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A Dead Djinn in Cairo

Publisher’s Description

Egypt, 1912. In Cairo, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine.
What starts off as an odd suicide case for Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi leads her through the city’s underbelly as she encounters rampaging ghouls, saucy assassins, clockwork angels, and a plot that could unravel time itself.


Review

I recently read A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark after many recommendations for this alternate history series.

Fatma el-Sha’arawi is a Special Investigator for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. A flashy-dresser in male attire, she is unrepentant in a very male-dominated world.

Once she begins investigating the strange suicide of an ancient djinn – an unlikely case of death for djinn- she’s soon led to the City of the Dead in the slums of Cairo after reports of increased ghoul attacks.

In the City of the Dead, Fatma discovers another horrible death of an angel and clues to a cult active in Cairo. Soon, aided by a sultry assassin, Fatma el-Sha’arawi is in a race against the dawn to save the world from a cataclysmic event.

Final Thoughts

A Dead Djinn in Cairo is an amazing novella set in an alternate Cairo during 1912. The world building is fantastic with airships, clockwork angels, automaton servants and the magnificent but terrifying djinn.

Conclusion

A perfect short read for fans of alternate history, steampunk, dark fiction, horror, queer fiction and a fantastical blend of all genres. Highly recommended!

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The Old Dragon’s Head

Publisher’s Description

Constructed of stone and packed earth, the Great Wall of 10,000 li protects China’s northern borders from the threat of Mongol incursion. The wall is also home to a supernatural beast: the Old Dragon. The Old Dragon’s Head is the most easterly point of the wall, where it finally meets the sea.

In every era, a Dragon Master is born. Endowed with the powers of Heaven, only he can summon the Old Dragon so long as he possess the dragon pearl.

It’s the year 1400, and neither the Old Dragon, the dragon pearl, nor the Dragon Master, has been seen for twenty years. Bolin, a young man working on the Old Dragon’s Head, suffers visions of ghosts. Folk believe he has yin-yang eyes and other paranormal gifts.When Bolin’s fief lord, the Prince of Yan, rebels against his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor, a bitter war of succession ensues in which the Mongols hold the balance of power. While the victor might win the battle on earth, China’s Dragon Throne can only be earned with a Mandate from Heaven – and the support of the Old Dragon.

Bolin embarks on a journey of self-discovery, mirroring Old China’s endeavour to come of age. When Bolin accepts his destiny as the Dragon Master, Heaven sends a third coming of age – for humanity itself. But are any of them ready for what is rising in the east?


*** I received an ARC in exchange for a voluntary review ***

Review

I recently read The Old Dragon’s Head by UK author Justin Newland.

The Old Dragon’s Head follows protagonist Bolin, a worker on mending the Old Dragon’s Head, a part of the Great Wall associated with the head of Old Dragon who embodies the wall. But Bolin has an ability to see ghosts and prophecies, including the loss of his fiefdom’s Prince of Yan in battle.

To restore the balance of power in China, the Emperor’s Dragon Throne can only be earned with the aid of the true Old Dragon, Laolong. Eventually Bolin accepts the reality and responsibility of his supernatural gifts and becomes Dragon Master to help protect China’s Empire from the coming war.

Final Thoughts

The Old Dragon’s Head explores a fascinating era of Chinese history and the use of historical fantasy elements works well – the supernatural invading reality and threatening to drive Bolin into madness. Unfortunately, the writing style lacked immediacy and engagement, characters feeling two-dimensional. The world-building and historical knowledge was exceptionally well detailed though.

Conclusion

A recommended read for those who enjoy historical fiction, historical fantasy, alternate history and strong paranormal elements. A detailed historical read.

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Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke

Publisher’s Description

Sadomasochism. Obsession. Death.

A whirlpool of darkness churns at the heart of a macabre ballet between two lonely young women in an internet chat room in the early 2000s – a darkness that threatens to forever transform them once they finally succumb to their most horrific desires.

What have you done today to deserve your eyes?


Review

I recently read LGBTQI dark fiction Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by US author Eric LaRocca.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke is set in the early 2000s and told through an epistolary format of chat conversations and emails – the correspondence between Agnes and Zoe listed as court documentation. The development of the relationship between Zoe and Agnes is one of dominance and submissive natures from the start. How Zoe helps Agnes earn her freedom from societal constraint is the reason she freely enters into a sadomac relationship of master and slave. The changes wrought are irreversible to both women and the relationship spirals dangerously beyond control.

Final Thoughts

A beautifully written, addictive storyline of obsession- twisted dreams and a tale of dark love. A challenge of convention and sometimes sanity. More than what I expected. The epistolary format in dark fiction provides the sense of being an outsider to events which is part of what LaRocca discusses in the Author’s Note about intentions writing the novella and to delve into some of the often misunderstood world of sadomasochistic relationships.

