Tag Archives: reviews

Squeeing Over Supergirl: Episode Three

David McDonald and Tehani Wessely have been squeeing about the new Supergirl television show for months, so they decided to take time each week to discuss the new episodes as they air. They may occasionally rope in their friends to get excited too.

Supergirl – Episode 3, “Fight or Flight”


DAVID: Three episodes in and I am still really enjoying Supergirl, but it is clear that they are going the “monster-of-the-week” route which definitely has its weaknesses. I thought the idea of the villain being one who saw Supergirl as a way of getting at Superman was a good one, as was his back story, it’s just a shame that he looked like a cut rate Iron Man. It will be interesting to see where the show goes from here, because there is only so long that this style works before it gets repetitive, but the good news is that lots of shows that have started out like this have matured and developed, and been very successful—Smallville and Buffy are both examples. Hopefully we see more of an emphasis on season long story and character arcs as it goes on.

TEHANI: I don’t really mind the monster-of-the-week just so long as we continue to also get Kara growing into her role as Supergirl, Alex being badass, and lots of lovely team byplay and Cat Grant truisms. Although Reactron really was an Iron Man rip off, you’re definitely right there!

DAVID: We also saw a ramping up of the love triangle and I am definitely Team Winslow—for the simple reason I always go for the underdog, and he is definitely overshadowed by James! However, he hit on the winning strategy of not trying to hold Kara back, but instead supporting her in her decision to do the whole hero thing. I am calling something early, though, I am tipping that we will see Maxwell Lord as another love interest. There was some good development of James with his confession that his calling Superman was about him, not her, and his dependence on the Man of Steel. Superman casts a long shadow.

Team Win

TEHANI: You and I are on different sides of this one—Team James here! And nopeity nope nope to Lord as love interest. Not a chance there, although he and Cat Grant are another story…

DAVID: How about a friendly wager? I think they are setting him up for it, he is too pretty for a start! And, it would be a contrast with the “good” guys in her life—similar to one of the key romantic pairings in Smallville.

TEHANI: I’ll take that bet!

DAVID: Speaking of Cat, her interview raised the interesting point of the difference in questions men and women get. I can’t imagine Superman being asked when he was starting a family. That’s one of the strengths of this show, I think, the way it contrasts the way different genders are treated.

TEHANI: Isn’t the underpinning commentary WONDERFUL? It’s not always subtle, but it does shine a light on so many things. I also like the lovely little pop culture references—sure, they may date, but they make the show feel super modern, which is great for NOW. I do like that there’s some fallout from the interview, in that Kara realises how what she says can be taken out of context.


DAVID: The were a lot of mentions of Superman in this episode, but I think it makes sense that Kara would constantly be measured against him. He is obviously an established hero in this universe, and the moment she started wearing the “S” people would be comparing them. This is a fairly standard theme in the comics/other spin offs as well, where Supergirl tries to establish herself as a hero in her own right, not just as Superman’s cousin. Even the theme of Superman always wanting to rescue her, or being overprotective, is quite common and a source of tension between them—albeit usually minor. The show is walking a fine line here between acknowledging their relationship and turning this into a show about Superman, and I think they are getting it mostly right. And, I did love the IM conversation!

TEHANI: I’m interested by how they are dealing with the Superman stuff. I’ve read some really great team-up stuff with Superman and Supergirl, and while I don’t think we’ll get that in this show, I do like that he’s a part of Kara’s story. I think it’s important to always keep in mind who the actual audience for the program is—we’re talking about appealing to the teen demographic, mostly. Just as for many of them, life is about figuring out how they work and who they are out from under the shadow of their families, Kara is doing the same thing, except that her family is Superman. Well, it’s Alex and the DEO as well, to a point, but that’s not quite the same.

DOEDAVID: I am not sure why Kara is taking orders from DEO about who she is allowed to take on, and Wynn’s control room should give her some more independence. Anyone familiar with the other versions of the mythos will know where they are going with Hank’s glowing eyes, but it is good to see his and Alex’s working relationship being explored.

