Book Review: The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory

Ohmygod.

The Other Boleyn Girl is amazing. However, it is ridiculously long. It doesn’t look it, at least not with the copy I have. But it spans more than fifteen years, and lots of plot occurs and it ends up feeling incredibly long. Not in a bad way, because the plot is amazing. But don’t pick it up as I did, expecting a quick, light read.

It’s historical fiction, incredibly accurate and yet enjoyable to read. The plot is fast-paced and emotionally damaging in perfect balance. The characters are deep and complex. The conflicts are twisted and vivid. The book holds onto your emotions and your mind until you finish it, and long after.

It’s weird, though, because we all know how the story ends. The book follows Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry the VIII, who replaces Katherine of Aragon, and ends up beheaded for adultery. I knew all this going in. (You know the rhyme for remembering Henry’s six wives? Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.) And yet the plot still surprised me. I haven’t taken any in depth European history classes yet (that’s next year for me), so I didn’t know the details of Katherine’s fall from favor. The entire first third of the book deals with Mary Boleyn having an affair with Henry, something I had no idea happened, and that left me completely confused, knowing that it was her sister that ended up with the throne. I had to keep reading to see how the tides would turn (and boy did they ever). And even as the book ended, I was enthralled, begging for a happy ending for at least some of the characters, even when I knew Anne’s end.

The book isn’t a tragedy, though. It left me…happy. Content. I was panicked throughout the last pages of the book, up until the author’s note at the end, which made me smile and almost cry with joy. Yes, on the surface it is about a deep-seated, violent, and merciless struggle for the ultimate power–the title of the Queen of England. But the book is about so much more. Sibling rivalry. Love and sacrifice. How far one will go for their family. Loyalty. Women’s rights (which are appalling in this era–duh–and left me pissed at most of the male characters in the book). Human rights. Tyranny. At times it is creepy and sick and disgusting. It sways between being sweet and romantic and horrifyingly dirty and inappropriate. It highlights the misguided and unscientific psyche of England in the 1500s. It is a better showcase of a tyrant’s rise to power and the danger of absolute power than any dystopian novel can ever hope to be.

So, yeah. Read it.

Hell and Styx #2 Hell’s Childhood

Voila! The second installment of Hell and Styx’s story, gloriously out of order. This one goes back to Hell’s childhood, describing the moment she first met Styx and learned who she really was. Read their first story here or visit their page.

Hell and Styx #2 Hell’s Childhood:

At age five, Hell started hearing voices.

For the first few months, they were just distant murmurs in the back of her mind, like a static-y radio. When they started to get louder, Hell thought of them like they were an itch that she could only scratch by listening to them. And when she started listening to them, she realized they weren’t talking.

They were screaming.

Some of them moaned. Some of them begged. Some shrieked. Others cried. Some were silent, just heavy breathing, in and out, in and out.

Hell knew what it meant if you heard voices. But she didn’t feel crazy. So she kept them a secret.

She was six and she started school. She tried to ignore the voices, but they were an itch, remember? Ignoring them only made them louder, made them a physical presence in her mind, pushing against her thoughts. She went home crying the second day, but she couldn’t tell her dad why, because she knew he was afraid of things he couldn’t understand, and Hell couldn’t even understand herself.

She went to school the next day, but only had room in her head to listen to the voices. Her teacher complained that Hell never paid attention, that she was always off in her own world.

Hell was a first grader when the boy came up to her. He was a third grader, impossibly old in Hell’s mind. He asked her why she never paid attention.

Hell forced herself away from the cries in her mind and tried to focus on him. Her eye started twitching with the effort and she had to ball her fists to keep from massaging her head. “I can’t,” she said.

He frowned, the way everyone did, but with a hint of curiosity that scared her. “Why not?”

“I don’t know,” she said. It was almost true. One of the voices—a screamer—slammed into Hell’s mind and she winced, giving in to listen to his pleas.

The boy raised an eyebrow. “What are you listening to?”

“Nothing,” Hell lied, but her head hurt too much to make it convincing.

“Do you hear voices?” the boy asked.

Hell glared. “No. Only crazy people hear voices.”

“You’re not crazy,” the boy said soothingly.

“I’m not!” Hell yelled. The boy frowned at her, since she was agreeing with him while arguing.

“But you hear voices, don’t you?”

Hell crossed her arms tight across her chest. “No.”

“Why do they call you Hell?”

“It’s my name.”

“Why?”

“Because!”

“Do you know what Hell is?” the boy asked.

Hell felt tears burn in her eyes. “Of course.”

“I can tell you why you hear the voices.”

“I don’t hear voices.”

“I hear voices,” the boy said plainly.

