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How Seth Dickinson Built the Epic Fantasy World of Baru Cormorant

The Traitor Baru Cormorant - Amazon Book ReviewSeth Dickinson's The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a twisty, gritty, and gripping first novel of a new series that has the potential to be a worthy successor to George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones books. We selected it as one of our Best Books of the Month in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Below, Dickinson explains how he built the complex world of Baru Cormorant, who is born on an island conquered by the Empire of Masks and who travels to Aurdwynn to seek her revenge on the empire that destroyed her family and her traditions.


Hi! I'm Seth, author of The Traitor Baru Cormorant—an epic fantasy about a young woman's mission to tear down a sly, brutally efficient empire from the inside.

Baru's a prodigy in the subtle use of power. She manipulates trade, taxation, gossip, piracy, policy and rebellion to get what she wants: a position of authority in the Empire of Masks, high enough to rip that same Empire apart.

Oh, no. Do you know what that means? I have to make taxes exciting!

Most of Baru's story is set in in Aurdwynn, a land of simmering rebellion and cultural collision. Aurdwynn is our chessboard—the playing field for Baru's maneuvers, her manipulations of money, blackmail, armies and lies.

Aurdwyn is a complicated place, host to four major languages, two economic systems, three family structures, thirteen rival Dukes and Duchesses with unearthly names and horrible family drama. Baru runs around the whole country organizing conspiracies. It's a lot to keep track of!

But this book's a fast-paced thriller, so the intrigue's got to feel as sharp and intuitive as a fistfight. How do we make it easy to understand? And how do I keep track of everything, with my horrible sense of direction? (I flipped "east" and "west" more than a dozen times in the first draft of this book.)

I need a map. Here's my first mockup of Aurdwynn, the wolf land, courtesy of Microsoft Paint!

Map Version 1

Boxes! Boxes everywhere! When I submitted this to my editor he said, "I think I might need something more artistic than that."

But if you squint past the eye-pain, you can already see one of my favorite rules in action. Most fantasy maps throw a lot of strange names at you, but they don't tell you which names are really important to the story, or why you should care. I believe that readers care about people—and if you want to teach them a fact, whether it's geography or Ducal gossip, you should attach that fact to a person's voice. 

So this map of Aurdwynn includes Baru Cormorant's handwritten comments!

Why does this matter? Well, it's one thing to say, "The north of Aurdwynn is cold, and the political stability of the Dukes up there depends on their ability to stockpile food for winter." That's a Fact: dry and boring.

Map detail 1But when you see Baru's notes: clay, landlord problems, probably going to starve—now you've learned something about Aurdwynn, but also something about Baru. She foresees big problems. She's interested in politics and economics. She's absolutely willing to write people off.

Mercy! Mercy! Let's move to a later and more attractive version of this map—touched up first by my lovely and surpassingly talented partner, and then by the fine crew at Tor Books.

Map Version 2-orig

Now everything's attractively curved, and the borders feel believably naturalistic. But Baru's notes remain. 

Map detail Duchy VultjagOn Duchy Vultjag she writes, Utterly unimportant—and we instantly know it probably isn't, and that Baru's hiding something. Skimming the resources Baru's noted, we glimpse the shape of her plans: she cares about getting taxes, but she also cares about cavalry, pirates, and, for some reason, Duke Oathsfire's awful beard. (So it's not all tactical information, is it? Baru's let some of her personal feelings drift onto the map. And that teaches us a little more about her. She's in control of herself, but the control isn't perfect.)

There are other secrets in the map, the kind of stuff a history nerd might appreciate—the Ducal names trace the patterns of ancient invasion by the Tu Maia and the Stakhieczi, and the surviving influence of the Belthyc natives. Treatymont is the colonial capital of the invading Empire of Masks, Aurdwynn's newest occupier.

But really, this is for you to discover, if you care. And that's the secret of great world building: not just building an elaborate world, but attaching that world to characters, making you care about the characters, and letting you choose to follow those characters into the world.

This map is a map of tragedies past, and tragedies yet to come. Baru can look at it and see the flow of money, armies, disease, and weather. She can reach into that flow and alter it, for good or ill.

We live our lives, here in the twenty-first century, hoping that someone has that same power. Hoping that someone up high understands the great machine of the world well enough to fix it.

