Sunday, May 25, 2014

"Innocence Lost" by Patty Jansen

Innocence Lost
(For Queen and Country Book 1)
by Patty Jansen

Innocence Lost is the first book in the For Queen and Country historical fantasy series. Also available: Whispering Willows, a prequel short story, and Willow Witch

You can also read my previous blog post on Patty's FREE YA book, Watcher's Web.

Johanna is the daughter of a rich merchant in Saardam. As only child and without a mother, she has grown up with notions, such as that she wants to take over her father's river trade business in her own name. Courtesy of her eastern mother, she has an unusual ability. She sees things in willow wood: whenever she touches wood, it shows her what has happened around the tree or wooden object. Any kind of magic is not common in Saardam, and the Church of the Triune, which rapidly gains influence in the city, forbids it.
While she goes to church, Johanna also maintains a loose network of magic-enabled people. One of those people is Loesie, a farmer's daughter from out of town.
One day, Loesie comes to town after having been struck mute by magic. She carries a basket made from willow twigs that tells Johanna that a group of bandits with demons is about to attack the city.
But there is no non-magical proof, so she can't tell anyone or she'd be branded a witch. The time of witch-burnings was not that long ago.
Never mind that the army is still approaching, and there are increasing signs that Saardam's embattled royal family might have done something that has angered magical forces in the east. Add to this that the royal family seems to have fallen out with the city's nobility, and that the recent death of the crown princess has left the family with only one heir: the mysterious prince whom no one has seen for years and who has suddenly returned home.
At the annual ball, Johanna's father has brokered a dance for her with the prince. Johanna just wants to warn people of the impending attack.

