‘A Handful of Knaves’ anthology — a quick announcement

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Rogues, thieves, pirates and ne’er-do-wells abound in speculative fiction. Sometimes heroic, sometimes villainous, often somewhere in between, rogues are as likely to steal one’s heart as one’s purse, and show little remorse while helping themselves to either.

So why do we love them? Because they’re imperfect, fallible, and even vulnerable under that carefully-maintained, world-weary exterior.

Rogues represent something we rarely see in our daily lives: ordinary people prepared to take on the “powers that be” by way of guile and subterfuge. But are they only in it for the loot, or are they – deep down – romantic at heart?

Above is the summary from the call for submissions for the A Handful of Knaves anthology, which is being published by the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild in the second half of 2018. And I’m very excited to announce that one of my short stories, ‘The Best Heist Yet’, has been picked for inclusion. You can see the full list of authors and story titles here.

I’m very excited to be working with the CSFG on this project, and will keep you in the loop as new information comes to hand.

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Me, keeping my cool about this announcement. (Image belongs to Disney etc etc.)

And now, returning you to your regularly scheduled long weekend (or not)…

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Review: ‘Heart of Brass’ by Felicity Banks

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Emmeline Muchamore is a well-bred young lady hiding explosive family secrets. She needs to marry well, and quickly, in order to keep her family respectable. But when her brass heart malfunctions, she makes a desperate choice to steal the parts she needs to repair it and survive.

She is unable to explain her actions without revealing she has a steam-powered heart, so she is arrested for theft and transported to Victoria, Australia — right in the midst of the Gold Rush.

Now that she’s escaped the bounds of high society, iron manacles cannot hold her for long.

The only metal that really matters is gold.

I nabbed this when I was at Conflux last month, partly because it’s Australian-set steampunk by a Canberra author but mostly because it’s a seriously beautiful-looking paperback. (Yes, I am that shallow!) Happily, Heart of Brass was worth the gamble.

In the space of a couple-hundred pages, we get to see Emmeline go from proper society lady who conforms to (most) social expectations while chaffing at the restrictions they impose to convict and criminal rebelling against an unfair system. For the most part, her transition seems entirely natural, although there’s one particular incident that did have me raising my eyebrows a little — I just wasn’t convinced that such a bright young lady would do something so spontaneous and poorly thought out. Maybe it was that colonial influence.

I loved seeing all the steampunk elements in what could otherwise be considered historical fiction — everything from practical devices to silly fashion (wheels for shoes?! I’m so clumsy I’d break something for sure). The elements are well-integrated into the world rather than seeming strapped on. There’s also an element of magic; metals have different properties that influence the world around them in one way or another. It’s a little bit Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn in that regard, without seeming derivative.

Basically, this combination made me a happy, happy girl.

On the romance front, there isn’t much to speak of — Emmeline is attracted to different characters, but it would go very much against her character to see her shack up with someone early on. Still, it was obvious to me that she was bisexual from fairly early in the story, even though she doesn’t seem to realise it. I loved that element too.

In terms of what I didn’t love, there was really only one thing — this book is kinda short. I read it in paperback, and although I knew there was bonus material at the back, I didn’t expect that bonus material to be almost 100 pages. So when I got to the end of the story, I felt a bit like I’d had the rug pulled out from under me. I wanted moooooooore. Obviously this is a good thing, as I will definitely be buying the sequel. I want more Emmeline, Matilda and Patrick.

As for that bonus material, it’s a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story that tells the tale of one of the bit characters in Heart of Brass, the real-life champion of the Eureka Stockade, Peter Lalor. Although I was disappointed it didn’t show me more of the main characters’ and their story, I did spend a fun hour or so following up all the different story options and reading the Easter Eggs.

I’d definitely recommend Felicity Banks. She’s one to watch. (Also, as a side note, this is the most professionally produced book by a small press that I’ve ever seen. Odyssey Books definitely have game!)

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Four stars