Review: Thanatos

Thanatos Cover, 2021

Thanatos by Nerine Dorman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I was fortunate to receive an ARC of Thanatos, and am pleased to provide this review.

I previously reviewed the first book of this set, Inkarna, and am happy to say that, any of the ways in which I found Inkarna falling short have been remedied with Thanatos. The pacing is much more even and the plot feels tighter. While there’s still mystery and uncertainty, we’re not struggling along with Ashton in the same way we were before, while he came to terms with his new identity and what had happened. I will say that reading Inkarna prior to Thanatos is very important; Dorman’s solid worldbuilding in Inkarna is what allows Thanatos to progress smoothly and at a deftly controlled pace.

In this second installment Ash finds himself caught between rival Houses, and facing monumental, sobering decisions. He struggles to balance doing the right thing with the necessary thing, and his struggles, seen through the first-person present tense, are immediate and keenly gut-wrenching. He struggles with loyalty to his mission, while giving in could free him from the weight he’s under. He struggles with his identity as a husband, a father, an Inkarna, and the last remaining member of his House. While much of the previous novel has him comparing the form of Ashton Kennedy to the prior incarnation, Lizzie Perry, we get to see him settle into life as Ashton and some of the sensibilities of Lizzie fade.

Another fantastic touch to this novel is the inter-House politics that we get to see. We see more of the structure of the Inkarna, more of the rituals, more of the ethereal part of their reality as Ash settles into this incarnation. Seeing houses maneuver within and between one another adds an interesting layer to Ashton’s story and builds even more on the worldbuilding set up with the first novel.

The pacing was handled very nicely: a page turner indeed, with all the pieces falling nicely into place, and yet not handed to the reader in a neat, easy package. Thanatos keeps us wondering what’s really going on, how the houses are behaving, and how Ash is caught in the middle of it all.

Having the background knowledge from Inkarna allowed me to relax and really enjoy Thanatos and Ashton’s journey through the material world, and the ethereal one. Filled with fascinating use of Egyptian myth, and centering around a plot that could change the world, I thoroughly enjoyed joining Ash on this adventure. This was a more than worthy follow-up to Inkarna.



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Review: Inkarna

Inkarna Cover Art 2020

Inkarna by Nerine Dorman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Nefretkheperi is Inkarna, a servant of the goddess Ma’at and working toward reincarnation. But her first return goes horribly wrong, and she spends the novel trying to uncover how and why, and ultimately who is behind everything‚Ķ all while trying to navigate a new body, gender, and life that carries a lot of its own baggage.

When Nefretkheperi is reincarnated as Ashton Kennedy, he needs to put together the pieces of not just his own broken life, but the lives of others he broke. I really enjoyed how Dorman leaned into characterization, showing us a lot about the old Ashton in how others reacted to him when he miraculously woke from a 4-month coma. Righting Ash’s old wrongs becomes a mission, alongside trying to uncover what went awry in her own return. Complicating matters is the ‘real’ Ash’s angry ghost, and the uneasy peace they have to strike to protect Ashton’s physical body as well as his girlfriend, the sweet and kind Marlise.

Marlise is the cornerstone of this story. Her character arc keeps the story moving, even more than Nefretkheperi’s investigations. The reader wonders why Marlise stayed with ‘old Ash’, but seeing her responsiveness with ‘new Ash’, and how she moves from fear to caution to an actual partner was probably my favorite part of the story.

The story overall kept my interest, but I felt the pacing was a bit off. It meandered early on as Nefretkheperi-Ash navigated dangers that tested his powers. The overarching danger, and the thing that everyone seemed to be after, felt at times very dangerous, and at others, sort of like theoretical danger. There were lots of mentions of the Inkarna Houses, and I would have really liked to see more of what went on with them, and some more depth of the relationships Nefretkheperi shared with other Inkarna, as it may have provided more context for the twist at the end. The ending itself ramped up quickly, which felt at odds with the way the first 3/4 of the book had gone.

