Postcard from “Emmeline’s Empire”

Penny Blake of https://blakeandwight.com is just starting to arrange an “Author Postcard” series (starting in July, I think). I literally finished “Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire” earlier today so I was in the perfect head space.

This postcard is written in character, and designed as an ad for the story (and, because why not? for the Antipodean Queen trilogy too).

WARNING: This contains a spoiler for the general plot of “Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights”.

A3 Poster Emmeline's Empire

To Miss Venture,

I had not expected to find such pleasure in your company, nor to accomplish so much so quickly as we assist Miss Muchamore in her martial endeavours. Yet now I find myself longing to once again find myself beside the sea—and therefore beside you.

Here in the countryside the Australian heat is somewhat blunted by the surrounding hills. There are also several convenient river-side trees behind which a young woman like myself can take the waters in a relatively discreet manner. It is strange to think that this serene valley will soon be over-run by Her Royal Majesty’s troops.

Has Miss Muchamore told you she is writing an autobiography, beginning with the strange history of her magic-infused anatomy? Truly the 1860s are a wonderful time to be alive. Given that the first volume of her intended trilogy is entitled Heart of Brass it seems you and I will soon have one less secret to keep. In fact her trilogy is almost complete, which I confess makes me a little nervous, as the end of Miss Muchamore’s military campaign also draws to its climax. Does she think she is going to die?

My life has been somewhat different to hers. I imagine if I told my own story it would have to be written entirely in letters, rather than in the manner of a regular novel. Perhaps I should compile it, after all! I could call it Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire after Miss Muchamore’s small holding. But letters would not be enough. There would be pictures too, including your beautiful painting of Miss Muchamore’s sister, and a tiny model of our fort for the attentive reader to build, joining our rebellion by proxy. And jewellery, since it is both lovely and small enough to fit in an envelope. Perhaps a tiny heart made of brass.

Or perhaps all this is all a foolish dream. Who would want to read the letters of ordinary women like you and I? We are both of us side characters, not heroines.

And yet.

I think foolish dreams are the most interesting kind, don’t you?

With love from your friend,

Xiong

 

https://felicitybanks.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/antipodean-queen-1-heart-of-brass/

https://magicinthemail.boards.net

 

Magic in the Mail

The (first?) “Murder in the Mail” Kickstarter was successful, raising thousands of dollars. You can read more about that story here.

As you can probably guess from the title, this led to further shenanigans.

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There are currently TWO “Magic in the Mail” stories in development:

Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae

This is a tale of two missing magical creatures; a phoenix and a water dragon.

Phoenixes and dragons hate one another, so foul play seems likely. Their concerned parents team up with some magic-sensitive mortals to follow the missing “children” and perhaps save their lives. The missing ones have left a trail of art behind them (because an encounter with a magical creature inspires wonderful art).

It is posted in three parcels, and includes artistic objects which you’re going to love!

It is also 100% G-rated.

$40 for Australians; $60AU for everyone else (and sent in a single parcel).

The first mail-out will be June **2019** but you can make preorders now.

For $5 extra, you can have the story addressed to the reader (eg if you want to send it to someone named Bob, it will begin with “Dear Bob. . .”).

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This beautiful anuragnathus (yes it’s a real dinosaur) by Alan Lam is part of the story—and yes, the Chinese character is both a clue and a red herring.

What does a dinosaur have to do with a story of magical runaways?

You’ll have to buy the story to find out.

Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire (mini story)

This is a steampunk fantasy tale set in the same world of magical metals as all my other steampunk, including my novels (in fact it takes place at the same time as part of Iron Lights and the game Attack of the Clockwork Army).

A Perfectly Ordinary (she says) shop-keeper named Xiong joins a fledgling rebellion headed up by the famous Emmeline Muchamore. It’s a tale of secrets, hope, aeronauts, lighthouses, an alternate reality Charles Dickens, and fruit ices for all.

$25 for Australians; $40AU for everyone else (and sent in a single parcel).

The first mail-out is. . . within 6 months of the first order. Probably more or less instantly. This story is a much smaller operation than the others. I’ll be feeling my way as I go.

A stripped-down version will be included with my third steampunk fantasy novel (hopefully available in August 2018), with just two black and white pieces of art included. The full version has a build-your-own hot air balloon, and a steampunk song!