Hell took a step back. “I don’t hear voices.”

The boy shrugged. “Fine.” For a second, Hell thought she had one. Thought she was safe. But then he said, “Do you hear screams?”

Hell jumped back. “Who are you?”

“I’m Styx,” the boy said, holding out his hand.

Hell didn’t take it. “Why are you talking to me?”

“Because you can see me.”

Hell wondered if this Styx was crazy. “Of course I can see you. You’re here.”

Styx shook his head. “I’m not. Not for other people. You can only see me because we’re the same.”

“I’m not like you.”

“You are. Different, but the same.” He paused. “I can teach you how to deal with the voices.”

“I don’t hear voices.”

“So you don’t want my help?” He moved to leave.

Hell jumped forward, grabbing his hand. “Teach me,” she begged. She knew exactly how to. It was what she had heard for the last year.

“Come with me.” This time, Hell took the hand he offered.

And then Hell disappeared.

* * *

Hell appeared in a circular room, walls white marble with grey veins, columns around the edge, just before the walls.

Styx let go of her hand and paced away, stopping in the middle of the room. “Can you see them?” he asked.

Hell looked around. The room was empty except for Styx. “No.”

“Listen to the voices.”

“They aren’t voices,” Hell muttered, frustrated that he made the agony inside her head sound so simple.

Styx didn’t seem to care. “Listen to them.”

Hell did. Slowly, they grew louder, focusing, taking on different personalities, inflections. A few familiar voices piped up, speaking nonsense as always. Everyone was mad inside Hell’s head.

“What do you hear?” Styx asked, and it was the first question he didn’t seem to know the answer to.

Hell closed her eyes. “Screams. Crying. People begging. Some of them just breathe.”

“How many?”

“I don’t know. Twenty? Fifty? They always change. Only some of them stay with me. Usually they leave after a few days.”

“How long have you been hearing them?”

“A year? Since I was five.”

“My God.”

Hell opened her eyes. “What?”

Styx had his hand on his mouth and something like fear in his eyes. “That’s horrible.”

“I thought you heard them too?” Hell asked, betrayed.

“I do,” Styx said. “I did, at least. But only for a few weeks before I found this place.”

“Where is this?”

Styx shrugged. “Not your world. It’s the place where the voices come from. It’s like—a lot of doors. People come in here, and then I—you too, I guess, now—show them which door they need to go through. But I only take certain people. And you weren’t here, and it’s so crowded—”

Styx broke off, looking around the empty room, panicked. “Can’t you see them?”

“No.” Hell didn’t want to. “How do you know you can’t take all of them?”

“It doesn’t feel right. I tried once—and it hurt. It felt wrong. Like I was breaking really big rules.”

“What are the voices?” Hell asked.

“Dead people. You’re hell, Hell. You have everyone who went to hell in your mind. Your job is…to punish bad people.”

“But it hurts them?”

“It’s hell,” Styx said.

“What about you?”

“I’m the Underworld. My name is Greek, I think. I don’t know how I know these things, I just do. Maybe you will someday. But I’m for people who didn’t do anything. They aren’t good, they aren’t bad. They just lived and died.”

“That’s sad.”

“It is.”

“What about Heaven?”

Styx shrugged. “Some souls disappear. But I’ve never met Heaven. I don’t know if it exists.”

“I hope it does,” Hell said, needing someone to be good if she had to be bad. “How do I make the voices go away?”

“You have to see the souls. Here. This room is full of souls. The voices will fade away when you…accept your job.”

“As Hell?”

“As a sorter. Of souls. Sending people to hell.”

Close enough.

“And if I don’t?”

“The voices get louder. I don’t know, honestly. But this room—needs you. Please. For me. There are so many people—”

Styx’s face was red and afraid, sort of wild. Hell took a step back and felt something cold brush against her arm. She shivered and shuddered. Was that a soul? Her heart pounded, panic rising.

“I’ll do it.”

And like that—she could see.

Hell was short, being only a six-year-old. The room was packed with adults, all taller than her. Some of them looked scary, but most looked—normal. But Hell could feel clouds around them, slick, cold, evil presences. These were bad people, all of them.

And they were her responsibility.

Hell grabbed the nearest man’s hand. His cloud—black and cold—prodded at her skin, reaching out to her own, which showed itself as red. Hell stared at the redness, then got a crazy idea. She asked it a question.

“Where does this one go?” she asked.

The redness twitched, then dragged Hell to the nearest wall. The veins of grey liquefied, melting away, revealing tiny windows into hell, small as a crack under a door. Through it, Hell could see a pulsing redness to match her own, but infinitely larger—an entire world. The voices in Hell’s head shouted in unison, recognizing their master.