Dorman has done her homework when it comes to the Egyptian mythology and beliefs that form the foundation of the book, and while it’s a bit heavy on terminology, there’s enough context that can help the reader through. It’s nice to see living Egyptian myth in the modern setting. The areas in and around Capetown are lushly described, and the setting is as alive and vivid as the people who inhabit it.

I wish Amazon allowed half star ratings as well, because this is more of a 4.5; I really enjoyed it, had some laugh out loud moments, and really enjoyed the characterization and development. I’d recommend it to those who have an interest in mythology and urban fantasy, and those who may be looking for something a little different. Given how Inkarna ended, I’m looking forward to the sequel, Thanatos!

Review: Keyflame

Keyflame Cover Art c 2020 by Tallulah Lucy

Keyflame by Tallulah Lucy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Keyflame was an immensely enjoyable read that not just hit a lot of points I like, but also handled typical tropes in very original and satisfying ways. I really enjoyed how nothing was quite what it seemed: from protagonist Lilah, to mysterious Kalin, and even idyllic college town Grahamstown itself. Lucy deftly handles her characters, setting, and plot twists, showcasing her storytelling skill with each development. Just when I thought I had one plot figured out, she neatly twisted it in another direction; I didn’t feel disappointed or taken for a ride, though–all I could think was, “Well, of COURSE that’s how it had to happen!”

Full of colorful characters, sneaky twists, and magical turns, Keyflame is a winner. The first person narration works very well, and Lilah’s realization that things aren’t what they seem is handled really well, as is her development and growth. The romance is handled nicely, and scenes of a certain nature tastefully fade to black. As a US reader, I found the descriptions of South Africa wonderful, and the Afrikaans phrases sprinkled in added immensely to this setting (a helpful glossary is included at the end). Some parallel-world fantasy novels seem like they could just be lifted up and set mostly anywhere; but Keyflame couldn’t really take place anywhere else and still have the same heart.

Keyflame will be well worth your time and attention!



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Find out more about Tallulah Lucy at https://tallulahlucy.com/

The Travel Scene: What It Can Tell Us

Background vector created by macrovector_official – http://www.freepik.com

It happened last night. I’ve had writing on the brain and have been slightly obsessing over it. Not in the form of actually getting words on pages, no, that would be too useful! But last night I dreamed about writing, and some of what came of it had me really thinking.

I’m not sure how things led up to this point, but I was with a friend who told me he worked for a publisher and that possibly it could be a good fit for my books. Of course I was interested! But they had some interesting submission guidelines. A lot of publishers like to see the first few chapters to get a feel for the story and your writing. In my dream, this one wanted a travel scene. They may have wanted something else as well, but the big thing they wanted was a scene from my writing where the characters traveled.

A bunch of other stuff happened, including a musical number and me teaching Old English literature, and I don’t know if they ever ended up accepting my MS, but I got to thinking about what certain types of scenes can tell us about writing, stories, characters, and writers. In thinking about what this dream-publisher was looking for, I wonder what they saw in a travel scene.

Character interaction would be huge. Half of what makes road trip movies like Fanboys or even Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure so entertaining are the characters we meet along the way, and the things that the main characters discover about themselves. And one of my favorite parts about Dragon Age: Origins was the camp mechanic: the chance to go back between missions, rest, and speak with your companions, as well as see how the relationships deepened over time.

Travel scenes would also depend heavily on setting to be effective, so a travel scene would show an author’s skill with setting up the area around the characters. Atmosphere, mood, tone, all would be important. I’m listening to Ruin and Rising right now, and the trek through the underground caves helps to create tension and force character interaction in a way that wouldn’t have happened if they were all just walking on a sunny day on the surface.

Finally, I think travel scenes force a character to be resourceful, using what they have at their disposal, and trusting themselves (and sometimes those around them) to get from one point to another. What pitfalls occur along the way? What measure of success is there? What do they lose, and what do they gain? What do they ultimately learn?

I have a travel scene as part of Sneakthief where Nicholas realizes it’s not quite what he anticipated… and has to reexamine his expectations and manage his disappointment, as well as become more resourceful than he’s ever really been required to be before. I feel like that scene can tell me a lot more about him as a character than any of his ones in the library or at home at his family’s estate, because ultimately, the travel changes him. As it does for the team in Fanboys, as it does for Pee-Wee on his quest for his bike, and as it does for us when we travel.

