Review: Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times

It took very little to convince me to pick up Emma Trevayne’s Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times; it was on the shelf of new arrivals in the young adult section, it’s steampunk, and it takes us from London to Londinium. Like our main character, Jack, we’re taken in by metal fairies, clockwork dragons, and the people with mechanical limbs. We’re also just as surprised that the story takes a dark turn toward a not-so-happy ending.

Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne
I rated the book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Jack is everything you’d expect the 10 year-old son of wealthy parents to be: selfish, incorrigible, and feeling neglected. It’s no wonder he follows a mysterious man through a doorway to the bleak and fantastical Londinium. It doesn’t take long for us feel conflicted over the wonder we feel with Jack and the understanding that there is something very wrong with this city patrolled by airships and ruled by the immortal and temperamental Lady.

Together with a charming and brave clockwork girl named Beth, and a pair of inventors who thankfully don’t turn into flat surrogate parents, Jack plays the dangerous game orchestrated for him. People and things — not that there’s much of a distinction between them in Londinium — break and die in the name of power in this world where magic and machine blends together. It’s that very blurred line, however, that bends our immersion in the story.

Mechanical fairies and dragons with souls of their own — some born, some built — are easy to accept. But when another familiar creature appears in the form of the legendary Gearwing late in the story, it’s harder to understand this is where we were headed the whole time. There’s little time to breathe between the points where Jack is a disposable pawn, and then the one to fulfill a prophecy. Had this prophecy made itself known a little earlier own, it might not have felt like the plot switched trains without us knowing.

Despite where the Gearwing throws things off — as legendary creatures tend to do whenever they reappear — Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times is still a pleasant read accompanied by whimsical illustrations. The author’s language crafts a story that is just as enchanting as the world it is set in, and just as hard to leave.

Studio Session: “Revenant” by Alex Surowitz

Thanks to the support of some fellow writers who responded to one of my Facebook posts a while back, I can try something new for Writing Wednesdays. Several wonderful and courageous people volunteered to send me the opening paragraph of a piece of their writing and post them on my blog for a public workshop. I’ll be commenting on the writer’s voice, authority, intention, the expectations they create, and the level of intrigue. If you’d like to become a part of this experimental new series, head over to my contact page and let me know! Now, on to our first volunteer. We salute you, sir!

The Writer: Alex Surowitz (website)

The Piece: “Revenant,” a dark fantasy steampunk novel with elements of noir and super hero fiction. Word count: 79


One: Victoria

Victoria. October, 1924. This is not the city the founders had envisioned. This is a city that made the transition from gas to steam power two years ago. This is a city where crime runs rampant across the cracked and broken streets, now slick and foggy from the evening’s rain an hour ago. This is a city whose people cower under the watchful gaze of the zeppelins above or the robot sentries wandering the streets at night, always vigilant.


Right away, we’re given the name of the city and year. As readers, we’re already thinking about what was going on in 1924 and wondering how much of it we’re going to see. Will we read about the aftermath of World War I, various countries recognizing the USSR, Gandhi’s release from jail, or Benito Mussolini’s policies in Italy? How much will any of that affect the story? My inclination is to believe we are either within the United Kingdom (likely England, but I could also believe we’re in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland), Canada, or the United States. Giving the name of a country will help focus the historical baggage I bring as a reader.

Our first full sentence does a great job of giving us some tension; nothing’s more interesting than a plan gone awry and I’d like to know where it went wrong. Just after that, we’re given one of the rules of this world: the primary source of electricity is steam, not gas. Whether or not we’re familiar with the tropes of steampunk, this is a smooth way to introduce us to one of the facts of reality within the story. It also sets up the expectation that we will see familiar devices constructed in unusual ways; to make good on this promise, the writer will have to use subtle flicks throughout the story to reference this fact. We need to feel the heat and humidity when standing near machines and hear the steam being released from vents or valves, but all with the same subtlety that we would know it’s a cool evening and it’s raining.

