The Sharazad Project: Week 15

Trigger warning: ableist language

Welcome back to night twenty four and the end of Ja’far’s sojourn as a truly terrible detective. He’s much better suited to court advocate, if today is any indicator, because not only does his story about the al-Din family prove remarkable enough to win Ja’far’s slave a pardon, it also guarantees the young man a monthly allowance and access to one of the sultan’s own concubines. Given how the slave’s slander of a woman recently led to her violent murder, that seemly hideously inappropriate. I’m very glad we’re done with this entire cycle now.

Actually, spoke too soon. Straight away we’re plunged into a new story, the tale of ‘the tailor, the hunchback, the Jew, the inspector and the Christian’. I am so apprehensive.

This one begins in China. ‘The city of China’, according to this translation, so I’m not sure if they mean a random city in the country of China or a city elsewhere that happens to be called China too. Anyway, living there is a tailor and his wife, both fun-loving types who are coming home after an evening’s entertainment when they encounter a hunchback. I wish I didn’t have to use that word, but he’s not given a name. Hell, he’s not given any dignity either. The couple think he is hilariously ugly and invite him home for dinner, an invitation he accepts. During the meal, the tailor’s wife pushes a large piece of fish into her guest’s mouth and as a cruel joke, orders that he must swallow it without chewing. As she’s holding his jaw shut, he’s given no choice but to obey. Unknown to both, there is a large bone in that piece of fish. It lodges in the poor man’s throat, and he dies.

This story is already awful.

It gets worse, because though the tailor spares a couple of minutes to feel bad about his guest’s untimely death, his wife wastes no time covering up her crime. Covering up the dead man’s body with a silk cloth, she has her husband carry him out of the house. She flutters over the obscured corpse, pretending it is a child sick with smallpox. In this way they reach the house of a Jewish doctor without drawing questions or negative attention. The slave girl who answers the door is given a quarter dinar, told the smallpox story and asked to bring the doctor down for a consultation. As soon as she’s gone the tailor and his wife dump the body at the top of the stairs and leg it.

There is a concerningly unnecessary reference to the doctor’s delight at advance payment. He opens his door, but it’s dark and he stumbles over the corpse. It tumbles downstairs and the doctor panics, believing he’s caused the man’s death. His first priority is getting the body out of the house. His wife suggests they carry it to the roof and from there, drop the dead man into their neighbour’s house. They live next door to an inspector – not a detective inspector, it should be said, he’s in charge of the king’s kitchen and stray animals gather around his place to steal meat. The doctor’s wife expects the body will be dragged off by street dogs.

She expects wrong – the inspector arrives home just after the doctor and his wife drop their burden. By the light of his candle, all the inspector can see is a man’s silhouette and assumes he’s looking at a thief. He proceeds to whack the corpse with a hammer. That probably would have killed him, if he had not already been dead; the intent was definitely there. The inspector then compounds his violence by insulting the dead man. “Wasn’t it enough for you to be a hunchback,” he exclaims, “that you had to become a thief and steal meat and fat?” This man is horrible. Like everyone else, he hoists up the corpse and dumps it elsewhere, this time in an alley on the edge of a marketplace.

By now the night is almost over. The next person to stumble on the unfortunate and much-travelled body is the Christian from the story’s intro, the king’s broker and currently very drunk. He’s en route to the baths. Stopping in the alley to urinate – no public toilets back then, I know, but it’s still disgusting – he sees the shape of a man in the dark and takes him for a thief. He knocks over the corpse with a blow to the neck and shouts for the watchman, which is somewhat counter-intuitive given that he then goes on to throttle the dead man. “He wanted to steal my turban!” is his defence when the watchman runs up. Finding the accused man very definitely dead, the watchman does the sensible thing, ties up the broker and marches him off to see the wali (that is, the local governor). The death sentence is quickly proclaimed.

As the broker stands upon the gallows, the inspector pushes his way through the crowd of observers to confess to the crime. “Is it not enough for me to have killed a Muslim,” he declares, “that I should kill a Christian as well?” He makes it sound like murder bingo. The wali agrees to the switchover, but no sooner has the noose been slipped around the inspector’s neck than the doctor arrives, shouting his own confession. When he ascends the gallows, proceedings are disrupted all over again by the tailor, who gives the true story of the hunchback’s death and takes the doctor’s place.

The executioner is beginning to feel ridiculous.

