Friday 22 March 2013

#FridayFlash - Frozen World

Jyximus Faire trudged along the street, cursing the weather as the snow seeped through the holes in his ancient boots. He couldn't remember the winter ever lasting so long before. The Underground City escaped relatively unscathed, its crumbling tenements kept warm by the smog of industry, but the City Above lay smothered by a thick blanket of white. The City mages were working flat out to clear it, but for every snowfall they repelled, two more broke through their defences. It reinforced Jyx's desire to specialise in Elemental sorcery - after all, nature was clearly stronger than the alchemy of the mages.

The huge iron gates to the Academy loomed ahead of him. A coach careered past, sending a spray of slush in its wake. The wet snow caught Jyx across the back, the soaked fabric sticking his threadbare cloak to his shirt. A head poked out of the coach's window, and Jyx recognised one of the prefects. The older boy smirked, and disappeared out of sight into the gloom.

Jyx slipped between the gates after the coach and left the driveway to cut across the lawn. The snow was deeper than it was on the road, but at least he wouldn't get sprayed by passing coaches, and his feet were already frozen. A few more minutes wouldn't kill him.

The lamps of the Academy glowed in the distance, and Jyx forced himself onward. He stumbled through snow drifts on the lawn, watchful for the low iron fence that marked the edge of the Ornamental Garden. Within a few minutes that felt like hours, Jyx saw the fence, and hurried towards it. Doctor Ermes kept the snow at bay in her garden, and only a thin crust of frost coated the twisting paths. Jyx hopped over the fence and stamped the snow from his boots.

The garden hummed with the low vibration of the Doctor's magic, entwined with the natural energy of the plants and trees. Jyx loved the garden, and couldn't wait until next year when they'd begin to study specific Botanical magick. He'd already read all of the books the library had but there was nothing like actually practising it - especially with an expert like Doctor Ermes.

A stream wound its way through the garden as it flowed from a spring beneath the Academy in the west and into the canals in the east. Jyx normally arrived at the Academy by canal but with the water frozen solid, he'd had to travel on foot. A narrow bridge carried the path over the stream.

Halfway across the bridge, a strange noise caught Jyx's attention. It sounded as though someone were pounding on glass and shouting to be heard. He looked around, but the nearest building was the Academy, and it was too far away for him to hear any of its occupants.

The pounding got louder and on a whim, Jyx looked over the side of the bridge. He saw movement below the ice, and he leaned over the rail to peer closer. The shapes below the ice moved like people, sliding to and fro like a crowd in Monument Square, but the water wasn't deep enough to hold people. Jyx had heard of lakes beyond the City where the water stole the reflections of any who dared to look into it - had Doctor Ermes enchanted the stream to do the same to ensnare unwary students?

He frowned. Capturing reflections was only one step up from the nefarious Shadow magick, and while he longed to try both of them, it wasn't right that innocent people were walking around without their reflections, especially not if they were students. He looked at the Academy, and back at the frozen stream. He was already an hour late - pausing for another five minutes wouldn't make any difference.

Jyx looked around on the bridge, and spotted a small pebble tucked in a hollow near one of the posts holding up the rail. He picked it up, wincing at the cold stone against his frozen fingers, and leaned back over the rail. He remembered a spell he'd seen in a book about Water magick, and now seemed the best time to try it. Jyx stretched out a trembling forefinger and drew a sigil over the ice. The light trail left by his finger pulsed a deep blue that grew lighter by shades the longer he stared at it. Once the light trail turned white, Jyx hurled the stone at the ice.

The ice cracked and the light trail faded. Jyx scowled, annoyed that the sigil had failed. He looked about on the bridge for another projectile, but it seemed the pebble was the only available missile.

The ice groaned. Jyx watched as the shapes congregated around the tiny fracture. The crack widened as they pounded on the underside of the ice. The air filled with a hideous cackle, and Jyx realised the laughter came from the trapped reflections. The crack heaved open and a jagged talon poked upwards out of the ice.
Panic seized at Jyx and he fled from the bridge. He didn't feel the pain in his feet as he plunged through the garden and broke out into the kitchen garden near the east wing of the Academy. The voices of students heading for the main building drifted through the air, and he ran in their direction.

