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The Once and Future Witches

Publisher’s Description:

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the three Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote – and perhaps not even to live – the sisters must delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.


Review:

The Once and Future Witches by US author Alix E. Harrow was an absolute delight. Following three sisters who meet unplanned after years apart in New Salem, drawn by an inexplicable magic, and caught in a half-spun spell to summon the Lost Tower of Avalon, dislodged in time and space, waiting for the next three witches with enough need to summon it back.

The oldest sister, Bella, is a librarian working at the New Salem College library. An unmarried woman who quickly finds herself drawn to the exotic and welcoming Ms Cleo, a black female reporter with more than a little hint of magic about herself. The middle sister Agnes, is beautiful and strong enduring a menial job as a mill-girl just to keep her independence. A strong woman whose beauty would allow the pick of any men, if Agnes would allow herself to be loved. But Agnes must choose to be supported by others, especially when she is with child and finds the stronger love in a man who isn’t the child’s father. While the youngest sister, Juniper, is a wild and fierce young woman intent on taking the male dominated society down so women (and witches) might assume their rightful place as leaders and advisers.

In the meeting of these three estranged sisters, bonds are rekindled and a other women across New Salem join their cause to have more than what is handed to them, to make certain their daughters have better lives than they did. But a dark spectre hangs over New Salem, an ancient malevolence that is determined to see the last of the witches crushed once and for all beneath a boot-heel.

Final Thoughts:

The Once and Future Witches was a wonderfully well-written novel with strong, detailed characters and a thrilling alternate history of 1893 and the post-Salem witch burnings. Beautifully paced storytelling with exquisite detail, this was such an strong book.

Conclusion:

Highly recommended read for those who enjoy historical fantasy, alternate history, magical realism and more than a dash of folklore. A must-read!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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Stark Naked

Publisher’s Description

Stark Naked is Silvia Cantón Rondoni’s intense personal journey. These reflections reveal her transition from childhood through grief and trauma, to the woman of resilience she is today. Illustrated by Silvia Nieto in close collaboration with the poet, her artwork adds visual soul and compliments a collection filled with raw emotion and brutal honesty.


Review

I recently read the newly launched volume of poetry Stark Naked by fellow Canberra author and Catalan-born poet Silvia Cantón Rondoni.
This poetry collection explores the darkness of grief and uncertainty after a personal tragedy, and focuses on finding a way to live in a newly altered world. Some of the highlights from this collection include “Then” and “Now” – complimentary poems detailing depth of grief and hope for the future, “Origins” about the struggle to overcome adversity of other’s opinions, “I Dare you to Love Me”, and last poem in the collection “David. Me. Why”, an exploration of worthiness.

Final Thoughts

This collection of poetry, Silvia Cantón Rondoni’s first in English (her third language), is a stellar debut. The poems and the illustrations beautifully capture the uncertainty of grief and a future life with fundamental part now missing.

Conclusion

Highly recommended! A visceral but evocative examination of the darkest sense of self and striving to live when everything has fundamentally altered you. A must-read collection with beautifully matched illustrations!

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A Dance with Fate

Publisher’s Description

Liobhan, the young warrior and bard, has lost her brother to the Otherworld. Even more determined to gain a place as an elite fighter, she returns to Swan Island to continue her training. But Liobhan is devastated when her comrade Dau is injured and loses his sight in their final display bout. Blamed by Dau’s family for the accident, she agrees to go to his home, Oakhill, as a bond servant for one year.

But Oakhill is a place of dark secrets. The menacing and enigmatic Crow Folk still threaten both worlds and while Brocc battles them in the Otherworld, Dau must battle his own demon – despair.

When Liobhan and Dau begin to expose the evil at the core of Oakhill, they place themselves in mortal danger. For their enemy wields great power and will stop at nothing to get his way. It will take all the skills of a Swan Island warrior and a touch of the uncanny to give them any hope of survival . . .


Review

I recently read A Dance with Fate (Warrior Bards, #2) by Australian fantasy author Juliet Marillier.

Following from the events of The Harp of Kings, Swan Island warriors Liobhan and Dau are competing for recognition among the band of trained warriors and spies who live on Swan Island, when tragic accident in a bout between Liobhan and Dau finds Dau severely injured and blinded. Claiming recompense for Dau’s injuries and blindness, Liobhan is made a bond-servant to the family estate for one year.

But events at Dau’s home estate of Oakhill are as uneasy as the ones he fled years before with darkness and deceit lingering over the place. In the Otherworld, Brocc is encountering his own trials as the numbers of the Crow folk grow and uncanny people under the protection of his Queen are increasingly injured and he is forced into a bargain that puts them all in jeopardy.

