Strange Grace: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Strange Grace by Tessa GrattonA long time ago a witch fell in love with a devil.

The witch gave the devil her heart and a pact was made in the town of Three Graces. Now, nothing is bad and nothing changes. The crops never fail and no one dies before their time. Everything is good.

Every seven year the town’s best boy is anointed as a saint to run through the forest. On the Slaughter Moon he is sent into the forest from sundown to sunrise with nothing but his wits to protect him. His sacrifice renews the bargain every seven years.

That’s the story Three Graces has always known and always told. But can the story be trusted at all? When the bargain needs to be renewed early, Arthur, Mairwen, and Rhun aren’t so sure.

An angry boy, a witch, and a saint run into the forest together. They’ll need each other if they hope to change the shape of the bargain and Three Graces before the next Slaughter Moon in Strange Grace (2018) by Tessa Gratton.

Find it on Bookshop.

Gratton’s latest standalone novel is a thoughtful commentary on fear, sacrifice, and toxic masculinity wrapped in a page-turning story set in an eerie world where magic has the power to change everything and the forest has teeth.

As the daughter of the current witch Mairwen’s implicit trust in the bargain, in the devil, and in the forest itself is sorely tested as she realizes all is not as it seems in Three Graces.

Rhun has always known he would be the next saint. There is no denying he is the town’s best boy and he is willing to make the sacrifice. But as he prepares to lose everything, Rhun wonders if anyone in town truly knows him.

Arthur has grown up in the shadow of the Slaughter Moon and his mother’s fear of it. Raised as a girl for his first seven years, Arthur is desperate now to prove himself as strong, as good, and as masculine as the other candidates. But even Arthur knows that he is more angry than anything else.

As they prepare for the premature Slaughter Moon, Mairwen, Arthur, and Rhun are haunted by the decisions that have left their lives hopelessly intertwined. Drawn together as much as they are driven apart, none of them know how they can find an ending together when it it is unlikely they’ll all survive the night of the saint’s run.

Strange Grace is a tense blend of fantasy and suspense. Recommended for readers who enjoy their fantasy tinged with horror and old secrets and anyone seeking a polyamorous romance when the chemistry between the characters is undeniable.

Possible Pairings: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Eventide by Sarah Goodman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson, Last Things by Jacqueline West

Author Interview #3: Tessa Gratton on The Apple Throne

Tessa Gratton author photoTessa Gratton’s Songs of New Asgard is one of my favorite series and one I wish more people could find. The series concluded in 2015 with The Apple Throne. Tessa is here today to talk about this final installment in the series.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Apple Throne?

Tessa Gratton (TG): The first draft of THE LOST SUN was from Astrid’s point of view. About a third of the way in I realized I was telling Soren’s story and that the part of Astrid’s I was most interested in begins at the very end of that book. So really, the inspiration for TAT was part of my original inspiration for the entire series: Astrid was the very first character I created to live in the United States of Asgard. I wanted to explore religion and politics in an America founded by Vikings and their gods, so I needed a character involved in both. That was Astrid, because she has faith in a religion that seems faithless, and is very invested in making her country stronger and better. As a prophet, she has the power to do that, just like her mother did. She was, in essence, born for both religion and politics in the US of Asgard.

When I got to actually developing the Apple Throne, my core inspiration was the question: how does a human girl exist when she’s been made into a goddess, but is still just herself, with her same desires and loves and fears?

MP: You chose to self-publish The Apple Throne when the series was cancelled by its original publisher. What has it been like handling the publishing side of things on your own?

TG: Terrible. LOL. I was not made, personality-wise, for self-publishing. I am a writer, and that’s all I’m interested in, not the important tasks of marketing and choosing design and hiring copy editors and figuring out formatting and all the ins and outs of Kindle/Createspace/iBooks, etc etc etc. I just want to tell my stories and argue on Twitter.

MP: As part of that shift to self-publishing, you also reissued the entire series with new covers. Can you talk a bit about the redesign? Do you have a favorite new cover or an element you were excited to add to any of the new covers?

TG: YES! The covers were the only fun part of self-publishing. I worked with Saundra Mitchell who is wonderful. She was tireless in her quest to find exactly what I was looking for—or in a few cases, exactly what I didn’t even know I needed!

I have never been a fan of the original hardcover design for The Lost Sun. My publisher and I went around and around and finally it was time to just settle or move the publication date. (There was a lot going on at the time, including the Penguin-Random House merger that led to a shake-up in all the people I was working with.) However, I talked with my agent and the agency’s digital marketing person, and we decided it would be best to not deviate TOO far from the original hardcovers, so that The Apple Throne matched them in essence, though we hoped to eventually redesign the whole series (which we did!).

My favorite is probably The Lost Sun, though I think The Apple Throne is the most beautiful. But I never got to see Soren on the cover, despite the face originally on the hardback. Saundra and I spent hours and hours looking for images of young men who could be Soren that I could afford to buy the rights to. So although he’s not perfect (the model is not of Samoan descent like Soren), he is so close in looks and haunted berserker attitude it gives me a feeling of triumph to look at that cover.

