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Shadow and Bone

Publisher’s Description:

“Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold—a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.

Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite—and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift.

As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation.

Welcome to Ravka . . . a world of science and superstition where nothing is what it seems.”


Review:

I recently read young adult fantasy novel Shadow and Bone (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, #1) by US author Leigh Bardugo.

Shadow and Bone is set predominantly in East Ravka, ruled by a greedy king prone to excess, unaware of the growing power and dominance of the once-feared Grisha, those with the supernatural abilities of creation: weather, fire, the body, and metals known as ‘the little science’. Those of Grisha ability live in luxury compared to the common people of East Ravka. Protagonist, young female cartographer, Alina Starkov is on deployment with the First Army to the Shadow Fold, a supernatural barrier dividing Ravka into East and West. The Shadow Fold, first created by the most-feared Grisha, the Black Heretic, is a inhospitable wasteland populated by Volcra, winged monsters.

While making a crossing of the Shadow Fold, Alina’s childhood friend and fellow orphan, Mal Oretsev, a tracker and rifleman in the First Army is among those in the expedition attacked by the monsters and Alina’s dormant Grisha power is suddenly released, saving Mal and many of the expedition. Alina’s Grisha power is as rare as that belonging to the Black Heretic and General Kirigan or ‘the Darkling’, a power that Ravka have waited generations to see. Where the Darkling creates shadow, Alina creates light and together, their powers can finally destroy the Shadow Fold and re-unify Ravka.

Alina soon finds herself in the luxury and splendour of the highest Grisha ranks and training. But nothing is as it seems among the Grisha and Alina misses Mal and security he always provided. When her powers cannot reach the strength the Darkling needs for them to destroy the Shadow Fold, he suggests a specific amplifier for Alina; a collar of antler from a supernatural white stag. It is Mal who tracks the stag but when Alina receives the antler collar, she understands the horrible price she must pay and soon Alina can only hope to save Ravka from the darkest of deceptions.

Final Thoughts:

Shadow and Bone is young adult fantasy novel and has many fascinating elements to the world-building, the powers of the Grisha themselves are a interesting concept. The social and political intrigue that form the context to the main storyline is equally fascinating. But there is sense of a missed opportunity in the simple main plot which is predictable, making the interesting and diverse characters feel underwhelming in some instances. Nonetheless, Shadow and Bone has significant potential and hopefully, the political and social context of Ravka and the history of the Grisha will be fully explored in the remaining novels of the trilogy.

Conclusion:

Shadow and Bone is recommended for readers of young adult fantasy looking for a unique fantasy realm, and those who enjoy a fantasy concept that is intellectually challenging. The predictable storyline can feel a bit stale for more advanced readers but the characters are all interesting and engaging. Overall, a recommended read for those who enjoy young adult fantasy.

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Blood of Assassins

From the Publisher:

“In a desperate bid to escape the bounty on his head, assassin Girton Club-Foot has returned to Maniyadoc, but the kingdom he knew no longer exists.

Three kings battle for supremacy in a land ravaged by war-and one of them is his old friend Rufra. With threats inside and outside the war encampment, Girton races to find the traitor behind an assassination plot. But his magic can no longer be contained and Girton may not be able to save even himself.

It’s assassin versus assassin for the life of a king…”


My Review:

I read Blood of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom, #2) by UK author R.J. Barker after enjoying the first instalment Age of Assassins. This second book does not disappoint.

Blood of Assassins follows from the events of Age of Assassins, Girton Club-foot and his Master, the assassin Merela Karn, have returned to Maniaydoc after years away employed as mercenaries. They return to find the kingdom divided, rightful ruler and Girton’s friend, Rufra, has been waging war against Tomas and Aydor. Brought into Rufra’s war camp, Girton witnesses Manyidoc pushed to breaking point, the people and the land suffering. Determined to find a traitor and murderer in his inner circle of advisors, Rufra asks Girton to find the instigators of a plot against him.

But Girton is haunted by the dark magic he struggles to hold, a powerful magic that has created sorcerers too easily in the past, and one that Rufra cannot abide, not even in his oldest and most trusted friends. In a battle to defeat Tomas and save Maniaydoc from tearing itself apart by war, Rufra finds an unlikely ally in the former heir, Aydor. While for Girton, repressing his magic creates a seething, dangerous power and, despite his intention never to use it, the magic has its own intentions.

My Thoughts:

Blood of Assassins continues the storyline established in Age of Assassins but now delves deeper into the characters, political intrigues and troubles of the kingdom many years later. While this is an epic Fantasy, there is insightful look at the ingrained trauma inflicted on a kingdom and a land ravaged by war.

Conclusion:

Blood of Assassins is great second instalment in the Wounded Kingdom Trilogy with fans of epic fantasy, political intrigue and magic sure to find this though-provoking read worthwhile. Highly Recommended.

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In Solitude’s Shadow

Publisher’s Description

“An army is at the gates of Haltveldt, a nation built on war, and nothing is as it seems.

