Friday, March 25, 2022

"The Bone Orchard"

A seamstress and horsewoman, Sara A. Mueller writes speculative fiction in the green and rainy Pacific Northwest, where she lives with her family, numerous recipe books, and a forest of fountain pens.

In a nomadic youth, she trod the earth of every state but Alaska and lived in six of them.

She’s an amateur historical costumer, gamer, and cook.

Mueller applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Bone Orchard, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Bone Orchard, Pain is witnessing the aftermath of the Boren's Imperial Army confronted by Captain Oram, who heads the Firedrinkers - Borenguard's psychically gifted Imperial police. The Firedrinkers have prevented a riot by enforcing calm on a crowd who are watching their loved ones being pressed into service by Boren's Imperial Army.
Oram turned on his heel, and he and the two columns of Firedrinkers moved off up the Imperial Way. Slowly, as if waking from a dream, the crowd around started to drift into motion.

"I don't see Jim," said Maude, hope quavering in her throat. "I need to get home, Miss Pain. Thankee for waiting with me." The laundress went to her cart, heaved against the handles, and got it moving toward the gate.

Pain didn't move, turning what she had seen over in her mind while the crowd flowed around her and gradually melted back into normal morning traffic. It was clever of Aerleas to send his men to remind people of him; clever again, to send those who were most like him. Colonel Fletcher and his men would inspire Strephon, and Boren, to fear him. And to force the Firedrinkers to act again so soon after the near riot in Cathedral Square.

Clever, also, to force Captain Oram to stand between the anxious crowd and the army taking away their loved ones. Had it been enough for the crowd that he'd made the demonstration with the colonel's horse? Perhaps the people would see the distinction between the Firedrinkers and the greater evil. Aerleas was not done with Borenguard. He was making sure that everyone knew it. The thought prickled along Pain's arms, and she rubbed her hands up and down them to try to lay the hair back down inside her sleeves.

Mechanically, Pain fell back into her routine. It was soothing, easy to simply do what she always did and not to think about things too much. She went to the bakery, but had to wait.

"Sorry, Miss Pain, but the army came in this morning on their way to Lowtown and took every blessed dainty they wanted on vouchers. All I have left is from yesterday. You know I don't do this to my regular customers, Miss Pain, but..."
On one hand, page 69 doesn't work very well in isolation, because there's a lot of assumed knowledge by this point. That's no less true here than it would be in most SFF books. Strephon is the newly-elected Emperor of Boren, and the youngest brother of mad Prince Aerleas who has been heading up the army holding Inshil, a country conquered by Boren. There's no context on this page to tell a reader that if it's read in isolation. They couldn't know that Pain is an artificially created boneghost, and one of five; nor that the Firedrinkers are all controlled by mindlocks. It wouldn't warn the reader about any of the dark themes of trauma and recovery in this book. I don't believe page 69 would make a reader buy the book if read by itself, but if the reader skipped this page, they'd lose information that's vital to understanding the dance of power between the Firedrinkers and the army of Prince Aerleas. It's a glimpse at the political situation. It's a glimpse of how as insane general and his army might still come home to roost. It's also a good look at the aftermath of telepathic emotional manipulation. Even Pain, who is virtually immune to the suppression, still has some hangover from it. In all, I'd've picked a different page for a single-page challenge; but the book would've been poorer if I'd left this page out.
Visit Sara A. Mueller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue