This is book two in the London Bones series, an enjoyable read if you like slightly dark, gruesome tales. I usually don't like them, and I did like this, so maybe it’s not as dark and gruesome as I think. Dark or not, the world and main character were interesting enough to balance out the macabre for me.
Vivia is a hag, able to come back to life at will, and hers is a world filled with fairytale creatures, curses, murders, insane crones, and all things weird. Her quest to survive the full moon and make things right with her sister turns out to be more complicated than she ever could have expected, and I admit that I had a hard time following the twists a couple of times. I'm not sure that's a fault of the writing, however, because anyone who knows me knows that I am at nearly all times either tired or in the process of getting tired, lol. I can't remember any typos or awkward sentences, no editorial oopses. The whole book felt professional.
I chose to review this book because although I can't call it diverse in the traditional sense, I think Vivia is odd enough to qualify. I'm pretty sure I mentioned this in my review of book 1, as well. She's not a pretty hag. She has to remove warts regularly. She has a typical witch's face, long nose and chin to the point of looking inhuman. She stinks of death every time she comes back from the underworld and has to do a long, thorough scrub if she doesn't want to gross people out. She's ostracized by most, accepted by few. Even other inhuman creatures can feel uncomfortable around her.
Despite all this, Vivia endeavors to solve her riddle and help those she can. She loves those who have been horrible to her, with healthy boundaries. She works hard to pull herself from the lies and dysfunction of her childhood, to make a good life for herself and others.
Language: I think there were three bad words.
Sexual Content: None.
Violence: Yes, in the tradition of old fairytales. You know, cannibalism, witches putting curses on people, explosions…
Overall Plot/Message: There are some extraordinary twists in this story, turning what looked like a simple premise into a full on fantastical mystery. I'd say it's plot-driven, but at the same time the narration is first person and Vivia is a compelling character. So, we'll go with 'nice blend'. As for messages, there are some positive themes. We're encouraged not to judge by appearances, to do the hard thing when it's the right thing, to let go of the dysfunction we've been living in and strive for something better.Find 'A Murder of Crones' here.
Interview with SW Fairbrother, author of the London Bones series
RA: You've created a complex story in which we see a fantastical dark underside of the world we see in real life. It draws me in, but of all the strangeness in the London Bones books, the strangest thing to me is that you chose an ugly hag for your main character. Lots of heroines moan on about being unattractive and having poor self-image, but Vivia ACTUALLY IS difficult for most to look at. And never does she meet the boy who just-loves-her-the-way-she-is-and-thinks-she's-the-most-beautiful-creature-in-the-world. Why did you do that? Do you think it makes selling the books more difficult?
SWF: I love urban fantasy but I always find a lot of the heroines frustrating. They’re sassy and outwardly confident, yet inwardly insecure (despite their awesome fighting skills and stunning looks).
A lot of the story is often about the various love interests fighting over her. There’s nothing wrong with those stories – there’s a reason they’re so popular! But I wanted to see something different.
I wanted to see a heroine succeed despite her looks, and the more I thought about it, the more an ugly heroine appealed.
Whether we like it or not, people react differently to beautiful people and someone like Vivia is going to get a very different reaction from characters than even an ordinary person would.
I don’t think she likes being ugly, but she has accepted it. I suspect that if you got into a conversation with her about it, she’d have a lot of sharp things to say about our society’s unrealistic standards of beauty for women and girls.
I’ve always preferred the mystery side of urban fantasy anyway, so I concentrated on that and left the romance out. That said, I do have a little romance planned for Vivia in the next book. I quite like her and I think she is lonely, even if she would never admit it to herself. She deserves someone who loves her for who she is – warts and all – and it’s about time Vivia had something good happen to her.
However, like Vivia, the romance will be unconventional too, or at least it will be for the genre. There won’t be anyone fighting over her. It’ll just be small and sweet, and on the side of the main mystery.
I don’t think it’s made selling the books more difficult. If anything, I’ve had a very positive reaction from readers about how Vivia is depicted. People seem to really like it, and I’ve enjoyed writing something a little different.
The next book is about werebees (murder in the hive!) and I’m enjoying figuring out how a bee-like but still very human society would function. I do have a tendency to make the stories a little too complicated so I’m trying to streamline it, before sending it out into the wild. The Hive will be out sometime this year.
RA: Well, thank you from me and all of us who are tired of being told we're not successful if we don't have at least two boys after us! I didn't read YA lit or urban fantasy when I was a teen (if it even existed), I skipped right to epic fantasy, so I wasn't really exposed to the love triangle nonsense you mentioned (and yes, I understand why it's popular even if I believe it's very unhealthy. It speaks to desires and insecurities that we don't like to acknowledge) like so many women today. My eyes get to rolling when I read stories like that, makes it hard to keep my balance. Anyway, I love the choices you made with her character, and I agree that Vivia deserves happiness.
I'm glad to hear you've had a positive reaction to her character, and I'm not the only one who appreciates it! I look forward to getting back to the story and seeing what happens with this little romance you mentioned. I'm not a romance person myself, but I appreciate when it's a thread of a much bigger story and serves to add depth rather than taking over the plot.
It's funny to me that you mentioned your stories are a little too complicated because in my review, I note that I had a hard time keeping up. Still, I don't think it's a bad thing. I have a hard time keeping up with movies sometimes, too (drives my husband crazy), but that doesn't make me enjoy them less. I think my problem is that I'm in a perpetual state of distraction. Even meditation time is hard. Yeesh. So, back to complicated plots. Do you plot things out before you start writing, or are you what some call a 'pantser', just writing from the beginning and seeing where it takes you? You did say you have a romance 'planned', but that could mean a lot of things.
SWF: The books are definitely too complicated, I think. It has suited some people. I've had feedback from readers saying they really enjoyed all the twists and turns, but others struggle to follow what's going on.
A lot of the complications in the first book simply came from me not being an experienced enough writer at the time to know how to streamline all my ideas.
I'm not a pantser in the least. I plot everything in detail ahead of time, but also revise the plot as I go because characters are annoyingly stubborn about not wanting to be forced into story arcs they don't like.
The romance part has written itself though. That one is purely character-driven. I can't go into it in too much detail as some of it would count as spoilers for the main mystery but it involves Charon the boatman who Vivia has always had a bit of a crush on. We get to find out a little more about his back-story (just a scene or two) and he makes some pivotal decisions that help Vivia get back to normality in the real world. And they become a little closer on the way.
It's nice to have that bit feel easy because the story usually goes out into about a dozen different directions in my head. I also write very slowly, mostly because I fight every sentence and am brutal about deleting the ones that don't work. It does mean that instead of getting the story out in one big rush, I have to keep reminding myself where I've been and where I'm going.
It does mean that by the time I type 'The End', my first draft doesn't need much more than a bit of tidying and checking for typos.
RW: I'm excited! Can't wait to read The Hive. I'm learning to be a better plotter because I think it helps keep the writing process from stalling, along with making it easier to preserve continuity (which is something you're fantastic at unless I missed something). Since continuity errors are my biggest pet peeve and strangely pervasive, even in mainstream media, I appreciate your diligence. And I empathize with writing so slowly that I have to keep back tracking to remember things. Doesn't help that I'm generally forgetful, lol.
Well, I think this takes us to the end of our space. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts! I've really enjoyed getting a little insight into you and your story.
SW Fairbrother's webpage.
Find 'Murder of Crones' here.