Silver and Blood by Trina L. Talma

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Lisa Olson


The fantasy novel Silver and Blood by Trina L. Talma is in essence two very different books.

In part one, “The Dark Men,” we are introduced to the main character Zania and to her life as a barmaid. She is plucked from this world by a master thief and moved into a world of stealth and relative wealth. Her mentor, who is later her lover and father of her child, dies of a fever which also takes the child before it is born and Zania moves in and becomes lovers with a friend, Tarin.

Part one is only thirty-two pages long and it gives far too much information in far too short a time. There is no depth to this first part of the book and I set it aside more than once. I cared nothing for any of the characters because the author gave me nothing to care about. I was dismayed by the speed with which the information was presented and I was afraid that part two would follow suit and the entire book would tell the history of the world in fifty pages or less. Luckily, it did not.

Part two, “Silver and Blood,” is well thought out and solid storytelling. After the first few pages, the author proved her style had changed and the characters started to show their true colors. The situation, while still a typical fantasy setting, had nuances and unexpected turns and a mystery developed that I wanted to reach the end of.

Zania’s lover Tarin disappears. In her attempt to find him, Zania is thrust together with a band of thieves she knows only by reputation. Discovering that she is being hunted for her knowledge of Tarin, her new friends decide to send her to a safer place—to the forest outside the city. All Zania knows of the forest is that you don’t remain there after dark, you stay behind the safe walls.

She is taken to a forest camp loyal to the band of thieves in the city. They learn tracking and fighting skills here and take the knowledge with them when they return behind the walls, giving an important edge to their group. Zania meets new friends including a taciturn elf—a creature she was sure was only myth. From them, she begins to learn the skills of the woods.

It’s the clash of cultures that bring Zania and the novel to life. Her transition from city to forest plays out well and the story is interesting as she learns the skills and interactions with people that it takes to survive in her new surroundings and find Tarin. There are interesting characters surrounding Zania and a foe that is mysterious and dangerous.

Part two is the superior part of the novel and worth the reading of the first to experience it. It’s a strong story and well-written with new and different ideas on thieves, elves and vampires. After part one, I was surprised to find I was enjoying the book and couldn’t stop reading until it was complete.

*

Trina L. Talma is a former Toasted Cheese editor. Silver and Blood (Lulu.com, 240 pp.) is the first of a series, which also includes River’s End, The Throne of the Sun, Return to Dawn and Dreams of Darkness. Silver and Blood and its companions are available in paperback and ebook formats at Amazon and Lulu.

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Email Lisa Olson: boots[at]toasted-cheese.com

Sugar and Spice

The Snark Zone
Lisa “Boots” Olson


Daphne poured sesame oil into the wok, watched as it swirled and pooled at the bottom. She gave it few moments to heat, then slid the marinated chicken strips down the side. She twirled the mass with the wooden spatula, salivating as the smells emerged.

“Frank is looking at us again,” Jonah commented. He pounded the cleaver through a red pepper with practiced skill.

She turned to her husband. “Nothing new about that. Where’d you put the garlic?”

He indicated her left with the cleaver. She emptied the aromatic yellow contents into the wok. They clung to the chicken, turning a deep brown in a matter of seconds. Grabbing another small glass bowl, she tossed in a small amount of minced ginger, then a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. She churned them together, and the kitchen filled with the aroma.

She added another tablespoon of oil to the mix, capped the wok and sipped from a glass of red wine. Jonah was lopping the head off broccoli with expert precision. Smiling, she crept up and ran a hand up his exposed back and into his blonde hair. The cleaver wavered.

“I can’t chop when you do that,” he said.

“Sure you can.” She massaged his scalp for a second, trailed her fingers down his backbone and cupped his buttocks.

“Knock it off, you! I’m trying to cook here!” He brandished the huge knife, chasing her away. Giggling, she washed her hands and returned to the stove.

Steam rose from the wok when she removed the lid. Adding the broccoli florets, a chopped onion, the red pepper slices, and the remainder of the marinade, she whipped the ingredients into dinner.

“You should wear an apron when you cook, you know.” His breath was warm against her neck. “You might splatter oil on yourself.”

She moved the wok to a cold burner. “I’m careful. It’s done, where’s the plates?”

He cupped one of her breasts in answer. She slapped his hand away, turned into his arms. “Hey! Dinner time!”

“That’s exactly my thought,” he licked his lips as he looked her up and down.

“I’m dessert, not dinner. Get some plates,” she smiled.

He heaped rice onto matching black china plates. She ladled the stir-fry on top, garnished it with cashews. “Want to eat in the dining room?” she asked.

“I’ll bring the wine,” he answered.

They met at the table, settled down to enjoy the repast. The doorbell rang five minutes later. They both sighed at the nightly ritual.

Motioning him to stay, Daphne went to the hall and opened it. “Frank,” she said.

“Um, hi. Got a cup of sugar I can borrow?” He’s not even inventive anymore, she thought. His eyes never lifted from her chest.

She ignored his ogling. “Sure, come in.”

They made it as far as the credenza before she felt his meaty hand palm her rear-end. She rounded on him, enraged. “Look, I don’t mind you watching us through your telescope every day, Frank. We believe the human body should be appreciated, that’s why we live as we do. And I think I’ve been fairly tolerant of your insane need for cups of sugar during dinner, as well. But grabbing my ass is outside my limits!”

Fat lips curled into a sneer. “If you are going to leave it out, I’m going to take it.”

“Get out,” Jonah threatened from behind them.

Frank folded, lowering his shoulders and backing toward the door. “Freaks!” he screamed at them when the knob was in his hand. “Dirty perverts!”