It was a strange dream to be certain; but I’m glad it happened, and glad to have considered what it could mean and what it does for my writing.

Have you had dreams that either make you question your writing, make it into your writing, or have you considering more about writing as a craft? I’d love to hear about it!

Lifting the Fog

Back at the end of February I had a major mental shift: an upswing, where suddenly the fog cleared and I felt like I could function. I worked to do a LOT in that last weekend of February, at home, at work, and personally with my writing, etc. I got a tenuous handle on my ‘adult’ things: appointments, catching up with things I need to reply to, scheduling, that sort of thing. And one of the major things I wanted to do was speak with my doctor at my mid-March appointment about the potential for adult ADHD.

I’m very fortunate to have a doctor who truly listens and doesn’t dismiss concerns. She understands that her patients know themselves best. She’s empathetic. She’s sympathetic. She’s not bent on getting patients in and out–she wants to listen and treat them, and for that I’m grateful. When I moved eight years ago, I still kept her and drive an hour to see her because it’s worth it. I felt comfortable raising my concerns.

We talked, and because I don’t have a history (because I always did really well in school–never mind the all-nighters and procrastination and daydreaming and scattered thoughts) my teachers never raised a concern. I figured that’s just how I operated, that I worked well under pressure. Lately I’ve started to realize that working well under pressure is just a great cover for my anxiety. I shared this with her, and an actual diagnosis would take a workup with a psychiatrist if I wanted to try a stimulant-based prescription. However, before that, she suggested I try Wellbutrin in addition to my other depression medication.

I’ve gone from

to

No, I didn’t dye my hair–that’s not the difference. The difference is in three weeks I haven’t been as scattered. I don’t lose swathes of time staring or scrolling. I get things done around the house more efficiently. I balance my work tasks, reading, writing, gaming, parenting, etc. I don’t get as irritable as quickly, and I don’t dwell on what’s irritating me. Most importantly, the other night husband looked at me and said, “You’ve been a lot happier these last two weeks.”

My brain has stopped fighting itself. It lets me focus on what’s important, on what I want to be doing. I’ve read some books; I’ve connected with friends; I’ve gotten appointments scheduled and kept. I haven’t been impulse buying. I’m not stressed over my writing, and feel like I can be creative when I want and need to be. I can use my planner, rather than having it stare at me accusingly! Checklists work again. As for the side effects, so far all I’ve noticed was yesterday I was dizzy from it for the first time (I knew it could happen). The best way I can describe it is all the spinny-spin without any of the drinky-drink!

I’m excited about things again. There’s promise. The fog has lifted, and it’s going to be a beautiful day.

Words with Friends

Writing is often considered a solitary task. We hear “writer” and think of the lonely author, pale and skinny in their attic garret, candle burning low, fingers stained with ink (or, Jo in Little Women whenever she starts writing a book). Some people do like the solitary aspect of it, and find that going away from it all to work on writing is peaceful… unless you end up like the guy in The Shining. But in reality, most writers really need other writers. We need eyes that haven’t stared at the same paragraphs and pages for hours on end. We need feedback about what’s not working… and feedback about what is. We need other people who struggle the same way we do, who understand it, who can support us… and whom we can support. In short, we need friends.

The other night I was privileged to have the opportunity to have a buddy writing session with Yolandie Horak, author of The Fall of the Mantle series. Her first two books, A Study of Ash and Smoke and A Trial of Sparks and Kindling are both really well crafted with memorable characters and intricate plots. We’re both fans of the Dragon Age series, and both members of Skolion; we’ve chatted quite a bit via Messenger, and we’ve both had a lot going on lately, so we thought, “why not?”

There is absolutely no answer to that question! It was a fantastic night. Once I got my tech issues sorted with my headset (I usually use my headset so there’s no background noise from my space heater or my obscenely loud typing!), we were off and running! Yolandie is a wonderful individual, and we were able to bounce from discussing writing, to art, to fandom, to Dragon Age, back to writing, back to Dragon Age. We discussed the rough parts we were having with our current works in progress. We chatted about sources of inspiration and favorite characters, and even our favorite characters in our own work. We confessed our anxieties about setting it up in the first place!