Here’s one of the pieces of art. This is a print of an oil painting by Graham Gercken, who takes special orders.

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Since people tend to feel strongly about the genres of both crime and fantasy, “Magic in the Mail” has its own forum, here.
Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae is now open for pre-orders, but please note that you will not receive the story until June 2019.

$40 for Aussie residents ($25 for “Emmeline’s Empire”)
$60 anywhere in the world, sent as a single parcel ($40 for “Emmeline’s Empire”)
(All prices in Australian dollars.)

The simplest way to get the story is to email me at MagicintheMailStories@gmail.com with your ADDRESS, EMAIL (in case things go wrong), and PAYMENT DETAILS (eg “I just deposited the full payment into your account/PayPal, under the name “Bob Flibbertigibbet”) and either FF (Feuding Fae), EE (Emmeline’s Empire), or MU (Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday) so I know which story to send you!

Make sure to label your payments with something unique to you (your name and/or the name of the recipient). Labelling things “Magic in the Mail” will NOT be helpful.

PayPal: MurderintheMailStories@gmail.com

Bank details:
Commonwealth Bank (Australia)
06 2692
3320 8197

Pre-orders (including Kickstarter orders) can be altered to specifically address the real-world recipient (a new feature) for an extra $5.

Eg If you’re buying it for a 6-year old called “Shakira”, you can specify in the email that you would like it personalised, and the opening letter will read “Dear Shakira….”

Mega Lolly & Chocolate Review

It’s been a while since I reviewed something heinously unhealthy on this blog, so when I saw a whole bunch of new and exciting permutations of sugar, cocoa, and chemicals at Woolies today I bought them all.

Let’s begin, as every good beginning does, with chocolate.

Lindt Orange Intense

I’m not usually a fan of dark chocolate, but this has almond slivers and orange bits in it which just works. It’s also beautifully thin, with a lovely crack when you break it. It’s also ten squares adding up to 100g, which pleases me immensely.

It’s particularly good at a certain time of the month, when I suddenly want more chocolate.

Not to be confused with their orange creme variety, which I don’t like.

Lindt Fruit Sensation: Raspberry & Cranberry

The fruity centres are quite sickly sweet, which is necessary to hold their own against the dark shell. I don’t think I’ll buy them again, but I may change my mind. I’m a sucker for a round chocolate, especially one that can be eaten without getting sticky fingers, so this wins points for shape and surface texture.

If you like dark chocolate, I think this will suit you. They also have another flavour (orange maybe? I can’t remember).

having said that, I think the candied fruit innards won’t appeal much to adults (who tend to be the ones eating dark chocolate) so I think this is a short-term product only.

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Cadbury Marvellous Creations: Clinkers, Raspberry Chips, Marshmallow

Love it, especially the clinkers. There’s a great range of texture and flavour without being excessively sticky (I’m looking at you, Cadbury Boost Block) or taking away too much important space in the chocolate. The eccentric shape is cute (and, I admit, fun to consume) but an obvious ploy to make the block run out faster.

Excuse me. I’m going to go eat some more right now.

Cadbury Boost Block

I’m a big fan of the Boost bar, and this is. . . not as good as that. It has a little bit of caramel, and plain crunchy things (similar to rice bubbles; no flavour to speak of but a crunch) in a differently-textured chocolate segment.

Yes, it’s fun to eat and a bit different. I don’t expect it to be around forever.

Cadbury Picnic Block

Like the Boost block, this is a variation of a popular (and superior) bar. The white stuff is pleasant but nothing to do with the original bar. I salute the creators for including a good amount of peanuts.

It’s a good way to have peanuts with your chocolate, but inferior to chocolate-coated peanuts, Darrell Lea brand peanut brittle balls/fingers (chocolate coated also; the pinnacle of chocolate/peanut relations and unlikely to ever be outdone in this world) and the Picnic bar itself.

Once again, this is a product that is fun to eat and a bit different for a limited time.

Cadbury Crispy Mint

I adore mint chocolate (I had mint M&Ms at my wedding reception) so I was initially disappointed by this block having those plain crunch things in it—I suspected they were there mainly to fill in space and save money as a result.

