Recent Reads

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

From the Blurb:

“ The year is 1806. centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation’s past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell, whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very antithesis of Norrell. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms that between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine.”

My Review:

I recently read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by UK author Susanna Clarke. Despite my initial hesitation at the daunting and considerable detail and length of the novel, I found like those before me, these misgivings paled in comparison to the wonder of the book itself.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell follows two main protagonists in the early 1800s in their efforts to reinstate English magic. Both are talented magicians and while Mr Norrell asserts himself as England’s magician and hoards all books ever published of magic, he soon takes on an enterprising student in the gentleman Jonathan Strange. While Norrell is fearful of new things and sudden changes, Strange is his opposite. The two magicians serve the English parliament through their combined efforts to defend England and defeat Napoleon Bonaparte. However, Norrell can never shake his fear that Strange will better him and deliberate actions to undermine their trust and future partnership are laid down from the first. But the darkest secret of Norrell’s early magic that causes the greatest danger. In very early attempts to gain favour in London society, Norrell performed magic beyond his own talents by seeking the aid of a Faerie which he bound to himself as a servant. Norrell keeps this secret from Strange and much of English society even after the two magicians quarrel and the friendship is broken.

The following years of bitter rivalry between Strange and Norrell see the exploitation of both magicians’ greatest weaknesses. Norrell has his fear and paranoia played against himself and Strange has his arrogance and rashness turned against himself. Throughout it all, the beings of Faerie manoeuvre and plot to overthrow both magicians and so retain hold on the dominion of a Faerie kingdom. The final battle between Norrell and Strange becomes a partnership to save innocent mortals stolen into Faerie including Jonathan Strange’s wife.

Final Thoughts:

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a delightful and often dark tale, and a skilful alternate history of the Georgian era. The prose feels realistic as though truly compiled from Georgian authors. Despite the seemingly slower pace of the book’s action, the tone does not feel overburdened by it. High praise for the philosophical accounts, a detailed history and characters, and the introspection of morality led to a lingering sense of satisfaction, of closure, for the ending of the stand-alone novel.

My Conclusion?

Highly recommended for fans of alternate history, Gaslamp fantasies and gothic fantasies. Despite the daunting size of the book, it is a beautiful story, masterfully written and compelling. Well worth the read!

Short Stories

Magicians, Curses and Egyptology

I’ve become fascinated by the Gaslamp fantasy subgenre lately and decided to explore it a little further in another short fiction piece, this time set in an alternate Victorian-era Dublin. The Victorian era saw the expansion of the British Empire into more countries and with it, an expansion of the arts and sciences. Coinciding with the expanding interest and enlightenment of the literature and sciences, the pre-Raphaelites, the social movement of collected artists, poets and some writers inspired by a more utopian ideal that was a counterbalance to the more confining and conservative values of the Victorian era. The development of the Industrialisation and the increasing commercialism of many once-family or artisan craftsmanship was another opposing point to the pre-Raphaelite movement and desire to escape social oppression of the increasing Industrialised era. For the Sciences, the Victorian era saw an expansion of the natural and mathematical sciences which blossomed under the Enlightenment period, the challenging evolutionary theories of Darwin and the engineering developments famous under Industrialisation being just some of the social and intellectual expansions during the Victorian age. An interest in other cultures and histories also followed with the expanding British Empire bringing the cultures of the colonies into close contact with those of Britain. Archaeology became a strong interest with Ancient Egypt a particular fascination for the Victorians.

In the recent story, I have explored some of those pre-Raphaelite social movements and the Victorian conservative social values through an alternate Dublin, the social inequalities experienced by several LGBTQI characters. The Victorian interest in Ancient Egyptian archaeology and history (Egyptology) also coincided with the development of a considerable fraudulent artefact trade alongside a trade in the more genuine artefacts. Inspired by the popular ‘urban myth’ of 1922 and the curse of pharaoh Tutankhamen tomb, I incorporate the Ancient Egyptian goddess Serket, symbolised by a scorpion, her prominence in death rituals and favoured by poisoners and assassins. The Gaslamp fantasy elements in this story include a secretive Dublin magician and a death curse. It has been a delight to write and I hope to explore some more Gaslamp fantasy stories next year.