What none of them know is that the dead man was the king’s fool. When his absence is noted, the king makes enquiries, learning of the man’s sudden death and the farcical drama playing out in consequence. His chamberlain arrives in time to prevent the tailor being hanged. Everybody involved, from the tailor to the wali to the much-abused corpse, are brought back to the palace to repeat the whole story to the king. He shows just how much he cared about his fool’s life by enjoying it all thoroughly and ordering it be written down. He then asks if anyone knows a more remarkable tale.

The broker steps forward to say yes, he does. Next Tuesday, we’ll find out if he’s right.

Review – The Iron Trial

The Iron Trial (Magisterium No.1) – Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Doubleday, 2014

Some children dream of being chosen for magic school, but Callum Hunt knows better. A war between magicians killed his mother and drove his father into a life of deliberate isolation. When the magicians come for him, Call knows what he has to do: fail the test and convince them to let him go home. But that’s not so easy as he thought – and the truth about magic is not nearly as simple. The war is not over. And Call is a part of it, whether he likes that or not.

The Iron Trial is in the magic school sub-genre of children’s fantasy and so will inevitably draw parallels with J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, especially as it centres on another trio of two boys and one girl. It’s obvious this is intentional, because by employing similar tropes Black and Clare quietly invert expectations. Callum is spiky, suspicious and, unusually for the hero of an adventure novel, physically disabled. While it is deeply significant to Call’s character, his disability is not played as tragic backstory or a problem to be solved. His friends Tamara and Aaron are well-rounded and have promising story arcs of their own. The underground setting never really engaged me and I would have liked more focus on the mechanics of magic lessons, but this book offers an interesting twist on a familiar genre and its world has a lot of potential. The next installment, The Copper Gauntlet, comes out later this year.

Review – Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

Orion, 2012

Park does everything he can to avoid being noticed. As the only Asian student in his year, attention generally comes with a bad joke. Eleanor, meanwhile, could not stand out more if she tried. With her outlandish clothes and unmanageable red hair, she’s the subject of stares and whispers from the moment she gets on the bus. When the two are obliged to sit together, it is under protest on both sides. Slowly, in tiny gestures, a friendship grows between them and an understanding that they are both more than what other people see. But there are still so many secrets they don’t know how to share. No one ever said falling in love was safe.

It’s quite difficult to describe this book in a way that doesn’t make it sound generic, but it’s got a spiky, awkward charm and a strong sense of honesty. Neither Eleanor nor Park are the kind of protagonists you generally see leading a romance, something they are both intensely aware of, which is a bit meta. They are the kind of protagonists I’d like to see more of. For my reviews of Rowell’s other work, you can follow the tag below.

The Sharazad Project: Week 14

Trigger warning: racist language

Welcome back to night twenty three and a spontaneous family bonding trip! The Egyptian vizier Shams al-Din, his daughter Sitt al-Husn and his grandson ‘Ajib are going to hunt down Sitt al-Husn’s long-lost husband Hasan, who was abducted by supernatural entities, unwittingly married off to his cousin, re-abducted, abandoned and eventually adopted by an ex-con who runs a cookshop. For anything of that or what follows to make sense, I strongly recommend you read the previous segments of the story, starting with Week 12. I’m actually feeling very hopeful about this part because I was sure Shams al-Din would rush off on his own and instead Sitt al-Husn is getting the chance to take action for herself.

Because DESTINY, they end up in Damascus – or maybe that’s just a logical stopover on an undisclosed route, I don’t know. Accompanied by a heavily armed eunuch, ‘Ajib goes off to explore the city. The people of Damascus prove just as creepy with him as they were with his dad, staring at the adolescent child and actually following him around. Destiny intervenes again, thank goodness, with the eunuch choosing to stop at Hasan’s workplace.

His boss having died some time ago and left him the shop, Hasan has taken over and grown a beard, probably in self-defence against the ogling crowds outside. When he sees his son, he’s taken by the boy’s familiar looks and offers him a dish of sugared pomegranate seeds in such an unbelievably inappropriate way that the correct response is to RUN AWAY. I mean: ‘My master, who has taken possession of my heart and for whom I yearn, would you enter my shop?’ Hell no.

Only this is destiny, you see, and ‘Ajib feels the psychical connection too. “It is as though this cook is a man who has parted from his son,” he suggest blithely to his attendant. The eunuch takes my side, only with more classism and the pointed hefting of his club in Hasan’s direction. Hasan starts crying, ‘Ajib declares his filial love. “You are never going in there,” the eunuch says flatly. Hasan turns on him with some spectacularly racist ‘flattery’ (‘you who are like a chestnut, dark but with a white heart’ UGH UGH UGH). He continues with poetry about how well educated and reliable the eunuch must be, to occupy such a position of trust, and it works. They enter the shop.