I think one of the best parts was speaking with someone so like-minded about so much, and feeling at ease discussing my writing and writing journey. She and other Skolion writers and friends have blazed the trail ahead, so I’m not walking alone. I could have been intimidated knowing I was about to spend some time chatting with a published author whose work I admire, but Yolandie made it super easy, and at the end, I think we both had accomplished something we were trying to work on. She got some work done on a chapter she wanted to finish, and I got a short story set in the Ungifted world completed (just the first draft. Stay tuned for more info on that). And when I had to turn in for the night, we planned to do it again. I’m so excited!

If you’re thinking of getting down some words with friends, here are some recommendations:

  • Don’t be nervous! If you and the other writer are agreeing to have an online writing session, chances are good that you both want to do it, so don’t be super nervous.
  • Discuss and agree upon time and platform (Zoom, Meet, Skype, etc).
  • You can chat about how you want it to go ahead of time, or when you start the session. Will it be just silent writing, with accountability on the other end? Or are you open to conversation? Yolandie and I just sort of went for it, and were both relatively relaxed enough to let things happen organically. Once we got over the initial anxiety!
  • If you’re not sure how to have things go, try sprints! Set an agreed upon time, then just write as much as you can as fast as you can until it’s over.
  • Consider what else you may have going on. I definitely needed to wait until Smol Human was asleep because he’s SO curious and loves seeing himself on camera!

Our writing session the other night provided me with encouragement and accountability, plus it was just really nice to speak with someone beyond typing over Messenger! Yolandie was so gracious and really encouraging, and I felt really energized about my work after we spoke. Looking forward to doing it again!

Midpoint Points: Shadow and Bone

As usual I’m late to the party on a few things. In this case, audiobooks, and the Grishaverse. I have several friends who are fans of both, and in my quest to work with my mental issues rather than against them, I decided to try Audible. Because I got a free book to start, and I have friends who’ve spoken highly of this, and Netflix is coming out with a production of it next month, I decided to give Shadow and Bone a try. As you can see from the photo above, I’m pretty much at the midpoint as of yesterday, so I thought I’d pause and made some predictions, as well as jot down some thoughts, and then see how close I was at the end. There will probably be some spoilers, so… warning, etc.

Thoughts:

  1. The world is interesting, and the explanation of magic, or “the small science” is nicely fleshed out. That was something I struggled with in my writing, was the theory behind it.
  2. I’m probably not supposed to like The Darkling, but I do. Also, constantly hearing “The Darkling” reminds me of Darkling I Listen, a musical setting of part of Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale, by Ben Moore. I might have to ask to work on that again in my next voice lesson.
  3. Noticing a lot of YA fantasy tropes: special magical training compound, with the students separated by color of their robes (which in this case denote abilities). Lonely protagonist doesn’t fit in, though everyone expects great things from them. There is a rival who is jealous of them. That rival injures the protagonist, who spends the night in the infirmary, where the plot thickens.
  4. The narrator is pretty good! I’ve heard from friends that a bad narrator can ruin the audiobook experience, so I’m pleased with this rendition.
  5. I love Genya.
  6. The book kicked off with the shadow part of things, and now I’m learning about the bone part of it, so at least it makes sense to me now.

Predictions (here there be spoilers!)

  1. Alina only accesses her power on her own when she feels that Mal has turned his back on her. Once she thinks he doesn’t need her or care about her, she realizes she doesn’t have to hold it at bay any longer. I think someone, The Darkling probably, has ordered her letters to Mal destroyed or whatever, so she can let go of that one attachment holding her back.
  2. She’s going to feel betrayed and leave, only to find Mal who’ll be like, “You never wrote, why did you turn your back on me?” and she’ll be like, “I didn’t!” and they’ll team up again.
  3. The Darkling is more ambitious/greedy than he’ll let on. I think Alina’s going to leave, and he’ll do whatever he can to get her back. He wants to use her to his own ends. He did initially want her kefta to be black, like his. I shouldn’t cheer for him. I think I’m supposed to be drawn in by how enigmatic he is and then feel just as betrayed as Alina will. I want him to be complex, and not just pretending to be enigmatic to hide how manipulative he is. Again, just a prediction. I hope to be proven wrong at the end.

