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Slavic Folklore: The Likho

Art – Marek Hapon

The likho is part of Eastern Slavic fairy tales. Although not as frequently mentioned as the witch Baba Yaga, the likho assumes many guises from an old woman clad in black or a male goblin-like being. The common feature in both is the likho has only one eye.

In the pre-Christian era, the likho was associated with death and villages conducted rituals during epidemics. An idol with only one eye was burned to banish the servant of Death and the epidemic. Over time, the likho became a being of bad luck and malevolence.

The lihko is often associated with Slavic water spirits like the rusalka and vodyanoy who deliberately drown their victims. But unlike these water spirits, the likho leaps onto its victims to strangle them. Desperate to dislodge the likho, the mortal wades into waterways trying to drown the likho but its grip can’t be broken and the victim inadvertently drowns. In Slavic folklore, death by mysterious drowning was attributed to many of these different supernatural beings.

Caution against calling unnecessary attention to the likho and its misfortune is clear in the Russian proverb: “Don’t wake the likho up when it is quiet.”

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Arthurian Lore: Merlin

Merlin is the archetypal wizard from Arthurian lore. Merlin is a Latinized version of the Welsh Myrddin. His exact origins are lost in myth and there is no concrete evidence, but there was possibly several individuals who were guardians to kings, prophets and bards existed toward in the late fifth century. What we have today has become the basis for the Arthurian lore about Merlin.

Merlin’s first appearances in the Latin works of Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th-century Welsh cleric. The Prophecies of Merlin written in the early 1130s and are verses apparently made by the fifth century prophet, Merlin. Monmouth did invent many of the prophecies himself which stretched beyond the 12th century. In the History of the Kings of Britain, Monmouth formed the foundations for the Arthurian legends where Merlin becomes a key character. Monmouth confuses the chronology placing Merlín in both the fifth and sixth centuries. He is allegedly a magical child born from a union between a mortal woman and a spirit (a daemon, which later Christian writers interpreted as the Devil) but he has great magical abilities with prophecy and matures quickly like many demi-gods from Classical mythology.

Accordingly, Merlin moves great stones from Ireland to the Salisbury Plain to construct Stonehenge (which actually much older than the fifth or sixth centuries CE). It is Merlín who organises for king Uther Pendragon to seduce Igraine. From the union is a son – the infant Arthur. Here, Monmouth’s story leaves Arthur and he doesn’t reappear until a third poetic work where The Life of Merlin continues the tale of Artur but instead focuses on Merlin sister- Ganieda. Vita Merlini written by Monmouth in about 1150, is a biography of sorts about the adult Merlin but it a written account of twelfth century oral lore, mythology, cosmography, cosmology and natural history.

In Vita Merlini, Merlin fights at the Battle of Camlann. Unlike many Arthurian stories and romantic poems, instead of glorifying war, the horrifying effects of trauma on individuals and their families are made plain. Merlin rules South Wales. Peredur of North Wales argues with Gwenddoleu, the King of Scotland and Merlin and King Rhydderch of Cumbria join with Peredur against the Scots in a savage battle. Arthur is wounded and taken from the battlefield to Avalon for healing.

The Britons finally rally their troops and force the Scots to retreat. Seeing victory ahead, Merlin instructs on the correct burial rites for all the dead before the trauma of war overwhelms him and he flees into the forest. There he exists as a hermit – naked and mad, he hunts animals and harvested nuts and wild fruit. He observes the animals and birds learning their ways and studying all the natural world around him.

After the Battle of Camlann and Merlín has fled to the woods, Queen Ganeida, Merlin’s sister and the wife of King Rhydderc worries for her brother’s well-being. She sends searchers into the woods to look for Merlin in hope of bringing him out of his madness. One of the searchers comes to a fountain hidden by hazel thickets. There he finds Merlin, naked and unkempt, talking to himself. The searcher doesn’t want to alarm Merlin with his presence so instead he softly plays the lyre and sings about the mourning of Guendoloena for her beloved husband, Metlin and of the worry of Ganieda for her brother.

