A Memory Called Empire – Foreshadowing Success

51dp2bmink2lThe word “Empire” is gaining a lot of traction these days. It shows up in the usual places such as fantasy novels and certain political circles, but I am finding myself hearing it more casually in conversation, tv shows, and YouTube videos. Now, I recognize that my particular tastes are not average, in that I often seek out media that provides some commentary on the state of the world. It could be that I just have my ear tuned to that frequency, but there is something alluring about the word empire. It is often employed to describe a large state in the past, typically in hushed tones of “we don’t do that kind of thing anymore.” It spoke to that retrospective context we often assign the word, but in a way that reinforces the conscious forgetting of how empires form. A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine, examines an individual’s relationship to their national identity through an intricately paced mystery story, all while seamlessly blending intricate worldbuilding and a compelling narrative.

The story follows Mahit Dzmare, who represents Lsel, the independent mining station where she was raised, as their newly-appointed ambassador to the Teixcalaanli Empire. Her predecessor is dead, and no one will admit whether it was an accident or murder. Unfortunately for Mahit, the leadership of the empire is also unstable, with open questioning of who is to succeed the current ailing emperor. Mahit enters the capital lost, uninformed, and nearly alone as she tries to figure out why her predecessor is dead and what promises he may have made to those in power. There is not much time as the Teixcalaanli grow bolder in their need for expansion, and her station’s independence might be at risk. With time against her, what will Mahit sacrifice for her people’s sovereignty?

Martine writes with astounding depth. Her use of language contrasting the Teixcalaanli to Mahit’s home culture is inspired. I cannot recall a time I felt so purposefully lost in a culture. I felt like an alien, and I think that was the point. Martine made the Teixcalaanli feel so different from the main character and the audience, without necessarily pitting the reader against them. I feel this is a hard thing to do, especially because it is easy to hate on a “big bad empire” if you are sympathetic to the ambassador of a smaller nation. From the names of the empire’s citizens to their job titles, Martine has created names for almost everything in the Teixcalaanli world. On top of that, to be Teixcalaanli is to be civilized. Everyone who is not a citizen is considered a barbarian, regardless of the fact they are all space-faring civilizations. What makes the separation even more intriguing is the lack of disdain behind word barbarian. Never did it feel overtly malicious, just characters consistently pointing out the obvious that “you are not one of us, nor can you ever be,” reminding Mahit and the reader of their place within the grand scheme.

Martine makes the dynamic even more engrossing by meshing worldbuilding with the character’s narrative. The world is not just alien to the reader, as Mahit is also trying to grasp the reality of a culture she has only ever studied up to that point. It is a slow realization, but Martine paces it well. Mahit is lost upon her arrival to the capital, but confident in her abilities. In her mind, there was clearly a reason she was chosen to be entrusted with the ambassadorship, but as she spends more time with the empire, the less she feels she truly knows. Her liaison, Three Seagrass, is attentive, helpful, and her point of access to understanding the intricacies of Teixcalaanli political life, but she can only provide so much. This choice to have the reader discover the world as Mahit does engrossed me immediately in Mahit’s story. I felt I was relying on her to let me know how she thinks things work. When Mahit finds out she may have been wrong or used the language in a way that did not convey her meaning accurately, I did too. It made her fallible, but not necessarily unreliable.

The writing alone would have carried me through the book even if the story had been lackluster. Martine however, had other plans and wrote a tale of political intrigue that kept me on my toes. My brain was already firing on all cylinders adjusting to the language of the Teixcalaanli, so I felt I had to really work to stay on top of all the political intrigue and mysterious deaths. This was not a bad thing- it honestly added to the general anxiety of her situation. It was impossible to figure out who to trust, who might try to kill Mahit, or whether any of her plans would matter in the face of major political upheaval. It felt like Mahit was pulling a tightly but unevenly wound spring from a sink’s pipes. You just never knew when it would spring free and launch at you, or when it would require a little more effort to dislodge the next piece of the puzzle. The narrative never felt like it dragged, and I always wanted more. It was tiring only in that the reader is along for the ride when it comes to the enormous amount of work Mahit had to do.