Calene Alpenwood, a powerful warrior-mage gifted with the Spark, makes a shocking discovery that sets into motion events that put her at odds with the very masters she serves. Reuniting with her mother Zanna, a woman banished after a terrible crime, they team up with unlikely alias as they attempt to save the fortress of Solitude from destruction.

One thing’s for certain; ruin approaches if Solitude falls and life will never be the same when The Banished return.”


My Review:

I recently read In Solitude’s Shadow (Empire of Ruin, #1), the first fantasy novella by UK author David Green. I received an advanced reader copy in return for an honest review.

In Solitude’s Shadow follows four main characters in a kingdom divided by war and class, where the race of elves are treated as a lesser race of beings by the ruling and more numerous human lords. In this culturally hostile kingdom, the dwindling numbers of Sparkers, warriors and philosophers with a telepathic link among other talents, hold the mountain fortress of Solitude. Beyond the fortress of Solitude, the growing armies and numbers of the Banished bids their time to attack when human and eleven armies are at their most divided.

My Thoughts:

The premise of In Solitude’s Shadow is a tradition fantasy backdrop of a land at war, a disunited army that is fighting among itself, and a common enemy with the potential to threaten both. The threat of the Banished, returning from beyond the mountain fortress of Solitude may sound familiar. There are strong similarities with the basic premise of A Game of Thrones, itself based on older historical sags which provides strong-foundations. In Solitude’s Shadow, the limitations of a novella are more pronounced, where four main characters in the story arc and world-building can result in “info-dump” tactics at times rather than being incorporated into the storytelling which can feel overwhelming in the novella format.

Conclusion:

In Solitude’s Shadow is an ambitious novella, and the fantasy series promises to be just as ambitious. Recommended for those seeking traditional fantasy in a short-read novella format.

events, Short Fiction, Writing

Over the Rainbow Anthology Release

I am pleased to announce Over the Rainbow: An LGBTQ+ Fairytale Charity Anthology published by Black Ink Fiction was released on 1 June, 2021.

Over the Rainbow anthology is in support of The Trevor Project, a collection of fairytale retellings with a LGBTQI+ protagonist, featuring my story “The Queen of Crows”, a retelling of a French Gascony fairytale. You can read more about my research for the story here.

More details on how to purchase an ebook, or paperback copies of Over the Rainbow can be found here.

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All the Murmuring Bones


Publisher’s Description

“Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.

A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them.”


Review

I recently read All the Murmuring Bones by Australian author A.G. Slatter (Angela Slatter), a gothic folklore novel set in the historical fantasy world, akin to Ireland.

The protagonist is Miren O’Malley, raised by her grandmother Aoife O’Malley after being orphaned by her mother, Isolde O’Malley. Miren has lived her entire life at Hobb’s Hallow, the ancestral house of the O’Malleys, a prominent family, who have a traditionally ruled the oceans as brigands and later merchants, the uncanny wealth gained by the O’Malleys tied to legends of a bargain struck with the Mer, one that has lasted generations but required a female O’Malley to bear the name and offer one child to the sea every generation. However, with the waning of ‘pure blood’ O’Malleys, Miren is now the last bearing the O’Malley name.

After the death of her husband, Aoife O’Malley makes plans to marry Miren to her cousin, and strengthen the O’Malley bloodline and, through Aidan Fitzpatrick’s wealth and ambition, restore the once-prosperous O’Malleys.

But Miren O’Malley is independent and ha no desire to marry Aidan Fitzpatrick, a cruel man determined to restore the tradition of one O’Malley child given in sacrifice to the Mer. Miren learns her mother Isolde never died as she was told by her grandmother, and to avoid marrying Aidan and to find her mother at last, Miren embarks on a journey to the mysterious estate of Blackwater, where the last of the letters from her mother mentioned she was living.

Final Thoughts

All the Murmuring Bones is a wonderful gothic folklore story, weaving the legends of the dark and foreboding water sprites, beings like the the Mer, kelpies and rusalky maidens, which are not the kind beings from Disney movies, but cruel and calculating beings. Beneath the layers of folklore and story, there is a stronger theme of independence, knowing oneself and the power of love, in the context of a historical fantasy world, where love based on need, the supply of stability, sustenance and livelihood versus the power of love based on want, the desire to be with someone irrespective of need. Against the backdrop of the O’Malley tradition and sacrifices to the Mer to retain prosperity, the need to fulfil a bargain, there are many threads to All the Murmuring Bones that make it a complex tapestry of a novel.

Conclusion

All the Murmuring Bones is a great read for fans of gothic folklore, legends of mermaids, kelpies or or water beings, fans of Angela Slatter’s Sourdough tales and those who enjoy a heartfelt historical fantasy. Highly recommended, an absolute must-read!

events, Short Fiction, Writing

Candy Capers Release

I am pleased to announce the release on May 20th, 2021 of children’s and young adult fantasy anthology Candy Capers from Raven and Drake Publishing. This fantastic confectionery themed anthology is in aid of The Brain Tumour Charity and for readers aged 6 and up.

