Monday, 2 November 2015

Book Review: Raining Embers by Jessica Dall (A 2012 NaNo Novel)

How's everyone faring during the second day of NaNo? Hopefully you're still buzzing with the thrill of your fast growing story (and maybe a fair amount of caffeine as well). If you're starting to flag, don't worry, focus on the end result. In twenty nine days you'll have a story. Don't believe me? Well, let's take a look at a book that's out tomorrow and was written during NaNoWriMo.

Raining Embers is the first book in the Order and Chaos series by Jessica Dall. It introduces us to Palmer Tash, a young acolyte who has a strange ability to hear things, and Brier, the daughter of a librarian who is often forced to take to her room with a mysterious illness. When they are both kidnapped one night they learn that they are not quite what they think they are; they are in fact reincarnations of Order and Chaos, and there are people who intend to use them for their own nefarious plot.

When Jessica asked me if I would be interested in reviewing Raining Embers I was thrilled. I love reading a good book and it's especially interesting to read one which was written during NaNo. I'm one of those NaNo participants who writes away diligently for a month, then puts the file away and rarely looks at it again (unless it's to provide some entertainment in the current NaNoisms thread on the forums). I'm in awe of those people who plug away at their work, tidy it up and turn it into something presentable.

There's something quite inspirational about it because you can't help but remember that your word vomit was probably quite similar at one point to all those published books out there. And it serves as a reminder that if you work at it, you can get your story published.

As you can see, this topic makes me rather philosophical.

I have to admit, I did kind of judge this book by its cover. I took a look at it and thought, 'that looks like something I'd pick up'. The premise intrigued me as well. I've read fantasy stories before where people suddenly find they have new powers but I don't remember reading one where the powers are due to characters being reincarnated deities.

I wasn't disappointed. I enjoyed the story and found it easy to read, despite the setting being different from what I was expecting. I'm used to fantasy stories which take place in a pseudo-medieval society, so the setting for this one being routed in Italy was a pleasant change, though it took me a while to get used to.

The characters were interesting. Palmer was easily my favourite. I felt sorry for him in the beginning, an orphan being pushed into a role he didn't particularly want. He's the classic reluctant hero. On the other hand Brier annoyed me at first, though I suspect that was intentional. She's a wealthy young woman used to a privileged lifestyle; once she was taken out of her comfort zone she really grew on me. There's a point in the book where she has to work in service to survive and her hands form callouses and at that point I realised I actually really liked her and felt for her.

I would've liked to know a little more about their mysterious illnesses/disabilities before they found out about their powers. Brier had to take to her rooms when 'the rot' struck her and I'm curious about how that affected the people around her. I also wanted to know more about the world in which the story was set because it felt as though it was very rich and well-planned but we only saw a tiny piece of it. I often complain about not seeing enough of a world, either because it's not visualised well enough, or because it is visualised well and I want more. In this case it was the latter; it was such a unique world that I wanted more.

I'm looking forward to the remaining books in the series being published so that I can find out more about what Brier and Palmer are going to have to deal with.

In the meantime, I spoke to Jessica about her experiences with NaNo.

1. You wrote this book during NaNo 2012, how did you come to do NaNo for the first time?

It was Sophomore year of college, and I was planning on going to a Halloween party with some friends. When I asked another friend if she wanted to come with us, she said something along the lines of, "Sure, but I'll need to leave by 11:30 to go to a NaNoKickoff party." That lead to my saying, "What's NaNo?" and being introduced to the craziness that is NaNoWriMo. I had written a novel in High School, and started a number of others since then, but I'd been jumping so much that I hadn't finished anything in a few years. I figured NaNo sounded like a great excuse to try to throw caution to the wind and actually finish something again, so November 1st I signed up, and I've been a die-hard WriMo ever since.

2. In your Acknowledgements you mention a trip to Italy for research, how did you prepare to write this book? Are you a 'planner' or a 'pantser'?

I'm definitely a pantser, as far as first drafts go. I might scribble down a few ideas/have some idea of where a story might go when I sit down, but I've always found over-planning kills that "rush" I get when writing. Instead, my motto(s) tend to be "write until it makes sense" and "you can fix it in editing." Of course, after I churned out a first draft during NaNo '12 I had a lot of work to do to make everything work. I was lucky enough to go on a family trip to Italy while I was working on edits, which allowed me to really soak in the architecture/history (I now have a hard drive full of pictures that I use for when I need to describe new places in the rest of the series). I also ended up doing a lot of research into the Renaissance in general. I was interested in getting out of the "medieval England" setting that's been so popular in historical fantasy, and all the change happening in the Renaissance has given me plenty to work with in my world building. 

3. You've continued to participate in, and win, NaNo each year since 2008, what is it that brings you back to NaNo year after year?

The first few years, I think I really needed the motivation to get things written and to seriously focus on my writing. Since then, it's entirely been the community. There are so many wonderful, encouraging people on the forums, and it is a great place to discusswriterly things when I start to feel bad about making non-writers (read: my husband 99% of the time) hear about plot and character ideas. 

4. Do you have any memorable stories to share from November the year your wrote Raining Embers? Any near disasters? Interesting NaNoisms? Moments when the plot went completely the opposite way to what you were expecting?

I mostly remember getting about halfway through and going "Oh no, I this book is going to be much too short" since I was reaching the point where they were going to end up in [the last place they are for the book] and I wasn't sure how much more story I really had after that point. The good thing, though, is that it was NaNo, so I figured I'd finish what I had and then go back and see what could be done. I ended up having way more than I planned, and that is now the last third or so of the book. The only other problem tied to NaNo was probably that I hadn't picked names for a lot of characters before started, and that meant that I ended up with two characters with rather similar names (one of the characters is still named Cerise and another, at one point, was named Cesare). When I got to editing, I realized just how terrible an idea that was since when trying to read you really had to focus on which was which (when they shared 5 out of 6 letters of their name in rather similar orders).

5. What are your top tips for someone participating in NaNo this year?

My top tip is probably just keep typing. NaNo is about not letting yourself second guess where your story is going or if you're writing "correctly." Editing fixes any multitude of writing sins, but it can't help an empty page. Other than that, I'd say take care of yourself. It's a lot to write 50,000 words in one month. If you find you aren't going to be able to do it because of a family emergency or some other issue, cut yourself some slack. You can always set your own goal, even if you don't hit the 50,000 mark, and really, any word count you have at the end of November is more than you started with, be that 5,000 words or 500,000. 

Raining Embers by Jessica Dall is released tomorrow by Red Adept Publishing.

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