There are a lot of great ideas that Martine plays around within this book, particularly examining the meaning of personal identity, empire, and civic duty. Martine never really gives an answer but does an excellent job of opening the discussion. Mahit’s characterization reaches above and beyond the task, Martine seems to have set out for her in terms of theming. Mahit perfectly encapsulates the “between two worlds” narrative often employed in fish out of water stories. I feel these stories entertain the idea that the character can transcend the bad parts of each and combine the strengths of two cultures to succeed. Instead, Mahit begins to lose track of where her loyalties lie. Clearly, she should do her best to serve her own people, but already she feels outcast from them for having studied the ways of Teixcalaanli. When she arrives, her studies keep her afloat, but she is viewed as an outcast there as well. In addition, both sides view Mahit alternately as a tool for an obstacle to their own ends, further separating her from any grander calling beyond “solve the problem directly in front of you.” It was incredibly alienating and made it hard to trust any of the other characters involved in the power struggle.

Martine added to this feeling by starting each chapter with a piece of poetry, a communique, or a snippet of history from within the Teixcalaanli and Lsel cultures she created. They served to highlight the differences in how these two peoples thought about themselves and the world they inhabited. They were never complete thoughts either and served the worldbuilding more often than the narrative. I did not care for them at first because they did not push the narrative, but when I started to pay more attention to them, the harder they were to ignore. It never felt like they built to a synthesis, instead always showing two very different worlds. It lent a sense of urgency and doubt to Mahit’s goals. How would the smaller Lsel station benefit from being integrated when they do not seem to fit? Who would they become based on how they were taken in by the Teixcalaanli? It is an ominous setup, and one I am keen to see play out in the sequel.

A Memory Called Empire is easily one of the strongest debuts I have read. The blending of worldbuilding into the narrative and characterization was refreshing, even though it required a lot of work on my part. The only bumps along the road I encountered were a few awkward dialogue scenes that broke the tonal immersion but never pulled me out. The ride to the end was thoughtful and intense, finishing with one of the most surprising and well-earned conclusions I have read in months. Everything converged together for a grand finale that left me with my mouth agape and made me immediately crave the sequel. If you are just looking for a tension-filled political space opera, this book covers that ground well. Martine, though, does so much more, so eloquently and in ways that cannot be ignored, forcing the reader to pay attention to the details. It is forceful, poetic, introspective and tragic. I can not recommend this book enough.

Rating: A Memory Called Empire – 9.5/10
-Alex

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The Reality Dysfunction – Patience Is A Virtue

51uakgft9jl._sx323_bo1204203200_The writers of The Quill to Live are undertaking a small project this year – we are reading a book series as a group and recording an audio discussion for each installment. The series in question is The Night’s Dawn Trilogy by Peter Hamilton. The books, starting with The Reality Dysfunction, are absolutely massive, clocking in at over 1200 pages of dense reading apiece. As such, there is a ton to unpack and discuss, especially given that our reviewers did not agree on how we felt about the book. Expect to see that audio discussion sometime this month, but if you would prefer to just read a short review of the first book, we have you covered. Please keep in mind that these are just my (Andrew’s) opinions, and the other site reviewers do not necessarily agree with my review (as you will hear in the coming discussion).

So what is The Reality Dysfunction? To begin with, it is Peter Hamilton’s first book – and as someone who has read most of the larger body of his work, it is interesting to see how far he has come as a writer. Hamilton is one of my favorite science fiction writers, though I think some of his books are definitely better than others. In particular, I am a massive fan of his Pandora’s Star duology. Hamilton brings a degree of anthropology to his books and likes to explore how new technology and information permeates society and how it changes the human experience.

