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Cursed: An Anthology

Publisher’s Description:

“It’s a prick of blood, the bite of an apple, the evil eye, a wedding ring or a pair of red shoes. Curses come in all shapes and sizes, and they can happen to anyone, not just those of us with unpopular stepparents…

Here you’ll find unique twists on curses, from fairy tale classics to brand-new hexes of the modern world – expect new monsters and mythologies as well as twists on well-loved fables. Stories to shock and stories of warning, stories of monsters and stories of magic.”


My Review:

I recently read Cursed: An Anthology collection of dark fantasy tales inspired by fairytales featuring authors Christina Henry, Jen Williams, Neil Gaiman, Angela Slatter, and Catriona Ward, among others.

Three original contemporary dark fantasy stories were real stand-outs. The story “The Troll Bridge” by Neil Gaiman was a new take on body-snatchers, the fairytale variants of a troll challenging three brothers, but here, three versions of the same man throughout his life. “New Wine” by Angela Slatter was an original dark tale with aspects from Bluebeard and stepmother fairytale themes and even a darker take on Cinderella. “At That Age” by Catriona Ward is a dark fiction exploration of Changeling folklore, with some aspects from the Hansel and Gretel fairytale.

Two original dark fantasy stories set mythic realms were of real note. Christina Henry’s “As Red as Blood, As White as Snow” was blend of the Snow White, Rose Red and Bluebeard fairytales which was dark and lavishly written. “Listen” by Jen Williams was a fantastic exploration of the Red Shoes fairytale and folklore of the Scandinavian Necker and the Forest wild gods.

Final Thoughts

Cursed: An Anthology is a unique collection exactly as promised: a weaving of old and new to create original tales inspired by curse folklore. The combination of Dark fantasy and contemporary fantasy tales was a great balance and also highlighted the way fairytale themes are incorporated into many aspects of speculative fiction.

Conclusion

Cursed: An Anthology is wonderful collection that spans Dark fantasy and contemporary fantasy with original tales inspired by cursed folklore and fairytales. Recommended read for those who love Dark fantasy and how original stories continue to find inspiration from these classic fairytales. A lavish, and dark read!

Short Fiction, stories

Forthcoming: Gothic Legends Anthology

I am pleased to announce my short story “The Dark Horseman” will feature in forthcoming horror anthology Legends of Night to be published by Black Ink Fiction.

You can read more about the research behind the legend, folklore and history of the Dullahan, or the Irish headless horseman, here.

More details on preorder links, and how to purchase copies of Legends of Night coming soon!

research, Short Fiction, stories

The Irish Headless Horseman

I have always been fascinated by the folklore of the headless horseman. I first became aware of this harbinger of death in the famous story by Washington Irving The Legend of Sleepy Hollow set in rural region in the state of New York. But the Irish legend of the Dullahan (“dark man”), the headless horseman is a harbinger of death. In the legend of the Dullahan, he carries a moldy severed head under his arm, taking a blood sacrifice (and the head) of his intended victim. According to folklore of the Dullahan, he only speaks once during his furious ride through village and field, and those words are only for his victim, the sacrifice.

The connection between the headless horseman and sacrifice is related to Celtic mythology and the ancient god, Crom Dubh, a fertility god to whom blood sacrifices were made. In county Cavan, the Killycluggin stone is believed to be an ancient representation of Crom Dubh, and like the Dullahan of legend travelling the roads, the large carved stone was found on a main road close to a nearby Bronze Age stone circle.

I was inspired by the Dullahan, this embodiment of Crom Dubh, and in writing a short story, I’ve incorporated these elements of folklore, legend, archaeology and mythology to weave a new tale of this infamous headless horseman.

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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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Mongrels

Publisher’s Description:

“He was born an outsider, like the rest of his family. Poor yet resilient, he lives in the shadows with his aunt Libby and uncle Darren, folk who stubbornly make their way in a society that does not understand or want them. They are mongrels, mixed blood, neither this nor that. The boy at the center of Mongrelsmust decide if he belongs on the road with his aunt and uncle, or if he fits with the people on the other side of the tracks.

