reads, Recent Reads

Age of Assassins

Publisher’s Description:

TO CATCH AN ASSASSIN, USE AN ASSASSIN…

Girton Club-Foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But his latest mission tasks Girton and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.
In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire land.


My Review:

I recently read Age of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom, #1) by UK fantasy author R. J. Barker.

Age of Assassins follows the protagonist Girton, apprentice assassin to Master assassin Merela Karn, when she and Girton find themselves unwillingly embroiled in court intrigue and blackmailed by the Queen of Manyidoc determined to find those behind the attempted assassination of her son and heir, Aydor.

Girton, disguised among the noble blessed class, and using the title ap Gwyner, takes a position among the squires to learn the grievances and allegiances between Aydor and the challenger to the throne, Tomas. The machinations of the court at Castle Manyidoc, rivalries and alliances soon threaten to sweep Girton and Merela into deadly intrigue with fatal consequences. The only hope for survival that Girton and Merela can have is staying one step ahead of other assassins, rival factions, and a growing threat from sorcerers.

Final Thoughts:

I had reservations about reading Age of Assassins, concerned how similar the publisher’s description was to Robin Hobb’s Assassins trilogy. Despite my misgivings, The Wounded Kingdom series has been an interesting journey through a unique fantasy world and history, the well-defined characters intriguing and thoughtful.

My Conclusion?

Age of Assassins is likely to become a favourite for any fans of epic fantasy, unique world-building, and intrigue. A highly recommended read!

events, Writing

Lost Lore and Legends Anthology Release

Pleased to announce the release on 22nd March, 2021 of micro-fiction anthology Lost Lore and Legends published by Breaking Rules Publishing Europe and featuring five of my 100 word drabbles inspired by European folklore and mythologies.

Lost Lore and Legends explores a variety of legends, mythologies and folklore from European tradition. Two of my drabbles, “The Troll-Witch” and “The Elf Stone” were inspired by Icelandic folklore and legend, “The Seelie Court” was based on Scottish Fae folklore, while “Pixie-Touched” explores the dark Cornish lore of pixies and madness, and “Oak and Holly” tells of the physical manifestation of the summer and winter kings, forever duelling for supremacy. If you are interested in the research behind these five drabbles, you can read more here.

Interested in purchasing an ebook, paperback or limited hardback edition of Lost Lore and Legends? More details and links can be found here.

Short Fiction, Writing

Dark Fantasy Assassins


There’s any number of great epic dark fantasy books and series that explore the darker nature of humanity from the point of mercenaries, assassins and anti-heroes.

I decided to delve into some of that inspiration and an anti-hero protagonist in a flash fiction story. What motivates characters to choose a darker path? Does the morally ambiguous road they follow trouble their conscience?

The result was an interesting character with a psyche primed to survive, whatever the cost. A “riches-to-rags” story in the underbelly of a fantasy metropolis where the only ones imagining a hero are dependent on an anti-hero to survive. “The Hero of Silversmiths” will feature in the Avenge (Five Hundred Fiction, #2) Anthology, coming soon in 2021.

Short Fiction, Writing

Forthcoming: Reimagined Fairytales Anthology

Pleased to announce I will be joining a wonderful lineup of authors for New Tales of Old, Volume 1 to be published in 2021 by Raven and Drake Publishing! All stories and flash fiction in this anthology were inspired by the retelling and reimagining of fairytales. My story “A Trail of Corpselights” is inspired by gothic folklore of forests and the folklore behind corpselights, also known as Will o’wisps. You can read more here. My second story included in the volume is “The Dark Harpist” a reimagining of the Pied Piper of Hameln legends and the fairytales and folklore of the singing bones and enchanted harps. You can read more about this story here.

Release dates and how to purchase a copy of the New Tales of Old, Volume 1 will be updated when available. You can also keep an eye on my publications page here.

Short Fiction, Writing

Reimagining Hansel and Gretel Fairytale

One of my favourite fairytales is the story of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ recounted by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, with two variations in the tale published in the 1812 and 1857 versions to accomodate a wider selection of similar folktales. From the fairytale and folklore indexes developed by Professor Ashlimanm , the ATU system identified at least ten variants in many countries following similar themes.

The most commonly known version of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ is a tale set during a bitter winter, and poor parents forced to choose between their personal survival and the cost of raising a girl and boy without resources. On the brink of starvation, the children are taken into the woods and abandoned. When they find the cottage where a witch lives, she offers them their desires (mostly food). When the danger of the bargain is revealed, Hansel and Gretel use a trail of breadcrumbs to follow their way back to their village and escape the witch.

