JordanCon 2021 passed in a blur of activities and gatherings and digital content, along with a few minor hiccups. The Workshop Track refuses to let the fun fade away too quickly. To continue our digital experience, we have two more panels to present. Lovely teachers not able to join us this year in person shared their expertise in other ways.
Glass Aes Sedai Trinket box
The first is from master glass artist Leia Powell. She generously shares her skill in showing us how to build a glass trinket box. The box showcases the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai. Along the way she shares bits of information about the history of stained glass. JordanCon 2022 attendees will have the opportunity to meet Leia in person and buy some of her amazing works in the dealers room. She occasionally teaches live workshops as well, but as of this moment, the spots are filled by the students who signed up for the 2020 workshops which were put on hold along with so many other matters. Meanwhile, follow her store on Facebook at: Wildcat Mountain Artistry or on Etsy at Geeky Stained Glass.
The second presentation is a discussion between the costuming expert Linda Taglieri and Workshop Director Deana Whitney. Members of the Wheel of Time fandom might know Linda from her celebrated blog The 13th Depository. JordanCon regulars know her as one of our favorite Aussies and the creator of many amazing Wheel of Time inspired dolls. Linda and Deana discuss the clothing in the Wheel of time with an emphasis on split skirts. There are reasons Jordan showed the ladies smoothing their skirts so often. Linda and Dean shared some related split skirt images in this folder.
Enjoy these videos along with the other content on the JordanCon YouTube channel.
Video: Glass Aes Sedai Trinket box by Leia Powell
Video: Smoothing Skirts and Other Clothing Matters in the Wheel of Time with Linda Taglieri
As always if you have a suggestion for a workshop you would like to see or to teach at JordanCon, please send an email to: Workshop (at) jordancon.org. We love bringing a mix of crafts and lessons to our members. The schedule for JordanCon 2022 is already in the works. If you are interested in sharing your work via the written word, rather than teaching a live class, drop us a line as well.
Almost every type of artwork or skill is welcome. Some we can’t teach due to limits of space and safety. Maybe a written brewing class would work for the JordanCon blog, but hotel rules and a streak of bad luck for our brewing teachers have sadly placed it on a short list of “We can’t do that” classes. Along with knife throwing and fire juggling. Sorry to the Mat Cauthon cosplayers. Until next time JordanCon, keep crafting!
Lady Trent book covers and an ocean cake.
The Tropics of Serpents: A Memoir by Lady Trent written by Marie Brennan
Join me in discussing Lady Trent and her extended study of dragons. As we draw closer to JordanCon time is starting to run short. There is still time to read a few more books before the convention. Each is around 12 hours of audio listening. By now I hope people have checked out Marie Brennan’s website to learn more about her. There is also a good collection of articles about and by Brennan on Tor.com, including her take on RPG campaigns.
JordanCon family, life hit. I fully intended to have two different articles about these books. Then I fell and injured my hand with less than 3 weeks to the con. Typing is slow going; however, I still want to provide everyone with more about our author guest of honor’s work. Toward that end, this article will cover a summary of book two and three from the Trent Memoirs. It will also showcase a fanart cake I made in appreciation of the sea serpents in book three. Thankfully the cake was made a week before life went sideways.
Discussing the books this way will include spoilers, but as in my first article, major book spoilers will be below warning lines.
In The Tropics of Serpents, the now widowed Isabella Camherst embarks on an expedition to the continent of Eriga to study savannah dragons and many other species. On this trip, Isabella takes the steps that will lead her truly down the road as Scirland’s premier dragon naturalist. The elder Lady Trent also warns readers in the preface that scandals and gossip abound for this portion of her life.
Joining her on the adventure this time is Mr. Thomas Wilker, assistant to the Earl of Hillford, and Miss Natalie Oscott, the earl’s granddaughter. Lord Hillford is around for moral and financial support, but his health does not enable him to travel. Along the way, the group meets Erigans such as: Faj Rawango, Galinke, Okweme, Akinimanbi, and Yeyuama. The Erigan’s are from different backgrounds. They do not share a religion, a culture, or skin tones with the Scirling characters, nor with each other quite often. Readers will see the implied and, at times, overt racism of this world.
Eriga is a tropical land that invokes images of African savannahs and rainforests with a vastly different power structure than found during Earth’s Victorian history. It is also filled with iron ore deposits in a world hungry for iron. The cultures represented by the various Erigan characters appear to be a blending of African cultures. I appreciate this blending, so that nothing feels like a parody. Instead it feels like Brennan is trying to show the cultures as real and fully developed, though the reader is not immersed in the nuances.
The main focus of the narrative is about the study of dragons—from the savannah snakes of Bayembe, to the Moulish swamp-wyrms inside the Green Hell—and what Isabella is willing to endure in pursuit of these studies. Even when others want her to stop.
Map of Eriga by Rhys Davies. Swamp-wyrm by Todd Lockwood.