So that’s where I’m at so far, at the midpoint of Shadow and Bone. It’s interesting and enjoyable, and I think it’s going to make a really gorgeous visual adaptation on Netflix, between the settings and the costumes. I’ve heard the Crows duology is quite good (as a story and as a fully cast audiobook), and some like it even better than the trilogy, so I’ll be looking forward to reading those (plus, heist narrative full of shady characters and double crosses? I’m so in.).

I have a lot of driving coming up this week and in the upcoming weekend, so I’m sure I’ll finish this one. I’ll be interested to see how close my predictions were!

Review: A Trial of Sparks and Kindling

From ATOSAK Cover Art by Yolandie Horak

A Trial of Sparks & Kindling by Yolandie Horak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


After finishing A Study of Ash and Smoke, I NEEDED more of the characters and intrigue that make up Horak’s Fall of the Mantle series. A Trial of Sparks and Kindling doesn’t disappoint, starting off with intrigue and secrets that set a demanding yet deftly handled pace. While there are several perspectives and plots at play, Horak deftly weaves them together. Not a word is wasted nor a character mishandled. Secrets and lies whisper in darkened corners and each character must strive to discover their own truth: who they are, what they want, who they will be. Alliances are fragile, friendships are tested. Allies become friends, and some become chosen family. And underneath all of this are themes of trust, of love, of forgiveness and regret. Each plotline and each character plays skillfully off of all the others.

Horak has created a rich world filled with visceral descriptions of the stark realities of war and plague, and populated it with a vast cast of unique characters each looking for their place in that world. Watching them grow, change, and become closer… and in some cases farther apart by their choices, is a breathless journey that brings smiles and tears, and sparks an intense desire to learn more, to read more. Overall, an excellent read!



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While I’m Thinking of It

Tools of the trade are great. When I remember to use them. Image by Freepik

I don’t really remember the last time I posted; it may have been December, for Dragon Age Day. Time has gotten away from me; it tends to do that anyway, but in the strange hellscape that was 2020, it happened even more. Changing the year to 2021 did not magically reset everything. Not that I expected it to! But at least it meant that even 2020 could end (and could be–wait for it–hindsight!) and that a new year could mean new hope.

I’m not one for resolutions; I don’t like setting myself up for failure. The best year was the year I decided I was going to resolve not to do things, because then I wouldn’t feel like I’d failed when I didn’t do something. Reverse psychology, right? But that gets me to thinking. The pandemic has been tough in a lot of ways, and the mental health toll is just one. This past year, working from home with a special needs pre-schooler turned kindergartner, who was also home for a lot of it, had me seriously evaluating some of my mental health more than usual.

Major changes tend to bring out my depression/anxiety more. Starting full-time teaching when I was in my mid-twenties triggered constant panic attacks that eventually led me to being diagnosed with depression/anxiety disorder. I managed pretty well with medication, and have for the most part. I still have some trouble with focus and procrastination though. I love a planner… if I can remember to use it. I love project management theories and tools… if I can remember to use and apply them. Organizational hacks? Fun! If I can recall where I put things or why I set it up in the first place.

I liken my mind this past year to an Internet Explorer window with about 25 tabs open; one is playing music. Another is trying to play a video. I’m not sure which tab is doing which, and I’m trying to catch up all the time. I have a dozen projects I want to start and a dozen more I have started, but haven’t finished. What’s for dinner? Did I make that appointment? I had a list somewhere. What was that? Sorry, I was daydreaming, missed that!

Not me, but a fairly accurate depiction of how I felt most of 2020. From Freepik.

Looking back this isn’t new; it’s a pattern I can trace back to grade school. And I was a horrible procrastinator in high school. I managed decently in college, but took on so much that I kept myself constantly busy, coped by pushing myself and not giving myself the opportunity to fall into some of those patterns. For the most part. Keeping up that coping strategy for the first three years of college took a toll, which I realized when I discovered Lord of the Rings my senior year of college, and that was that for the rest of my undergrad career.