MP: I loved Astrid’s growth over the course of this novel. In The Lost Sun Astrid is a very confident character. She understands her place in the world as a prophet and she knows how to work within that role to accomplish what she needs and wants to accomplish. In The Apple Throne a lot of that is lost to Astrid as she is no longer a prophet but Idun of the Apples. How did you go about channeling that change in her character and giving voice to this new aspect of Astrid’s life?

TG: I think this kind of change is something many people deal with—I have myself. It’s that thing where you think you get what you wanted, and it turns out to change everything. The goal you’ve worked toward and the choices you make add up to something amazing, but so far beyond and different from what you expected it feels like the world is upside down. With Astrid, that’s very literal: she’s lost herself *literally* except in the memories of a very few people. Her name and purpose have been changed, and she chose that, but there are unforeseen consequences. I thought through the layers of emotional and physical ramifications as I worked, developing her trajectory alongside developing the metaphor and character arcs I wanted to play with. I wanted her to rediscover herself, and take the parts of herself she knew and the parts that were new to her and merge them. This was about Astrid staying true to herself and her choices, while at the same time meeting new challenges to continue making the world better—which was always her goal. So in a lot of ways it was a post-teen story, a story about becoming an adult.

Plus, like you said, Astrid has always been confident, so really all I had to do was take that confidence away and help her find it again. That’s what we frequently ask ourselves as writers: what is the worst thing I can take away from this character? And that becomes the challenge/conflict.

MP: Is there any scene that you are particularly excited for readers to discover in this novel?

TG: Oh, wow. Any of the scenes when Astrid’s world and Signy’s collide. They’re both so powerful, I loved having them together so I could watch and create sparks, and try to find ways for their power to complement each other and also challenge each other. Soren is great, a wonderful cinnamon roll, but really he’s a vehicle for exploring a lot of powerful women in this series.

MP: The Apple Throne strikes a great balance between new characters and familiar favorites from the other books in the series. Which character are you excited for readers to meet in this book? Favorite character from the series?

TG: Thank you! In this book I think I’m most interested in people meeting Sune Rask, and Amon along with him. I love writing their dialogue and exploring their very long, fraught relationship.

Glory is probably my favorite in the whole series. The Fenris Wolf, destined to devour the sun and end the world as teenaged girl? MY HEART. Her novella Glory’s Teeth was a dream to write. Falling into her world and voice and desires was like my desert after all the difficulties of writing Signy’s story. (I love Signy, but our relationship is even more fraught than Sune and Amon’s.)

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

TG: YES! I have two new books coming in 2018: THE QUEENS OF INNIS LEAR from Tor. It’s my adult fantasy debut, a retelling of King Lear full of sisters, betrayal, magic, murder, feminism, and love. The other is SLAUGHTER MOON, a standalone YA from McElderry, about toxic masculinity, a magical forest, sacrifice, and witches.

Thanks again to Tessa for another great interview and always being up to chat with me on the blog. You can also read my review of The Apple Throne here on the blog and visit Tessa Gratton’s website for more info about her and her books.

You can also enter my giveaway to win ebooks of this trilogy!

The Apple Throne: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It is by touching gods and godlings, elves and trolls and men and women, by starting a new story for ourselves and our names, that we reach into the future.

“That is how we thrive.”

The Apple Throne by Tessa GrattonAstrid Glynn traded her life as a talented prophet and seethkona to save the person she loves. Soren Bearstar struck a bargain in turn so that he would remember Astrid even as the rest of the world forgot her.

It has been two years since Astrid gave up her name, her prophetic dreams, and her life to become Idun the Young–the not-quite goddess who guards and distributes the apples of immortality. In those two years Soren’s bargain has allowed him to visit her every three months. Until he doesn’t come.

Certain that something terrible is keeping Soren away, Astrid goes against the gods to escape her hidden orchard and search for him. With unexpected help from one of Thor’s bastard sons, Astrid travels across New Asgard to find Soren and save him.

Astrid is no longer the seer she once was nor is she exactly a goddess. She will have to bridge the gap between her old life and new if she wants to save the people she loves and protect the world as they know it in The Apple Throne (2015) by Tessa Gratton.

Find it on Amazon (not available on Bookshop).

The Apple Throne is the conclusion to Gratton’s Songs of New Asgard (United States of Asgard) series. It is preceded by The Lost Sun and The Strange Maid. All of the books function very well as stand-alone titles however, because of timeline and character overlap, The Apple Throne does include spoilers for the earlier books. These titles have all been reissued by the author through CreateSpace as paperbacks and eBooks.

The Apple Throne is a fantastic conclusion to one of my favorite fantasy series. This story starts soon after the conclusion of Soren’s story and references the events of Signy’s ascension to her title as Valkryie. Although Astrid’s story is removed from that of the other protagonists in this series, her arc culminates in a finish that neatly ties all three books together.