—Seth Dickinson


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1,001 Dark Nights for Romance Lovers

I love to toss myself into novellas and short-story collections. It's a great way to get my romance fix from my favorite authors in the sad times between novels.

1001 Dark Nights-Amazon Book ReviewSo you can imagine my excitement when I was told about 1,001 Dark Nights, a loose series of novellas that revolves around a fun concept: The "author" of the book is a woman who has traveled back in time, accidentally exchanged places with Scheherazade, and now must save her own life by telling enthralling stories that will keep a psychopath king from killing her at dawn. (Yes, the original Scheherazade story has a "happy" ending, as the king doesn't kill her but falls in love with her after 1,001 nights, but who would want to be married to a guy who's already killed 1,000 previous wives? Yikes.)

Each novella explains the narrator's situation and says:

Every night the King calls for me and listens as I spin tales. And when the evening ends and dawn breaks, I stop at a point that leaves him breathless and yearning for more. And so the King spares my life for one more day, so that he might hear the rest of my dark tale. As soon as I finish a story...I begin a new the one that you, dear reader, have before you now.

These stories are written by the top names in romance as well as some up-and-comers. Each book is written by a different author, and many of the tales feature your favorite characters, like Heather Graham's Krewe of Hunters and Elisabeth Naughton's Eternal Guardians.

Here are a few sizzling selections you won't want to miss.

Hades-225Hades: A Demonica Novella by Larissa Ione - Who doesn't love fallen angels? They're the ultimate supernatural bad boys, and this story by Ione will give your heart a twist as Hades and Cataclysm have to battle each other and their enemies before they can be together.


Tempted by MidnightTempted by Midnight: A Midnight Breed Novella by Lara Adrian - Sexy and action-packed, like all of Adrian's Breed tales, Tempted by Midnight pairs a bleak Breed warrior with an innocent woman whom he must protect at all costs.


Crimson twilightCrimson Twilight: A Krewe of Hunters Novella by Heather Graham - The murder of the presiding priest only hours before Sloan and Jane's wedding sets in motion a chain of events that will uncover secrets that makes "till death do us part" a very possible outcome.


RavagedRavaged: An Eternal Guardians Novella by Elisabeth Naughton - Zeus sends Siren-in-training Daphne after rogue Argonaut Ari in order to kill him, but Daphne discovers that there's more to white-hot sexy Ari than she ever expected...and that Zeus has reasons of his own for neutralizing him.


Kiss the flame-225Kiss the Flame: A Desire Exchange Novella by Christopher Rice - Not only is Rice smart, funny, and handsome, he can pen a deliciously erotic romance. On sale November 10, Kiss the Flame is set in New Orleans and the Desire Exchange, a club where members can act out their most forbidden fantasies. 


Stripped DownStripped Down: A Blacktop Cowboys Novella by Lorelei James - When sexy rancher Wyn hooks up with maid-of-honor Melissa at a friend's wedding, they both assume their steamy night together is a one-and-done moment...until they end up living under the same roof when Melissa offers to help Wyn with a crisis at the ranch.


Try out a few of these novellas, and you'll stay up all night as well.


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Oh, the Humanity: More New York Stories from Brandon Stanton

Amazon Book Review: Humans of New York StoriesIf you're one of the more than 15 million readers of Brandon Stanton's blog, Humans of New York, you're already familiar with his intensely personal glimpses into the lives of strangers though his portraits and the impromptu, candid, and often raw thoughts that accompany them. It's an utterly absorbing project, one that placed him Time magazine's list of 30 People Under 30 Changing the World. And lately, Stanton has literally taken HONY to the wider world, traveling to South Asia (including stints in India, Iran, and Pakistan) and giving voice to poignant, personal stories otherwise untold in Western media, and in some cases, raising thousands of dollars to help people in need.

His latest book, Humans of New York: Stories, expands on his 2013 best-seller, Humans of New York, by changing focus, as the title suggests, to the stories and personal anecdotes. The arresting pictures are still there, but by organizing the pieces into thematic narratives, the already powerful material is amplified all the more.

As open and affable as ever--trust me: he's genuine, and you're likely to tell him just about anything--Stanton stopped by our room at Book Expo America in May to talk about the new book and the blog. Humans of New York: Stories is an October 2015 selection for Amazon's Best Books of the Month in Nonfiction.



