Book Review: Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb


Ship of Magic sweeps us into a world of pirates and sailors, traders and sea serpents. Don’t let the length of the story frighten you: There’s hardly a dull moment in this novel, the first installment of Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders trilogy.

It’s crafted with so much care, I found it difficult to tell who the villains were—and harder still to dislike them. These characters grow with each plot twist. One of the book’s strengths is characterization. We feel by the end that we’ve gotten to know them personally, even the pirate and the liveships.

The centerpiece detail of the series, liveships are vessels with talking figureheads crafted from wizardwood. They can be unpredictable and difficult to control. Some are wild with unsettled pasts, others are social and love to gossip. These ships are characters, a concept  I found very cool!

Though most of the chapters were gold, I struggled when we switched to the sea serpent’s point of view. Those scenes seemed too out of place, rarely revealing anything. Eventually I started to skim them, something I may regret when I start book two.

Overall it was beautiful, the characters rich with depth—like a pirate who wants to be pirate king, and an abandoned liveship named Paragon. He suffers the way a human would if left in utter solitude.

Ship of Magic will satisfy the reader who longs for adventure at sea. I cannot wait to start the next one.

Writing Tip: Character Complexity


No choice is ever simple.

Decisions are complex, though they might seem impulsive at the time. We’re influenced by the world around us; the hows and whys of our behavior are shaped by things that seem pointless.

Characters are people; they behave realistically when written with care. Details revealed to readers should have solid backstories; most writers spin their characters hoping to make them believable.

Done this way, projects take longer to finish—but backstory’s worth the wait. It takes time to work out what drives our hero; no choice is random, habits don’t surface out of the blue.

Powerful stories follow realistic characters.

Take history as an example: Choices that shaped the world were influenced by places, flaws, disasters we don’t learn of at first. Each of these details led to the choice, even those not revealed by tour guides.

Like tour guides, we don’t have time to tell the whole story; however, knowing it gives us stability in the writing process. Readers notice when we don’t know a character well enough.

How should we work out our backstory? Since characters are people, we approach them accordingly. Many writers fill in personality sheets or take the Myers-Briggs test for their characters.

All these techniques help us get to know our characters.

A good protagonist should have hopes, fears, and motives. In real life, people are far more than outward appearance; similarly, characters should be more than words on a page. They need depth.

It means we have to fill in blanks, taking up a necessary challenge. Too much is at stake if we put it off; it could make our story shallow, incapable of stirring emotions.

Do you know why your villain causes trouble? Did your hero hesitate before going on the adventure—if not, why? What qualities help your couple get along, what could set them off fighting?

If you can’t answer these questions, take a closer look.

It’s important to know your villain’s motives and what makes your hero fearless before the unknown. In a realistic love story, there should be a balance of things in common and topics to cause friction.

If you don’t know what these things are, sit and have a chat with the characters. Do not skip this process.

When the blanks are not filled, readers notice. We like our heroes to be relatable, or they become annoying fast.

Don’t risk making your novel shallow!

If your characters need fleshing out, there are plenty of articles on the Internet to help. My favorite is Rachel Giesel’s How to Write a Character-Driven Plot in 5 Steps. The tips elaborate on why this is so important.

She’s Novel wrote about using the Myers-Briggs test on characters! My Favorite Method for Building Characters’ Personalities is a must-read.

Finally, author Briana Morgan wrote a guest post for Musehollow, Creating Compelling Characters. Check out this article on her own blog, 11 Steps to Crafting Characters.

Your hero could be vibrant enough to rise above ink and paper.

It takes research and patience, but strong characters make a great story. If you’ve found your own way to overcome this challenge, please comment and share it with us!

Review: Be Your Own Fairy Tale by Alison Davies


From the beginning, Be Your Own Fairy Tale looked promising—a book any lover of magic and dragons ought to have on their shelf. With lovely illustrations, it was impossible to ignore; however, it wasn’t what I expected.

I thought it would offer more in-depth history of fairy tales, introducing undiscovered gems. Instead, Be Your Own Fairy Tale uses the well-known stories to help us find direction in life.

The book does give some history in the first chapter, explaining how these tales changed as they were passed down orally. I expected more history, which made it disconcerting when we switched to self-help chapters.

Once I got over the shock, it was a pleasant surprise. They use symbolism to shift perspective. The exercises were fantastic, helping to dissect mundane things and find magic within.

Be Your Own Fairy Tale was about helping readers recognize their hero’s journey, more so than it was about telling history. If you want a different perspective on life, try the exercises in this book; you’ll be surprised at where magic is hidden.

What’s Next for The Autumn Prince?

In September I was outside enjoying the days before autumn really kicked up frost. I had my Moleskine with me; as I watched leaves let go of their branches, the words autumnal gold surfaced in my heart, and I began to write.

What resulted was a story I would release in twenty parts on October called The Autumn Prince. I was quite nervous people would think the idea stupid; however, so many people enjoyed it, which shocked me! By the time that serial ended, people were telling me to write a novel.

Which I did—the very next month. I was so immersed in the world of The Autumn Prince that it came to me easily. It’s currently a first draft, and of course will need a rewrite, but the point is I have something to start with.

My plan was to self-publish the serial version of The Autumn Prince (what I had posted on my blog in October) as a novella in ebook form this year. I didn’t want to waste all that writing, and if people enjoyed it then it certainly deserved a chance. Then I would shift my focus to the novel.

But plans change.

3d03e7_321633d03dbf409fb4399ebce6c747c4On October I also found out about the exciting project called Crows on Heartstrings, an anthology of tales about doomed love featuring illustrations and stories from people around the world. When I submitted to Crows, my hope was to get a different story in, one called Starless.

In an exciting twist, arrangements to include Starless in this anthology changed; it needs a lot of work. But I still had another story about doomed love that people really liked.

The Autumn Prince has been edited into a short story to be featured in Crows with an illustration. I am glad the spark that went off on October isn’t going to vanish into history!

We’re in the process of edits for The Autumn Prince for its next adventure in the world.

This year I will also begin rewrites for the novel, which will be the first of a series. Momentum hasn’t slowed since I hit Publish on that first part of my serial. I have a feeling it’s not going to stop.

Thank you to people who encouraged me to keep on with the serial, falling in love with Prince Caspar and the Barn Owl when I thought the idea would be called dumb and childish. Watching those leaves fall in September, I think I caught a story that was golden.

Look out for Crows—not just because of The Autumn Prince! So many of us are working to give you a beautiful reading experience. Visit the Crows website here!