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The Only Good Indians

From the Blurb:

“Ten years ago, four young men shot some elk then went on with their lives. It happens every year; it’s been happening forever; it’s the way it’s always been. But this time it’s different. Ten years after that fateful hunt, these men are being stalked themselves. Soaked with a powerful gothic atmosphere, the endless expanses of the landscape press down on these men – and their children – as the ferocious spirit comes for them one at a time.

The Only Good Indians, charts Nature’s revenge on a lost generation that maybe never had a chance. Cleaved to their heritage, these parents, husbands, sons and Indians, men live on the fringes of a society that has rejected them, refusing to challenge their exile to limbo.”

Review:

I recently read The Only Good Indians by US author Stephen Graham Jones. It was my first experience of Graham Jones’ gothic fiction and I was drawn to the Native American folklore of Elk-head woman and concept of emotional and physical haunting. What I discovered was a much deeper, complex and more rewarding read than I expected.

The Only Good Indians follows two main characters from a group of four Blackfeet men who in their youth, broke the laws of their reservation trespassing on the hunting grounds reserved for the elders during the last day of hunting. In a deep snow storm, the young men shoot an entire herd of elk including a young pregnant doe who takes several shots to kill. After taking only the hindquarters of the elk which is all the single pickup Ute can carry, the young men are caught by the reservation police and forced to relinquish the meat, unlawfully killed and they are banned from hunting on the reservation ever again. Despite decades passing since that fateful hunt, the four men are each haunted, emotionally and physically by the spectre of an elk-headed woman.

After two of the four die in violent circumstances after trying to leave the reservation, only one man, Lewis, has survived living outside the reservation but he has never left behind the guilt or sorrow from that hunt. Lewis was responsible for killing the young elk and the news of the recent deaths of his other two friends reawakens his guilt. Lewis is certain that the elk he killed in his youth is seeking vengeance and despite attempts to console his conscience and the spirit of the young elk, Lewis’ life spirals into sudden and tragic violence and he joins the fatal tally from that fateful hunting trip. Although Lewis had seemingly escaped the reservation and the bindings of tradition, Gabe has remained living on the reservation. The last of the four, he becomes the final target for Elk-head woman and her vengeance. Gabe has stayed on the reservation but does not have true acceptance either, enduring a borderline tolerance by the Blackfeet community. The last of the four who killed the elk on elder’s hunting ground, Gabe is aware Elk-head woman is hunting him and to protect his own daughter from becoming collateral, he demands Elk-head woman promise not to seek vengeance by killing his daughter despite his responsibility for the elk calf’s untimely death. It is clear that none of the four men ever escaped their identity as Native Americans, never escaped the wrong they committed that night and can never escape the need to find a balance for it.

Final Thoughts:

I had read a few references to folklore of the figure of Elk-head woman and customs surrounding not killing pregnant animals in several Native American cultures not just Stephen Graham Jones’ own Blackfeet heritage. But Graham Jones combined these with a gritty modern reality, an awareness that past wrongs can never be forgotten or out-run, that grief and sorrow are as capable at haunting an individual as any spectral figure. The most enduring aspect of The Only Good Indians was the skilfully constructed atmosphere in every scene, the detailed characters and the effective use of sudden, sharp violence completely shattering scenes and unnerving characters and audience alike.

Conclusion?

The Only Good Indians is an absolute modern classic of gothic folklore and literary fiction. I cannot recommend more highly. A must read!

Short Stories, Writing

Liminal world of Inuit folklore

I have been writing a new short fiction work inspired by the liminal folklore in some Inuit cultures. The liminal folklore I was interested to explore are closely linked to the harsh environment of northern Canada, from the permafrost and sea ice, where the risks from exposure and isolation are very real. The First Nations are the indigenous peoples of Canada and the Inuit “the People” occupy the traditional northernmost lands- called Inuit Nunangat, encompassing the northwest territories, northern Labrador and northern Quebec, consisting of 35% of Canada’s landmass and 50% of the coastline. To the Inuit, the land, water and ice are vital parts of the whole.

In a landscape of treacherous sea ice, blizzards and permafrost, traditional stories are told throughout generations to provide warnings for the dangers in disobeying laws and customs which are often closely tied to the history and landscape. There are several different beings in Inuit folklore that prey upon those who stray from the camp, children who become lost and the disorientating danger of the permafrost. Among these are the Taqriaqsuit or the “shadow people”, beings who are invisible or half-seen, who are heard but not seen but where a veil must be crossed between our world and their own. Beings also exist beneath the the sea ice, the Qallupilluk are child-snatchers who prey on children who stray too close to the dangerous frozen waterways and pack ice.

My latest short fiction work has been an interesting endeavour to explore unforgiving natural environments and internal psychological upheaval where the liminal world of the Taqriaqsuit and the Qallupilluk merges with the eerie north Canadian landscape and half-seen beings of folklore become a new reality.