More on Brandon Stanton and Humans of New York:


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Book Sculptures are Amazing

AliceI was thinking about doing a post about book sculptures (because they are amazing), so I started poking around the internet. My search for book sculptures brought me to a few wonderful sites.

There's this this site.*

And this site.

And this one, too.

These sites are so good that I just decided to link to them.

So enjoy. And between your oohs and awes, remember that we sent you there.

> If you're interested in books about book sculpture, see this list.


* Be sure to check out their links to paper art, paper sculpture, and origami, too.

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Treat Yourself to These Scary Reads, Quoth the Amazon Editorial Team

Soon it will be All Hallows Eve, when children dressed like ghouls and goblins and Donald Trumps will be Spooky Readsroaming the streets begging for candy, and egging people's houses that dare dole out KIND Bars (not kind, kids). To commemorate the occasion, we present to you some of our favorite frightening reads. But beware! Indulgence likely means that your hair will stand on end, and you may lose so much sleep that you'll feel like the undead. 

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Jon Foro: The best ghost stories aren't just about things that go bump in the night; they're also about the things that go bump in your head. In Shirley Jackson's understated classic creeper, it's never really made clear which is which, and it really doesn't matter. Either way, the story is superbly crafted and unnerving as hell, a book best read alone.

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The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
Adrian Liang: Few are aware that the 1979 horror film was preceded by the publication of this nonfiction – yes, nonfiction – book about a family who knowingly purchased a Long Island house in which murders were committed, moved in two days before Christmas, and then fled the house four weeks later after being terrorized by…well, I don't want to give it away. More insidiously terrifying than the film, the events of this book will lurk in the darkest shadows of your mind for a very long time.

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The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Erin Kodicek: A decaying mansion, a suspicious suicide, a mild-mannered pup suddenly attacking a child…These are all the ingredients of a classic horror story, and yet Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger is anything but cliché. Are the strange happenings at Hundreds Hall a result of the supernatural, or a creeping and contagious madness? I read this almost a year ago, and I'm still sleeping with the lights on.

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It by Stephen King
Seira Wilson: Ever since I read this book, nearly 20 years ago now, clowns totally creep me out. The narrative alternates between 1958 when a group of eleven-year-old friends first encounter the evil called It and 1986 when they are called back to their hometown by a series of all-too-familiar murders. King's story of Pennywise, the sewer-dwelling clown, plays on the terrifying idea of a childhood fear come to life that even adulthood cannot evade.  It is one of King's best, but you'll never look at Bozo (or sewer grates) the same way again.

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The Complete Stories of Edgar Allan Poe
Chris Schluep: Nary a month goes by when I don't reference "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Raven," or "The Cask of Amontillado." Real-life usage includes, "that cupcake sat on the counter like the tell-tale heart; finally I just couldn't take it anymore" and "I stacked so many books in my cube, it felt like the Cask of Amontillado." It's clear that Poe's work has weaved its way into my everyday life. I recite his poems (mostly "The Bells") to my kids to get them to sleep. I even root for his football team (when they're not playing the Seahawks or the Giants). These stories are horror for me, because they come from that sense of fear that's—for a moment—just a little out of control, where your heart seems to skip a beat and things that you know aren't real just might actually exist in this world, or even in your room.
Penny Mann: The master of haunting is a Halloween standard for me - and not just because I prefer 'that could totally happen' stories to scare the hell out of me, but also because Poe's literary prowess swings beyond the anticipated pendulum's arc. This book has all the creepy standards, plus a few deep cuts for the brave collector! Whether you start with "The Tell-tale Heart", "The Pit and the Pendulum", or "The Raven" make sure the night ends with "The Black Cat" for complete and classic Poe terror.

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YA Wednesday: The Villainous Side of Marie Lu

RoseSociety200WMarie Lu landed firmly on the list of exciting new YA authors with her first book Legend, that quickly became a best-selling trilogy.

Last year she released The Young Elites, the first book in a brand new series that is just as intense and addictive as her first and now we can finally read book two, The Rose Society.  In the Amazon Book Review guest piece below, Lu talks about writing the villain instead of the hero:

I never intended to write a series about a villain's origin story.

