Sarah Todman

Sarah Todman is a contemporary fiction writer who lives in Brisbane. She loves books that deliver a gritty punch of realism. And ones that make her cry. Sarah blogs at sayanythingsare.

Mather-Refuge Official Coverrefuge

noun

A place that provides shelter or protection.

Twelve year-old Nell McLellan’s world is in turmoil. At school she’s suddenly got the attention of the most popular girl in the class but it has alienated her safe and steady best friend Josie; at home her work-obsessed parents appear to be on the verge of divorce.

When Nell is shunted off to North Queensland and the care of her rarely seen Grandfather for the holidays her problems seem magnified. Doesn’t anyone care that she’s struggling?

Well, someone does…some ‘place’ actually: Nell just doesn’t know it yet. Stumbling around the grounds of the local high school in search of the holiday drama class her parents insisted she attend Nell finds herself following a series of curiously worded signs. Feeling lost? one beckons. Follow the stairs, instructs another. Before she knows it Nell has turned the handle on an old wooden door and stepped straight into a world she could never have imagined: Refuge.

This rapidly paced fantasy novel targets middle grade (8-12 year-old) readers and is written in full-colour and high definition. The beguiling cast of characters who inhabit Refuge — a world created as a safe haven for lost souls — take Nell on a twisting, turning journey of self-discovery (and manage to give young readers some sumptuous but ever so subtle historical insights in the process).

There is the Doctor, Refuge’s mad scientist-style creator who hails from early 1700s London; then we have tortured Gideon, an English ‘wharf rat’ from the late 1700s still ruled by his past; there’s shape-shifting 1920s aristocrat Fox, as charming and cunning as his name suggests; the frightening Deuce, straight from America’s Deep South in the 50s; and Janus, probably the most mysterious and hard-to-pinpoint of the bunch (I won’t ruin it for you by revealing too much about her). Each of them pull Nell (and us) deeper into a riddle that seems impossible to solve.  

Stranded in Refuge, our lost girl Nell finds out she has just three days to choose her future: stay in this strange, supposedly ‘safe’ haven forever or return to the life where she felt lost?

Refuge is the debut novel of former scenic artist and teacher A.V. Mather and it is clear she is a writer who is very much at home in the realms of fantasy. Refuge is a world well imagined. The city-scape with its era-hopping evolution feels rich and enchanting — I really enjoyed spending time there.

And Nell’s journey kept me guessing in lots of good ways. However, I did feel her character’s growth, which was realised at the end of the book, could perhaps have been built more incrementally as the story progressed. I love a character with chutzpah and while I know that isn’t who Nell was at the beginning of her journey, there were junctures along the way when I was frustrated by her willingness to be led rather than make her own decisions.

Perhaps this is all part of the author’s plan, though. When I turned the last page of Refuge I was ready to dive into book two…Nell’s adventures don’t feel finished yet. I hope A.V. Mather is planning to send Nell back to Refuge with another book in the series because I see her returning and this time as a very different girl.

Jamie Marriage

Jamie Marriage is an internationally published Australian cyberpunk author with a taste for the dangerous and obscene aspects of life. His work ranges from the sarcastic to the satirical. Links to his work can be found at https://jamiemarriage.wordpress.com/

 

Hoagn-shatteredPicking up from where Blood of Innocents left off Mitchell Hogan returns us to his chaotic realm of sorcery and subterfuge in book three of the Sorcery Ascendant Sequence; A Shattered Empire.

Familiar protagonists return in this blood-fueled third volume of Caldan’s life as he seeks to find a cure for his beloved Miranda; to free himself from the nefarious plans of the corrupt and sorcerous Emperor; and maybe even save the world from Kelhak, the man who brought destruction and death down upon the world in the most apocalyptic game imaginable.

The narrative is, like the previous volumes, split between protagonists and antagonists alike: Caldan, the once regal but now destitute Lady Felice, honourable and misjudged Aidan, homicidally insane Amerdan and more getting to tell their sides of the story. It reveals that in times of war and great confusion things are rarely black or white; in the end people will do what is necessary in order to survive or help those they care about. While others are using the time to accumulate power or practice their craft on a panicked populus.

All the elements of the game are now revealed to our young protagonist. Sorcerous warlocks demand his blood to extend their lives, violent Touched demand his loyalty unto death, and the creatures that seek to overrun humanity see him as little more as a distraction towards their ultimate victory.

A Shattered Empire is a master-crafted piece of world building, going deeply into historical backstory, character arcs and both technical and philosophical discussion as to how such a land and people develop. In doing so Hogan has answered so many questions that remain lodged in our minds since the A Crucible of Souls, such as what happened to Caldan’s parents? What is the purpose of the mysterious trinkets he carries? Can anyone truly be trusted? And is there any way he can save the world so that he and Miranda will be left in peace?

