This paranormal anthology features my short story “Hunting Shadows”, in an eternal battle between good and evil, a poltergeist makes an unlikely union with the demon-hunting hound seeking to banish a demon from Melbourne. You can read about my research for this story here.
From the Blurb:
“After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.
And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.”
Mexican Gothic is set in 1950s Mexico and follows female protagonist, a wealthy young socialite Noemi Taboada. After a mysterious letter arrives from her cousin, Catalina, newly married a year but moved to her husband’s estate in a remote village in rural Mexico, Noemi goes to check on Catalina as her father’s envoy and hopefully procure permission of Catalina’s husband, Virgil Doyle, to take Catalina back to Mexico City for psychiatric care. But within moments of arriving at High Place, Noemi is uneasy within the old house and near-abandoned village below serves as a brutal reminder of the once flourishing community, now gone. Despite Noemi finding that Catalina seems much improved, now claiming a case of tuberculosis and suffering an odd listlessness and occasional lapses of paranoia. Unsatisfied with this uncharacteristic behaviour of her cousin, Noemi starts visiting the traditional healer once-frequented by Catalina. There she learns the dark and tragic history of murders, epidemics and murder-suicides that have dominated High Place since Virgil’s grandfather first arrived from England. Now aged and dying, Harold Doyle is still the master of High Place, and is a cold, repellent man Noemi cannot abide and also fears.
Certain the aggressive and ever-present house staff are keeping Catalina in a constant drug-induced sleep, Noemi finds Catalina’s husband to be as cold and unpleasant as his grandfather. Virgil’s true character is revealed in his increasingly threatening and lecherous behaviour toward Noemi. Out of options to save her cousin but unwilling to leave Catalina behind at High Place and to the mercy of Virgil, Noemi finds an unlikely ally in Virgil’s younger brother, Francis, a kind, awkwardly shy man who is everything Virgil is not.
Slowly, Noemi’s grasp on reality starts to fade and the haunting atmosphere of High Place begins to affect her just as it did Catalina, dominating her waking fears and nightmares. Noemi becomes sure of a malevolent presence within the house itself and starts seeing apparitions, hearing the voice of the now-dead daughter of Harold Doyle, who committed a murder-suicide, killing her family except for Virgil, Francis and Harold Doyle. In the quickly escalating events, Noemi discovers how Harold Doyle bears the responsibility for cursing his lineage and how his cruel and vile actions gave life to a malevolence within the very fabric of High Place.
Mexican Gothic was a dark twist on the disturbing greed of colonial dominated Mexico and the ideals that allowed racism and classism to flourish. The interesting history of anthropological sciences, the history of eugenics provide the foundations for an unusual re-imagining of a haunting, making Mexican Gothic a ghost story in the Lovecraftian fashion of weird fiction.
Recommended for anyone who appreciates historical noir fiction, the gothic noir of The Crow Garden and classics like Frankenstein and A Turn of the Screw.
From the Blurb:
Life in Brisbane is never simple for those who walk between the worlds.
Verity’s all about protecting her city, but right now that’s mostly running surveillance and handling the less exciting cases for the Weyrd Council – after all, it’s hard to chase the bad guys through the streets of Brisbane when you’re really, really pregnant.
An insurance investigation sounds pretty harmless, even if it is for ‘Unusual Happenstance’. That’s not usually a clause Normals use – it covers all-purpose hauntings, angry genii loci, ectoplasmic home invasion, demonic possession, that sort of thing – but Susan Beckett’s claimed three times in three months. Her house keeps getting inundated with mud, but she’s still insisting she doesn’t need or want help . . . until the dry-land drownings begin.
V’s first lead in takes her to Chinatown, where she is confronted by kitsune assassins. But when she suddenly goes into labour, it’s clear the fox spirits are not going to be helpful.
Corpselight is the second volume in the Verity Fassbinder series by Australian author Angela Slatter. The urban fantasy sequel follows almost directly from the events in Vigil with just over six months seeing protagonist Verity Fassbinder in the later stages of her pregnancy at the beginning of Corpselight.
About to begin maternity leave and already on light duties, Verity finds herself on a case in her role as liaison between the Weyrd and Normal communities of Brisneyland (alternate world of Brisbane). A series of inexplicable and frightening dry-land drownings seem to be striking at random, Normal and Weyrd victims alike and somehow a Normal lawyer’s insurance for an ‘Unusual Happenstance’ clause usually only employed by the Weyrd has Verity’s attention. But the lawyer isn’t interested in solving her repeat magical invasions and random deaths from dry-land drownings keep mounting. Amid the turmoil are a trio of deadly fox assassins sent after Verity and the arrival of someone from her past long thought lost to her.
