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.

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.

Recent Reads

Blood of Elves

From the Blurb:

“For over a century, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and elves have lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over, and now the races are fighting once again. The only good elf, it seems, is a dead elf.

Geralt of Rivia, the cunning assassin known as the Witcher, has been waiting for the birth of a prophesied child. This child has the power to change the world — for good, or for evil.

As the threat of war hangs over the land and the child is hunted for her extraordinary powers, it will become Geralt’s responsibility to protect them all. And the Witcher never accepts defeat.”

Review:

Blood of Elves is the first novel in The Witcher series, an epic fantasy by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Despite there being two volumes previous to Blood of Elves, these are short story collections but they do provide significant character and world-building details. It is not necessary to read these short story collections beforehand as the amazing world-building and storytelling by Sapkowski more than sets the scene.

The protagonist in the Blood of Elves is young Ciri, an orphaned heiress to the conquered kingdom of Cintra and consequently prophecy links her fate to the mutant assassin and mercenary, Geralt of Rivia. Despite his monstrous career and profession, Geralt is incredibly protective and kind to Ciri, attempting to raise her in the way he sees best. While the forces of Nilfgaard continue to hunt for her and the looming darkness that threatens to bring chaos to the world edges closer, Ciri grows into early adolescence in relative peace. But she cannot remain as a Witcher child, not initiated into the poisons that have robbed Geralt since childhood of his mortality and humanity nor stay hidden from the world forever. Reluctantly, Geralt gives Ciri into the care of the sorceress he trusts and fears the most, his former lover the Lady Yennefer. Forbidding and beautiful, Yennefer will see to Ciri’s education as a young noblewoman and begins to notice a magical talent lying dormant within the child. For Geralt the task falls to make enquiries into growing unrest between the races, where humans, elves and dwarves have begun to break the centuries old truce which threatens to spill into outright war just as the advancing armies of Niflgaard pressure the border kingdoms.

Final Thoughts:

Blood of Elves was a wonderful beginning to a serious epic fantasy. The scope of the detail and the world-building in this single volume alone was impressive. The rich folklore inspired from Sapkowski’s Slavic heritage lends true weight to the world-building and the detail throughout is exquisite. The political and social intrigues highlighted in the novel are at times amusing and others, dark with the history of Eastern Europe.

My Conclusion?

An absolute gem of a book. Epic fantasy at its best. Highly recommended!

Recent Reads

Black Sun

From the Blurb:

“A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun.

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world. Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain. Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.”

Review:

Black Sun by US author Rebecca Roanhorse is the first instalment in an exciting new epic fantasy series Between Earth and Sky. The mythic fantasy world for the setting of Black Sun is inspired by Mesoamerican prehistory and culture, focusing around the eclipse, astronomical divination and sun-worshipping religious order.

Black Sun follows Serapio, a ruler’s son, outcast by his family since his cultist mother intentionally blinded him in worship of the Crow god from her native Tovan culture before her suicide. Blind since twelve, Serapio has been trained by hardship and determination, knowing only the cultist beliefs of his mother and her co-conspirators and their vengeance against the celestial order of the Sun Priest in Tova.

For Serapio, only getting to Tova before the next eclipse matters. He is taken on-board a ship as a passenger, the only captain willing to travel the open ocean to make Tova in time is a disgraced Teek, a woman named Xiala. There, en route to Tova, Serapio finds an unlikely companionship and ally in Xiala who is outcast for her own type of magic. For Xiala, Serapio’s quiet strangeness is accepted and his power as the vessel for the Crow god make him a useful ally in their journey to Tova. But as Serapio travels his homeland for the first time, the city of Tova is on the cusp of civil war, the celestial order led by the Sun Priest, the natural enemy of the Crow and all the noble houses on the brink of chaos. As the seasonal equinox culminates with the eclipse, it will bring forth fantastic beings and forces from the myths of this world, where the giant crows and water-beetles, mermaids and priests are nothing to a vengeful god reborn.

Final Thoughts:

Black Sun was a wonderful new epic Fantasy that explores a mythic world inspired by Mesoamerica yet absolutely unique. The instability of the upper echelon of society with its feuding clans and religious orders is cleverly opposed to the united presence of cultist groups and the unquestionable dominance of the criminal underworld. There is a strong combination of fantasy themes, folklore and world-building that unite the political and social intrigue.

My Conclusion?

This is a must-read for fans of Rebecca Roanhorse and those who enjoy non-Anglo/Nordic fantasy. Highly recommended!

Short Stories

Forthcoming: Dark Fantasy Anthology

I am pleased to announce the acceptance of another flash fiction piece in a forthcoming dark fantasy anthology from Black Hare Press.