Astrid accepts her current role as Idun, a quasi-goddess, gladly. But the loss of her identity as young prophet Astrid Glynn and her separation from Soren still sting. More importantly, Astrid isn’t sure who she is without a place in the world and her dream visions to guide her. Throughout the story Astrid has to reconcile who she used to be with who she has become as she tries to correct past mistakes and protect the people she holds dear.

A feminist story literally about a young woman carving a place for herself in the world, The Apple Throne is another thoughtful fantasy filled with the intricate world building that Gratton’s fans will expect. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers, Freya by Matthew Laurence, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Clariel by Garth Nix, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Be sure to watch for my interview with Tessa about this book tomorrow!

You can also enter my giveaway to win ebooks of this trilogy!

Author Interview (Poetically Speaking): Tessa Gratton on “Desert Canticle”

poeticallyspeaking1Tessa Gratton author photoTessa Gratton has wanted to be a paleontologist or a wizard since she was seven. Alas, she turned out too impatient to hunt dinosaurs, but is still searching for a someone to teach her magic. After traveling the world with her military family, she acquired a BA (and the important parts of an MA) in Gender Studies, then settled down in Kansas to tell stories about monsters, magic, and teenagers. She’s the author of the Blood Journals Series and Gods of New Asgard Series, as well as dozens of short stories available in anthologies and on merryfates.com. With her critique partners, she authored The Curiosities and The Anatomy of Curiosity, both about writing YA. Her current projects include Season 2 of “Tremontaine” at Serial Box Publishing, and an adult fantasy novel. Visit her at tessagratton.com, @tessagratton, tessagratton.tumblr.com.

Today I’m talking with Tessa about “Desert Canticle”  which appears in her latest anthology (written with Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff) The Anatomy of Curiosity and her writing process.

Miss Print (MP): In your introduction to “Desert Canticle” you mention that this novella was inspired in part by IEDs and news out of the middle east. Can you talk about the kind of research involved as you started building the world in this story?

Tessa Gratton (TG): US participation in (and causing) wars in the Middle East has been an interest of mine for most of my life (my dad has twice been sent to Iraq for two different wars), so in a way it’s unfair to talk about how I researched this book: I’ve kind of been doing it since 1992. I’ve read piles of books about the Iraq war, both fiction and NF, written by soldiers, Marines, corespondents, and native Iraqis. But when I sat down to start developing the world/story itself, though I already had a lot of background information, I did develop a list of topics I needed to know more about specifically in order to tell my story. I dug deeper into IEDs themselves (how they’re frequently made, how hidden, if hidden, how they’re dismantled, how they’re set off on purpose in a controlled detonation), and into different kinds of military set-ups for the groups of soldiers who usually are searching for them. I also did some extra reading about insurgent groups in a variety of cultures, and looked up details about the desert I chose for my setting.

MP: One of the interesting things in your notes on process during “Desert Canticle” was when you highlighted an argument made by one of the characters that would not have been possible without your own knowledge of women’s studies. Does your personal history often inform how you tell your stories and the shapes of your characters? What do you do if your personal history is in conflict with the direction you need a story (or character) to take?

TG: My personal history is all I have – it’s all any writer has. We’re bound to our perspectives, prejudices, and subjectivities, because that’s how humans work. I do think it’s possible to push past ourselves, but only with great effort. My background in gender studies informs everything I do, but especially my writing. I want my writing to be expanding the conversations of literature and culture and society, and I believe feminism is one of the best ways to do that.

I don’t think I could write a story in conflict with who I am. Of course characters can be (should be) different from the writer, but I don’t have any interest in a narrative that is not part of my philosophy and outlook. What I mean is, yes I can write a character who is sexist or racist, but the narrative of the story itself would be meant to point out, condemn, and/or complicate those aspects of the character, not collude with or accept them without problematizing them. Rafel struggles with transphobia, and that’s part of how I’m using the story/characters to explore the subject, but the story itself definitely condemns transphobia.

MP: Since The Anatomy of Curiosity is a book about writing, it seems appropriate to ask about where you write. Do you work best alone? With a writing group? What is your ideal writing space and is it your current space?

TG: I greatly prefer working alone, and group work is the death of me. Even a project like ANATOMY is mostly worked on alone, though Maggie and Brenna and I were in contact frequently and made sure to be together 2-3 times during the course of the project. I love my office, which has a large L shaped desk and my books and art on the walls. I wish it had a better window, but my living room has a massive one, so when I need more light I can take my laptop up there.

MP: Do you have a specific routine for when you write during the day or how you go about building a story? What does one of your typical writing sessions look like?

