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King of Assassins

Publisher’s Description

Many years of peace have passed in Maniyadoc, years of relative calm for the assassin Girton Club-Foot. Even the Forgetting Plague, which ravaged the rest of the kingdoms, seemed to pass them by. But now Rufra ap Vthyr eyes the vacant High-King’s throne and will take his court to the capital, a rat’s nest of intrigue and murder, where every enemy he has ever made will gather and the endgame of twenty years of politics and murder will be played out in his bid to become the King of all Kings.

Friends become enemies, enemies become friends and the god of death, Xus the Unseen, stands closer than ever – casting his shadow over everything most dear to Girton.


Review

I read the King of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom, #3) by UK author R.J. Barker, the final instalment in this dark fantasy series.

King of Assassins is set a decade after the events of the Blood of Assassins where King Rufra has ruled Maniyadoc with Girton at his side as personal guard, the Heart Blade openly as his assassin. In turn, Maniyadoc has been blessed with years of peace and spared the losses of the Plague of Forgetting that ravaged the other kingdoms. When the High-King dies in the Forgetting Plague and the throne is vacant without an heir, Rufra takes his court to the capital to vie for the High-Kingship.

To Girton’s surprise, there is more than diplomatic dangers and treachery in the capital with the Children of Xus and the Landsman seeming unlikely allies. Worse still, Girton’s magic reveals a much darker danger at the centre of the capital which threatens Rufra, his allies, Girton and everything they have ever fought for.

Final Thoughts

King of Assassins is a very satisfying conclusion to The Wounded Kingdom series. In keeping with the dark fantasy theme, this is a satisfying but not ‘happy ever after ending’ which is exactly what makes this final instalment consistent with the rest of the series. Some elements felt disconnected or unanswered which was disappointing but did not distract from the overall style which often was esoteric in some sections. A satisfying novel on its own and, importantly, as the final in a series.

Conclusion

A highly recommended dark fantasy novel and series for those readers who enjoy well-written and engaging novels and characters, and intriguing world building. A must-read!

reads, Recent Reads

My Heart is a Chainsaw

*** I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley ***

Publisher’s Description:

“Some girls just don’t know how to die…”

Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.

Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.


Review:

My recent read was horror novel My Heart is a Chainsaw by US author Stephen Graham Jones.

The protagonist of My Heart is a Chainsaw is Jade Daniels, a seventeen year old Native American girl living in Proofrock , Idaho. Derived by her peers, obsessed with slasher movies to hide a darker personal betrayal than a town that ignores her, Jade is trapped by the bleakness of her position, unable to escape living with her alcoholic father and shunned by Proofrock. What Jades wants more than anything is revenge for being unseen. When two Swedish travellers are murdered in Indian Lake, the manner suggestive of a local legend, a child called Stacey Graves or the ‘Lake Witch’ who has historically been blamed for many murders over the generations in Proofrock. Jade believes this is the beginning of her chance to see Proofrock punished for ignoring her abuse and her.

On the opposite side of Indian Lake is Terra Nova, the once-national park and Shoshone territory, now a construction site for incredibly wealthy families called the Founders. Jade strikes an unlikely friendship with Letha, daughter of one of the Founders and in Jade’s senior year. In the ensuring carnage and slowly rising body count, the identity of the murderer remains unclear, the reason for the slayings equally puzzling as threads of people’s lives cross and some are cut permanently. One thing Jade is certain about is that Letha is the Final Girl of Proofrock, the only one who can destroy the slasher in the very real reckoning for Proofrock. But Jade is forced to confront the realisation that slashers are fictional, following a genre while real life does not. Forced into grim reality, Jade tackles the wrathful supernatural force of Stacey Graves and finds her own heart is a chainsaw, roaring into being with a powerful need to survive, defend herself and those few like Letha she cares about.

Final Thoughts:

My Heart is a Chainsaw was a wonderful exploration of the slasher genre which combines supernatural elements boosted by Graham Jones’s characteristic style: tensioning the unknown with sudden shocks of horror. It works beautifully and is so skilfully done, it drives the story forward, keeps the reader on edge, waiting for the next sudden shock. There are strong characters and some explorations of very dark themes which give such a strong literary quality to the novel. Although My Heart is a Chainsaw felt a little slow to get into focus, once it did, it was impossible to stop reading.

Conclusion:

Absolutely can’t recommend this one enough! I enjoyed The Only Good Indians so much but this one is my new favourite by Stephen Graham Jones. Recommended for readers who enjoy horror of all sorts, psychological and dark fiction styles, lovers of the slasher genre and supernatural tales. A must-read!

Short Fiction, stories

666 Release


Thrilled that 666 Dark Moments was released on 31 August, 2021. This is a micro fiction anthology of horror and dark fiction published by Black Hare Press.

Included in 666 is my own dark fiction “The Gallows Dancers” inspired by the gothic folklore of the hangman and hanging trees.

You can find out more about 666 Dark Moments and where to purchase ebook and paperback copies here.

Short Fiction, stories

Reign Release


Delighted that Reign (Five Hundred Fiction, #7) was released on 31 August, 2021. This is a flash fiction anthology of dark fantasy of the genre published by Black Hare Press.