Originally, The Young Elites was about a good-hearted, kind, thoroughly bland boy living in a fantasy world inspired by Renaissance Italy. This boy discovered that he had supernatural powers, and then discovered other young people who also had powers, and they all went off to vanquish a villainess named Adelina Amouteru.

I wrote about 100 pages of this original version of The Young Elites, then sent it to my agent. My agent called me back. She is a wonderful agent, and a great person, but she doesn't sugarcoat at all when she dislikes something I've written. This is terrible, she told me.

"Did you like anything about it?" I asked her.

"Well," my agent replied, "your villainess. Adelina. She's pretty interesting."

"Yeah, I had a lot of fun writing about her. I hope I get to keep her in, if you give me another chance to rewrite this book."

My agent replied, half-jokingly, "Why don't you make Adelina the main character?"

That was the genesis for what became my new series. I realized the problem with my draft was that I didn't want to tell a hero's story—I wanted to tell a villain's. So Adelina became my main character, and I dedicated myself to figuring out what it was like to be inside a villain's head.

When I was working on my first series, the Legend trilogy, I felt comfortable in my protagonists' headspace. Day and June were still good people, albeit surrounded by a world of darkness. In The Young Elites, however, Adelina is a girl twisted by a traumatic childhood and personal betrayals, and she is hell-bent on revenge, upon lashing out at everyone who has wronged her—even if it means her own personal destruction. Her mind is a deeply uncomfortable place for me to explore. She has no real moral compass, no burden of saving the world, no responsibility to do the right thing. She justifies her actions with twisted logic, anger, and hate.

Adelina is terrifying for me to write, but she is also liberating. She is a girl who simply tells me, "I'm going to go do this thing because it makes me feel good."

The Rose Society, the second in the Young Elites trilogy, was not an easy book to finish. It is easily the darkest story I've ever written. But Adelina's story demanded to be told, and I'm grateful to be on this journey with her. I hope you enjoy the series.

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The Best Mysteries & Thrillers of October

To say it was a big month for Mysteries, Thrillers & Suspense is to tiptoe on the edge of understatement. Grisham and Galbraith, a.k.a. Rowling, are two authors who alone have accounted for millions and millions in book sales. Throw in a bunch of other heavy hitters, and one or two promising new voices, and you have a great month for the genre.

Here are our top 10 picks in Mystery, Thriller & Suspense:

  • Mt1

    Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham - Sebastian Rudd is not your typical street lawyer. He works out of a customized bulletproof van, complete with Wi-Fi, a bar, a small fridge, fine leather chairs, a hidden gun compartment, and a heavily armed driver. He has no firm, no partners, no associates, and only one employee, his driver, who's also his bodyguard, law clerk, confidant, and golf caddy. He lives alone in a small but extremely safe penthouse apartment, and his primary piece of furniture is a vintage pool table. He drinks small-batch bourbon and carries a gun.

  • Mt2

    Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith - When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible--and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

  • Mt3

    The Survivor by Vince Flynn - Picking up where The Last Man left off, The Survivor is a no-holds-barred race to save America…and Mitch Rapp's finest battle. When Joe "Rick" Rickman, a former golden boy of the CIA, steals a massive amount of the Agency's most classified documents in an elaborately masterminded betrayal of his country, CIA director Irene Kennedy has no choice but to send her most dangerous weapon after him: elite covert operative Mitch Rapp.

  • Mt4

    Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter - More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia's teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that's cruelly ripped open when Claire's husband is killed.

  • Mt5

    Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein - Over the course of thirty-seven books, John Sandford has proven time and again his unmatchable talents for electrifying plots, rich characters, sly wit, and razor-sharp dialogue. Now, in collaboration with Ctein, he proves it all once more, in a stunning new thriller, a story as audacious as it is deeply satisfying. The year is 2066. A Caltech intern inadvertently notices an anomaly from a space telescope—something is approaching Saturn, and decelerating. Space objects don't decelerate. Spaceships do.

