Tag Archives: adventure

Review: A Study in Velvet and Leather by K. Caine

The second volume in Improbable Press’s 221b Series (the first was my own A Dream to Build A Kiss On) is the splended A Study in Velvet and Leather, due for release on 1 December 2018. An advance review copy was coaxed into my greedy little fingers, though, and promptly gobbled up.

K. Caine may have written a female Sherlock and male John in a canon-era setting, but  her tale departs wonderfully far from a traditional telling of thie enduring pair.

John Watson, invalided war doctor, is gay. It’s a surprise to find Stamford’s flat-hunting friend is a woman, but she’s an unusual one. Sherlock is a consulting detective, dressing most often in men’s attire and (we later learn) a reader of Sappho. They move into Baker Street together.

John narrates their life together: his increasing involvement in Sherlock’s cases and John recovers his health, along with his fascination for Sherlock’s methods and curiosity about so much that remains secret and unsaid about Sherlock’s life. John also records his bemused yet growing devotion to his astonishing flatmate, recording but not always understanding Sherlock’s response to him.

But as John develops his surprised and secret feelings for this remarkable woman, an undercurrent from Sherlock’s unspoken private life breaks the surface. The case involves “the well known adventuress” Irene Adler, a compromising photograph, and a private club. The meaning of velvet, leather and many of Sherlock’s mysteries will come to light.

One of the many glories of this book – which include engaging characters, the gorgeous flow of the writing and an exploration of the fluidity than can exist in gender and sexuality – is how seamlessly K. Caine uses the 221b ficlet format to tell a single story.

The 16 chapters of the book are subtly separated into 221-word sections, the last word of each section beginning with ‘b’.  This meets the rules of a 221b ficlet, yet is so smoothly done that the reader may not notice it, as the story’s rhythm moves so gracefully.

A Study in Velvet and Leather is one of those delicious books where you can’t decide whether to gulp it down in one go, or sip it slowly to make it last.

I’ve never been a sipper, though – and I was so involved in Sherlock and John’s adventures and feelings, so invested in them too – that I gulped that story down in a few hours one Saturday. The conclusion was both fantastically satisfying and left me yearning for more of these incarnations of Holmes and Watson.

A fabulous bonus to the whole story is the series of Appendices, in the form of notes between the two. I seriuosly can’t get enough of this fluid John and Sherlock. Additionally, the artwork by Avid Branks is sparing and elegant, and contains little clues of its own .

Which makes it doubly awesome that K. Caine is now writing another Improbable Press book with them, Conductivity.

I can’t wait.

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Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Musketeers

Tansy Rayner Roberts is responsible for much delight in my life, through her awesome books and novellas as well as her thoroughly delightful actual self.

She’s currently responsible for me mainlining the BBC Musketeers TV series, and how I’ve pestering people to watch it ever since.

It all began with her book, Musketeer Space.

I became a supporter of Tansy’s Patreon because this is Tansy Rayner Roberts. She’d just finished posting her SF, genderswitched alternative universe reworking of Alexander Dumas’s Three Musketeers.

I downloaded it. But man, did that file look looooooooooong on my Kindle, with dots leading off to the right beyond any other book I had on the device.

So I put off reading it. And put it off. Surely it would take ages.

Finally, though, I’d read every other TRR book in my collection, and I had time, so I finally opened it.

Readers, I tore through that book like I was going to get a prize for reading speed. And I DID get a prize! I got an awesome story, that was sprightly and funny and full of action and friendship and diversity and tragedy and romance and combat and consequences!

Basically, it was everything I always love about Tansy’s work.

Having gobbled down this delight that goes tripping along, I naturally immediately also seized upon the  Musketeer Space short Christmas story she’d written for her Patreon supporters, Joyeux. It’s set before the epic novel, and richly fills out some of the backstory while creating a strong, wondeful story in its own right.

I stared about hungrily for a bit and then realised I had also downloaded Tansy’s book of essays about celluloid Musketeers.

Even if you haven’t seen the films and shows in question, the essays in It’s Raining Musketeers are written with such humour and charm that it doesn’t matter.

Still, by the time I was up to her glorious review of the third episode of BBC Musketeers, warning all the way about spoilers, I thought it best to watch the thing before continuing with the essays.

I watched the thing. I fell madly in love with it. With friendship and dashing hats. With men who were full of fire and feistiness, passion and playfulness, who could hug it out and be emotional.

With women who had agency and passed the Bechdel test, the sexy lamp test, the ‘do I want to drown them in the duck pond?’ test. The queen, Constance, Milady and brilliant guest stars, all superb and with their own motivations and faults and genius.