TEHANI: I think I get why Kara is listening to the DEO. Partly it’s because of Alex, but I reckon mostly it’s because for all her talk about standing on her own two feet, it’s reassuring for her to have backup. She appreciates the support, even when she feels like it chafes, but you’ll notice how quickly she will take matters into her own hands if she disagrees, even this early on…

I don’t know what the deal is with Hank—bad fan, Tehani! But I have resisted looking it up, because I’m enjoying the not-knowing, so don’t tell me :) Also, I had no idea Lucy Lane was a canon character. I totally want she and Kara to become BFFs and sit around comparing Jimmy stories…

What did you think about James and Kara letting slip to Wynn about Superman’s secret identity? They really are rubbish at keeping secrets!


DAVID: I have to admit that I actually did laugh at loud at that moment. I mean, it really is terribly bad of them, but it was pretty funny. Not sure Superman would be thrilled, though!

TEHANI: And can I just add how absolutely adorkable the last scene between the sisters was? I was in fits of giggles watching it.

Kara: …I will melt your face.
Alex: I hope you get fat.
Kara: Not on THIS planet…

Previously, in “Squeeing over Supergirl”…

Episode 1, “Pilot”
Episode 2, “Stronger Together”

Squeeing Over Supergirl: Episode Two

David McDonald and Tehani Wessely have been squeeing about the new Supergirl television show for months, so they decided to take time each week to discuss the new episodes as they air. They may occasionally rope in their friends to get excited too.

Supergirl – Episode 2 (“Stronger Together”)

TEHANI: Well, I’m going to admit it now, but I was a bit worried that I’d overinflated my hopes for this show in the waiting period since the first episode was “leaked”. I had wondered if it really was going to be as good as I hoped, based on that first amazing and intense 45 minutes, and would the showrunners really and truly commit to the lovely standup “it’s awesome to be a girl” message? So it was with a little trepidation I came to episode two. I need not have worried. “Stronger Together” was just as great to watch, with a whole bunch more of the wonderful, female-centric storytelling the first episode set up. Yay!

“It’s not because you’re a woman, Ms Danvers.” – Director Henshaw

The boys

DAVID: I was relieved that the second episode wasn’t a let down, too! It was a little cheesy in parts, but that is part of what they are going for—this is not the grimdark superhero story we have so much of. They have introduced a promising story arc and some good villains, we are seeing some great character development and, most importantly, there is still such a sense of fun about it. Kara’s powers aren’t a burden on her, she isn’t an unwilling hero. She wants to help people, and she enjoys her powers the way that you’d think most people would. Who wouldn’t love being able to fly and wouldn’t love dodging missiles and stuff? I am a bit over the whole mopey superhero who wishes that they could just be normal thing.

TEHANI: There is so much great critical commentary in this show. The way the media is so fickle, turning quickly on Supergirl when she’s messing things up (and heck, yes she really messes up!) but within DAYS turns around and makes her the media darling again when she’s doing good. On that same topic, I loved the message that it’s actually okay to mess up, and you can do better, without it being hyper harped on. Added to that, the way that a bunch of people around her suggested in different ways that maybe she was taking on a bit too much too soon, but it was the way Cat Grant explained it to her that stuck.

“Every woman worth her salt knows that we have to work twice as hard as a man to be thought of as half as good.” – Cat Grant

Cat speaks

DAVID: I found that whole idea that her heroics would not be greeted with universal acclaim, and that her mistakes would be seized upon, very true to life. We only need to look at the polarisation of opinion on media, especially social media, to see how differently different people react to the same story or public figure, and how quickly criticism or praise can spread to see this. Even the idea that the media might try and “manage” or “manufacture” a hero doesn’t seem too far fetched.

