Friday, April 19, 2013

"Engaging, magical," HAMMER OF WITCHES presents a quest story that subverts the stereotypes

“What would happen if you took [the] standard quest story and set it in the real world in 1492?” Author Shana Mlawski posits this question in a recent post on John Scalzi's Whatever blog. Her YA debut novel HAMMER OF WITCHES is the answer.

HAMMER OF WITCHES came out last week from Tu Books, an imprint of Lee and Low. Set in 1492 Spain and "the New World,” the novel follows bookmaker's apprentice Baltasar Infante, who has a bad run-in with the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition demand that he reveal the whereabouts of a legendary Moorish sorcerer, but Baltasar hadn't realized the sorcerer was real outside of stories, and he certainly doesn't know where to find him. Baltasar escapes the Inquisition and soon finds himself joining Columbus's voyage to "the New World,” a journey on which he will battle demons, befriend a genie, seek out the sorcerer, and learn of the magic inherent in all stories.

As Mlawski explains in her post, standard quest stories have many problems--particularly being colonialist. Typically, the hero is a boy of uncertain ancestry who, along his journey, learns he has “noble, or even divine, blood.” The hero as well as his journey is portrayed very one-sidedly. “Be they villain, bystander, love interest, or sage, [the] secondary characters have one purpose: to help the hero come of age and complete his quest,” Mlawski writes.

But what about the perspectives of the villain, the love interest, or the seemingly unimportant bystander? In Mlawski's words,

HAMMER OF WITCHES approaches the quest story from a different angle. Here the narrator isn’t an omniscient god but a semi-unreliable teenager who spends most of the book unclear on who’s the hero and who’s the villain (or if these terms are even useful)....Characters’ powers don’t come from their pure, noble blood but from their ability to uncover and control the meanings of stories. Every time our narrator thinks he has a handle on these stories, some other character butts in to explain why he’s got it all wrong.

To read more of Mlawski's post, visit here.

And if Mlawski's subversion of stereotypes in HAMMER OF WITCHES intrigues you, you may also be intrigued by her online journalism with Overthinking It. Her pieces “have become somewhat of a meme in certain geeky cultures,” according to Diana Peterfreund in Mlawski's recent interview on Peterfreund's blog. Peterfreund points to Mlawski's “Strong Characters, Female” piece and her “Female Character Flowchart”; Mlawski subverts female stereotypes in both. In the interview, Mlawski writes, “We geeks just have to be careful to add to the conversation instead of shutting it down” in regards to feminism, racism, sexism, etc. To read more of the interview, visit here.

Mlawski's writing has been praised as "dazzling," "fast-paced," and "rollicking," but if you need to see it to believe it, the first two chapters of HAMMER OF WITCHES have been made available as an excerpt on Scribd.  Check it out here:

And if that isn't enough to get you interested in the book, here is a round-up of some of the wonderful reviews received in so far:

“An engaging, magical adventure...Mlawski’s central characters...are imaginative and well-developed, and her swashbuckling pace and intriguing plotting keep readers at seat’s edge...Mlawski invites young readers to see the familiar Columbus story from another perspective—and to consider the power of stories to shape perception in everyday life...Set in the 1490s, this provocative blend of fantasy and history offers loads of contemporary appeal.” --Kirkus

“Newcomer Mlawski delievers a fast-paced coming-of-age adventure, respectfully evoking the complexities and cultural landscape of the period. She draws from a variety of sources, including Jewish and Biblical myth, offering an accessible, attention-grabbing story that seamlessly inserts its magical elements into historical fact.” --Publishers Weekly

“Mlawski's magical take on the exploration of the New World is a dazzling, richly imagined tale about history, legend, and the fantastic power of story.”—Diana Peterfreund, national bestselling author of FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS

"A truly enjoyable, energetic tale and an altogether original take on one of the most important events in human history--the first voyage of Columbus." --Joseph Bruchac, national bestselling author of WOLF MARK and SKELETON MAN

“HAMMER OF WITCHES is a historical revelation--an eye-opening magical carpet ride that takes the reader over the ocean and through the woods to an ancient time, full of beauty and grace, and the ever-present conflict between man's spirituality and his natural brutality.” --Guadalupe Garcia McCall, internationally bestselling author of UNDER THE MESQUITE

“This rollicking historical fantasy has it all--nail-biting adventure, exciting mystery, fabulous magics, and characters you can really root for. I enjoyed every word." --Victoria Strauss, internationally bestselling author of PASSION BLUE

“HAMMER OF WITCHES is everything I crave in a story--magic, adventure, danger, depth, a rich historical setting, and an irresistibly charming hero. What a fantastic voyage!” --Lesley Livingston, internationally bestselling author of WONDROUS STRANGE

1 comment:

  1. Laura,
    I just read all the reviews of Hammer of Witches and am excited to read it. I sent you my manuscript just yesterday and am blow away that the stories setting and characters seem so similar minus the witches, but including holy relics and Moors and the Spanish Inquisition, and a rare codex belonging to Queen Isabella. I am just so happy that historical fiction mystery is still something agents are looking for.