Guest Post: The ESSENCE of Writing Serial Novelle


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JK-BW-headshotToday I’m excited to have indie author and friend J. K. Ullrich as a guest on the blog! An award-winning Science-Fiction author, she’s recently finished an awesome Sci-Fi series called Syzygy and is here to talk about her experience with the novella story form. Enjoy!

The ESSENCE of Writing Serial Novelle

What do Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, and The Metamorphosis all have in common? Besides a reliable spot on English class syllabi, each of these classics contains less than 40,000 words, technically a novella. While these famous novelle (that’s the plural, thanks to how the Italian language declines feminine nouns) probably wouldn’t have landed a deal with modern publishers, who rarely consider manuscripts under 70,000 words, readers find a lot to like about the format. Lauded author Ian McEwan praised short fiction that can be read in one sitting, “like enjoying a three hour movie or opera”. If bingeable streaming TV is more your taste, however, consider a novella serial. Earlier this year I completed Syzygy, a science fiction novella hexalogy. Fun yet challenging, the project taught me the ESSENCE of writing a serial novelle: Evaluate the master plot, Structure the component parts, use Suspense, Echoes, and Negative space to Concentrate storytelling, and plan an Endgame for publication.


The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America define a novella as fiction from 17,500 to 39,999 words (70-160 standard pages). That doesn’t leave room for meandering tales that take chapters to hit their stride. Advance planning is essential, especially if you intend to release each novella as you complete it. Plot the master arc just as you would a novel, and don’t skimp on the details. I learned this the hard way when I reached Pt VI: Right Ascension and discovered that my notes, so precise for the early titles, contained little more for the final installment than “Heroes confront antagonist. The end.” That put me in the awkward spot of reverse engineering scenes that fit with everything I’d already established. Having a comprehensive outline from the start would have saved me a lot of agony!

Once you’ve worked out the big picture, subdivide it into individual novelle. If I framed the entire Syzygy story (about 160,000 words) in three-act structure, the first two installments would be Act I (about 40,000 words total) books three through five would be Act II, ending with the peak crisis (about 70,000 words total) and part six is the climactic Act III (about 40,000 words). Each episode builds on the previous one, adding tension and advancing the story.



Component novelle are more than just arbitrary slices of the broader arc: each needs its own internal structure. Let’s zoom in on the plot outline above….


In the scope of the entire Syzygy saga, Transient Phenomena is only half of act one, but as a standalone, it still reflects classic plot mechanics with its own beginning, middle, and end. This helps every piece feel complete. But not too complete. The key to any good series is tempting the audience irresistibly onward.


Notice something different about the Transient Phenomena outline compared to the series outline above? There’s no drop at the end to represent denouement; the action keeps rising. I drew readers through the series by ending each novella with a question or twist that would send them scrambling for the next story right away. Part I leaves Ash’s decision and Skye’s fate unresolved. Part II concludes with a revelation that turns everything upside down. And so on. Identify the suspenseful points in your master plot and divide up the story around them. (I went a step further and tried to end every chapter with a hook as well!) Is it a little cruel to leave readers hanging? Undoubtedly. But is that not an author’s prerogative?


A good hook may pull readers through your series, but it takes more than a core plot line to fuse separate installments into a cohesive, satisfying whole. One way to cultivate connection is to draw parallels between the pieces. Plot and character development accomplish some of this, but I found it was the nuances that really pulled the story together. For example, Ash and Skye’s quips about their respective name meanings in the first book establish an inside joke between them, and variations on it play across the series. Offhand dialogue from early installments, echoed later at a critical point, resonates with new meaning. This technique adds thematic depth and facilitates narrative cohesion. It’s like the baseline in a piece of music, a common rhythm beneath the changing melody. In novelle, even the background is important!

Negative Space

“Negative space” in visual arts describes the sometimes-empty area around the main subject of an image. Narratives have negative space, too, in the ambient details surrounding major events.  Novelle writers can use it as a canvas for implications, making the most of their limited pages. In the opening scene of Transient Phenomena, Skye steals equipment from the Colony and detects a radio signal emanating from Earth. Two simple plot points, right? A lot more appears between the lines:

  • The harsh living environment of lunar dwellers (and the presence of rival settlements, at least one of which is struggling to survive);
  • Skye’s status as an outsider in her community (and the existence of a leader who would punish her for disobedience);
  • Her habit of talking to herself (suggesting chronic isolation);
  • Her skill with telemetry and electronics (which she’s been prevented from using); and
  • A previous discovery of the same signal, ignored for unknown reasons.