The bit I didn’t like was that for all her speeches Cat seemed more willing to tear down a female superhero than build her up. But that is human nature, you’d like to think someone who had had to overcome obstacles would be supportive of someone else trying to do the same, but often you see people can be less forgiving in that scenario if they think the other person is doing it wrong.

Two of those lessons you mention were really good ones, the idea that we can mess up and get better being one of them. But, I did like that whole learning to be willing to work your way up to things and be realistic in your expectations. A lot of “Chosen Ones” in stories mess up because of their arrogance and unwillingness to admit that they aren’t ready for certain things. Kara has a good group of people around her—but also a lack of arrogance that is refreshing.

TEHANI: If I have one criticism, it’s that I’m not sure about the blatant love triangle set up – look, I know it’s a staple of young adult stories but it’s really very tired… And yes, I absolutely believe this show is made primarily for the teen audience, despite the fact lots of adults love it too (of COURSE we do), but this isn’t about me projecting adulting on it, it’s about thinking that our young people are smarter than the overdone love triangle trope implies they are, and wanting media to show them other options for young relationships. Or NOT – I mean, couldn’t Kara have a season when she just discovers who she is, without romance getting in the way?

The boys

DAVID: Haha I thought I was reading one of my comments from a New Who review there for a moment! 😛

I am hoping that they really don’t push the love triangle too much. I think that James makes a better mentor figure through his friendship with Superman, and Winslow doesn’t need to have a romantic interest in Kara for their relationship to work. The idea that men and women can just be friends and still want to support each other in their dreams and passions is not that crazy, is it?

I think they will continue to work the romance angel, because of the type of show it is, but it doesn’t need to be at the forefront to create dramatic tension—as you allude to, the real story here is Kara discovering how to use her powers and become a real hero.

TEHANI: I really liked that Alex Danvers both ended up saving herself and demonstrating her inherent kick-assery at the same time. I adore that we have awesome female characters who are not all the same, but could we please have some more? With a variety of backgrounds? Does Kara not have any other girl friends?

The girls rejoice

DAVID: One of my favourite episodes of The New Batman Adventures (and, in fact, one of my favourite of the Timmverse)  was “Girl’s Night Out” where Supergirl and Batgirl teamed up to take on Livewire, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.  The best thing about it was seeing them all just hanging out as friends (the three villainesses as one group, Supergirl and Batgirl as the other). It was a really rare example of seeing female heroes and villains as more than just extensions of the “central” male characters and I would love to see more stuff like that.

TEHANI: Yes! I hope the showrunners give us something like this, rather than fall back on the usual stuff. Let’s find out!

Previously, in “Squeeing over Supergirl”…

Episode 1, “Pilot”

Squeeing over Supergirl: Episode One

David McDonald and Tehani Wessely have been squeeing about the new Supergirl television show for months, so they decided to take time each week to discuss the new episodes as they air. They may occasionally rope in their friends to get excited too.

Supergirl – Episode 1 (“Pilot”)Mirror, mirror on the wall

DAVID: The first thing that struck me about Supergirl was how bright and colourful it is! It’s a welcome contrast to the gritty, washed out look that has become the norm of late. It was also reflected in the sense of fun that permeated the show. It wasn’t just that there was a sense of wonder in her discovering her powers, but also just a different feel to the way the characters interacted. It was like everything didn’t have to be brooding or ominous, we got to see them simply being people separate from their other role. It reminded me more of The Flash than something like Daredevil or Arrow.

TEHANI: Agreed! It definitely has a lighter vibe than anything else we’ve seen—for me, that reflected the target demographic the show is being aimed at, but my, so refreshing!

DAVID: However the show that it reminded me of the most was Smallville, which is one of my all time favourite television shows, and still one of the best versions of the Superman mythos that’s been done. So far, like Smallville, Supergirl seems to show an understanding of the core of what Superman/Supergirl is about—and what it really means to be a hero. It certainly has a better handle on it that Man of Steel did! It looks like it is going to follow the Smallville trend of nice little shout outs to the comic and to other versions—we’ve already seen Dean Cain (Lois and Clark) and Helen Slater (Supergirl: The Movie) pop up! I loved playing spot the reference in Smallville, and it looks like that will be a feature.

