Review of Children of Artifice by Danie Ware

I was given the privilege of receiving an early copy of Danie Ware’s upcoming novel, Children of Artifice, which is available for pre-order on Amazon. Here is a review I wrote about it.

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Children of Artifice is one of those novels where, from the very beginning, it is hard to know what to expect (and I mean that in a good way!).

Set within an enigmatic second world, where humans live within a secular city-state nestled within a gigantic crater, knowing nothing of what exists beyond the impassable ridge which surrounds them except for that they were placed there by a mythic race of mysterious beings known as the ‘Builders’ long ago, one could at first suspect that it is going to be a YA thriller of intrigue and discovery. The age it is set in appears to be historic, and yet the rich amalgam of technology and alchemy which sets the scene cannot be pinned to any particular age, and there is also magic. It has elements of fantasy and science fiction, but they have been blended together seamlessly and do not jar.

The author has described it as an ‘urban fairy tale’, which is very fitting. It does have that feel of old and new. It is quite gritty at times, and yet full of beautiful moments.

I do not want to say too much about the plot, because it is a novel which surprises you at every turn and right up until the very end, it is impossible to predict what is going to happen because there are always several paths it could take. So I will speak instead of its other features.

One of its focal themes is family – both the ones people are born with and ones they create for themselves – and the relationships between the characters are filled with nuances which are tender, tragic, uplifting and everything in between. Society – how it controls those within it, and the many ways (positive and negative) which people rebel – is another central theme, and there are some interesting parallels which can be drawn with our present day. It has a wonderfully crafted, vivid setting, and complex, believable characters that come alive from the pages and leave a lasting impression.

I am particularly pleased with this novel’s diverse voices. Both same-sex and heteronormative romances take place during the story but none are presented as being particularly shocking and the characters are never given labels, and yet it still examines issues of identity, prejudice, and sexual fluidity which are relatable to a modern day reader. It is refreshing to read a novel written in such a way.

Children of Artifice has a fantastic story, one I would recommend to readers of any genre and age. It conjures beautiful imagery and puts you in a state of living dream, taking you on an emotional journey which stays with you. I am looking forward to the sequel.

 

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Travelblog SA#3: Quito (Part 2) & Otavalo

14th-17th June 2018

Back in Quito again. Although, this time I opted to stay in the Centro Historico; an area abandoned by most of the backpacker community who now prefer to stay in La Mariscal, with its modernised bars and international restaurants. Quito’s older district is a place most people dare to only venture during the daytime these days, and tourists, in particular, are warned not to wander around at night because knife-point muggings are common.

I have found it to be fine so far. When I venture out at night, I just take a few dollars in my pocket and nothing else. Nobody has given me any bother, apart from the occasional prostitute trying to lure me. The restaurants, shops, and just about everything are cheaper here and, even though it is a bit seedy, it has an atmosphere. It is a facet of Quito, and part of the experience.

I have been staying at Quito Backpacker Hostel. It has a friendly atmosphere, good wifi, and a terrace bar. It is quiet, but I didn’t mind, as I have spent much of the last few days relaxing and catching up with my blog. When I first arrived, I was their sole guest, but now we number almost in the double digits. I don’t understand why more people don’t stay here though; I checked out some of the other hostels nearby, and this place is much cleaner and better maintained, and yet it doesn’t receive as many guests as it deserves.

My evenings have often been spent visiting a vegetarian place a few blocks away called Govindas. It is run by a group of Hari Krishnas who have been helping me practice my Spanish. I also get to listen to them chanting their prayers from upstairs while I eat.

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Over the weekend I made an overnight trip to Otavalo. A town to the north with a thriving market community going back hundreds of years. It is mostly known for its handicrafts and clothes but I didn’t buy anything because it is too early in my trip to be carrying excess stuff. I did enjoy wandering around though; soaking up the atmosphere and trying some of the street food.

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I ventured to its animal market too. It was a little challenging, seeing all those chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits, and all sorts of creatures crammed in tight little cages while still alive, and sold like produce.

