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

Unnatural Order Anthology Release


I’m delighted to announce the release on 31st December, 2020 of speculative fiction anthology Unnatural Order by CSFG. This is a fascinating collection of stories inspired by the monstrous, unnatural and the fantastic.

Featuring my own story “The Bargain”, a tale of Fae guardians and the bargains struck to assure the equilibrium between the nature, Fae and humanity. You can read more about my research for “The Bargain” here.

Are you interested in these tales of the fantastic and monstrous? More details purchasing ebook or paperback copies of Unnatural Order here.

Short Stories

The Wendigo & Psychological Horror

Another of my recent work-in-progress short fiction pieces, has been a psychological horror story inspired by wendigo psychosis an unusual form of ‘cultural psychosis’ specific to First Nations peoples of Canadian-North American Great Lakes regions where belief in a supernatural being, the wendigo, provides a unique cultural framework for a psychosis. This psychosis has specific disease symptoms which like the cultural belief – is unique – and found nowhere else in the world.

What is a wendigo then? It is a legendary being originating from northern Algonquian First Nations oral folktales and legends (recently popularised in supernatural fiction and movies), described in varying ways but, almost always, as a ravenous cannibalistic monster with an insatiable hunger. Historically, the First Nations peoples including the Algonquian, Cree and Ojibwa attributed wendigo possession to those driven mad in the harsh winter months of isolation and deprivation who resorted to cannibalism, often without a famine present.

In this short story, I was interested to take wendigo folklore and wendigo psychosis deliberately outside its necessary cultural context to explore the shadowy boundary between reality and insanity, and the inherent horror of uncertainty: a human monster or monstrous possession? This story was written through a single character’s point of view, exploring the darker, unintentional psychological motivations of a declining mental state and attempts to rationalise violent, aberrant behaviour.

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

Storm of Locusts

From the Blurb:

“It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Diné monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a girl with a strange clan power.

Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, then rescue Kai and make things right between them.

Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods and, ultimately, the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.”

Review:

Storm of Locusts by US author Rebecca Roanhorse is the second volume in the dystopian fantasy series The Sixth World inspired by Navajo legend and mythology.

Storm of Locusts follows from the dramatic ending of Trail of Lightning with a six month hiatus between the revelations shared by Maggie and Kai. Since then, Kai has not contacted Maggie and she has become the unlikely guardian for a young girl, recently orphaned but long-since in possession of her clan powers and the dark, violent history that often entails.

Maggie and her charge are enlisted to search for the missing youngest son of Maggie’s neighbours, the Goodacres. But Caleb Goodacre is feared abducted as part of a charismatic and dangerous doomsday cult, its leader proclaiming kinship with an ancient Navajo legend, the White Locust. Maggie quickly discovers that Caleb left willingly with Kai and she must trust her instinct that Kai is no monster. With the aid of her charge and the unusual clan powers for tracking, Maggie follows Kai and the White Locust beyond the safety of the Walls of Dinétah where the post-apocalyptic world of body harvesting challenge the horror Maggie has witnessed hunting Navajo monsters in Dinétah. But evidence continues to mount that Kai has willingly been helping the White Locust using his own clan powers of persuasion to grow the following and enable the White Locust in destroy the Sixth World. Maggie has only the untruthworhty advice of Mican to aid her and she must decide whether Kai is good or whether his clan powers have deceived her who is a friend or a monster.

Final Thoughts:

Storm of Locusts proved to be the sequel to Trail of Lightning that took the brutal Sixth World that Rebecca Roanhorse had masterfully created into another level. I found the story compelling in its honesty and the gritty sense of realism was refreshing for dystopian fantasy which often feels unauthentic in its envisioned future. Storm of Locusts perfectly captures a world of dwindling hope, selfishness and greed prevail as human society struggles to survive. It is a fertile place, where a cult promising new order and inclusion, could flourish.

My Conclusion:

A must-read if you enjoyed Trail of Lightning, fans of dystopian fantasy or those craving an original fantasy inspired by non-Celtic folklore. Highly recommended!

reads, Recent Reads

Harrow the Ninth

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?”

Review:

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.

My Thoughts?

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.

Conclusions:

Highly recommended. Brilliant characters, complexity and world-building continuing The Locked Tomb Trilogy. A great read!

reads, Recent Reads

Metamorphosis: Short Stories

I recently read Metamorphosis: A Collection of Short Stories by Australian author Claire Fitzpatrick.
I do not commonly read Horror fiction, so I am probably a bit unfamiliar with the development of themes in “body horror” fiction. However, I was really intrigued by the different stories in this collection, appreciating the originality and scope. I was particularly interested in the way, Metamorphosis stepped-away from the more common gothic and classic “shock” tropes of zombies, aliens, necromancy, shape-shifters, mutations and the ‘grotesques’ in depraved scientific experiments. What Metamorphosis contained were stories which reflected elements of those classic biological horror themes, but delved deeper into the psychological unease experienced by all facets of society, intent on exploring some disturbing aspects of our “modern” sociocultural paradigm.
Metamorphosis is surely why Claire Fitzpatrick is referred to as the “Australian Body Horror Specialist”. The combination of classic biological horror fiction with the elegant psychological unease indebted to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is a style of Horror fiction that seeks to find the monstrous in society but also to examine the unspoken fears and potential horrors in our “modern” society. If you dare, it’s a highly recommended read!

Recent Reads

Muse of Nightmares

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!

research

Iceland’s Monstrous Yule Cat


In Iceland, the Yule Cat, Jólakötturin, is a traditional monstrous figure that purportedly prowls the countryside on Christmas Eve devouring those who did not receive new clothing items for Christmas.

There are many debates over the origins of the Yule Cat in Icelandic tradition which does not appear to be mentioned in written form before the 19th century, however, some Icelandic traditions state new clothes are a reward for children who complete chores on time by Christmas Eve. The truth about the origins of Jólakötturin is probably complex and for whatever reason, does not appear openly in historical texts.


In modern Reykjavik, an illuminated sculpture of Jólakötturin has recently been established in honor of the Yule Cat tradition in Iceland.

reads, Recent Reads

Trail of Lightning

From the Blurb:

“Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology. As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.”

Review:

Trail of Lightning, a supernatural fantasy by American author Rebecca Roanhorse was a finalist for the 2019 Nebula and Hugo Awards.

Trail of Lightning is set in the near-future, a world where legendary Navajo heroes, gods and monsters have re-emerged after a devastating flood leaves only Dinétah, the former Navajo reservation was protected and kept above the water.Maggie Hoskie is a monster hunter, her rare and dangerous clan powers allow brief preternatural strength, speed with an adrenaline boost in battle. Maggie was apprenticed to the legendary hero and immortal, Neizghání. Neizghání leaves Maggie after noticing her clan powers are more similar to the monsters than is comfortable for Maggie.

A missing girl and monsters created by dark powers, lead Maggie to hunt for a Navajo practitioner of witchcraft. Accompanied by a still-apprenticed but powerful medicine man, Kai Arviso, Maggie follows trails of lighting, the physical markers left by gods like Coyote and the hero Neizghání, as they travel through Dinétah. The unraveling mysteries of who is making the monsters and why force Maggie and Kai to confront their past and future in order to survive the present.

Final Thoughts:

Trail of Lightning attracted some controversy over cultural appropriation of the Navajo practices (unlike her characters, Rebecca Roanhorse is not Navajo), but the timely reminders of Oil Wars and apocalyptic scenarios of climate-induced destruction are combined with the endurance of violence and trauma which make Trail of Lightning such a pertinent speculative fiction work.

My Conclusion?

A must-read dystopian fantasy.