TEHANI: Ahem, so this is where I admit I never really watched Smallville? But it absolutely made me smile with glee to see Dean and Helen!

Mom and PopDAVID: Speaking of casting, I think they have been spot on. When I heard that Melissa Benoist had been cast as Supergirl, I was a little dubious, but she brings an adorable goofiness to the role that suits this version of Supergirl perfectly. It’s great to see Calista Flockhart back in a role that gives her a lot of room to move, and I really enjoy this more imposing version of Jimmy Olsen—a character that has, at times, had very little presence or simply been there for comedic effect (and often as successful at that as Jar Jar Binks). I was interested to see that we have at least three actors who have significant musical backgrounds—Benoist (Glee), Jeremy Jordan (Smash), and Tony Award winning Laura Benanti (Nashville and lots more). Perhaps we will see a musical themed episode!

TEHANI: I love the James Olsen character and the way he’s being played, and I also love Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers, Kara’s adopted sister, and I LOVE the way Calista Flockhart is playing Cat Grant—it’s brilliant! I think the casting choices are excellent.

DAVID: I am actually really impressed with the decision DC have made about who this series has been aimed at. Rather than the usual demographic of young men, they appear to have realised that girls are interested in superheroes, too! I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense, but my female friends who are watching this feel that this is something that has been made with them in mind, rather than treating them as an incidental benefit on top the people studios normally cater to. It seems like a no brainer to many of us, but most of the studios have been avoiding a female helmed series or movie as best they can (the closest being Captain America: Winter Soldier which was really a buddy cop movie like Lethal Weapon with Captain America and Black Widow deserving equal billing). Hopefully this is a much needed step in the right direction and, along with shows like Jessica Jones, will herald a sea change in marketing.Jimmy!

TEHANI: Look, it’s crazycakes—us gals are YELLING for content that has at least got SOME women, let alone someone as the lead. I continue to be particularly disappointed in Marvel for the lack of women—we got Agent Carter, and yes, Agents of SHIELD has some excellent female characters, but the films, and shows like Daredevil, despite being excellent in so many ways, are absolutely woeful for gender diversity (among other diversities…). I really hope Jessica Jones gives us more but we’ve most recently been disappointed by Ant-Man, and by the news that the potentially awesome Captain Marvel movie has been pushed back. DC is doing better, with some interesting and engaging female characters in Arrow, Flash and Gotham, but this is the first time (other than iZombie, which isn’t really a superhero show, despite being great!) that we’ve got ourselves a female-led series. And not just that, we’ve got other women who Kara gets to TALK to and everything! So woohoo DC!

And OH MY GOSH do I love the discussion of being a girl!! Kicking butt, Cat Grant. Actually, I just love all of this. I truly hope that the show continues on the way it has begun—the gentle interrogation of certain superhero media tropes, the clever casting, the jump-in-with-both-feet-and-just-get-on-with-it style—it’s brilliant! Can’t wait for the next episode!


More review goodness…

A busy week at work this week, so this is just a brief update on some lovely reviews I found while wandering the interwebs.

Cold Comfort and Other Tales continues to get a great reception, with a lovely review over at Earl Grey Editing:

Cold Comfort and Other Tales is a short collection that will suck you in and spit you out again before you know it. Perfect for commutes or dipping into when you don’t have a lot of time.

Insert Title Here launches this Easter at Swancon, but there is already a review up and it is a great one. The whole anthology gets an excellent write up, with my story, “Her Face Like Lightning” the recipient of some very generous praise:

The dialogue in this is sharp and witty, starting to remind me slightly of Scott Lynch’s work. We see the beauty and brutality of Heaven, we see a diverse cast with an intensely developed backstory for a short story, and wow, what an ending.

This is easily one of my favourite pieces in this anthology.