Panicked, Hell shoved the man at the wall. As he hit the granite, his body disappeared, leaving only his smoky presence. It trickled into the cracks, and then the cracks closed.

Hell’s own redness receded into her skin.

The voices were silent.

Hell grabbed the next soul, then the next, then the next, until the room was empty.

The voices only ever yelled when she opened the door to hell. And with every soul she added, they got louder. They scraped at Hell’s heart, leaving bruises and painful cuts.

But this time she could escape them.

* * *

Hell grew up, and he gashes in her heart healed, and Styx watched her youth fade and her innocence wilt with every slimy, black soul she touched. A deep rage simmered inside her, close to boiling. A rage at the universe for giving her such a task, and an even deeper rage at the horrible people she had to send to hell, for being so horrible that she was necessary. And as her youth and innocence melted into this rage she started to believe one thing:

They deserved it.

She was invisible to the world now, just as Styx had been when he visited her the first time. In accepting this duty, this place as a gatekeeper in purgatory, she forfeited her place in the physical world. She could still go there, still walk among the people, but she could only see one thing: Death. What had been only a shadow on the horizon when she left was now the common denominator of her existence.

She watched her favorite stores close. She watched people die and survivors mourn. She learned you could take a soul before it even reached the marble room.

She lived in a room above the marble room. There was a staircase between to columns, open and unguarded, safe because the souls never seemed to see it. Her room was whatever she wanted, created by thoughts. She left it simply furnished. She barely ever stayed in it anyway. People did nothing but die.

Styx was sometimes her friend, sometimes her confessor. Sometimes she thought she liked him in that childish way of crushes and cooties. Other times she hated him more than she hated the damned. She hated him for finding her.

Some of Styx’s mysterious wisdom saturated her. It was a strange thing, wondering a thought and then knowing the answer. Waking up understanding something that had been an idle question the night before. She never went to school again but knew numbers and letters, better than most.

There was never an answer to why she existed, or how, or who had come before, or how they had died. She learned that she had been adopted. Styx had as well. But there were no answers in that, only a severing of Hell from the life she had lived, learning it was a lie. As far as Hell knew this was the rest of her life: Styx and purgatory and the dead. Heaven never showed, though the two children romanticized him in the way of fairytales, one last hope to help them sleep at night.

Did she still hear the screams?

Technically, yes. But they no longer bothered her. Sometimes they pleased her. Most of the time, they were what they had been when they first appeared, white noise. And every once in a while, they snaked back into her mind, reminding her of who she used to be: a scared little girl who wouldn’t admit she was going crazy.

Hell and Styx #1 The Funeral

Welcome to the first adventure of Hell and Styx, my delightful underworld personifications. Over the course of this blog I will randomly post more stories with these characters. These stories will go out of order, written based on whatever I feel like writing that day (yay!). You can see them listed chronologically on their page (which can also be found in the top right corner of this blog).

Hell and Styx #1 The Funeral

Hell lingered at the back of the funeral, watching her counterpart, with his head bowed, pretend to pray.

After five minutes of inaction, Hell growled to herself and stalked over to the young man, standing at his shoulder. Styx didn’t move from his spot of supposed reverence.

Hell tapped him on the shoulder. “You know no one can see you.”

Styx dropped his hands and looked up at her, a cocky smile spreading across his face. “You can.”

“Which is my point. You aren’t going to convince me you’ve found religion.”

“Careful,” he teased. “You keep talking like that in here and you’ll go to hell.”

Hell snorted, looking around the church with disdain. “What were you really doing?”

Styx would not admit it. The truth that hovered between them was that their last hope for today was nothing but a fairytale—had been for years. “Waiting for you to arrive.” He stared up at her, still sitting, willing to at least give her the feeling that she had power over him for the moment. “What about you?”

“Paying my respects,” she said, tightlipped against his careless smiles.

“Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re implying,” Hell warned.

Styx smiled. Hell was getting pissed. Good. All his smiles couldn’t cover up the rage simmering in his gut for long.

“Shall we go pay our respects together?” Hell asked, offering her arm.

Styx took it without a word and they walked to the front of the church, invisible among the funeral attendees. A deep loneliness rustled through Hell, for the man who lay dead, who had once looked straight at her instead of through her.

She might not believe in the church, but she believed in faith.

The casket lay on a raised dais, surrounded by flowers, holy symbols, blessings. The man inside was dressed in the robes of a priest, age dragging the skin around his face into deep wrinkles, echoes of smiles past.

Hell dropped Styx’s arm to stand in front of the coffin. Her head drooped against her chest and a calm settled over her. Styx had watched it a thousand times, but still was awed by the transformation of her face without it’s hard lines and unforgiving stare.

