Reading: Subversive by Colleen Cowley

Title: Subversive
Author: Colleen Cowley

Genre: Gaslamp Fantasy
Format: Print

Recommended: Yes

First book in the Clandestine Magic trilogy, this book follows Beatrix as she supports her sister Lydia, financially and emotionally, as she attempts to win the presidency of the Women’s League for the Prohibition of Magic. All magic users (wizards) and politicians are men in this alternate history, and the way wizards create spells is by transferring the energy from leaves with a combination of magical commands.

We join Beatrix the day Peter Blackwell, childhood rival and sole wizard to come from their hometown, arrives and compels her to become his assistant. While Beatrix fears Peter was sent on behalf of the government to sabotage her sister’s future, what she discovers is far more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.

I really enjoyed this story! It has an inventive magic system that lays the groundwork for political intrigue and women’s equality in this alternate reality. There were some troubling use of compulsion against the heroine, but since the characters also struggled with the unintended compulsion, I didn’t see it as a reason to put the book down. The romance was a struggle for me due to the compulsion… but I enjoyed the way Cowley flipped the script by having the unrequited person be male rather than female.

For writers, read this book to learn about how to write a fantasy where magic is not the primary plot driver. This book reads like a political thriller where magic is the weapon rather than machinery. The main characters feel emotionally real by the end of the story, but the true driver the consequences of transferring leaf energy into magic, and just who has access to that sort of magic.

I also really appreciated the Cowley included a note to readers to visit her website if they wanted to avoid any triggering content. She doesn’t give away spoilers, but she does let you know about the compulsion I noted above, and other possibly traumatic events. I wish the cover art was a little more impressive, though… I feel like it distracts from the fine writing hidden between the covers.

Touring the Historical Fiction World

Dear Reader,

I hope your holiday season is going well! Those of you who entered the giveaway from last week, you should have received an email with the discount codes. Have you had a chance to listen to my half hour interview on Page Readers? It was a blast, and I’m so glad Nanci had me on the show.

This week, I want to talk about Charlie Courtland’s great idea to take a tour of the subgenres that are popping into historical fiction. The goal of the “tour” is to read six subgenres of historical fiction. Charlie has suggested…

  • Historical Mystery
  • Historical Horror
  • Historical Romance
  • Historical Young Adult
  • Historical Plantation
  • Historical Thriller
  • Historical GLBT
  • Historical Fantasy
  • Historical Western
  • Historical Paranormal
  • Historical True Crime

Given that I am part of the group of authors who are playing with the historical fiction norms, I love this idea. I’ve written in the historical romance and historical gothic-thriller genres. I have no idea what my next genre is going to be, except that it will be historical. This will be a lot of fun!

So with the above genres in mind, what books do you think I should read? I think I’m going to start with Maids of Misfortune. I want to read books by authors I’ve never read before and in genres I’m not familiar with, which means I can’t read Lauren Willig (romance), Philippa Gregory (romance), Amanda Quick (paranormal), Deanna Raybourn (mystery/plantation), Mary Jo Putney (fantasy).

What’s Next?

I’m not happy with the sales for Catching the Rose, so I’m having an editor look at it to see where I can improve the story. I wrote it over seven years ago, meaning I don’t know what to do with it without outside help. I’m looking forward to the results from the editor, especially because the editor, Wulfshado, needs help with finances. This is a good way for both of us to get what we need.

I’m hoping to get the new content out for Catching the Rose in the next couple of months. I’m also working on the short story anthology Love or Lack Thereof; my awesome editor Cindy Sherwood has agreed to help me with that so I can get it out in time for Valentine’s Day.

I’m looking forward to hearing reviews from the giveaway. They are two very different writing styles, but I hope people enjoy them.



Empty Nest Syndrome

Dear Reader,

Reviews for Catching the Rose and Haunting Miss Trentwood are positive, which I’m very happy about. And they aren’t just raving, glowing reviews which other readers sometimes doubt. All the reviews seem thoughtful. I couldn’t ask for more.

Or could I?

When I finish writing a new book, go through the edits, get it to production, I take a step back, admire my handiwork, and fall into a mini-depression.

Ladies and gentlemen, I suffer from empty nest syndrome. I want my babies back.

The nice thing about books not actually being children is that no matter how old I am, whatever my financial or romantic situation, I can make another. A stronger, faster, better one. And I can have as many as I want.

At least, I could if I weren’t also paralyzed by the fact that people are enjoying my work. I want to write, but I am feeling frustrated that the characters haven’t introduced themselves to me yet. And now I have the added pressure of making sure the next book doesn’t suck worse than a sophomore slump. What would that be, anyway, since it would be my third book? A junior jumble?

But hey, I don’t want to whine about how I don’t know my next book. Because that’s not entirely true. I do know I’m going to write a book that uses the research I did for breach of promise that didn’t make it into Haunting Miss Trentwood, which is, oh, I don’t know, all of it.

I also want to release an anthology of short stories, but the problem is that short stories are difficult! I like setting, building up the relationship with the characters. Everything is condensed in a short story. I tend to write contemporary short stories, but I want to keep to my brand and write quirky historical fictions in the short story format.

For whatever reason, I’m feeling 1930s America, which brings up another problem: the last time I studied this era I was in 8th grade. Do I want to do enough research to convert my short stories to fit that era? Or should I use my existing research and write another Victorian historical novel?

I have no idea. Performance anxiety for the fail.

I think rather than dealing with it, I’ll pull an ostrich move and shove my head in the deep sands of a good book. Can you help me out? What are some excellent books you’ve picked up lately?

Best, Belinda

P.S. It’s Monday, which means you should visit the blog to check out the Monday “Meet an Author” blog hop in the sidebar of Worderella Writes.