TG: Those are different questions for me. I go about building a story over the course of years, usually. My world building is a very intricate process that takes time, and I build stories from world, so it’s a very long time from idea to sitting down to write. That said, when I AM writing, a usual day would be: up at 5:30 am, coffee, exercise, shower, read the news (and tumblr, ok), then write 2500 words. When I’m drafting 2000-2500 a day is my best pace. It gets me moving, but doesn’t overwhelm me so that I’m burned out the next day. After that, I do emails, interviews, house chores, or whatever else is on my plate at the time.

MP: You write novellas, short stories, and novels. Do you ever write poetry? When you sit down to flesh out an idea do you know right away if it will be a novel or the start of a series or something else?

TG: I do not write poetry. I adore reading it, memorizing it, performing it, but writing it just doesn’t do anything for me. I prefer prose, possibly because I’m long-winded and not at all musically inclined. ;)

I almost always know if I’m working on a novel or shorter, and I have a sense if it’s going to be a series or not. I love novels best, and especially stand-alone novels, but the thrill of starting a new series is a pretty heady one.

MP: Do you have any go-to authors and poets that you find yourself returning to when you read in your free time? If you could recommend one book, poet, or poem to readers, what would they be?

TG: I most often turn to June Jordan myself, because her poetry is so beautiful and so overly political, especially in the collection “Some of Us Did Not Die.” She inspires me. As for recommendations, the poetry I most often give away or force on people is Gloria Anzaldua’s. She is amazing, passionate, policital, and liminal.

MP: Can you share any details about your next project?

TG: Ah! Not really, not yet. Very soon I hope. I can tell you it’s an adult fantasy novel, codename #bastardbook on Twitter.

Thank you again to Tessa for this great interview.

If you’d like to learn more about Tessa and her books, be sure to visit her website: http://tessagratton.com

You can also read my reviews for several of Tessa’s novels as well as other interviews and guests posts from her here on the blog.

The Anatomy of Curiosity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna YovanoffIn an old walk up in Brooklyn, a young woman is hired as a reader and companion for a strange older woman. What starts a job quickly turns into something much more important as Petra learns about context, ladylike behavior, and speaking her mind all while finding an unusual kind of friendship in “Ladylike” by Maggie Stiefvater.

In a faraway land a young soldier works to disarm magical bombs left behind by rebels. The hum of the desert lulls him and the mysterious magician on his team enchants him, but sometimes loving something is hard until you know the truth about yourself in “Desert Canticle” by Tessa Gratton.

In a town where water is scarce, drowning is a rarity. There are a lot of ways to tell the you about the boy she found drowned in a half inch of water, but there’s only one right story for Jane and the drowning place in “Drowning Variations” by Brenna Yovanoff.

The Anatomy of Curiosity (2015) is the second anthology from authors (and critique partners) Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stievfater and Brenna Yovanoff. In this followup to The Curiosities the focus is more squarely on the mechanics of writing and how ideas can become stories.

Find it on Bookshop.

For this collection each author wrote a new novella and details their writing process in a preface and margin comments. Between each story all three authors also discuss how they tackled finding critique partners, revision, and managing doubt.

Each author frames their margin comments and notes in the context of their focus when writing. Stiefvater discusses character (how she builds characters and conveys characterization through different aspects of the story), Gratton focuses on world-building (how worlds shape characters and how world-building choices shape the rest of the story), while Yovanoff talks about ideas (getting from the idea she has to the story she wants to tell with a particular project).

It’s worth noting that The Anatomy of Curiosity can be read, first and foremost, as a set of engaging fantasy novellas. As fans of these authors would expect, each novella is well-written and evocative in its own right. In reading the marginalia and supplemental materials, however, readers are treated to not only excellent fiction but also an insider’s view of the creative process from three incredibly talented writers.

The Anatomy of Curiosity is a must-read for aspiring authors and fantasy fans alike.

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2015*

Author Interview (#2): Tessa Gratton on The Strange Maid

Tessa Gratton author photoTessa Gratton’s Songs of New Asgard has quickly become one of my favorite series. These books are smart, sharp and a perfect blend of myth and fantasy elements. After reading The Lost Sun, I was hooked. The Strange Maid came out earlier this year (you might remember Tessa’s wonderful guest post here about strong women that feature in the book) and Tessa is here today to talk about this latest installment in the series.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Strange Maid?

Tessa Gratton (TG): The Strange Maid grew out of the world of The United States of Asgard, so the answer to this is really about what inspired the world itself. For a more complete answer, here’s a link to the author’s note of the first book, The Lost Sun where I talk about that: http://tessagratton.tumblr.com/post/97224307338/the-lost-sun-authors-note

Briefly: I wanted to write stories about American religion, politics, and war, and realized that I could use an alternate US founded by Vikings and their gods like a giant metaphor to do that. Soren’s story from The Lost Sun is all about a young man who fights his berserker nature, a nature he thinks is dark and violent and dangerous (it is), who fights against what Odin Alfather stands for: madness, sacrifice, poetry, death. I wanted to write the second book about a person who embraces everything Soren fears and denies, and I wanted that person to be a girl. Girls are taught we can’t be violent and dangerous, we shouldn’t love those things or be drawn to them for their own sakes. We’re only allowed to fight for our children – like mother lions – not for ourselves or our rights or sexuality.