The Reality Dysfunction takes place in a future human confederacy. Our race has spread to the stars, colonized a number of new planets, invented a number of new technologies and cultures, and met a few alien species. We are happily spreading among the stars until an unlucky group of colonists essentially accidentally starts a spiritual plague. People begin to become possed by otherworldly beings and sit spreads across humanity like a strange plague. We view these events through a wide and diverse cast of characters. The lead, if there was one, is Joshua Calvert – a young space captain, and notorious sex fiend (we will come back to this). There are also a number of other scientists, leaders, colonists, criminals, and blue-collar workers spread across a number of worlds. Each of these POVs gives you insight into different parts of Hamilton’s world and comes together to build a massive holistic experience.

Reviewing The Reality Dysfunction was hard because while I really enjoyed the book overall, I had a mixed experience with each element of Hamilton’s storytelling. For example, the worldbuilding was incredible. Hamilton, over hundreds and hundreds of pages, slowly and beautifully pieces together a massive human empire that feels like a complex living machine. He does this through insane attention to detail when it comes to economies, environments, cultures, and people to paint what feels like a possible future for our species. On the other hand, Hamilton says the Confederacy is a collection of hundreds of worlds, but we only find ourselves hearing about five – which made the universe feel a bit empty (especially compared to his other books where the galaxy feels a lot more vibrant).

Then we have the plot. The book begins with almost twenty unrelated POVs that take place across the galaxy. As the book progresses, Hamilton hooks you with more than ten exciting subplots that had me coming back for more. At about the midway point in book one, the spirits make an entrance and we start to see how the different subplots are related. I think the biggest sin that Hamilton commits in this book is that the subplots were more interesting than the major possession plotline. That is not to say the possession story is bad, it is just that I was insanely invested in these smaller stories and it almost felt like the possession story was unnecessary. There is A LOT going on in this book (which is unsurprising at page count over 1200). I just wish that Hamilton had done a little more with the main plot to make it feel more integral to the characters’ stories.

Next, we have the characters, which are a little uneven. I called Joshua the theoretical protagonist, but that is only because he is clearly Hamilton’s favorite. Joshua is a walking cyclone of Gary Sue-ness, and the reviewers and I collectively started referring to him as Joshua Hard Penis (JHP), as he fucked literally everything with an orifice in this book. The characters collectively were a wonderful, diverse, and complex cast. However, I feel it could be argued that there might have been some subtle sexism in Hamilton’s writing. The female cast often feels a little less capable and more focused on being sex objects. That being said, I’ve read my fair share of Hamilton and never once felt his writing was sexist. This being his first book, it’s apparent he had yet to work out the sexual kinks.

Following up on this, one of Hamilton’s strongest abilities as a writer is that everything he does is visceral and intense. His descriptions suck you in and make you feel like you are there, his action gives you an adrenaline rush, his torture haunts you for days after you read it, and his sex scenes make you feel like you DEFINITELY shouldn’t be reading what feels like erotica on your subway ride. His writing is extremely evocative and it gives his novels a deep and lasting impression and helps you immerse yourself in his worlds. Most of his books have a respectable amount of sex, but it was super clear that Hamilton was trying to use smut to sell his debut novel. There is so much god damn sex in this book. We are talking anti-gravity sex cages, weird astral projection orgies, and super genetically enhanced genitals. If you really like your sci-fi to have a lot of steamy sex, this book might be your fetish. But, for a lot of people, I suspect that there is simply a little too much sex in this book. All of his later work is a lot more toned down in this area, and I am hoping it will level out in the second book in the series.

The Reality Dysfunction takes a little patience to read, but I think it is worth it. I loved this book, but I do think it is slightly bogged down by first-novel jitters. Having read his later work it is clear that he grew a lot after writing this first book – but The Reality Dysfunction is still a very solid science-fiction novel that will delight most readers. Its biggest hold up is honestly probably its prohibitive size, and I suspect a number of readers will be scared away by its density. For those of you who might be holding out, Hamilton is an expert in taking you to new worlds and I highly recommend you set aside a chunk of time and dig in.