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I guess one thing you need to remember when seeing sights like this is that, as a privileged person from the first world, it is problematic to judge. A lot of these people do not have luxuries we take for granted, such as fridges, so any meat they do eat has to be taken home alive so it doesn’t spoil. If you eat meat and live in a modern country, the only difference between you and them is that, for you, the cruelty occurs out of sight and mind.

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The animal market wasn’t all a completely uncomfortable experience. There were some light moments there too. Such as seeing a young boy being taken there by his father to buy his first puppy, and seeing the smile on his face as he held the nervous creature for the first time. And not all of the animals were in cages, either. Some of them, even though they were being sold as food, seemed as though they had been well cared for.

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I also went to see a waterfall in a village called Peguche, just outside of Otavalo. A place which is still, to this day, sacred to the local Indians.

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And, finally, I went to yet another museum. Although this one was not quite like any I had been to before. Museo del Pueblo Kichwa is set within a complex of old, abandoned buildings which used to be a textile factory. The Kichwa people were forced to work in horrible conditions there but, when it was closed (over a decade ago), a group of them bought it and turned it into a living museum.

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I think I somewhat surprised them, coming on a Friday instead of the weekend, and thus the only person available to give me a tour who spoke any English was the young son of one of the owners. He wasn’t fluent, but his English was certainly much better than my Spanish. Sometimes, when he didn’t know the English words for what he was trying to explain, he gave it to me in Spanish, and I caught the general gist. He told me about their festivals, which seemed to always take place on the 21st of the month. And traditions such as the giving of twelve lashes to both parties as the penance for couples who divorce. He also told me about the yachacs; Kichwa shamans who have knowledge of herbs and will rub an egg across your forehead to diagnose ills.

I appreciated how hard he tried and, even though he couldn’t quite explain everything to my full understanding, it was still a rewarding visit. He and the rest of the people there were very warm, and I left there feeling like I’d had a genuine experience.

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Venturing back to Quito again, I spent my last day there preparing. Tomorrow I fly to the Galapagos Islands.

 

For more photos of Otavalo, click here.

Travelblog SA#2: The Quilotoa Loop – Ecuador

10th-13th June 2018

After a few days of exploring Quito’s museums and churches, I felt the call of the Andes (and a need for a change of scenery) so I hopped onto a bus – taking just a small bag of basic necessities with me – and headed towards the starting point for my first South American trek.

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As the bus climbed through the mountains, my ears kept popping. Quilotoa sits at an altitude of almost 4,000 meters. More than a thousand of what I had been acclimatised to previously in Quito.

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After checking into a hostel, there were still a few hours of daylight left, so I made my way down to the lake. Day-trippers, by the dozen, all had the same idea. Many of them carried by horseback. I felt sorry for the horses. You could tell some of them were tired. Although, to be fair, I noticed that the Kichwa women – clad in their traditional pleated shirts and dark hats – were handling their steeds with far more care and respect than the men, who whipped them whenever they showed strain and seemed – from both the features of their faces and attire – like they had moved to this area from cities, seeing an opportunity in the tourist boom.

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On my way down I passed a girl suffering from altitude sickness. She was barely conscious, and her father was trying to wake her up. I and some of the other passersby gave her water and coca sweets and eventually, she seemed to recover.

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It was a remarkable transition, how quiet the village became later on when all of the buses drove off. There were only two other people staying in the guest house with me, and it was very cold that night. I was feeling a little light-headed because I wasn’t quite acclimatised, so I went to bed early.

 

The Quilotoa Loop

Day 1

By the morning I was feeling fresh and invigorated. I got up at the crack of dawn, ate breakfast, and set off early.

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The first hour of the trek skirts around the rim of the crater, so I got to see more of Quilotoa. A dog followed me out of the village and became my companion for the journey. I called him Frank.