With the phrase “crime runs rampant,” I do think it will be everywhere–both in shadows and in light. I will assume every politician is corrupt, the entire policing force is suspect until I see the one or two people who still believe in doing good, and everyone’s got their hand in something dirty no matter how clean they look. The cracked and broken streets emphasize this, as does the slick and foggy weather.

The following sentence makes a more solid promise on the expectations I just developed; it’s a great demonstration of the writer’s authority because he knows what I’m thinking and he’s telling me, “You’re on the right track.” And after giving me the soft implications of what I’ll see in Victoria, he comes in with “people cower under the watchful gaze of the zeppelins above or the robot sentries wandering the streets at night, always vigilant.” He’s given me a concrete detail I can hold on to, and he opens me up to more surprises. Just like with the steam-powered technology, the zeppelins and robot sentries are what tell me I’m in for something different. And with the last words, “always vigilant,” I’m expecting the action to start, our main character to be introduced, and one of the zeppelins or robots to appear within the next two paragraphs.

I do get a bit of a noir feel from the narration — the writer’s established that as his voice, and so promises to tell the entire story with the same voice that’s here in the first paragraph. I have no idea what the main conflict is, but that’s perfectly reasonable this early in the story, especially when a character hasn’t been introduced yet. However, the writer has set me up with a generalized conflict with a corrupt city — perhaps someone will fight to change this, either on a large or small scale. I’m very interested in this city and what it holds, but I need a character right away or the author’s going to start losing me.

It’s off to a great start and I hope the writer makes good on the promises he’s made right here.


If you’d like to volunteer a piece of writing for a Studio Session, head to my contact page. I’ll go sentence by sentence, commenting on the writer’s voice, authority, intention, the expectations they create, and the level of intrigue. Any and all types and genres are accepted. I will happily give my two cents on the opening to your novel, short story, memoir, cover letter, artist statement, author bio, potentially rude email to professors or coworkers, ode to tater tots, and whatever else you creative geniuses come up with.

Please include your name and the URL to your website (optional), the title of your piece, a brief description, your first paragraph only, and any specific concerns you’d like me to address if you have them.

Collaboration: The Art of Professionals Not Killing One Another – Guest Post by Tee Morris

It is with great pleasure (and no small amount of giddiness) that I present you with a guest post by one of my favorite authors. This guest post is part of a blog tour promoting the upcoming release of Dawn’s Early Light, the third installment of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. (Follow the links for my reviews of books one and two.) There’s also some information about a giveaway at the bottom!

Make sure you check back on Friday for my review of Dawn’s Early Light!

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Photo by J.R. Blackwell
Photo by J.R. Blackwell

Creative collaboration is nothing new, but it seems to be a growing trend with authors and writing groups. There are teams like Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, or the numerous pairing-up’s that blockbuster authors like Tom Clancy and James Patterson are known for that make collaborations look like a great way to create a bestselling epic or kick off careers.

It’s also easy, isn’t it? You share the idea with a friend, split up the work, and then at the end, you have a manuscript, right?

Not by a longshot.

When authors collaborate, it’s different from team to team. What is essential in a successful collaboration is to tell a story—the same story—while remaining true to your own style. This tends to be the biggest stumbling block for authors who share a byline. When a book is co-written, there shouldn’t be a jump in styles. It can be jarring and yank a reader out of the story. Also, if the reader prefers one author’s voice over another, it may affect the way a reader takes the story you’re both trying to tell. Both Pip and I have our own way of writing, but there are similarities and compatibilities that led us to working together, and yeah, probably getting married.

No, we’re not suggesting you marry your writing partner or partners. We just got lucky that way.

But we digress…

Collaborations can happen when you least expect it, too. How Pip and I began our working relationship as writers began with one of us (Pip) looking to launch a podcast-for-pay idea while the other (That would be me…) wanted to promote a series idea. The compatibility of both ideas led to a rollicking steampunk adventure featuring archivist Wellington Books and pistol-packing agent Eliza D. Braun. We were casually putting this podcasting project together when our agent, Laurie McLean of Foreword Literary, told us of interest in our “new steampunk title” announced on our blogs. We then set out to write the novel the same way we were planning to write and produce the podcast script —from either Wellington’s or Eliza’s point-of-view.