I’ll take being compared to Scott Lynch (one of my favourite writers) any day of the week–I just wish I had his luxurious head of hair, too!

You can follow the links for the full reviews. It is always amazing to me that people are reading my work, let alone liking it, so these sort of reviews are definitely a big boost!

Insert Title Here

Review Love for Cold Comfort and Other Tales

Cold Comfort and Other Tales has been live now for a bit over a month, and there are a few reviews out there already. I was pretty nervous about how it would be received, but I have been delighted with the feedback so far. Writing is so full of rejections that it is always a major boost when people not only read your stories (which is still, at this point, a shock to me) but like them!

I am sure that the stories may not to be to some people’s taste, and that’s fine, but the good reviews are the sort of thing that makes this all worthwhile–knowing that someone has connected with your story. It’s definitely something to hold on to when you are slogging though edits (as I am doing at the moment), or when the next rejection arrives.

So, at that risk of boasting, here are some excerpts from a couple of the reviews floating around the interwebs. You can follow the link for the full review.

From Ventureadelaxre:

McDonald surely is one to keep an eye on – you only have to look at his list of achievements for confirmation. I can safely rate this collection five out of five with the knowledge it was deserved, as it has action, thoughtful commentary and excellent characters – I always love the character-driven pieces. And, as stated in my bit about his first short Cold Comfort, I’d love to see his work in a longer sense to see what he can do with more room and time. If he can achieve that much world building in so few pages, what else can he accomplish? No pressure, David.

From Stephanie Gunn:

This is a brilliant collection, and especially recommended if you haven’t read any of McDonald’s work before.  The stories are well described by the collection title Cold Comfort: these are not easy worlds, but McDonald manages to place hope even in the middle of despair.  Vanya discovers that her world isn’t as lost as she thought, Nick and his sentient ship will find a way through, and even in the depths of dystopia, people still speak out.

Highly recommended.

And, I think this is my first international review, so this was doubly exciting. From The Little Red Reviewer:

Beginnings are important.

Like a first impression, an author has one sentence, one chance to make in initial impression on the reader. We’ve all come across lackluster openings, openings that didn’t inspire, or confused, or simply made you scratch your head. Maybe you kept reading, maybe not.

For me, the ideal opening sentence is a perfect balance between nowhere near enough information, and just enough to draw me in. Not unlike that first floral nose of a glass of wine – you get the aroma, a suggestion of what’s to come, but little to no information about the mouthfeel or finish you’re about to experience. You take a sip because that first scent was intriguing. The titular story of Cold Comfort and Other Tales has just the kind of opening I dream of: perfectly balanced yet minimal information with just the barest hints of the entire worldbuilding of the story:

A big thanks to the reviewers for such kind words and–most importantly–taking the time to read my stories!


My 2014 in Review

So, 2014 has come and gone. Wow. Time flies, huh?

Looking back, 2014 was a much better year than I realised. Even though I only had one story published, there were a number of significant milestones that are well worth celebrating.

But, first, let me get the negatives out of the way.

We lost some good people last year, and some people I care about had some tough times. That puts my problems into perspective, in the scheme of things I was very fortunate. So, I don’t really want to go into details as so many others have it so much worse, but during 2014 I struggled with some medical issues and, when added to my talent for taking too much on, I had a bit of a meltdown. The medical stuff is nothing life threatening, or anything for anyone to worry about, but enough to cause some issues. It’s not an excuse, but this did contribute to me messing up a couple of deadlines and letting some people down. You know who you are and, again, I apologise. It’s something I am very disappointed with myself in, and I hope that 2015 will be a much better year for that!

Looking back at the goals that I had set myself, I am disappointed to note that I still haven’t caught up on Doctor Who! Hopefully I can remedy that before Easter for reasons that will become clear later in this post.

I also haven’t made that first pro rate sale, though I do feel that I am getting closer and closer, and I might have another announcement to make soon..