By integrating all these clues into the background, I avoided exposition and saved precious wordage. (Transient Phenomena is available free for Kindle and Nook if you want to read the whole scene and judge for yourself.) Leveraging negative space helps writers get the most out of every paragraph.


The prologue I just described introduces a protagonist, implies parts of her backstory, establishes key world-building elements, and poses questions that keep readers turning pages…in only 566 words. Concentrated storytelling like this helps maximize impact in the pithy novella format. As you edit, appraise the manuscript with economical eyes. Can you condense any sequences, combine any scenes? Can any characters do double duty? For example, the supporting character Violet is Hazel’s mother and Ash’s father’s work partner and the mechanic responsible for the Colony’s plot-entangled power grid. I could have created a separate person for each of those roles, but combining them makes for a more interesting character (and helps keep the cast from becoming unmanageably large over the course of the series). Once you’ve streamlined the narrative, pare down the prose. My prolix English major habits struggled at first, but I came to appreciate the brisk elegance of novelle.


Your novella may be as fast and trim as a well-engineered spacecraft, but don’t launch it just yet. Publishing a novella serial involves a few more decisions than publishing standalone work. Will you release each installment as you write it? A steady flow of new titles can build a reader base hungry for more, and but you risk continuity errors or writing yourself into a corner if you haven’t planned the story well. What about completing the whole series first? That enables comprehensive revision, but it might take years to complete the entire thing, and having your name off the market that long can be problematic (especially for Indies).

Whichever path you choose, Novelle are a hard sell—people are already reluctant to pay a few dollars for “full-length” novels, much less shorter works—but serials enjoy the advantage of various marketing options.

  • Make the first story “permafree” to entice readers to give it a try (hopefully all those suspenseful hooks will drive them to buy the rest).
  • Once all the installments are available, Amazon allows authors a series page where shoppers can buy all the books in one click.
  • Release the complete series in a single-volume edition. Bonus content, like a new epilogue or spinoff story, can make the omnibus an especially appealing purchase.

With swift storytelling honed to its ESSENCE, novella series offer a unique and rewarding experience for authors and readers alike!

Anela says: Many thanks to J. K. Ullrich for an insightful look into the structure and execution of writing a novella series! Check out her website to learn more about her work and find other great articles about speculative fiction and more. 

You can grab the first installment of her Syzygy series for FREE on Amazon! It’s a fast-paced story with plenty of twists and awesome characters, so don’t miss out!


Ash was never supposed to visit Earth. After a genetic engineering catastrophe wiped out civilization, the survivors—inhabitants of a lunar mining colony—planned to rebuild on Mars. That was before a group of rebels seceded to the dark side of the moon, taking critical data with them. Now conscripted teenagers scavenge the ruined planet for species to use in terraforming. At fifteen, Ash is the best diver in a generation. But when tragedy strikes, he vows to end his colony’s dependence on its old homeworld at any cost.

Skye has never set foot on Earth. It’s not even visible from the moon’s far side, although the exiles’ mystic leader promises they will return home someday. Skye has discovered something that could realize this long-awaited dream, but she’s an outcast among outcasts, and no one will listen to her plan. To save her people, she might have to betray them.

Worlds collide when Ash and Skye meet, blurring the boundaries between enemies and allies, deception and truth. Their choices could win a future for humanity…or finally drive it to extinction.

Grab it on Amazon!



The Insurrection Omnibus is Coming!


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Were you waiting for all five books of the Insurrection series to be offered in a single volume? Of course, you were;) Right now, you can pre-order the whole thing for just 99¢ on Amazon. The release date is April 29th. Grab your copy while the sale is on!

The awesome new cover:


For twenty years Inquisitor Gemson Agaton used torture and interrogation to root out subversives undermining the Establishment. He earned his cold, hard reputation, setting morality aside in the name of a strong state. Now he’s on the subject’s side of the interrogation table, duty to the regime he believes in pitted against loyalty to the one person he always protected.