That’s how Signy was born. And she was so difficult to work with! But worth it.

MP: In addition to Signy, you mention the other Valkyrie throughout The Strange Maid. Did you always know that the valkryie (both present and long past) would play such important roles in this book’s plot?

TG: I knew I couldn’t write Signy’s story without using the Valkyrie. When I first started reading about Viking mythology (and Anglo-Saxon poetry, which is intrinsically linked to it), I was fascinated by two books: Woman as Hero in Old English Literature by Jane Chance and Beowulf’s Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition by Helen Damico. Both discussed women’s roles in epic poetry, as warriors, queens, goddesses, and many other things. I became a little obsessed with images of Valkyrie-like women in Old English literature, like Wealhtheow from Beowulf, who became Valtheow in The Strange Maid for pronunciation purposes. The Valkyrie were always part of Signy’s story – she always was some kind of Valkyrie figure – though in the 17 different drafts they played very different roles.

MP: The Strange Maid seamlessly integrates elements from Beowulf and references to the classic poem into the text. What drew you to this source material? How did you go about adapting elements to fit with your more modern Asgardian world?

TG: Oh! Well, thank you! I love Beowulf something fierce. It’s such a gorgeous, passionate, fantastical poem, with amazing heroes, monsters, magic, and morality. I translated it myself when I was in grad school about ten years ago, so was pretty familiar with it. I spent the summer of 2008 writing a historical novel from Wealhtheow’s point of view I loved the source so much – and stole a lot of that for The Strange Maid. (Like Unferth). It wasn’t actually very difficult to integrate because I’d been thinking about the themes and characters for so long it felt natural – I built the story around it instead of trying to shoe-horn it in.

MP: Signy is an original narrator who tells her story frankly and with a fair bit of poetry thrown in. How did you go about writing Signy to create her unique voice?

TG: It was a disaster. A messy, ferocious disaster. It took me 2.5 years to write and rewrite and rewrite. I blew 3 major publisher deadlines and drove 2 editors crazy. I think I was both too close to Signy and also not sure exactly what I wanted from her. Every time I detected even a whiff of something not true enough or raw enough in character or tone I scrapped it in order to dig deeper, with the help of my amazing editor.

I’m glad her voice seems to work for so many readers, because I worked excruciatingly hard for every word!

MP: This story features some overlap between The Lost Sun with characters like Soren turning up in this installment. The Strange Maid also has a timeline that overlaps with The Lost Sun. Did you always know these two stories would intersect in those ways?

TG: This series has always been built around Soren. He’s the narrator of book one, and though he won’t narrate anything else, he plays a major role in every story. I also knew a major part of Signy’s story was the troll massacre mentioned in The Lost Sun, but I did not know that it happened in the middle of Signy’s story instead of the very beginning. It was a surprise to me when I finally realized I had to start Signy months before the events of The Lost Sun in order to tell her story right.

MP: Is there any scene that you are particularly excited for readers to discover in this novel?

TG: My favorite scenes are all pretty spoilery, and all have to do with Signy and Ned Unferth “discussing” things. There are three conversations they have that have ALWAYS been in every draft of the book. Sometime they took place in different locations and at different times, with different contexts, but they always existed in some form. I’ll give you a line from each:

– “If I can have a prayer, this is it: may Signy Valborn never regret.”

– His eyes drift closed. “Finally.”

– “Make yourself deserve it; rise up to meet me if you want me.”

MP: This story again spans much of New Asgard, even bringing your characters into Canadia. Which was your favorite location to reimagine as it would be in the world of New Asgard?

TG: New Orleans, definitely. It’s one of my favorite cities, so I loved thinking about how it might be different (or the same) with a very different history of religion in the area. I liked playing with holidays and the layout, and especially using the cemeteries as set-pieces. I indulged myself by using the character Rathi, who loves history, to tell the reader a little bit about it.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

TG: I’ve got some USAsgard novellas coming out this winter, first of all, and the third book in the series in May or June 2015. After that: I’m working on a few YA Fantasy stand alones right now. I need a break from working on a series!

Thanks again to Tessa Gratton for a great interview. You can also read my review of The Strange Maid here on the blog and visit Tessa Gratton’s website for more info about her and her books. (Be sure to stop by the badass United States of Asgard section while you’re there. It’s awesome!)

The Strange Maid: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“In a week and a half I’ll be seventeen. It’s a decade since I climbed the New World Tree, since Odin Alfather, god of the hanged, named me the next Valkyrie of the Tree, and still I have not won my place on the Valkyrie council.”

The Strange Maid by Tessa GrattonSigny Valborn dedicated herself to Odin when she was seven years old. She was told one day she would join Odin’s Valkyrie council and fill the long vacant place of the Valkyrie of the Tree. That was before she read the riddle. Before she left her Death Hall and her sister Valkyrie behind.