Which brought me to my other pattern: hyperfixation. I can also look back and track obsessive periods: original Legend of Zelda, Edward Scissorhands, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Dragon Age, MCU Captain America and especially Bucky/Winter Soldier (and still Dragon Age)… things that captivated me and demanded my attention. And then in 2018 I started writing Sneakthief, and had many hyper phases on that. And there was that time in 2011 when I was SO into Mass Effect 2 that I played all weekend and forgot to do progress report grades. Oops.

So while I’m thinking of it I’m going to speak more with my PCP about the likelihood of something else besides my depression/anxiety–something that plays well with the two. Medication helps the depression part of it, but that hyperfixation tendency is still there, the fractured thinking is still there, feeling of just KNOWING I need to do a thing, but just. Can’t. MAKE MYSELF do it is still there. Like I said, I love a good checklist… when I remember to make it.

While I’m thinking of it I’m going to do as much as I can during this current mental upswing. I already finished the Sneakthief 5.0 edit, already sent it to a friend for editing. I did groceries, and some frozen meal prep. I booked a vet appointment for my geriatric cat (17.5 years!) and made a note to call for another appointment at another doc for myself. I completed a beta read, and remembered to get cash to repay a friend, and finally wrote out those postcards from an exchange I’d joined up with back at Christmas. I’m taking tomorrow off (it’s my birthday!) and planning a few errands, as well as creating some backlog of content so I can have stuff when I’m not quite so “up” in the future–and I know that will happen.

I don’t post this to be proud of all I got done, but so I can remember the circumstances around it all. That I was in a downward trend as far as focus, productivity, etc. went, and then something clicked and I was able to think (also did not feel the urge to make any crazy impulse purchases recently, another thing that I find myself doing when I’m down). I post to remind myself to take advantage of these moments ‘while I’m thinking of it’. And because I know I’m not alone, and if it hadn’t been for a friend blogging about her strategies for working with her brain rather than against it, I don’t think this weekend could have happened the way it did.

With everything I hope to do with Sneakthief and The Ungifted Series as a whole, I’m going to need to take advantage of these moments of clarity. At least I’m starting to recognize them for what they are, so, while I’m thinking of it, I’m going to go try and get some more stuff done.

Back to Where It Began

Replaying on my XBOne means screenshots! Finally!

In many ways, my life started over in the spring of 2011.

I was three years out of an emotionally abusive relationship that left me questioning my worth, abilities, talents… everything. I was two years out from finishing my MFA, and the two years of that program, while amazing, were intensive and overwhelming and left me feeling burned out creatively. I was one year out from having purchased my XBox 360, and starting to rediscover my love of gaming. And it was that spring I was loaned a copy of BioWare’s Mass Effect.

Mass Effect engaged me in a way Halo and Left4Dead had not. While I loved the world and character of Halo, and quickly learned what it was to be in fandom again, the storytelling, characters, and world of Mass Effect engaged me completely. That particular semester, I had an end of day study hall duty that happened to be comprised mostly of gamers. We had great discussions about gaming, and at one point, a student, knowing my love of fantasy, suggested I’d like Dragon Age, since it had a lot of the same elements as Mass Effect. So I borrowed it. And it was just medieval Mass Effect.

Except… NOPE. It was so much more.

Alistair, Fianna, Morrigan, and Cat the Dog

In very little time I was fully immersed in the Blight-stricken land of Ferelden, and terms such as “The Maker”, “Ostagar”, “Orzammar”, “Circle of Magi”, “Andraste”, and “Tevinter” (eventually the most important of those!) became familiar. I fell into the plight of Ferelden and got to know Fianna Cousland, my Grey Warden, better than any character I’d ever worked with before. Her romance with Alistair (the first time I ever played) happened slowly, but also suddenly. It came unexpectedly, as did the relationships she forged with her companions. I was shocked when Zevran betrayed her in a back alley later in the game because I didn’t understand approval ratings. I struggled through the endlessness that was the Fade because I didn’t yet understand BioWare’s penchant for puzzles. I slogged through the Deep Roads because I didn’t yet know how much BioWare loves tormenting us (it’s okay, BioWare, I still love you).

