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The Eternal Machine

Publisher’s Description

A woman with the strength to rebel. A shapeshifter who wears the souls of the dead. Together, they face a lethal enemy… Em helped create it. Now she must craft its defeat. In a city owned by industrialists, Em sells her magic to make ends meet. The extraction procedure is brutal and potentially deadly.

Desperate for change,she joins an underground resistance movement to weaponise her magic and stop the abuse of workers. Meanwhile, a mysterious voice wakes Ruk from a decades long slumber and compels him to become human. He wants to break free but is torn between his shapeshifter instincts and the needs of the soul that sustains him.

On streets haunted by outcasts and predatory automatons, a new danger emerges – an ever-growing corruption of magic and science. Em and Ruk must put aside their differences and pursue it – each for their own reasons. Their discovery will forever change their lives… Or end them.


*** I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review ***

Review

I read The Eternal Machine by Australian author Carol Ryles, a debut novel combining steampunk, gaslamp fantasy and alternate history.

The Eternal Machine follows the protagonist Emma as she ekes out an existence in the lower classes of society, selling her magic alongside many others for the money to support themselves. Their magic is used to as energy for the powerhouses that support the industrialisation movement in this steampunk version of Victorian society. But as Emma begins to realise the extent of her true magical strength when left undrained by the powerhouses, she rivals the mages who run the powerhouses and society. Together with her partner Lucien, she begins to investigate the Groundists, a movement of radicalised lower classes determined to topple the powerhouses and the mages who rule them.

But Emma’s magic awakens an ancient shape-shifter, Ruk, who begins searching for her. The shape-shifters are few but powerful beings and Ruk kills Lucien, assuming his form and identity. But as Emma and Ruk enter the Groundist movement, Emma begins to learn more about her past as demons awaken and like the shape-shifters, are drawn to her power. In a company of other powerful Groundists, Ruk and his fellow shape-shifters, Emma and others battle the mages and the demons until the truth of Emma’s birth right is known and her entire world changes forever.

Final Thoughts

The Eternal Machine is a fascinating alternate history exploring the industrialisation era and social class suppression. I particularly enjoyed the combination of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy, the use of magic and technology in an alternative history setting was very well done. Perhaps the only downside to the book was it felt unnecessarily long, and some character development was rushed when introducing motivations which the extra length of the book could have focused on better. Overall, the world-building was supreme and the concept unique and refreshing.

Conclusion

A new steampunk read from a debut author in the genre. Highly sophisticated world-building with combination of alternate history, steampunk and gaslamp fantasy makes this suitable for audiences of all three genres. A well-recommended read!

Long Fiction, Writing

A Dystopian History

One of my works-in-progress has been a dystopian novella. While many dystopian stories and novels explore the future, I was interested in combining a dark fiction genre with alternate history, to ask what if our present never happened?

In developing my own tale, I was inspired by those classic dystopian tropes we are already familiar, with and have been imagined, classic novels like 1984 by George Orwell and The Stand by Stephen King which were my first introduction to dystopian literature and dark fiction. In considering modern history, I focused on scenarios that most-closely mirrored those classic dystopian futures which are already familiar to most readerships.

The events of the First World War were a turning point in modern history, where wars were fought on a global scale for the first time, the speed of development from the Industrial Revolution had a profound impact on the natural landscape and the capacity for mechanised warfare, casualties were high, chemical warfare was employed, and the occurrence of the 1918 Flu pandemic also incorrectly called the “Spanish Flu”.

The horrors of the First World War were catastrophic for those who survived and as a historical legacy. In modern history, it is often considered a turning point. After the First World War, the course of humanity was forever altered, a reality that affects our present, and likely, our future.

Recent Reads

Storm of Locusts

From the Blurb:

“It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Diné monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a girl with a strange clan power.

Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, then rescue Kai and make things right between them.

Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods and, ultimately, the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.”

Review:

Storm of Locusts by US author Rebecca Roanhorse is the second volume in the dystopian fantasy series The Sixth World inspired by Navajo legend and mythology.

Storm of Locusts follows from the dramatic ending of Trail of Lightning with a six month hiatus between the revelations shared by Maggie and Kai. Since then, Kai has not contacted Maggie and she has become the unlikely guardian for a young girl, recently orphaned but long-since in possession of her clan powers and the dark, violent history that often entails.