My story “Poisoned Fruit, Poisoned Reign” will feature in Reign (500 Word Fiction Series, #7 inspired by poisoned apple folklore exploring betrayal and a cursed reign. You can read more about the inspiration behind “Poisoned Fruit, Poisoned Reign” here. Follow my blog for updates on the release date for Reign from Black Hare Press!

Short Stories, Writing

Fantasy novella & mythic parallels

I recently finished a novella inspired from my initial research for my latest novel draft Ragnarok Dreaming into Norse mythology and Australian Aboriginal legends. On the surface, there might seem little in common between the Viking legends and those of the oldest continuous culture on the planet. The purpose of the novella was not to re-tell any stories or legends, because these are not my ancestry nor mine to tell, instead, I wanted to explore the common elements shared between them. The themes that unite all humanity across time and place. In this, I was drawn as I often am, to the fascinating Trickster figures in legends and stories throughout the world. In Norse mythology, Loki is the Trickster figure and protagonist of the novella relocated into a cosmos inspired by Australian dreaming stories. The Trickster figure who aids Loki is Wahn, the Crow in many Aboriginal legends. The novella was a re-imagining of the parallels and opposites in legends and myth, expanding on what was interesting research for Ragnarok Dreaming.

research, Writing

Iceland: Iceberg Lagoons & Beaches

In early September 2019, I visited Iceland as part of my writing research into Norse mythology, Viking Age history. The role of the landscape has been important in shaping the Icelandic legends and I was fortunate enough to see some of the archaeological and cultural history as well as those in the natural landscape. On a tour of the unique southern Icelandic landscape, I visited iconic waterfalls, glaciers, black sand beaches, glacial lagoons and rode Icelandic horses.


Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon for Breidamerkurjokullon, the tongue of Europe’s largest ice cap, Vatnajökull glacier. Jökulsárlón lagoon is located between the southern Icelandic town of Hofn and Skaftafell nature reserve. While visiting Jökulsárlón, I took one of the boat tour of the lagoon (only offered in warmer months) to get a closer look at the icebergs formed from the glacial melt, which creates the lagoon.

The icebergs of Jökulsárlón lagoon are part of the glacier that, as it melts break off into the lagoon and are washed out into the ocean. Within Jökulsárlón are a surprisingly diverse marine life. There were several species of sea birds, gulls and other large water birds who frequented the lagoon outlet where the icebergs flowed swiftly into the ocean. These birds were remarkably savvy at navigating the swift currents to avoid collision with the icebergs. There were also several species of shy seals who avoided the boats but were frequently seen observing our passage from the beneath the shelter of nearby icebergs.

The clear divide between the waters of Jökulsárlón lagoon and the glacier beyond, the waterline of the lagoon contained some larger icebergs that had clustered along the edges.

The icebergs that break off the glacier into Jökulsárlón and pass through the lagoon were stunning to behold the clear layers visible to the eye as the boat manoeuvred around them.

The view from near the ocean, looking back along the lagoon outlet from Jökulsárlón with the glacier in the background.


“Diamond beach” is a popular site among many photographers for the iconic images of the icebergs that pass from the lagoon outlet of Jökulsárlón to where they meet the ocean.

The large icebergs were an amazing sight as they were buffeted by the waves coming into shore. It was surreal and beautiful to experience such a unique landscape.

The black sand beach was scattered with icebergs in various stages of melt as the fresh glacial water they are formed from dissolved rapidly in the warmer salty ocean temperatures.

Walking along diamond beach was one of the most spectacular places I had ever visited. It was pleasure to be there and witness such a natural but phenomenal landscape.

research, Writing

Iceland: Reynisfjara Beach

In early September 2019, I visited Iceland as part of my writing research into Norse mythology, Viking Age history. The role of the landscape has been important in shaping the Icelandic legends and I was fortunate enough to see some of the archaeological and cultural history as well as those in the natural landscape. On a tour of the unique southern Icelandic landscape, I visited iconic waterfalls, glaciers, black sand beaches, glacial lagoons and rode Icelandic horses.


Reynisfjara beach is located southwest of Vik on the southern Icelandic coast. The popular site was busy when I visited despite the incoming autumn storm. Reynisfjara beach has the iconic black volcanic sand of Icelandic beaches and the larger stones frequently washed ashore from volcanic eruptions and subsequent floodwaters carrying debris from the coastline into the ocean. Reynisfjara is also known for the large basalt stone pillars off the coast, remnants of ancient cliffs before sea level changes over millenia have eroded them into current form. These pillars and the nearby cliffs are associated with many Viking Age legends and myths.

The unusual basalt pillar-like formations of the cliffs on Reynisfjara beach are a popular attraction. These distinctive columns have such a uniform appearance that it is hard to remember they are created by natural geological processes and not by human hand.