Between eating sweetmeats, ‘Ajib explains that he is searching for his lost father. It’s all so sad he starts crying, and Hasan cries for his own lost parents, and the eunuch cries because he’s in this scene. They all keep eating sweets. When his visitors eventually depart, Hasan feels such a sense of connection that he locks up the shop and follows them. He’s spotted and pretends he’s on an urgent errand that just happens to take him in the same direction. The eunuch is unconvinced. “This is what I was afraid of,” he tells ‘Ajib – once you give a mysterious confectioner an inch…’Ajib is embarrassed and angry. Once they reach his family’s tents, he looks back and misinterprets Hasan’s longing stare; furious, he flings a stone, knocking Hasan unconscious.

The text openly acknowledges how sketchy this whole thing looks and when Hasan wakes up he blames himself for acting that way, saying: “I wronged the boy by shutting up my shop and following him, making him think that I was a pervert.” Given how often folk tales brush off hideously creepy behaviour towards children, this is a good surprise.

We only find out now that Hasan’s mother is still alive in Basra – most likely in an appallingly precarious position, having lost her husband and son in rapid succession and under such unfortunate circumstances. Shams al-Din, unaware of the encounter in the cookshop, moves his family on to make enquiries elsewhere. Though they pass through many cities, there is no word until they reach Basra. A meeting with the sultan garners some answers, though they are not all true. He describes Nur al-Din as a beloved friend and valued vizier who died fifteen years ago, shortly after which his son went missing. Notice how there’s no mention of arrest warrants or seized property? Directed to the house of Hasan’s mother, Shams al-Din kisses the threshold and looks around eagerly for traces of his brother.

The widow has taken her son’s loss very hard. Having built a memorial to Hasan inside the house, she barely ever leaves it. She’s crying over it when Shams al-Din comes in, introducing himself and giving her the first word she’s had of her boy in fifteen years. He then brings in ‘Ajib. The newly informed grandmother is so overjoyed that when Shams al-Din suggests she join the family quest, she starts packing straight away. Shams al-Din, who is still a representative of Egypt even when he’s not on the sultan’s business, accepts gifts on his master’s behalf from the sultan of Basra and travels back to Damascus.

Once again ‘Ajib goes out with his servant, who finally gets a name! He is Layiq. ‘Ajib has been feeling bad about hurting Hasan and wants to check on him; the mystical connection is powerful as ever. Even though Hasan came away from the last encounter with a new scar, he is over the moon to see ‘Ajib again and recites some truly inappropriate love poetry, and even though he couldn’t sound more like a creeper, ‘Ajib agrees to stay for more pomegranate sweets on the condition Hasan doesn’t follow him afterwards. So Hasan just stares at him the whole time he eats instead. “Didn’t I tell you that you are an unwelcome lover,” ‘Ajib snaps, “so stop staring at my face.”

Someone call a genealogist, this is painful.

Hasan keeps feeding both his guests until they can’t take another bite and honours the agreement by not following when they depart. Arriving back at the tents, ‘Ajib goes to see his grandmother. She offers him more sweets and he tries them out of politeness; then politeness goes out the window as he rudely compares her work to that of Hasan. She is, understandably, shocked by his lack of manners and looks to Layiq for an explanation.

Night twenty four begins with Layiq defending himself. Not all these nights have particularly gripping cliffhangers but this particular saga is such a mess I can understand why Sharazad’s listeners would be addicted anyway. Accused of spoiling his charge, Layiq fudges facts, pretending they just passed the cookshop in question and did not go in. ‘Ajib won’t let it lie, though, insisting they ate themselves sick on all things sugary. The matter is taken to Shams al-Din. He tests Layiq’s story by commanding him to eat; of course, the slave can’t force the food down and Shams al-Din has him beaten. To make it stop, Layiq tells the whole story. Still stinging at the criticism to her cooking, Hasan’s mother insists the question be settled: Shams al-Din must taste both cook’s sweets and decide which is better.

When Layiq comes to him, Hasan laughs. “By God, this is a dish that nobody can cook properly except for my mother and me,” he remarks, “and she is now in a distant land.” The same realisation hits his mother the moment she tastes his work. Being a true member of the family, she passes out from the shock. As she comes to, it is with frantic certainty. “It has to have been my son, Hasan,” she declares. “No one else can cook it except him, for I taught him the recipe.” I’m finding this whole sub-plot adorable, incidentally.

