reads, Recent Reads

The Once and Future Witches

Publisher’s Description:

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the three Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote – and perhaps not even to live – the sisters must delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.


Review:

The Once and Future Witches by US author Alix E. Harrow was an absolute delight. Following three sisters who meet unplanned after years apart in New Salem, drawn by an inexplicable magic, and caught in a half-spun spell to summon the Lost Tower of Avalon, dislodged in time and space, waiting for the next three witches with enough need to summon it back.

The oldest sister, Bella, is a librarian working at the New Salem College library. An unmarried woman who quickly finds herself drawn to the exotic and welcoming Ms Cleo, a black female reporter with more than a little hint of magic about herself. The middle sister Agnes, is beautiful and strong enduring a menial job as a mill-girl just to keep her independence. A strong woman whose beauty would allow the pick of any men, if Agnes would allow herself to be loved. But Agnes must choose to be supported by others, especially when she is with child and finds the stronger love in a man who isn’t the child’s father. While the youngest sister, Juniper, is a wild and fierce young woman intent on taking the male dominated society down so women (and witches) might assume their rightful place as leaders and advisers.

In the meeting of these three estranged sisters, bonds are rekindled and a other women across New Salem join their cause to have more than what is handed to them, to make certain their daughters have better lives than they did. But a dark spectre hangs over New Salem, an ancient malevolence that is determined to see the last of the witches crushed once and for all beneath a boot-heel.

Final Thoughts:

The Once and Future Witches was a wonderfully well-written novel with strong, detailed characters and a thrilling alternate history of 1893 and the post-Salem witch burnings. Beautifully paced storytelling with exquisite detail, this was such an strong book.

Conclusion:

Highly recommended read for those who enjoy historical fantasy, alternate history, magical realism and more than a dash of folklore. A must-read!

reads, Recent Reads

The Ghost Tree

Publisher’s Description

When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in the town of Smiths Hollow, Lauren is surprised, but she also expects that the police won’t find the killer. After all, the year before her father’s body was found with his heart missing, and since then everyone has moved on. Even her best friend, Miranda, has become more interested in boys than in spending time at the old ghost tree, the way they used to when they were kids.

So when Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging the remains of the girls through the woods, she knows she can’t just do nothing. Not like the rest of her town. But as she draws closer to answers, she realizes that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the center. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.


Review

One of my very recent reads was The Ghost Tree by US horror and dark fantasy author Christina Henry.

The Ghost Tree follows the protagonist, fifteen year old Lauren after the brutal murder of her father and the subsequent lack of police investigation. As Lauren enters adolescence properly, the childhood friendship with Miranda – who has been using Lauren to make herself seem more adult and important – begins to crumble. The one thing still shared between Miranda and Lauren is the Ghost Tree in the woods, an ancient and lightning scarred tree in the woods just beyond the edge of the township of Smiths Hollow.

The sudden murder of two teenage girls in the woods coincides with Lauren’s vision of a monster responsible for the brutal murders. But the real darkness of Smiths Hollow is revealed by Lauren’s grandmother, who is part of a lineage of witches who have always inhabited Smiths Hollow and, after an act of betrayal by then township, laid a curse upon the town. For the continued prosperity of the Smiths Hollow, each year a girl from the town is sacrificed to the monster dwelling in the Ghost Tree, and soon after, the everyone in the town forgets -including the daughter they sacrificed. But now the curse is unravelling, and so the dark truth about Smiths Hollow begins to be remembered.

Final Thoughts

The Ghost Tree is a dark and disturbing tale, where past treachery and betrayal has laid the seeds for the bloody future of the town. In this well-written and highly suspenseful novel, gothic horror comes to a new landscape skilfully combining elements of dark fiction and horror.

Conclusion

Highly recommended! The Ghost Tree is a fabulous and disturbing tale for anyone who enjoys dark fiction, gothic horror and dark folklore. A must-read!

events, Short Fiction, Writing

Bloodlust Anthology Release


I am excited to announce the vampire-themed anthology Bloodlust (Legends of Night Drabbles, #2) published by Black Ink Fiction was released on 13th July, 2021.

