I intended to write this post last weekend, but I just couldn’t do it. Sadness got in the way. Then, scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed Friday I ran across a “memory,” a quotation by Neil Gaiman that I shared a year ago:
“We [writers] decry too easily what we do, as being kind of trivial — the creation of stories as being a trivial thing. But the magic of escapist fiction … is that it can actually offer you a genuine escape from a bad place and, in the process of escaping, it can furnish you with armor, with knowledge, with weapons, with tools you can take back into your life to help make it better… It’s a real escape — and when you come back, you come back better-armed than when you left.”
I’ve spent a lot of time this week in front of the television, unable to write, watching the news from Orlando–first the shooting at Pulse, then the death of the toddler at Disney World. It’s put me in a bad place, a place of sadness. I needed solace, an escape, and so, as I have all through my life, I turned to stories, not ones I was writing but stories to read and escape. Neil Gaiman hit the nail on the head, and while reading escapist fiction didn’t make the pain and sadness go away, it did help.
While I love reading literary fiction, it’s times like these that I want a complete escape from reality. Over the past couple of years, that’s included the award-winning steampunk series Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences from authors Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine. Their latest, The Ghost Rebellion, fifth in the series, came out Friday. I was lucky enough to score an advanced reader copy, which I immediately dived into.
The Ghost Rebellion takes Ministry agents Eliza D. Braun and Wellington Books to India as they pursue the nefarious, brilliant, and extremely dangerous Dr. Henry Jekyll. The doctor’s experiments on Europe’s aristocracy have caused chaos and despair for our agents in earlier encounters, and alarming effects come to light in India. There, they also find treachery and treason from an unexpected source and are forced to face harsh realities of colonialism that they hadn’t considered before. At the same time two other ministry agents readers have met in earlier adventures, Brandon Hill and Bruce Campbell, are up against the Ministry’s old adversary the House of Usher, while in Russia during winter on a search for a cure to Jekyll’s experiments on Queen Victoria. As usual, our agents rely on their ingenuity, as well as the ministry R & D scientists’ steampunk weaponry and modes of transportation.
As soon as I finished this installment, I handed it off to my husband, hounding him until he finished so we could discuss it. I was feeling less than completely satisfied with the book and wondered if he felt the same. He didn’t, having enjoyed it just as much as the other four. It took a few days of reflection for me to realize my dissatisfaction was plain old frustration that questions I had from earlier books had not been addressed and now I would have to wait another year for the answers.
The Ghost Rebellion is an escape, and while I don’t have steampunk weapons, Neil Gaiman’s observations are correct; I am better armed to fight the sadness and to get beyond the bad place so many of us have been in. I do recommend reading the books of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences in order for both character and plot reasons. And I do recommend them for a fun, escapist good read.
If Tee Morris’s name sounds familiar to you, it may be because he guest posted a blog right here last year. Check back here next week for a interview with him and Pip. In the meantime, take a look at Tee’s blog post yesterday and find out why he was especially nervous about the release of this book.
About the Authors:
Philippa (Pip) Ballantine
Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Philippa has always had her head in a book. For this she blames her father who thought Lord of the Rings was suitable bedtime reading for an eight year old. At the age of thirteen she began writing fantasy stories for herself.
She first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Political Science and then a Bachelor of Applied Science in Library and Information Science. So soon enough she found herself working in the magical world of libraries where she stayed for over a decade.
Her first professional sale was in 1997, and since then she has gone on to produce mostly novel length fiction. In 2006 she became New Zealand’s first podcast novelist, and she has voiced and produced Weaver’s Web, Chasing the Bard, Weather Child and Digital Magic as podiobooks. Her podcasts have been short listed for the Parsec Awards, and won a Sir Julius Vogel award.
Philippa is the author of the Books of the Order series with Ace- Geist and Spectyr and Wrayth out now, and Harbinger to follow. She is also the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series with Tee Morris. Phoenix Rising debuted in May 2011 and The Janus Affair came out in May 2012. She also has the Shifted World series with Pyr Books, with the first book Hunter and Fox out now.
When not writing or podcasting, Philippa loves reading, gardening, and whenever possible traveling. With her husband, Tee and her daughter, she is looked after by a mighty clowder of three cats.
Tee Morris began his writing career with his 2002 historical epic fantasy, MOREVI The Chronicles of Rafe & Askana. In 2005 Tee took MOREVI into the then-unknown podosphere, making his novel the first book podcast in its entirety. That experience led to the founding of Podiobooks.com and collaborating with Evo Terra and Chuck Tomasi on Podcasting for Dummies and its follow-up, Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies. He won acclaim and accolades for his cross-genre fantasy-detective Billibub Baddings Mysteries, the podcast of The Case of the Singing Sword winning him the 2008 Parsec Award for Best Audio Drama. Along with those titles, Tee has written articles and short stories for BenBella Books’s Farscape Forever: Sex, Drugs, and Killer Muppets, the podcast anthology VOICES: New Media Fiction, BenBella Books’ So Say We All: Collected Thoughts and Opinions of Battlestar Galactica, and Dragon Moon Press’ Podthology: The Pod Complex.
Tee brought all these skills to the award-winning Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series which he wrote with his wife, Pip Ballantine. When he is not writing, Tee enjoys life in Virginia alongside Philippa Ballantine, his daughter, and three cats.