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A Song of Flight

Publisher’s Description

After a violent encounter with masked men and the sinister Crow Folk, Prince Aolu of Dalriada disappears without a trace, and his companion Galen is seriously injured.

Liobhan and the Swan Island warriors seek answers to the prince’s abduction. For Liobhan this mission is personal, as Galen is her beloved brother. While she and her team investigate, Liobhan’s younger brother Brocc is in serious trouble. Brocc’s secret attempt to communicate with the Crow Folk triggers a shocking incident, and sends him on a path which endangers the one he loves above all else.

What brought the Crow Folk to Erin? And who plots to use them in an unscrupulous bid for power? As Liobhan and Brocc seek the truth, it becomes clear the two missions are connected – and an extraordinary mystery unfolds.


*** I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review ***

My Review

My recent read was A Song of Flight by New Zealand-born Australian author Juliet Marillier.

A Song of Flight continues the story of Liobhan, Dau and Brocc, all introduced in the first in the Warrior Bards series in The Harp of Kings. Where Dau and Liobhan are now full members of the Swan Island warriors, Brocc has continued his life in the Otherworld with his fey wife Eirne and their newly born child, Niamh. But Brocc and Eirne are at odds over the mysterious Crow Folk who terrorise Eirn. While Brocc has made successful ventures to understanding the Crow Folk, when Eirne finds Brocc in treaty with on the Crow Folk, tension rise and a trusted advisor to Eirne is killed. Furious with Brocc, Eirne banishes him and Niamh from the Otherworld. Cast onto the road, Brocc is soon entwined in a dark plot to use his talents as an Otherworld bard to militarise the Crow Folk and set Chieftain against Chieftain. With Niamh taken from him and held as ransom, Brocc plays a careful and dangerous game with his abductors.

Liobhan and Dau also find themselves on a mission that draws Liobhan home to Winterfalls after the prince of Dalriada goes missing after a failed ambush. Dau is certain there is an Otherworldly explanation and once Liobhan begins to investigate, hers and Dau’s suspicions begin to align. The threads of Otherworldly escapes, espionage and rescue slowly wound into a common thread where returning the Crow Folk to their homelands is key. To this end, the Swan Island team must work with Brocc in the greatest challenge of his role as an Otherworldly bard.

Final Thoughts

A Song of Flight was a marvellous story that drew so many different characters throughout the series into a single volume, skilfully written to keep each of the story threads exciting and connected to each other. A beautifully written story, great characters and well-integrated mythology and lore.

Conclusion

A must-read for those who enjoy fantasy fiction, fantasy inspired by mythology and lore and fans of Juliet Marillier. A Song of Flight is a powerful story that combines the elements of storytelling, music, lore and mythology into an exciting journey. Highly recommended!

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Dreaming of Djinn

Publisher’s Description:

To open Dreaming Of Djinn is to open a jewel encrusted box full of exquisite and mouthwatering delicacies.

This sensuous and truly mouthwatering collection melding the modern and the ancient with the strangeness of speculative fiction, is a treasure trove of originality and exotic magic. It will ravish your senses as it transports you to a world of flying carpets, powerful ifrits, exotic foods and above all, dancing as deadly as it is beautiful.


My Review:

My recent reads included the anthology Dreaming of Djinn edited by Liz Grzyb is inspired by the Arabian Nights mythology, tales and folklore.
Particular favourites include ‘On a Crooked Leg Lightly’ by Alan Baxter, a tale of princess would-be assassins willing to escape societal control at any cost. ‘The Quiet Realm of the Dark Queen’ by Jenny Blackford is a beautiful weaving of Mesopotamian myth and legend with a feminist edge. Lastly, ‘Silver, Sharp as Silk’ by Dan Rabarts tells of the desert Ifriit and the unexpected reasons behind destroying travelling caravans.

Final Thoughts:

Dreaming of Djiin is a wonderful anthology of diverse tales, lavishly told and well-researched.

Conclusion:

A must-read for lovers of Arabian Nights, vivid tales and enchanting retellings of classics. Highly recommended!

