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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Dark Currents

Dark Currents is the first instalment in a new urban fantasy series Agent of Hel by American author Jacqueline Carey.
Set in the picturesque Midwestern tourist town of Pemkowet, protagonist Daisy Johanssen is a hell-spawn, daughter of a demon and mortal mother and the chosen representative and enforcer for the Norse goddess Hel, ruler of the Underworld and the Fae community of Pemkowet. Daisy acts as an intermediary between the mortal community in her role as official Fae liaison for Pemkowet Police Department and the Fae creatures that call Pemkowet home, vampires, fairies, pixies, nymphs, ghouls, werewolves, brownies and many other eldritch beings drawn to the magical powers centered around Yggdrasil and the Underworld ruled by Hel. On initial appearance, Pemkowet is an ordinary tourist town but the sudden death of a wealthy college student and involvement of the Fae community requires Daisy to act as liaison and solve the issues quickly without disrupting the balance between mortal and Fae communities.
But Daisy has her own issues, not controlling her demonic heritage could have consequences for her ability to succeed as Hel’s liaison, where Daisy’s temptation to unleash her anger and high emotions often leads to unintended violent effects on the world around her. Daisy has a race against time to discover who murdered the human college student and the purportaitors of crimes against the Fae before the delicate balance of Pemkowet dissolves into chaos.
Dark Currents was an enjoyable urban fantasy with a well-researched folkloric and mythology background which provided great foundations for the unusual setting of the novel. It was a novel of opposites that matched the town it is set in: a story that was light and dark, amusing but also with serious undertones. I look forward to reading the other novels in the Agent of Hel Trilogy!

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Darkdawn

I recently read Darkdawn, the third and final instalment in the Nevernight Chronicle by Australian author Jay Kristoff.
Darkdawn follows from the preceding volume Godsgrave where protagonist, the assassin Mia Corvere has succeeded in her plans on the arena sands of the grand gladiatorial games in Godsgrave. But Mia’s plans were not as unforeseen as she had hoped. With the Blades of the Red Church on her heels, her young brother Jonnen resisting his liberation from Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo’s corpse behind her, Godsgrave erupts into chaos where Consul Scaeva takes control of the Republic as Imperitor, a king in all but name. As Mia plans to rescue her old mentor Mecuro used as bait in a trap laid for her within the protection of the Red Church, Mia must use all her skills as an assassin, help from her friends in the collegium, her lover Ashlinn, and master the skills of her darkin heritage to defeat Scaeva and finally avenge her familia. Hardest challenge of them all, Mia must try not to lose who she is in the process. Darkdawn is a dramatic conclusion to the adventures of the Nevernight Chronicle, the characters and plot staying true to intention, still maintaining a high-octane adventure with a satisfying conclusion. Kristoff is true to his characters and this fabulous series is not for the faint of heart. Highly recommended read!

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The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings by US author Brandon Sanderson was a recent recommendation. This first instalment in The Stormlight Archive series is definitely an epic fantasy not just in the scope of the novel itself but the incredible detail paid to the world-building and the unique characters.

The Way of Kings follows a handful of characters, all very different storylines with protagonists in different social, political and life-stages but linked either directly or indirectly through an event that changed all their lives. The Way of Kings begins with the assassination of King Gavilar at the time of a peaceful pact between the opposing Parshendi and Alethi forces. Many years later, battle continues on the Shattered Plains where Brightlord Dalinar leads armies to avenge his slain brother, King Gavilar, waging war against the Parshendi armies. Years of on Shattered Plains have turned the war-camp into permanent barracks and villages supporting Alethi highprinces and brightlords all competing for the favour of King Gavilar’s son.

The years of war have drained the Alethi kingdoms of men and wealth where Kaladin, forced to abandon his surgeon-apprenticeship and support the war effort finds that the honour of the ruling brightlords is little more than words. Although blessed with power he cannot fathom which sees him survive every calamity while others die, Kaladin soon finds himself a slave on the deadliest battlefields of the Shattered Plains. Only Dalinar Kholin upholds the honour Kaladin expected long-ago from the ruling brightlords and Dalinar‘s influence weakens as his obsession with the mythic past, the mysterious Order of Knights Radiant increases. But Dalinar’s niece, the scholar Jasnah Kholin seems certain the a truth lies behind the Knights Radiant, their defeat at the Last Desolation and terrible ancient beings called the Voidbringers. Jasnah has her own secrets that her ward, a young woman and thief named Shallan is determined to uncover. The connection between these four strengthens as the mysterious assassin who murdered King Gavilar becomes active once more.

The Way of Kings is an epic tale exploring the chain-of-events where a cause-and-effect scenario had multiple ramifications for all levels of society and long into the future. Although The Stormlight Archive are very much still in their infancy after The Way of Kings, it is a masterful piece of storytelling and world-building. I look forward to reading the next instalments. Highly recommended!

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Vigil

One of my recent reads was the paranormal urban fantasy, Vigil by Australian author Angela Slatter. The first book in the Verity Fassbinder Series follows the paranormal private detective Verity Fassbinder set in an alternate version of Brisbane city, Australia where Verity acts as a mediator between the mortals (Normals) and the paranormal community (Weyrd). Verify herself is a half-blood, orphan daughter of disgraced and executed Weyrd criminal. While her only inherited trait from her Weyrd ancestry is a remnant of the infamous strength her father once possessed, she acts as an investigator for the Normal police system and the Weyrd Council.

Set in an alternate version of the modern day city of Brisbane, both resembling and not similar at all to the real Australian city, Verity is tasked with investigating the darker side of the Weyrd world and closely linked to her own father’s demise. Those in the Weyrd community who refuse to discard the old traditions of hunting and consuming Normals have continued their predelications despite the Weyrd Council outlawing such traditions when Verity’s father came to the attention of Normal and Weyrd communities alike. Now Verity must confront those aspects of her own past and family connections when a wine is sold among the Weyrd community made from the tears of Normal children. To keep the peace between the Normals and prevent them from discovering the Weyrd community among them, Verity begins to investigate deep into the old, traditional families among the Weyrd and close to the Council itself. Into this already atmosphere fraught atmosphere, a powerful and uncontrollable force is hunting both Weyrd Councillors and normals alike. As if the issues Verity needs to investigate were not dangerous enough, the sirens inhabiting Brisbane, near-immortal winged bird-like women are being murdered around the city. The threat to the peace between Normals and Weyrd begins to escalate and the potential for disaster increases as Verity needs to solve three cases or risk the Weyrd of Brisbane being revealed to the outnumbering populus of Normals.

Vigil is a debut novel by Angela Slatter and the first in a trilogy of urban fantasy with a basis in myth and folklore. Likened to US Urban fantasy author Jim Butcher I also found similarities with US urban fantasy author Patricia Briggs. However, Angela Slatter’s Vigil was refreshingly different, the style and characters as unique as the world-building behind the novel. The strong research in myth and folklore is clear in Vigil and it is woven throughout the story to create a new work without the dreaded ‘info-dump’ moments which make the history and lore of the Weyrd feel a genuine component of the world-building process. In sum, Vigil transports you to an alternate Brisbane which feels like it could be real if you just look close enough. A highly recommended read!