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Open Road Media Releases Victoria Strauss Popular Fantasy E-book Titles + Tweet to Win

E-book Release of Two Victoria Strauss Titles: The Burning Land and The Awakened City

straussburningland_132340842247The Burning Land by Victoria Strauss was released as an e-book for the first time on February 24th, 2014, along with its sequel, The Awakened City! They were first published in 2004 and 2006 to fantasy lovers rave reviews.

In honor of this e-book publication, there is a giveaway happening for a short time in which if you buy The Burning Land, you can enter to win its sequel! See more below about it, right after the excerpt!

In The Burning Land, Gyalo is a devout priest—but he is also a Shaper, a powerful mage with magic unchecked by the law or religion. Sent across the desert to recover refugees from a vicious war, he soon learns a shocking truth that may destroy him and everyone he holds dear.

Victoria Strauss, who holds a degree in Comparative Religion, builds a unique world both religious and fantastical, culminating in “a deeply felt and richly imagined tale that explores issues of faith, destiny and the fallibility of human nature” (Jacqueline Carey, author of Kushiel’s Dart).

Strauss, a one-time judge for the World Fantasy Awards, is the author of nine novels for adults and young adults, including the Passion Blue series. A prolific book reviewer, her work has appeared in Writer’s Digest, among other magazines. In 2009, she received the Service to SFWA Award for co-founding Writer Beware, a publishing industry tell-all guide for writers.

See more: www.victoriastrauss.com


After four months of travel, they came to the most hostile landscape they had yet encountered: a vast plain of pebbles packed flat and hard as pavement, polished by time and the elements to the reflectiveness of glass. A wind blew off it, like the breath of a furnace. Even the most desolate of the dunes had supported some vegetation, but there was none here, nor any other sign of life. Far away at the southern horizon, a range of twilight-colored mountains poked up into the sky, some of them showing the flattened cone-shape of volcanoes.

The party made camp, while Teispas dispatched scouts to survey the terrain. They returned exhausted and sunburned, with tales of infernal temperatures and light so intense they had to bind their eyes. They had traveled for two days, and seen no sign of change.

There seemed no choice but to try and go around. To the east the plain curved north, so the party turned west. After a day and a half the plain’s margin dipped sharply south, and the mountains drew closer, revealing fold after fold of fire-colored cliffs descending from their flanks. Now, suddenly, the Dreamers’ Dreams acquired definition, producing an array of symbols that, according to Rikoyu, meant human life and work–still south, somewhere beyond the pebble plain.

They had, it seemed, found the lost Âratists.

But the plain ran on, and scouts sent ahead reported no end in sight. After a week of this, Teispas called a meeting. He and his second in command, Aspâthnes, were present, as were Gyalo, Rikoyu, and Vâsparis. Outside, the sun was slipping over the edge of the world in a glory of gold and orange cloud; its fading light filtered through the canvas of Teispas’s tent, enveloping the men in a ruddy gloom.

“We’re sure now that what we’ve been sent to find lies on the other side of that plain,” Teispas began. “Probably in those mountains. Do you agree, Brother Rikoyu?”

“Yes,” said Rikoyu hoarsely. He looked terrible, his hollow cheeks covered with an unkempt beard, his scalp patchy where skin rashes had caused his hair to fall out.

“But it’s been over a week, and still the plain goes on. And the Dreamers have begun to lose focus again.”

Rikoyu nodded.

“We have supplies for only a year. We’ve been traveling more than four months, and it’ll take us at least that long to return–longer, if the lost Âratists are with us. We have no time to waste. But that is exactly what we’re doing–wasting time. For all we know, this ash-cursed plain goes all the way to the sea.” He paused. Like all of them, he had lost flesh; he had not had much to spare to begin with, and now was gaunt as a ghost, his clothing hanging on him, his skin stretched tight over the bones of his face. With his tangled hair and overgrown beard, he looked like a castaway rather than the leader of a military expedition. “We must try and scout a crossing.”

For a moment there was silence.

“There’s bad places in the Burning Land, but no place crueler than the pebble plains.” Vâsparis sat crosslegged, his hands resting on his knees, self-contained and easy as always. Of all of them, the journey had changed him least, for he had been whip-thin and sun-black long before it began. “There’s a little one west of Thuxra City. My partner and I tried to cross it once, but we had to turn back. ‘Twasn’t for lack of supplies or water–it was the heat. The sun pounds down on those stones till you’d swear you were frying on a griddle.”