Spoilers: The Tropics of Serpents
The real strength of The Tropic of Serpents is in the character development. In book one, Thomas Wilker is introduced as Lord Hillford’s assistant. A minor criticism I had was he never became a 3D character in my mind. Brennan completely changes that in this installment. She wrote about this transformation inside her mind on a blog post several years ago. In this book Wilker and Isabella develop a strong working relationship, and more importantly a true friendship. A friendship that is beautifully free of any sexual tension between the two characters, though outsiders kept trying to see some and cause troublesome rumors to boot. I greatly appreciated how a ceremony to banish witchcraft allowed for frank conversations between all the main characters.
Natalie Oscott transforms from a one scene character into Isabella’s true companion. She is an engineer at heart and her designs help drive the action. Oscott, like Isabella, wants a life different from the expectations of a Scirling noble woman. Unlike Isabella, her father is not supportive of these goals. Thankfully, her grandfather and friends do support her actions.
Brennan digs into the realities of being a “lady adventurer” more in this book. From dealing with unwanted advances to dealing with menses in different cultures. Not offending local norms plays a major role in how the subjects are handled. Being a young widow and mother does not free Isabella from marriage expectations, despite what she might wish. For those hoping to see different sexual preferences expressed, the topic is touched upon lightly and more favorably than typical Victorian era novels.
The conclusion of the novel takes a hard turn away from the study of dragons after Isabella performs a near miraculous feat with the help of Oscott’s engineering skills. She earns the right to learn more about the swamp-wyrms, just in time to defeat an army with them. Readers are teased with more Draconean ruins and rumors of treason. It’s almost unfair how fast paced book 2 is in the last few chapters. Yet it leaves Isabella and Wilker with strong lessons learned about the dangers of making promises rashly. These lessons serve them well in the next installment of the series.
End of Book 2 Spoilers.
The Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent written by Marie Brennan
The Broken Sea by Rhys Davies.
If you decide to pick up physical copies of these books, I highly recommend the hardback versions. Not only is each book printed with beautiful interior artwork; each book is printed in a different color scheme too. Book three, to match Todd Lockwood’s impressive cover illustration, is printed in blue. Most appropriate for a story that takes place largely at sea and on islands.
Readers join Lady Trent six years after her Eriga trip as she, her son Jake, and Tom Wilker embark on a voyage around the world in search of sea-snakes and more dragons. She and Tom are gathering information to question the nature of dragon classification. If successful, both might achieve the recognition from the Philosophers’ Colloquium they crave, despite the barriers of gender and class that have blocked their paths.
The Voyage is my favorite installment of the first three books. It might be due to the Keonga islands, inspired by the Polynesians islands and people. It could be the introduction of the archaeologist character named Suhail from Akhia. It could also be the sheer scope of the adventure told. It’s a literal voyage around the world, which takes them on a two year adventure visiting many parts of the world barely mentioned until this point.
Beyond the study of dragons, readers learn more about the ancient Draconian civilization that has popped up in the other books. Now more links are being drawn between them and the study of modern dragons and sea serpents.
Isabella and Thom continue their research as they deal with hostile governments, cultural taboos, tropical diseases, storms, and being shipwrecked.
Dragon Turtle by Todd Lockwood
Spoilers: The Voyage of the Basilisk
One of the best additions to the stories is Jake Camherst, Isabella’s now 9 year-old son. He and his governess Abigail Carew join the expedition as a learning opportunity and as a counter to all those that criticized Isabella for leaving him behind when she went to Eriga. Sadly, Abigail remains a rather flat character, but Jake grows in many ways during the story. He also pushes his mother into some adventures she would have turned down without his prodding.
The other stand out addition to the story is Suhail, an archaeologist of Draconean ruins met by accident twice during the journey. His desire to learn more about the Draconeans makes Isabella more interested in them as well. Brennan has said her natural inclinations are better reflected by Suhail, rather than Isabella. He is a character with drive and interest. He also has an ability with languages that enables better communication between the Scirlings and an assortment of other peoples. Like Jake, Suhail also prods Isabella into taking actions. Actions that lead her into the middle of another battle.
The Keongan people are primarily represented by Heali’i. Who is a Ke’anaka’i and identifies Isabella as one too. These ‘Dragon Spirited’ people are recognized and respected in the culture as different. Yet not being of a related culture or transgender myself, I would hesitate to call it a positive representation. I respect Brennan for including a transgender character in a culture that creates a place for them. She could have not included the subject, but instead it becomes a plot point. This enabled more frank conversions as thought provoking as the witchcraft ceremony of book two. The Keongan people respect the Ke’anaka’i. Isabella respects them by fully acting as one. Indeed, being one opens up several opportunities otherwise forbidden to women.
The pacing is a bit uneven and will seem slow if you only want action and fighting dragons. This segment is more about the people and animal breeds met along the way. It includes more self-reflections than in past books. Yet despite these minor issues, this installment inspired me the most.
End of Book 3 Spoilers.
More adventures await for Isabella Camherst. Indeed, as of book three, she is still not Lady Trent. That story happens later in the series. Yet I hope these discussions have inspired you to pick up the series and enjoy the full story yourself.