It gets a whole lot less adorable the second Shams al-Din gets involved. Instead of, I don’t know, popping in for a chat or something normal, he sends twenty armed men to DEMOLISH THE SHOP and tie up Hasan. As justification, Shams al-Din shows the governor of Damascus his letters of permission from the sultan. Hasan is dragged to his uncle’s tent and left there to wonder what the hell was so wrong with his sweets. He’s sure he’s about to be beheaded. Shams al-Din, when they finally meet, does nothing to assuage those fears or in any way explain himself. He has Hasan locked up in a box all the way back to Cairo, allowed out only for one meal a day.

In Cairo things get WORSE. Shams al-Din orders a wooden cross be built and when Hasan asks apprehensively what it’s for, Shams al-Din says, “I will garrotte you on it and then nail you to it, before parading you around the whole city…Because of your ill omened cooking of the pomegranate seeds, for you cooked them without enough pepper.” It seems a tad personal for that. Shams al-Din demands to know what Hasan is thinking. “About superficial minds like yours,” Hasan retorts, “for if you had any intelligence you would not treat me like this.”

Only, this is all part of a plan? A really weird plan. The night before his execution, while Hasan is sleeping in the box, Shams al-Din has it moved to his house and tells his daughter to arrange everything as it was on her wedding night. Here’s where that furniture plan Shams al-Din made so long ago comes in useful. If useful is an appropriate word for these circumstances. Even Hasan’s clothes are artfully scattered about, like they were that night. Sitt al-Husn is told to behave as if her husband has just taken a while in the latrine and insist he comes back to bed. Hasan is then removed, still sleeping, from the wooden box and stripped down to his shirt.

He wakes to find himself in a wedding chamber identical to the one he left behind almost fifteen years ago. Walking through it in bewilderment, he comes to the bed. Sitt al-Husn is playing along with her father’s deception, so it’s hard to know what she feels about this whole situation. As far as she knows, Hasan abandoned her after a single night of wild passion, leaving her to raise their fractious son alone. She welcomes Hasan to bed as if it is still that same night. Weakened and suggestible after his recent experiences, he’s almost convinced that the last decade and half have been a dream, even when he touches his forehead and finds the scar ‘Ajib’s stone left there. He tells Sitt al-Husn all about his treatment at Shams al-Din’s hands, and even as she coaxes him to sleep, he mutters uneasily.

The next morning Shams al-Din comes in and Hasan knows at once it was all real, also he’s in company with a sadist. Shams al-Din brushes all that off. “I only did all this to make sure it was you who slept with my daughter that night,” he says calmly. “For I had never seen you before and could not identify you.” What the hell? HASAN’S MOTHER WAS RIGHT THERE.

Shams al-Din pulls Hasan into an embrace and explains about his quarrel with Nur al-Din. They both cry. ‘Ajib is sent for, and Hasan’s mother too, so three generations of separation can be resolved. Life stories are exchanged, there are a lot of tears, and it’s two days before Shams al-Din goes to the sultan with a summary of recent events. Hasan is sent for and fortunately retains a glib tongue for touchy royalty. Testing Hasan’s knowledge of poetry by asking for verses describing a mole (the facial kind, not the rodent) the sultan is very impressed by the ensuing examples. “How many meanings does the word khal, or ‘mole’, have in Arabic?” is his next question. “Fifty eight,” Hasan replies, “although some say fifty.” There are more questions, including a story about a praying fox that I wish had opened into a proper segue, because why did that fox mimic the praying man?

Anyway, the sultan is entirely satisfied with Hasan and gives him an honoured place at court. Returning home, Hasan tells Sitt al-Husn about the appointment and she is delighted, encouraging his idea to write the sultan some complimentary poetry. The end result is so outrageously flirtatious that the sultan makes him an official bestie right away. The elevation comes with a hefty pay rise. With his skills as a diplomat and his family reunited around him, Hasan lives happily in Cairo until the end of his days.

Remember how the al-Din saga started? There was a murder trial in Baghdad, several appalling miscarriages of justice, and storytelling instead of evidence. Return next week as it concludes and a new tale begins.