The music was enough to sooth Merlin’s soul and he remembered who he was, and what he had been, and everyone he had set aside in his madness. He asks the searcher to take him to the court of his old friend King Rhydderch. There, Metlin walks through the city gates, and his sister Ganieda and wife Guenedolena run to meet him. In their love and joy at his return, they lead him to the royal court where King Rhydderch receives him with great honour. Suddenly surrounded by the vast crowd which he’s been unaccustomed to such human company, his madness returns and desperately, he tries to escape to the sanctuary of the woods.

Rhydderch refused to let his old friend go, fearing for his safety in the wild, he has Merlin chained whereupon he falls silent and morose, refusing to speak or acknowledge anyone.

Merlin bowed his head for a moment as if softening, but then the madness in him spoke, “I will be free of her, free of you, free of love and its binding chains, therefore it is right that she be allowed her chance of happiness and marry a man of her own choosing, but beware should that man ever come near! On her wedding day, I will come to her and give her my gifts.”

Metlin explained King Rhydderch’s wife – Merlín’s own sister- is having an affair. He prophecies three different deaths for the son. The king laughs at so many different prophesied deaths for the same boy and apologies for doubting his wife’s fidelity. Queen Ganieda is greatly relieved to have her secret affair kept hidden as a jest.

Merlin is granted freedom but neither his sister Ganieda or his wife can entreat him to stay in the city. Merlin’s sister and wife watch him leave for the solitude of the forest. Both were convinced his derangement had no truth to the three different predicted for the death of the queen’s son.

The boy in question grew into a young man, and one during a hunting expedition with friends and his horse throws him over the cliff but his boot snags a tree the branch suspending his body in the air while his head is submerged beneath the water and he drowns. This fulfils the three deaths for the son according to Merlin’s prophecy.

Merlin was freed and made his way the gates. His sister caught up with him there, telling of her love and begged him to at least see out the winter in comfort with her.

Merlin left and Ganieda built a lodge for him, where she brought him food and drink. Merlin thanked her for that and for her company. On one occasion, Merlín forts the death of the king she must to return quickly to court. He asks that when she return to him, she must bring Taliesin, who lord recently arrived after visiting Gildas in Brittany.

Ganieda returns to Merlín with Taliesin. Merlin explains how they’d taken the badly wounded King Arthur to the Avalon after the battle of Camlann, leaving him in the healing care of Morgan le Fay. He explains events from Vortigern to King Arthur and long period of Saxon domination which would eventually lead to a return to British ruler after a prolonged and bloody conflict.

Perhaps the best-known portrayal of Merlin comes from Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur written in 1485. This is romanticised tale of how the infant Arthur was raised in a stewardship until after on the death of his father, Uther Pendragon, Merlin presents the youth, Arthur to the knights of the land. Merlin sets a task to prove Arthur is Uthet’s true heir by if he can withdraw the sword Excalibur from the stone in which Merlín has embedded, he is the rightful ruler of Britain. Here, Merlin acts as Arthur’s adviser but disappears from the story early in Arthur’s reign. An unrequited passion for Nimue (or Viviane) the lady of the lake tricks Merlín into revealing how to construct a magical tower of hidden by mist which she then uses to imprison him.

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The Bridge

Publisher’s Description

Meera and her twin sister Kai are Mades—part human and part not—bred in the Blood Temple cult, which only the teenage Meera will survive. Racked with grief and guilt, she lives in hiding with her mysterious rescuer, Narn—part witch and part not—who has lost a sister too, a connection that follows them to Meera’s enrollment years later in a college Redress Program. There she is recruited by Regulars for a starring role in a notorious reading series and is soon the darling of the lit set, finally whole, finally free of the idea that she should have died so Kai could have lived. Maybe Meera can be re-made after all, her life redressed. But the Regulars are not all they seem and there is a price to pay for belonging to something that you don’t understand. Time is closing in on all Meera holds dear—she stands afraid, not just for but of herself, on the bridge between worlds—fearful of what waits on the other side and of the cost of knowing what she truly is.


Summary

The Bridge by J.S. Breukelaar is an dystopian alternate future – in a world like Australia and not. Similar to the protagonist Meera – part human and not. She is bereaved after the death of her twin sister Kai and suffers survivors guilt. In meeting the mysterious witch figure Narn, who knows more than she says about Meera but shares the loss of her own sister, a strong connection to forged.