Verity struggles to discover who is employing magic to murder random strangers with a complex drowning spell and why. In a race to save the lives of strangers while protect her new baby daughter, Verity is forced to make greater sacrifices than she thought possible. Revelations about the series of murders drives Verity to face the complex ties between past and present and the lengths she would go to in order to protect those she loves.
I really enjoyed the first instalment in the Verity Fassbinder series, Vigil was unique and offered such a fresh perspective on urban fantasy genre. I was pleasantly surprised to find Corpselight was just as strong. There was more to be discovered about the alternate Weyrd world of Brisneyland and the detailed foundations of folklore and history that the characters, setting and plot were based allowed expansion. Corpselight still offered the uniqueness of Vigil with the feeling I now had the most basic of understandings in how to navigate this new world.
Corpselight is a must-read urban fantasy, great world-building, dark humour and strong folklore foundations. Highly recommended for fans of urban fantasy!
From the Blurb:
“She answered the Emperor’s call.
She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.
In victory, her world has turned to ash.
After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman’s shoulders. Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her. Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?”
I admit to possessing a strong bias when I started reading Harrow the Ninth by New Zealand author Tamsyn Muir. I adored Gideon the Ninth, the first instalment in The Locked Tomb Trilogy and after such an extraordinary and unique beginning, I expected great things from Harrow the Ninth. I was not disappointed and the second instalment in The Locked Tomb Trilogy was surprising, complex and at times- perplexing. The highly-charged atmosphere of Gideon the Ninth could not be recreated and to avoid a pale replica, Harrow the Ninth makes its own impact.
Harrow the Ninth continues from events that concluded Gideon the Ninth. There are substantial time lapses, jumps both forward and backward as Harrowhark, the protagonist of this novel, battles the truth of her own madness and tries to master the powers of a lyctor before the Emperor Undying is hunted down by the vengeful ghosts of organisms, entire planets murdered during the first Resurrection. The reality for Harrowhark is that unreality is bleeding through into her daily existence and her teachers are either intent on her demise or indifferent about her survival. Harrowhark needs all of her wits and strength to survive the coming battle and as madness descends, she needs Gideon more than ever.
Harrow the Ninth is not a recreation of the concepts or style familiar in Gideon the Ninth. If looking for more of the same, it’s not found here. Instead, Harrow the Ninth is distinctly its own and refreshing for it.
Highly recommended. Brilliant characters, complexity and world-building continuing The Locked Tomb Trilogy. A great read!
I am thrilled to announce that my dark fantasy story “Hunting Shadows” will be included in Lockdown Phantom #3, a series of speculative fiction Anthologies from Black Hare Press produced during the COVID-19 Lockdown.
Stay tuned for more details on upcoming publication dates, where you can download ebook or purchase paperback copies!
A little while ago I finished writing an paranormal/dark fantasy short story set in contemporary Melbourne, Australia. I was inspired by the changeable weather in Melbourne and fascinated by the strong winter storms that are drawn inland from the southern ocean. These storms can be very unpredictable and wild as the storm front meets the warm inland air between the coast and the Victorian Alps. This volatile weather causes many natural disasters and is associated with both life-given rains during a drought and lightning strikes beginning bushfires. Thunderstorms are an emotionally volatile situation for people waiting to see if blessing or curse results from the storm. I visited Melbourne during the winter months when storms were just as volatile and at a time when societal uncertainty was quite high. The unfamiliar city, social unease and wild weather was potent combination. The story focuses on a newly created ghost and her union with a mythic hound hunting the demonic force that took her own life. The storms are a peripheral landscape to the city itself while the hunt to rid Acedia (an early demonic personification for sorrow) from the city takes primary focus.
I read Gideon the Ninth by New Zealand author Tamsyn Muir after hearing many great reviews for this magic-induced, science-fiction adventure.
Gideon the Ninth focuses on the central character of Gideon from the Ninth House, an orphan raised alongside the ruling heir, the extraordinary necromancer, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House. Harrowhark is a powerful necromancer but like all those in the ruling Houses, the talent wield such magic has a physical cost. The necromancers are protected by their swordweilding cavaliers.
The Ninth House is the last of the great ruling Houses and when the Emperor Undying calls the representatives forth, Harrowhark Nonagesimus seizes the oppurtunjty to rescue her crumbling House, it’s future bleaker than the skeletons that keep the illusion of a prosperous House alive. But Harrowhark finds herself with a problem. The Ninth have no cavalier and the only swordsman capable of defending Harrowhark is the military trained Gideon. For her own part, Gideon has tried to escape the Ninth House countless times and being indebted to serve Harrowhark and protect her is less than appealing. In the end, to survive, both Harrowhark and Gideon must unite forces and mascquerade before the challenge the Emperor sets forth. The necromancer among the Nine Houses who succeeds and defeats the challenges put before them and their cavalier, becomes an immortal necromancer, capable of wielding the combined powers of necromancer and cavalier, able to stand alongside the Emperor in battle.