Gemson isn’t the only target on the Establishment’s radar. An insurgency challenges its authority. Every attempt to capture the Albatross, the rebels’ enigmatic leader, has failed. To the oppressed, he epitomizes freedom from tyranny. But behind the symbol is a man haunted by his past. Not even his closest allies know his true identity, and he’s careful to keep it that way.

As the Albatross rallies Earth’s citizens to resist the regime’s dictatorial rule, many are listening, including one of the Establishment’s most talented operatives. To find and betray him is her directive. To fall in love with him is treason.

In this universe, there are no easy answers and secrets cloud the truth. When a new threat emerges, these unlikely few must overcome their discordant history and forge alliances among enemies. The survival of mankind depends on it.

At over 100k words, the Insurrection omnibus brings all five books from the novella series together. An action-packed space adventure, it’s a tale of redemption and sacrifice in the struggle for humanity’s ultimate fate.

Pre-order for 99¢ on Amazon

Book Release! Syzygy: The Complete Novel


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A century after a genetic engineering disaster eradicates human life on Earth, two young rebels risk everything to save their struggling lunar outpost: Ash, reluctant champion of a DNA archive effort that runs dangerous missions back to Earth; and Skye, a cunning scavenger from a tribe of outcasts. Their fractious alliance reveals shocking truths concealed for generations and sparks one desperate hope for the future of their species.

This complete edition unites all six installments of the Syzygy hexalogy—Transient PhenomenaOpposition EffectRetrograde MotionEscape VelocityRed Shift, and Right Ascension—along with a previously unpublished prequel novelette.


Anela says: I’ve read all six installments of this thoughtful and thrilling Sci-Fi series, and can’t recommend it enough!

Book one of the series is free so grab it today, or better yet, download the full omnibus! The eBook is available for $4.99 on Amazon or via Kindle Unlimited.

Book Trailer!!

Right Ascension (Syzygy Book Six)


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Title & Author: Right Ascension (Syzygy Book Six), J. K. Ullrich

Genre & Publication Date: YA Sci-Fi/Cli-Fi, January 30, 2018

Book Description: *Spoiler, sorry*

First Line: *Also spoiler*

My Take: This book was provided to me by the author for review.

I’ve been reviewing installments of this series for some time and I’m happy to report the finale brought everything together, delivering an awesome conclusion to an incredibly unique story.

Reviewing the last book of a series is tough because I don’t want to spoil any of the twists or reveals. Just know there are plenty of them. Plenty of action too, and the experiences Skye and Ash (our main characters) went through, together and separately, in the course of these adventures felt true and real. Bit by bit, they got to know each other, and found there was plenty to learn even from someone they thought was their enemy: Trust and acceptance. Confidence and loyalty. The lesson of blind belief. Survival comes not in a vague sense of purpose and a fuzzy concept of the future, but in accepting hard truths with a willingness to change direction because of them. That’s real courage.

The Magical: The science! This author excels at putting the ‘Science’ in Science-Fiction. From atmospheric realities, to DNA sequencing, to the components needed to create a viable ecosystem, all of this amazing info is expertly folded in with a fictional story in such a way that it feels incredibly real. Not to say that I’m rooting for the apocalypse here, but if it happened, I am now totally up on facts I need to know:)

The Mundane: Just a small nit: One of the characters was on a mission that isolated them from everyone for a really long time. I’d anticipated more readjustment when they returned and were around people again, like discomfort to the noise and nearness of others, especially groups of them. This person seemed to roll back into the swing of things with an ease I doubted. I can barely stand crowds even without long bouts of solitude.

Summary of Thoughts: Well researched, full of thoughtful themes and developed characters, this is a marvelous Sci-Fi series that I think everyone will love, from YA to adult. Grab the first installment free on Amazon.

I really can’t wait to see what new ideas are coming next from this author.


Many thanks to author J. K. Ullrich for providing a copy of the book to review.

Want to know more about the author and her work? Check out her website here

Fanged Series


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Title & Author: Fanged (Book One) & Fanged Outcast (Book Two), Elisabeth Wheatley

Genre & Publication Date: YA Paranormal, Nov. 26, 2013 (bk 1), Dec. 3, 2013 (bk 2)

Book Description: From Book One: “Family dating rules were pretty clear—no humans. But the undead heart wants what it wants and Haddie’s high school boyfriend ended up dead because of it. Now her brother Damian is repeating history and the same fate’s lined up for a very non-vampire, Madelyn.