Encouraged by the future offered placement in the Redress Program. Meera finally sees this chance to belong to the Regulars as an opportunity to set aside her past, the grief of losing Kai and finally start living her own life. But be careful what you wish for because all transformations come at a cost and this one might be higher than Meera is willing to pay.

Review

In The Bridge, Breukelaar writes a stunning combination of the fantastic, futuristic and the metaphorical. The division between fate and desire, hope and reality are twisted and spun into an elegant futuristic dystopian fairy tale.

Conclusion

For fans of modern and futuristic fairy tale and folklore retellings and reimagining, contemporary dark fantasy and dystopian settings. A highly recommended read!


** This is my personal opinion and does not reflect any judging decisions **

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The Salt-Black Tree

** I received an ARC for an honest review **

Publisher’s Description

Nat Drozdova has crossed half the continent in search of the stolen Dead God’s Heart, the only thing powerful enough to trade for her beautiful, voracious, dying mother’s life. Yet now she knows the secret of her own birth—and that she’s been lied to all her young life.

The road to the Heart ends at the Salt-Black Tree, but to find it Nat must pay a deadly price. Pursued by mouthless shadows hungry for the blood of new divinity as well as the razor-wielding god of thieves, Nat is on her own. Her journey leads through a wilderness of gods old and new, across a country as restless as its mortal inhabitants, and it’s too late to back out now.

…or accept the consequences of her own.


Summary

Blood may not always prevail. Magic might not always work. And the young Drozdova is faced with an impossible choice: Save her mother’s very existence…

I recently read The Salt-Black Tree(Dead God’s Heart, #2) by US dark fantasy and urban fantasy author Lilith Saintcrow.

The journey of Nat Drozdova continues but she now possesses Spring’s Arcana and is coming into her own Divinity. While she battles internally with the reality her mother has lied to her throughout her entire life, and that she was born simply to allow her mother to assume to divinity on American soil, Nat comes into her own power and makes her own decisions as she travels towards the Salt-Black Tree and whatever ending awaits her there.

She seeks the Dead God’s Heart but what she intends to do with it once she possesses it, she is yet to be sure. One thing she does know-Nat Drozdova is her own Divinity, and if that means battling her mother and Baba Yaga, she will do so.

Review

The Salt-Black Tree is the final instalment in the Dead God’s Heart duology.

Saintcrow’s writing is superb and she provides a thrilling and satisfying ending to her series. The plot is fast-paced while still being insightful to characters development and the detailed world-building. The comparisons to Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods, while relevant on the surface, Saintcrow’s duology blows them away with a darkness and ruthlessness in development and immigration of divinities and human belief which is fresh and bold. This finale is a masterpiece of talented writing while maintaining the integrity of the characters and the world building at the core of in this urban fantasy duology.

Conclusion

A highly recommended read for fans of urban fantasy, Russian folklore and world mythology. A thriller of an urban fantasy and a read!


** This is my personal opinion and does not reflect any judging decisions **

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Arthurian Lore: Morgan le Fay

Morgan le Fay is also known as Morgana, Morgana and is one of the most powerful enchantress from Arthurian lore. She became very popular in the modern times from the novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon. Some of legends have their roots in medieval times which were transformed into the novel which was incredibly popular.

Morgan probably appears the first time in literature in The Life of Merlin by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100 -1155 AD). This text became one of the classic texts connected with the Arthurian legends. Among the stories Arthur’s of knights and adventures, Morgan is portrayed as a dark character. She often leads the heroes of the legends into danger and has a very sensual part in the stories as a seductress.

It is still open for debate concerning the legends, myths, and literature about Morgan Le Fay’s true character in the Arthurian tales. In the medieval stories, Morgan le Fay is one of the most popular, intriguing, and mysterious women connected with Camelot. She was believed to be a healer, enchantress, and a witch with many spiritual talents.

According to the tale written by Thomas Malory (1415 – 1471), Morgan was unhappily married to King Urien. She became a sexually precious woman who had many lovers – including the famous Merlin. Her love of Lancelot was unrequited and Morgan appeared to be involved either directly or indirectly with King Arthur’s death.