The Valkyrie of the Tree will prove herself with a stone heart. Signy knows that is her riddle. But after traveling far and wide through New Asgard for years, she is no closer to finding an answer.

Until a mysterious troll hunter named Ned Unferth appears with a proposal. Ned speaks in riddles as well as ancient poetry and truths that feel more like lies. But he promises Signy that a greater mountain troll holds the answer to her riddle and offers to train Signy to hunt them. Signy has never been so close to her future and has little choice but to accept Ned’s help.

Their winding journey will take Signy to the wilds of Canadia and beyond. Along the way she will cross paths with a lone berserker named Soren Bearstar, a monstrous troll mother, and the truth behind the destiny she was promised so long ago in The Strange Maid (2014) by Tessa Gratton.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Strange Maid is the second book in Gratton’s Songs of New Asgard (United States of Asgard) series. It is preceded by The Lost Sun. Both books function very well as stand-alone titles however, because of timeline and character overlap, The Strange Maid does include some spoilers for The Lost Sun if you choose to read the books out of order.

Gratton once again delivers a perfect blend of myth and fantasy in this engrossing tale. Signy is a sharp, wild narrator with strong opinions and a vibrant love of poetry that comes through in every word of her frank narration. Ned, Signy’s mysterious companion for much of the novel, is a perfect foil as Signy is forced again and again to re-evaluate what she knows (or thinks she knows) about her chosen path.

The Strange Maid is a vivid story about the power of choice as well as an ode to the strength of well-chosen friendships. References to Beowulf and other Norse tales will bring these older myths to life for new readers.

Ideas of causality as well as free will are also artfully explored in this remarkable second book in a trilogy that promises even greater things to come.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers,  Freya by Matthew Laurence, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Clariel by Garth Nix, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Beowulf

You can also check back for my interview with Tessa starting tomorrow!

Guest Post: Tessa Gratton on Strong Women in The Strange Maid

Tessa Gratton is here today to talk about her newest book The Strange Maid (out June 10!). The Strange Maid is Gratton’s second book in the United States of Asgard and features a female protagonist who makes a deal with Odin to become a Valkyrie. Since we all know I like highlighting strong, proactive, awesome female characters on the blog, Tessa is here to write about strong women both in Norse myth and The Strange Maid. (And also there might be a giveaway at the bottom of this post. Just saying.)

Without further ado, here’s Tessa:

To talk about strong women in THE STRANGE MAID, I have to start with my favorite one from Norse Mythology: Signy Volsung.

From the Volsunga Saga, Signy was the twin sister of Sigmund, the star of the saga and father of the more famous Sigurd. When she’s young, Signy’s father marries her to the evil king Siggier, about whom she says “My heart does not smile with his” as a warning. After the wedding, Siggier invites Signy’s family to visit, but treacherously he kills her father and captures her brothers. She arranges for them to be put into stocks instead of executed, but every night a giant she-wolf comes and eats one brother. Each one dies this way until it’s Sigmund’s turn. Signy has a servant spread honey onto Sigmund’s face so that the she-wolf licks him instead of eating him, then she helps her brother escape and hide in the woods.

Years later Signy sends her son to the woods to Sigmund so that together they can kill Signy’s evil husband. But when Sigmund declares her son is unworthy, Signy has him killed. Sigmund declares her youngest son unworthy, too, because of his evil father, and kills him. To get a strong, worthy son, Signy changes her shape into that of a sorceress and goes to the woods to sleep with her twin brother Sigmund. They sleep together for three nights, after which she goes back to the castle pregnant. Nine years later she sends her son to Sigmund and together they plot to kill the evil king.

Once the king is dead and the castle burning to the ground, Signy tells her brother about the incest and then walks into the fire, knowing her magic and quest for vengeance has left her no right to live now that she’s succeeded.

She is so bad ass.

So when I tell you I named the hero of THE STRANGE MAID after her, because that’s her ideal strong woman, you can have an idea where I’m coming from.

My Signy is a girl who, in a fit of grief and fury, makes a dangerous bargain with Odin, the god of madness and sacrifice, to become his first new Valkyrie in a hundred years. To Signy, being a Valkyrie means embracing death and madness, and because of that, she worships the old, wild Valkyrie like Signy Volsung, or like Valtheow who fought at Beowulf’s side to defeat Grendel’s mother, or Skuld who wove cloaks out of her enemies guts.

But in the modern United States of Asgard, being a Valkyrie has come to mean a different kind of strength: the eight Valkyrie on the council are strong in the arts of politics and history, they are mediators and celebrities, they deliver Odin’s words to the president and Congress, but they no longer ride at the head of armies, they no longer revel in death and sacrifice. They are Odin’s Voices, not his violent weapons. Signy thinks they’re weak because of it, and wants to revolutionize the image of what it means to be one of Odin’s Death Choosers.

