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BOOK REVIEW: The Anger of Angels by Sherryl Jordan

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

“Words hold a terrible power. They can break a heart, or give it a reason to live. They can grant freedom – or begin a war.”

In a world where it is a crime to speak against injustice, a jester dares to perform a play that enrages a powerful tyrant prince. The jester’s daughter, Giovanna, must journey into the heart of danger to turn back the terrible consequences unleashed by her father’s words – and becomes entangled in a treacherous plot to overthrow the prince. She alone holds a secret which, if made public, will end the prince’s reign and liberate his oppressed people. But when to openly denounce him brings certain death, will Giovanna have the courage to speak out?


My Thoughts:

I’ve never read any work by the New Zealand author Sherryl Jordan before, but I was drawn in with the promise of a beautifully written historical fantasy for young adults, set in a world much like Renaissance Italy.

The novel begins ‘I shovelled in a sprinkling of dirt, and it fell on the head of the corpse …’ From that moment on, the story races along with enormous pace and verve. The heroine of the story is Giovanna, the daughter of a court jester. She can juggle and throw knives, two skills that come in handy in a world ruled by autocrats. Her father, in the guise of a fool, has the right to speak the truth, but one day his words anger a neighbouring prince. As violence breaks out, war between the two neighbouring princedoms seems imminent. Giovanna sets out alone to try and avert the conflict. Behind her, she leaves her dying father and the young man with whom she is falling in love. Raffaelle knows first-hand the cruelty of the tyrant-prince, and it is too dangerous for him to return. Yet he risks his life by following her, hoping to help ...

The Anger of Angels was just as vivid, compelling and romantic as I had hoped for. Giovanna is a wonderful heroine, quick and clever and kind, and I loved the slowly growing relationship between her and Rafaelle. I have always really enjoyed young adult fiction, but lately I have been finding books published in this genre too dark and dystopic for my taste. Although The Anger of Angels is filled with danger, intrigue and conflict, the overall message is one of strength and hope. Most importantly, Sherryl Jordan has a crucial message to communicate about the power of words: ‘they can break a heart, or give a reason to live. They can grant freedom – or begin a war.’

A truly beautiful book, brimming over with compassion and wisdom.

For another great YA read, check out my review of A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge.

And click here to see my interview with Sherryl Jordan.

Please leave a comment, I love reading them!

INTERVIEW: Sherryl Jordan

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

 

Today I welcome Sherryl Jordan, author of many books including The Anger of Angels, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
If I daydream at all, it is about the characters in my present book, and their world. I see everything as a very vivid image, before I write. More than an image, actually… I simply enter their world, smell the smells there, see the landscape, enter the houses, feel the tensions and joys and dangers, and know my book characters as real people. I “live” a scene as I’m writing it. Often I’m not conscious of myself at all, and I work far too long without a break – but a prolapsed disc earlier this year is teaching me to write sensibly. I’m finding it very hard – painful at times – to enter that other world for only 30 or 40 minutes at a time, before the timer goes off and reminds me to stop. So I suppose I live in a daydream, while I write. Like being on almost-permanent holiday in Medieval England. Or, in the case of The Anger of Angels, in Renaissance Italy.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I made my first book when I was four years old. I couldn’t write then, but I was given a notebook of blue paper, so I created a story in pictures, about a mermaid in the sea. By the time I was 11 years old I had written 4 novels. None published, though! I wrote 12 novels before I had one accepted. That 13th was Rocco, the first to be published. Since then I’ve published … Ah, 19 novels, I think. With a few scattered in between that were not published.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Hawera, NZ, more years ago than I care to admit. I live in Tauranga now, in a gorgeous little house not far from the sea. I love reading, seeing friends, listening to music, seeing good movies, doing Tai Chi, painting and drawing, doing calligraphy, writing, writing, writing…

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
In 2011 a French satirical newspaper published some cartoons that were offensive to Muslims. They caused a lot of violence and strife, and I began thinking about freedom of speech, and whether or not it was a good thing, if it caused violent reactions. I discovered two quotes:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” - Voltaire