Words of the Series:
Interlocutor – a person who takes part in a dialogue or conversation.
Much like Brandon Sanderson used “maladroitly” quite often in his Mistborn: Era 1 series, Lady Trent uses interlocutor several times per book. It stood out after the third time I heard the word, and I was finally compelled to look up the meaning.
Let us all gather in July to be interlocutors together. Until then, enjoy some tea and cake while reading more from Marie Brennan.
Ocean Wave Cake:
The sea serpents and Todd Lockwood’s stunning cover artwork fired my creativity after reading the series. Thanks to this inspiration, I decided to make fan art. My medium of expression has become cake and fondant in the last few years. At the bottom of the waves is an early style diving bell. I’m rather proud of the engineering that went into creating a twelve-inch tall leaping sea serpent over tropical waves.
Isabella may enjoy a number of coconuts while in the Broken Sea; however, it is not a flavor I enjoy. So the cake is a lemon sponge with pineapple filling, which creates a sunny look and a light citrus flavor. The ocean waves are made with Swiss meringue buttercream in 4 colors. The sea-serpent and diving bell are fondant over rice-cereal treat. Isabella is made of all fondant.
Bright lemon and pineapple flavors. Next images will contain spoilers.
Sea-serpent cake with book cover. Figure is 12″ tall. Overall cake is 23″ x 8″
Reverse side of the sea-serpent. I tried to make is square-ish, like Lockwood’s cover.
Isabella riding a sea-serpent. Whiskers made of fishing line.
Article and cake by Deana Whitney
Join her in the Workshop Track at JordanCon.
History of the WoT Quilt:
On May 2, 2019 Christine Wessling posted in the JordanCon Costumers Facebook group asking if there was an interest in doing a group quilt for the Charity auction. She had experience with similar projects and wanted to give back to JordanCon after being embraced by the Con’s people. Within hours there was a flood of comments and interest. Three days later Christine and Natalie Gehling had developed a plan for the quilt. Each block was to be a book cover using the Tall Tales Quilt Block, but enlarged by 100%. By the end of the following week, all the blocks had been claimed by a JordanCon enthusiast and Joy Allen had agreed to take on the dauting task of quilting the blanket together.
All blocks were turned in by December 31, 2019 so the quilt could be ready for the April 2020 convention. Some blocks were claimed by new people as life hit others. Thankfully all the books were claimed, and a piece was finished for each in time. Then 2020 hit everyone. Allen had finished the quilt, but it was decided the quilt should be held for the 2021 convention when more of the participants would have a chance of seeing the finished work in-person.
Now everyone can enjoy seeing the finished quilt as a preview prior to the July convention. The makers hope many people will appreciate the work put into creating the piece. It was a labor of love by many different people.
Good luck to the winner of the Wheel of Time quilt auction! May it bring you much joy and comfort as you read many books curled up under the quilt.
The bidding will be on Friday and Saturday of JordanCon 2021.
Note on the care of the quilt: Machine wash cold, delicate cycle. Line or lay flat to dry. DO NOT put this in a dryer!!
Full Quilt in all its glory:
Full front of the WoT Quilt.
Full back of WoT Quilt
Below are words written by the creators about what inspired their blocks and a close up image of each.
Please note, there are spoilers for the whole Wheel of Time series in the block descriptions.
Inspiration for the WoT quilt blocks:
Given by those who helped make each block and put the entire quilt together, they share what inspired them to make their portions in the way they did. Minor changes to grammar were made.
New Spring, block by Antoinette Goosetree
New Spring, Antoinette Goosetree: I chose New Spring because I am a Blue Aes Sedai. As I see New Spring is about Moiraine’s journey, I made an excellent, more blue background with her head jewel and the crest of Lan as her bond mate.
Eye of the World, block by Alix Panayotopulos
Eye of the World, Alix Panayotopulos: Because I have always loved the green man.
The Great Hunt, block by Stephanie Jackson
The Great Hunt, Stephanie Jackson: (Did not respond in time.)
Description: Silhouette of three fighters inside a golden horn.
The Dragon Reborn, block by Heather Nathanson
The Dragon Reborn, Heather Nathanson: (Per Facebook post) Inspired to make a gold Callandor against red dragon scales. Was nervous to not mess it up.
The Shadow Rising, block by David Reynolds-Grier
The Shadow Rising, David Reynolds-Grier: (Did not respond in time.)
Description: Nine “Glass Columns” made of beads around a Chora tree at sunrise.
The Fires of Heaven, block by Kate Larson
The Fires of Heaven, Kate Larson:
I really enjoyed how this installment let us learn so much more of Tel’aran’rhiod and its workings. It brought Birgitte, one of my favorite characters, into the spotlight. Her iconic golden braid was something that always fascinated me, so I focused on trying to recreate its complexity in my quilt square.