Rating: The Reality Dysfunction – 8.5/10
-Andrew

Master Assassins – An Undiscovered Gem

51w4sn4d2bclI am always a little wary of fantasy books about assassins. You never really know what you are going to get – will it be pulse-pounding action and mystery like The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, or will it be based on politics, intrigue, and aristocratic courts like Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb? As I went into today’s book, Master Assassins by Robert V.S. Redick, I was expecting it to fall somewhere on the spectrum between these two options. However, Master Assassins surprised me by not actually being about assassins. Instead, this book tells the tale of two brothers running from the world and their perilous journey to escape a fate worse than death.

The book is set on a continent isolated from the wider world. Due to a plague, that our cast carries but is unaffected by, the continent is forcibly isolated and kept from interacting with outside nations. This has a profoundly negative effect on the people and land and gives rise to a religious pope-like prophet who proclaims to herald a new future for the people of this sequestered land. Almost all individuals of fighting age are drafted into the prophet’s army, and she leads them all with an iron fist with the help of her beloved sons. The plot of Master Assassins revolves around two brothers, Kan and Mek. They begin the story as loyal members of the prophet’s army, but when unfortunate manslaughter-related events occur they are forced to run with an entire nation nipping at their heels. The name of the book is actually a joke perpetuated in the story. Despite the murder of the prophet’s son being an accident, Kan and Mek are considered by the wider public to be master assassins who possess untold cunning in their methods of infiltration and elimination.

The plot of the book is compelling and well paced. There is a clear sense of believable urgency in the actions of Mek and Kan as they must fight to remain a step ahead of their pursuers. Redick also does a fantastic job foreshadowing and executing on the roadblocks that the brothers must pass if they are to escape with their lives. The narration bounces between the boys running for their lives as adults, and flashbacks to their formative years to show you how they came to be the men they are now. The world itself is fascinating, exploring a number of ideas I haven’t seen before in fantasy. Redick goes into depth about the various methods that other nations have used to isolate this continent – including diverting rivers, ship blockades, and moving mountains. The details really bring Redick’s world to life and further sell the danger and difficulty that Kan and Mek face.

Speaking of the brothers, they certainly are a handful. One thing I like about all of Redick’s characters (in particular Kan and Mek) is they have large personalities. Some of them are irritating and grating, but they all feel loud and real. They have memorable identities that will stick with you long after the book is finished and I wish other authors would make casts as vibrant as this one. Through the course of their journey, the brothers meet a huge variety of people and must carefully decide who to trust. Their interactions with the people around them and the various backstories of the supporting cast, all help to bring the story to life.

As to what I didn’t like about the book – while Redick has a supreme talent for storytelling, I wasn’t overly impressed with his prose. Often times I found certain text “blocky” or awkward, and I feel that he could have done a lot to smooth out some of the dialogue and descriptives. I would find myself deeply invested as our protagonists navigated treacherous cliffs of a drained sea – only to be kicked out of my immersion by some awkward phrasing or strange comments. Additionally, while the plot of Master Assassins is captivating, and the plot takes you through a variety of different locations and vistas, I felt like the story didn’t progress enough relative to the size of the book. While the minute to minute interactions and excitement feel fast-paced, the progress towards the greater objectives in the book could feel glacial. However, my critiques are more of a personal nature than mechanical problems with the book. I am sure that many will read it and wonder how I could have found issue with any of the things I have listed here.

Masters Assassins is a delightful surprise. It marries classic tried and true fantasy storytelling techniques, like the hero’s quest, with modern themes and an excellent world and character design. The book feels both vibrant and alive with a cast of characters that leap from the pages into your room as you read it. My one hang up was personal issues with Redick’s style of prose, but this is a personal preference more than a concrete issue. Master Assassins is the first book in The Fire Sacraments series, and we cannot wait to get our hands on the next installment.