With our idea fleshed out, collaboration started immediately with talking through plot developments and twists. Something we both learned in this brainstorming was there is no obligation to tell your partner about everything you want to throw at your shared characters and worlds. We surprise one another constantly with either one-liner gems or revelations that we will go deeper into detail during the editorial phase. What is important is that your surprises are justified. You have a good reason for doing what you do, not because you think it’s cool.

Editing is when we smooth out our distinctive styles by editing one another’s chapters, that trust comes into play. I am lucky in that Pip and I trust one another implicitly. We know that some things we write will make the cut, some will be removed, and some may be reimagined, provided we can keep the story moving and the plot solid. Often times, you will hear authors talk about the importance of trust in collaboration, but open communications trumps trust every time. What do we mean by open communications? Both of us have survived collaborations gone wrong, both of them involving a breakdown in the communications between our partners. While one of these instances was resolved more amicably than the other, we now understand the importance of planning for the worst-case scenario which is why we did. It’s important, if not imperative, that you plan for what to do if you or your partner lose interest, just in case the writing relationship takes a wrong turn somewhere.

Thankfully, after six years, we are still going strong.

The only time we find ourselves at odds with one another is when it comes to writing Interludes, the segments of our novels that are told from a variety of characters’ points-of-view. We both love writing for the Maestro and Sophia del Morte, and in Dawn’s Early Light we even have opportunities to get into Nikola Tesla’s head, so we burned through a few rounds of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock and heated arguments over who was writing which scenes. Even with the other person writing a particular chapter, we remain each other’s best sounding board for ideas and character developments. We never forget that this is a collaboration, so it is our responsibility to find out the best ways of making plot developments work.

It’s a very special relationship we have, and we don’t take it for granted. Not for a second.

There are plenty of benefits we’ve found in the collaboration process, but it’s making one another laugh, smile, and even shudder at what we come up with that have their own rewards. Maybe we have a subversive competitive streak between us, but we do try to ramp up the tension for both Eliza and Wellington. Whenever one of us completes a chapter, we genuinely look forward to what surprises await us. It’s that ability to bounce ideas back and forth, either in pre-production or during the editorial process, that makes writing the books fun for us, and hopefully for others when they read them. Collaboration, when done right, makes the writing process less solitary.

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signing-sepia-02
Photo courtesy of Tee Morris.

Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris are the writing team behind the award-winning steampunk series, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. While they both pursue individual fantasy and steampunk writing projects, they still manage to keep the magic of working together alive, while living together in Virginia, with their daughter, and a mighty clowder of cats. You can find them online together at http://www.ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com/ and separately at http://www.pjballantine.com/ and http://teemorris.com/

Pip’s website|Pip’s Twitter|Tee’s website|Tee’s Twitter|The MOPO Facebook

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Now for the giveaway info! At the end of the blog tour, there will be three winners chosen to win these amazing prizes!

PRIZE ONE

  • Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
  • Signed Abney Park Poster
  • Signed Abney Park CD Ancient World
  • Signed coverflats of Phoenix Rising and the Janus Affair

PRIZE TWO

  • Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
  • The Extraordinary Contraptions CD
  • Signed cover flat of Phoenix Rising

PRIZE THREE

  • Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences

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Review: The Little Clockwork Mermaid

Lovely cover art, by the way.

If you didn’t already know, I’m a fan of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences books by Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris. I found her novella via the author’s Facebook page when she released a promotional code to download the book for free (it’s normally available on Smashwords for $1.99).

Apart from the occasional typo, this was a wonderful read. Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story, many elements are familiar to readers. However, that does not mean you won’t be surprised.