With the girl’s throat on the line, they don’t have many options. Soon all three of them are on the run. Hunted across country by dear old dad’s enforcers, they’ll need help from the humans who hate them most. Assuming they all live that long.”

First Line: “Are you here to kill her?”

My Take: This book was provided to me by the author for review.

It has been a while since I’ve gotten into a novella series. The last one was the Flash Gold series by Lindsay Buroker (go read that by the way). It’s also been a while since I’ve delved into the world of vampires and I’m reminded now why I love them.

Haddie, the book’s lead and the voice of the first-person narrative, was easy to sympathize with and admire. When her baby brother makes the same mistake she did (falling in love with a human), she makes it her mission to save him from the pain and grief she went through. No waffling. No should-I-or-shouldn’t-I. Her brother has her loyalty and her protection without question, even if she does think he’s an idiot. I loved her voice: wry, world-weary, yet somehow hopeful and fiercely determined despite it all.

Did I mention she’s pretty kick-ass? No really, she literally kicks ass. You might think, yeah, yeah, that’s always the case with YA, but it was handled well here and included doses of reality. You get knocked around in a fight, you make mistakes, and hey, sometimes you even lose. It made the action more intense and the outcomes more meaningful. And there was never a dull moment in these two installments!

The Magical: Besides the awesome heroine, there are hints at a huge fantastical world of supernatural beings that exist unbeknownst to humans. Different clans of creatures with their own borders, cultures, and protocols–and histories between them. Can’t wait to see where this leads!

The Mundane: The bad guys seemed a little one note. I wished the rule behind ‘no dating humans’ had more depth than ‘no playing with the food’, especially given the consequences. Didn’t bother me while reading.

Summary of Thoughts: Book one of the series is FREE on Amazon. A nice YA twist on the vampire legend and definitely recommended. I loved that these installments center around Haddie’s love for her brother. There’s the potential for something romantic down the line (an enemies to friends thing which I adore) but it’s not the focal point. This is about a brother and sister whose loyalty to each other transcends sibling annoyances and disagreements. Refreshing, heartwarming in a gut-wrenching way, and a ton of fun to read.


Many thanks to the author for providing a copy of the book to review!

Curious what others thought? Check out Amazon’s reviews here

Want to know more about the author and her work? Explore her website here

Cover Reveal! New Book! Cyberpunk!!


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A while back I mentioned I have a cyberpunk novel planned for 2018. My newsletter subscribers were the first to get these details and I’m super excited to now share the cover and synopsis on the blog!


There is only one rule: Never leave the settlement

Nobody remembers when human civilization fell to the living computer known as the Interspace. Trapped within its massive expanse, what remains of humanity struggles to survive. There are no maps to the outer grids, and drones patrol the network. Escape is impossible.

Except seventeen-year-old Sol can access the network’s secrets in her dreams. The information comes at a physical cost, but with food and medical shortages threatening her community, it’s a small price to pay for survival. The supply runs are also the best way to prove she can still contribute, especially after her recent epilepsy diagnosis took away the role she’d been training for.

When a grave mistake alerts the drones to her trespassing, Sol finds herself running for her life. She never expects to encounter Echo, a stranger who may hold the key to humanity’s freedom.

Together, Sol and Echo will attempt to reach the central core of the Interspace and shut down the system. To survive the journey, they will need to evade drones, signal towers, and a dangerous enemy known only as the Override. Even with Sol’s access to the network and Echo’s incredible abilities, they may still fail. The Interspace is always watching, and if they’re discovered, it will mean the final extermination of all mankind.

The book is available for pre-order for only 99¢ on Amazon.

