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Burnt Sugar

Publisher’s Description

Decades after the incident in the woods, Gretel has forged a good life in a small village, running a bakery and taking care of her brother and the stray, bedraggled women who find work as her apprentices. Business is good, and when it’s not, Gretel took more from the witch than a knack of making sweet treats and gingerbread, just as her brother returned home forever changed by the torture he experienced.

The book of magic hidden beneath the stairs has kept Gretel and her household comfortable for years, but it also calls to Gretel in the night, demanding she return to the woods and replace the witch they killed. For years, she’s been resisting, determined to keep Hansel and her apprentices safe.

Then Hansel’s drinking goes too far and Gretel realises her brother is dying. Finally, the seductive call of the book’s magic might be too strong to deny…


Review

I read Burnt Sugar (Never Afters, #1) by Australian author Kirstyn McDermott.

Burnt Sugar follows the well-known Grimm fairytale characters Hansel and Gretel in the decades after their abandonment in the forest, and stumbling on the witch’s cottage. The tale of Gretel’s servitude to the witch while Hansel rotted behind bars. That is where the familiar tale we know ends and a new reimagined one begins.

Gretel is now an older woman and her brother Hansel a town-thug and drunkard. After what they both endured in the Witch’s cottage, the siblings have gone down two very different paths in life. Gretel manages a bakery and is haunted by memories of burning the witch alive so she and her brother might escape. Stranger still is the book of witchcraft she stole from the cottage and the gems that frequently appear. In a town that is hard on the poor and wretched, Gretel adopts those she can and provides handouts for those she can’t – the memory of being a starving unwanted child one that is still fresh.

Final Thoughts

Burnt Sugar is an intriguing “what if” novella that offers a conclusion to the tale of Hansel and Gretel. There are some aspects which are unanswered – such as the hands that push at Gretel’s back – reminiscent of the witch’s own ending. Whether this is deliberately unexplained or not it is unclear. Regardless, this is a deeply emotional and thought provoking idea of what might have happened once two children expected lost to the forest, stumbled back to their village and how their lives would have altered from the experience.

Conclusion

A fascinating literary reimagining of the Grimm’s fairytale of Hansel and Gretel. Definitely worth reading for those who enjoy a historical fantasy. A solid fairytale reimagining for those curious to know what might happened after Hansel and Gretel escaped the witch and the forest.

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Malice

Publisher’s Description

Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss. You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily ever after. Utter nonsense. Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.

Until I met her.

Princess Aurora. The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though a power like mine was responsible for her curse.

But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating—and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps together we could forge a new world. Nonsense again. Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I—

I am the villain.


Review

One of my recent reads was Malice (Malice Duology, #1) by US author Heather Walter.

Malice follows the protagonist Alyce, one of the Briar kingdom’s Graces- mortals born with weak Fae heritage with blood able to produce eilixrs. The other Graces have golden blood which bestows beauty, charm and wit. Alyce, or the ‘Dark Grace’ as she is known, is part-Vila, one of the Dark-Fae and her green blood reviled for bestowing curses not charms. Yet, like all the Graces, Alyce is unable to leave the Kingdom of Briar – bound to serve in Grace Household and earnings leveraged to the Briar crown.

In the Kingdom of Briar, Alyce is despised for being part-Vila, the Dark Fae who were too powerful for the Light Fae Etherians to destroy until they allied with the mortals. The alliance forged between the Etherians and the Queens of Briar resulted in the establishment of Briar.
In Briar, Alyce is considered a symbol of past hatred and fear. Only the heir to the Briar crown, princess Aurora finds companionship and understanding with Alyce. All heirs to the Briar throne bear the curse from a powerful a Vila to die before their twenty-first birthday if the curse isn’t broken by their true love. Despite this history, an unlikely relationship is forged between Alyce and Aurora. But Alyce has kept her secrets from Aurora when she allies with a mysterious prisoner from the destroyed Vila kingdom with promises to unlock Alyce‘s true power.

Final Thoughts

Malice was an exciting read, a unique twist on the Sleeping Beauty fairytale that was both satisfying as an epic fantasy in its own right, an queer romance, and a fairytale retelling. It was the combination of these aspects which made Malice something more than a genderbent version of a fairytale – it made it a reworking of a classic into an epic fantasy in its own right. Expertly done.

Conclusion

A highly recommended retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale. A unique epic fantasy that will satisfy readers of fairytale retellings, dark fantasy, queer romance and truly excellent worldbuilding. A great 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!

research

Legend of the Pussy Willow


“The Legend of the Pussy Willow”

In an old Polish legend, many springs ago, a mother cat was crying at the bank of the river where her kittens were drowning.

The willow at the river’s edge longed to help her, so they swept their long graceful branches into the waters to rescue the tiny kittens who had fallen into the river while chasing butterflies.

Each of the kittens gripped tightly to the willow branches and were safely brought back to shore.

According to the legend, each springtime since, willow branches sprout tiny fur-like buds at their tips where the tiny kittens once clung.

Short Fiction, Writing

Reimagining Red Riding Hood


Recently I have been exploring the concepts behind the Red Riding Hood fairytale. There are two main versions I have used as inspiration for writing a new short story. The version by Charles Perrault called “Little Red Riding Hood” and the version by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm called “Little Red Cap”. Both examine a young girl who is travelling through the woods and meets a charming stranger who tries to lead her astray. Both versions also share a dark undertone, the stranger portrayed as menacing despite his charming words.

When writing my short story, I wanted to delve into the concept of the forest as a dangerous place, sinister and treacherous for those uninitiated. In my recent reimagining of the red riding hood tale, I’ve included the concept of an unwary youth and the historical setting of pre-Napoleonic France. I’ve included some more modern interpretations like the werewolf folklore of the French “loup-garou” and explored sensitives around homosexuality, the sheltered son of a Marquis seduced by an eloquent nobleman. Here, the passage between innocence and experience of the adult world is represented by the transference of the werewolf curse. This was a complex story to write, delving some darker elements, both historical and modern sensitivities of seduction, society and acceptance of LGBTQI individuals throughout history and still today.

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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!

research

Folklore of Bluebells

The feared fairy bell and impending death


According to English folklore, Bluebells were often used to call fairies…If you “rang” a bluebell like you would any normal bell, it was believed fairies would come to you. But fairies are notoriously dangerous bargainers and the need to call fairies for aid must be great to risk the summons.

There is another folklore that states if you hear a bluebell ring, somebody close to you will die. Bluebells growing en masse in a field were best avoided.

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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!

Long Fiction, Writing

Dark folklore Collection Signing

I’m excited to announce my collection of dark folklore short stories, novelettes, flash fiction and microfiction Three Curses and Other Dark Tales has been acquired by IFWG Publishing Australia.

You can read more about this exciting announcement here