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The Art of the Careful Review

steampunk-glass-blue-dragon-Favim.com-466345There are few things more satisfying, as a writer, than having someone read your work and enjoy it. But one of those things is having someone read your work, and take the time to analyse it, pick it apart, and articulate specific things that struck them about the story. This analysis doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly positive — although, of course, it’s a joy when it is! — but seeing that someone has taken the time to write about what you’ve written? Well, that’s a real buzz.

So I was completely stoked to see the analysis that Charlotte Ashley did of my story ‘The Coronation Bout’ (Electric Velocipede, Issue 27) — along with ‘Whale Woman Watches’ by Vicki Saunders and ‘The Correspondence Between the Governess and the Attic’ by Siobhan Carroll — over at Chizine.com. I’m always reluctant to say that a reviewer or reader “gets it” when they read any of my work — what’s important, as far as I’m concerned, is that they “get something” — that something in the piece resonates with them. What I intended doesn’t matter as much as what they see while reading it — and what Charlotte saw was fascinating.

She calls the story “a refreshing blast into an extremely weird agrarian future where there is absolutely no hand-wringing about acceptance or belonging or the condition of women. The dust has settled here, and the women are on top.

Which woman will end up on top is the focus of the story. Regina, our hero, is the firstborn daughter of Claude, the town Chanticleer, and she has every intention of wearing her mother’s crown when she is finally gone. Reg is a competent, pragmatic leader, but her twin sister Nettie has the looks and the charm, and her own designs on the crown. Throw in Claude’s refusal to die, and we have a three-way pitched battle for control of the town.” Read the rest of her analysis over here.

Then, yesterday, Alex Pierce (she of the excellent reviews and of Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia fame) posted a most wonderful, lengthy reading of Midnight and Moonshine that made me smile, and smile wider, and then even wider. How could it not, when it begins like this:

This book. Oh, this book.

It took me a few months to read this collection, this mosaic novel. This is no reflection on the quality of the book. Well, actually it is, but not the way you might think. See, I’d read a story, and then I’d be forced to close the book, sigh, and stare into space in order to wallow in the beauty of the prose. And then I’d have to go read something else, because (like with me and Gwyneth Jones’ Bold as Love series) sometimes too much beauty is painful and you need a break.

First off, look at that cover. Is she not glorious? are the colours not soothing and enticing? Created by the awesome Kathleen Jennings (who chronicles the saga of its production on her blog), I would absolutely have this on my wall. LOVE.

Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett created the contents. Writers who collaborate are even more of a mystery to me than authors who work alone, and to produce this sort of magic has to be just that – occult somehow. And they haven’t been content to just a straightforward story. Instead, as suggested above, this could be seen as a collection or a mosaic novel. A collection because it is made up of short stories that can basically stand by themselves. You could take one and put it in an anthology and it would still work ok. However – and here’s a metaphor I’m very pleased with – that’s like taking a candle out of a chandelier. Yes, it still sheds light. But when you put it with its fellow candles and they’re ringed with crystal, the whole effect is so much more just a few candles in one place…

This metaphor of the chandelier is so incredibly apt — and smart! — I’m going to be hard pressed to think of mosaic novels in any other way from now on. Thank you, Random Alex, for the wonderful review — which you can read in full over here — and for the candles and chandelier!

**A larger version of the image in this post can be found here.

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