reads, Recent Reads

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!

reads, Recent Reads

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.

reads, Recent Reads

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.

reads, Recent Reads

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.

events, Short Fiction, Writing

Over the Rainbow Anthology Release

I am pleased to announce Over the Rainbow: An LGBTQ+ Fairytale Charity Anthology published by Black Ink Fiction was released on 1 June, 2021.

Over the Rainbow anthology is in support of The Trevor Project, a collection of fairytale retellings with a LGBTQI+ protagonist, featuring my story “The Queen of Crows”, a retelling of a French Gascony fairytale. You can read more about my research for the story here.

More details on how to purchase an ebook, or paperback copies of Over the Rainbow can be found here.

events, Short Fiction, Writing

Candy Capers Release

I am pleased to announce the release on May 20th, 2021 of children’s and young adult fantasy anthology Candy Capers from Raven and Drake Publishing. This fantastic confectionery themed anthology is in aid of The Brain Tumour Charity and for readers aged 6 and up.

I am thrilled my children’s flash fiction ‘Grace’s Kingdom’ is included in this anthology.

You can find more details on Candy Capers and how to purchase ebook and paperback copies here.

Short Fiction, Writing

Forthcoming Children’s Fantasy Anthology

I am pleased to announce my flash fiction story “Grace’s Kingdom”, a children’s and early young adult fantasy will feature in Candy Capers to be published by Raven & Drake Publishing in aid the of The Brain Tumour Charity.

You can read more about my research behind my story “Grace’s Kingdom” here.

More details coming soon on the release of Candy Capers in ebook and paperback here.

Short Fiction, Writing

Forthcoming: LGBTQ+ Fairytale Anthology

I am pleased to announce my short story “The Queen of Crows”, a retelling of a French Fairytale will feature in Over the Rainbow to be published by Black Ink Fiction in aid the of The Trevor Project.

You can read more about my research behind my short story “The Queen of Crows” here.

More details to follow on preorders and release dates for ebook and paperback copies.

Short Fiction, Writing

A World of Imagination

I recently wrote my first flash fiction piece for children and young adult readers. This was a challenge for me with my usual writing themes exploring the darker side of fiction and best suited to adult readers.

In writing my flash fiction piece, I drew on some of the most influential children’s fiction to develop my own story, one that had deep roots in my personal experiences and one I hoped would resonate with children experiencing bullying and coping with being different. In telling this story, I wanted to channel the reality of these extremely difficult daily experiences and also to show how being different is a hidden strength.

Some of my inspiration for my own story was was Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia. These classic children’s fiction all feature protagonists exploring magical worlds hidden to all but them while escaping a harsher reality that exists beyond the borders of the their fantasy world.

Short Fiction, Writing

A LGBTQI Fairytale Retelling

One of the stories I have been working on recently was retelling a fairytale with an LGBTQI focus. There have been several recent explorations transposing gender roles in fairytales, but I wanted to draw attention to the inclusivity of love and also retell a fairytale that could highlight struggles for LGBTQI community both past and present.

I recently came across a gorgeous fairytale retelling in French Fairy Tales by Sophie Masson and illustrated by Lorena Carrington titled ‘The King of Crows’. This fairytale was new to me and I loved it’s complex themes, the parts of other tales wound into it in such a unique way. It was a vibrant fairytale with elements that were part-quest, part-curse and transformation.

In my own retelling, the sorcerer curses a queen for her refusal to submit to him and refusal to marry him and is transformed into a crow along with the subjects of her kingdom. Under the strict rules of the curse, the crow queen must find her true love but cannot be seen in her human form at night. The queen finds her true love, a young musician playing in the forest one day, a woman like herself who has no desire to marry a man and be a wife or mother. This unlikely union becomes true love and they marry under the Queen’s decree, but the consort cannot keep her curiosity at bay and seeing the Crow Queen by moonlight. The Sorcerer comes victorious to claim the Crow Queen, taking her far away to be isolated forever. Desperate to save her Queen, the consort consults a fae being who tells her how to find her Queen, beyond the moon and sun, to a land untouched by light and gives her a pair of iron shoes to wear. She will know her queen is near when the iron shoes break, and know she has found her queen when the blue grasses sing. The Consort begins her quest and long trek until the prophesied words become true and she rescues her queen, no longer a crow, the lovers are reunited.