Maggie and her charge are enlisted to search for the missing youngest son of Maggie’s neighbours, the Goodacres. But Caleb Goodacre is feared abducted as part of a charismatic and dangerous doomsday cult, its leader proclaiming kinship with an ancient Navajo legend, the White Locust. Maggie quickly discovers that Caleb left willingly with Kai and she must trust her instinct that Kai is no monster. With the aid of her charge and the unusual clan powers for tracking, Maggie follows Kai and the White Locust beyond the safety of the Walls of Dinétah where the post-apocalyptic world of body harvesting challenge the horror Maggie has witnessed hunting Navajo monsters in Dinétah. But evidence continues to mount that Kai has willingly been helping the White Locust using his own clan powers of persuasion to grow the following and enable the White Locust in destroy the Sixth World. Maggie has only the untruthworhty advice of Mican to aid her and she must decide whether Kai is good or whether his clan powers have deceived her who is a friend or a monster.

Final Thoughts:

Storm of Locusts proved to be the sequel to Trail of Lightning that took the brutal Sixth World that Rebecca Roanhorse had masterfully created into another level. I found the story compelling in its honesty and the gritty sense of realism was refreshing for dystopian fantasy which often feels unauthentic in its envisioned future. Storm of Locusts perfectly captures a world of dwindling hope, selfishness and greed prevail as human society struggles to survive. It is a fertile place, where a cult promising new order and inclusion, could flourish.

My Conclusion:

A must-read if you enjoyed Trail of Lightning, fans of dystopian fantasy or those craving an original fantasy inspired by non-Celtic folklore. Highly recommended!

Short Fiction

Dystopian Apocalyptic Fiction

Recently, I’ve finished writing a short story that was originally a novelette written for the Higher School Certificate Extension II English course when I was seventeen. Topical for 2020, the story is set in the near future, after the collapse of global nations, a Third World War and climate disasters. Speculative fiction at its core, a volatile figure, the veteran warrior and vampire suffering from post-traumatic stress holds the answers to reuniting two siblings who never thought to see each other again. I was interested in exploring parallels throughout history, the repetition of similar events, where in the story, the decimation of organised nations by governmental decay has a parallel in the fall of Ancient Rome and the beginning of the dark ages. Similarly, the effects of conscription on battlefield tactics and society has a parallel in the modern history throughout World War I and the Vietnam Wars. The addition of climate induced crisis and detrimental environmental impact is yet unprecedented on a global scale but seems possible for our future.

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Trail of Lightning

From the Blurb:

“Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology. As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.”

Review:

Trail of Lightning, a supernatural fantasy by American author Rebecca Roanhorse was a finalist for the 2019 Nebula and Hugo Awards.

Trail of Lightning is set in the near-future, a world where legendary Navajo heroes, gods and monsters have re-emerged after a devastating flood leaves only Dinétah, the former Navajo reservation was protected and kept above the water.Maggie Hoskie is a monster hunter, her rare and dangerous clan powers allow brief preternatural strength, speed with an adrenaline boost in battle. Maggie was apprenticed to the legendary hero and immortal, Neizghání. Neizghání leaves Maggie after noticing her clan powers are more similar to the monsters than is comfortable for Maggie.

A missing girl and monsters created by dark powers, lead Maggie to hunt for a Navajo practitioner of witchcraft. Accompanied by a still-apprenticed but powerful medicine man, Kai Arviso, Maggie follows trails of lighting, the physical markers left by gods like Coyote and the hero Neizghání, as they travel through Dinétah. The unraveling mysteries of who is making the monsters and why force Maggie and Kai to confront their past and future in order to survive the present.

Final Thoughts:

Trail of Lightning attracted some controversy over cultural appropriation of the Navajo practices (unlike her characters, Rebecca Roanhorse is not Navajo), but the timely reminders of Oil Wars and apocalyptic scenarios of climate-induced destruction are combined with the endurance of violence and trauma which make Trail of Lightning such a pertinent speculative fiction work.

My Conclusion?

A must-read dystopian fantasy.