Hello from America's political capital (and these days, drama capital as well). I haven't sent out a newsletter in a while. Mostly because I don't have any news. Blood and Tempest is finished on my end, and going through the slow, careful production process, and on schedule to be published in November. I'm working on what will probably be the next project, and while I'm feeling pretty confident about it, I don't have anything definite to report yet, and probably won't for at least a month. Maybe two.
But a friend of mine pointed out that some people, such as her, read the newsletter mostly for the book and music recommendations. For those readers who feel the same, my apologies. Here we go :)
I was asked to read Age of Assassins by the Orbit UK team for a possible blurb. It's not like I have a big name that sells books, but simply having someone other than the publisher saying "this book is cool" on the cover can help. The Orbit UK team has been very good to me, so I told them I'd take a look, and if I enjoyed it, would give them a blurb.
When I looked at the cover and read the copy, I got the impression that this was a grim, blood-filled saga of humorless assassins. But while there is plenty of blood and assassins, I was delighted to discover that the book was funny, charming, and full of heart. The protagonist, Girton, is a teenage boy who had been rescued from slavery as a small child by an assassin and trained in her deadly arts. He might seem an unlikely candidate for an assassin, give the fact that he has a club foot. But as the book opens, he is well on his way to reaching the potential his master sees him, primarily because of his near single-minded determination to live up to her expectations.
That is, until he and his master are forced to accept a job to find and eliminate a fellow assassin who has targeted Aydor, prince and heir to the throne. It's a classic "it takes a thief to catch a thief" scenario, but what really engaged me was that Girton, former slave and current assassin-in-training, must go undercover as a young nobleman to figure out who the assassin is. There's plenty of awkward frustration, as he must suffer at the hands of bullies he knows full well he could kill in a heartbeat. But there's also a slow, beautiful flowering of consciousness as Girton begins to see what life beyond death and desperate survival might look like. Love, friendship, pride, and sorrow all open up to him in a way that is glorious, but also worrisome, since it's seemingly at odds with the assassin he is trying so hard to become. And the deeper he falls into the palace intrigue, the more he's going to need those assassin skills.
Along with just being a fun, engaging read, I also enjoyed Girton's "master", Merela Karn, whose cover at the palace is performing as "Death's Jester". As a fellow theater-lover, I appreciated Barker's care and reverence for the transcendent art of performance, as well as the rich traditions he built around it in his world.
I believe the blurb I gave the book was something like:
Age of Assassins is a beguiling story of action and intrigue combined with a poignancy and humor that are as sharp as any blade.
Age of Assassins is out August 1st.
For my music recommendation, I'm going to do one a little outside my usual. Some of you may not know this, but I'm a huge jazz nerd. My favorite period is the Bop era, roughly the 1950's and 60's, with such greats as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Until recently, I steered clear of current jazz, as most of what I'd found on the radio was "smooth jazz", which always felt soulless and dull to my ears. But I think perhaps I was looking in the wrong place.
My son played trumpet from 4th through 6th grade, just as I did. And by last spring, he was getting bored of it, just as I did at his age. I'd always thought that if perhaps someone had played some Davis or Gillespie for me at that pivotal time, I might have stuck with it. So I played Davis's seminal Kind of Blue album for him. Alas, he was not moved by it. I was lamenting this to fellow author Jason Reynolds (also a lapsed trumpet player), and he suggested I expose my son to more current jazz musicians. In particular, he recommended Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah.
Sadly, Christian Scott didn't kindle a newfound love of the trumpet for my son. He's switching to baritone this summer, just as I did at his age. And if you've never heard of any jazz baritone players, that's because there aren't any.
But Christian Scott did convince me that contemporary jazz still has a great deal to contribute to the art form.
Check out this Tiny Desk Concert.
His latest album, Diaspora, came out earlier this year. You can stream it on his Bandcamp page.
And that's it, folks. Maybe next month I'll have news on the book front, but I'll certainly have more book and music reqs. I would also consider TV reqs, if I wasn't so certain that my taste in television is dreadful. I still maintain that The Cape was criminally underrated.