Included in Reign is my own dark fantasy flash fiction “Poisoned Fruit, Poisoned Reign” inspired by the folklore of curses and poisoned apples. You can read more about the research behind my flash fiction here.

You can find out more about Reign (Five Hundred Fiction, #7) and where to purchase ebook and paperback copies here.

research, Short Fiction, stories

Dark Christmas Lore


Christmas is a time for celebration and family gatherings, right? Strictly speaking, yes. But there are darker lores beneath the celebration many of us enjoy each year. The folklore surrounding the Krampus and even Saint Nicholas and the Butcher are grisly territory.

When I travelled to Iceland in 2019 for research, I found a very different set of folklores related to Christmas and the span of Yuletide. The folklore of thirteen Yule trolls who terrorise and disrupt Icelandic life for thirteen days is eclipsed by the arrival of their mother, the cannibalistic troll-witch Gryla who steals away children to cook into stew for her large family in their mountain cave.

Fascinated by this dark and fable-like warning of the dangers around Yuletide in Iceland, I was inspired to write a short story featuring Gryla and the Yule trolls, focusing on the darker natures the Yule trolls reportedly once possessed before modern sanctification of their images.

Short Fiction, stories

Haunt Release


Delighted that Haunt (Five Hundred Fiction, #6) was released on 24th August, 2021. This supernatural anthology is published by Black Hare Press and features my flash fiction “The Haunted Ones”.

You can find out more about Haunt (Five Hundred Fiction, #6) and where to purchase ebook and paperback copies here.

reads, Recent Reads

Starve Acre

Publisher’s Description

The worst thing possible has happened. Richard and Juliette Willoughby’s son, Ewan, has died suddenly at the age of five. Starve Acre, their house by the moors, was to be full of life, but is now a haunted place.

Juliette, convinced Ewan still lives there in some form, seeks the help of the Beacons, a seemingly benevolent group of occultists. Richard, to try and keep the boy out of his mind, has turned his attention to the field opposite the house, where he patiently digs the barren dirt in search of a legendary oak tree.

Starve Acre is a devastating new novel by the author of the prize-winning bestseller The Loney. It is a novel about the way in which grief splits the world in two and how, in searching for hope, we can so easily unearth horror.


Review

I read horror folklore novella Starve Acre by UK author Andrew Michael Hurley after many recommendations. It did not disappoint!

Starve Acre follows protagonist Richard and his wife Juliette six months after the unexpected death of their son, Ewan. The couple are struggling to mend their marriage and Juliette is convinced Ewan’s ghost still haunts the house. When Juliette invites a group of occultists into the house to help with Ewan’s ghost, she is remarkably healed for a while, her thoughts of Ewan almost vanished as though he never existed in their lives.

Juliette’s husband Richard, has become fascinated with a legendary oak tree that once grew in the now fallow field of Starve Acre, a plot of land where nothing grows and where the oak tree -where once men were hanged for crimes – no evidence remains. But Richard finds the roots of the oak tree and a skeleton of a hare. Bringing the skeleton of the hare inside the house, Richard begins a dark reworking of magic and horror that is reborn from the fallow earth of Starve Acre.

Final Thoughts

Starve Acre is a only a novella but written in a skilful literary style more commonly found in novel-length volumes. Weaving together complex characters and events, important details are revealed like breadcrumbs leading the reader to the final truth of the mystery of Starve Acre. It is a glorious dark fiction tale, strong in gothic folklore and utterly chilling.

Conclusion

A highly recommended read. Starve Acre is a must-read for fans of dark fiction, those who enjoy gothic folklore, a literary contemporary fantasy and readers who enjoy a chilling mystery. Thrilling!

events, Short Fiction, stories

Stories of Survival Release

Pleased to announce that Stories of Survival published by Deadset Press was released on 21 August, 2021. This speculative fiction charity anthology is in honour of Australian speculative fiction writer and mentor to many, the late Aiki Flinthart, with all proceeds going to the Melanoma Foundation to help with the fight against cancer.

This anthology includes many wonderful stories from Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction authors. Featuring my own Fae-inspired short story “Three Tasks for the Sidhe”, you can read more about the research behind the story here.


More details on how to purchase ebook or paperback copies of Stories of Survival can be found here.

research, Short Fiction, Writing

Inuit legend of the Qallupilluk

I am always fascinated by First Nations legends and lore. One of my current research projects has focused on the Inuit legends of the Qallupilluk, monstrous female beings who lurk in the frozen waterways and beneath the ice sheets, snatching unwary children beneath the icy water.

My latest short story examines this legend from the perspective of an outsider, someone who is not of the Inuit, and to whom the legends are foreign, placing her and her child at risk.

research, Short Fiction

Ancient Egyptian Myth & War

In one of my latest research themes, I explored the Ancient Egyptian mythology surrounding Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess of war and a daughter of Ra. In one myth, Ra is angered by the Egyptian people’s lack of subservience to him and sends Sekhmet as punishment. She devours the armies sent against her until the deserts run with blood, so strong in her lust for war. Sekhmet is finally subdued by wine poured over the bloody sand until her wrath is calmed.

I was inspired by the war goddess Sekhmet when writing a new microfiction which focuses on Sekhmet as a force, her bloodlust fuelling the rise of war in Ancient Egypt.