It is not unsurprising that Harrowhark and Gideon discover many secrets best left buried and learn the darkest truth about the Empire, each other and themselves. To succeed, both must work together and the uneasy alliance soon becomes a firmer friendship built on the decades in each other’s vicinity. The truth of Harrowhark’s true power remains unknown and the true parentage of Gideon is another mystery which will aid them both in the dangerous battles of wits and lies to outmanoeuvre the necromancers and cavaliers of the other Houses.
I throughly enjoyed the fast-pace of Gideon the Ninth and the witty, refreshing characters. The world-building is solid and intriguing. I can’t wait for the next instalment. A highly recommended read!
One of the best recent reads was the Muse of Nightmares by US author Laini Taylor. Following the events that brought the prequel Strange the Dreamer (read review here) to a dramatic conclusion, Lazlo Strange has transformed into one of the godspawn, awakening his dormant power to mould the magical blue metal Mesarthim. In a final desperate challenge against the vengeful Minya, Sarai was lost to the living, tethered to the world only by Minya’s power over the souls of the dead. Now Lazlo is caught between his need to save Weep and Sarai from Minya’s dark plans of a vengeful reckoning of those who slaughtered the gods and left Minya to care for the only children she could save.
Lazlo must negotiate the new tension of a strained hostage situation, Minya keeping Sarai’s ghost tethered as a bargaining piece to use against Lazlo and the godslayer, a tool to manipulate them both. But even as a ghost Sarai finds she is not entirely powerless and with Lazlo and her siblings help, she tries to understand the damage done to Minya through her dreams, discovering the girl has been caught in a traumatic loop of the day the Citadel fell to the godslayer and the handful of children she could save amid in the carnage as the citizens of Weep took vengeance against their oppressors. In uncovering the dark past that holds Minya fixed in place, her mind fractured into moments of that fateful day, Sarai and Lazlo begin to learn what the gods who visited Weep truly were, the history of metalsmiths wielding Mesarthim and the truth of the elusive white bird and an overlapping echo of another pair of siblings, moulded and wrought anew by Mesarthim, two sisters who would refused to be parted.
Muse of Nightmares is a complex narrative of many dark and disturbing tales where the characters are as vibrant as the magical city of Weep. Although the story is a much darker theme than the prequel, there is a constant sense of hope that infiltrated the story, offering a glimpse of what might be if Lazlo and Sarai are allowed to succeed in their dreams. I look forward to the next instalment!
The City of Brass is the first installment in the debut fantasy series The Daevabad Trilogy by American author S. A. Chakraborty based on early Islamic folklore and legends. The City of Brass follows female protagonist Nahri, a con-woman and thief who grew up an orphan on the Cairo streets during Ottoman-French occupation. Nahri has never believed in magic, thinking her unusually accurate abilities to sense illness and talent for languages an extension of her ability to deceive and read a mark. When Nahri attempts a risky healing, she uses a language remembered only from her childhood and accidentally summons Dara, a legendary but mysterious and dangerous warrior djin. In summoning Dara, Nahri also attracts the attention of the deadly ghouls controlled by the destructive ifrit. Fighting for their lives, Dara takes Nahri and flees across the vast expanse of desert, certain the ifrit search for her. In flight across the endless desert landscape, Dara tells Nahri of the legendary city of Daevabad, the tall gilded brass walls of the legendary djinn fortress. Nahri follows Dara, the haunting memories of ghouls and ifrit spurring her to trust Dara even though it has been centuries since he had been within Daevabad and the inconsistencies of his story worry Nahri at the reception they might receive.
The City of Brass was a powerful fantasy debut with the unique Islamic folklore and legends providing an adventurous flair that can only become stronger with the continuing installments in the series.
I have always been inspired and drawn to the very dark Gothic-style horror of the Victorian era, where classic works like Frankenstein, Dracula and The Turn of the Screw combine with the dark tales by Edgar Allan Poe and H.P Lovecraft influencing generations of horror writers. To those classic works, I often include the eerie descriptions of landscape and physical surroundings from Victorian era poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake and William Butler Yeats which evoke supernatural atmospheres based on physical surrounding as much as characters.
From similar thematic foundations, I wanted to write a modern horror story about hauntings, where the surroundings were as much a haunting as the ghost itself. I was interested in a manifested haunting, a demonic shadowy being, feeding on the vulnerable, where an increase in societal despair, drug addiction, homelessness and suicides are the traces of the demon’s presence. I was interested in using a contemporary Australian setting, choosing the wintry city streets of Melbourne and a ghost caught in “limbo” between the veil of life and death.