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A Local Habitation

Publisher’s Description:

October “Toby” Daye is a changeling, the daughter of Amandine of the fae and a mortal man. Like her mother, she is gifted in blood magic, able to read what has happened to a person through a mere taste of blood. Toby is the only changeling who has earned knighthood, and she re-earns that position every day, undertaking assignments for her liege, Sylvester, the Duke of the Shadowed Hills.

Now Sylvester has asked her to go to the County of Tamed Lightning—otherwise known as Fremont, CA—to make sure that all is well with his niece, Countess January O’Leary, whom he has not been able to contact. It seems like a simple enough assignment—but when dealing with the realm of Faerie nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

Toby soon discovers that someone has begun murdering people close to January, whose domain is a buffer between Sylvester’s realm and a scheming rival duchy. If Toby can’t find the killer soon, she may well become the next victim.


Review:

A Local Habitation is another fabulous journey into the amazing world-building and folklore of US author Seanan McGuire in her October Daye series.

A Local Habitation sees Toby sent to the independent fiefdom of Tamed Lightning , precariously placed between the two warring duchies in the Summer Lands of Shadow Hills and Dreamer’s Glass. Tamed Lightning is a fiefdom like no other in the Summer Lands, where technological promise meets the magic of the Fae. But the Countess of Tamed Lightning is also the niece to Shadow Hills Duke Sylvester and Toby’s liege, and to avoid diplomatic stand-off with nearby Dreamer’s Glass, Toby is sent to check on the Countess. A series of mysterious deaths within Tamed Lightning becomes an immediate concern and Toby’s mission becomes incredibly dangerous as a killer on the loose, intent on destroying all who still live in Tamed Lightning, puts Toby in a an impossible situation to avoid a diplomatic disaster and outright war between the two largest duchies in the Summer Lands.

Final Thoughts:

Cleverly written and rich in the folklore that makes the October Daye series so enjoyable, the addition of a promising technology to help the Summer Lands survive the alongside mortal world is an interesting premise that is jarring enough to suit the clash between natural and artificial worlds. Although the plot is a little predictable at times, the world-building skills and interesting characters keep the pace and interest high.

Conclusion:

A recommended read for anyone who enjoys paranormal urban fantasy, folklore based fiction, a paranormal mystery and well-written fiction.

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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.

events, Short Fiction, stories

Stories of Survival Release

Pleased to announce that Stories of Survival published by Deadset Press was released on 21 August, 2021. This speculative fiction charity anthology is in honour of Australian speculative fiction writer and mentor to many, the late Aiki Flinthart, with all proceeds going to the Melanoma Foundation to help with the fight against cancer.

This anthology includes many wonderful stories from Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction authors. Featuring my own Fae-inspired short story “Three Tasks for the Sidhe”, you can read more about the research behind the story here.


More details on how to purchase ebook or paperback copies of Stories of Survival can be found here.

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A Dance with Fate

Publisher’s Description

Liobhan, the young warrior and bard, has lost her brother to the Otherworld. Even more determined to gain a place as an elite fighter, she returns to Swan Island to continue her training. But Liobhan is devastated when her comrade Dau is injured and loses his sight in their final display bout. Blamed by Dau’s family for the accident, she agrees to go to his home, Oakhill, as a bond servant for one year.

But Oakhill is a place of dark secrets. The menacing and enigmatic Crow Folk still threaten both worlds and while Brocc battles them in the Otherworld, Dau must battle his own demon – despair.

When Liobhan and Dau begin to expose the evil at the core of Oakhill, they place themselves in mortal danger. For their enemy wields great power and will stop at nothing to get his way. It will take all the skills of a Swan Island warrior and a touch of the uncanny to give them any hope of survival . . .


Review

I recently read A Dance with Fate (Warrior Bards, #2) by Australian fantasy author Juliet Marillier.

Following from the events of The Harp of Kings, Swan Island warriors Liobhan and Dau are competing for recognition among the band of trained warriors and spies who live on Swan Island, when tragic accident in a bout between Liobhan and Dau finds Dau severely injured and blinded. Claiming recompense for Dau’s injuries and blindness, Liobhan is made a bond-servant to the family estate for one year.