In this, the most deadly of games, all rules are going to be broken. The pieces are arranged, schemes and strategies plotted, each possible move a risky gamble that could lead to supremacy or disastrous defeat. In the game of Dominion there can only be one winner; but what if winning comes at too great a cost? Only Caldan can make that decision.

If he fails all that will be left is A Shattered Empire.

 

Bec Stafford

Bec Stafford has a Masters of Philosophy from the University of Queensland. She blogs and interviews for MDP Web and The Spotlight Report.

labyrinthcoverIt might surprise some readers to learn that Jim Henson’s extraordinary fantasy vision, Labyrinth, was a box office bomb. Released in 1986, it was the last feature film the creative giant would direct before his passing in 1990. Since then, however, the musical fantasy has attracted its own enormous fandom and now enjoys bona fide cult status. This year marks the film’s thirtieth anniversary and Insight Editions has compiled a lavishly illustrated and richly detailed hardback companion book that explores the creative process through the eyes of the costumers, designers, and artists whose combined efforts brought Henson’s dream to life. The gorgeous edition features a foreword by Toby Froud (who was cast in the role of baby Toby Williams and is the son of the film’s conceptual designer, Brian) and an introduction by Henson’s son, Brian, who is now the chairman of the Jim Henson Company.

The book is divided into four parts: Inspiration, Characterization, Realization, and Summation. The first section covers the project from a creative seed through to script writing and puppet making stages. Based on British fantasy illustrator Brian Froud’s concepts and executive-produced by George Lucas, Labyrinth’s original screenplay concept was delivered in the form of a type of ‘poetic novella’ by Canadian poet, Dennis Lee (Alligator Pie, Fraggle Rock). During its development, the script was to famously undergo several iterations (estimated at around twenty-five). The first screenplay was penned by Python luminary, Terry Jones, who admits that his ‘best contribution was just starting off something that the puppet-makers made much better and improved.’  Following Jones’ initial draft and some tweaking by Henson, Fraggle Rock writer, Laura Phillips, was recruited to rework the material until it was structurally sound and more closely aligned with the emotional journey Henson had envisaged. Further alterations were made by Jones and Phillips in turn refined his revisions. Still unsatisfied, Henson called upon renowned script doctor, Elaine May, (Heaven Can Wait, Reds, Tootsie), who worked quickly to add humanising touches that also resulted in the character of Sarah being more authentically rendered. The final script was dated April 11, 1985. Astonishingly, principal photography was to commence in London only four days later, on April 15.

The Characterization section covers each of the major players and kicks off with an overview of David Bowie’s character, Jareth the Goblin King. The section includes behind-the-scenes set shots of Bowie and Jennifer Connelly (Sarah Williams) interacting with fellow cast members, taking direction from Henson, and rehearsing scenes. Interesting detail is provided about the other actors who were also initially considered for these central characters, as well as the reasoning behind the final casting choices. The development of the ‘puppet creatures’ is explained, from concept art through to creation, manipulation, and effects.

The Realization section describes the elements involved in production and filming, from Henson’s Creature Shop workings, costume making, choreography, and performance through to soundtrack composition, photography, effects, and editing. Interviews with members of the cast and production team create a vivid history of the experience and reveal trivia, tidbits, and anecdotes that will fascinate fans. The challenges of shooting various sequences (Shaft of Hands; Bog of Eternal Stench; Ballroom Scene; Battle of the Goblins) are outlined in interview snippets from Brian Henson, who vividly recollects his time on set, George Lucas, Jennifer Connelly, production designer Elliot Scott, storyboard artist Martin Asbury, and other members of the creative team. Summation nicely rounds up the post-production details. George Lucas shares his recollections of editing the film, which he acknowledges as not being a ‘mainstream big hit’ but ‘a really good movie… a niche movie … eccentric’. Final touches, such as the opening and closing sequences involving the owl, are even explained in detail. The film’s initial reception, enduring popularity, and massive following are discussed, as are the untimely deaths of Henson and Bowie. Finally, Cheryl and Lisa Henson (Jim’s daughters), George Lucas, and Jennifer Connelly share touching recollections of working with Jim Henson and acknowledge his creative legacy.

This ‘ultimate visual history’ certainly lives up to its name. In addition to the countless sketches, still shots, costume photos, and concept art that fill every inch of its pages, the book is also filled with a wealth of removable plates that give it a unique scrapbook feel. These include costume sketches, production notes, script excerpts, staff memos, and storyboards. Unquestionably the definitive Labyrinth history, this 30th-anniversary release is an absolute must-have for fans of one of the best-loved fantasy films of all time. 

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History

Paula M. Block & Terry J. Erdmann

Foreword by Toby Froud

Introduction by Brian Henson

Insight Editions 18 October, 2016

192 pages

ISBN-10:1608878104
ISBN-13:978-1608878109

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

 

 

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