Hi guys! I’ve had the great pleasure of receiving ARCs for The Forgotten Tale and it’s predecessor, The Untold Tale, by J.M. Frey. First I’m going to introduce the author and provide a blurb for The Forgotten Tale then I’m going to share my thoughts about both books.
About Author J.M. Frey:
Toronto-based J.M Frey (pronounced “fry”) is a science fiction and fantasy author, as well as a fanthropologist and pop culture scholar who appears in podcasts, documentaries, and on television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. Her debut novel TRIPTYCH has been nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards, won the San Francisco Book Festival award for SF/F, was nominated for a 2011 CBC Bookie, was named one of The Advocate’s Best Overlooked Books of 2011, and garnered both a starred review and a place among the Best Books of 2011 from Publishers Weekly.
About The Forgotten Tale:
Forsyth Turn has finally become a hero—however reluctantly. But now that Lucy Piper has married him and they’ve started a family in her world, his adventuring days are behind him. Yet not all is as it should be. Beloved novels are disappearing at an alarming rate, not just from the minds of readers like Pip, but from bookshelves as well. Almost as if they had never been. Almost like magic.
Forsyth fears that it is his fault—that Pip’s childhood tales are vanishing because he, a book character, has escaped his pages. But when he and Pip are sucked back into The Tales of Kintyre Turn against their will, they realize that something much more deadly and dire is happening. The stories are vanishing from Forsyth’s world too. So Forsyth sets out on a desperate journey across Hain to discover how, and why, the stories are disappearing… before their own world vanishes forever.
This review is going to be a little different from some of my others because I’ll be reviewing two books in one post and my opinions of both books vastly differed.
First, as always, here are my ratings out of 5:
The Untold Tale: 3/5
The Forgotten Tale: 4/5
I’m glad that I was given the opportunity to read both of these books, but unfortunately if I hadn’t been provided The Forgotten Tale I might not have continued the series. It’s not that The Untold Tale is bad, it’s well written and the little jokes at the expense of fantasy tropes are hilarious. My problem was that the beginning was so slow and the real adventure part didn’t start until more than halfway through the book AND I seriously believe that Lucy Piper (also known as Pip) should’ve been the main character instead of Forsyth Turn. Pip is the outside perspective that points out all the things wrong with the way Turn’s world is created and I couldn’t help but think every time she pointed something out that all the tropes would be subverted if she was the hero. I honestly think that a modern women filled to the brim with knowledge about fantasy trying to get back home working in the confines of the very tropes that refuse to let her be anything other than complex person that she is would’ve been more interesting than a man learning to be confident and a hero because the more qualified women taught him (which isn’t necessarily a fantasy trope but a prevalent trope in almost all media today that I wish got made fun of in the book). Honestly Forsyth bored me and all the secondary characters were interesting but hardly got any time with Forsyth so some character development seemed to happen out of the blue because we didn’t see the leg work. I also felt that the final two chapters were unnecessary because it didn’t really add anything to me and the ending of the quest felt like a natural ending to the book. The tacked on “epilogue” chapters felt like the beginning of a second book to me. The Untold Tale is mostly exposition and world building which got very tedious for me to read and it wasn’t what I was expecting/wanting when I heard that it pokes fun at fantasy tropes and tries to subvert them.
The Forgotten Tale, however, is so much better. The characters felt fully fleshed out, the tropes it made fun of wouldn’t have been as easily solved if a different character was the hero, the villainess had POV chapters that really kept the pace going, and Fosyth wasn’t as boring to me as he was in the first book. Honestly I was hooked from the first chapter when we are introduced to the villainess, but don’t truly know her purpose. I looked forward to her chapters because I could not figure out what she was doing or what she wanted and Frey did such a great job at doling out the information as needed. I also really loved that she wasn’t a villain because she was jealous of another woman. While her storyline did revolve around a man it wasn’t in a romantic sense which was something different that I enjoyed. There wasn’t any great, big info-dumps like there were in the previous book and I loved the new characters and the old faces that came back for the ride. I loved that the center of the story was family (because I’m a sucker for that sort of thing) and how there is actual family and found family in the book. It makes for a crazy extended mess that I would love to see in a family tree at the front or back of the book (the way some fantasy books do). I also love how Frey made dragons her own and did something fun with pirates. All pirates are female and if they have sons that get sent back to land when they’ve reached maturity which is something new for me and I loved that she did something new. I also love that choice was another big theme and that a lot of the characters didn’t really get a choice in the things they did, but eventually they were able to get their free will (or as much of it as they could while still being fictional characters). The ending was also a great cliffhanger and it’ll be fun to see what happens next!