In my own reimagining, I thought of the gothic folklore surrounding the Forest, a common themes in many fairytales. The only reason the Forest might be entered willingly would be if the danger outside the Forest was worse than the unknown terrors of the Forest. To reimagine another time when similar conditions in Hesse-Cassel existed, I used s more modern setting such as WWII. Here, Hansel and Gretel equivalents must escape the dangerous of the Forest and it’s haunting presence of a witch. I wanted to create that same dark threat of the witch and her malevolence towards children, choosing corpselights, often thought the souls of murdered or unrestful child spirits, to provide a safe path for the children to follow and escape the Forest.

Short Fiction, Writing

Forthcoming: Heroes & Villains Anthology

Avenge (Five Hundred Fiction, #2)

Pleased to announce my flash fiction story “The Hero of Silversmiths” will feature in Avenge (Five Hundred Fiction, #2) to be published in 2021 by Black Hare Press! All flash fiction in this anthology is inspired by the theme of heroes, anti-heroes or villains.

Release dates and how to purchase a copy of the Avenge (Five Hundred Fiction, #2) will be updated when available. Keep an eye on my publications page here.

Recent Reads

Borderlanders

Publisher Description:

“Some keys open doors to strange worlds…

Melissa has a happy marriage but her everyday life is a constant battle against pain. She discovers that her artwork can produce magic, prompting her to apply for an artist’s retreat to a mysterious country house. Her old schoolfriends Bettina and Zelda are also at the same retreat. But neither the house nor their friendship is what they think. A mystical library, rapacious shadows, and keys to otherworldly rooms are the links to saving the house from destruction.

A unique fantasy about people whose stories, with all their oddity and excitement, seldom make their way into novels.”

My Review:

Borderlanders by Australian author Gillian Polack, a contemporary Fantasy and magical realism, introduces the theme early with reference to the Celtic belief in the liminal worlds, and the ability to pass between the past, present, future and other. It is on this premise that Borderlands, as the title suggests, builds its narrative between realities, time and perceptions.

Partially narrated in first-person through the protagonist, Melissa, a happily married, middle-aged artist who’s life is consumed by disabling chronic pain with her artwork providing her only escape and a very real magic. Upon successfully receiving a scholarship to attend a creative retreat in the Southern Highlands of NSW, in a small misty town of Robertson, Melissa finds herself reunited with her old school friends, Bettina and Zelda, both also attending the retreat. The location of the retreat is a rambling estate, a country house that sprawls beyond the mere concept of walls and mortar and where shadows, past and future entwine the characters.

Final Thoughts:

Unlike Melissa, who is narrated in first-person, Bettina and Zelda are narrated through the third-person. This intentional shift from first-person to third-person has the desired effect to separate the reader from Zelda and Bettina, but the unintentional effect of blending their characters to the point of often being indistinguishable in personality (but not history), while Melissa remains isolated, removed and never feeling fully integrated into the story. This may be intentional as Zelda remarks early in the novel when she is lecturing on the Celtic belief in liminality, the concept of worlds and perceptions alongside our own, where the Celtic belief that people could slip into the Otherworld or mortals could be stolen by Fairies, very few ever being returned again. In this sense, Melissa feels like a character that has been stolen by Fairies, existing outside the reality that Bettina and Zelda occupy, but connected to it through a shared and often obsessive focus on small details. This obsession unites all characters, perhaps to indicate their creative personality, but feels far too repetitive, and distracts from the storyline and purpose, too often pulling attention away from the characters, their goals and actions.

My Conclusion?

Borderlanders was an interesting exploration of the concept of a liminal reality, where perceptions and magic, combine in unique ways that twist the fabrics of reality as we understand it.

** I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review **

Recent Reads

Silver in the Wood

Publishers Description:

“There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads.

When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past—both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart.”

My Review:

I had head many wonderful things about Silver in the Wood, the first novella in the Greenhollow Duology by UK author Emily Tesh and decided I had to experience this for myself. I’m thoroughly pleased I did.

Silver in the Wood follows the protagonist Tobias, the so-called Wild Man of Greenhollow wood, a centuries old protector of the woodlands near Greenhollow Hall. The arrival of the new young lord Henry Silver to Greenhollow Hall begins an unexpected friendship and bond between both men. Silver is intent on discovering the many secrets of Greenhollow woods which includes the stories of a mysterious historical figure “Bloody Toby”, once accused of murder alongside a fellow criminal, Fabian. But the legends surrounding Tobias and Fabian are not entirely true, and Tobias must confront the Fae being who stalks Greenhollow wood in the guise of Fabian. For when Silver starts digging up the past, he uncovers a darkness best left sleeping beneath the woods. The promise of acceptance and romance between Tobias and Silver can only be fulfilled if Silver is saved from Fabian and Tobias must confront Fabian one last time.