Review – The Killing Dance

The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter No.6) – Laurell K. Hamilton

Orbit, 2007

First published in 1997

Anita Blake is used to death. It’s a given when your job is raising zombies. Dating an alpha werewolf and a master vampire at the same time, friends with a hitman and the owner of a deserved reputation for bloody victories, Anita does not expect a quiet life any more, but it’s hard not take it personally when someone hires an assassin to bring her down. Putting her life on the line for the monsters has put her in the firing line yet again – now it’s time for the monsters to return the favour.

If you have not read any of the previous Anita Blake books, be aware there are spoilers for them in this review.

I genuinely like Anita. She’s intensely capable with an iron-clad sense of independence and razor-sharp gallows humour, and I adored every scene she shared with Edward. Her romantic interests, however, tested my patience too far. Richard gets a little more personality in this book  but I don’t like really anything about him, and I’ve loathed Jean-Claude since the first moment he appeared on the page. Both repeatedly seek to dominate Anita, and even though they don’t succeed, her relationships with them are anything but healthy. It says a lot when the hitman nicknamed Death for his ruthless efficiency takes better care of her emotional and physical wellbeing than the men who supposedly love her. For this reason, I probably won’t be continuing with this series any longer.

The Sharazad Project: Week 13

NSFW content

We return to night twenty two and the improbable adventures of Hasan, who got kidnapped by matchmaking spirits and gatecrashed his cousin’s wedding, only he doesn’t know she’s his cousin yet and also the ifrit has scared off her original groom. At this point, after we’ve had several pages of lavish description devoted to her body, we finally find out the bride’s name. She is SITT AL-HUSN.

Not the same Sitt al-Husn who defeated a different ifrit in sorcerous combat, but nevertheless, just the name implies good things.

Her plan – made without the nudging of an ifrit or jinniya, I might add – was to insist on an open marriage. That is, be married to the unfortunate groom selected by the vengeful sultan, but sleep with Hasan instead. Her elderly attendant is obviously on board with that, because when she spots Hasan in an alcove of the bridal chamber, her response is, “You well-made man, rise up and take what God has entrusted to you.” I am not making this up.

A few minutes later, Sitt al-Husn finds the man of her choice waiting in her bridal chamber and the other one nowhere to be seen. Life is good! Hasan announces he’s her real husband and the groom was hired as part of a terrible joke. Which means they can skip to sex, a development they greet with equal enthusiasm. There’s a lengthy paragraph detailing their undressing, followed by some truly awful euphemisms for Sitt al-Husn’s virginity, but the upshot is a night of frenzied passion. Eventually they fall asleep in each other’s arms. A poetical interlude follows: ‘You who blame the lovers for their love/ Have you the power to cure the sick at heart?’

I have a terrible suspicion that the ifrit and jinniya were watching, because afterwards they snatch Hasan, half-naked, out of the bed to take him home. It would seem God disapproves of this meddling because on the journey back an angel throws a shooting star and incinerates the ifrit on the spot. The jinniya is so panicked she dumps Hasan outside the gates of Damascus before flying for her life. In the morning, a crowd gathers to stare at the indecently underdressed stranger lying asleep on the ground. “How lucky was the one with whom this fellow spent the night,” they mutter to each other, assuming he got drunk, got lucky and got locked outside the city gates. The wind billows up his shirt, exposing everything underneath, and everyone ogles shamelessly. SERIOUSLY, THEY DO. The wind is probably the ifrit’s ghost or something.

Hasan wakes up to another episode of My Life is Bizarre and asks, with what dignity he can muster, what is going on. No one can answer that. Asked where he was last night, he says Cairo. “You’ve been eating hashish,” someone says. “You’re clearly mad,” someone else adds. When he insists upon his story the crowd collectively agrees upon option B and follow curiously as Hasan stalks away into the city, looking for clothes. At random he enters the cookshop of a reformed thief. The man is notorious locally for his violent temper and despite his reformation, people are still scared; the crowd melts away the moment Hasan sets foot inside the shop. I have to quote the next section because I have trouble believing I’m reading it.

‘The cook, looking at Hasan’s grace and beauty, felt affection for him enter his heart. “Where have you come from, young man?” he said. “Tell me your story, for you have become dearer to me than my life.”‘


Hasan explains the entire mess and the cook, being besotted, believes every word. He advises Hasan keep it a secret – a bit late, admittedly, but the crowd only got a few details before they decided he was mentally unstable so imagine how they’d handle the bit where he was abducted by an ifrit. The cook adopts Hasan on the spot, gives him some clothes and makes him cashier in the shop.

