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No Good Deed

Publisher’s Description :

Isobel assumed her wedding would be the grandest day of her life, but when she wakes in a ghost-filled tomb still wearing her bridal veil, it’s clear events have taken an unexpected turn.

With the assistance of a vengeful spirit Isobel escapes her imprisonment, but her new husband Adolphus will not be pleased to discover his wife is alive. As Isobel comes to understand her husband’s darkest secret, the newlyweds begin a deadly dance that only one will survive.


My Review:

I read Dark fantasy novelette No Good Deed: A Sourdough Tale by Australian author Angela Slatter.

No Good Deed is set in the Sourdough universe following protagonist Isobel, a former student of St Dymphna where she learned many skills from blade-work to poisoning, and not a lady easily pushed around. After a marriage proposal from the son of a old family (unknowingly long since fallen on hard times but keeping up appearances), Isobel thinks her marriage well made. Until she wakes in her wedding dress locked within a crypt with the remains of Adolphus’s previous wives. Alive and determined to get her revenge, Isobel finds support from another vengeful wife, this one incoproreal, but more than pleased to get revenge on Adolphus with Isobel’s help.

So begins the cat-and-mouse game between the newlyweds where Isobel must kill Adolphus if she wishes to survive her marriage.

Final Thoughts:

No Good Deed is truly a tale of revenge and laced with dark humour. The gothic theme is lavishly applied but joined with a strong female protagonist to make No Good Deed very enjoyable and unique.

My Conclusion:

Highly recommended read for lovers of gothic fiction, horror, dark fantasy and grimdark. Beautifully written, darkly humorous and enjoyable to the end. A must-read!

Short Fiction, stories, Writing

Näcken Folklore

The näcken is a water being from found in Scandinavian folklore. The näcken is a variant in Sweden of the Norwegian fossegrim, a river sprite that drowns children and unwary travellers in the brook. The näcken can also be bargained with and a mortal learn to play the fiddle with similar enchantment. Once taught, the mortal fiddler will play so beautifully that the trees are said to weep. But like any bargain with otherworldly beings, there is usually a high cost for the skill earned at the näcken’s tutelage.

I was inspired by the folklore of the näcken and similar river sprites when writing a new microfiction focusing on the aftermath of a bargain made between the näcken and a musician. The fiddler now plays with the enchantment the näcken’s skill provided, but those who listenen to him play must dance to their deaths.

Short Fiction, stories

Revolutions Release


I am excited to announce that Revolutions, a speculative fiction anthology was released on 25th September, 2021. This anthology is inspired by the theme of revolution and showcases authors from Australian and New Zealand and is published by Deadset Press.

Revolutions includes my dark fantasy “Talismans”, a short story of sacrificial magic and retribution set against the backdrop of rising civilisations and empires. You can read more about my research behind my own story here.

If you are interested in purchasing an ebook or paperback copy of Revolutions, more details are here.

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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!

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.

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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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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!