She was always beautiful, but this was the only time he felt it.

After a moment of unconscious staring, Styx came back to himself and joined her in front of the casket. They were here for one this: this moment. Styx never did this as willingly as Hell did, but in the heady feeling of standing beside his counterpart, faith and death swirling around him, intoxicating him with their promise, he knew he couldn’t avoid it, now that he was here.

Styx centered himself, closing his eyes, feeling for the priest’s soul. Hell’s presence was a physical thing in this world, hot like fire, and dangerous, and when he brushed up against it he jerked his own presence away, the color red flitting through his mind. He’d never asked Hell what his presence felt like but he could guess. Cold. Apathy. Grey. She burned with emotion, he drifted. It was just the fact of who he was.

The priest’s soul was stronger than most, more solid. Tentatively touching it with his mind, a feeling of calm drifted through Styx. White followed. Styx knew this kind of soul. It was built of faith, unyielding even in death. Styx hovered near it, not taking, not yet, just letting the soul of the best man he had ever known touch his one last time. It was as close to honoring the dead as he could get.

Next to him, the calm of the priest’s soul battled with the fire of Hell’s aura. She hated this part, this invasion of purity, of silence that drowned out all the agony she was built of. It stripped her of her identity, the rage and burning that made her herself.

But it was an escape as well. A glorious, addictive escape. Faith was the only thing that could quiet the shrieks that broke out of Hell’s gates, that slipped into her mind if she wasn’t careful to keep them out. It was the only thing that could numb the burning. It was wonderful.

Hell would never admit to Styx how many of these funerals she attended, just for a few moments of freedom.

They were a strange pair, Hell and Styx. Hell with red hair and a sharply tailored pant suit—neither of which could disguise her youth; she was eighteen but older from having seen to much, but younger too, from barely ever living. Styx with the suit he wore with confidence and the hair perfectly styled into professionalism, all lies of course, but put on for appearance’s sake. Both of them only partially here, part of another world, both touched by the same flaring purity.

And then the priest’s soul disappeared. A gust of wind rushed through the church into the empty expanse where the soul had been, disturbing churchgoers’ hairdos and skirts.

Hell and Styx jerked, as if waking up. Then they spun on each other, all evidence of a holy calm gone.

“How dare you—” Styx began.

“You’re turning this on me?” Hell gasped.

Styx barely heard her words. The rage that had been with him for the entire service—which had been aimed at the universe that gave and took and made Styx watch, sometimes help—focused on Hell, the sun’s ambiguous rays pinpointed by a magnifying glass. “Are you so hungry for souls that you can’t keep your filthy hands off anyone? Is the fact that he died grounds for punishment?”

But if Styx was just now approaching a burning rage, he severely underestimated Hell, who spent every day as a bonfire. His words were nothing but sounds, shouted to a drowning person underwater, garbled into obscurity by the storm of anger that lived inside Hell’s head.

“You think he didn’t do anything with his life? You think you can take his soul? You think he deserves what you give them—an eternity of nothing. Wandering. You think he deserves that? You think you deserve his soul?”

They both froze, the words the other shouted finally worming their way into their consciousnesses.

“You don’t have his soul?” Hell asked Styx, the underworld.

“Of course not. He doesn’t deserve me.” Styx stared. “You didn’t take him?”

Hell had no misgivings about her purpose in the universe. She was a punishment, but the man before her required no punishing. “Why the hell would I take him?”

Styx almost laughed at her choice of words. Her eyes met his, a pained hope burning where rage was supposed to hold court, and he decided against smiling.

“Do you think—” Styx shied away from voicing his hopes.

“He hasn’t been around for years. Why now?” Hell said bitterly.

“If he were to take anyone—”

“He’d take him,” Hell agreed.

Both of them stilled, then turned. At the other end of the church, one of the double doors dragged open, a tall figure slipping out of the funeral. No one else reacted.

But Hell and Styx stood in awe as Heaven left the room.

One Month Without My Novel

In November, I started working on my novel, Devil May Care. It wasn’t my first project. I have been writing a story called After We Waited for Ever since fourth grade, editing and scrapping and revising until my brain bled. Finally, I gave up on it–I had outgrown it years ago–and started a new project, what became DMC. On March 29, I finished my first draft. This is my fastest completed first draft ever. It is 110,600 words, about 330 pages. I am by no means done–I have a ton of editing I need to do. It’s like Swiss cheese with all the plot holes right now. But (half by my own accord, half because my sister knows how I am with editing and forced me to do this) I am taking a break from the project for a month.

