Tara Calaby

writer, editor & phd candidate

Book Review: The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, by Kerri Turner

The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers book cover

The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers is set in Russia between 1914 and 1920, which means that it documents not just the end of the Imperial Russian Ballet, but also the end of the Romanovs themselves. It was a period of great upheaval for Russia, and for all those affected by the Great War, but Kerri Turner manages to create a narrow focus for a reader’s attention so that the weight of historical detail doesn’t become too overwhelming.

Her two main characters are Luka—a newcomer to the Imperial Russian Ballet—and Valentina, who has been in the company longer, but shares Luka’s modest upbringing. While both interact with actual historical people, such as Rasputin and the Romanovs, the peripheral nature of their involvement means that the reader can sympathise with them more readily, even faced with displays of wealth and indulgence while the working classes starve. Here, Luka’s guilt about his position of privilege works to reassure a modern audience where perhaps Valentina’s enjoyment of wealth does not. I think I would have enjoyed a little more of an evolution in Valentina’s nature, but her character is likely more realistic as is!

I am not a great reader of modern (that is, in terms of publication, not setting) adult romance, so I was a little worried from the blurb that this novel would be heavy on the romance and light on the history. On the whole, I need not have worried. There was a section in the middle of the book where the romance took centre stage for a while, but most of the time I was happily immersed in history and ballet.

The descriptions of dance and the world of the performing arts are where Turner’s writing is at its most exciting and emotive. Her own experiences as a dancer and dance teacher inform the novel wonderfully and, while the passion of the romantic relationship may have failed to thrill me, the passion for dance seemed almost tangible. I’m not a dancer, but I understand the love of one’s artform, and I thought this was conveyed wonderfully throughout the book.

Overall, The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers is an excellent debut from Kerri Turner and I look forward to her future publications.

(Thank you to Harlequin Books for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

Into the Dungeon

Recently, I embarked upon my first Dungeons & Dragons campaign, along with my wife and three good friends. I was arrogant/foolish enough to put up my hand for the role of Dungeon Master, which I’ve found to be both extremely labour-intensive and extremely rewarding. Because I am not one to do things by halves, I’ve been creating a homebrew world for the players’ characters (PCs) to move within, although I’m sticking as closely as possible to the 5e rules, and basic (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide & Monster Manual) races, classes and monsters.

I don’t consider myself a spontaneously imaginative person. I generally describe my creating process as picking up my mind and thrusting it at a question I want to answer or a person/place/situation I want to invent. Because of this, the highly improvisational nature of D&D doesn’t come naturally to me. I feel quite at home while doing hours of world building, when I can work at my own (slow) creative pace, but when I’m actually sitting at the head of the gaming table, I am far from my comfort zone. The role of a good Dungeon Master is to facilitate a story that the players create, which means coming up with non-player characters (NPCs) and locations on the fly and responding to the in-game questions, actions and motivations of the PCs. It’s not something that comes naturally to a person who likes to have everything in life thoroughly scripted-out in my head before I encounter it!

At this point in the campaign, the PCs are only at level two and are thus very squishy. This means that I have an excuse to script things out a little more than would usually be appropriate for a campaign. Right now, I need to make sure that I don’t accidentally kill the entire party with an overpowered random encounter, so a lot of the play has been introducing the characters to the campaign via a limited chunk of the universe. Centring things on one small town has allowed me to create NPCs ahead of time, so that the improvising was at least guided a little by point-form character traits.

Soon, though, the adventurers will be strong enough to venture forth into the greater world, and this will prove the real challenge for my nascent improvisational abilities. I’m hoping that I can continue to overcome my insecurities about acting and storytelling, because I think it’ll be a great learning experience, as well as a super-fun social experience, if I do.

2018 in Review

Every year, I compile a list of the various forms of media I’ve consumed, along with a few other important details about the year in review. Previously, I’ve published this on Dreamwidth/Livejournal, but one thing I’ve come to realise this year is that those types of blogging are now firmly in my past. So here’s my 2018 in review: WordPress-style.

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The Bomb Chaser

I’m very pleased to announce that my short story “The Bomb Chaser” has recently been published by Daily Science Fiction. DSF is a fantastic source for great speculative fiction AND it’s completely free to read, so you can check out my piece and hundreds of others online.

 

You can read “The Bomb Chaser” here.

Ashes to Ashes

breath and shadow logo

My piece “Ashes to Ashes” has just come out as part of the winter edition of Breath and Shadow. “Ashes to Ashes” is quite unusual for me, as it is set firmly in Gippsland, where I lived for many years but which only rarely intrudes on the creative part of my mind.

It’s quite short, and completely free to read, so please check it out and perhaps even let me know what you think!

“Ashes to Ashes” at Breath and Shadow

Supposed Causes of Lunacy: 1890-1899, Ararat Asylum

will eventually have more varied content here, I promise! At the moment, though, I am still neck deep in asylum records and I am always fascinated by the things they list as being the cause of a patient’s mental health problems. This batch is from Ararat Asylum in the 1890s.

The full list of causes can be found under the cut.

 

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Supposed Causes of Lunacy: 1884-1889, Ararat Asylum

Apologies for such a long break between entries. Due to moving house, we’ve not had home internet for a long time, and it’s hard to squeeze everything in on my days with access to uni wifi or my mother’s internet. I intend to have more varied content here eventually, but in the meantime, here’s another post about supposed causes of insanity.

This group of causes was given on female records at Ararat Asylum between August 1884 and the end of 1889. During this period, causes are often labelled as being “predisposing” or “exciting”.

 

 

The full list of supposed causes for this period can be found under the cut.

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Ashes to Ashes

I received the good news earlier this week that my literary fantasy short “Ashes to Ashes” will be published in Breath and Shadow sometime around December this year. It’s the first of my pieces to be strongly set in Gippsland, and I’m very pleased that it’s found a good home.

Supposed Causes of Lunacy: 1900-1910 Yarra Bend

Rounding out my posts about the causes of lunacy listed in the female case books from Yarra Bend Asylum in Melbourne, the following were causes given between the years of 1900 and 1910:

 

 

A definite movement from can be seen during the period of 1880 to 1910, from a focus on moral or experiential causes towards a far greater emphasis on physiological ‘reasons’. This reflects the growing medicalisation of insanity that led, in the early 20th century, to Victoria’s asylums being re-titled as Hospitals for the Insane.

The full list of causes can be read under the cut. It is worth noting that some causes, such as ‘alcohol’ or ‘old age’, were cited many times.

 

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Love. Bite.

My short play Love. Bite. was produced as part of the recent Short Works season at La Trobe university and my director, Amelia Latham, and actors, Susu Najjarin & Erin Miller did a great job with the piece.

Melissa Viola took some great photographs of the play and was kind enough to let me post one here.

Love. Bite. at La Trobe Short Works
Erin Miller as Joanne (left) and Susu Najjarin as Amy
(click on image for the full size photo)

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