So that’s his morning after settled, what about Sitt al-Husn’s? She wakes alone and is waiting, puzzled, for him to return when her father arrives. He’s so humiliated by the enforced marriage that he plans to kill his daughter if she let the servant touch her, thereby bumping himself up the Worst Father Ever shortlist. When Sitt al-Husn comes dancing out of her chamber, glowing from a fantastic wedding night, he tries to slut shame her and she just smiles, assuming he knows about the joke Hasan explained…which was not actually a joke, just something the ifrit made up and left Sitt al-Husn to deal with. She says she’s pregnant, though how she could know so fast is a mystery, and her father calls her a harlot before going off to look for the original groom. He finds the poor man still holed up in the latrine. The groom mistakes him for the ifrit. When he realises he’s talking to the man who would have been his father-in-law, he bewails his misfortune in being betrothed to a lover of ifrits.

Nighty twenty three opens with more details of the groom’s hellish night being revealed to the increasingly baffled vizier. Once freed from the latrine, he runs off to tell the sultan and Shams al-Din goes back to his daughter. She patiently goes through her story again, showing her husband’s clothes still strewn about. Shams al-Din goes thoughtful when he feels the turban’s fine fabric; unravelling it, he finds a purse of money and a contract of sale bearing his dead brother’s name. It’s all too much – he faints away on the floor.

When he reawakens, it is with great excitement, because destiny. He tells Sitt al-Husn her husband’s real identity, and claims the thousand dinars in the purse as her dowry. Next, he finds Nur al-Din’s letter. It makes such an amazing story that when the sultan is told, he forgets all about his wrath and has everything written down.

Days pass. Hasan does not return; his things are locked up in his uncle’s room, along with a map of the house, for reasons that are not as yet clear. In time Sitt al-Husn gives birth to a beautiful baby boy, who is named ‘Ajib and grows at a truly spectacular rate. At the end of a month he’s the size of a one-year-old. At the age of seven he’s sent to school, and is something of a bully with the other children; after a few years of this, their monitor eventually retaliates by telling the children to encircle him and demand he gives both his parents’ names, or be pronounced a bastard. ‘Ajib blithely declares his father to be Shams al-Din. The children, much better informed of court gossip, laugh and tell him the real story, or as much as they know of it. “You won’t be able to compare yourself with the other boys in this school,” they say, “unless you find out who your father is, for otherwise they will take you for a bastard.”

‘Ajib goes straight to his mother but is crying too hard to speak. When he finally gets the question out, she tries the same lie he’s believed for so long. ‘Ajib is wrought up enough to threaten suicide if he doesn’t get the truth. Sitt al-Husn answers with poetry, as you…do? “They stirred up longing in my heart and left./ Those whom I love have now gone far away,” she sighs. “They left and with them my patience has gone./ After this loss, patience is hard to find.” She cries. ‘Ajib cries. Sham al-Din comes in, hears the story and he starts crying too. Unlike the other two, though, he has the power to change things and makes use of it now. By sobbing strategically in front of the sultan, he gets permission not only to go hunting for Hasan but to have written instructions sent all over the land, giving him the authority to drag his nephew away from wherever he happens to be.

Next Tuesday – what’s happening in Damascus? Is anyone safe from Hasan’s lethal charm, particularly Hasan himself? The al-Din soap opera continues!

An Update of Crowns and Clocks

In a somewhat belated announcement, because of late my relationship with clocks and calendars is not the best it has ever been, Ticonderoga has released the table of contents for their new anthology Hear Me Roar and my story ‘Blueblood’ has made it in! The theme is female heroism, a subject that is not only one of my favourite things to read about but is also wonderfully broad as a starting point. For me it meant a fairy tale retelling I’ve been thinking about for a long time, about lies and love and the unique dysfunctionality of a crumbling royal family.

Now that Cranky Ladies of History is abroad in the world, FableCroft is running a series of articles to accompany the stories. Mine is of course about Elizabeth I, and my post is shameless fangirling over one my all-time favourite monarchs, plus history in general.

Actually it feels like my life has been rather taken over by royalty lately, both historical and fictional, because over the past month I’ve been working through all five seasons of the BBC TV show Merlin. I never thought I’d like it much – the Arthurian legend is not my go-to epic – but for a show that never decided on the age of its target audience, veering between childish slapstick and dark maneuvering, it’s surprisingly addictive and has far better actors than many of the storylines deserve. As I recently watched the last episode and am currently wallowing in fanfiction, it’s probably only a matter of time before I post some proper thoughts about it.