Now for some additional fun to get you excited for this interesting and fun series here is an interview with the author.
Magic, Words, Intention: A Discussion with J.M. Frey and Julie E. Czerneda
Question #1: Describe the system of magic in your world, and what, if anything, inspired it.
Czerneda: I wrote a novella “Intended Words” for Baen.com back when. It’s the foundation for a novel I have coming from DAW one of these years entitled Gossamer Mage. The magic system—of which I’m quite proud—was inspired by an item in the Lee Valley Woodworking catalogue. These catalogues, if you’re unfamiliar, contain pretty much everything concerned with tools etc., each given a good bit of description that often includes historical facts about said tool and its purpose. Including the words. Best research assist ever—and highly entertaining.
One day, I came to the section on the making of pens. It contained a bit on fountain pens, ballpoint pens, and even quill pens because that’s how this catalogue is. Thorough. There were…words. Ferrule. Body. Belt. Nib. More…
After a modicum of online and book delving into those WORDS? I was fascinated. Did you know there have been battles fought over the sources of ink pigment? I had it, then and there. A magic system reliant on pens. On the inks. On the—and this was where it got truly fun—intention—of the scribe. Oh, and the cost? Every word steals some of your life.
Frey: I wanted to create a pretty standard fantasy realm when I created Hain, so when I envisioned the magic, I wanted it to also be a bog-standard sort of barter system. Characters learned magic from books, there were rules, you needed to know the right amounts of ingredients and add them to a cauldron in the right amount at the right time to make potions instead of just soup. That’s all still in the books. But as I was writing, I realized that Forsyth, a scholar and a spymaster, would need a kind of magic all his own, a magic that any kid with the ability to read a book and gather herbs couldn’t replicate.
The Accidental Turn books are about the power of imagination, of books, of the written word, and it made sense to celebrate that by grounding Forsyth’s special brand of magic in the literary and the verbal. So, I created The Words.
I envision them being another language, almost. A jumble of vowels and consonants and glottal stops that are completely nonsensical from a language point of view, but when one speaks a Word, one is able to bend reality ever so slightly in their favour. There are Words of Healing, Words of Soothing. There are Words to sharpen the edges of scythes and plowshares and swords, Words to keep vermin out of your clothes and hair. These sorts of common Words are passed down from parent to child, shared among neighbours, taught to young soldiers their first week in the army, or taught to wealthy children in school or by governesses.
Of course, there are degrees of power in the Words—if you know the suffix or prefix to add to the Word, you can make it stronger. And there are other Words, too. Words of Dark Things that are rumour but never proven, never written down anywhere, never spoken. Forsyth, because of the magic of the Shadow’s Mask, which retains the factual data of all of his spymaster predecessors and has downloaded it into his head, knows many, many Words. And not all of them pleasant.
That also gave rise to the idea that the climax of the book should be based on a verbal exchange, a dance of wits, and the power of an ill-worded bargain.
Question #2: You’ve both written science fiction and fantasy. What’s different, or the same, about writing magic versus writing tech?
Czerneda: Everything is different, for me. I can’t even be in the same mindset. The fantasy I prefer to write isn’t about this world or what’s possible/credible here, but what I’m imagining. Added to the need to let myself fly creatively? The folks who read my fantasy, which is pre-industrial, know a great deal about Very Many Things. Clothing. Cottages. Chickens and cheese. It’s terrifying. So I do a great deal of specific research to fend off any moments of “arg, she got THAT wrong.”
Yes, in science fiction, I do research as well, but it’s into the science that’s made me curious enough to want to play with it and that’s ongoing. Plate tectonics is a current passion. Always weird biology. Planet Proxima B. CrispR. Typically I wait a few years to write on any one of these, but when I’m ready, I’ve a good feel for what else I’ll need to know and the form of story that’ll help me find out.
Frey: I find that with SF I try a lot harder to keep the worlds consistent with our own, whereas with fantasy, I only have to stay internally consistent with my own made up world.
I do spend a lot of time fact-checking and researching for SF. But because it’s grounded in reality, it’s sometimes easier to figure out the world and the shape and nature of the story I can tell within it. If biology works like XYZ in real-world species upon which I’m basing the biology of Character A, then the framework for A’s physicality, sexuality, culture etc. is easy to extrapolate. Because astrophysics and mechanical engineering work like THIS then the ship has to fly like THAT which means the plot has to be shaped to account for both. Etc.
I can pause briefly in the writing to do some fact checking, and then keep going knowing that the facts will remain consistent if I have to look them up again to remind myself a few weeks down the road when I’m writing a different section.