Add it to your Goodreads shelf here

Publication date: May 20th

Not all books are fun to write but this one was the exception. Echo and Sol’s quirky dynamic and the dangers they faced together in their bid to save humanity was a joy to write. Teaser coming soon:)

Big props to Jenny at Seedlings Design Studio for creating that awesome cover! Her work is amazing, as is her talent with dealing with writers who flap around helplessly when asked what they’re looking for in a cover (Not me, um…it was someone I know who goes to another school…)

Heritage of Power Series


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Title & Author: Heritage of Power series (Books 1-4: Dragon Storm, Revelations, Origins, Unraveled), Lindsay Buroker

Genre & Publication Date: Fantasy, 12/26/17 (book one)

Book Description: From Book One: Dragon Storm:

“Born with a secret power he must hide…

Telryn “Trip” Yert has always been a little odd, with hunches that are too accurate to explain. Magic is feared and forbidden in Iskandia, so he’s struggled his whole life to hide his eccentricities. As a boy, he was forced to watch his mother’s execution. Her crime? Witchcraft.

Understandably, Trip wants nothing to do with the power that lurks within him, always threatening to reveal itself. Instead, he dedicates himself to serving as an officer in the king’s army, to battling pirates and imperial conquerors. He longs to become a soldier as respected and renowned as the legendary General Zirkander.

But his country is in need of more than a soldier.

After disappearing for over a thousand years, dragons have returned to the world. A few of them are willing to be allies to mankind, as they were millennia before, but far more want to destroy or enslave humans and claim the world for themselves.

There are few people left with the power to fight dragons. For reasons he doesn’t understand, Trip may be one of those people. But if he chooses to learn more about his heritage and the power he can wield, he risks losing everyone he loves and everything he longs to be.”

First Line: Trip reveled in the cool wind rushing past his face.

My Take: The books were provided to me by the author for review.

I really loved the concept of this one, the earnest young pilot trying to live his life despite being different than everyone else and coming to learn that this difference is far bigger than he ever imagined. He’s likable and, at first, charmingly uncertain of himself. I also loved the second protagonist, Rysha, who is the only woman training to join the elite corps of the military. Just as tall as Trip, highly intelligent, she’s eager to prove herself worthy of her post, even if her spectacles sometimes fog up while running those military obstacle courses.

Their dynamic is heart-warming and sometimes fraught when their goals/situations put them on different sides. I liked this conflict and the way it seemed like their destinies weren’t headed in the same direction. All good angst. Books 1 and 2 had me sweeping through the pages but things started to feel stale as we headed into book 3 and 4. Trip is still bemoaning who and what he in book three. What was once charming uncertainty started to grate on me. Rysha remains a strong character throughout but hadn’t seemed to progress out of her second-guessing herself and her abilities–and seemed to contemplate her relationship with Trip and her future way too much. In fact, they both did that.

So, this all sounds like I didn’t like the series, but I did. It’s fun, the dialogue and banter are fantastic, the turmoil of the world is full of awesome Fantasy elements. I think the issue is that the series is taking too long. Too many side plots and not enough forward momentum with the main characters frustrated me.

The Magical: As always, Buroker’s world-building is stellar, integrated with loads of history, conflict between nations, and the opposing ways in which each country views magic–some violently superstitious while others train in it to varying degrees of competence.

The Mundane: This series would have been much better if it’d been 3 books instead of 5 (At least, I think it’s ending at five books). The stories would’ve been tighter without so much unnecessary digression into tangent storylines that weren’t all that interesting. Character development and relationships would’ve been more sharply defined instead of drawn out in repetitive themes and conflicts.

Summary of Thoughts: Book one, Dragon Storm, is only $0.99 on Amazon. This series is fun, light reading. It’s perfect if you’re just looking for something to pass the time and you don’t want to concentrate too hard. You’ll enjoy it, you definitely will, but it won’t move you.


Many thanks to author Lindsay Buroker for providing copies of the books to review!

Curious what others thought? Check out Amazon’s reviews here

Want to know more about the author and her work? Explore her website here

New book release! and other details


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The final installment of my Insurrection series is out!

Well, it was actually out last week except a bout of flu (another one, ugh) prevented me from announcing it. But yes! The series is complete at last! I’m really excited about it, not least because book four was published a little over a year ago so it was definitely time to bring you the conclusion.

This started out as a novella series however book five, Martyr, is novel length. I still priced it at $0.99 like the others though. Why? Because it drives me bananas when authors put a higher price on each subsequent volume in the series. Book one to book two, I can see a price increase since a lot of book ones are free or $0.99, but going from $2.99 to $4.99 for book two, and then another dollar or two for book three? Come on. I see the business angle of it but it has a nickle and diming your readership feel–at least, that’s how I experience it as a reader. At any rate, I’m not doing that. Every installment is $0.99, including the finale.