Short Stories

Dystopian Apocalyptic Fiction

Recently, I’ve finished writing a short story that was originally a novelette written for the Higher School Certificate Extension II English course when I was seventeen. Topical for 2020, the story is set in the near future, after the collapse of global nations, a Third World War and climate disasters. Speculative fiction at its core, a volatile figure, the veteran warrior and vampire suffering from post-traumatic stress holds the answers to reuniting two siblings who never thought to see each other again. I was interested in exploring parallels throughout history, the repetition of similar events, where in the story, the decimation of organised nations by governmental decay has a parallel in the fall of Ancient Rome and the beginning of the dark ages. Similarly, the effects of conscription on battlefield tactics and society has a parallel in the modern history throughout World War I and the Vietnam Wars. The addition of climate induced crisis and detrimental environmental impact is yet unprecedented on a global scale but seems possible for our future.

research, Short Stories, stories, Writing

Writing for Leo (Zodiac Series, #8)

In July 2020, my Gaslamp fantasy “The Golden Lion-Monkey” was published in short story anthology Leo (The Zodiac Series, #8) by Deadset Press. When not exploring myth and history, I am pursuing a PhD in human and primate evolution. When writing “The Golden Lion-Monkey”, I’ve combined my interests in history and fantasy fiction with my expertise in evolutionary Primatology.


My main character Rosanna Corrano is a wealthy heiress but in my alternate Victorian era society, she can keep her inheritance only through marriage and where the inheritance becomes the property of her her future-husband. Rosanna has long been struggling against societal confines and developed an alternate male persona, Dr Leo who as a man the Victorian society can achieve the education, respect and freedom that Rosanna cannot. Through courtship with a wealthy man, an owner of a London printing press, Rosanna begins to realise her persona as Dr Leo is not entirely fictitious, she is both Rosanna and Leo, her existence has become a duality.

In my story “The Golden Lion-Monkey”, my inspiration for a female scientist in the Victorian era was in-part drawn from the historical figure of fossil hunter Mary Anning. Like many women of her time, without money, social status and a husband, Mary Anning had few options. She was very poor and unmarried but she supported herself by selling shells on the Lyme Regis coast in Dorset county. She was also involved with providing ancient fossils she discovered on the Dorset coast to male scientists. Her expertise at fossil hunting was so good that many scientists owed careers and great discoveries to her and she was consulted for her knowledge of the anatomy in many of the giant fossil marine vertebrates she discovered. Victorian society prevented Mary from being a member of the Geological Society (women weren’t admitted until 1904) nor could she be a professional natural scientist like her male counterparts. But even in her lifetime, her significant contribution was recognised with the members from the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of London arranging payment of an annual stipend to support Mary. Despite this, she was not listed as an author on any of the scientific discoveries she contributed to. Although some women in Victorian society did have careers as authors, artists and scientists, they were few and often socially ostracised for the choice. It is certainly true that higher social status and wealth allowed more independence over the uncertainty of survival. Ada Lovelace was the daughter of English poet Lord Byron and Annabella Byron and an engineer, inventor, author and mathematician, but her individual circumstance was very rare.

In the confines of society where women were unable to support themselves without a husband or pursue a life of their own, I drew inspiration for my character of Rosanna from female historical figures who disguised themselves as men to either pursue a employment, express their sexual orientation and in some cases marry or to embrace the duality of their own gender. I was initially inspired by the historical fiction novel Goddess by Kelly Gardiner which explores some of the life of seventeenth century Frenchwoman Julie d’Aubigny.