In the end, I grew to really like this bar. It has its own flavour (mint, obviously) and a distinct texture with both mini M&Ms (who doesn’t love tiny bits of crunchy coloured candy?) and the plain crunchy bits working together nicely.

Natural Confectionary Carnival Mix

The shapes are not as fun as dinosaurs (my favourite) or snakes (Chris’ favourite) but they are smaller, which might be good when bribing kids with a specific number of lollies. Also, the Cherry Cola and Watermelon flavours use the same shape—which is doubly unfortunate since it makes them difficult to distinguish.

Apparently these are “all new flavours”: Lemonade Float, Strawberries & Cream, Cherry Cola, Watermelon, Apple & Raspberry, Peach Pie.

I found the Lemonade and Cola flavours a bit syrupy; the watermelon, apple raspberry and peach pie were all probably a little too subtle, giving them a jelly-like effect (especially the watermelon; the peach pie also had a white section which offset the low flavour pretty well). The fruit-based flavours were clearly a minor alteration on existing flavours (and the existing flavours are better).

Conclusion: They’re an adequate addition to the range but not one that deserves to stick around.

NB: People on low-FODMAP or low-salicylate diets should be careful with Natural Confectionary, since they purposefully use fruits for flavouring, which is excellent except when one is intolerant of that fruit.

Natural Confectionary Sour Soda Pops

The soda pops are all bottle shapes, so some are quite difficult to distinguish. The flavours are Blackcurrant Soda, Raspberry Lemonade, Orange Fizz, Cola, Lemon Squash, and Lime Pop.

Fundamentally, these are sour lollies (a shocking conclusion, I know). I’m generally not a big fan of sour lollies (the best, in my opinion, are Sour Patch Kids, not least because the sourness goes away as you eat the lolly). They taste exactly as you’d expect a high-quality sour gummy lolly sprinkled with sugar to taste: not too sour, so as not to put off mainstream consumers, and with a nice texture.

Infinity War: Spoiler-Filled Impressions

I just watched this amazing video that has an amazingly high rate of correct theories about “Infinity War” (less so toward the end of the clip).

 

Now. Let’s talk.

I’m going to assume readers have already seen the movie, and need to talk about it.

There’s an entry here for those who just need to know who dies before they see the film.

The first scene established that Marvel wasn’t kidding about killin’ folks. I was aware that both Loki and Heimdall were at risk (for casting/narrative/contract reasons), and although both are fantastic characters brought to life by brilliant actors, killing them was the right thing to do to make a great film.

The writing throughout this film is tight. Sure, we don’t necessarily feel too close to any one character—that is the price of such an ambitious, hero-filled movie. But the film is fast and exciting and still manages to remind us why we care about each character in incredibly economic ways. For example, when some Avengers arrive in Wakanda and are greeted by King T-Challa, this happens:

Avenger Man #1: [realising the king is right there in front of him, and speaking under his breath] Do we. . . bow, or something?

Avenger Man #2: Of course. He’s a king.

Avenger Man #1: [bows awkwardly]

King T’Challa: We don’t do that here.

Avenger #1: [glances accusingly at #2]

Avenger #2: [grins at him]

This shows us a totally human moment of awkwardness, grounding the movie in an experience familiar to all of us. It also shows some of the character of Avenger #1 (the point of this example is somewhat marred by the fact I can’t remember which two Avengers were in this mini-scene), and his awkward bow, sideways glance, and realisation that he’s been had all show that he doesn’t think highly of himself, and that he can take a joke.

It also shows Avenger #2 has a wicked sense of humour.

It also shows T’Challa’s humility, confidence, and tact. He doesn’t giggle nervously or falter in the slightest when faced with other people’s nervous awkwardness. He clearly explains his ruling style & diplomatic relations in five words, and then smoothly moves on with more important matters.

Marvel is often criticised (these days) for ruining serious moments with humour. But humour used to show character (and often, at the same time, major plot points) is genuinely clever. It’s also Marvel’s signature style, and although I very much admire their courage in having real stakes in this movie (unlike so many), clever character-building humour is almost always worth having.

The characters in this film spark off each other beautifully. Thor (oh so masculine) and Star-Lord (oh so wishes he was half as masculine) are very funny together, and so are Iron Man and Doctor Strange (two arrogant geniuses).