It was fun – and hard – for me to write about a teen girl struggling with what strength means for women in her culture, partly because it’s such a hot topic on the internet these days, and partly because I was writing about a warrior culture that is like our own, but not quite.

The current surge of writing strong girl characters is an overt response to hundreds of years of literature in which girls and women are weak because of their biology and psychology. It’s hard to use the phrase “strong female protagonist” without remembering that it exists because the default archetype of women in Western literature has for so long been weak.

In my alternate America, the oldest literary women characters are the Valkyrie. They were queens and monsters and mothers and wives.* Not the other way around. They rode on wolves and chose which warriors deserved immortality. Over time that image not only diminished and was relegated to Hollywood-style caricatures and revisionist history, but was actively put down by the Valkyrie themselves in order to find new methods of power in service to Odin. THAT is the problem Signy faces: she must be a weapon and a voice by embracing the dark parts of herself and history without becoming a monster like the troll mother stalking her.

Signy must find a way to be not either a hero or a villain, but somehow both. It’s hard for anybody, but for a girl – so often forced into a false dichotomy of virgin or whore – sometimes it feels impossible.

So that’s what I wrote my book about. Also troll queens, riddle-masters, and kissing.

*this is where I could go on a ten minute rant about the best analysis of Beowulf I ever read, which basically stated it was a poem all about the ladies. If anybody wants a blog post about THAT, just let me know. :D

—-

Thanks again to Tessa for the awesome post. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m even more excited for this book!

Now about that giveaway:

Tessa has very kindly offered to giveaway a copy of The Strange Maid here on the blog.

Giveaway is open to any readers over the age of 13. US only.

Giveaway will run from June 9 to June 13. Winner will be notified June 14. If I don’t hear back from the winner by June 15 I will pick a new winner from the entry pool.

ENTER HERE

This is a Rafflecopter giveaway. Details on how to enter can be found by clicking “enter” above or clicking the photo!

Author Interview: Tessa Gratton on The Lost Sun

Tessa Gratton author photoI feel like I’ve been waiting for Tessa Gratton’s latest book, The Lost Sun, for my entire life. The Lost Sun combines everything I’ve always loved in a book with things I didn’t even know I wanted in a story. A modern day world with Norse gods? A reluctant berserker? A seethkona on a quest? A missing god? Sign me up! Happily, The Lost Sun delivered everything I was hoping for and more. Even more exciting, Tessa was gracious enough to take time out of her own release week (The Lost Sun came out on the 25th so you can go out and buy it or request it from your library right now!) to take part in an interview here on the blog.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Tessa Gratton (TG): I’ve been writing since I was in 5th grade, and even when I wanted to DO other things for a career, reading and writing was always in the background, a thing I just always did for fun. I chose to leave grad school and focus on being an author for a living, and in 5 years wrote and rewrote 4 novels before finding my agent and first publishing contract with Blood Magic. It was the 7th novel I’d written since high school, and has a companion novel, The Blood Keeper. The Lost Sun is the first of a NEW series! I’ve also published about 70 short stories online with my critique partners Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff, as well as a fun anthology, The Curiosities.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Lost Sun?

TG: I wanted to write about faith and religion in America, and started with the question, “What do you believe in when the gods are real?”

MP: How did you approach writing a story about such distinct world? Did your vision for the United States of Asgard start with a specific place or aspect?

TG: The “vision” started with a single image: Baldur the Beautiful being sacrificed on live television. I did my best to marry modern American society and Nordic mythology/Viking Age culture, which was easier than I expected because we share a lot of the same values as the Vikings.

MP: A lot of Norse gods make appearances in The Lost Sun. Was any god a particular favorite to write? Is there any character you’re especially excited for readers to meet?

TG: I loved writing Baldur, especially because he wasn’t very godlike. He’s so human – as Soren, the narrator, points out, Baldur is the most human of all the Norse gods because he dies. He’s also a symbol of light, and as a dying god it puts him in the same category as Christ. That was intriguing, challenging and surprisingly fun.

I have to admit, right now as I finish working on the second book in the series, I’m very excited to introduce readers to the new narrator, (and Soren through her eyes), but in The Lost Sun I think I’m most excited for people to read about Soren and Baldur’s relationship. And OK, Glory. She is a delight to write about.

MP: In The Lost Sun people dedicate themselves to specific gods. Astrid has been dedicated to Freya since she was eight. Soren, on the other hand, refuses to dedicate himself to Odin despite Odin being the god of berserkers. If you were in the United States of Asgard, which god would you dedicate yourself to?

TG: Odin, haha. He’s the god of war and madness and POETRY. To me, Odin represents the violence of creation, so I disagree with Soren a bit about Odin being entirely untrustworthy. He’d dangerous and challenging, but I think artists should be both of those things.

MP: There are a few twists and turns in this story as Soren and Astrid’s fates knot together. How did you go about pacing the story? How did you decide what to reveal to readers when?

