Updated: Jul 15, 2019
It was a dark and stormy night…no, wait, make that afternoon. As some of you may know, the entire Greater Houston area has gotten a surfeit of rain this spring, and the storm gods did not take a day off Sunday when Mary Robinette Kowal and Marie Brennan were in town to do a reading at Murder By The Book. Somewhat miraculously, it slackened up in time for their arrival, in costume, so we did not find out Victorian and Regency ladies looked like sopping wet.
This is the second time (that I know of) that they have done a book tour together for their respective series. (See last year's post) Some things were the same, so I’m skipping the dragon skulls this time.) This spring Mary Robinette Kowal finished up the five book Glamourist Histories series. She calls it “Jane Austen with magic”, but that really sells it waaaaay short. It’s not just romance and family troubles, though Jane and Vincent are at the center of the books, and Vincent’s family is particularly troublesome. The books have a lot of things that Austen didn’t write about, such as audiences with “Prinny”, the Napoleonic War, piracy, a grand tour of Europe, and the final book is set on property belonging to Vincent’s family in the West Indies, which introduces several sets of problems for the protagonists, including slavery. The series is, simply, good historical fiction. She researched things well, only fudged a few things when she had to (she’s more inclined to change her book to fit history, than to ignore history when it’s inconvenient to the book). You’d know this if you’ve read her blog over the years, or attended the book tour readings. (Kowal’s website.) There was a generous Q & A session after the reading. (Shhhhhhh…..we were privileged to be let in on a secret and sworn not to tell. For now, just cross your fingers and wish for what I’m wishing for.)
With the Glamourist Histories wrapped up, she has already turned in the manuscript for her next book, Ghost Talkers, which is set during WWI. The ghosts of recently killed soldiers can report in on the situation on the battlefield, providing a unique take on real time intell on the progress of the battle. It’s an interesting concept and the way she read it was very moving at times. (She also did some very good accents.) As she read a riveting passage from this the storm provided sound effects: “the sound of the gun going off was deafening” was instantly followed by the crack of thunder!
She followed the reading with a shadow puppet show which was popular in the 1700s. (She’s also a professional puppeteer and was recently called in to Sesame Street to be Oscar’s right hand, and yes, when she arrived, she did, after some hemming and hawing, have to ask “can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street!”) The shadow puppet show was an abbreviated version, and charming fun. The storm also provided sound effects for that as well!
After the shadow puppet show Marie Brennan read from the next volume in her Memoirs of Lady Trent series. (Her website.) Her books follow the adventures of Dame Isabella from her youthful interest in dragons in a time period which is basically the Victorian era with dragons. (I found it interested that the sounds of the storm quieted when she read, as if the rain gods were overawed by dragons!) She, too, did a lot of research on her time period, but she departs further from it because she realized that if she just went all-out fantasy and set the escapades (and really, at times, Isabella’s actions can best be characterized as “escapades”) in imaginary countries she had more leeway. There are echoes of the real world Victorian era but she has a lot of fun with her variations on it. In her world, there are dragons of all sorts and species, but being a Lady naturalist is not looked on as quite respectable. Wearing trousers is frowned upon, gallivanting around the world, with men, and sleeping in tents is frowned upon. But Isabella was a headstrong girl and as a full-grown woman, she is even better at digging in her heels and getting what she wants. What she wants is to know everything there is to know about dragons. What she wants is preserve fragile dragon bones and stop the slaughter of dragons for their bones. What she’s doing in the next book — which we got a taste of at the reading — is working with the military on a dragon breeding program. The idea is that wild dragons wouldn’t have to be slaughtered if they could just breed their own dragons, kill them, and preserve their bones. This does not sit well with Isabella. Nor does the contract in general and the secrecy behind it. As a scientist she wants to publish her findings. She gets a grudging agreement that she can with anything not related to breeding and it has to be vetted by the military first. On this note the reading ended. Having read all the books up to this point and knowing Lady Trent’s strong views and dispositions, I think it’s safe to say that this book, like the others, will have lots of discoveries about the secrets of dragon life, but also perhaps, more than the requisite amount of fireworks. There was a hint that she might meet up with the young man she became fond of in the previous book; she will be in his country and no doubt she will keeping an ear to the ground in case she can get word of the archaeologist. Three years have passed since the events in the most recent book, The Voyage of the Basilisk. This series, like the Glamourist Histories, is also a five book series. Three of the books have come out. The fourth comes out next year. In the Q & A Marie Brennan said that the final book will have Lady Trent’s most famous discovery, what she became known for, the apex of her career as a naturalist. So…with a full life still ahead of her and being an energetic sort, it’s possible that we may still get a short story or two about Lady Trent, either in her later years, or things that happen between the books.
After her reading, Marie Brennan passed around some “artifacts”, including dragon teeth, skulls, claws, etc, (which you can see in the post I wrote last year). This year she included a dragon egg and a firestone (which she said she was surprised to find at a reasonable price at Michaels. Who knew?)
Afterward there was a very long Q & A session in which they answered questions about their series, research, puppetry (Mary is in the process of rebuilding a polar bear while on the book tour), and costumes. It was a delightful afternoon, well-spent for those who braved the rain and flood warnings to come out to the bookstore. Really, no better way to spend an afternoon — or at least that afternoon…any other afternoon would be best spent reading their books! The first book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s series is Shades of Milk and Honey. It’s a five books series and the fifth book just came out, so if you’re someone who likes to wait and read a complete series, dig in! The first book in Marie Brennan’s series is The Natural History of Dragons. It’s also a five book series; the most recent book is the third book. The penultimate book in the series will come out next year.
For even more pics than the ones below and more about the authors and series, see the post I wrote last year.