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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!

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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.

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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.

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All the Murmuring Bones


Publisher’s Description

“Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.

A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them.”


Review

I recently read All the Murmuring Bones by Australian author A.G. Slatter (Angela Slatter), a gothic folklore novel set in the historical fantasy world, akin to Ireland.

The protagonist is Miren O’Malley, raised by her grandmother Aoife O’Malley after being orphaned by her mother, Isolde O’Malley. Miren has lived her entire life at Hobb’s Hallow, the ancestral house of the O’Malleys, a prominent family, who have a traditionally ruled the oceans as brigands and later merchants, the uncanny wealth gained by the O’Malleys tied to legends of a bargain struck with the Mer, one that has lasted generations but required a female O’Malley to bear the name and offer one child to the sea every generation. However, with the waning of ‘pure blood’ O’Malleys, Miren is now the last bearing the O’Malley name.

After the death of her husband, Aoife O’Malley makes plans to marry Miren to her cousin, and strengthen the O’Malley bloodline and, through Aidan Fitzpatrick’s wealth and ambition, restore the once-prosperous O’Malleys.

But Miren O’Malley is independent and ha no desire to marry Aidan Fitzpatrick, a cruel man determined to restore the tradition of one O’Malley child given in sacrifice to the Mer. Miren learns her mother Isolde never died as she was told by her grandmother, and to avoid marrying Aidan and to find her mother at last, Miren embarks on a journey to the mysterious estate of Blackwater, where the last of the letters from her mother mentioned she was living.

Final Thoughts

All the Murmuring Bones is a wonderful gothic folklore story, weaving the legends of the dark and foreboding water sprites, beings like the the Mer, kelpies and rusalky maidens, which are not the kind beings from Disney movies, but cruel and calculating beings. Beneath the layers of folklore and story, there is a stronger theme of independence, knowing oneself and the power of love, in the context of a historical fantasy world, where love based on need, the supply of stability, sustenance and livelihood versus the power of love based on want, the desire to be with someone irrespective of need. Against the backdrop of the O’Malley tradition and sacrifices to the Mer to retain prosperity, the need to fulfil a bargain, there are many threads to All the Murmuring Bones that make it a complex tapestry of a novel.

Conclusion

All the Murmuring Bones is a great read for fans of gothic folklore, legends of mermaids, kelpies or or water beings, fans of Angela Slatter’s Sourdough tales and those who enjoy a heartfelt historical fantasy. Highly recommended, an absolute must-read!

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New Tales of Old Anthology Release


I am pleased to announce the release of New Tales of Old, Volume 1 from Raven & Drake Publishing on 30th April, 2021. This anthology of short stories is inspired by fairytales and legends, reimagining with a twist. Two of my short stories are featured, “A Trail of Corpselights” inspired by Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, (you can read more here ) and “The Dark Harpist” a dark fantasy reimagining of the Pied Piper fairy tale, (more details here).

If you are interested in purchasing an ebook or paperback copy of New Tales of Old, Volume 1, more details can be found here.

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Watch Anthology Release


I am pleased to announce that horror flash fiction anthology Watch (Five Hundred Fiction, #3) published by Black Hare Press was released on 20th April, 2021. This anthology is inspired by stalker themes, dark fiction and horror genres featuring my dark contemporary fantasy “The Eldritch Wood”.

If you are interested in purchasing an ebook, hardback or paperback copies of Watch (Five Hundred Fiction, #3) more details can be found here.

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Age of Assassins

Publisher’s Description:

TO CATCH AN ASSASSIN, USE AN ASSASSIN…

Girton Club-Foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But his latest mission tasks Girton and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.
In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire land.


My Review:

I recently read Age of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom, #1) by UK fantasy author R. J. Barker.

Age of Assassins follows the protagonist Girton, apprentice assassin to Master assassin Merela Karn, when she and Girton find themselves unwillingly embroiled in court intrigue and blackmailed by the Queen of Manyidoc determined to find those behind the attempted assassination of her son and heir, Aydor.

Girton, disguised among the noble blessed class, and using the title ap Gwyner, takes a position among the squires to learn the grievances and allegiances between Aydor and the challenger to the throne, Tomas. The machinations of the court at Castle Manyidoc, rivalries and alliances soon threaten to sweep Girton and Merela into deadly intrigue with fatal consequences. The only hope for survival that Girton and Merela can have is staying one step ahead of other assassins, rival factions, and a growing threat from sorcerers.

Final Thoughts:

I had reservations about reading Age of Assassins, concerned how similar the publisher’s description was to Robin Hobb’s Assassins trilogy. Despite my misgivings, The Wounded Kingdom series has been an interesting journey through a unique fantasy world and history, the well-defined characters intriguing and thoughtful.

My Conclusion?

Age of Assassins is likely to become a favourite for any fans of epic fantasy, unique world-building, and intrigue. A highly recommended read!

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Avenge Anthology Release


Thrilled to announce the release of Avenge (Five Hundred Fiction, #2) on 23rd March, 2021. This flash fiction anthology published by Black Hare Press on the theme of superheroes and villains features my dark fantasy, anti-hero story, “The Hero of Silversmiths”. You can read more about that here.

If you’re interested in reading this great collection of superhero-supervillains inspired stories, you can find more details on purchasing ebook and paperback copies here.

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Lost Lore and Legends Anthology Release

Pleased to announce the release on 22nd March, 2021 of micro-fiction anthology Lost Lore and Legends published by Breaking Rules Publishing Europe and featuring five of my 100 word drabbles inspired by European folklore and mythologies.

Lost Lore and Legends explores a variety of legends, mythologies and folklore from European tradition. Two of my drabbles, “The Troll-Witch” and “The Elf Stone” were inspired by Icelandic folklore and legend, “The Seelie Court” was based on Scottish Fae folklore, while “Pixie-Touched” explores the dark Cornish lore of pixies and madness, and “Oak and Holly” tells of the physical manifestation of the summer and winter kings, forever duelling for supremacy. If you are interested in the research behind these five drabbles, you can read more here.

Interested in purchasing an ebook, paperback or limited hardback edition of Lost Lore and Legends? More details and links can be found here.

Short Fiction, Writing

Dark Fantasy Assassins


There’s any number of great epic dark fantasy books and series that explore the darker nature of humanity from the point of mercenaries, assassins and anti-heroes.

I decided to delve into some of that inspiration and an anti-hero protagonist in a flash fiction story. What motivates characters to choose a darker path? Does the morally ambiguous road they follow trouble their conscience?

The result was an interesting character with a psyche primed to survive, whatever the cost. A “riches-to-rags” story in the underbelly of a fantasy metropolis where the only ones imagining a hero are dependent on an anti-hero to survive. “The Hero of Silversmiths” will feature in the Avenge (Five Hundred Fiction, #2) Anthology, coming soon in 2021.