For ten years, he and his family have lived a life of late-night exits and narrow escapes—always on the move across the South to stay one step ahead of the law. But the time is drawing near when Darren and Libby will finally know if their nephew is like them or not. And the close calls they’ve been running from for so long are catching up fast now. Everything is about to change.


Review:

One of my recent reads was Mongrels by US author Stephen Graham Jones. I am a fan of classic horror themes and for me, the werewolf is one of the best, but it is also one which I feel is less explored. Mongrels promises to make up for this, and does so, delivering an authentic werewolf story.

The protagonist and narrator remain unnamed throughout the story, but follows a pre-adolescent boy through to his late teens growing up in a family of werewolves. Although, he has not yet changed into a werewolf himself- we learn early that most werewolves are born human and only become shape-shifters usually around puberty – or sometimes, not at all. Following his grandfather’s death, the boy and his aunt and uncle take to the road, travelling across the Deep South of America, never staying long in most places.

Mongrels changes between the past, the boy’s childhood years and his lessons learned, and the adolescent years as he waits, and wonders – hopes even- that he will change into a werewolf, that the blood he sees as a link to family, to his aunt and uncle, his grandfather, will prove itself. This is an insightful look at family, heritage and the broken aspects of society where those like the werewolves, who long for the freedom are restrained by society and its expectations.

Final Thoughts:

Mongrels is an entirely new exploration of a classic monster from Horror fiction. The style of writing adds a beautiful, literary prose with the occasional bursts of graphic violence that both shock and deliver emphasis to the ‘reality’ of a horror story. Although narrated like a ‘coming of age’ story, Mongrels is much more than that, with the selection of fascinating characters and situations that propel the storyline forward across time and space of the characters’ lives. Combining the ‘bigger than big’ tales of legend with the character’s histories, the sense of reality and fiction blend seamlessly. Skilfully written, and entraining even when the plot feels like it’s drifting, it feels comfortable given the narration style.

Conclusion:

A highly recommended read for those who enjoy contemporary horror and dark fiction. Stephen Graham Jones provides a wonderful literary approach to the werewolf theme, re-making a classic monster into an entirely new and authentic concept. Cannot recommend highly enough!

Short Fiction, stories

Reimagining Arabian Nights

One of my recent short stories, a work-in-progress, was a reimagining of a tale recounted in the classic rendition, The Arabian Nights translated by Sir Richard Burton. The volume, also known as One Thousand and One Nights follows the sultana Scheherazade who cunningly begins a tale each night, never finishing it until the next, to prevent jealous and murderous husband from killing her, and ensuring her survival.

In developing an original tale inspired by The Arabian Nights story “The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Peri Banu”, I also incorporated inspiration from the fourteenth century Iberian Moorish kingdom, the Nasrid caliphate in Granada, Andalusia. In Persian folklore, the peri were diminutive brilliantly coloured winged-beings, a race that were seperate and as powerful as Jinn and Ifriit, and hunted by both. These rare fairy-like beings are the focus of my reimagined and original tale.

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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.

reads, Recent Reads

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.

Short Fiction, Writing

Reimagining Red Riding Hood


Recently I have been exploring the concepts behind the Red Riding Hood fairytale. There are two main versions I have used as inspiration for writing a new short story. The version by Charles Perrault called “Little Red Riding Hood” and the version by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm called “Little Red Cap”. Both examine a young girl who is travelling through the woods and meets a charming stranger who tries to lead her astray. Both versions also share a dark undertone, the stranger portrayed as menacing despite his charming words.

When writing my short story, I wanted to delve into the concept of the forest as a dangerous place, sinister and treacherous for those uninitiated. In my recent reimagining of the red riding hood tale, I’ve included the concept of an unwary youth and the historical setting of pre-Napoleonic France. I’ve included some more modern interpretations like the werewolf folklore of the French “loup-garou” and explored sensitives around homosexuality, the sheltered son of a Marquis seduced by an eloquent nobleman. Here, the passage between innocence and experience of the adult world is represented by the transference of the werewolf curse. This was a complex story to write, delving some darker elements, both historical and modern sensitivities of seduction, society and acceptance of LGBTQI individuals throughout history and still today.

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.