But events at Dau’s home estate of Oakhill are as uneasy as the ones he fled years before with darkness and deceit lingering over the place. In the Otherworld, Brocc is encountering his own trials as the numbers of the Crow folk grow and uncanny people under the protection of his Queen are increasingly injured and he is forced into a bargain that puts them all in jeopardy.

Final Thoughts

A well-written novel that followed effortlessly from A to further develop the three main characters of Brocc , Liobhan, and Dau At times the pace did feel slow and the content more heavily focused on the mortal realm, but as with the first novel in the series, the balance between the mortal realm and Otherworld is a key theme. Indeed, the three characters are challenged to further themselves in the mortal realm such as is the case for Dau, whereas Brocc has chosen his life in the Otherworld and it is Liobhan who truly walks the path between both worlds – those two people closest to her, her Swan island companion Dau, and her brother, an Otherworld bard.

Conclusion

A Dance with Fate is a highly recommended Fantasy novel. Readers who have enjoyed previous works by Juliet Marillier will enjoy this well-crafted historical fantasy, or those who are seeking a new experience of historical fantasy where the line between dark ages history and Otherworld legend is nicely balanced.

** I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review **

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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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Shadow and Bone

Publisher’s Description:

“Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold—a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.

Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite—and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift.

As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation.

Welcome to Ravka . . . a world of science and superstition where nothing is what it seems.”


Review:

I recently read young adult fantasy novel Shadow and Bone (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, #1) by US author Leigh Bardugo.

Shadow and Bone is set predominantly in East Ravka, ruled by a greedy king prone to excess, unaware of the growing power and dominance of the once-feared Grisha, those with the supernatural abilities of creation: weather, fire, the body, and metals known as ‘the little science’. Those of Grisha ability live in luxury compared to the common people of East Ravka. Protagonist, young female cartographer, Alina Starkov is on deployment with the First Army to the Shadow Fold, a supernatural barrier dividing Ravka into East and West. The Shadow Fold, first created by the most-feared Grisha, the Black Heretic, is a inhospitable wasteland populated by Volcra, winged monsters.

While making a crossing of the Shadow Fold, Alina’s childhood friend and fellow orphan, Mal Oretsev, a tracker and rifleman in the First Army is among those in the expedition attacked by the monsters and Alina’s dormant Grisha power is suddenly released, saving Mal and many of the expedition. Alina’s Grisha power is as rare as that belonging to the Black Heretic and General Kirigan or ‘the Darkling’, a power that Ravka have waited generations to see. Where the Darkling creates shadow, Alina creates light and together, their powers can finally destroy the Shadow Fold and re-unify Ravka.

Alina soon finds herself in the luxury and splendour of the highest Grisha ranks and training. But nothing is as it seems among the Grisha and Alina misses Mal and security he always provided. When her powers cannot reach the strength the Darkling needs for them to destroy the Shadow Fold, he suggests a specific amplifier for Alina; a collar of antler from a supernatural white stag. It is Mal who tracks the stag but when Alina receives the antler collar, she understands the horrible price she must pay and soon Alina can only hope to save Ravka from the darkest of deceptions.

Final Thoughts:

Shadow and Bone is young adult fantasy novel and has many fascinating elements to the world-building, the powers of the Grisha themselves are a interesting concept. The social and political intrigue that form the context to the main storyline is equally fascinating. But there is sense of a missed opportunity in the simple main plot which is predictable, making the interesting and diverse characters feel underwhelming in some instances. Nonetheless, Shadow and Bone has significant potential and hopefully, the political and social context of Ravka and the history of the Grisha will be fully explored in the remaining novels of the trilogy.

Conclusion:

Shadow and Bone is recommended for readers of young adult fantasy looking for a unique fantasy realm, and those who enjoy a fantasy concept that is intellectually challenging. The predictable storyline can feel a bit stale for more advanced readers but the characters are all interesting and engaging. Overall, a recommended read for those who enjoy young adult fantasy.

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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.