In the later medieval stories, Morgan le Fay was a woman who served the people with her spiritual talents changed. Morgan appeared as the daughter of the Lady Irgraine and her first husband Gorlois which made King Arthur her half-brother. She was also an adviser to Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

Morgan also became Merlin’s lover and he apparently taught her witchcraft. She was a keen became a powerful witch.

In the 13th century, her role expanded in the Vulgate Cycle and Post-Vulgate Cycle. Morgan le Fay became an anti-heroine. She was cast as malicious, cruel, and an ambitious nemesis to Arthur. In these tales, Morgan was sent to a convent to become a nun but this was also the place where she started her study of magic.

One of the most important parts of her story is her unrequited affection for Lancelot. She used all of her knowledge, potent herbs and enchantments trying to make Lancelot love her. In these stories, he appears tries to resist her enchantments but eventually he succumbs to her spells and keeps him in a prison. When he gets ill and is near death she releases him. There are many different variations of this story – in some Morgan appears as seductress and in others, as a lost woman who really loves Lancelot.

The final version of the legend concerns her use of witchcraft. She is described as a witch using her spells for her own goals. In these tales, she gains the ability to transform herself into a crow, a horse, or any other black animals.

When Morgan Le Fay disappears for a considerable time, Arthur believes her dead until he meets her again and she declares she’ll move to the Isle of Avalon. Arthur discovers the rumors about a secret affair between her and Lancelot were true.

The story ends with Morgan dressed in a black hood who takes the dying Arthur to his resting place in Avalon. She seems strongly connected with death and belongs neither the world of the dead nor the world of the living.

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Dreamwhispers

** I received an ARC for an honest review **

Publisher’s Description

Take a journey into the swirling abyss of fever dreams, starry nights, and amethyst lights. Driven by lyrical prose, captivating storytelling, and pure emotion, dreamwhispers sets sail through one writer’s imagination with an unflinching stare into the condition of human beings where the shadows are sharper, and the darkness holds promises of pain.


Summary

I recently read Dreamwhispers, a collection of dark fiction by Canadian author M Ennenbach.

The collection spans contemporary dark fiction, poetry and some pieces are unique reimagining of classic folktales and legends. Some of the highlights which were stories that particularly resonated with me included the poem “Psyche and Eros”, short story “Nervous Breakdown”, “I saw it from the upstairs window” and the dark reimagining of the Grimms fairytale “Piper”.

Review

Ennenbach provides a raw, heartfelt and honest journey into a myriad of different aspects of dark fiction- from the intensely personal to the imagined realms of fairytales. Well-written, this is a beautifully told collection of dark fiction.

Conclusion

A great collection of unique and varied aspects of dark fiction. A recommended read!


** This is my personal opinion and does not reflect any judging decisions **

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The New Wife

Publisher’s Description

Bluebeard’s seventh wife is the first to survive his wrath, courtesy of ghostly warnings and the timely intervention of her brothers. The village burns her murderous husband, his crimes laid bare and his wealth passed on to her… but even after his death, Bluebeard’s house won’t allow anyone to leave. All wives—living and dead—remain trapped in their husband’s manor, even as the man who terrorised them proves to be less dead than they had hoped.

Haunted by his vengeful ghost, can the wives find a way to break the curse that would bind them in darkness and torment forever?


Summary

I recently read the novella The New Wife (Never Afters Tales) by Australian dark fiction author Kirstyn McDermott.

The protagonist (following the Blue Beard tales) is a young woman who marries a very rich older man. When he leaves the house for a business affair, he tells her she can go anywhere in the house except his private room in the tower. Driven by curiosity about her new husband, she eventually unlocks the door to his tower room. Inside, she finds the corpses of his previous wives. She also is accosted by their ghosts – each bearing the brutal marks of how their husband killed them.

The key to the husband’s tower, now stained with blood, cannot be cleaned. On the husband’s unpredicted return, the new wife gains the assistance of the other wives’ ghosts and the housemaid skilled in witchcraft to finally end the bloody reign of the husband.

Review

The New Wife has strong characters and supernatural elements in a fascinating new re-imagining of the ‘Blue Beard’ fairytale tropes which is masterfully executed by McDermott. A dark fantasy tale that moves at the pace of a supernatural thriller while staying true to the fairytale foundations. An exciting new addition by McDermott to the fairytale retellings that should be highly prized.

