Reviews are a fantastic way for readers to help out authors they want to support. But a lot of readers are nervous about what to write, where to share them, and what they ought to know about the process.
Here’s a little demystification to help. I’m focusing here obviously on books, but the same basic process can help with music, podcasts, and all sorts of other content out there.
The short version: Leaving a brief (2-3 sentence) review of books you love wherever you get or talk about your books is a fabulous way to both help other readers and the author. They don’t need to be long or complicated to help.
What kind of review are we talking about?
When authors talk about reviews helping, what we mean is usually something simple.
We’re talking about a review of one to four sentences from a real human who read the book and wanted to share a couple of thoughts. You don’t need to be elaborate and you don’t need to include tons of details. Reviews like this help provide what gets called “social proof”, that real humans read the book and had a range of feelings about it.
Detailed reviews and literary criticism are fantastic too – but they’re a completely different thing. Many people aren’t up for writing that (and certainly not about all the books or music or whatever else it was they enjoy).
Are you curious about the land magic? Carillon’s background? What it means to be a Lord in Albion?
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Ancient Trust is all about what happens when Geoffrey Carillon inherits the title on his brother’s death. It has quite a lot about the land magic customs at Ytene. It also led to some interesting questions from a reader.
(I love reader questions. Sometimes I haven’t settled on my final answer about something. But I’ll let you know if you ask something I can’t answer yet. Or if you ask something that’s too much of a spoiler for something that’s coming out in the future.)
It got me thinking, how do the Lords of Albion engage with the House of Lords? Is attending Westminster an additional responsibility for Carillion? Do Albion peerages result in having the right to sit in the House? And what about the women? How does the Land Magic recognise women?
These are great questions – and also some that I haven’t quite found the right place to get into text. Let’s take this one by one in an order that should help.
I got an email from a reader (hi!) asking a couple of questions, including this one: “In your romantic couples, the women seem to be consistently a little older (or a lot older) than the men. Was this a conscious choice, and if so, is there a reason for it?”
Pasticheis my first Edwardian book, mostly set in 1906. That year turns out to be interesting for medical history reasons, but it’s also in the middle of a period rich in artistic and creative activity.
Living well with chronic illness
Alysoun, the heroine of this book, lives with what we’d call fibromyalgia today. At the time of the book, they don’t quite have a name for it: fibrositis (the earlier name) shows up in the medical literature for the first time late in 1906.
What she knows is that her body aches – often and also unpredictably. She struggles with fatigue and brain fog, wanting to have an engaged and active life, and yet also not wanting to spend her limited time and energy on social events she doesn’t enjoy.
The trick is that she is Lady Alysoun, married to Lord Richard, who not only has those obligations to the land magic, but who is also a member of the Guard (Albion’s equivalent to the police, more on that in the next section), and who is asked to become a magistrate in the course of the book. Being a magistrate comes with a number of additional social obligations for both of them, as well.
My chronic health stuff is not exactly the same as Alysoun’s – though at points in my life, I have had a lot more of all of her main symptoms than I do at the moment (if sometimes in slightly different modes.) Writing that experience, however, comes straight from my desire to have someone like me be loved, have pleasure, and find a place in the world that suits her.
Alysoun’s experiences are also rooted in many conversations I’ve had with a dear friend who shares some of her symptoms too. Specifically, “If I’m going to hurt if I don’t do this thing that would also bring me pleasure, and I’m going to hurt if I do (maybe a bit more), I’d rather have the pleasure, too.” Navigating that, moment to moment, day to day, year to year, is always a trick. Alysoun’s still learning it in Pastiche, but has found a lot more rhythm and balance by the 1920s, and the later books we see her in.
Now, this is Albion, and so there is a touch of fantasy here. Veritas, the Edgarton family home, started as a Roman villa, and the hypocaust system has been tended over many years. She can therefore retreat to a series of baths I absolutely envy, including the deep multi-person hot soaking tub.
The Guard, power, and responsibility
I wrote the draft of Pastiche between November 2019 and February 2020. I was editing it over the summer of 2020, as George Floyd was murdered by police officers in Minneapolis. (I lived in the Twin Cities for more than a decade, my last few not too far from Lake Street and Minnehaha Ave.)
I did a lot of thinking about this particular book, about the history of policing, about the ways any system (and especially those dealing with authority and law enforcement) can be abused and manipulated. I did a lot of talking with my editor, Kiya.
For one thing, while British policing isn’t perfect either, as I did more and more research, I realised that the history of how organised policing developed was rather different. (And in Albion, coordinated law enforcement in various forms became urgently needed following the Pact in 1484 and establishment of additional portals and means of rapid transporation in the next couple of hundred years.)
I also thought about what I’d already established in Albion (Wards of the Roses features Kate Davies, my other character who is a member of the Guard proper, though in that case, very much in an investigative magical role.)
