Recent Reads

Ivory’s Story

From the Blurb:

“Long ago, a good man transgressed and was brutally punished, his physical form killed and his soul split asunder. Now, one half of his ancient soul seeks to reunite with its lost twin, a search that leaves murder in its wake…
In the streets of modern day Sydney a killer stalks the night, slaughtering innocents, leaving bodies mutilated. The victims seem unconnected, yet Investigating Officer Ivory Tembo is convinced the killings are anything but random. The case soon leads Ivory into places she never imagined. In order to stop the killings and save the life of the man she loves, she must reach deep into her past, uncover secrets of her heritage, break a demon’s curse, and somehow unify two worlds.”

My Review:

I recently read Ivory’s Story by African-Australian author Eugen Bacon after readings several reviews and the description roused my interest in this unique speculative fiction novella set in Australia.

The protagonist of Ivory’s Story is female detective Ivory Tembo who has the unhappy task leading the failing investigation into a series of grisly murders of high-profile men in sexually explicit ways in Sydney, Australia. Raised as an orphan and without knolwedge of her family, Ivory has only the unusual opal amulet from her mother to link her to true heritage. Determined to solve the killings and discover her identity, Ivory is directed to a seer at Orange Crater in the northern-central Australia.

The long travel to Orange Crater, Ivory finds her mother also visited but finds no trace of any other family ties only a strong affiliation with a cranky medicine woman. Under the guidance of this medicine woman, Ivory learns how to defeat and stop the murders and the reasons behind the gruesome killings. The medicine woman explains a past tragedy involved an exiled son of a medicine man. This son harboured a rare gift of twin-souls but when accused of stealing a Chieftain’s daughter, his execution does not kill him but does separate his souls, causing one to remain forever within his body, the other to always seek to return. For Ivory, she must re-unite the twin souls after centuries and dimensional planes apart if she is to save the man she loves and stop the killings.

Final Thoughts:

A combination of beautifully written prose and vivid descriptions of the Australian and inter-dimensional landscapes, Ivory’s Story also features a cast of well-defined characters and refreshingly strong female characters. Although, there are sections of the novella that seem to drift from the central focus of the story and can detract from its purpose, leaving me wanting more about Ivory’s detective work and development as a seer, the strong weird fiction themes do not make this feel like a true flaw, more like a necessary element of the weird fiction style.

My Conclusion?

Ivory’s Story is recommended for its beautiful prose and strong female characters. Readers will be certain to enjoy a cultural odyssey for those familiar and new to both the weird and speculative fiction genres.

events, Writing

Phantom 3 Anthology Release


December 2020 is proving a busy month. Excited to announce, the release of Paranormal anthology Phantom 3 (Lockdown Fiction Series, #14) published by Black Hare Press on 23rd December, 2020.

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.


Interested in Phantom 3 (Lockdown Fiction Series, #14)? Free ebooks are available to download (except Amazon Kindle) and all paperback copies. More details on where to get your copy here

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!

Recent Reads

Mexican Gothic

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.”

Review:

One of my Halloween reads for 2020 was the highly acclaimed horror noir novel Mexican Gothic by Mexican-born Canadian author Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

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.

My Thoughts:

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.

My Conclusion?

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.

Short Stories

Psychological Horror & Demonology


I have recently finished writing a psychological horror short story inspired by the theme of wrath. My recent story focused on an unlikely suspect for a violent crime spree to explore the intersection between modern and past perspectives of criminal theory, such as aberrant psychology currently explaining what past eras accredited to demonic possession. The foundations of my short fiction developed from demonology resources, often examining demons from different cultures and the specific traits and proclivities associated with each of them, including the possession and influence of human emotions and actions like anger, violence, war, deception and murder.

reads, Recent Reads

Corpselight

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.

Review:

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.

Final Thoughts:

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.

Conclusion?

Corpselight is a must-read urban fantasy, great world-building, dark humour and strong folklore foundations. Highly recommended for fans of urban fantasy!

reads, Recent Reads

Uprooted

Uprooted by US author Naomi Novik explores the author’s polish heritage through vibrant folklore in this Fantasy novel.
Although Uprooted began like many fairytale retellings with a naive village girl from a rural village, who is taken by the Dragon and trapped in a tower. This is the basic synopsis of Uprooted but the story is significantly more than that. The villages of the valley ordinarily offer an exceptional young woman from their villages as tribute to the Dragon, who is actually a wizard, and the tower is his stronghold.
In Uprooted, Agnieszka is unexpectedly taken by the Dragon when she is chosen instead of her friend Kasia, the likely candidate. But Agnieszka unknowingly possesses a unique magic of her own, the type and depth which even the Dragon, the strongest wizard in the realm finds difficult to understand. As Agnieszka begins to learn how to handle her magic, she begins to find Sarkin (the Dragon) not as remote or indifferent as she once thought. Along with this, Agnieszka begins to understand how the valley she grew up in, lies within a shadow of a much larger and darker force than Sarkin. The burden of Sarkin’s position was more than life in the tower, standing sentinel against the real enemy, the Wood. For as the Wood grows closer to the capital city, a corruption leeching from it that destroys everything it touches, consuming the humanity to leaving only darkness and rage behind in a humanoid husk. Sarkin and Agnieszka soon find themselves united in a battle to save their country and the heirs to the throne, both from their own family and the Wood. Although Agnieszka‘s own magic is very strong, she is untrained and her power so unfamiliar to the other wizards that it is baffling to all but Sarkin who manages to work with her, blending her wilder magic sourced from the wandering wood-witch, Baba-Yaga, with his own, organised formulas. In the end, Agnieszka is able to find ways to understand that how the corruption of the Wood spreads from a single source, but her and Sarkin must choose to purge or destroy the source of corruption if they hope to vanquish the Wood and free the country from its grasp.
Uprooted was a rich and wonderful tale of magic and transformation. I enjoyed the detailed folklore and historical depth to the novel which made the characters both unique and fitting for the style of a fairytale retelling. A highly recommended read!