“We can travel at night, and take shelter by day.”

“That’s fine for men.” Vâsparis shrugged. “But what about the camels? Nothing for ’em to eat or drink out there. They can go maybe ten days like that–and only if there’s good forage at the end of it.”

“We can’t carry more than ten days’ supply of water in any case,” Teispas said. “So their limit and ours is the same. We’ve seen rain clouds above the mountains–it seems likely there’s good land there. The scouts can try at the most southern point, where the Dreamers’ Dreams were strongest. If they can break through in eight days, it shouldn’t take the main party more than ten.”

“And if the scouts can’t break through?” asked Aspâthnes, Teispas’ second. “Or if they don’t return?”

“Then we’ll move on and try another route. And if that one doesn’t work, another.” Teispas fixed Aspâthnes with a hard black gaze. A strained quality had come upon him over the past weeks, a kind of wire-strung tension, as if the barrier of the plain was finally more than his stoic endurance could support. “And if that one doesn’t work, I’ll concede defeat, and we can go back to slogging along the edge of this bloody plain, until our supply situation forces us to turn tail and go back to Arsace without completing the mission that right now, this moment, is finally within our reach.”

“Very well,” Aspâthnes said. “If the scouts can cross in eight days, and find good land at the exit point, I agree it should be tried.”

“And you, Brother.” Teispas turned that gaze upon Gyalo. “What do you think?”

The question was only a courtesy–Gyalo was in charge of the vowed Âratists, but he had no voice in the mission’s command, and any disagreement would be overruled. But he did not disagree. Since the Dreamers had begun to Dream, a blazing excitement had filled him. He was as impatient as Teispas to break past this final barrier and confront the truth they had sought so long.

“Crossing will be risky,” he said. “But every day we travel the Burning Land is a risk. I agree we should try to find a way.”

“Good.” Teispas’s nod was approving. He looked toward Aspâthnes. “See to it. Two men. They’ll leave this night. We’ll follow in the morning.”

The scouts departed, with four camels and ample water. The main party came on at a slower pace, until they found the red and gold marker the scouts had planted at the point at which they had decided to try a crossing. There was good camping close by, a small oasis where water bubbled up to form a pool and a grove of ghost oaks cast a whispering shade.

The party waited, using the time to patch tents and clothing and repair frayed harness, and to increase their food stores by hunting the large lizards Vâsparis called greenback dragons. On the fifteenth day the scouts emerged, exhausted but triumphant, to report that it had taken them seven nights to reach the far side of the pebble plain, and that verdant land such as they had not seen in all their months of travel waited on the other side.

They set out the night after the scouts’ return. The water barrels were full. Inessential items–spare canvas, clothing, cooking pots, the remaining marker posts–had been unloaded and left behind, and the difference made up with green fodder for the camels, to buy extra crossing time should it be needed.

They rode till dawn beneath the cold-starred sky. The waxing moon stared down, a half-closed eye; around them the plain lay flat and featureless, glistening with reflected moonlight like a plaque of beaten silver. There were no variations, no landmarks, nothing at all with which to measure motion–a monotony as difficult to bear, in its way, as any physical hardship.

At dawn they halted. Looking back, Gyalo could see no trace of their starting point, nor any sign of the land ahead other than the hazy mountains. Tent pegs could not be driven among the packed stones, so they spread the canvas of their tents across the camel-saddles, and beneath this low shelter passed the broiling day. Gyalo dozed and woke and dozed again, tangled in dreams of fire and suffocation. When evening came, the blankets he had lain on were soaked with sweat, and the stone of the plain burned his feet through the soles of his boots.

The camels bore up well for the two nights the fodder lasted, and for two foodless, waterless nights after that. On the fifth night they began to slow, raising the possibility that the journey might take longer than the nine nights Teispas had estimated. The water allowance was reduced (except for the Dreamers, for whom nothing was ever rationed); the thirsty men grumbled, but were not ready to listen to Vâsparis when he suggested, seriously, that they drink their own urine–a survival technique, he claimed, that more than once had made the difference between life and death for him.