Rating: Master Assassins – 9.0/10
-Andrew

The Dark Horse Initiative – 2019

Every year the Quill to Live sit down in December to plan our collective reading schedule for the next year. It’s a long process, and it heavily involves combing through release dates of series we are following and, more importantly, digging into the hundreds of upcoming and highly anticipated book lists made by publishers, authors, other reviewers, and general fantasy and sci-fi fans. Through this process, we give our yearly reading schedules a little bit of structure – but one of the other benefits is picking out potential dark horses to keep an eye on. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a dark horse is a competitor who comes out of nowhere against all odds to win. In our case, we use it to refer to books that almost no one has heard of that we want to check out or keep an eye on. Sometimes this results in us reading terrible books that we might or might not review depending on how productive we feel our criticism will be. However, other times it results in us being able to champion new and upcoming authors who deserve more recognition.

Recently, we have been getting a lot of requests to describe the 2019 books we are excited about, in particular, the dark horses we have our eyes on. Thus, going forward we will put out a list of our annual dark horses in case you want to keep an eye on them as well. We will put this list out earlier next year, and while we will do our best to review every book on this list, the inclusion of a book does not guarantee we will be able to get to and review it. Here are the dark horses The Quill to Live is watching in 2019 (in no particular order). Goodreads links are on the pictures:

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  1. For The Killing Of Kings, by Howard Andrew Jones: As I mentioned we are a bit late on this list this year, so we have actually already reviewed this one. We loved it, check it out!
  2. Sky Without Stars, by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell
  3. The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling
  4. The Lost Puzzler, by Eyal Kless
  5. Perihelion Summer, by Greg Egan
  6. The Priory Of The Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon
  7. Titanshade, by Dan Stout
  8. Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir
  9. Gods Of Jade And Shadow, by Silva Moreno-Garcia
  10. Famous Men Who Never Lived, by K Chess
  11. Sixteen Ways To Defend A Walled City, by K. J. Parker
  12. This Is How You Lose The Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

The Ruin of Kings – Reverse Goldilocks

814jpuhpbrlHere we have one of the mega-debuts of 2019. Published by Tor, The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons has had one of the largest marketing pushes I have seen in years. I have seen advertising for this book literally everywhere, and it somehow already has a TV deal with Annapurna. As I picked it up it felt too big to fail, and I was extremely curious to see if this massive first entry would live up to the hype or fall short. After reading it, I feel like it surprisingly somehow managed to do both.

The Ruin of Kings is about Kihrin, a thief (sorta) with a destiny to bring ruin to kings (hence the title). Our story follows Kihrin in two timelines that alternate each chapter. In the first, we read about Kihrin’s present life as a slave and his attempts to escape bondage and death while pursuing his destiny with a mysterious order of magic users. The other timeline tells Kihrin’s backstory and explains how he ended up in his current predicament. The alternation of the timelines is one of the novel’s largest strengths, and I think Lyons did a very good job matching the two stories to feel relevant to each other at all times while evenly disseminating information about the world, characters, and plot. This is not an easy thing to do, and Lyons managed to instill a great deal of urgency in both timelines that make the book a fast read despite its 800+ page length.

The problem with the book is that despite its even storytelling, neither timeline has enough story, world, or character building to be satisfactory. The pacing of the book is extremely fast, often to the story’s detriment. Lyons moves Kihrin through the world at a breakneck pace, and I constantly felt like I didn’t spend enough time with any location or character to fully understand them. For example, we start the book in an interesting city with a famous slave market that Lyons builds up to be compelling and mysterious. Then before we can learn more about it, she ejects Kihrin via a metaphorical cannon into the surrounding ocean. Once there, he enters a giant maelstrom filled with enormous sea creatures that hunt him. We learn enough that I want to know more, but then quickly move past and never revisit. In the other timeline, we learn that Kihrin is part of an esteemed thieves guild, and get to see him go on a regular heist. However, we never get a sense that there is anyone other than him and one or two other members in this “giant” thieves guild before it is metaphorically burned down and Lyons moves on to a new plot point.

Lyons moves between ideas so fast that you never really get to sit with them long enough. The shame is I really like her ideas. Almost all the places and things she shows the reader are awesome. I just needed another 400 pages to slow the pacing down and learn more about these small pockets of the world. However, this segues into the other major issue that plagued me in this book: I really don’t like Kihrin. He is a spoiled, melodramatic, Gary Sue who whines so god damn much it is unbelievable. Look, I understand that this is supposed to be a coming of age story and that he grows into a better person, but 800 pages is a reallllly long time to put up with his annoying tendencies. He definitely improves by the end of the book, but I feel like there is still a lot of work to go.