Even the foolish king, played so adeptly by Ryan Gage, won my heart. None of the later villains was as brilliant as Peter Capaldi’s Richelieu, who died so that the Twelfth Doctor could live, but they gave it a damned good shot, including Rupert Everett, who Richard-the-Thirded up his Marquis de Feron with terrific loucheness.

Did I mention the diversity? A black Musketeer, a hispanic Musketeer. One of them’s Italian. The last is played by Tom Burke, son of my favourite Watson ever, David Burke, so I was kind of in love with him through inheritence anyway.

So I gulped down three seasons of this splendid series, which has a whole story arc and comes to a natural conclusion that was satisfying and joyful.

Frankly, it had to be good to compete with TRR’s awesome take on the Musketeers as epic, diverse, queer space buddies who are the very epitome of swash and buckle.

Then, Musketeer-hungrier than ever I went back to finish the book of Musketeer essays. (TRR’s reviews continued to be spot on, and I’m glad I watched the show and avoided the spoilers, just so I could enjoy the events all over again while reading about them.)

So here I am, all full up to the brim with Musketeers.

I suppose one of these days I should actually read the Dumas original.

Musketeer books on Amazon.com

 

Kickstarter – Sherlock Holmes: Adventures Beyond the Canon

I mentioned a few posts ago that a new Kickstarter was about to launch to fund an anthology of sequels to original Arthur Conan Doyle stories from the Sherlock Holmes canon.

The  Sherlock Holmes: Adventures Beyond the Canon Kickstarter campaign was launched on 1 August 2018, and it’s already been fully funded.

But that’s no reason to light a pipe, indulge in a seven per cent solution or go and have a flutter on the races (which was more Watson’s vice). If you back the Kickstarter, you can get hold of any or all of the three volumes, as well as back the book at higher levels and get even more Sherlock Holmes bookish deliciousness for your pains!

My story, ‘A Gentleman’s Disagreement’, will appear in the first volume of the anthology. It’s a sequel to ‘The Blue Carbuncle’ and follows what happens almost immediately after the end of the original story. It involves a second theft, some unpleasant accusations, a few incautious comments and a night in a prison cell for Dr Watson.

Here’s an excerpt:

I threw some papers from my chair onto the floor with the others, causing Holmes’s expression to spasm in disapproval, as though I had upset some order within the mess. I cheerfully ignored him as I took my seat, drew out my pipe and packed it from the Persian slipper.

I briefly felt sorry for the Countess, so unlucky in love. “His behaviour is scandalous,” I said, lighting my pipe with a match.

“You’ve forgiven her, then, for your night in prison?”

I puffed to ensure the tobacco was well lit and eased back in my chair. “It was an invigorating few hours at least,” I said magnanimously, “And the fault wasn’t entirely hers. Several of us had a hand in it.”

Holmes threw back his head and roared with laughter in that rare but wholehearted way of his, and I grinned.

“You are a diplomat, Watson,” he declared, still laughing.

“And you did apologise very handsomely for your share,” I said, saluting him with the stem of my new pipe, which he’d gifted me not long after the incident, “Though I’m grateful you secured my release before matters got out of hand.”

My friend sobered at the reminder. “Yes. Any longer in the lock-up with those old ‘friends’ of ours might have been less invigorating.”

“I was thinking more of the effect of the damp on my old wounds,” I demurred, though his evident concern, then as now, warmed me more than any apology.

The Kickstarter also includes interviews with the authors for every day of the campaign, talking about which story they chose to write a sequel to and why, among other things.

Learn more about Sherlock Holmes: Adventures Beyond the Canon or back it on Kickstarter.

The Lady Novelist is menaced by a cow on Dartmoor

I’m on my travels once more – back to the UK where I’ve been doing a spot of research at the British Library, visiting a friend up in Kendal and doing the Beatrix Potter/Windemere Lake thing and now spending time with my talented friend, Janet Anderton, as we throw ideas around for a potential book collaboration or six in the future.

As part of our brainstorming for creative collaboration, Janet and I went on a road trip to Dartmoor. I’m also working on a story which is partly set on the moor and I wanted especially to see a strange little wood I’d read about in the middle of the national park.

Wistman’s Wood has a reputation for wizardry and occult happenings. Lying just to the east of West Dart River, the wood is an area of twisted oaks, shadows and lichen-covered boulders. It’s unlike any other place on the moor and is associated with legends of druids, demonic hunts and, I expect, many twisted ankles.

My little guide book said the walk to Wistman’s Wood from Two Bridges and back via a couple of tors was ‘undemanding’ and would take about two and a half hours.

It mentioned that the walk shouldn’t be done in poor visibility. It mentioned the care that should be taken on some of the rougher, rock-strewn paths.

It did not mention cows.

As an Australian, I am used to certain activities while walking country paths. I have played the ‘is that a stick or a snake?’ game, and the ‘oh my god I’ve walked into a spider web, is there a spider in my hair?? oh god, oh god, get it off me, oh god‘ dance.