Jonah advanced, and the rotund man made a hasty exit. “You all right?” he asked.

She sighed. “Perverts, he says. He’s the one staring at us through the windows at all hours of the day. Like he’s never seen naked people before!”

“Forget him, Daph. He won’t be back for any more sugar. I’ll take care of that. C’mon, dinner’s getting cold.”

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Boots, our resident Amazon and keeper of all things fantasy (you know, like hennins and sacrificial companions), can be reached at boots[at]toasted-cheese.com. You can also find her hosting Maxim Tremendous, Perpetual Passion and Locusts and Tape.

Mother’s Bouquet

Fiction
Lisa Olson


The cool forest canopy welcomed Callie as it always did, with forgiveness. She took slow steps, savoring the feel of springtime and homecoming. Wind rustled through the pines, dropping needles into her gray hair. Leftover drops from the morning’s rain splattered down from the heights onto the flat fronds of ferns, coating her plastic jacket. Robins whistled in loud voices, drowning out the drone of cars on the nearby interstate.

More than thirty years ago, the city had turned the woodland into a park, riddling it with jogging paths and picnic tables. She was grateful they had preserved this slice of wilderness, and the childhood memories it contained. Others thought of it as a park, but Callie still thought of as her backyard.

She paused to lean against a familiar Sitka spruce, giving her memories time to catch up with her. She remembered exploring every bush and tree, and there had been a hundred games of hide-and-seek with her best friend, Ellen. She knew the exact spot where she’d received her first kiss, and remembered her terror at seeing a full-grown bear.

But the strongest memory was of a clearing filled with trilliums. She had been six years old, but she remembered every detail of that summer afternoon.

“Look at them all, Callie!” Ellen exclaimed as they entered the clearing. “I told you I found the biggest patch of flowers!”

“Nifty!” Kneeling, Callie examined the closest. A green stem thrust up from the ground, ending in a trio of veined leaves. A shorter stem supported three white petals that met in a yellow center. They looked like fat angels sitting on green clouds. “They sure are pretty. Do you think my mama will like them?”

Ellen dropped down beside her, her short blonde hair bouncing as she nodded. “Well, my mommy gives daddy a hug when he brings home just ONE flower. And this is a whole field! Why, she’ll give you cake for dinner!”

Callie snapped the blossom off, leaving the leaves behind. Lifting it to her dirt-smeared face, she breathed in the sugary smell. “Oh, she will not, dumbbell.”

“She might!” Ellen argued. “Your mom loves flowers! She has a whole garden full of them.”

“That’s true. There are vases all over the house.”

“Ab-so-lute-ly,” Ellen said. “C’mon!” Bending down, she began picking the bright flowers.

“But she never gets them from the forest,” Callie sighed.

“Bet I can get more than you can,” Ellen taunted.

“Can not!”

“Prove it.”

Kneeling, Callie lifted the edge of her dress and began filling it. Not a single flower survived the harvest. They walked back to the house, arguing over who got more flowers.

Shoving through the screen door, they entered the kitchen. “Mama! Look what I got for you!”

Her mother turned away from the stew pot on the gas stove, wiping her hands on the edge of her flowered apron. “What is it, honey?”

Callie offered up the bouquet in her skirt, smiling. “We picked them just for you, Mama!”

Her eyes widened and she breathed a single word. “Trilliums!”

“Don’t you like them, Mama?” she asked.

“I picked some for you, too, Mrs. Harris,” Ellen boasted. Callie’s mother stood frozen, eyes glued to the abundance of white.

“Mama?” Callie whispered. Her mother turned away and hid her face against the icebox, her bobbed hair shaking.

Callie stared at Ellen, then at her mother. What did we do?

“Take them away,” her mother hiccuped.

The pair retraced their steps to the clearing. Callie let the edges of her dress drop, spilling the trilliums into a pile at her bare feet. Her friend added hers to the pile.

“Think I’ll go home now,” she said.

Callie nodded her agreement. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She watched Ellen weave out of the clearing and into the shadows of the trees. Sighing, she returned to the kitchen.

Her mother sat waiting at the round table, clutching an embroidered handkerchief against her red nose. Pulling out one of the chairs, Callie joined her. Silence surrounded them.

“Why did you cry, Mama?” she asked at last.

Her mother sighed, twisting the handkerchief into a cloth snake. “Honey, I know you meant well, but those are some very special flowers. Those leaves love their petals so much, that they die without them. And even if one does survive, it can take many years for it to produce seeds that will make more flowers.”

Callie slumped in the cushion.

“Is that why you don’t get flowers from the forest?”

Her mother nodded.

“How long will it take for all the flowers to grow back?”

“You won’t see any at all for at least three years. And you’ll never see them fill that clearing again. You can’t pick them ever again, promise?” Brown eyes pleaded.

“I promise,” she choked out, a tear spilling down her cheek. “I’m sorry, Mama.”

Her mother opened her arms, and Callie slid across the table to her, nestling down against the cotton apron. She remained there until her sobs stopped.

Callie shoved away from the tree trunk, and continued on her annual walk to the clearing, wiping a stray raindrop from her cheek. Seventy-three years had passed, and she still mourned those flowers.

She followed the path as it wound around carefully around the three dozen trilliums growing in the clearing, starkly white against a carpet of green. Smiling, she forced old knees down into a reverent kneel, and inhaled the sugary sweet smell.

There are more this year, she thought.

But it would never be as she had once seen it, a field of angels resting on green clouds.

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Lisa can be reached at boots[at]toasted-cheese.com.