Johanna sashayed down the church aisle towards the open doors that beckoned her to freedom. Her clogs clonked on the wooden floor, clop-clop-clop. With each sway of her hips, her skirts swished around her ankles, and her plait swung over her back, free of the bonnet.
Outrageous. Improper.
Poor girl, needs a mother. Look at her clothes. As if her father can’t afford anything better. He’s giving her far too much freedom.
She knew the whispers of the merchants’ wives, the not-quite-nobles and other hangers-on of the Saardam gentry, and all the others in the pews. She knew the rules of the church about women, that they should dress modestly and not show any exuberance or draw attention to themselves.
There would be hell to pay for this later, but today, she didn’t care.
On second thoughts, coming to church wearing her clogs instead of her proper shoes was probably not her smartest idea ever. But she didn’t want to get her best shoes dirty. Of course she had a second-best pair of shoes, but even her second best pair of shoes was too good for the markets, where farmers cast their scraps on the ground and their pigs and cows and chickens left their business, and where the cobbles were always covered in slimy mud.
Indeed, the daughter of a merchant who hoped to attain noble status wasn’t supposed to go to the markets. One had servants for the purpose.
Not that she cared about that either. Because, for once, the weather gods smiled on Saardam, bringing out the colours, the paint on the merchants’ houses, the red of the roofs, the blue water in the canals, the brilliant green of the leaves on the trees, the yellow of the cheeses on the market stalls, the blue and white shirts of the cheese sellers. Had she ever noticed how many weeds grew between the pavers in the street and how brightly yellow the dandelions bloomed? Did she remember how blue the sky was and how white the clouds?
She stopped at the church door, drinking it in.
She called it freedom, now that the boring part of the day was done.
The sunlight was kind even to Nellie, with wisps of flaxen hair peeking out from under her oh-so-proper bonnet. Her eyes were clear and blue and her skin was like the velvet bottom of the neighbour’s baby, so much prettier than Johanna’s. Those cheeks now flushed with red as she caught up with Johanna at the church doors, bowing and apologising to all those who had nothing better to do than complain.
She whispered, “Mistress Johanna, you aren’t wearing your proper shoes.”
“Aren’t I?” Johanna lifted up the hem of her skirt, letting the sunlight fall on her clogs. Pretty ones, these were, too, with painted patterns and made from willow wood that sang its stories to her whenever she wore them. Happy stories, of fat cows, green pastures, and peace.
“Your shoes were in your room. I put them there this morning.”
“Oh. I must have missed them.”
She clonked down the church steps, clop-clop-clop on the wood. Clop-clop-clop down the new stairs of the new entrance porch with its Lurezian woodwork and stained glass windows. Clop-clop-clop onto the cobbled street.
See me? I’m wearing my clogs to church. If there is any such thing as the Triune - which I doubt - He will love me or hate me with my clogs just as much as with my shoes.
“Come, let’s go!”
Nellie sighed and rolled her eyes. She did that a lot lately.
Frivolous, they called Johanna, and said she needed a man. But have you ever noticed how marriage takes the life out of a woman’s eyes?
She slid into the crowds of the markets, the servants, shopkeepers and common people buying their daily needs: bread, butter and cheese; potatoes, fish and - shudder - cabbage.
“Good day Mistress Johanna, good day, Nellie,” said Leo Mustermans, standing behind his stall. He wore his Market Day best, a hose that was grey and less patched than what he usually wore when lugging cheeses from the sloops in the harbour. He did well enough; under his golden hair he had a round face, now sweaty and squinting into the sunlight.
“Beautiful day today,” Johanna said. “The cheese will be good this summer.”
“That, it will be, Mistress Johanna. Though the cheese will get sweaty if the breeze doesn’t pick up.”
She laughed. She wanted to say, Just like you but Leo would laugh, because he was that kind of man, and others would know what she’d said and next thing that would be added to her list of recent sins.
“It’s good quality cheese, the kind the Estlanders like.” He looked like he wanted to add something about Johanna’s father buying his cheese and selling it to Estland, but he didn’t. She was a frivolous girl after all and one couldn’t possibly discuss business with a girl. Fancy that.
Then he asked, “You’re all excited for the king’s ball?”
Johanna laughed but her good mood fled the instant he mentioned the word “ball”. Why did they always have to ask about that? As if it were the only thing that mattered for a young woman in Saardam: to be invited to the royal ball. She said through clenched teeth, “Our family is not important enough to go to the ball.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be, because I don’t want to go.”
“But you should be invited, Mistress Johanna. You’d be pretty enough to turn all the noble boys’ heads, and brainy enough to outsmart them all.”
She laughed, the sound again hollow. “Thanks for the flattery, Leo, but no thanks. I’m glad I don’t have to go.” It was not like the noble boys wanted brainy girls.
“It’s a pity. The rumour goes that the king will announce a surprise for the citizens of Saardam.”
Johanna had heard that, too, whispered to her by the wood of the pews in the church. She stifled a wave of suspicion and dread. Last year, the king’s surprise had been his donation of the statue of the Triune to the Church. The thing was so big that it had come on a river sloop pulled by two full teams of sea cows all the way from Lurezia. The blocks of the statue had to be dismantled even further before they fitted through the church door.
She hoped the surprise would be nowhere as extravagant as that. And that it would be something that people could use. She heard the Burovian king had paid for a new concert hall, and that Lurezia now had a building dedicated to the study of the skies. Why couldn’t King Nicholaos give something like that? “I’m sure we’ll hear about it soon enough.”

Featured Review
Another wonderful book written by Patty Jansen. Her books never cease to bring me right into the world of characters and time period. I love reading this book. I haven't always been a fan of Historical Fiction however if all books were written this well I wouldn't be able to put them down.
I think she hit on religious points without shoving them down your throat. I wouldn't call this book YA though, the sex scene is a little much for most YA novels.

About the Author
Patty Jansen lives in Sydney, Australia, where she spends most of her time writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. Her story "This Peaceful State of War" placed first in the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest and was published in their 27th anthology. She has also sold fiction to genre magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Redstone Science Fiction, and Aurealis.
Her novels include Watcher's Web (soft SF), The Far Horizon (middle grade SF), Charlotte's Army (military SF), and Fire & Ice, Dust & Rain, and Blood & Tears (Icefire Trilogy) (dark fantasy). Her novel Ambassador was published by Ticonderoga Publications in 2013.
Patty is a member of SFWA and the cooperative that makes up Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and she has also written nonfiction.