Maybe that sounds impossibly stupid. But I know that if I try to edit it right now, I will get tired of the story, start hating everything about the writing, and sink into that pit of despair most writers call home. So I’m letting myself forget about the project, so that when I go back to it it will be fresh and intriguing. Hopefully postponing the I-hate-everything-about-this-project feeling I always encounter during edits. First drafts? Yay! Bring it on. Editing? Please, God, no.

But it turns out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. For the last five months, every extra minute I had was put into DMC. I trained myself to avoid the internet and turn to writing. I’ve always written a lot, but with DMC I hit my peak of productivity. I spent spare time thinking of plot points and working out scenes in my mind before I wrote them. I always had the document open–it was a habit to just open it and read the last scene I wrote. And now–I’m avoiding doing all that. I haven’t opened the document in a week. If DMC was an addiction, I’m in withdrawal.

Of course, I’m still writing. Short stories that are slowly becoming longer stories. This blog. But It’s been almost a week without DMC and that’s just weird. The characters, the plot, the world I created were a part of me. And they still are, but less so.

Is it kind of nice? Of course. Writing a book is emotionally damaging and tiring. The mood swings from this-is-AWESOME to I-can’t-even-speak-English-anymore to I’m-not-a-writer-I’m-delusional are anything but fun. Being free of that, working on stories with less pressure, with no set plot that I can just explore, is great.

But if you think I’m not counting down the days until April 29, you’re wrong.

Meet Gimmie

Meet Gimmie the Gargoyle!!!!

I made the orginal sketch of Gimmie a few years ago. Today I found it and decided to play around with it on my computer. I went over it in ink, then took a picture of it, and uploaded it to my computer. I used Corel Draw 4X and Corel Photo Paint 4X, with the help of my Intuous Pro tablet, to colorize it. It was painstaking, but fun.

He will probably pop up in some short stories, and maybe some more doodles. For now, enjoy!

Book Review: English Class

You’ve probably noticed that I don’t read many “classics.” I’d like to say that this isn’t true…I could probably come up with some excuse that makes me seem like more than a teenager who can’t be troubled to read something from before 2000. But the truth is this: I like reading YA. I like reading about confident young women (and men) going on adventures and falling in love. Older works often frustrate me when the female characters are portrayed as weak and male-dominated. I’m not saying this is every classic out there, but there are definitely some common denominators. And I also know that this isn’t really anyone’s fault–it was simply the mindset of the period. But JK Rowling came along and opened the door for a new type of story, one where teens can go on adventures and be strong and have characters. And I figure reading is done in my spare time, so I might as well read what I want to read. So there.

But I’m also a freshman in high school which means–ENGLISH CLASS. I actually enjoy this class, and will probably have some posts coming out about it soon. But for now I thought it would be interesting to review the books I’ve read this year: The Pearl by John Steinbeck, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare.

1) The Pearl by John Steinbeck

I’ll be honest. I hated it. I’ve never liked stories set on islands following fishermen, et cetera. Too much imagery, not enough plot. It probably didn’t help that I had to painstakingly annotate (the hell out of) it. Glad it’s over. Sorry to Steinbeck fans.

2) The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The next to sentences are only going to reinforce the feeling that I’m a cliche teen who hates classics: 1) This book isn’t really a classic, it was written recently. 2) And I really liked it. Whatever. It is a series of vignettes about a young girl growing up in a low income area. Good voice. Emotional. Easy to annotate, which helped.

3) The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

I’m not even going to apologize for not liking this one. A guy turns into a bug for sixty pages. And basically does nothing besides delude himself into thinking he’s not a bug and scaring the hell out of his family. Not my cup of tea.

4) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I liked this one. The romance was okay. Rochester swayed between being horrifyingly annoying and devastatingly attractive. Jane was at once both annoyingly docile and uniquely strong. Good plot. Interesting characters.

5) Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

My first Shakespeare! It was an enjoyable read. Soooo well written. Plot needed time to develop. Would have been better as a novel but that’s just me. It was a cute story with a tragic, yet well known end. Gloriously easy to annotate. Overall, fun.

 

So there. I’ve read classics.

Book Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

This book has what others lack: originality. It’s paranormal romance with vampires and it is unlike anything else I’ve read. Read the synopsis at amazon.

The romance is surprising and intriguing. You know you shouldn’t be rooting for it and yet you ship it anyway. The good/evil conflict is addictive and murky. The plot works. A few of the characters could have been portrayed better, but that’s pretty much all the negative stuff I’d say about it. The world of vampires and Coldtowns Black has created is unique and interesting. I read it straight through in one day, unable to leave the world Black set up around me. Definitely worth reading.