But, on to the good things! There really were some wonderful moments, and I have a lot to be thankful for. And, it’s been great to feel like I am actually making some progress with my writing.

Unfortunately, I can’t share my biggest piece of news yet, but stay tuned as it will be announced around February.

Amongst the things I can talk about are:

  • After an eighteen year career in the field (pretty much straight out of Year 11), I left IT. I was seconded to our Editorial Department for 6 months in the position of Deputy Editor of one of our magazines (though I was essentially doing the Editor’s job). I can now announce that last  week I signed a contract extending my contract and naming me Editor. So, I guess I can say that I am a full time editor and writer now! There are not many people who get the chance to make a living from writing, so I feel incredibly blessed to have this opportunity– it really has changed my life. And, this has been so beneficial to my own writing, both in what I am learning from editing, and  because I am excited to be at work everyday instead being stressed and frustrated all the time. (which I know makes me very fortunate). I also think it has made me more productive, too, if there is a writing muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets
  • From a fiction writing POV, one of the highlights of 2014 was being shortlisted for the WSFA Small Press Award. As I said at the time, seeing my name alongside all the past nominees and winners was a huge thrill and I was gobsmacked when I found out. I never expected to be nominated, let alone win, so I wasn’t that disappointed to lose–especially to a great story.
  • After two previous nominations, winning a William J. Atheling Jr Award for the New Who reviews. I have felt very privileged to get to work with Tehani and Tansy, and humbled to tie with Galactic Suburbia, one of my biggest influences. Hopefully I can catch up on the latest seasons soon!
  • The Ditmar for Galactic Chat. A huge amount of the credit for this needs to go to Sean Wright, our podcast overlord, and it was great to see him recognised for his hard work. It felt a bit weird winning an award for having the opportunity to get to talk to some of my writing heroes. Seems like a bit of a rort, really! lol
  • Which leads on to the interviews with Ken Liu and Kameron Hurley. Wow, talk about gushing fanboy moments. Just a hint: next year wills ee even more fanboying! I have a few more writing superstars lined up for you.
  • Being asked to return as part of the Aussie Snapshot team. This one was even bigger than the last one, and we managed to cover a huge cross section of the Aussie Spec Fic scene. If you haven’t read it yet, you are really missing out!
  • Even though I had a quiet year in publications, I managed to sell some stories and I have already have three new stories confirmed for 2015 (including a sale to Fablecroft and coeur de lion) as well as something a bit longer which I can’t talk about yet (and that is killing me).
  • The release of a bundle of my short stories from Clan Destine Press, including a brand new story that I am rather proud of, and am very glad to see find a home. It already has a great review!
  • Managing to make a good start on the collaborative young adult novel I am working on, It’s definitely starting to take shape now and has gotten to that point where it has developed some momentum, and the process that we decided to use seems to be working (big thanks to Amie Kaufman for her generosity with her time and advice. I am very excited about where it is heading, and you can expect to hear more about it in 2015
  • Helping my good friend, Laura Goodin, perform a radio play at Conflux. Hopefully there will be a version available for your listening pleasure soon
  • Beating “Hold Over Funds” to become the FFANZ delegate. I am really excited about heading over tot New Zealand in 2015, i am sure that it is going to be a blast. It looks like I need to be caught up on Doctor Who by then, though!
  • Amazing fun at Continuum X and Conflux 10

Aside from all these, there is something even more important to mention. I got to spend time with existing friends, made a number of new friends and, most of all, was continually reminded of what an amazing community we have in Australia. A number of my friends had some great moments of their own, and I was delighted to see their successes (and quite often got to help celebrate them, which is always fun).

The big goals for 2015:

  • Get that elusive pro sale!
  • Finish the YA novel and get it off for submission.
  • Catch up with Doctor Who.
  • Get my solo novel done.
  • Start another conversational review series about a series of books that are very dear to my heart
  • Try and get involved in some sort of news/discussion podcast

And, that’s probably enough for now!