Of course, you fudge it when you need to, for the sake of the story, because it’s more important to tell a compelling story than a scientifically accurate one. That’s why I sometimes get hand-wavey or vague in my descriptions. It can be workable so long as I don’t explain it too deeply and thus risk making mistakes. Besides, to me it’s more important that the ship is able to travel through space and get our characters to the next point of plot than how the ship does it.
So having said all that, I still actually find Fantasy much more difficult. When I make something new up, I have to remember to write it down so I can reference it later. I can’t just look it up on Wikipedia and check what was said. My editor, Kisa, has a whole file of facts and titles and names and places for us to look through when I’ve forgotten what I made up.
This was especially hard for the Accidental Turn books because I never intended it to be a series. I wrote the first book thinking it would be a stand alone, so I never bothered to keep detailed notes about the geography, or nobility, or whatever. That made it really difficult when it came time to write books #2 and #3 because I didn’t have any notes. I had to rely on Kisa to steer me right. Especially especially because I hadn’t really read The Untold Tale in like, three years when I finally started writing The Forgotten Tale.
Thank goodness the book was there to revisit and read through to find the info! And thank goodness for Kisa’s GoogleDoc!
Question #3: Magic is considered by many to be a defining element of high fantasy; how does your magic system interact with the themes of your story?
Czerneda: It is? ::ponders a while:: I’m back. In Night’s Edge, which began with A Turn of Light, if I’ve a theme, it’s about the reality of wonder. There’s magic people try to do, but it’s mechanical and requires objects and words. The real magic, the wild innate utterly unpredictable kind, is oozing into the everyday along an edge—a crack, if you will. So I’ve one realm where magic simply is, and one where people like us live, most of whom will never even notice the extraordinary oozing right under their noses. That’s neither bad nor good, but those who can see, who do recognize the wonder? Let’s say they have interesting lives.
Is that a theme? If so, it’s in much of my science fiction too, which definitely doesn’t have magic. Being observant, caring about what you see, being open to experience and wonder, and always, always, taking the time to be curious.
I suppose that’s magic of a sort.
Frey: I think I answered this above a little bit, but for me, it was important to create a magical system based on words, and literary texts, and which takes into account that unfortunately learning to read is still a first world privilege, and owning books is a real luxury.
The Accidental Turn series is about reading, and writing, and what it means to be a creator, and what it means to fight destiny and predetermination. I’d always loved the idea of fictional characters becoming self aware, before I even knew what metafiction was or had fallen in love with books and novels that were metafictional. Especially if that metafictional twist allows the author/character/reader to think critically about the media text in question, and the rest of its comparables in the same genre/market.
I mean, my passion for this is so deep that I wrote my MA thesis on Mary Sue Fanfiction so… yeah… it made sense to finally write my own metafictional fantasy novel, and of course that had to be reflected in the magic system for the book to really gel on all the different storytelling levels that had to be juggled.
Question #4: The Accidental Turn magic is built around Words. If you could specialize in one category of Words (Healing, Finding, Compulsion, etc.) what would it be?
Czerneda: Time management? Not a question I can answer, sorry. I enjoy the story’s characters too much to be one, if that makes sense?
Frey: Probably Words of Comfort. You know, Words to help people sleep, or to soothe them when they’re stuck in a horrible traffic jam, or to chill when they’re getting irrationally angry. The world would be a better place if people felt more content, and safe, and happy – then they wouldn’t feel the need to be angry and cruel to others. I can think of a specific Orange Presidential Nominee that I would love to send off to dreamland every time he opens his big, stupid yap.
Question #5: What’s your favorite magic system created by another author?
Czerneda: Other than J.M. Frey? Patricia McKillip’s Riddle Master trilogy comes to mind. In a way, it’s about knowledge being magic, transmitted across generations via riddles. The solutions to the greatest riddles change the answers to the lesser ones—or expand them or give them new import—so the reader and characters are constantly shifting their attention. All this within a quest story that flows like magic itself. I remain in awe.
Frey: I love what Neil Gaiman has done with American Gods, the way the deities need to feed on belief. I know its not particularly original or specific to his world, but I love that he wrote a whole inter-pantheon war about it, that he made it the central focus of the narrative.
I love that Gail Carriger’s supernatural characters in her Parasol Protectorate series exist because of an excess of soul. It’s a very clever twist on the idea that creatures are unfeeling souless, heartless monsters. Her vampires and werewolves are patrons of the arts, fashionistas, creators, and only the most soulful people who can successfully survive past the natural death of their bodies.