Final Thoughts

A well-written novel that followed effortlessly from A to further develop the three main characters of Brocc , Liobhan, and Dau At times the pace did feel slow and the content more heavily focused on the mortal realm, but as with the first novel in the series, the balance between the mortal realm and Otherworld is a key theme. Indeed, the three characters are challenged to further themselves in the mortal realm such as is the case for Dau, whereas Brocc has chosen his life in the Otherworld and it is Liobhan who truly walks the path between both worlds – those two people closest to her, her Swan island companion Dau, and her brother, an Otherworld bard.

Conclusion

A Dance with Fate is a highly recommended Fantasy novel. Readers who have enjoyed previous works by Juliet Marillier will enjoy this well-crafted historical fantasy, or those who are seeking a new experience of historical fantasy where the line between dark ages history and Otherworld legend is nicely balanced.

** I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review **

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Blood Kissed

Publisher’s Description

In a world where magic and science sit side by side, and powerful witches are considered necessary aides for all governments, Lizzie Grace is something of an outlier. Though born into one the most powerful blue blood witch families, she wants nothing to do with either her past or her magic.

But when she and Belle, her human familiar and best friend, open a small cafe in the Faelan werewolf reservation, she quickly finds herself enmeshed in the hunt for a vampire intent on wreaking bloody havoc. It’s a hunt that soon becomes personal, and one that is going to take all her skills to survive–that’s if the werewolves, who hate all things witch, don’t get her first.


Review

One of my recent reads was the urban fantasy Blood Kissed (Lizzie Grace, #1) by Australian author Keri Arthur.

Blood Kissed follows an low-powered witch Lizzie Grace and her human familiar and fellow witch, Belle. Although both Lizzie and Belle are witches of royal bloodlines, neither posses the level of power required to be extensively trained in the magical arts. Belle and Lizzie have talents that lie along the psychometric lines and practice in the rural village of Castle Rock as psychics and simple charm makers. But the town of Castle Rock itself is located on a werewolf reservation but the werewolf pack is hostile to witches.

Lizzie is asked by the mother of a missing teenage girl to locate her using her psychometric skills. But when Lizzie does locate the girl it is a sorrowful discovery of her body. The subsequent events lead Lizzie and Belle to uncover the presence of a man, a blood-witch who is also a vampire. In partnership with the hostile werewolf, Aiden, the murder investigation leads Lizzie and Belle into dangerous situtations as they try to prevent further deaths and uncover the true identity and motivations of the blood-witch.

Final Thoughts

Blood Kissed explores the alternate Australian world where the paranormal is part of reality. Although the relationship between Lizzie and Aiden can feel predictable, the story itself is unique and the prevents this debut in a series becoming too standard. It is a refreshing paranormal story and a promising beginning to a series.

Conclusion

A great read for urban fantasy, a unique Australian setting. Recommended for those who enjoy urban fantasy and paranormal fiction.

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The Ghost Tree

Publisher’s Description

When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in the town of Smiths Hollow, Lauren is surprised, but she also expects that the police won’t find the killer. After all, the year before her father’s body was found with his heart missing, and since then everyone has moved on. Even her best friend, Miranda, has become more interested in boys than in spending time at the old ghost tree, the way they used to when they were kids.

So when Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging the remains of the girls through the woods, she knows she can’t just do nothing. Not like the rest of her town. But as she draws closer to answers, she realizes that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the center. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.


Review

One of my very recent reads was The Ghost Tree by US horror and dark fantasy author Christina Henry.

The Ghost Tree follows the protagonist, fifteen year old Lauren after the brutal murder of her father and the subsequent lack of police investigation. As Lauren enters adolescence properly, the childhood friendship with Miranda – who has been using Lauren to make herself seem more adult and important – begins to crumble. The one thing still shared between Miranda and Lauren is the Ghost Tree in the woods, an ancient and lightning scarred tree in the woods just beyond the edge of the township of Smiths Hollow.

The sudden murder of two teenage girls in the woods coincides with Lauren’s vision of a monster responsible for the brutal murders. But the real darkness of Smiths Hollow is revealed by Lauren’s grandmother, who is part of a lineage of witches who have always inhabited Smiths Hollow and, after an act of betrayal by then township, laid a curse upon the town. For the continued prosperity of the Smiths Hollow, each year a girl from the town is sacrificed to the monster dwelling in the Ghost Tree, and soon after, the everyone in the town forgets -including the daughter they sacrificed. But now the curse is unravelling, and so the dark truth about Smiths Hollow begins to be remembered.

Final Thoughts

The Ghost Tree is a dark and disturbing tale, where past treachery and betrayal has laid the seeds for the bloody future of the town. In this well-written and highly suspenseful novel, gothic horror comes to a new landscape skilfully combining elements of dark fiction and horror.