And I looked at what I’d already embedded in both this book in particular, and in the larger world: the idea of magically enforceable oaths. Every magical person in Albion makes one at the age of 12, and various other professions and occupations make them as well. (Pastiche in fact already had the scenes of Richard taking the magistrate’s oath and the effect it has on him.)
Here’s the thing that was already in the draft, but that I expanded far more thoroughly:
The Guard make something that’s equivalent to a chivalric oath, as Richard describes in the book. It isn’t a perfect protection, but it does mean that people who wish to abuse their power tend to fail out of apprenticeship or are redirected into other roles.
And as Richard points out, a lot of their work is more about solving problems, directing people to appropriate help, seeing to the actual physical and magical safety of people in the community. (This last part is particuarly important since people experimenting with magic they don’t fully understand can have a wide range of implications for the safety of those around them.)
But I also knew they’d been basically an arranged marriage, and I wanted to know how they fell in love.
They married knowing of each other (similar family circles) but not knowing each other well. They married more rapidly than they might have due to Richard’s father’s decline in health. And for the first few years, they are cordial and pleasant, but not close.
Richard had been brought up not to be a bother to women (his mother, who is not a pleasant human, had strong opinions about this.) He thinks he’s being polite and considerate, when Alysoun deeply wants more of his time, attention, and preferably affection. It’s only through the events of the book (and a bit of help from those who are wiser in these things) that they figure out how to navigate that.
(When my beta readers got their hands on this one, they left comments of “RICHARD, TALK TO YOUR WIFE” in many places.)
More of the Edgartons
It turns out I can’t let them go! They have secondary roles in a number of my other books so far (as well as some upcoming works.)
Richard appears briefly at the end of Outcrossing(in his role as Captain of the Guard) as well as in Complementary, when he gives an assignment to Elizabeth Mason. Richard is Kate’s commanding officer during Wards of the Roses (and Alysoun appears at the end.) They’re both present and helpful during the climactic events of On The Bias.
They’ll also be making an appearance in Ancient Trust (a prequel novella about Geoffrey Carillon inheriting his title, available in the summer of 2022) and Best Foot Forward (out in November 2022) and some of the extras for that. I’m also chewing on a book about Charlotte, their daughter, though I’m not yet sure exactly where that will fall in my upcoming writing plans.
I’m delighted to share Pastiche with all of you. Join me for a romp in 1906 (pre-War Edwardian) to explore the history of two people who’ve appeared in the Mysterious Charm series, Lord Richard and Lady Alysoun Edgarton.
There’s an arranged marriage (that might turn into a true love match), a bit of smuggling, a curious museum exhibit, and a couple of my favourite secondary characters yet. And if you’ve wondered how magical duelling works in Albion, this is the book for you!
One of my early readers, reading Pastiche, asked me “Did Giles and Richard know each other before the War?”
(Giles being Major Giles Lefton, hero of Wards of the Roses, and Richard being Lord Richard Edgarton, who appears in Wards of the Roses and On The Bias, and who gets the story of his own romance coming up in Pastiche.)
They’re both upper class, well-educated, competently magical men in a relatively small community, so yes, they’ve been moving in similar circles for a good while.
They are, however, a generation apart in age.
Albion is not a massive community. Sparing you my spreadsheet of demographics for the moment, the community is roughly 250,000 people in the 1920s. There are about 200 families who hold a title (usually Lord of the Land ) and probably another 300 or so who are upper class and possibly of the minor aristocracy (cadet branches of the titled family lines, and so on.)
(Those aren’t the only positions of power, of course. The Mysterious Power series will be getting more into some of that.)
Their families: Richard, obviously, has a title, and comes from one of the noble families. Giles doesn’t, but comes from the minor aristocracy. His family have multiple properties. He’s well off enough personally that money is not an issue for him. They were both in Fox House at Schola, so they share at least one club, and probably more than that one.
They certainly have run into each other at various social events (such as the Temple of Healing garden parties, a major source of fundraising for the Temple). An amicable but distant sort of acquaintanceship.
When did they meet? I suspect they didn’t know each other terribly well until Richard – or someone else Richard knows in the Guard – needed Giles and his mathematical brain for a spot of code-breaking. At that point, of course, these two intelligent, practical men would find common cause pretty quickly. It’s a relief when you find someone competent who can do the thing you need to solve the problem at hand without fussing.
I am quite sure that was before Giles became blind, however. Richard is, at times, still figuring out how to handle some of that smoothly, in a way that wouldn’t be as true if they’d only met after that point.
I’d guess they met sometime in 1913 or 1914, in the buildup to the War, but I haven’t pinned that down yet.
 Yes, women can have the equivalent position, though most families inherit via male primogeniture if that’s an option. I do plan to talk about this in more detail sometime!