Final Thoughts:

Silver in the Woods explores of the mysterious folklore surrounding legends of the Fae, the Green Man and the Oak and Holly King without specifying either lore, this maintains the sense of mystery and wonder to Greenhollow. Connected to this vital part of the storyline are the vibrant characters and the deeper discussions of humanity and acceptance of the other.

My Conclusion:

A recommended read for any folklore fans, historical fantasy fans, LBGTQI readers, and readers who enjoy character diversity with vivid storytelling. A wonderful book!

Short Fiction

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.

Recent Reads

Time of Contempt

From the Blurb:

To protect his ward, Ciri, Geralt of Rivia sends her away from the home of the Witchers to train with the sorceress Yennefer. But all is not well within the Wizard’s Guild.

Geralt is a Witcher: guardian of the innocent; protector of those in need; a defender, in dark times, against some of the most frightening creatures of myth and legend. His task, now, is to protect Ciri. A child of prophecy, she will have the power to change the world for good or for ill — but only if she lives to use it.”

Review:

The Time of Contempt is the second novel in the epic fantasy series The Witcher by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski following from The Blood of Elves. Continuing from the dramatic events of Blood of Elves, Ciri is apprenticed to Lady Yennefer as the sorceress attempts to determine the extent of Ciri’s magical talent and what underlying dark forces seem latent within her giving her the ability as a seer. Determined to see to Ciri’s education, Yennefer arranges for Ciri to attend training at an island tower where sorceresses like Yennefer continue to be trained. But the eve of their arrival, The Wizard’s Guild are meeting and the enclave of sorcerers and sorceresses should determine the fate and solutions for the rising chaos between the races and the coming threat of war from Nilfgaard. While Ciri is supposed to be within her tower rooms, she escapes the prison-like confines of the island and rides to where she expects to find Geralt. There among the wild lands of the coastline, the tower continues to darken her thoughts and the Wild Hunt, the harbingers of chaos and destruction join her ride. Although Ciri finds Geralt, he seems distracted and the arrival of Yennefer to return Ciri to the island does little to abate her concerns.

Yet Geralt is easily convinced by Yennefer to join her as his guest to the enclave and the meeting between the sorcerers. Despite the reunion between the two former lovers, Ciri is increasingly agitated and soon unsettling events at the tower island begin to reflect her mood. The pact and meetings between envoys for the kingdoms and their representatives of the Wizard’s Guild never eventuate with factions within the Guild tearing apart the meeting. Caught between the fighting and without a chance to flee the island, Ciri escapes up the tower to the broken portal above. The attacking faction within the sorcerers meeting also open the way for invading rebel elves and the Nilfgaardian forces to enter the island. Desperate to reach Ciri, Geralt fights his way to the tower portal where Yennefer and Ciri have reportedly fled. Mortally injured and unable to reach Ciri, it is up to her alone to arrange her own escape. As the island implodes with the magical forces and Geralt lies bleeding on the steps beyond, Ciri escapes the elven sorcerer indebted to Nifgaard by using the portal despite its instability and unlikely success.

It is into this dark new age that Ciri emerges changed. Her talents as a sorcerer now seem strangely absent after a sojourn in the wilderness where she succumbed to the temptation of the fire magic Yennefer had always forbidden her. Geralt is far from Ciri, forced to recover from his near-fatal injuries in the dryad ruled forest of Brokilon and Ciri’s true whereabouts remain unknown despite rumours that the Nilfgaard king has presented the princess of Cintra as his bride-to-be at his court. These seem but false rumours with the true Ciri having joined a rebel group of outlaws, adolescent outlaws hardened by the war and rising chaos in the world around them. To Ciri, her sense of abandonment by Geralt and Yennefer has reached a peak and this new band of friends and killers is where she feels she belongs.

Final Thoughts:

A Time of Contempt was a wonderful combination of political intrigue and social history with the masterful world-building I have come to expect from Sapkowski. The detailed history of events and cultures blends seamlessly with the magical forces and structures of this fantastic world.

My Conclusion?

Another masterpiece from Andrzej Sapkowski. Highly recommended for fans of Slavic folklore, epic fantasy, Netflix The Witcher TV series and especially fans of Sapkowski’s The Witcher books. A must-read.