I am actually glad that The Ruin of Kings is becoming a TV show because I think it has a fantastic setting that will do well in a visual medium. However, despite the river of creativity that Lyons has put to paper, the original source material leaves a little bit to be desired. I suspect that less picky readers will enjoy this book a whole lot more than me, so if it sounds interesting to you definitely give it a shot. As for me, I am disappointed that The Ruin of Kings’ fast pacing and exhaustive length greatly hampered my reading experience.

Rating: The Ruin of Kings – 6.5/10
-Andrew

There’s Seamen on the Poop-Deck! – A Satisfying Quickie

Seamen on the Poop-DeckThe day I discovered There’s Seamen on the Poop Deck!, a glamorously dressed pirate approached me in the aisles of Chicago’s Wizard World comic convention. He burst full force into a tirade of sexual puns and hilarious phrasing as he declared his own book a can’t-miss gay pirate adventure. I was sold. In fact, I bought the first four books in The Seamen Sexology. After all, it was banned by the Texas Renaissance Festival…who’s to say when it will be banned everywhere and declared a national treasure? Now, two years later, I mustered up the courage to read Francois le Foutre’s debut masterpiece.

This second review paragraph typically hosts a quick plot summary to get you up (to speed), but if I took that route we’d all finish far too early. At 21 pages, There’s Seamen on the Poop-Deck is more a short story than a novel (in the literary community, we call this a quickie). In lieu of a plot description, suffice it to say the book is a very short but intensely satisfying read. Give it a chance despite its length and you’re bound to be roused for the entire ride, captivated by le Foutre’s stiff hand and prosaic caresses.

Sure, this is a read that can be rubbed out pretty quickly, but its climax captivates, and the prose is riddled with pirate sex puns that had me screaming. Quickfire spurts of jokes keep this a steady and reliable read, even without any foreplay (aka knowing anything about the book).

Look, is this 21-page story about gay pirate sex a genre-defining literary benchmark? YES. Unequivocally yes. There’s Seamen on the Poop-Deck oozes intrigue and wonder. The ocean, sweat and…uh…other things glisten under the shining light of le Foutre’s apt wordsmithery. This line from the first page says it all:

“The last time a man had tried to come on my poop without permission, the other men took it upon themselves to come all over him and beat him off.”

That quote, from the book’s second paragraph, sets the stage for a full-sail journey into a treasure (pleasure?) chest full of puns and wordplay that’s hard to achieve on its own, let alone in a sensible narrative. But, as you’ll find out, Francois does many things. And entering the punderdome to the tune of a delectable sea shanty is one of them.

There are countless other praises I could pour upon le Foutre’s work for you, but–as we all know–sometimes it’s just better if you do it yourself. Do yourself a favor and pick up the Kindle edition for free, or buy the paper copy and keep it on your toilet to spice up visits to your poop deck.

Rating: There’s Seamen on the Poop-Deck! – 9.0/10, read it if you dare.
-Cole

In the Mist of Fire – Interview with Nathalie Gribinski

Mist FireNathalie Gribinski’s In the Mist of Fire places her artistry centerstage, where her elegant mix of prosaic poetry and vibrantly abstract characters bring vividly imagined worlds to life. Her debut book is a winner, packed with powerful messages and captivating visuals that make it equal parts fun and thought-provoking. Nathalie was kind enough to speak with The Quill To Live about her writing process, her relationship with her art, and more.    

First off, can you tell us about yourself and how you became an artist?

People call me Nana. I grew up in Paris, where I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Science. I moved to Chicago to study graphic art. After a year of study, I immersed myself in painting, where I feel most at home with my art.

For a year, I concentrated on illustrations, so I decided to collect them into a published work alongside original poetry. In the Mist of Fire is the culmination of my stories and my art, and it represents my growth as an artist. Since my early days of writing poetry and drawing, I’ve grown so much, and I think the book shows that evolution in my work.