At sunset on the seventh night, the travelers crawled from their sweaty burrows to begin the labor of saddling and loading. Gyalo was unhobbling Cirsame–not that she really needed hobbling, for she was by now too depleted to wander–when he heard a shout:

“Look! Over there!”

It was one of the camel handlers. He stood beside the water barrels, pointing south, toward a peculiar disturbance in the sky. Above the plain the air was trembling, shimmering like the heat-haze above a sunstruck rock. The margins of this area were blurred with iridescence.

“What do you think it is?” Sittibaal, who had spread his canvas nearby, came to stand beside Gyalo.

“I don’t know. It reminds me–”

“Of what?”

Gyalo shook his head. What it recalled to him, strangely, was Shaper sight: the air around a substance about to be transformed often looked just so.

Faintly came a long roll of thunder. Storm clouds, thick and gray and turbulent, began to unfold at the disturbance’s center, slowly compounding and enlarging. They pulsed and shook with sullen lightning. A swirling irregularity appeared at the storm’s eastern edge; after a moment a column of cloud slid smoothly downward, like a long black finger. It touched down, lifted, touched again.

“I’ve never seen a storm like that,” Sittibaal said. “Have you?”

“No. No, I haven’t.”

For a while they stood watching as the cloud-finger investigated the ground, sweeping east, then west, then slowly east again, almost as if some invisible hand were shepherding it. At last they returned to their preparations. Gyalo had forced Cirsame to kneel and was loading her when the thunder suddenly boomed louder. He looked up and saw the storm had grown, eating up much of the southern sky. It was still expanding, the clouds swelling, the black column engorging, like a bladder pumped with air–

No–not expanding. Approaching. The storm was coming toward them, racing along the pebble plain at unbelievable speed. In the instant Gyalo realized this, the first winds struck, pressing his clothes against his body, lifting the canvas behind him. The air darkened. Wetness struck his face–rain?

Another clap of thunder split the air. Cirsame bellowed and tried to rise; he pulled her traces, attempting to hold her down. There was a confusion of running men, of shouting–“Bring the camels down! Bring the camels down!” “Hold the canvas!” “The god save us!”–and then the storm struck, a screaming madness of wind and rain. Lightning flashed, blinding; the thunder that followed was like the earth cracking in two. The wind tried to pick Gyalo up; he wound his wrists with Cirsame’s traces and hung on for his life.

There was another flash, another crack. The wind wrenched him savagely around. Pain burst in his shoulder, like nothing he had ever known. Something struck him, crushing him to the ground. And then there was nothing in the world but agony and the storm.


If you go get The Burning Land, you can enter to win The Awakened City!

From now until March 1, anyone who tweets with the hashtag #BoughtBurningLand will be entered to win one of 10 free download codes for the 2ndbook,The Awakened City. Be sure to follow @OpenRoadMedia so we can contact you if you win! Full rules here: http://www.openroadmedia.com/victoriastrauss

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Interview with Emily Croy Barker, Author of A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

Today, I’m continuing my coverage of Emily Croy Barker and her debut magical novel, A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. For lovers of Harry Potter and A Discovery of Witches or even Alice in Wonderland, the book has fantasy elements as such, with a strong female lead. I’m reading it now and enjoying it!

In the meantime, please get to know the book, and Emily, a little better by reading this interview graciously given by Emily and her publisher, Pamela Dorman Books/Viking/Penguin. Thank you, Emily for taking about your book at Oh, for the Hook of a Book! and I hope I get to further interview you at a later date!

Thinking Woman's photo

Q. Which of the characters in THE THINKING WOMAN’S GUIDE TO REAL MAGIC did you most enjoy writing?

A. Aruendiel, no question. He says exactly what he thinks, and he doesn’t mind giving offense to anyone. Not something that most of us can get away with in our daily lives.

Of course, Ilissa was also a lot of fun, too. Because she’s also honest—Faitoren can’t tell lies—but at the same time, she’s thoroughly deceitful.