There are man-to-man hugs in this film, which is special (even though the hugs are quite restrained, presumably due to the whole “World’s Ending” issue).

For me, the most emotional moment was when Spider-Man died. Now I KNOW he’s going to be fine. He has another film coming up really soon! But when he realises that they lost, and he’s dying, he reacts like a very brave. . . teenage human. It’s actually lovely seeing him absolutely fall apart. Tony Stark’s face as he immediately knows he’s failed to protect a child is perfect too.

Although I know Spidey can’t die at this time, he can be horribly traumatised. His innocence makes his so vulnerable. Besides, I saw him die, and I’ll breathe a little less easily until I see him in the next movie and know that he’s really truly okay.

Loki’s death was quite lovely too, as he tried all his tricks and mischief only to fail—showing his deep love for his brother in the process. He’s redeemed, and in such a Loki-ish way. I will miss him.

And poor Gamora, laughing in triumph at the idea that Thanos is too evil to love anyone. . . realising far too slowly that he truly cares for her, and that she is the key to his awful triumph. As always, she is ready to sacrifice herself.

And then. . . bubbles.

 

The end of the film was incredibly moving, even as we all know they couldn’t possibly kill off so many characters at once. The confusion is worse than anger or sadness, and it’s beautifully done.

I want to see it again, even though it hurts.

But most of all, I want to see Part 2.

 

These are the important characters in the Marvel universe, and my predictions for their futures:

Tier 1: Have at least one solo film.

Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk.

These are the oldest (from Phase 1), and thus the four most likely to leave the MCU, possibly passing their mantle onto someone else (eg Bucky could become the new Captain America). I’m pretty sure Captain America and Iron Man will die (or genuinely retire) in Infinity War Part 2. Hulk is clearly having trouble switching personas; perhaps he gets to retire and invent things. Thor is rejuvenated by recent movies and is likely to stay on for a few more, but he will need to quit at some point.

Star-Lord (very much part of a group), Doctor Strange, Ant Man, Black Panther (also very much part of a group), Spider-Man.

These guys are new and shiny, and it’s unlikely the MCU is done with them yet. Doctor Strange is the least interesting, and is extremely powerful. So powerful that he’s likely to get killed so he doesn’t just solve everything all the time.

Tier 2: Big Damn Heroes (just not, ya know, THAT big)

Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, Loki (some of the time), Heimdall, Bucky (some of the time), The Falcon, War Machine, Wong, Scarlet Witch, Vision.

Hopefully Black Widow will finally get a solo movie at some point. Hawkeye and Nick Fury are both disposable at this point; they can retire or die. Bucky’s trajectory is upwards. He is now called the White Wolf, who is a familiar comics character, but that doesn’t mean he won’t also become Captain America. Not sure about the rest except I think Scarlet Witch will stay because she’s young and it’s a logical choice to use her as part of a literal new generation. She and Spider-Man are similarly aged, very attractive, and with EXTREMELY different outlooks and life experiences. It would take time for them to get close, and it shouldn’t be romantic (Spider-Man has MJ; Scarlet Witch is going to need time to get over Vision) but I think it would be really interesting for both characters. Other than that, anything could happen to the members of this list.

Tier 3: Part of the Group

Guardians: Gamora, Rocket, Groot, Drax, Nebula (some of the time), Mantis.

The sisters had similar skills and issues, so it’s possible we see more of Nebula now—but it’s more likely she simply goes off on her own. Rocket, Groot, Drax, and Mantis are all really fun. . . but it’d still be a great group if Drax and/or Mantis were knocked off.

Wakanda: Shuri, the queen mother Ramonda, Okoye (Dora Milaje leader), Ayo, M’Baku.

Shuri is the new supergenius in town. The queen, as a Parent Of Hero, is likely going to die (very possibly of natural causes) at some point in the next few years. Okoye, Ayo, and M’Baku are always in genuine peril. They’re in that sweet spot for being killed: interesting enough to miss, but not so much to stick around indefinitely.

Tier 4: Their plots exist in relation to the heroes (although they’re often AWESOME in their own right).