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They say to carry a stick with you around this trek, and I found that to be sound advice. Not only was it good support for the steep descents, but I also used it to fend off dogs. I passed lots of them during the route and not all of them were as friendly as Frank. Some of them were very territorial and tried to block my path. I think I got hassled a bit less than most people though. Frank was a good ambassador. Often when we were approached he would intercede, they would sniff each other, and we would be allowed to pass. But on other occasions, I needed to wave my stick at them to get them to budge.

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Climbing down the mountain towards a village called Guayama, the trail became difficult. We had to make our way down the canyon via a narrow series of ledges snaking down the face of a precipice. Apparently, this route was the new ‘safe’ one – the old one was destroyed in a landslide a year ago. I found myself fighting the same battle I am often faced when mountaineering; my sense of adventure in conflict with my fear of heights.

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At its most terrifying – when I had to climb a steep and narrow section of a rather crumbly-looking ridge – I abandoned my dignity and resorted to crawling on my hands and knees. Shortly after, a young boy raced passed me and put me to shame. I realised that, to him, this was just a casual wander.

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I guess you have to earn views like this though.

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When I reached the bottom, Frank was waiting for me. I grew concerned for him as the day wore on. I didn’t know if he was a stray or belonged to someone. If he did have a home back in Quilotoa he had wandered quite far. It was a difficult thing to do – as I enjoyed his company – but eventually I tried to shoo him away, but it was no use. He remained loyal.

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We clambered up the other side of the ravine. It was around midday, so the sun was strong. I took my time, reaching Chugchilan in the early afternoon. I claimed a bed at Cloud Forest Hostel. Aptly named, for that was the terrain I would be passing through the next day.

 

Day 2

The following morning I set off again, but this time alone. I’d fed Frank the previous evening, and he’d lingered around the hostel but, by dawn, he was gone. I never found out if he had an owner. No one I asked seemed to recognise him. Perhaps he did have a home, and made his way back there during in the night. Maybe he had latched onto another hiker, and such was his wandering, nomadic lifestyle. I guess I will never know.

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After a steep, downward climb, I was back into the ravine again, but a different part of it that day. I reached Itualo – a small village with a school – about two hours in and rested behind the shade of its church for a while.

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Snaking my way along the river – with mountains, farms, and patches of cloud forest on either side of me – I eventually reached a bridge, and it was time for a gruelling slog back up.

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Once I reached the top I crossed paths with a French couple who were on their way down. We took pictures at the Mirador and swapped tips for the terrain which lay ahead of each other.

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Curving across the side of one mountain, and then onto another, I came across a stream. It was the perfect opportunity to use my water filter for the first time.

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And, shortly after, I caught my first sight of Islinivi; my destination that day.

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I reached there just after lunch and claimed a pallet at Llullu Llama Hostel, which was one of the best places I have ever stayed. Not only did it have wonderful views of the mountains, but it also came with a free steam room, Jacuzzi, dinner, and breakfast. All of the food was homemade (even the bread and cakes) and they kept filling our plates over and over again until we were full.

 

Day 3

During most of the trek I had been suffering from hayfever – and for the first few days it had been bearable – but something happened during that night and it suddenly got really bad. I probably annoyed the hell out of the rest of the people in the dorm I was sleeping in, with my sniffing and sneezing.  By the morning, my eyes were all red and puffy. I had not slept much at all. I was tired, fed up, and felt like clawing my face off.

It was a shame because Llullu Llama was such a nice place I would have otherwise been tempted to stay a little longer, but instead I was forced to set off. It was the final day of the trek.

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Perhaps it was because I was in a rush to get out of there, but this last day was the shortest yet and I arrived in Sigchos just three hours after leaving Islinivi. Most of the trail that day was through a scenic valley, but I wasn’t feeling very well and I’d been somewhat spoilt for scenery over the last few days, so I found this final stretch of the Quilotoa Loop a little underwhelming.

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As soon as I reached the town, I marched straight to the bus terminal and bought a ticket back to Quito, hoping that the smog of the city might dilute the spawn of pollen sweeping through the Andes.

 

For more amazing photos from the Quilotoa Loop, click here!