reads, Recent Reads

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, 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.

reads, Recent Reads

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, 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

Retelling & Examining Ragnarok

In a recent short story, I explored the accounts in Norse mythology about Ragnarok, the final battle fought between the giants and the gods. Similar to my recently finished draft novel Ragnarok Dreaming, this story is a retelling of battle of Ragnarok from the perspective of Loki. My research drew on the classic texts, The Poetic Edda and Prose Edda and possible motivations behind Loki’s treachery and murder of Odin’s son Baldr. The story is an account of the aftermath of Loki’s fateful actions, deceit of Baldr’s blind brother Hodr, who shoots the arrow Loki has given him, the only item in the Nine Worlds Loki knows is capable of killing Baldr. For Loki, the subsequent capture and imprisonment by the Aesir, the torture and binding underground are when the schism between Odin and Loki seems to really occur. In this story, my retelling explored what possible motivations had led Loki to murder Baldr even via a-proxy, knowing Odin’s trust in him would be broken forever. The outcome of Ragnarok had been foretold by the witch Gullveig to Odin in Loki’s presence eons before when even Odin’s considerable foresight would prove unable to avoid the fatal confrontations between foes and inevitable deaths on both sides of the battlefield. If the doom of the gods and giants had been so securely foretold, this story explored what events could have led to Loki’s irredeemable actions and final rebellion against Odin.

Short Stories, stories

Dark Fantasy & Leprechaun Lore

I was recently fascinated by the folklore of fairy beings like leprechauns which have a long and conflicting history in Irish folklore. Far from the jovial trickster at the end of a rainbow who if caught can be forced into providing a pot of gold, the less-popularised stories of leprechauns in Irish folklore cast them as malevolent solitary fairies in a similar class as beings like the leanan sidhe, Dullahan and the Banshee. I was inspired to write a dark fantasy story exploring the darker nature of leprechauns and the consequences mentioned in various Irish folktales when making bargains with leprechauns that were more often a double-edged sword.

research

Iceland’s Yule Trolls

In Icelandic tradition, the Yule lads are thirteen trolls who arrive one at a time on each of the 13 days before Christmas and depart in the order they arrived, on the days after Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, the troll witch Gryla leaves the mountains to seek any children who had been ill-behaved or were without the protection of their parents, taking them back to the mountains where she cooks them into a stew for her lazy husband.


The thirteen Icelandic Yule Lads are described with the acts they are infamously known for tormenting human communities. More can be found at the Smithsonian Magazine here


Sheep-Cote Clod: He tries to suckle yews in farmer’s sheep sheds
Gully Gawk: He steals foam from buckets of cow milk
Stubby: He’s short and steals food from frying pans
Spoon Licker: He licks spoons
Pot Scraper: He steals unwashed pots and licks them clean
Bowl Licker: He steals bowls of food from under the bed (back in the old days, Icelanders used to sometimes store bowls of food there – convenient for midnight snacking?)
Door Slammer: He stomps around and slams doors, keeping everyone awake
Skyr Gobbler: He eats up all the Icelandic yogurt (skyr)
Sausage Swiper: He loves stolen sausages
Window Peeper: He likes to creep outside windows and sometimes steal the stuff he sees inside
Door Sniffer: He has a huge nose and an insatiable appetite for stolen baked goods
Meat Hook: He snatches up any meat left out, especially smoked lamb  Candle Beggar: He steals candles, which used to be sought-after items in Iceland


Since 1746, the Yule trolls became less scary and presented as more mischievous, trickster characters who were depicted as jolly Santa Claus-like figures who left gifts for the well-behaved children and potatoes for the ill-behaved ones. The Yule trolls as they had been described in early traditions and folktales described them as emaciated and clothed in rags. There is a current movement in Iceland to return the Yule Lads to their original descriptions and depictions as the vagabond and desperate orphans accompanying Gryla.

research

Namarrgon: Lightning Spirit

Namarrgon is an indigenous Australian creation ancestor, a powerful spirit of the Arnhem Land plateau in the Kakadu region responsible for violent monsoon storms of Northern Australia. In the indigenous stories of Namarrgon, violent lightning and thunder storms each tropical summer are associated with the axes he throws, splitting the clouds to cause thunder and lightning as the axes strike the ground.

” All things in the landscape were left by the creation ancestors. They taught Aboriginal people how to live with the land. From then on Aboriginal people became keepers of their country. “
Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre

Namarrgon resides in the sandstone cliffs of the Arnhem Land plateau but the Creation story tells his travel inland, moving from the coastline toward the sandstone cliffs where he leaves an eye on the escarpment, ever gazing eastward where he waits for the summer storm season. The summer monsoon lightning storms are preceded by vast numbers of Leichhardt’s Grasshoppers, called the alyurr in the indigenous languages, representing Namarrgon’s children. While feasting on the pityrodia plants, the alyurr call to Namarrgon who responds with the lightning and thunder storms of the coming monsoon.

research

Legend of the Platypus

The platypus is an iconic Australian native semi-aquatic, burrowing, egg-laying mammal (monotreme) with an unusual soft-bill, webbed feet and a thick “beaver-like” tail covered in a soft fur pelt. An indigenous Australian legend details the origins of these eclectic physical features according to indigenous cultural heritage. The indigenous Australian legend retold in Aboriginal Stories by A.W. Reed, recounts the legend of shared ancient kinship between the groups of the ancestral indigenous  Peoples before they possessed human form.

The legend of Platypus details an argument between the Lizards, Birds and Animals, the totemic ancestors of the indigenous Peoples. The Lizards, Birds and Animals argued over who was more ancient, more powerful and rightfully belonged in the waterhole. The culmination of the debate is the Lizards decide to take the waterhole. The Frilled Lizards use their powers to call a storm, flooding the landscape. While the Birds could fly away and larger Animals flee from the flood waters, the Platypus became trapped and drowned. After the flood and much later, the Lizards, Birds and Animals gather again and realise the few numbers of once-plentiful platypus. One of the Lizards, the carpet snake recounts the sighting of an old platypus living far away. Finally, the old Platypus travels to meet with the Peoples and he tells them of his heritage. The Platypus explains he is the most ancient of the Peoples, related to the first group, the Lizards sharing a semi-aquatic lifestyle but he also shares kinship with the egg-laying Birds, but Platypus also has a fur pelt, claiming kinship with the Animals. The legend of Platypus details the shared kinship between the different and most ancestral Totemic groups from which the later human-form ancestors claimed heritage.