Lessons Learned

This was my first series as an Indie writer and it taught me three things:

1. I suck at figuring out deadlines — This is the thing I’m working on the most. I think a lot of Indies struggle to account for drafting and revision time to pinpoint exact publication dates. This is compounded when one has a day job and little ones and winter flu bugs that can throw life into a spin. My solution? I’ve decided to only announce a publication date when the book is just about ready. That’ll also save me wagon loads of stress.

2. Have the next installment done before publishing the earlier one — This goes along with figuring out deadlines. For the fantasy trilogy I’m planning I’ve decided to hold off on publishing book one until I have book two almost ready. This’ll enable me to create some sort of publication strategy since, um, I haven’t had one so much. Here’s to learning better ways to publish than flinging my work into the void.

3. It’s about the outline, stupid — Unlike with standalones, which I outline like a boss, I was a little less organized when putting together the series. I still ensured every thread and subplot was resolved but I made it harder on myself by going into it without a complete outline. Yeah, it gave me a lot of creative freedom, but I found myself having to go back over previous installments carefully to make certain everything synced up. This made the writing process take longer. Next time I’ll have an outline to lead all the way through (with some wiggle room for creative tangents — hey, I can’t contain the pantser part of me completely)

So, here it is, the last installment of Insurrection (SPOILERS in the synopsis for those who haven’t started it yet). Huge thanks to those who sent their support and words of encouragement as I pushed to finish it. The whole series started out as a dream. Not too shabby for my unconscious brain. I’m tempted to try getting more sleep at night to see what other ideas sprout up but *snort laughs* let’s not delve into impossible goals.



On the outside, Yaren appears human. A friend to the Albatross. A rebel ally. But her humanity is only skin deep, a means to hide her true origins. Her people have traveled long and far to find a new home and she has given everything to ensure nothing stands in their way.

As the Locust armada moves to eradicate mankind on Earth, Yaren’s task is to betray the human fleet’s position and strategy. She only needs to evade the watchful eye of an infuriating former inquisitor to see it done. Human notions of trust and friendship will not distract her. Nothing will, not even the doubts thumping in her borrowed heart.

Available on Amazon & Kindle Unlimited


And the nominees are…


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It’s been a year since the last Planetary Awards season! I’ll spare you the where-did-the-time-go shtick (but seriously, where DID it go??). As it was last year, there are two categories: Shorter Story (under 40,000 words) and Longer Story (novels). Now, let’s get right to the meat of the matter: My nominations for 2017

Short Story

The Bitten Body by A. C. Spahn

Published November 1, 2017


Art by Nate Lovett Deviantart

I’ve come across a great Fantasy series published on Daily Science Fiction from self-published author A. C. Spahn titled “Cara Watt, P.I.” The P.I. stands for Paranormal Investigator, naturally. These are quick, clever little two-minute monster mysteries. I’m nominating the first installment, The Bitten Body, for a Planetary Award.

You can read the full series for free here on Daily Science Fiction.

Longer Story

The Rogue Prince (Sky Full of Stars, Book 1)

Published April 16, 2017


I’ve got to nominate “The Rogue Prince” for the novels category. This is a fun YA coming-of-age Sci-Fi series by Lindsay Buroker. Lots of action, hilarious dialogue, and a quirky heroine. I just enjoyed it so much. You can read my full review of the series here.

Good luck to all the nominees this year!

If you’d like to learn more about the Planetary Awards (and the other nominations), check out its dedicated site here

The Law of Moses


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Title & Author: The Law of Moses, Amy Harmon

Genre & Publication Date: Paranormal/Romance, November 27, 2014

Book Description: “If I tell you right up front, right in the beginning that I lost him, it will be easier for you to bear. You will know it’s coming, and it will hurt. But you’ll be able to prepare.