Hopefully I will be at a few cons in 2015. I always try and get to Continuum, and I have brought my membership and booked my hotel for the Worldcon on in Spokane. And, of course, I will be in NZ for their Natcon.

I am looking forward to 2015, which I think might be my biggest yet, and I will be hoping for the same for you!

Another review of Great Southern Land

Yes, it has been quiet around here. However, life continues apace and I am busily engaged in a  few secret projects that will hopefully be ready to announce soon.

In the meantime, I stumbled across another lovely review of Tales of Australia: Great Southern Land. The reviewer had some great things to say about the anthology, and was particularly kind about my story.

“Set Your Face Toward the Darkness” by David McDonald, told in journal style, also hit the spot for me. It’s a dark gothic story that re-imagines the fate of explorers Burke and Wills. While touching lightly on social commentary about the invasion of the country, the tale also shows the characters’ growing understanding about the natives’ “connection to the spirit of the land”, with descriptions of the harsh terrain emphasising the growing terror and isolation they feel. A great sense of place, well-developed tension and all-round, a good story.

It’s a very nice feeling when someone “gets” your story, and seems to understand what you were trying to achieve. I am new enough to all this to be unused to reading people’s thoughts on my stories, and I am thrilled. You can follow the link above for the full review and read about the other awesome stories in the anthology.

And, if you so desire, you can buy both paper and electronic copies of the anthology here!

GSL Cover




Review of Great Southern Land

I don’t know about other writers, but I really struggle to judge the quality of my own work so I usually just assume it is terrible! So, it has been nice this week to get some great feedback on a couple of stories. It was an especially pleasant surprise to come across a review of Tales of Australia:Great Southern Land by the industrious Aussie reviewer, Sean the Bookonaut. He covers most of the stories in the book, and has some very kind things to say about mine:

The collection finishes on David McDonald’s Set Your Face Towards the Darkness and having read his work before, this story is a bit of a departure from his normal style.  It is written in journal format – the secret journals of explorer John McKinlay, who was sent to find Burke and Wills.  McDonald does a good job of capturing a reserved 19 century style in these entries written to McKinlay’s sweetheart, Jane.  I think the most challenging thing in writing fiction in journal and letter form, is building and maintaining tension and McDonald does this in his interesting mix of alternative history and pop culture horror trope. If you like Australian gothic horror and reading between the lines of historical journals you’ll appreciate Set Your Face Towards the Darkness.

You can read the complete review here.

And, if you want to pickup a copy of the anthology, either directly from the publisher, or from Amazon. At only $4.99 for the ebook you can’t go wrong!

GSL Cover

AWWC 2012 – The Creature Court Trilogy

Disclaimer: Aussie Spec Fic is a very small world, so in most cases I know the writers whose books I am reviewing. And, these will all most likely be very positive reviews, as I find it very hard to get motivated to go to the trouble of writing a review for a book that didn’t excite me. So, while you won’t get an impartial review, you will get the reasons why I loved a particular book, and why I genuinely believe it’s worth your time. This review was written as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, to find out more go here.

“She almost missed the sight of a naked youth falling out of the sky. He was long and lean and muscled … He was also completely off his face.”

A war is being fought in the skies over the city of Aufleur. No one sees the battles. No one knows how close they come to destruction every time the sun sets.

During daylight, all is well, but when nox falls and the sky turns bright, someone has to step up and lead the Creature Court into battle.

Twelve years ago, Garnet kissed Velody and stole her magic. Five years ago, he betrayed Ashiol, and took his powers by force. But now the Creature Court is at a crossroads … they need a Power and Majesty who won’t give up or lose themselves in madness …

I was a bit annoyed with myself after reading Power and Majesty, the first book in the Creature Court Trilogy. After all, I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to get sucked into another fantasy series that wasn’t finished. There is only so much waiting for the next book to come out a man can take! I had only picked up Power and Majesty because at Swancon 2011 everyone had been talking about it and it had won the Ditmar. So, I thought I should check it out and, as it turned out, I devoured it on the plane flight back to Melbourne. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long for the second book because at that point I was completely hooked. But, then there was agony of waiting for the final book to come out so that I could get some closure on one of the most addictive trilogies I’ve read in a long time….