Jyx reached the Academy and raced up the steps to the main doors. The other latecomers slipped inside, glad of the warmth in the entrance hall, but Jyx paused on the threshold, listening hard. A shiver unconnected to the weather ran down his back as the faint echo of a cackle drifted on the breeze.

Jyx hurried inside, hoping that Doctor Ermes would never know.

* * *

Jyximus Faire is the protagonist of my work in progress, The Necromancer's Apprentice, and I thought you might appreciate an introduction to the world above my Underground City. The other City flashes can be found here.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

[Book Review] Mojo Queen and Red House

I don't normally write reviews of more than one book at once, but considering how close together I read these two, and the fact that they're the first two books of a series, then I thought I'd make an exception for the phenomenally talented Sonya Clark.

Mojo Queen and Red House are both about paranormal investigator Roxanne Mathis, who just so happens to be a practicing witch. Often aided and abetted by her ancestor, vampire Daniel, Roxie spends Mojo Queen doing battle with a demon summoned into a young woman, while in Red House, she's fighting to clear a B&B of malevolent spirits. In both books, she's both frustrated and tempted by Blake the Sexy Sorceror, a devillish young man with a penchant for chaos magic.

I don't normally read paranormal romance but these books are closer to urban fantasy, and there's enough of the cool energy-blasting and ghost busting to make me rather keen for the next instalment, Hoodoo Woman. Roxie is a strong and independent heroine, with a taste for the blues and a capable streak that made me warm to her pretty much instantaneously, and Daniel is one of the coolest vampires I've come across in a very long time (he's in the same league as my beloved Xan Marcelles). Even though Blake is by turns an arrogant so-and-so and a dangerous man, he's also Very Sexy and the type of hero someone as strong as Roxie needs. He doesn't save the day, just lends a hand when she needs it.

I think a lot of books related to witchcraft could suffer in the wake of movies like The Craft, or TV shows like Buffy, and it's nice that the female protagonist is granted power of her own, to do with as she will. Roxie chooses to use it to help people, by clearing houses of unwanted spirits, rather than using her power for personal gain. There is little in the way of religion here, as Roxie forges a strong bond with the natural world, and she's such a positive, normal character that I couldn't help but like her.

I met Sonya on Twitter, and after reading some of her Friday flashes on her blog, thought I'd give Mojo Queen a go. I read it in a matter of days and treated myself to Red House just after Christmas, a book I read in about four sittings. Sonya writes in such a way that it's nigh-on impossible to put her books down, and her world-building is incredible - it feels both painfully real, and delightfully otherworldly at the same time. Roxie has a clear, straightforward narrative voice, and she's very easy to root for. The combination of the supernatural and other cultures makes for interesting reading, and I keep wanting to look up all of these other forms of practice for extra reading.

I can't actually recommend them enough, so it's fairly obvious they get a 5 out of 5 blunt pencils!

You can buy Mojo Queen here, and Red House here.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Goodbye Google Reader

I was more than a little surprised when I logged into Google Reader on Thursday to be confronted with a message that the service would be closing in July, apparently due to a "lack of use". I haven't been keeping up with things so hadn't heard rumblings of this, but apparently it's been slated for a while.

It's been a pain trying to find a viable alternative - I'm currently testing out Feedly because it lets you keep ALL of your Google subscriptions (something Skimr had problems with) but I don't like its layout compared to Google Reader. I subscribe to over 200 blogs and it can be a nightmare trying to keep up with everything when posts are listed by the day they were posted, not by blog title (unless there's a way to change the setting that I haven't found yet).

But I never really considered it as being any more of a problem than that until I read a Problogger post on the subject. As they point out, many people visit blogs by using readers, so will a lack of a viable reader cause a downturn in blog traffic?

I never really look at my analytics, but I checked for March so far, and it turns out that none of the referring sources for my blog visits came from Google Reader. It was mostly tweeted links, Facebook posts via networkedblogs or Google+. A couple of visits came via Google searches but while the analytics tell me that I have subscribers, they don't visit the blog - perhaps they just read the posts in the Reader. So how will those readers access my content after Reader closes?

I like Google, I do, and while I don't miss Google Wave or Feedburner, I will miss Google Reader because of its efficiency and ability to get the job done. Will Feedly be able to take its place? Only time will tell!

What readers, if any, do you use?