Conclusion

Highly recommended! The Ghost Tree is a fabulous and disturbing tale for anyone who enjoys dark fiction, gothic horror and dark folklore. A must-read!

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The Dark Chorus

Publisher’s Description

The Boy can see lost souls.

He has never questioned the fact that he can see them. He thinks of them as the Dark Chorus. When he sets out to restore the soul of his dead mother it becomes clear that his ability comes from within him. It is a force that he cannot ignore – the last shard of the shattered soul of an angel. To be restored to the kingdom of light, the shard must be cleansed of the evil that infects it – but this requires the corrupt souls of the living!

With the help from Makka, a psychotically violent young man full of hate, and Vee, an abused young woman full of pain, the Boy begins to kill. Psychiatrist Dr Eve Rhodes is seconded to assist the police investigation into the Boy’s apparently random ritualistic killings. As the investigation gathers pace, a pattern emerges. When Eve pulls at the thread from an article in an old psychology journal, what might otherwise have seemed to her a terrible psychotic delusion now feels all too real…

Will the Boy succeed in restoring the angel’s soul to the light? Can Eve stop him, or will she be lost to realm of the Dark Chorus?


Review

I recently read debut dark fiction novel, The Dark Chorus by UK Horror author Ashley Meggitt.

The protagonist of The Dark Chorus is thirteen year old Boy, an orphan with retained memories of an ancient Angel from Mesopotamian religion. After his mother’s death shortly after his birth, the Boy returns to the mental asylum where he was born and his mother died and through the repressed memories of the Angel, he captures his mother’s soul to eventually restore to a body. His first attempt is unsuccessful and he is apprehended by the police for a ritualistic murder. While awaiting charges, the Boy meets Makka, a violent teenager who instantly takes to protecting the Boy. In return, The Boy promises to help Makka kill his own father in revenge. And Makka becomes an accomplice to harvesting the souls from corrupted individuals to restore the Angel’s soul, that which lives within the boy.

After escaping detention with Makka, the Boy and Makka begin harvesting corrupted souls while Makka plans to avenge his mother’s death by killing his fascists father who he believes raped her. In their efforts, they meet Vee, a teenage girl caught in a paedophile ring linked to Makka’s father. The vengeful teenagers begin a spree of ritualistic murders, followed closely by a psychiatrist who discovers the history and ritual of the murders the Boy is committing are a rare brand of ancient Mesopotamian religion. Ultimately, it is the link between Vee and the padeophile ring and blackmailing those influential members of London society that offer protection to Makka, the Boy and Vee in the efforts to reunite the pieces of the Angel’s soul.

Final Thoughts

The Dark Chorus is the debut dark fiction novel from Ashley Meggitt and the unique combination of dark humour, ancient religion and ritual, mystery and psychology worked well with the paranormal themes. The prose is well-written, the combination of humour and historical aspects give a good depth to the characters and the story-arc. At times the writing does feel stilted and motives can seen out of character. But overall, The Dark Chorus is an interesting and well-delivered dark fiction novel.

Conclusion

The Dark Chorus is recommended to readers who enjoy dark fiction and paranormal themes, crime and psychological suspense, or the incorporation of ritual and history into a unique work. I look forward to more from this author.

*** “I received this book with a request for an honest review” ***

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Bleak Precision

Publisher’s Description

Eight stories, an essay and artwork by two-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated author, Greg Chapman.
Table of contents:
Kakophony
Horror Fiction: A Bleak and Depressing Look at Truth
The Pest Controller’s Wife
Fascination
Scar Tissue
Unrequited
Mongrel
Hard Bargain
Feast of Feasts


Review

Bleak Precision, a collection of horror and dark fiction tales by Australian-based author and artist Greg Chapman.

There are many good stories in Bleak Precision but some of the highlights of Chapman’s work included “Kakophony”, a series of frantic conversations between an unidentified narrator and the ‘voices in her head’ and the chilling ending to silence the cacophony of screams and torment is all the more disturbing for its delivery; “Unrequieted”, a psychological exploration of the dark depths of lost love, and the disturbing lengths to replace an unrequited love with a memory; “Scar Tissue” was a skilful blend of shock horror and dark fiction that examined the need to belong, and to be normal but through the lens of a zombiesque theme; lastly, “Hard Bargain” a provoking tale of Asmael and the Mountain in Purgatory, where a deal is struck between an angel, demon and Asmael over the life deemed ‘wasteful’ by humanity.

Final Thoughts

Bleak Precision was a collection of diverse, well-written and dark tales that had the right balance between disturbing dark fiction and the shock of horror. I look forward to reading more.

Conclusion

A recommended must-read collection for those who love dark fiction, and thought-provoking horror.