Conclusion

A darkly disturbing but highly recommended read!


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The Path of Thorns


Publisher’s Description

Asher Todd comes to live with the mysterious Morwood family as a governess to their children. Asher knows little about being a governess but she is skilled in botany and herbcraft, and perhaps more than that. And she has secrets of her own, dark and terrible – and Morwood is a house that eats secrets. With a monstrous revenge in mind, Asher plans to make it choke. However, she becomes fond of her charges, of the people of the Tarn, and she begins to wonder if she will be able to execute her plan – and who will suffer most if she does. But as the ghosts of her past become harder to control, Asher realises she has no choice.


*** I received an ARC in exchange for a voluntary review ***

Review

I recently read The Path of Thorns by Australian horror and dark fantasy author A.G. Slatter (aka Angela Slatter).

Asher Todd contrives to organise a position as a governess at Morwood grange to educate the three children. Hired by elder Mrs Leonora Morwood, despite her son Luther Morwood running the estate. Asher is haunted both literally and figuratively by her past and a terrible plan to seek revenge and destroy the Morwoods.

Enacting her plan becomes harder when Asher reveals her skills as a cunning woman, a witch and healer. Soon, the struggling people of the Morwood estate and local Tarn rely on Asher for their care. Caught between her loyalty to the Tarn and her desire for revenge against the Morwoods, Asher’s hand is prematurely forced unleashing a dark tide of magic, regret, desire, and rage.

Final Thoughts

The Path of Thorns skilfully blends fairytales and folklore to reimagine an equistitely detailed dark Victorian world. An beautiful and deadly world of witchcraft and ghosts, dark magic and desperate actions. A tale of unrequited affection with dark consequences, The Path of Thorns is rich with complex characters, a dark and twisted fairytale set in the dark fantasy Sourdough world.

Conclusion

A highly recommended read for lovers of dark fantasy, horror, gothic horror and ghost stories. The Path of Thorns is a well-written and beautifully executed novel. A must read!

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For the Wolf

Publisher’s Description

THE FIRST DAUGHTER IS FOR THE THRONE.
THE SECOND DAUGHTER IS FOR THE WOLF.

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose – to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in order to save her kingdom. Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the Wilderwood – and her world – will be lost forever.


Review

I read the exciting first volume in a new epic fantasy series, For the Wolf (The Wilderwood, #1) by US author Hannah Whitten. Compared to Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale, this is a new dark fantasy world, haunting in its exploration of fairytales and folklore.

For the Wolf follows protagonist Redarys, second daughter to the throne and born to be sacrificed to the legendary wolf monster of the Wilderwood. Her twin sister, Neve, first daughter to the throne is born to rule the kingdom. While Redarys (Red) accepts her fate, Neve tries everything to prevent her from entering the Wilderwood. Neve sees the sacrifice as futile, the wolf not seen in generations nor the five kings returned that he purportedly imprisoned and in doing so, created the Wilderwood. Each sacrifice of a second daughter ensures the monsters of the Wilderwood stay within the wood’s boundaries and the continued fortune of the kingdoms.

Once the Wilderwood, Red flees tangled branches that reach for her and trees desiring her blood. She finds neither the monstrous wolf, nor the five kings imprisoned by him. Instead, Red survives the Wilderwood and discovers a crumbling castle shrouded by forest, untouched by the rot growing through most of the Wilderwood. There she meets the tired defender of the Wilderwood; Eammon, the legendary Wolf of the Wilderwood.

Final Thoughts

For the Wolf was a lush and dark reimagining of fairytales ‘Red Riding Hood’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Snow White, Rose Red’. The folklore of the Greenman was explored in the finale’s battle between giant deities. A dark fantasy, fairytale reimagining, folklore-infused, romance that was a refreshing read.

Conclusion

For the Wolf is a highly recommended read. Those readers of dark fantasy, fairytale reimagining, slow-burn romances and blending of genres will love this book. A great read!

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Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales

Publisher’s Description

Baba Yaga is an ambiguous and fascinating figure. She appears in traditional Russian folktales as a monstrous and hungry cannibal, or as a canny inquisitor of the adolescent hero or heroine of the tale. In new translations and with an introduction by Sibelan Forrester, Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales is a selection of tales that draws from the famous collection of Aleksandr Afanas’ev, but also includes some tales from the lesser-known nineteenth-century collection of Ivan Khudiakov. This new collection includes beloved classics such as “Vasilisa the Beautiful” and “The Frog Princess,” as well as a version of the tale that is the basis for the ballet “The Firebird. “


Review

I recently read the folklore text Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairytales translated by Sibelan Forrester.

