Book review: Birdwing

Birdwing, by Rafe Martin

Have you ever read that Grimm’s fairy tale, about the girl with the six brothers who get turned into swans? In order to free them from the spell, the sister has to weave six shirts out of stinging nettles without speaking a word. By the time she’s finishing the sixth one, through a long series of unfortunate events, she’s going to be burned at the stake as a witch. But the swans come at the last minute, and she throws the shirts on them, turning them human again. All but the youngest brother, because she didn’t have time to finish one sleeve, so he still has one arm that’s a wing.

Did you ever wonder what happened to him? Apparently I’m not the only one, because Rafe Martin wrote a book about him.

It’s a pretty good book, as fairytale retellings go. Ardwin is treated as an oddball in his castle, and his wing gets him in trouble as it knocks things over. But it gives him the ability to hear animals speak, which comes in handy quite often.

Enter some intrigue with a neighboring evil king wanting Ardwin to marry his daughter, and an accompanying bribe in the shape of a magical mechanical arm to replace his wing. But Ardwin just wants to be a swan again, so he takes off north to the swan nesting grounds. But he finds out that what he thinks he wants and what he truly needs are two different things.

The book entertains and moves along at a pretty good pace, but my attention wavered, because Ardwin’s inner journey completed before the climax of the plot. The plot’s climax felt tacked on and everything resolved too quickly, smacking of deus ex machina. There was also a mild implied bed scene that I thought was unnecessary in a juvenile fiction book. (Couldn’t it have been a kissing scene instead? I mean really, in a juvenile fiction book, it amounts to the same thing.)

Other than that, it was a fun read, and it was nice to see a look at what might have happened to that last kid who was stuck with a wing.

More values

Messed around with my fox some more this evening. I roughed in the shapes of the snow-covered branches, and got her face more or less working. Still messing with the eyes. I’m working from a photo reference, and foxes have creepily human eyes. With slit pupils, like a cat’s. I’ll go over this with a layer of color once I’m satisfied with my monochrome layer, almost like a real painting.

Although watching Sam Burley post his step by step progress of painting this gorgeous dragon, I have a pining for some oil paints and a canvas. Then I look at my small children and lack of workspace, and imagine what would happen if they got into a mass of oil paints.

I shall stick to digital for now. :-p

Winter fox in progress

It’s occurred to me that I haven’t actually finished any pics since September. So I’m gonna draw my three-tailed fox, Dusk, all curled up in the snow with pine branches and stuff. All Christmasy-like.

Anyway, here’s the sketch …

…and here’s the grayscale rough.

Working out the composition still, but I think I have an idea of how I want it to go.

The hydra defense

A while ago, Sarah Sawyer had a feature on her blog about the Balaur, a mythical creature like a dragon, sometimes described as a hydra.

Anyway, it got me thinking about hydras, and what they might have been. If you work from the assumption that all dragon myths came from human encounters with dinosaurs, you can come up with some pretty wild stuff.

For instance, if you came up against a bunch of apatosaurs, and all you saw was their long, snaky necks, you would think it was one beast with a bunch of heads.

But what if apatosaurs actually defended themselves this way? One dino gives a yell and all of them bunch up and start biting and striking at the enemy, all the heads and necks moving at once. The predator couldn’t watch all the heads at once, and the apatosaurs could take chunks out of him until they drove him off.

In hydra myths, they talk about how if you kill one head, two more spring up in its place and the beast is maddened. Now think how that might apply to a herd of apatosaurs defending themselves. Herd animals don’t like to see a member of their herd die.

Of course, you chop enough heads, and you’ll kill the entire herd. It’s no wonder the poor things are extinct–if you were a hero, you would slaughter entire family groups of the things.

I’m becoming a real tree-hugger when it comes to dinosaurs.

Palace of Laughter – book review

The Palace of Laughter, by Jon Berkeley.

I picked up this little book at random at the library. I’ve had such small luck in getting good book recommendations when it comes to juvie fiction that I’ve started grabbing random titles off the shelf, if they look vaguely interesting. I’ve gotten some real lemons.

Palace of Laughter was not a lemon.

It was actually a pleasant surprise, because it was well-written and drew me in from the first page.

It’s about a boy who is an orphan, and watches a strange circus come to town. He meets a talking tiger, which makes him visit the circus. There the boy, Miles, meets a young girl who calls herself Little, who turns out to be an angel who is trying to get back to the sky realm. But she’s also trying to rescue another angel who was captured by the circus, so Miles and the girl (and the tiger) go on a road trip to find him.

Along the way they meet oddball minor characters, like the lady who lives in a tree house, or the crazy old blind man who adores apple jelly. The bad guys in charge of the circus are bad without being over-the-top scary, as in some books I’ve seen. The ending left me satisfied, but curious about further adventures with these characters.

Overall, this was a fun, light-hearted romp, just the way I like my juvie fiction. The bad guys were scary enough to give me a delicious shiver, but not, say, to the point of Voldemort where he makes your skin crawl in revulsion. The creature called the Null has some interesting questions as to his origin, and he was really the scariest part.

The second book is called The Tiger’s Egg, and I’m going to pick it up next time I’m at the library.

A few sketches

I sat down and had my son tell me what to draw. First, he wanted a house.

Then I drew a dragon flying. My daughter kept asking for a dragonfly, so that’s why there’s a dragonfly in the bottom corner.

Then I made my son watch the screen while I sketched him. It came out a bit funky because there’s this nasty thing called perspective that keeps throwing me off, and I was slightly below him.

But he was amused.

All heroes are superheroes

My husband has been playing that MMO of DC Universe, where you make a superhero and fight bad guys alongside Superman, Batman and those other guys.

As I was watching him plug his fantasy universe characters into spandex suits and give them capes and masks, I remarked that there’s very little difference between superheroes and fantasy heroes. My husband replied that sure, they’re all the same thing.

Upon thinking about this a little harder, and comparing, say, Gandalf to Pyro of X-men, there’s little difference except methods and costumes. If Pyro wore a cloak and conjured his fire, he’d be just another fire wizard.

Can you imagine Lord of the Rings recast into a superhero story? Gandalf the pyro, Aragorn the President in Disguise with a Magic Sword, Boromir the Hulk, Legolas of the plant powers (and probably be able to fly), and Gimli would be like The Thing.

The Hobbits would be the only humans with no powers, but the Ring would be the Almighty Tech Gadget with the power to enslave minds. It was made by the Dark Eye, an evil technomancer (is that word kosher in the superhero realm?) in a dark techno tower. The Hobbits would have to sneak the Ring Device into the Dark Eye’s mighty lair and destroy it using the Dark Eye’s own machines.

That actually sounds like a whole lotta fun. 😀

Dragon species

Toying with the idea of a dragon world, so I’d need different kinds of dragons to occupy different ecological niches. Not everything on the world would be a dragon, of course–there has to be something else for dragons to eat–but the dragons would be the sentient race.

Also trying to figure out how to diagram their world, seeing as it’s actually two worlds joined like Siamese twins.

Go Teen Writers

In my blog reading this morning, I was introduced to a blog called Go Teen Writers. She has a blog for teens who are writing and would like to get better at it, maybe even get published someday. I thought I’d drop a link on here, since I know some people will be interested.

Heck, I’m going to hang out there later and read all her writing tips.