Pepper Potts (Iron Man fiance), Jane Foster (Thor girlfriend; apparently broken up), Peggy Carter (girlfriend to Steve Rogers; also became head of SHIELD at one point and had a cruelly short-lived TV series), Agent Coulter (recruited people; killed in the first Avengers movie but got better and has a TV show), Wong (effectively Dr Strange’s assistant), Nebula (Gamora’s sister and Thanos’s daughter).

One hopes that Pepper Potts and Iron Man finally settle down. Either that or horribly ironic death for one or both of them. Jane Foster may never be mentioned again. Peggy Carter died of old age a while back. No one is in love with Wong, so he’ll probably remain in the sidekick zone for plenty of time to come (although Doctor Strange comes across as quite cold, so the writers may kill Wong in order to deepen Doctor Strange). Nebula is unlikely to die I reckon. It would be too similar to Gamora’s death at this stage.

 


Here is my son yelling Wakandan war chants with me:

 

I. . . can’t stop.

 

Avengers: Infinity War (spoilers for those who wanna know in advance)

 

I’m really serious about this spoiler warning, okay?

I’m gonna tell you who dies.

Something unusual happened immediately after the final credits: people were talking. There was no relief, no certainty—and a whole lot that needs talking about.

In a minute I’ll do my own emotional/talky response-analysis thing.

This post is basically just a summary of spoilers. Seriously.

If that’s something you seriously want to know in advance (presumably in order to emotionally prepare yourself), then read on. . .

 


The main “teams” of Infinity War

*Guardians of the Galaxy + Thor. This is the most comedic meeting. Thor and Gamora matter the most here.

*Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Dr Strange (Iron Man and Dr Strange have a lot in common, specifically being up themselves).

*Wakanda: The Wakandans (including Bucky) join up with Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, Falcon, Vision, and Scarlet Witch for the major show-down of the film, which takes place in Wakanda. There is a nice moment when three very different women fight together (Scarlet Witch, Okoye, and Black Widow).

Unsurprisingly, the Soul Stone shows up during the film.

Who do I care about most in this film?

Thor. Gamora. Spider-Man. Wakanda.

Who don’t I care about that the film thinks I should?

Vision. Paul Bettany manages to bring a smidgeon of British charm but I still find his relationship with Scarlet Witch (very young and lonely) icky.

Who didn’t even show up, like not at all?

Hawkeye and Ant Man. They’re both men with children to look after (and also both under house arrest), but writing-wise they got left out because they’re just not in the top tier of heroes. Sorry guys. I would have liked to see a tiny glimpse of the two of you in the climax.

Who do I think we’ll never see again?

Heimdall. Loki. Gamora. Vision.

How do I feel about that?

I am annoyed that Marvel killed off two awesome people of colour and their greatest ongoing villain… but I think it was the right thing to do writing-wise. Heimdall has saved Thor enough times, and Loki’s moral dubiousness is no longer surprising. Gamora is far too competent to stick around Star-Lord, and far too soft-hearted/self-assured to go off on her own (unless she had her own film, which would be fantastic but doesn’t seem likely). And good riddance to Vision, who is not interesting enough to keep around. Their deaths were necessarily fast due to a movie packed with heroes, but they still hurt. More so as I think about them afterwards.

What do I think will happen in the next movie?

It’s perfectly clear that Doctor Strange has this whole Thanos thing sorted. He specifically looks into the future and sees only one path that doesn’t suck. Then, as he dies, he says, “This was the only way.” Therefore, everything he did was necessary to save the day.

He also specifically states that he would let Iron Man and Spider-Man die in order to protect the Time Stone. Then, when Thanos threatens Iron Man, he immediately gives him the Time Stone. Dr Strange clearly wants Thanos to have it, and I don’t think it’s coincidence that it’s the time stone. Anything can be fixed with the power to rewind.

In the post-credits scene, Nick Fury realises what is happening and clearly has a plan of some kind already. He grabs a device and pushes buttons. . . then drops it as he dies. But one presumes it’s linked to Doctor Strange’s plan.

At his moment of triumph, Thanos sees a vision of Gamora as a child, who he genuinely cared for—and killed in order to fill up his gauntlet. That gives him a possible motive to reverse time and save her. (It also gives her the best chance of all the pre-climax deaths to come back.)

A LOT of people die in the climax. Then, suddenly, the film ends.