  • Mt6

    Foreign Affairs by Stuart Wood - When he's apprised at the last minute of a mandatory meeting abroad, Stone Barrington rushes off to Europe for a whirlwind tour of business and, of course, pleasure. But from the start the trip seems to be cursed, plagued by suspicious "accidents" and unfortunate events, and some of Stone's plans go up in flames—literally. From the chic streets of Paris to Italy's spectacular Amalfi Coast, Stone is pursued from all sides . . . but when the tables turn, the hunted may become the hunter . . .

  • Mt7

    Fear the Dark by Kay Hooper - Something strange is happening in the small mountain town of Serenity, Tennessee. People going on routine errands never reach their destination. It's as if they simply disappear. Over the past few weeks, it's happened to five men and women—and now a child. The local police chief calls the FBI, and a team from the Special Crimes Unit is immediately sent in. Agents Lucas and Samantha Jordan, partners in work and in life, have very different abilities. Samantha is clairvoyant and Lucas possesses a unique ability to find the lost or abducted.

  • Mt8

    The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison - Paul Derrick is the FBI's top hostage negotiator. His twin sister, Megan, is a celebrated defense attorney. They have reached the summit of their careers by savvy, grit, and a secret determination to escape the memory of the day their family died. When Paul is dispatched to handle a hostage crisis at sea, he has no idea how far it will take him and Megan into the past - or the chance it will give them to redeem the future.

  • Mt9

    The Dead Student by John Katzenback - Timothy Warner, a PhD student who goes by the nickname "Moth," wakes up on his ninety-ninth day of sobriety with an intense craving for drink. He asks his uncle Ed, a former alcoholic and now successful psychiatrist, to meet him at an AA meeting later that day. When Ed doesn't show up, Moth bikes to his office and discovers a grisly scene—his uncle lying in a pool of blood, shot through the temple. The police pronounce the death a suicide, but Moth refuses to believe that his uncle would take his own life. Devastated and confused, he calls on the only person he thinks he can trust: Andrea Martine, an ex-girlfriend he has not spoken to in years.

  • Mt10

    Icarus by Deon Meyer - South Africa's preeminent crime fiction writer, Deon Meyer is acclaimed for his razor's-edge thrillers, unforgettable characters, and nuanced portrayals of contemporary life in his native country. The fifth pulse-pounder starring Captain Benny Griessel, a lead detective in South Africa's priority crimes unit, delves into the country's burgeoning tech and wine industries.A week before Christmas, a plastic-wrapped corpse is discovered amidst the sand dunes north of Cape Town. It doesn't take long for the police to identify the body as that of Ernst Richter—the tech whiz behind MyAlibi, an internet service that provides unfaithful partners with sophisticated cover stories to hide an affair.

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Lev Grossman Asks Gregory Maguire about “After Alice”

With his novel Wicked, Gregory Maguire astonished readers with his vision of Oz and the origins of its infamous Wicked Witch of the West.

Now Maguire turns his unstoppable imagination on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in his new novel, After Alice. Lev Grossman, the author of The Magicians, asks Maguire about his twist on Lewis Carroll's masterwork.


After AliceLev Grossman: When did you first read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland? Do you remember what you thought of it back then?

Gregory Maguire: I decided in about fourth grade that I would read every book in the children's section of the public library, in alphabetical order. I got J. M. Barrie's Neverland and L. Frank Baum's Oz, but when I reached Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, my project fell apart. Who can go beyond Wonderland? Wonderland betrayed everything I had learned so far about magic otherlands—which wasn't very much, admittedly. But where Neverland was a giant playground (an early Disneyland, really), and Oz was more droll than dramatic, in Wonderland (and Looking-Glass world) Carroll provided my first glimpse of Dadaism. Kafka for kindergartners. 

The disorderliness—the barely veiled hostility and lunacy of Carroll's absurdist fever-dream—it terrified me. Many years later when I saw Bergman's The Seventh Seal for the first time, I thought: Ah: Bergman had read Lewis Carroll too young, too. When World War I created the Lost Generation, Alice in Wonderland ceased to be a depiction of nineteenth-century childish fancy and became something deeper: a prophetic, nearly Blakean glimpse of modern dislocation, disorientation, even existentialism. 

Lev Grossman: Tell us about Ada—who she is, what she's like, how she's different from Alice. Why did you choose her as your way into Wonderland, as opposed to, say, Alice herself?