Lord of Chaos, block by Natalie Gheling
Lord of Chaos, Natalie Gheling: I chose a black Asha’man coat with a Dedicated’s silver sword pin because Rand founded the Black Tower in Lord of Chaos. I chose red with gold flecks for my background to represent the flames and destruction at Dumai’s Wells.
A Crown of Swords, block by Brenna Goode
A Crown of Swords, Brenna Goode: I was asked, as a substitute, to step in and do the block for A Crown of Swords. I had read the books years ago and loved them so was happy to help. Unfortunately, since I’d stepped in late, I didn’t have time to do a more detailed cover, so elected to try some new-to-me techniques to make the block, including printing on the fabric. I chose an image that was a fairly literal representation of the title, trying to make it stylistically appropriate to the books themselves and the rest of the quilt. It was a pleasure to be part of this collaboration!
The Path of Daggers, block by Billie Pierce
The Path of Daggers, Billie Pierce:
Aside from the Bowl of the Winds, there is no great triumph for the Light in The Path of Daggers. However, Rand’s failure to use Callandor against the Seanchan army was a pivotal moment for me as a reader, and I believe he needed this defeat to overcome his hubris and realize that he cannot wield tremendous power without the help and support of others. Ultimately, I decided on a detailed appliqué of Rand’s dragon banner, inspired by the original Darrell K Sweet cover, as an homage to this battle and a symbol of the united sense of purpose that begins to emerge in the series as key players take their first steps toward becoming the powerful people who will defeat the Dark One at the last battle.
Winter’s Heart, block by Christine Wessling
Winter’s Heart, Christine Wessling: I picked book nine because it was actually the first book of the series I found… AND it has the cleansing of Saidin, which is just a phenomenal turning point for the men of the series.
Crossroads of Twilight, block by Tina Pierce
Crossroads of Twilight, Tina Pierce: I chose to recreate the ebook cover, majestically created by Greg Ruth. Perrin has always been a favorite of mine. His crossroad shown on the cover is a major point in his character’s growth. This was his first paper piece work I had done, and it was a great learning experience.
Knife of Dreams, block by Maureen Carr
Knife of Dreams, Maureen Carr: My name is Maureen, but I also go by Mashiara and am an administrator for Dragonmount.com. As my chosen name implies, Land and Nynaeve are my favorite characters within the Wheel of Time series. I first read the novels in 1999 as a sophomore in high school, and Lan’s cool calm and amazing abilities won me over instantly. Once it became clear that Nynaeve was his love interest, I latched onto her as well.
When picking a book within the series to sum up my love of Lan and Nynaeve, there were several contenders. The most notable, though, came in Knife of Dreams. I don’t think any fan had dry eyes after reading about Nynaeve’s trek to the borderlands to secure her husband an army. Hearing the phrase, “The Golden Crane flies for Tarmon Gai’don,” is enough to make me weepy still!
I chose to represent this cry to battle by showing the golden crane and lance on a field of blue, like the Malkier flag. For the spine fabric, I chose the fabric I used to construct my own Warder’s cloak. I put so much of myself into this series and into this quilt piece. I am so happy to be included with so many other fans in this amazing project!
The Gathering Storm, block by Edward Pena
The Gathering Storm, Edward Pena: I chose the scene from the Seanchan attack on the White Tower. I feel like it is a pivotal moment in the Wheel of Time, not only for Egwene and the White Tower, but also for the whole world in the lead up to the Last Battle. Plus, it’s just a kick butt scene!
Towers of Midnight, block by Drew Osburn
Towers of Midnight, Drew Osburn: Hi! I chose the imagery based loosely on the cover of the book where we can see Mat drawing the triangle on the tower to enter. To jazz it up a little I chose to embroider the chapter art from the chapters set in the tower rather than just the plain triangle. It’s my favorite piece of chapter art, so much so that I have it as a tattoo.
A Memory of Light, block by Deana Whitney
A Memory of Light, Deana Whitney: I picked late and was rather nervous about having to represent the final book in the series. There are so many moments worthy of depiction; some, to be honest, were beyond my ability to represent in a quilt block. However, the moment Moraine walks into the tent—causing Rand and Egwene to stop fighting—is a pivotal early moment. I remember crying when reading the scene for the first time. I wanted to show the moment from the outside so I could show the trees. I love the Ogier and felt showing the great trees returning to the land honored them as well.
Fang and Flame, block by Natalie Gheling
Fang and Flame, Natalie Gheling: The ancient Aes Sedai symbol was fun to create, with its sinuous line separating the white and black halves. Surrounding the symbol each blade represents an ajah color of the White Tower. The math to figure out each blade’s angle was a challenge!
Quilt top assembly, Natalie Gheling: My favorite part of being involved in this project was getting to see the blocks in person as each maker mailed their creation to me. I got to hand embroider six other blocks’ titles, and it was fun to use different fonts and colors based on each block. I had the pleasure of sewing the blocks to one another to assemble the face of the quilt, and I am so blessed that everyone involved trusted me with their hard work.