I am thrilled my children’s flash fiction ‘Grace’s Kingdom’ is included in this anthology.

You can find more details on Candy Capers and how to purchase ebook and paperback copies here.

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The Witch’s Heart

Publisher’s Description:

Angrboda’s story begins where most witches’ tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.

Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life—and possibly all of existence—is in danger.

With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family…or rise to remake their future. From the most ancient of tales this novel forges a story of love, loss, and hope for the modern age.


My Review:

I recently read The Witch’s Heart by US author Genevieve Gornichec, a reimagining of Norse mythology from the perspective of the witch Angraboda.

Angraboda is the name chosen by the witch Gullveig after she is burned three times and pierced through the heart with a spear after meeting with Odin, leader of the Aesir gods. Angraboda refuses to teach Odin sedir, the prophetic form of magic and in retaliation, Odin burns her three times from which she returns to life each time.

After fleeing the Aesir and taking refuge in the Iron Wood, Angraboda has only shadowy memory of her life as Gullveig and names herself Angraboda “the bringer of sorrow” in place of her previous name. She is soon visited by the Trickster Loki, who is also Odin’s brother (by bond but not by blood). Loki recovers Angraboda’s heart and enjoys her company. Keeping their friendship a secret from the gods and giants, it soon becomes much more. Although Loki asks Angraboda to be his wife, their relationship must stay a secret for Loki is later married to an Aesir goddess Sigyn, further binding him to Odin and the Aesir gods.

It is the three children from Angraboda and Loki’s union that proves to be the catalyst for their relationship and for the future of the Nine Worlds. Angraboda has three children with Loki, each more monstrous than the first. Their half-dead daughter Hel, son Frenrir in wolf form and Jorumungand, a sea serpent. But it is not just the strange children born from the union of two unusually powerful giants that causes Odin concern, but the prophecy Angraboda has of her children destroying the Aesir gods and bringing about the end of the Nine Worlds.

Odin desires the knowledge of Angraboda’s prophecy concerning the fate of the Nine Worlds in a hope to prevent the outcome and save himself and his children. Odin’s desire comes at the price of Loki’s freedom and Angraboda’s children who the Aesir cannot allow to fulfil their role in the end of the Nine Worlds, the great battle Ragnarok. So begins Angraboda’s struggle to preserve her family, shield them from the Aesir and survive the bitterest of betrayals. In the end, Angraboda must choose whether she wants vengeance against Odin and the Aesir, or whether she can save at least one of her children.

Final Thoughts:

The Witch’s Heart is a wonderful reimagining of the Norse myths from the perspective of one of the least well-known figures, the witch Angraboda. In many of the myths, Angraboda is mentioned only in passing as the wife of Loki and mother of the giant wolf Fenrir, guardian of the dead, Hel, and the giant serpent, Jorumangand. The mother of three monsters who are prophesied to kill the gods, Angraboda is a mysterious figure, a witch who dwells in the Iron Wood. The Witch’s Heart also examines another female figure in Norse mythology, the witch Gullveig who Odin and the Aesir burn three times and pierce her heart with a spear when she refuses to submit to Odin. A clever story that combines two important and mysterious figures in Norse mythology, Gullveig and Angraboda, giving substance to both in Gornichec’s reimagined Angraboda.

My Conclusion:

A highly recommended read for those who enjoyed the reimagining of the half-Titan witch Circe by Madeline Miller, those who enjoy stories with strong female protagonists or for readers who want a fresh reimagining of Norse mythology.

Short Fiction, Writing

Forthcoming Children’s Fantasy Anthology

I am pleased to announce my flash fiction story “Grace’s Kingdom”, a children’s and early young adult fantasy will feature in Candy Capers to be published by Raven & Drake Publishing in aid the of The Brain Tumour Charity.

You can read more about my research behind my story “Grace’s Kingdom” here.

More details coming soon on the release of Candy Capers in ebook and paperback here.

Short Fiction, Writing

Forthcoming: LGBTQ+ Fairytale Anthology

I am pleased to announce my short story “The Queen of Crows”, a retelling of a French Fairytale will feature in Over the Rainbow to be published by Black Ink Fiction in aid the of The Trevor Project.

You can read more about my research behind my short story “The Queen of Crows” here.

More details to follow on preorders and release dates for ebook and paperback copies.

Short Fiction, Writing

A World of Imagination

I recently wrote my first flash fiction piece for children and young adult readers. This was a challenge for me with my usual writing themes exploring the darker side of fiction and best suited to adult readers.

In writing my flash fiction piece, I drew on some of the most influential children’s fiction to develop my own story, one that had deep roots in my personal experiences and one I hoped would resonate with children experiencing bullying and coping with being different. In telling this story, I wanted to channel the reality of these extremely difficult daily experiences and also to show how being different is a hidden strength.

Some of my inspiration for my own story was was Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia. These classic children’s fiction all feature protagonists exploring magical worlds hidden to all but them while escaping a harsher reality that exists beyond the borders of the their fantasy world.