This was a fantastic selection of translated tales about the three different guises of Baga Yaga. The Russian witch who dwells deep in the forest in a house built on chicken legs and travels through the air in a mortar and pestle has many forms. Sometimes Baba Yaga is presented as a helper like the Tsar Maiden tales, while other times she steals naughty children or accepts them from their parents and eats them. Still other tales, she provides advice which can be both blessing and curse. She is a prominent figure in the tales of Vasilisa and is featured in the tale of the Firebird.

Final Thoughts

Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairytales was a well-translated version of the tales and beautifully illustrated with as many different visual representations of Baba Yaga as there are literary ones within this collection.

Conclusion

An must-have collection for anyone interested in Russian folklore and those surrounding Baba Yaga and her different guises in Russian fairytales. Highly recommended!

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The Rarkyn’s Familar

Publisher’s Description

An orphan bent on revenge. A monster searching for freedom. A forbidden pact that binds their fates together.

Lyss has heard her father’s screams; smelled the iron-tang of his blood. She witnessed his execution. And plotted her revenge.

Then a violent encounter traps Lyss in a blood-pact with a rarkyn from the Otherworld and imbues her with the monster’s forbidden magic. A magic that will erode her sanity. To break the pact, she and the rarkyn must journey to the heart of the Empire. All that stands in their way are the mountains and the Empire’s soldiers—and each other.

But horrors await them on the road- horrors even rarkyns fear.

The most terrifying monster isn’t the one Lyss travels with…

It’s the one that’s awoken inside her.

Monsters of a feather flock together.


*** I received an ARC and I’m leaving a voluntary review ***

Review

The Rarkyn’s Familiar is the debut Fantasy novel by New Zealand author Nikky Lee.

The Rarkyn’s Familiar follows the protagonist Lyss, an orphan apprentice in a camp of lowly trained mancers. When hunting with two brothers from the camp, they come across a landslide in the mountain roads. A partially destroyed cart contains one of the kingdom’s most feared creatures trapped within a cage. A rarkyn. In a series of well-intended gestures, the three release the powerful sigils on the chains and free the rarkyn but not before it bonds itself as a familiar to Lyss.

Now bonded as familiars, Lyss and the rarkyn have a short amount of time to find someone in the capital capable of breaking their bond before the overwhelming magic of the rarkyn drives Lyss insane. Hunted by the Order mancers, soldiers and the rarkyn’s last captor, Lyss’s magic grows more powerful the more time she spends bonded to the rarkyn but so does her own dark potential. Time is running out for Lyss and the rarkyn if they want to survive the binding.

Final Thoughts

The Rarkyn’s Familiar is an engaging debut novel exploring a unique concept of familiar bonding; where a human becomes bonded to a fantastical creature. This adds a refreshing aspect to the storyline and complex world building that feels genuine for these characters and histories. The is a truly worthwhile read from a new voice in epic fantasy.

Conclusion

A great read for anyone seeking a unique from a debut author and a well-crafted epic fantasy. Highly recommended!

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Horseman

Publisher’s Description

Everyone in Sleepy Hollow knows about the Horseman, but no one really believes in him. Not even Ben Van Brunt’s grandfather, Brom Bones, who was there when it was said the Horseman chased the upstart Crane out of town. Brom says that’s just legend, the village gossips talking.

More than thirty years after those storied events, the village is a quiet place. Fourteen-year-old Ben loves to play “Sleepy Hollow boys,” reenacting the events Brom once lived through. But then Ben and a friend stumble across the headless body of a child in the woods near the village, and the discovery makes Ben question everything the adults in Sleepy Hollow have ever said. Could the Horseman be real after all? Or does something even more sinister stalk the woods?


Review

I recently read Horseman by US folklore and horror author Christina Henry.

Horseman is set several generations after Ichabod Crane, Brom Bones and the infamous headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow. The protagonist is Ben, the grandchild of Brom Bones. While playing deep in the woods near Sleepy Hollow, Ben overhears the discovery of a deceased child, head and hands missing. Soon, Ben becomes aware of a malevolent presence in the woods around Sleepy Hollow.

Although determined to uncover the truth behind the murders of children in Sleepy Hollow but all the while, the dark being from the woods is hunting Ben. Tangled deep within the mystery of murdered children, headless horseman and a malevolent force, Ben discovers a terrible family mystery.

Final Thoughts

Horseman is a dark delight of folk horror and literary reimagining. Christina Henry has created a new legend for the tales surrounding Sleepy Hollow and its folklore.