Someone found him in a laundry basket at the Quick Wash, wrapped in a towel, a few hours old and close to death. They called him Baby Moses when they shared his story on the ten o’clock news – the little baby left in a basket at a dingy Laundromat, born to a crack addict and expected to have all sorts of problems. I imagined the crack baby, Moses, having a giant crack that ran down his body, like he’d been broken at birth. I knew that wasn’t what the term meant, but the image stuck in my mind. Maybe the fact that he was broken drew me to him from the start.
It all happened before I was born, and by the time I met Moses and my mom told me all about him, the story was old news and nobody wanted anything to do with him. People love babies, even sick babies. Even crack babies. But babies grow up to be kids, and kids grow up to be teenagers. Nobody wants a messed up teenager.
And Moses was messed up. Moses was a law unto himself. But he was also strange and exotic and beautiful. To be with him would change my life in ways I could never have imagined. Maybe I should have stayed away. Maybe I should have listened. My mother warned me. Even Moses warned me. But I didn’t stay away.

And so begins a story of pain and promise, of heartache and healing, of life and death. A story of before and after, of new beginnings and never-endings. But most of all . . . a love story.”

First Line: The first few words of every story are always the hardest to write.

My Take: If you’ve never read an Amy Harmon novel, there are a few things that will take you by surprise. The first is how she breaks all kinds of craft rules with writing. There’s exposition in the beginning, usually a lot. Sometimes she jumps point of view in the middle of a chapter, more than once (not especially with this one but with other books of hers I’ve read), and she starts a story waaaaaay at the beginning of things. I’m saying, like, Genesis level beginnings. I can think of three novels at least in which her characters start out either as children or young teens and move through the years to adulthood. With all this rule breaking you’d think she’d lose you early on, that your attention would wane and you’d be like, “Feh, this is taking too long and explaining too much.”

But that’s not how it is. That’s the magic of this author’s storytelling. She doesn’t lose you. In fact, the more you read the more you cannot put the thing down. The scope keeps getting bigger, your investment in the characters more visceral, until you’re racing through the pages because this isn’t just a story anymore, it’s an all consuming urgency to know, to see, to understand. It’s one of those stories that consumes you. These people are real. What’s happening to them is real. That was the Law of Moses for me. Why? Because just like in real life, things don’t always work out on the first try. Or the second. Projecting our own loneliness and despair, we hurt each other. We move on impulse and learn the lesson from it after we crash headlong into the sea. How this is depicted here is beautiful, the way loss and memory can become beautiful even when steeped in regret.

You might have noticed I haven’t said a lot of details about the story itself. That’s because I don’t want to give away the big “thing” of this novel. It’s not given away in the description and I was so happy to experience the main twist (oh, and there are multiple ones!) from the point where I was, “Hm, wonder what that was all about…” to “Woah, THAT’S what’s going on???”. So, I don’t want to ruin that for you because it’s awesome.

The Magical: It’s got to be those moments in the book where I got those rumbles of dread in the pit of my stomach that grew and grew until the dread turned into great tectonic plates crashing with splintering force into the events unfolding before me. The author did this to me at least *counts on fingers* three times in this book.

Oh, and then there was this paragraph right at the prologue. Seriously one of the best prologues I’ve ever seen (and I usually hate them):

“I can’t tell you how it felt. How it still feels. I can’t. Words feel cheap and ring hollow and turn everything I say, everything I feel, into a tawdry romance novel full of flowery phrases designed to illicit sympathetic tears and an immediate response. A response that has nothing to do with reality and everything to do with easy emotion that you can set aside when you close the cover. Emotion that has you wiping your eyes and chirping a happy hiccup, appreciating the fact that it was all just a story. And best of all, not your story. But this isn’t like that.

Because it is my story. And I wasn’t prepared.”

The Mundane: Some will say the story is too long but I didn’t get that. I can see why it would wear on the patience of readers who prefer a faster pace, but that’s not the style here and nothing ever implies that it is. Go into this like a journey. Walk it carefully and watch the landscape around you. There is always something amazing to see.

Summary of Thoughts: Well, I waxed rather poetical on this review so I think you all get the gist that I loved this book. Sooooo much! It could’ve been just a straight up romance (and there’s nothing wrong with those) but this one took its time to develop the big themes. Longing, loss, growth, joy. Lots of that last one among the wreckage that life can hand you. This was moving, intertwining pain with hope. I can’t recommend it enough. Grab your copy on Amazon.

My first review of 2018 and its five stars. A great start to the year:)


Curious what others thought? Check out Amazon’s reviews here (Beware of spoilers!!)

Want to know more about the author and her work? Explore her website here