What I’m not used to is seeing three cows in the distance, standing in a solemn, unmoving row like they were about to ask Janet and I three riddles before we’d be allowed to climb the stile and enter the wood.  Three black cows that looked as big as Paul Bunyan’s blue ox but twice as mean, even from the opposite hill.

The weirdest thing was how they got smaller as we approached. In fact, by the time we got there, instead of the three of them towering over our heads and glaring judgementally at us, they were all about our shoulder height and two had lost interest. The third maintained an expression of sinister displeasure, but we tiptoed past, climbed the stile and made it without incident to Wistman’s Wood.

It was worth the clamber, the urgent need for a sneaky yet careful outdoor pee among the gorse bushes (reminiscent of that time in Canada with the bears) and the cow fright to sit on a boulder and look into that cool green light under the twisted oaks.  The intermittent call of a cuckoo and the chirps of songbirds punctated the hush. Down the hill, the West Dart burbled, and the complaints of querelous sheep filtered through to us.

The wood was eerie and compelling, but I was content to sit and watch rather than enter its rocky heart. I’m no mountain goat. Observation was enough to flesh out the story I currently have set in its interior.

In the shade of hill and oak, I also recorded a brief account of my response to Australia achieving marriage equality for the upcoming Irish of New York podcast. Afterwards, I shared and traded ideas with Janet (who among other things designed the IoNY logo) about how we might use the wood and it’s strange atmosphere to best effect for this book we hope to do together.

Rested from our travails, we decided to avoid the Scary Evil Eyed Cows by going to the top of the hill, skipping the tors and taking the grassy path back to the farmhouse at the start of our walk.

Hey, reader! Do you remember all those cartoons with big snorting bulls that puff steam from their nostrils and paw the earth with giant hoofs? Cos Janet and I sure do!

We were very forcefully reminded of all those animated characters tossed over fences by territorial bulls as we realised the big cow ahead of us wasn’t shrinking like the mysterious ones further down the hill. No.

THIS cow was enormous and getting larger.

THIS cow had a pair of balls that Janet described as ‘like two footballs in a pillow case’.

THIS cow was a big black bull, pawing at a dusty hollow in the hillside and tossing its horned head about in said hollow like it had personally affronted him.

He hadn’t even seen us yet.

Running was out of the question. I can’t. I’d be trampled to death and Janet, who is fleeter of foot than I, would have to sing epic songs of my heroic death so that my name lived on. She happily agreed that she would run like blazes and save herself if necessary.

Still, we thought. While people DO get killed by cows, we might be able to slide past this one if we played our cards right.

I immediately adopted the only strategy I knew, which was the one I was taught in Canada about Never Surprising A Bear. Janet opted for the Music Soothes the Savage Beast protocol. We didn’t want this bull – who was either enjoying a dust bath or rehearsing his badass Murder the Rambling Tourist moves – to be suprised. Nope nope nope nope.

Janet sang a little song which may have been ‘please don’t kill us, Mr Bull’. I softly called out in a wispy voice. “Hey cow. Hey cow. Vegetarian here. Good cow. Bull. Sir. Hey cow.”

We skirted well beyond its back legs. We walked slowly but steadily (do bulls chase running people the way dogs chase running cats? Who knew, but we were taking no chances).

The bull snorted into his dust bowl and ignored us.

We sang and hey-cowed and walked on until we couldn’t see the Bull of the Baskervilles any more.

The rest of our walk was without incident, but I did cast a backward glance from time to time, to ensure the Terrifying Cow hadn’t taken an interest.

That night, the lovely Jane from our delightful B&B, Dartfordleigh, cheerfully told us in her gorgeous Scots burr, “Oh yes, the cows can get quite touchy when they’re pregnant”. She may have mentioned a previous accidental death-by-cow but I may have been too busy hyperventilating to hear that bit.

But all’s well that ends in not being killed by a cow. Our afternoon on the moor had been filled with beauty, mystery, inspiration and adventure! Our hostess made everything sound charming with her accent, and our lodgings in the middle of Dartmoor were comfortable, picturesque and restful.

Janet and I had walked across a medieval clapper bridge and eaten a fine cream tea at the Two Bridges hotel. We’d delighted in English wildflowers and played pooh sticks at a stone bridge in a sweet little dell. We explored the House of Marbles in Bovey Tracey and met a kindred spirit at Pixie Corner (a story which I may share later).

We may not have committted to further rambles, but with Postbridge being in the centre of the national park, every drive to any spot was a visual feast. We had a marvellous time in Dartmoor and alarming bovines notwithstanding, 10/10, would go out on the wily, windy moors again.

And as a bonus, Janet has been producing some gorgeous sketches!