Q. Are any parts of this novel autobiographical?

A. You mean, is it about the time I stumbled into an alternate world and started studying magic? Sadly, no.

There were things in my life that I deliberately borrowed for the novel. The way Aruendiel talks about other magicians—I was thinking of how my father, who was a painter, used to talk with his artist friends about other artists, about who was doing good work and who wasn’t. My dad was the kindest and most gentle person ever, but he was ruthless when it came to criticizing bad art. It’s the idea that you have a calling that you have to follow and you don’t sell out.

I gave Nora some of my interests—a penchant for memorizing bits of poetry, a love of cooking—although she’s much better at both things than I am. She’s also braver than me. You could never get me to go up a cliff like the one at Maarikok, even with a levitation spell! And I let her take a path that I considered but never took—going to grad school in English.

Q. Your heroine, Nora Fischer, is swept away by magic into a kind of too good to be true existence.  Even though a part of her knew it wasn’t right she stayed.  Why would she allow herself to be easily enchanted?

A. As Aruendiel himself would point out, Faitoren enchantments are very hard to fight, because they give you something you want. Nora was feeling bruised and defeated, and suddenly she had everything that she thought she was missing.

I also think the kind of idealized femininity that Ilissa offers Nora—being beautiful, being the belle of the ball, having this perfect romantic love—is a very seductive thing, even for someone like Nora who has read all the feminist theorists and has really chosen the life of the mind. Maybe especially for someone like Nora.

 Q. You have so many literary references, John Donne, Miguel de Cervantes, William Carlos Williams, Alice in Wonderland and Grimm’s Fairytales, but it’s Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice that Nora ends up with as her only possession in the alternate world.  What is the significance of this particular book?  Any personal connection to it?

A. Well, Pride and Prejudice is so modern in many ways, although written and set in a premodern time. So it seemed like a good match for A Thinking Woman’s Guide, where a contemporary woman is thrown into a world where women are still second-class citizens, at best. And Pride and Prejudice reflects some of the themes that I was interested in—an intelligent woman engaging with a man who has both higher status and worse manners than she does—without being too closely parallel to the plot of my story. Finally, I love Pride and Prejudice! And so do many other readers. So I hoped it might resonate with those who read my novel.

Q. Words are a powerful tool and language is a very important status symbol in Nora’s new world. Women are uneducated and don’t speak to men the same way Nora does; something she is repeatedly frustrated by.  How did you develop Ors, the language Nora must learn in order to communicate?

A. Language reflects society, so as I thought about Aruendiel’s world, I tried to imagine what sort of linguistic rules it would have to help keep women in their place. And as anyone who has studied a foreign language knows, there are all kinds of subtleties that you don’t pick up right away. You can make blooper after blooper, sometimes for years. So Nora keeps bumping up against things like the feminine verb endings, which she never noticed until Aruendiel rather officiously points them out to her.

I was also inspired by how Tolkien, who was a philologist, essentially began imagining Middle-Earth by inventing various Elvish names. He wrote poems about these characters and, eventually, fiction. I thought, wow, what a powerful tool to create a believable fantasy universe, to develop some kind of logical linguistic framework that underlies your story.

Q. You’re a journalist by trade. What was it like, switching to fiction? Where do you write? Do you set hours or just put pen to paper when inspiration strikes?

A. It took me a while to feel comfortable writing fiction. It’s a different kind of narration. Suddenly, after years of having to be super-careful about collecting facts and double-checking them, I could make everything up. That felt wonderful! But what exactly do you include, what do you leave out? Beginning writers are always told, “Show, don’t tell.” Well, in fact there’s a lot you have to simply tell, or you’ll write twenty pages and your character will still be finishing breakfast.

The journalistic skill that I found most useful in writing fiction was simply the ability to sit in front of the computer and write. Even if you’re just trying to write, even if what you’re writing isn’t great at the moment or if all you have to show after three hours is three sentences. And then to do it again the next day. It doesn’t matter if you have to rewrite it all over again—because you’ll find something that’s worth keeping, or you’ll learn what not to do. The important thing is to keep going.

Usually I write at home on my laptop—sometimes on the train when I travel. I write best during the day. If I try to write at night, I’m usually too tired to get very far. Or occasionally I’ve had the opposite problem—I get really into it and then suddenly it’s way past my bedtime and I’m useless the next day. So starting out, I wrote for a couple of hours every weekend. Then it became every spare moment of every weekend. I still owe huge apologies to so many of my friends for turning down all their lovely invitations to go to museums, parties, movies, et cetera, over the past seven years.