I have a cat/roommate named Zoé. The book includes a poem and illustration inspired by her.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I wanted to stay a child—I loved the wonder and exploration of being a kid. But sometimes I asked myself questions about the future. I didn’t know much about what I wanted to be, because I was focused on the present. I did have a passion for justice, so I ended up studying law. The work was interesting, but not fulfilling. So when I moved across the world and immersed myself into a new culture and community, I viewed it as an opportunity to rebuild myself into a new person—one I’d always wanted to be. It opened up new creative avenues for me and led me to pursue my art full-time.

regards celestes

Regards Celestes

In the Mist of Fire effortlessly combines written stories with beautiful artwork—can you talk about the relationship between your art and writing in the book?

This is my first book and I wanted to take a closer look at my illustrations, understand them better, and give them a voice. My illustrations are usually abstract works, so I tried to emulate that mood in the stories.

How would you describe In the Mist of Fire to someone who’s never read it?

On its surface, the book is a collection of art and poetry. Dive deeper, and it’s an invitation to open up the imagination and take a moment to enjoy the abstract. It’s an escape from the mundane into the vibrant and beautiful worlds we create in our minds.

Do the stories come first, or the visuals?

In this first book, the illustrations come first. I wrote the stories according to the illustrations. I’m an artist to my core, so my creative muse is almost always visual.

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Circles in the Wind

Which other pieces, books, or works of art have impacted you on your artistic journey?

The Little Prince has been always an inspiration. I like the naïve feeling it represents. The lessons of life, the light illustrations. Artistically, I have been influenced by Van Gogh; his colorful expressions of sorrow and suffering translatebeautifully onto canvas. He stayed true to himself until the end of his life, and though his story is a sad one, he left behind stunningly gorgeous and meaningful works.

He captivates me by his ability to express so much suffering and translate them into beautiful colorful paintings full of life. And especially because he stayed himself until the end of his life. He was looking for the truth.

What inspires you, and what motivates you to constantly create?

It is a necessity, a way of life. I am inspired by beauty, music, love, suffering, friendship, warm feelings, storms, and Zoé, my cat. What motivates me is the end result. I like to see a finished piece coming to life, and I love to share my work with others. I create to feel complete.

Many of your stories have lessons or positive messages, but there are also hints of darkness, such as in Swan of Hell. How do you balance the light and the dark?

The light and the dark are naturally balanced in myself. I have heard some critics say that any? art that there shows a lot of joy but also a lot of suffering.  I cannot understand actually how it could be different. We are all exposed to the edges of despair and the edges of happiness. I like contrasts, tension, and after all, light and dark are the truths of life.

Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff

I mention Swan of Hell specifically because it’s my favorite—do you have a favorite piece from this collection? Why does it stand out to you?

Regarding the writings, I fluctuate between two very different stories:

I like The Strange Animal Fair because it’s a short text where you can vividly visualize the scene. It’s humorous and sometimes sarcastic; it’s a story that shines.

But I also appreciate the poetry, the dynamism and the dreamy atmosphere of The Eyes of the Casino.

Regarding the illustrations, my favorite is The Eyes of the Casino.

It’s the closest reflection of the story, emboldened by a sense of movement. It is colorful, anchored by red, which is my favorite color. I find this illustration very complete.

What’s next on your artistic agenda? Any new projects on the horizon?

I’m developing a project with a poet where this time he writes poetry and I illustrate it. I’m intrigued by the concept because it’s a reversal of my process for In the Mist of Fire, where the illustrations came first.

I am also seriously returning to painting, having a solo exhibit in Chicago March 22 to March 31 at the Palette and Chisel Gallery, 1012 North Dearborn. The opening is March 22 from 6 pm to 10 pm.

Fairy light

Fairy Light

Where can we find your work?

On my website: www.nathaliegribinskiart.com

On Saatchi, an online art gallery: http://www.saatchiart.com/ngribinski