Note: Natalie put a huge amount of time into finishing up the quilt top. As in, at least two full weeks of her quilt business was donated to this process. The hand stitching is gorgeous, and her piecing is literally perfect. I’m actually devastated that she can’t see the final work in person; she put SO much time into it. -Joy
Hand quilting, binding, Joy Allen: This project was a huge undertaking. I didn’t actually do any work on it until after everyone else had finished. I felt like a cheerleader for about 6 months, encouraging, giving advice, and sending out so many reminders. From pictures, I could tell that many of the contributors had put an amazing amount of skill and labor into this project, and when I finally got to see the top with my own eyes, I was still blown away. Literal tears of amazement came at being able to add to what so many had already given. I have never been part of a quilt making like this, and I feel very blessed and honored to have been able to work on it.
Chapter headings: Mat’s Dice, Rand’s first Fang, Perrin’s Wolf
For the quilting, I did a minimal amount within each block to highlight the best features of each. And in the generous amount of white space Natalie gave me, I added in my own favorite chapter icons from the books. Each main group/character is represented, Aes Sedai and Asha’man, Andor, Cairhein, Aiel, Sea Folk, and more, along with the main icons for the major characters. Trying to get the details right and convey the meanings in a different medium was a huge challenge and, to be honest, I was afraid every day that I would mess the whole thing up and it would be ruined. I think, though, that the entire quilt came together more perfectly than any of us could have imagined. And I had a dozen or more cheerleaders encouraging me every step of the 6 weeks that I worked on the quilt.
Chapter headings: Aiel Spears, The Great Serpent, The Seanchan
The binding in ajah colors really ties the entire quilt together and the quilt reverse (where you can see the stitching the best) might be my favorite part. The binding is machine stitched on the front and hand stitched on the back. The finished look is nice and clean.
If you want to learn some of the hand quilting techniques Joy Allen used on the WoT Quilt, join her workshop at the July 2021 convention on Saturday.
Care instructions for quilt: Machine wash cold, delicate cycle. Line or lay flat to dry.
DO NOT put this in a dryer!! It will damage some of the special threads and 3D pieces on the quilt.
Article Compiled by Joy Allen and Deana Whitney
Photos: Copyright by Calista Perazzo Photography, 2021
A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent
Written by Marie Brennan
In July JordanCon is hosting Marie Brennan as the author Guest of Honor for 2021. For those who are not familiar with her work, she’s currently best known as the author of the Memoirs of Lady Trent, a six book series with multiple short stories set in the world. Brennan has written other novels and over sixty short stories. Her newest novel, Driftwood, is a collection of short stories set within a frame story that came out in 2020. Her series The Onyx Court was released as audible books just this year. They mash historical events in London with faerie enchantment. Find out more about our next guest of honor by visiting her website.
In anticipation of her visit to JordanCon, I finally moved her books to the top of my “to read/listen” pile. The good side of waiting so long is that I was able to rush through the whole Lady Trent series in less than two weeks. The downside is that I just meet Isabella, and it seems like her journey is finished for now. I don’t have more from this world to anticipate reading. As of now. No telling what might happen in the future with the Camhersts.
Before Brennan visits JordanCon in July, I hope to entice more of our family to become acquainted with her work. Over the next two months, I’ll be reviewing the first three Memoirs of Lady Trent books. Let us begin with A Natural History of Dragons, first published in 2013.
The Todd Lockwood cover showing an anatomical study of a walking dragon sets the tone the story delivers. The covers Lockwood created for the entire series are a feast for the eyes. I knew of the series for years due to the covers always catching my eye. A delightful surprise was the interior illustrations and maps. This is a story that cries for a map to anchor the reader. The maps help reader understand the world and the places of interest.
Anthiope by Rhys Davies ©2012
Before discussing the story, I must address the audiobook, which is how I first experienced Lady Trent’s voice. The wonderful Kate Reading does her best impression of the Dowager Countess of Grantham to convey the voice of Lady Trent. Reading’s performances are routinely delightful, but the upper crust edge she gives Isabella makes the character come alive in my mind. The audiobook takes a touch over 10 hours to complete. With Reading’s voice the story flows smoothly until the book ends, leaving me, at least, going “No, I want more!” Thankfully, more is available in the remaining books of the series.
Let’s consider some non-spoiler matters:
In the vein of most memoirs, the story is told from the point of view of Isabella, Lady Trent, addressing readers as she summarizes the highlights of her life and the major episodes that made her famous. The book doesn’t break the 4th wall, but she does instruct her readers to go find more information in publications available in their world that are not in ours. Book one covers her early life and her first major journey into becoming a dragon naturalist. The preface hints at many more adventures, which readers don’t understand fully until much later in the series. The tone and setting share many similarities with stories set in the English Regency era or a Jane Austen novel. The elder Lady Trent does not spare herself or her society in highlighting how foolish many aspects of her life were in retrospect. This book has action and drama but is not driven by action scenes. It is driven by Isabella’s love of discovery and research. Her passion for the subject is infectious and draws the readers in as all make discoveries together.