Conclusion

A perfect novella for fans of Angela Carter, fairytale retellings, dark fiction and ghost stories. A fabulous blend of fairytale retelling, supernatural thriller and dark fantasy. A highly recommended read!

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Spring’s Arcana

** I received an ARC for an honest review **

Publisher’s Description

Nat Drozdova is desperate to save a life. Doctors can do little for her cancer-ridden mother, who insists there is only one cure—and that Nat must visit a skyscraper in Manhattan to get it.

Amid a snow-locked city, inside a sleek glass-walled office, Nat makes her plea and is whisked into a terrifying new world. For the skyscraper holds a hungry winter goddess who has the power to cure her mother…if Nat finds a stolen object of great power.

Now Nat must travel with a razor-wielding assassin across an American continent brimming with terror, wonder, and hungry divinities with every reason to consume a young woman. For her ailing mother is indeed suffering no ordinary illness, and Nat Drozdova is no ordinary girl. Blood calls to blood, magic to magic, and a daughter may indeed save what she loves…

…if it doesn’t consume her first.

This is the way to the Dead God’s Heart.


Summary

I recently read Spring’s Arcana by US urban fantasy author Lilith Saintcrow.

Spring’s Arcana follows protagonist Nat Drozdova as she begins a journey and bargain with Baba Yaga to save her dying mother’s life. In return, she must begin a journey to retrieve the items her mother stole and hid carefully across the United States – including the Heart of a God – stolen from Baba Yaga herself, who in turn wrenched it from Dimitri Konesti – the god of thieves.

For Nat, all is new and incomprehensible until she begins to realise her mother lied to her for her entire life and kept her innocent of the knowledge of divinities – including her own mother being the divinity of Spring.

Baba Yaga sends Dimitri to both protect and watch Nat Drozdova as she grows into her power, becoming Spring even as her mother sickens and fades in a hospice and Nat tries to find the items she needs to save her mother. But will Baba Yaga keep her word? Is Nat’s own mother more of a threat to her than the Dead God whose heart she stole?

Review

An intriguing and well-crafted folklore and mythology inspired first book in a duology. Spring’s Arcana is a fascinating read that is authentic and enthralling. The world-building and development of the characters is high quality and SanitCrow delivers a novel that is dark, mysterious and leaves you hungering for more.

Conclusion

Highly recommended for fans of reimagining of folklore, legends and mythology. This is a great urban dark fantasy that is a supernatural thriller and a dark delight. Can’t wait for the second instalment. A must-read!


** This is my personal opinion and does not reflect any judging decisions **

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Leprechaun Folklore

The stereotype of the leprechaun is of lucky charms and pots of gold at the end of a rainbow. But leprechauns are members of the Fairy folk, a type of sidhe and are unusual because leprechauns are almost exclusively always male.

The name leprechaun derives from the Gaelic leith brog “one shoemaker.” The leprechaun is a cobbler and while the other sidhe dance and revel, he is always hard at work. He is depicted wearing one shoe rather than a pair – which may also be a shamanic reference. (References to shoes, especially only one shoe are often oblique references to shamanism. Ancient shamanic dances often performed with one shoe on and one shoe off). The leprechaun works on shoes constantly with time off only for an occasional spree. He is fabulously wealthy but buries his treasure in pots underground. He is a skillful but not always pleasant practical joker. The leprechaun may be invoked for financial aid.

Leprechauns are often compared to clurichauns. Because like leprechauns, clurichauns are often exclusively male. The clurichaun could be the nocturnal form of the leprechaun out after a hard day’s work.

Alternatively, some perceive clurichauns to be leprechauns lacking work ethic. Unlike hardworking, wealth-accumulating leprechauns, clurichauns spend all their time drinking. They are often drunk but retain their good manners unlike the surly leprechaun. Clurichauns come out at night to drink, party and play pranks on people (for example, raiding the pantry).

The only occupation for which the clurichaun displays enthusiasm is as a guardian of liquor cellars. The clurichaun will protect your cellar from thieves and prevent wine from spoiling and bottles from breaking or leaking. Simply request his presence and leave him a sample of whatever you have in stock. Leave such offerings on a regular basis lest he decide to begin serving himself.