell you a bit more about the story and what it's about, but I feel like it would spoil a bit of the surprise, even though the summary on the back of the book will tell you about events that don't happen until about the halfway point of the story.

Ganymede is just as exciting and readable as the previous books in the series, and is another standout, thanks to the improved characterization. After the improvements seen in Clementine and Dreadnought, I wasn't surprised, but I was glad to see that Priest could keep things on the same level as what she had done with those two books. Not all of her characters resonated here, but enough of them did to make the story as entertaining as I would have expected.

There was one weird moment in the story where Priest seemed to be suggesting that one character wasn't as trustworthy as he seemed, but then didn't take it anywhere. The character wasn't as realized as the others, which was enough to make me think that there was going to be something to it. It was like a red herring that was forced too much, and in the end, it felt a little cheap.

Overall, though, I enjoyed this book. A lot. I'm impressed with Priest's chops here, and once I finish this series, I won't be hesitant to add her Borden Dispatches series to my list. She's definitely an author to add to my insta-buy list.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson Meet Merricat. She's eighteen, and lives with her uncle, who cannot leave the house, and her sister, who does not. The rest of her family is dead. Twice a week she leaves the house to go to town for groceries. The townspeople talk about her behind her back, and sometimes to her face. She's not allowed to handle knives, prepare food, or pick mushrooms.

Merricat also has her rituals and her private magic. She buries knick knacks around the property, for protection, for cursing, or to encourage growth. She nails items to trees, also for protection. She thinks of words which, if left unspoken, will keep all in her family safe.

Merricat loses her temper easily. She smashes glasses and water jugs when her ordered, ordinary life is disrupted. She loves her sister, and wants to protect her from anyone who would pry, anyone who would ask her questions about the day the rest of their family died. Her uncle Julian thinks of little else. So Merricat begins her rituals again, and her private magic.

And then their cousin Charles comes to visit. And the careful, structured routine of their lives behind to break.