If you do not want any spoilers, stop reading this article now. Go pick up a copy of the story in your preferred format and location. Come back once you are done.
A Sparkling. Todd Lockwood ©2012
Drustanev and environs. Rhys Davies ©2012
Now for a franker, spoiler-filled discussion of details from the book:
The worldbuilding – I commend Brennan’s choices in her worldbuilding. The world is mostly Earth, with the geography rearranged, new names, and of course a whole hierarchy of dragons in the animal kingdom. And dragon-like beings, but we only learn about sparklings and wolf-drakes for now. These changes allow western audiences, at least, to be more focused on the cool factor of the dragons, and less about the “well that’s different” when it comes to the world. Many things are familiar to readers, with some serial numbers filed off and some changes made. Lady Trent comes from Scirland, which is equivalent to England. The bulk of the story takes place in Vystranna, which is roughly similar to Imperial Russia. One of the major differences from many fantasy books is that both cultures follow a faith loosely based on Jewish traditions, though different branches of the faith, which creates some tension. There is classism and sexism in abundance—unconscious and conscious. The characters grow but are often not aware of their bias until their views are shoved into their faces.
One advantage of the memoir style of storytelling is the ability to time skip and for self-reflection. Brennan uses these strengths to her advantage by allowing Isabella to focus on the narrative of her story. She hints at other matters, but only shows the relevant situations. Another strength is the way Brennan addresses depression in the story, it feels real. The coping mechanisms Isabella uses are highly relatable to me.
The downside of the memoir style is that many of the other characters feel less than fully developed, which can happen in any storytelling format. Yet beyond Jacob Camherst, few of the other characters come alive as Isabella does in this first installment. Most characters are interesting and have things that set them apart, but I’m not engaged by them in the same way as Isabella.
The story unfolds in four parts, with the first two being the most focused on Isabella’s early life and her interest in dragons, but almost no dragons actually appear. Part one is her childhood adventures and the trouble they cause, along with a Regency-style romance on fast-forward, early married life, and the study of sparklings. Readers meet Jacob Camherst, Thomas Wilker, and Maxwell Oscott, the Earl of Hilford. Each man is important for the narrative of the story, but each in distinctive ways.
Part two begins their expedition to Vystrana to study dragons. Communication difficulties and the lack of a local guide at first hamper the expedition. Readers learn more about Thomas Wilker, Lord Hilford’s assistant. Mr. Wilker is a man born to working-class parents from Niddey who Isabella looks down upon. Conflicts between him and Isabella generate tension in the small party, but they are small background irritation. It’s hard to study dragons when you can’t find dragons to study. Culture clashes and conflicting priorities set the stage for the last third of the story. In part three, Isabella and the readers are finally able to study a Vystrani rock-wyrm in full detail (added by more interior art by Lockwood). Readers are also introduced to the ancient Draconean civilization, which once dominated the Anthiopen landmass. What seems like a side trip at first, sets off a chain of events that leads to the action-packed conclusion in part four.
While this may be a spoiler review, I don’t want to give away the ending. I’ll just say that tears were shed even while justice was served.
By Deana Whitney, Workshop Director
In every artform, it takes time and practice to develop skills that result in wowing others and yourself. Because let us face it, the maker can see all the flaws, while most of the appreciative audience does not. Makers, we should all try to be less hard on ourselves; let’s all spend some time having more fun and celebrating our wins this year.
To encourage this, let talk about cake decorating! In this artform I would call myself a skilled amateur, far from being a pro, but it is something I have fun doing for myself.
Making cakes pretty is a different skill than making cakes tasty. The bakers and decorators that mange to achieve both are highly skilled individuals. The internet as a whole can teach you about baking yummy cakes. (Sidenote: the extra time it takes to make Swiss meringue buttercream icing is totally worth the time.) As a skilled armature baker/decorator I have learned a few things about working with fondant if you want to add extra visual wow to your treats.
To learn to work with fondant cheaply, grab some play-doh. Or make your own salt-dough with cream of tater in the recipe. Like play-doh fresh out of the container, fondant needs to be kneaded a bit before shaping or rolling it. If you can build a shape using play-doh, you can make it in fondant, and probably easier, since fondant has a more refined texture. The main thing is to get your head and hands into thinking “I can do this!” Play like a kid again making snakes, trees, hearts, swords, crowns, or anything else you can think about.
Tools useful in working fondant.
Upper row: plastic rolling pin, toothpicks (2 styles), drageés, fondant combs, and shape cutters.
Middle row: Luster dust, icing tips, ruler, food-safe paint brush, and a small dish with vodka.
Lower row: Flower press mold with petal cutter, and cake spatula.
I’m a firm believer that amateur cake decorators don’t need to buy many fancy tools. However, I have found several more specialized items to be helpful, such as cake spatulas and a collection of small shaped cookie cutters. A smooth rolling pin will be needed, wooden rolling pins can transfer textures to the fondant and tend to stick more than plastic ones. Any paintbrush used for cake decorating should be dedicated to food use only; store it far away from regular craft paintbrushes.