Conclusion

Horseman is a great read for those who enjoy folk horror. An intriguing blend of the Sleepy Hollow story, a family mystery and dark folklore. Highly recommended!

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South of the Sun

Publisher’s Description

*** I received a review or ARC in exchange for an honest review ***

This is an enchanting illustrated book of fairy tales – but not the kind you read to children at bedtime. They are strictly for the grown-ups. Often dark, the stories visit places where things don’t end happily ever after, where a single decision can haunt you forever. But there are also tales to make you laugh out loud, stories of sweet revenge and scenes of sheer delight in the world of magic and the fey.

All the stories, lyrics and poems have something in common, a contemporary edge. Even those set in earlier times have a modern sensibility that reflects the 21st century and celebrates Australian landscapes, characters and voices.


Review

One of my recent reads was South of the Sun, an anthology by the Australian Fairy Tale Society.

South of the Sun contains many great fairytales and retellings. These are some of my favourites. “GPS” by Cate Kennedy is a retelling akin to ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ but with a chilling modern take. “The Timbers of a Chicken” by Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario reminiscent of tales of Baba Yaga. “The Snow-Gum Maiden” by Anezka Sero was an Australian interpretation of the classic Northern European ‘Snow Maiden’ fairytale. “On Pepper Creek” by Kathleen Jennings was an Irish immigrant tale. “The Karukayan Get Revenge” by Ronnie Wavehill was an indigenous tale of Australian merfolk. “All Kinds of Fur” by Danielle Wood is a dark retelling of Australian colonial times. “Riverbend” by Rachel Nightingale is a uniquely Australian fairytale of drought, modern science and magic. “The Tale of the Seven Magpies” by Angie Rega is a retelling of the Crow fairytale trope, cursed brothers and the sister sewing shirts for her brothers.

Final Thoughts

South of the Sun is a unique collection of fairytale retellings infused with the multicultural nature of Australia. The anthology contains retellings from Germanic, African and Eastern Europe cultures as well as uniquely Australian takes on classic fairytales.

Conclusion

A wonderful collection of Australian fairytale retellings with beautiful illustrations. Highly recommended for readers of folklore, fairytales and retellings. A must read!

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Empire of the Vampire

Publisher’s Description

“It has been twenty-seven long years since the last sunrise. For nearly three decades, vampires have waged war against humanity; building their eternal empire even as they tear down our own. Now, only a few tiny sparks of light endure in a sea of darkness.

Gabriel de León, half man, half monster and last remaining silversaint – a sworn brother of the holy Silver Order dedicated to defending the realm from the creatures of the night – is all that stands between the world and its end.

Now imprisoned by the very monsters he vowed to destroy, the last silversaint is forced to tell his story. A story of legendary battles and forbidden love, of faith lost and friendships won, of the Wars of the Blood and the Forever King and the quest for humanity’s last remaining hope:

The Holy Grail.


Review

One of my recent reads was the grimdark novel Empire of the Vampire by Australian author Jay Kristoff.

Empire of the Vampire follows the last SilverSaint, Gabriel de Leon while imprisoned, he recounts how he found and lost the holy grail to a vampire historian. The world that Gabriel lives in has turned darker and more sinister since a shadow blotted out the sun and the vampires roamed freely. Gabriel’s personal story begins with his childhood and unknowingly not being the biological son of his brutal alcoholic father. Soon after one of his sisters is turned into a reanimated corpse by the vampires. He destroys his sister’s blood-thirsty reanimate by burning her with his touch. When he gets a hunger for blood, he then learns the truth about his heritage. He is a ‘pale blood’, children born from a union between a vampire and mortal woman.

The SilverSaints of San Michon soon come for Gabriel and take him into training where pale bloods form a dwindling army of vampire hunters. Gabriel excels among the SilverSaints but only through acts of heroism. Disliked by his trainers for rashness, Gabriel still can’t explain his unusual and rare powers against the ‘high blood’ vampires. In the midst of his training, Gabriel meets the love of his life Astrid Rennier, a nun in the SilverSorority. Despite the threat of being banished from San Michon for life, Gabriel and Astrid begin a secret affair.

In Gabriel’s retelling of his life, darker elements of his story often overwhelm him. It is in this lingering darkness of the final days before he found the holy grail, a prophesied way to destroy the oldest of the vampires.

Final Thoughts

Empire of the Vampire is an expertly structured novel, the writing and characters alive with emotion and complexities. The accompanying illustrations evoke the world beautifully and add an extra layer to the storytelling.

Conclusion

Highly recommended for readers who like grimdark fantasy, horror and vampires. A fresh take on the vampire trope. A must-read!