Gregory Maguire: Very few children appear in the Alice books. The baby who turns into a pig, perhaps Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Most of the characters are insane, selfish adults, or animals as adult stand-ins. Alice, we know from the early passages in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, has an older sister and she mentions, in one passage, two friends: Mabel and Ada. As Mabel is thought to be stupid, I decided to look in and imagine who Ada might be. (Ada is also the name of a novel by Nabokov, and that was appealing, too.) 

All we know about Ada is that her hair goes in corkscrews. She seemed, therefore, quite open to my authorial suggestion that she be something other than Alice. Perhaps more compromised, more hemmed in (Alice seems very relaxed wandering around by herself in Wonderland!). If Ada proves to be a little more worldly than innocent, trusting Alice is, Ada may also better perceive the danger to Alice that Alice herself doesn't notice. Ada is clumsy, Ada is jealous of her newborn baby brother whose infant health issues are occupying her family, and Ada has a slightly firmer grip on the possible sadness of the world. She's my kind of gal. Grim and competent.

Lev Grossman: What do you think draws you to working in this mode, reimagining existing stories, rather than making new ones out of whole cloth?

Gregory Maguire: I have thought about this question for about twenty years, ever since the publication of Wicked, and the answer changes from time to time. Now, though, that I am in my early sixties, I am increasingly aware that—are we lucky enough to have a reading life at all in this age of the overstimulating Internet—the books we adore as child readers continue to grow and change and mean new things to us as we grow and change. All my books aren't hinged upon existing stories—but those that are sell well. It's not a mercantile decision, I don't mean that. I mean that leaning upon the common fence that has bordered all our childhoods is a way to honor whoever erected that fence. 

Lev Grossman: And as a follow-up, how would you compare your transformation-investigation-interpretation of Alice in Wonderland in After Alice to the way you dealt with Oz in Wicked? Were you, in any sense, performing the same operation? Wonderland at the very least seems a lot more chaste than Oz.

Gregory Maguire: Wicked, I later realized once it was published, was probably modeled, subconsciously, on the plan conceived so wonderfully by T. H. White when he took the Arthurian cycle and decided to tell it again as if no one had ever heard of it before. What a brave man he was! The Once and Future King is not the last glimpse of Camelot, you may be sure. It is our glimpse. I tried to do something like that with Wicked: to tell the story of Oz as if it wasn't already one of the most famous stories in the world. But, mind, the Arthurian cycle is partly oral history, messy and contradictory; and The Wizard of Oz is contradictory too, if you consider the famous 1939 film and the 1900 novel side by side. And, however beloved the original Oz novel is, it's not quite a work of genius. 

The Alice books are. Yes. Works of genius. So my deciding to approach them was audacious. (Then again, Tom Stoppard had managed to make Rosenkrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead in the shadow of the great Hamlet, so I have some brave souls for company on this foolhardy path.) My intention, of course, is not to "blow the whistle" on the seamy underside of Wonderland, not to make fun of Wonderland nor lodge a scathing exposé, nor even to revise the Alice books by a single scrap. I simply want to offer readers a novel that can sit comfortably enough side by side with Lewis Carroll's work in a companionable and respectful way. And perhaps shed a little more light on what makes Carroll's achievement so monstrously amazing. And turn readers back to Carroll, in the end, to be refreshed and to wonder anew.

Lev Grossman: Dodgson/Lewis Carroll is somewhat infamous for having had a dodgy interest in photographing young girls. Was that something you felt like you had to deal with?

Gregory Maguire: I wanted to nod to the notion of photography and girls but turn it on its head, which is why I have Lydia, Alice's sister, taking a picture of Dodgson, and catching something peculiar in him. (He is not naked, but naked of expression, of artifice.) As it happens I have an old though not original print of the photo of young Dodgson posing on the window ledge of some vicarage or college, and while that famous portrait likely predates the Alice years, it is that photo that I envisioned being taken in the chapter when Lydia operates the shutter and catches something immortal in him

All this said, I won't agree to be scandalized about Dodgson's photographs. Nor will I agree to give him a pass. It is hard to walk back a century and a half, to the start of a new art form, and then to feel confident that you can know everything important about how those photographs came to be. No scrap of scandal and no hint of disapproval of the girls' families has emerged. Yes, the photos make me uneasy. So too do the photos of naked young children by the contemporary photographer Sally Mann. That doesn't mean I think their intention, subliminally or overtly, is pornographic. It means I am bidden to consider the nature of childhood in all its mysteries.