When attaching two pieces of fondant together, they need a glue. Water can be used, but vodka will produce better results. No flavor or alcohol is transferred. It evaporates more quickly than water as well. This is very apparent when applying luster dust for added color. Sometimes clear gel icing is useful as glue. Note, it leaves the pieces with glossy edges if extra is on the edges, which should be seen as part of the design.
For extra tools, use what is available to you. Pizza cutters, dull knives, toothpicks, cookie cutters, forks, or even the fancy shaping tools and texture pads. Just play; let your imagination go wild making large flat panels into 3D phonebooths. You need to become comfortable kneading and rolling your materials. Realize it is more forgiving as a sculpting medium than many realize. Fondant can be reshaped many times while it is fresh. Do keep unused portions of fondant wrapped tight by plastic wrap and in an airtight container. This will help retain its flexibility longer. After opening a package of fondant, if stored correctly, it can keep its fresh flexibility for weeks. If not stored correctly, it can harden overnight.
Sometimes older fondant can be used to create smaller items after it has hardened. The best results happen if the fondant was stored in a rolled-up ball. The store-bought brands of fondant can often be returned to workable condition by microwaving it. Place a moist paper-towel next to the fondant on a dish. Heat up the fondant 10 seconds at a time, check in between rounds of heating. You want the fondant to be smashable again to knead and shape it. Older fondant can develop rough hard edges that should be cut off and thrown away. Those bits have dried out too much. If worked into the rest of the fondant, they create weak cracking points and bad textures. Older fondant needs to be worked within 10 minutes of softening it, before it hardens again. I’ve been able to re-soften older fondant twice before trashing it as too hard and brittle.
Image text: Steps to marbling fondant – snakes of color, twist together, mash and ball up, roll it out.
Marbling Fondant & Edible paper:
One of the easiest things to do with fondant is to cut out flat designs, either by using cookie cutters or by making a printed template.
For the smoothest surface texture, you will want a plastic rolling pin. Even if your rolling pin is a serialized piece of PVC pipe. For elements that will be supported, the fondant can be rolled thin (i.e. less than 2 mm). Elements that support themselves should be of thicker fondant (i.e. over 4 mm).
Extra color dimension can be added by marbling two colors of fondant together. take small amounts of each color and knead them together until the blend you want is achieved. For a quick even blend, make two snakes of color, twist them together, and start kneading or rolling. This works well with the metallic and solid color fondants to create shimmering fondant, as shown in the photo above.
Roll and blend until happy with the mix. Next, cut out the shape you want. Cookie cutters are great for this.
When you need something more irregular, find a reference image to print on paper. If you can, use software to resize the image to fit your needs. Lay the cut-out paper shape on top of the fondant, then trace with a sharp tool to cut around the shape.
After it is cut out, smooth the edges with your fingertips or a tool like tooth-picks, chop sticks, or the special cake tools. This is how the whale seen in the header image was created.
Roshar Cake with fondant gems and edible map.
Since most decorating amateurs don’t have a printer dedicated to edible ink, you will need to find a bakery or cake supply shop that can produce them. Blank edible paper is sold, as are markers with edible ink. If you feel up to the artwork, freehand a design using them to place on your cake. Me, I tend to create images using Photoshop then place an order with my local store. Note the pages are sold in standard paper sizes, so you can add multiple small images onto one sheet to save sheets and money.
When using printed edible paper design, place it on the fondant first, then add the fondant onto the cake. Cut out the design, remove the plastic backing of the paper, then lightly brush vodka on the fondant where the paper will go. This is a very light brushing of liquid. Too heavy of a hand will cause the edible paper to distort and possibly ruin your design. If you went too light with the vodka, the edge will lift up, so you can lightly brush the underside of the paper and tap it into place with a dry finger or blunt tool.
For the Roshar gem cake, I used a clear sparkle gel icing as the glue. This added an extra shine and glitter to the gems. The map shown is a large edible image placed on top of the buttercream. It adds great details to the cake with minimal effort. Often an icing border can be placed around edible images, but for these applications I did not see the need for one.
Steps to flower press molds – cut out, place, press, lift out, dry, add extra decorations if necessary.
Silicone Press Molds:
Flower and leaves press molds are specialized tools, so I’ve only bought a few when I had a design in mind that required them. Most kits come with a cutter and a two-piece mold. To make flowers using a press mold, start by rolling the fondant thin, 2 mm or less. Use the shape cutter, then press the fondant with the related mold. I find it best to mark two sides of the mold to line up the design best. Extract from mold using a toothpick or similar tool to lift it out. If the flowers keep ripping, roll the fondant a touch thicker. Transfer the flower to a support surface to let dry, empty egg carts or bunched up foil work well for this purpose. After they are dried, luster dust or dragées may be applied to add extra color.
Luster dust is applied two different ways.
Dry: Using a dry food-safe paintbrush, dip brush into the dust container. Brush it over the surface you want it to cover. Best done before the fondant has fully dried. Good for a widespread light application of color.