I initially told Morrigan no way in the void was she going to sleep with Alistair. And then watched Riordan fall from Fort Drakon and realized Alistair or Fianna would have to kill the Archdemon, and reset to an earlier save.

In subsequent playthroughs I learned more about the mechanics and how to spec characters and build rapport so my team stuck with me. But a funny thing happened. I’d been so burned out creatively, but Dragon Age woke something up in me. These realized characters in this amazing world with its deep lore fascinated me so much, that I wanted to write about them. I hadn’t wanted to write in years, and, having received my MFA, figured if I did ever write again, it would have to be serious original fiction.

Fuck that. I wrote my first Dragon Age fic, “Beautiful Prison”, in June of 2011. It was a short bit about Alistair waiting to be recruited by Duncan. He tells your Warden the story in conversation, but I wanted to see the scene through his eyes, feel the tension in his mind.

Writing that piece felt like waking up to a new world. Possibly coming out of Uthenera, to use another DA word from their Dalish Elvehn culture. The words didn’t stop flowing. I needed an outlet and found a Facebook group dedicated to Alistair. I started finding friends to talk about DA with. I started crafting Dragon Age-themed things: from painting canvas shoes, to a fun little alphabet scrapbook, to my first ever cosplay, for PAX East 2012, where I got to meet the Dragon Age creative team. I met my best friend, who invited me to play D&D with her family and some friends.

So dragon. Much age. Wow.

A lot of people may scoff at the idea that a video game could change my life, especially when I was already in my thirties when I stumbled up on it. But through Dragon Age I branched out. I found a new friend group. Luna (BFF) invited me to her group’s annual Christmas party, where I met extended friends who weren’t in our D&D campaign. It felt nice to branch out and be creative. It felt nice to be social in different ways (though I totally loved my cats and my apartment, and did really enjoy going out with my work friends). But at that party, in walked my husband.

He wasn’t my husband then. Of course. Bard was one of the first to arrive after me. He was tall with dark hair and wide brown eyes and an adorable smile. We hit it off immediately and spent the next week chatting on Facebook. By March we were dating. By that July, 2012, we were engaged. By July 2013, we were married. In that time I kept writing, producing DA fanfic and articles for a DA fan site. I kept learning new cosplay skills and developing new D&D characters. Luna and I hung out a lot, and how cool was it that I got to move down the street from my best friend?

Much has happened in those intervening years: several PAX Easts are in the book, I have a sprawling Dragon Age headcanon with a huge series of fanfiction following my Inquisitor (Inqusition’s 2014 release changed even more!). I live down the street from Luna, and have made more friends through DA. I’ve tapered off my cosplaying some, but retain the skills I learned through sewing for it. Oh, I have a kid! In 2015 Bard and I welcomed our Smol Human. He started kindergarten this month.

And I’m still writing. In 2018 I got the confidence to try writing original again, taking inspiration from Dragon Age, Skyrim, and other games. I’m working on my series and loving it. Though I don’t always have a lot of time to work on it, I’m not overwhelmed or feeling disappointed or burned out by it. I’m creating again, I’m working with fantastic authors, and I feel alive in a way I didn’t before picking up Dragon Age: Origins in 2011.

I feel ya, Fianna. 2020’s been like that.

Earlier this month, BioWare released a teaser trailer confirming work on DA4 and the fandom went wild. It’s been six years since Inquisition, and to finally have more news (than just Solas’s voiceover with a graphic) sent us into an uproar. With that, I decided it was high time I booted up Origins once again and revisited Ferelden. Bard asked me if I’d play a different character and make different choices this time.

I see the appeal. But I wanted that feeling of coming home, of the Blight bringing people together, of waking up after a long sleep and coming to life again. I wanted to go back to where it started. Back not just to Origins, but the origin of where the last nearly 10 years have brought me, and that means playing Fianna’s story.

It felt good.

Like coming home.