This was a really fascinating and wonderfully different mermaid story. The war with the humans and the underwater machinery led me to believe the story would end on a much darker note, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I absolutely loved Lorelei’s character; her thoughts and actions were easier to relate to than the original story by Hans Christian Anderson. My only complaint is I wish there were more about Lorelei’s mother and how Lorelei’s final form was received by the humans.

I’d definitely recommend this novella to anyone who enjoys fantasy, classic tales with a new twist, or anyone who wants a pleasant surprise while reading.

© Amanda Surowitz and Switzy Thoughts, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amanda Surowitz and Switzy Thoughts with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Janus Affair Book Trailer

You may remember from a little while ago I posted my review of The Janus Affair: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel. Well, the book has finally been released! I can’t wait to go buy my own copy. If you haven’t heard about the book yet, read my review. Better yet, watch the book trailer that’s just been released.

Buy it, read it, and pay a visit to the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrence’s website!

Recommended Reads: The Janus Affair: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel

The second installment of this series from Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris flabbergasted me. I was so blown away, I could not write the review simply because it left me speechless. Now that I’ve regained my composure, I know exactly how to describe The Janus Affair.

(I would like to take a moment to inform my readers this book will be available at the end of May; my review is based on an advanced review copy.)

The Janus Affair is a maddening delight that proves impossible to set aside, even when the plot twists knock the wind from you. Agents Books and Braun are even more addictive this time around as we delve into each of their secrets. The new mysteries that arise are as delicious as the ones we receive answers to. Once again, the authors have created an infuriating pleasure that makes me want to beg on hands and knees for the next book.

It breaks my heart to imagine waiting several months–perhaps even a year–for the next installment, but wait I shall. In the meantime, I await the print release so I may purchase my own copy.

Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris are greatly responsible for my own interest (sometimes borderline obsession) with steampunk. When I endeavor to write steampunk, I look to them for guidance. Without them, I probably would have remained mostly ignorant of such a wonderous genre, subculture, fashion, and everything else that steampunk is. I will always be grateful to them, and I hope one day I can meet them and express my thanks in person.

You can read my review for the first book, Phoenix Rising, or head over to the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences website.

Recommended Reads: The Alloy of Law

This is the only series I’ve seen where a fantasy world is created, and then is revisited 300 years later as technology evolves. But it’s not just railroads and electricity advancing in the Mistborn world–Allomancy has changed, as well.

Those familiar with the series know about Mistings (those born with the ability to use one Allomantic power) and Mistborn (those born with the ability to use all Allomantic powers). The Alloy of Law introduces two new kinds of people: Ferrings (those born with the ability to use one Feruchemic power) and Twinborn (those born with one Feruchemic power and one Allomantic power). The world of Mistborn has taken on an old-west and steampunk feel, making the story even more irresistable.

Those unfamiliar with the series will want to pick up the first book and get started.

Waxillium Ladrian uses his Twinborn powers as a lawman in the Roughs. After twenty years of that life, he is forced to return to the city of Elendel and assume his responsibility as the lord of his noble house. He puts away his guns for good and reluctantly settles in the life of a nobleman until havoc strikes the city on a major scale. Wax balances the line between rough and refined, immediately becoming another of my favorite characters.

Helping Wax with his investigations are Wayne, an old friend from the Roughs, and Lady Marasi, a young woman studying law. Wayne is another wonderful character, making me laugh with the usual sharp dialogue one can expect from Sanderson. Marasi is a joy to follow, as well. I greatly look forward to these characters returning in the next novel. (With an ending like this one, there has to be another one!)

Brandon Sanderson delivers another inspiring work of genius with this book. I will never be able to get over his characters, the intwined stories, and the insane surprises that will keep me reading for hours and hours. I eagerly await any information on the next book.

One of McSweeney's illustrations from The Alloy of Law

I would also like to extend my approval to Mr. Ben McSweeney, one of two illustraters who contributed to this book. Without following Mr. McSweeney on deviantART, I probably would not have known about this book until after it was released. Many thanks to you!