In my story, “The Golden Lion-Monkey”, Doctor Leo describes a new species of monkey from the Brazilian jungles, refuting claims by other scientists that such a marvellous creature must be Fae in origin. The other scientists consider the tiny monkey so impossibly unique it must be Fae rather than a non-magical creature. Among the scientists, Doctor Leo considers the uniqueness of the lion-monkey as a wonder itself, beyond any magic.
The inspiration for the monkey described in my story comes from a real-life tiny primate native to the jungles of Brazil. Although I have changed the scientific name of the monkey described in my story, the tiny monkey closely resembles the highly endangered Golden Lion Tamarin found in the jungles surrounding Rio de Janero, Brazil. The plight of these tamarin monkeys is dire with latest estimates suggesting as few as 1,400 adults in the wild. This species of tamarin is not found anywhere else in South America and their numbers are decreasing.


My Gaslamp fantasy “The Golden Lion-Monkey” is published in Leo (Zodiac Series, #8) by Deadset Press alongside other great speculative fiction from Australian and New Zealand authors.

Short Stories, Writing

Forthcoming: Leo Zodiac Anthology

I am pleased to announce my Gaslamp Fantasy story “The Golden Lion-Monkey” will be published in the forthcoming speculative fiction anthology Leo (Zodiac Series, #8) inspired by the Zodiac and published by Deadset Press from Aussie Speculative Fiction.

Leo (Zodiac Series, #8) is available now for preorder and will be released as an ebook from 25th July featuring many other great speculative fiction stories and poems from Australian and New Zealand authors.

Short Stories, stories

Gaslamp Fantasy & Victorian Science

I have been interested by several different stories recently in the Alternate History subgenres of Steampunk and Gaslamp Fantasy. My latest short story draws on my academic knowledge of the Victorian era expansion in science and natural history. Gaslamp Fantasy is a subgenre I really enjoy and was inspired to write an alternate history exploring Victorian London society, the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, emergence of modern sciences and the continuation of Fae creatures amid an expanding British Empire and colonisation. The Victorian era saw the beginning of Industrialisation, women’s liberation movements but also technological advancement, interest in the natural sciences and geological age of the planet. This is only some of the context for a story exploring social expectations and a female heiress who moonlights as a male scientist and a purported new species of tree-dwelling, cat-sized Fae lion.

reads, Recent Reads

A Darker Shade of Magic

I had read many reviews of A Darker Shade of Magic by US author Victoria Schwab and in October 2019, I decided to delve into this popular series. I thoroughly enjoyed the world-building and unique characters of the first book in this trilogy.

A Darker Shade of Magic follows Kell, one of two last magicians capable of stepping between three alternate realities. These parallel realities are connected by a city called London and, while magic exists in varying strengths throughout all worlds, it is the fourth world which was the strongest. This fourth reality, known as Black London was consumed by a dangerous magic that overwhelmed the inhabitants and the magicians. When this magic began to leak into the closest Londons, White then Red London, Black London was sealed off to prevent the spread. Now only White and Red London possess any forms of magic while Grey London has virtually none.

Kell, is a magician bound to serve the royal family of Red London but adopted and raised almost like a son but his power as a magician requires his service as a messenger between the ruling monarchs of Red, White and Grey London alongside Holland, his counterpart in White London. During an unscheduled and illegal trading escapade to Grey London, Kell is tricked into smuggling a relic from Black London into Grey London. Events soon spiral out of control, the dangerous and possessive magic from Black London begins to carve swathes through the inhabitants of Grey London. Kell inadvertently becomes entangled with Delilah Bard, a young woman, thief and vagabond, who steals the relic but possessing surprising resistance to its effects. Soon, Kell and Delilah are embroiled in a dangerous game to clear Kell’s good name in Red London and stop the spread of the corruptive magic from Black London by returning the relic and resealing Black London. Throughout this ordeal, Kell and Delilah try to outmanoeuvre Holland, the magician from White London.

A Darker Shade of Magic was an intriguing first instalment of a trilogy rich in world-building and detail. I enjoyed it immensely. A great read!