Q. Who would be in your dream book club? Where would you meet and what would you talk about?

A. Henry James, Charlotte Brontë, Scott Fitzgerald, Mary McCarthy, Zadie Smith, and couple of my friends. We’d meet at Florian’s in the Piazza San Marco every third Tuesday in the month—this is a dream, right?—and talk about whatever I happen to be reading at the moment. I imagine it would be a lively group.

Q. Are you a fan of other fantasy novels?

A. Yes, although I certainly haven’t read everything that’s out there. I tend to like the denser, more literary kind of fantasy. Unlike Nora, I love Tolkien. Also Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, Alice Hoffman, Margaret Atwood, Ursula LeGuin, and Kelly Link. Kate Atkinson is best known now for her Jackson Brodie mysteries, but I’m really glad that I didn’t read her Human Croquet until after I wrote The Thinking Woman’s Guide, because in some ways that’s the book I wanted to write.

Q. Your writing is loaded with references from history, literature, and fantasy. What sort of reader did you envision for this series?

A. I tried to write the kind of novel I would want to read, so I guess in that sense I wrote it for myself. And as the book took shape and it became clearer that I would actually finish a draft at some point, I decided I would send it first to one of my oldest friends to see if she thought it was any good.  She and I grew up watching Star Trek and Monty Python, reading Sherlock Holmes and The Black Stallion and Jane Eyre, and doing the ultimate in geekdom—taking Latin—so I trusted her judgment. She liked it, so that encouraged me to keep revising.

Beyond that, I was thinking that it might appeal to some of the adults who loved Harry Potter but who wanted more of a adult perspective and a strong female character at the center of the novel.

 Q. The Thinking Woman’s Guide To Real Magic ends on a cliffhanger. Can you hint at what’s next for Nora and Aruendiel?

A. I’m pretty sure that Nora will find her way back to Aruendiel’s world. The two of them really need to talk and to be straight with each other, don’t you agree? And of course she has a lot more to learn about magic—and how to use it properly.

Check out the guest article by Emily about her transition from journalist to author that was previously posted on my blog HERE!  Watch for an upcoming review and giveaway of the book….!

emily photoAuthor Emily Croy Barker, Biography~

A graduate of Harvard University, Emily Croy Barker has been a magazine journalist for more than 20 years. She is currently executive editor at The American Lawyer magazine. This is her first novel.

A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, Synopsis~

Nora’s life is not quite going as planned. The man of her dreams is getting married, but not to her; her academic career has stalled; and there’s a mouse in her kitchen… Getting away for the weekend for a friend’s wedding seems like perfect timing, especially when she stumbles across the unfeasibly glamorous Ilissa, who immediately takes Nora under her wing.

Through Ilissa, Nora is introduced to a whole new world – a world of unbelievable decadence and riches where time is meaningless and everyone is beautiful. And Nora herself feels different: more attractive; more talented; more popular….Yet something doesn’t quite ring true: Was she really talking to Oscar Wilde at Ilissa’s party last night? Or transported from New York to Paris in the blink of an eye?

It is only after Ilissa’s son, Raclin, asks Nora to marry him that the truth about her new friends becomes apparent. By then, though, it’s too late, and Nora may never be able to return to the world, and the life, she knew before.

If she is to escape Raclin and Ilissa’s clutches, her only real hope – and an unlikely one at that – is the magician Aruendiel. A grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past, he might just teach her what she needs to survive and perhaps even make it home: the art of real magic.

For fans of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, or Lev Grossman’s Magicians series, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker is proof that magic not only exists but—like love—can sweep you off your feet when you least expect it…

“A marvelous plot, clever dialogue, and complex characters… With the intimacy of a classic fairy-tale and the rollicking elements of modern epic fantasy”
Deborah Harkness, author of the All Souls Trilogy

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Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Womans-Guide-Real-Magic/dp/0670023663/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0

GoodReads:  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16158565-the-thinking-woman-s-guide-to-real-magic

IndieBound:  http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780670023660/emily-croy-barker/thinking-womans-guide-real-magic

Barnes and Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-thinking-womans-guide-to-real-magic-emily-barker/1108935054

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