“It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.” - Mark Twain

The Anger of Angels came out of my dilemma as I considered those two quotes. The book is my questions, not my answers.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I know roughly where I want the plot to go, but of course the characters always do their own thing, and surprise me. I often have to re-direct the plot, or make some other huge adjustment. When I planned The Anger of Angels, I always intended for Giovanna to act alone in going to the prince. I never intended her to have a male friend. Then, when she was on the balcony watching her father’s play, a young man arrived. I was a bit put out by him, but decided to let him stay for a paragraph or two. Then he said his name was Raffaele, and I protested loudly. Raffaele is my all-time favourite male name, and I most certainly wasn’t going to waste it on a minor character who was about to be deleted any moment. But he stayed, and kept his name, to my great surprise. I had no choice about it, really.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
No. Only the waking dreams, those images that rush across me when I least expect them, or the people who suddenly arrive on the edges of my imagination, and demand that I write their story.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

This question could come only from a writer! Such discoveries happen often, too many times for me to record here. These amazing “coincidences” didn’t happen so much with The Anger of Angels, but they have happened with other books. Many of these uncanny things happen over the names I choose for characters. I choose names very carefully, and of course they have to be perfect for the character I’ve already seen, and who already exists as a fully-formed person for me. Sometimes I invent a name, or choose one from some obscure place without knowing the meaning or origin of the name – and then discover, sometimes years after the book is published, that the name I “invented” for my person was indeed a real name, with a meaning that was astonishingly relevant for them. Things like this make me suspect that some of my book people were real people in the past, and I tuned into their memories, or somehow connected with them in the world’s timeless collective unconscious. Often I think that my stories exist long before I write them, and all I do is record what I see and hear. It’s one of the awesome things about writing, and what gives a story its truth. This explains some of those incredible serendipitous discoveries. All things – past and present and perhaps future – are connected.

One strange thing has happened since The Anger of Angels was published: an interviewer asked me if the book, with its theme of freedom of speech and a powerful ruler, was based at all on Trump. The interviewer also pointed out that I had a Saint Melania in the story, and wondered if there were any connections. I can only say that the first draft of the book was written in 2012, all characters well established and named six years ago.

Where do you write, and when?
I have a lovely studio where I work. I write at all times, day and night – though as I said earlier, a back injury means I now have to limit writing times to short periods, and only two or three of those a day, at this stage. I used to work up to fifteen hours at a time, utterly lost in that other world. It’s why my back is protesting now, and I have to be sensible. Very difficult! My favourite writing time is at night, when the world outside is quiet, and there are no interruptions or phones ringing or knocks on the door. And there’s a wondrous energy in the moon and stars. My dream is to live in a lighthouse, far from everywhere, and work all night and sleep all day. Well, my first choice really is to live in a thatched cottage someplace sometime, but I suspect the night would be interrupted by mice in the thatch and the wind blowing smoke and ash down the chimney. Also, I’d never have enough candles or bottles of ink, or parchment. And publishing might be a tad difficult…

What is your favourite part of writing?
All of it, from the first glimpse of the book people I’m going to spend the next few months or years with, to working with an editor for the final polishes.
What do you do when you get blocked?

Sometimes if a story isn’t working, I realise I need to delete a page or two, or the most recent scene, and go back to when I was last enthralled. Sometimes it means I’ve taken off in a wrong direction, or a character has something to do or say that I haven’t realised yet.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
Before The Anger of Angels was accepted by Walker Books, I had five years of having books rejected. Five manuscripts were dumped as no good, and The Anger of Angels was in danger of following them. A friend suggested Walker Books, so I sent the manuscript off, and it was accepted. But those five years of failure were hard for my soul, and I was very much in need of fresh inspiration. I longed to travel, and this year I was booked to go on a glorious trip to Italy, including a week in a monastery in Siena, and then to Spain. My prolapsed disc put an end to that, and the trip was cancelled. So I don’t know when I’ll travel. However, I am blessed in that the inspiration flows again, and I’m working on another book, Wynter’s Thief. It’s set in my beloved Medieval England.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

No. I just sit in front of the computer, and I’m there, in that other world. Sometimes, for days on end, I don’t really leave it.

What do you consider to be good writing?
Words that transport me to another place, lift my spirit to new heights, challenge me, leave me feeling satisfied. I believe that what we read shapes our minds, the way the food we eat shapes our bodies, and either enhances or harms them. For me, a book must have correct grammar, punctuation, etc. It’s surprising how many “popular” books fail on that count. I can’t stand it when I mentally edit a book while I’m reading. If a book doesn’t grip me in the first two pages, I give up on it. I love fine literature – work where every word counts, and is in its perfect place within its sentence.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Write. Write. Write. Always write with joy, about things that enthral you. And never give up.

You can read my review of The Anger of Angels here.


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