In many Icelandic legends and folklore, the caves at Reynisfjara beach were thought to be the work of the dark elves (dwarves), and mark the entrance to undergournd passages where the Hidden dwell. Seeing the distinctive cliffs and caverns for myself, I can readily imagine how such caves would be an entrance to Svartalfheim itself.

The Reynisdrangar sea stacks are large basalt pillars located off the shore of Reynisfjara beach. One of the legends surrounding these twin pillars is that they are actually trolls who were wading out into the ocean and caught by the sun’s rays. In Icelandic folklore, trolls are unable to tolerate sunlight and are immediately transformed into stone. These twin stone pillars represent two trolls who failed to return to the sea cave before first sunlight.

On the opposite end of the Reynisfjara beach is another of the unusual sea stacks, this one is furthest from the coastline at the southernmost tip of the Arch of Dyrhólaey. This stone formation has another legend, also about an unlucky troll transformed to stone. In this folktale, the troll was late returning from a sea voyage and has been caught by the sunlight while still hauling his boat onto the shore. Both the boat and the troll have been turned to stone, forever petrified in place.

One of the most striking things about Reynisfjara beach was the unpredictable ocean. For visitors, there are warning signs about the dangers of wave surges onto the shore which are unpredictable and have been known to drag groups of unwary tourists out into the freezing waters which are dangerous with rips and strong currents. On the day I visited, a storm was blowing off the coast and the surge of the waves was unpredictable which only increased the unusual sense of wildness about the place. A magical part of Iceland but one requiring great respect and vigilance.

reads, Recent Reads

Gods of Jade and Shadow

From the blurb:

“The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty, small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own. Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it–and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan God of Death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true. In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey, from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City–and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.”


Review:

I recently read Gods of Jade and Shadow by Mexican-born Canadian author Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a historical fantasy inspired by the folklore of the Popol Vuh, a Mayan creation myth and retold in 1920s Jazz-era Mexico featuring Xibalba, the Mayan Underworld and formidable the twins-lords, Hun-Kame and Vacub-Kame.
The unlikely heroine of Gods of Jade and Shadow is Casiopea Tun, the a poor cousin and treated like a servant in her grandfather’s house after her father’s death forced her destitute mother to return home to rural Uu­kumil. But Casiopea is proud and independent but as she grows to adulthood her dreams have become crippled by the confines of the small, rural world of Uukumil and she only dreams now of escaping it. In a sudden act of defiance, Casiopea opens a chest in her grandfather’s room, unknowingly releasing the death-god imprisioned within. The god is Hun-Kame, Lord of Xibalba who has been imprisoned in the chest since Casiopea’s grandfather aided his twin Vacub-Kame, to take control of the Underworld.
Once again free, Hun-Kame must reunite the missing pieces of himself taken from his body to regain his full-power. There is a cost to regaining his power. Hun-Kame maintains his mortal form only through Casiopea who has a shard of his bone embedded in her hand. If she removes the bone shard, Hun-Kame will fade and his brother take dominance of the Underworld forever. But Casiopea has little interest in letting Hun-Kame lose, he offers her escape from the dull existence in Uukumil, the chance to see more of the world, even as she knows the bone shard within her drains her life while strengthening Hun-Kame’s. Together Casiopea and Hun-Kame must race against time to restore the missing parts of Hun-Kame’s body and reunite his power before too much of Casiopea’s strength is drained and before Hun-Kame risks becoming mortal. It is a delicate game to maintain the balance between life and death and soon, Casiopea and Hun-Kame begin to hope for more than the original bargain they set themselves.
In Xibalba, Vacub-Kame had bitterly spent the ages in the footsteps of his twin where Hun-Kame was the rightful ruler of the Underworld. In the final treachery that allowed Vacub-Kame to imprison his twin brother and take Xibalba for himself, a greater plan has grown to destroy Hun-Kame forever and restore the dominion of Xibalba over earth, returning the ancient Mayan practices of blood sacrifices and terror in his worship. In Baja California, Hun-Kame and Vacub-Kame must finally battle for rule of Xibalba, choosing champions to act in their stead. Hun-Kame chooses Casiopea while Vacub-Kame chooses her cousin, Martin, who was as belittled by their grandfather in Uukumil as Casiopea but found solace in belittling his poor cousin. There is no love loss between Casiopea and Martin.

My Thoughts?
Gods of Jade and Shadow is much more than a retelling of a mythic contest between two death gods, the lords of Xibalba. The novel is gloriously detailed in the setting, from the vibrant Jazz-era Mexico to the nightmarescape of the Underworld, Xibalba. The characters are rich and intriguing, the central message throughout Gods of Jade and Shadow is of the importance in maintaining balance. This central theme is reflected in the plot, and in the external and internal struggles of characters. The dream-like quality to the narration adds to making this novel feel like a classic myth, a dark fairytale and a joy to read.

The Conclusion:
Highly recommended! A glorious, dark folktale re-telling.