Lev Grossman: Finally, a confession: I've never succeeded in getting any of my children interested in Alice, except my oldest daughter, and that was only via the Tim Burton movie, which doesn't really count. Somewhere around the caucus race they just wander off. Does Alice still have something to say to children today?

Gregory Maguire: I now think the Alice books really only work as a guide to childhood and maturity after you have made the trip and are looking back. Like reading up on the French cathedrals you visited long after you've gotten home and unpacked the pastis from duty-free and poured yourself a glass.

As to the natural readers of Alice: Better to save the great Alice books and discover them in college alongside of Camus and Sartre, I think. And this, in the end, is why After Alice is published for adults. It is a reflection on the great masterwork of Lewis Carroll as perceived by a shambling White Knight dallying on the edge of his own dotage.

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The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of October

Best Books of the MonthIt's always a challenge picking the best of the month, but the Amazon Book Review has narrowed it down to these eleven excellent fantasy tales, near-future adventures, and science fiction stories.


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A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin – Set almost 100 years before A Game of Thrones, the Dunk and Egg novellas trace the adventures of hedge knight Ser Duncan and his mysterious squire, Egg, through Westeros during the time of the Targaryens. All-new illustrations bring a sense of timelessness to the tales. Collected together for the first time, these novellas are a must-have for Game of Thrones fans.

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The Cinder Spires by Jim Butcher – Butcher launches a new fantasy series with this swashbuckling tale of a grizzled airship captain and the young soldiers-in-training he partners with to stop an invasion of their home Spire. Brimming with adventure and heroic deeds, The Cinder Spires will get your blood racing.

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The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood – In the near future, the economy is in such dire straights that married couple Stan and Charmaine agree to join the Positron Project, where no one is unemployed and the community is self-sufficient. But all is not as it appears. From prison chicken farming to Elvis sex dolls, Atwood's story throws curveball after curveball as Stan and Charmaine uncover Positron's secrets.

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Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie – Leckie is a multi-award winner for her SF Ancillary series, and this third and final book delivers all the intelligence and action that her fans expect. If you haven't read Ancillary Justice yet, start there first.

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Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong – In the future, everything we do is being broadcast on the Blink, which isn't necessarily a bad thing unless you're Zoey Ashe, who has just inherited her father's criminal empire, and the whole world is now gunning for her and her father's final, city-breaking secret. Wong mashes up crazy action with, well, straight-up crazy. One of my favorite books of the month.

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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – Nominally a YA book, since all the main characters are under the age of 20, this sharp-edged fantasy tale is not for the faint of heart. Rich world-building, dire deeds, and hypnotic characters will crawl under your skin and keep you mesmerized after the last page has been turned. First book in an undoubtedly amazing series.

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Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein – A Caltech intern realizes that a rapidly decelerating object is approaching the solar system, sparking the realization that it can only be an alien spaceship. The race is then on, as the Americans try to make contact before the Chinese with the entity that is lurking near Saturn. Full of the technical details and the edge-of-your-seat action that made The Martian a favorite, Saturn Run is a perfect pairing of Sandford's thriller sensibilities with Ctein's space knowledge.

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Shadows of Self by Brandson Sanderson – Sanderson returns to the Mistworld ecosystem with this follow-up to Alloy of Law. Wax, Wayne, and Marasi tackle a conspiracy that could undo all that civilization has been striving for.

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Killing Titan by Greg Bear – Master Sergeant Michael Venn almost didn't survive the battle on Mars in War Dogs, but that doesn't mean the fight is over. Now his sights are set on Titan, one of Saturn's moons, where he will uncover new knowledge about the Drifters and the Gurus, who may hold the secrets to the origin of life.

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Last Song before Night by Ilana C. Myer – An assured debut novel, Last Song Before Night weaves together old magic, new politics, and a battle for power in a gorgeous but dangerous high fantasy world you won't want to miss.

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Carry On by Rainbow RowellFangirl readers will be delighted to rejoin Simon Snow and friends in this snort-giggle tale of their last year at Watford School of Magicks, which, of course, won't go smoothly.

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