It’s hard to classify the Creature Court trilogy, dark fantasy might be pretty close, but it has elements from all sorts of styles, from historical fiction to steampunk. I’d say that it is the perfect for people wanting a break from Epic fantasy, but that might give you the impression that it is light reading or lightweight which couldn’t be further from the truth. The author manages to pack in a vast range of ideas and a twisting, turning plot without ever putting the brakes on what is a cracking story. I read at least one of the volumes in a sitting, and all of them were incredibly hard to put down.

While some of the world’s features appear to be adapted from parts of our own history, it is not simply a thin veneer of fantasy polish whacked over a real world setting, the author has created a complex and convincing world, with its own customs and history. Unlike some fantasy worlds, the pieces fit together in a believable fashion and you can easily imagine the characters acting the way they do and the society working the way it does. But, there is also a disquieting sense of something not quite right about the daylight world and the sense that something is going on beneath – a feeling that is borne out as the story develops.

The characters are more than just the usual fantasy tropes, and each of them has a believable set of motivations that drive their actions and the story, rather than simply being ciphers. Over the course of the series it is hard not develop sympathy for even the nastiest of characters, and as someone who has little patience for moral ambiguity it is a mark of the author’s skill that I invested so deeply in all the characters and empathising with the nastiest of people. Immoral acts are not excused or consequences waived, but we are constantly given a convincing insight into why people act the way they do that is a nice change from the simplistic black and white that we find in too much fantasy. There is a rich back story that is gradually and skilfully revealed, throwing light on the way the characters interact and showing how the past impacts on the present. Velody especially is one of the best realised fantasy characters I have come across in a long time.

One of the things I admired most about this trilogy is that it serves as an example of how to tackle themes of gender and orientation.  It doesn’t pretend that sexism doesn’t exist, in fact gender roles play a huge part in the plot as the constraints that exist on women in this society and the way various characters attempt to transcend them are explored in depth. And it was refreshing to see how sexual orientation was treated, not in stereotypes or as the sole defining characteristic of a character, but simply as a part of the fabric of life and relationships throughout the story. But, there is never a sense of preaching, like everything else all these things serve the story and add to its resonance. As a writer, it’s given me something to aspire to.

The Creature Court trilogy is probably not for the prudish, being completely drenched in every bodily fluid you can possibly imagine, but even this is done in a way that only adds to the story. The air of rich sensuality which permeates the way characters interact with one another creates a hedonistic atmosphere, something which makes perfect sense as you read on. If you a little sheltered like me you might be tiny bit shocked at times, but there is nothing gratuitous, certainly nothing more graphic than many of the other fantasy titles in the bestseller list.

Despite the depth of the themes explored, the Creature Court trilogy is above all an entertaining and captivating read that deserves all the accolades it and awards it has received. I’m not going to say it is the best Australian fantasy trilogy I’ve read, it doesn’t need that qualifier, it’s one of the best I have read full stop. I read it at a canter the first time through, desperate to find out what happened and actually caught unaware by the ending, an ending that ties it all together very neatly and resolves the story perfectly (though I was very unhappy with the author for a while there for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the writing!!). I’ve since gone back and reread a number of times, enjoying it even more. If you are looking for a fantasy trilogy of the highest calibre to tide you over until the next volume in whatever ongoing series you are reading is released, then you can’t go past this magnificent story.

Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge

Newsflesh Review

Just as an example of the trouble that conversations at the bar during conventions can get you into, you can read a conversational review of the Newsflesh trilogy that I was recently involved in. As you will see, I am rather naive at times!

And, how cool is it that we are all so connected now thanks to the wonders of the internet that the author found our review, read it and commented on it on Twitter?! I love the future.