Short Stories, stories, Writing

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, #2) 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, stories, Writing

Poisoned Fruit & Cursed Futures

I recently finished writing a short fiction piece inspired by poisoned apple folklore and legends, the most familiar being the story “Little Snow-White” published by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm in Children’s’ and Household Tales (commonly known as Grimm’s Fairy Tales) between 1812-1814 . There are, of course, countless folklore and folktales surrounding betrayals and murder often delivered through gifting a consumable item. The apple or similar fruit in folklore is often connected with a betrayal which can be symbolised by a literal poisoned fruit, a cursed future and sometimes, by both. In my short fiction piece, I explored this concept through the idea of dynasty, a kingdom dependent on a ruling dynasty who renew their pledge to withhold their birthright, the use of magic except by the Queen in defence of the kingdom. As with many folktales, civil unrest leads to the Queen’s betrayal, in my short fiction, by her own sister where betrayal sets in motion a greater chain of reactions. I wanted to explore the role of the Queen, in seeking retribution for her betrayal how extensive a curse might be when her vengeance is levelled against her sister’s reign.

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The Harp of Kings



From the Blurb:

BARD. WARRIOR. REBEL.
Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and is a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan’s burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the kingdom will be thrown into disarray. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision—and the consequences may break her heart.”

Review:
The Harp of Kings by New-Zealand born author Juliet Marillier is the first novel in The Warrior Bards, a new historical fantasy series.

The Harp of Kings follows three trainee warriors of Swan Island, hopeful to join the ranks of the elite warriors and spies hired by Chieftains, lords and occasionally kings throughout kingdom of Erin to resolve conflicts or gather information. The protagonist is the trainee Liobhan but concurrent storylines are also narrated by her brother Broc and fellow Swan Island trainee, Dau. The three trainees are chosen to join the experienced Swan Island team on a mission to a king’s court, where the crowning of a new king traditionally requires playing a ceremonial harp, an ancient instrument symbolising the bonds of faith between the Fae and the mortal realms. Both Liobhan and Broc are trained musicians and children raised by a wise-woman. The Swan Island team are hired to find the stolen harp before the kingship ceremony or risk discontent or the new king’s reign might be considered cursed.

Liobhan and Broc, hired to play at the king’s court while they try to uncover any information about the location of the stolen harp or who might have reasons to steal the harp and threaten the new king’s claim to the throne. Dau is hired in the stables, disguised as a mute farrier acting as support to Liobhan and Broc. Soon, Dau and Liobhan discover the prince has a violent temper and a history of oppressing his people. Broc focuses his investigations on the Druid community where the harp was supposed to be kept between crowning ceremonies. There, Broc learns an old tale of the harp’s origin from Faylan, a promising noviciate who sends him to a wise-woman in the nearby forest, recently cursed by eldritch crows. But Broc has a yearning for the Otherworld and enters it, hoping to uncovers the answers to his own secrets about the origins of his uncanny talent as a harpist and singer. While Broc is in the Otherworld, Liobhan and Dau discover important secrets about the identity of the Druid noviciate Faylan.

My Thoughts?

The Harp of Kings has several layers where aside from exploring the mystery of the stolen harp, deeper truths must also be uncovered by the Swan Island trainees about themselves. Liobhan struggles to trust others where she has relied on Broc, she must now trust Dau, a man for whom she has misgivings, falsely placed. Dau is forced to confront the dark fears of his past and challenge his closed-mindedness and Broc decide which path he will take to determine his own future.

Conclusion?

The Harp of Kings is a wonderful Fantasy read, rich in historical detail and early Irish culture. A highly recommended read for old and new fans of Juliet Marillier alike. A must read!

Short Stories, stories

Standing Stones & Time

I recently finished writing a flash fiction story inspired by European Neolithic stone circles and folklore. Common to the folklore of standing stones is an aspect of temporal planes, the shifting of time connecting the Fae to disappearances, madness and re-appearances many years later. In my own short fiction, a liminal temporal plane joins Europe in the 1940s to the Neolithic connected by the standing stones. I explored the effects of warfare on the European landscape where in the present day, traces of that destruction are still in evidence from trench warfare tactics. I was interested in accidental time travel where folklore often links the unintended passage of mortals into the fairy realm often at heightened emotional or astronomical times. The story focused on fleeing pursuit through an unrecognisable landscape scarred by war, the liminal connection between times linked by the standing stones allowing a successful escape into the Neolithic and the newly constructed stone circle.

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.

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.

Short Stories, stories, Writing

Gothic Fiction & Victorian Science

I recently finished writing a short story continuing my fascination with Victorian science. I focused on the anatomical sciences that inspired many gothic and urban folklore of the Victorian era. Some of the most classic Victorian era gothic tales including Frankenstein and Dracula involve the unease in Victorian society about the dead, superstition, burial practices in an era governed by religion but embarking on the Enlightenment period. Into this societal unease came the expansion of the Sciences but also the Industrial Revolution. The challenges to mind, body and physical environment were no doubt confronting. My short story explored some of these concepts from the perspective of an anatomist tasked with examining a set of twisted bones returned from a disastrous archaeological excavation into an ancient limestone quarry purportedly cursed.

Short Stories, Writing

Forthcoming: Greed Anthology

I am pleased to announce another forthcoming publication with news my short story “A Handful of Dead Leaves” will feature in the Greed (#5, Seven Deadly Sins) series by Black Hare Press. Like all the stories in this anthology, Greed is the central theme with my story exploring the darker side of leprechaun folklore where securing good fortune is always double-edged. You can read more about the research for this story here.

Stay tuned for an update on the release date and for how to purchase this dark speculative fiction anthology!