TG: I reveal everything I can to readers as early as possible. Never hold back! If Soren knew it, I wanted the reader to know it too. And honestly, because this book is a road trip novel, it was the EASIEST of all my books to plot and pace. You can’t get too complicated and messy when the characters are literally driving from one place to another. I tried to put in a natural rhythm of ups and downs and surprises and twists, just like when you’re on a road trip and you take detours or hit unexpected traffic or roadside attractions!

MP: Obviously a lot of research went into this book. Were any resources especially helpful to you while writing The Lost Sun? Can you offer any recommendations for readers who want to learn more about Norse mythology after finishing this book?

TG: I tell you what: I like Wikipedia for a starting point. It’s not at all inaccurate re: Norse mythology, and can give a good overview so you know what you’re interested in and then you can look at the books that delve in deeper to those subjects.

The BEST way to understand the mythology, though, is to read some of the sagas. I recommend the Saga of the Volsungs esp, for magic, dragons, shape-shifting, sex, and a lot of burning things down and interfering gods.

For straight-up academic research, I recommend GODS AND MYTHS OF NORTHERN EUROPE by H R Ellis Davidson.

MP: The Lost Sun is the first book in a series.  Do you have a set arc for this story or know how many books will be in the series? Will we be seeing more of Soren and Astrid?

TG: I’m hoping there will be 4 books total, and for sure there will be three. Every book has a different narrator and a self-contained plot, but they’re all connected by, well, the strands of Fate and a certain goddess who likes to manipulate said strands of fate. I have a general idea of the over-arching series plot, and I know quite a lot about the rest of the books. I can tell you Soren is one of the main characters in all 4, though not ever the narrator again. Some of the future narrators you meet in The Lost Sun, but not all of them!

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

TG: My next project, and my projects for the foreseeable future, are all USAsgard related! I’ve been working on Book 2 for almost 2 solid years. It’s kicking my butt! But should be worth it!

Maggie and Brenna and I are working on a follow-up to our short story anthology, but there aren’t a lot of details available for that yet!

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

TG: Have adventures! Meeting new people and visiting new places will teach you about humanity, and that’s always what we’re writing about, isn’t it? Discovering your own stories will lead you to being able to invent amazing new ones!

Thanks again to Tessa Gratton for a great interview. You can also read my review of The Lost Sun here on the blog and visit Tessa Gratton’s website for more info about her and her books. (Be sure to stop by the badass United States of Asgard section while you’re there. It’s awesome!)

The Lost Sun: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“My mom used to say that in the United States of Asgard, you can feel the moments when the threads of destiny knot together, to push you or pull you or crush you. But only if you’re paying attention.”

The Lost Sun by Tessa GrattonSoren Bearskin has been avoiding his destiny for years. He can feel the berserker fever burning in his blood but he refuses to give into the rage; to let himself become what his father was before him. People fear him and what being a berserker actually means.

Astrid Glynn is everything Soren is not: wild, free and completely aware of who and what she is–a seethkona dedicated to the goddess Freya, a girl who can travel beyond death to retrieve answers to the questions of others even though she cannot find answers for herself about her missing mother.

Baldur the Beautiful is the most popular god in the country; his resurrection each year marked by a festive celebration and a live television broadcast. He returns to the United States of Asgard every year just in time for summer.

When Baldur instead disappears, the country is thrown into chaos as citizens fear the worst.

Astrid has dreamt of Baldur and knows where to find him. With Soren’s help. Together the two set off on a road trip to find the lost god and bring him home. But in finding Baldur, Soren and Astrid may have to give up everything they’ve come to hold dear in The Lost Sun (2013) by Tessa Gratton.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Lost Sun is the first book in Gratton’s Songs of New Asgard/United States of Asgard series and it is awesome. As the series title suggests, this book is part fantasy, part alternate history as Gratton imagines a world where the United States are imbued with Norse traditions and mythology as well as populated by the Norse gods themselves.

What could have been a confusing or alienating world instead becomes immediately fascinating and evocative in Gratton’s hands. (Readers of her short stories in The Curiosities may also recognize a few passing references to a female berserker mentioned in that anthology.)

It’s hard to know exactly what to say about The Lost Sun because it has so much going for it. Soren is a likeable, convincing narrator. Astrid is essentially one of the best female characters around. Having these two characters together in one book makes for an electric story that is as beautiful as it is thrilling. Gratton seamlessly builds a world of gods, magic and modern life around her characters as readers are introduced to this compelling world with an utterly original story imbued with old mythology.

The Lost Sun is, at its core, a intricate story of love and friendship. Soren and Astrid do a lot of different things throughout the plot but those threads are never far from the core. Sacrifices are made, surprises are revealed, but through it all there is a very strong meditation on what really being love (or loving) a person means.

Good books draw readers into the world of the story. Great books keep readers thinking after that story is finished. The Lost Sun is a great book.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff, Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers, Freya by Matthew Laurence, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Check back tomorrow for my exclusive interview with Tessa Gratton!