Wet: In a small container, mix a bit of vodka with small pinches of luster dust. Dip paintbrush into mixture. Paint the areas you want to color. If you’re not seeing the color intensity you want, add more luster dust to your wet mixture and repaint. The vodka will evaporate, leaving just the color behind.
The purple and yellow-orange flowers shown above were made using this technique.
Examples of fondant sculptures.
Besides whole fondant covered cakes, when most people think of fondant, they think of the elaborate sculpted decorations made from the edible clay. This is when many people start thinking “I can’t do that.” First, give yourself a chance to try. Play with playdoh to see if you can get close to your desired shape. Break the piece down into its simpler geometric components before worrying about the extra details, as seen in the leaf pin above. Also, try watching some YouTube videos of professionals making similar shapes. No, you won’t recreate their work first try, but their way can help guide your work. If you provide the framework, often the brain will read the intended design without elaborate additions.
To help inspire others to build 3D shapes with fondant, below breaks down the making of a few fondant decorations.
Pokemon Ball – Roll two balls of red and white, then cut them in half. Stick them to the opposite color with a dab of water or vodka on each side. Cut a thin strip of black to put around the middle. Add a small white circle to one side. The circle was cut out using the small hole from a #3 icing tip.
Details of a fondant Doomslug.
Doomslug – Make two short snakes of yellow, one should be smaller in plumpness than the other. Flatten, until both look more oval than cylinders, curve to mimic Doomslugs upright shape.
Roll blue fondant about 2 mm thin, cut an oval shape, as seen in the photo. Pinch the sides to stretch out the oval more, until it matches the shape of the yellow pieces. In the photo you can see, I needed to use a second piece of blue fondant, but it just added to the ruffles. If you have a fondant ball tool, use it to give ruffles before attaching it to the worms. Or use your fingers to pinch the sides to thin out the outer most edges and make ruffles. Attach it to the lower plumper oval portion. Cap with the upper oval worm. Let it dry a few minutes.
Spines – Roll blue fondant extra thin (1 mm). Cut into narrow strips 3-4 times longer than the slug body. Accordion fold on your working board. Bush vodka in a strip along the body’s back where you plan to place the stripe, one at a time. Place folded strip and adjust until you like the look. Repeat for the strips you want. Let dry.
Eyes were cut using a #4 icing tip. Edible marker made the smile.
Swords – For items like swords or lightsabers, wrap the fondant around a tooth pick for long-term stability and extra playability with the items. Unsupported rods of fondant are prone to breaking. Wrap the blade fondant first, then wrap the handle. If there is a cross guard do that third. Last is adding the extra details needed to suggest the exact item you are making.
Details in building a Tardis.
The Tardis – I made mine by rolling out dark blue fondant to about a6 mm thick slab. Then cut out three rectangles. Glue together with vodka. Set aside to dry. Place a square on top to cover the seams; make it slightly smaller than the overall demotions. Form a small cylinder of white, then top with a small ball on top for the light. Place in the center of the square. I recommend placing the light last, but in the photos you see I placed it early in the process.
Roll out white, blue, and black fondant extra thin, 2 mm. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife and ruler to cut thin strips and rectangles for the windows, coffers, and signs of the police box. Cut two signs of white as 1-4 black “Police” signs.
Place the windows first. As you rotate the four sides, make sure the working space remains dry. If there is too much moister, the blue color can transfer to the white fondant.
Place the strips to build the coffers. The long vertical lines go on first, then cut the short horizontal lines to go in between the vertical ones. Place on one side at a time, giving each side 3-5 minutes to set before rotating to the next side.
The window and sign rectangles can be written on with edible ink markers or Sharpies, if you don’t plan to eat the fondant* (see disclaimer below).
The last step is to roll out the platform to a size about 2-4mm larger all around then the base of the Tardis. Glue the box to the base and leave to dry.
Details in making a golden serpent.
Serpent – Start making a thick rope of fondant. Leave one end thicker as you roll it back and forth under your hands. Work to extend the back end into a smaller point. When it’s the length needed, start shaping the head. Look at photos of the type of snake you want. I started with the mouth placement, then moved to eyes and kept refining until satisfied. Toothpicks can be very useful for sculpting if you don’t have formal tools.
Once happy with the shape of the snake, add texture by lightly pressing into the fondant with a tool. For the texture shown, I used small cookie cutters.
To get a golden look, use food color spray to deepen the color. Place on your cake with the help of a wide spatula.
That’s all there is! Go forth and play with the edible clay fondant. If you make something or have questions, please email them to: Workshop[at]jordancon.org
*Disclaimer: Homemade marshmallow fondant tastes better than every kind of premade fondant you can find. It also takes significantly longer to harden. If you are trying to create 3D shaped figures, it is better to use store bought types. Overall, I think of fondant as a type of technically edible Saran Wrap on cakes. Thus, I do not make fondant-covered cakes. I will make buttercream-covered cakes that use fondant decorations as accent pieces.