Bloodlust (Legends of Night Drabbles, #2), is a vampire-themed microfiction collection, featuring two of my 100 word drabbles “The Hungering” and “The Burial” both inspired by vampiric folklore, legends and archaeology. You can read more about the research behind these drabbles here.

More details on how to purchase ebook or paperback copies of Bloodlust (Legends of Night Drabbles, #2) can be found here.

events, Short Fiction, Writing

Bones Anthology Release


I am excited to announce the supernatural anthology Bones (Five Hundred Fiction Series, #4) published by Black Hare Press was released on 29th June, 2021.

Bones (Five Hundred Fiction Series, #4) is a an occult, voodoo themed anthology, features my own flash fiction story “The Bones of a Dead God”, inspired by Aztec history, ritual and archaeology. You can read more about the research behind my story here.

More details on how to purchase ebook, paperback or hardback copies of Bones (Five Hundred Fiction #4) can be found here.

Short Fiction, stories

Forthcoming: Gothic Legends Anthology

I am pleased to announce my short story “The Dark Horseman” will feature in forthcoming horror anthology Legends of Night to be published by Black Ink Fiction.

You can read more about the research behind the legend, folklore and history of the Dullahan, or the Irish headless horseman, here.

More details on preorder links, and how to purchase copies of Legends of Night coming soon!

research, Short Fiction, stories

The Irish Headless Horseman

I have always been fascinated by the folklore of the headless horseman. I first became aware of this harbinger of death in the famous story by Washington Irving The Legend of Sleepy Hollow set in rural region in the state of New York. But the Irish legend of the Dullahan (“dark man”), the headless horseman is a harbinger of death. In the legend of the Dullahan, he carries a moldy severed head under his arm, taking a blood sacrifice (and the head) of his intended victim. According to folklore of the Dullahan, he only speaks once during his furious ride through village and field, and those words are only for his victim, the sacrifice.

The connection between the headless horseman and sacrifice is related to Celtic mythology and the ancient god, Crom Dubh, a fertility god to whom blood sacrifices were made. In county Cavan, the Killycluggin stone is believed to be an ancient representation of Crom Dubh, and like the Dullahan of legend travelling the roads, the large carved stone was found on a main road close to a nearby Bronze Age stone circle.

I was inspired by the Dullahan, this embodiment of Crom Dubh, and in writing a short story, I’ve incorporated these elements of folklore, legend, archaeology and mythology to weave a new tale of this infamous headless horseman.

Short Fiction, stories

Reimagining Arabian Nights

One of my recent short stories, a work-in-progress, was a reimagining of a tale recounted in the classic rendition, The Arabian Nights translated by Sir Richard Burton. The volume, also known as One Thousand and One Nights follows the sultana Scheherazade who cunningly begins a tale each night, never finishing it until the next, to prevent jealous and murderous husband from killing her, and ensuring her survival.

In developing an original tale inspired by The Arabian Nights story “The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Peri Banu”, I also incorporated inspiration from the fourteenth century Iberian Moorish kingdom, the Nasrid caliphate in Granada, Andalusia. In Persian folklore, the peri were diminutive brilliantly coloured winged-beings, a race that were seperate and as powerful as Jinn and Ifriit, and hunted by both. These rare fairy-like beings are the focus of my reimagined and original tale.

research, Short Fiction

Dark Legends of the Thunderbird

In writing a flash fiction story, I explored in the legendary Thunderbird, a powerful elemental being, found in many First Nations religions across North America.

The Thunderbird is a being found in many First Nations legends stretching from the desert plateaus and lands, the prairies and plains to the redwood forests and the Rocky Mountains. The Thunderbird is a powerful being, the beating of its wings makes the thunderclaps and gales, the silver of its eyes is the lightning. The Thunderbird also has an association with battle to many First Nations cultures, the bringer of storms both literal and metaphorical. I have a post here on the Thunderbird, or ‘Wakinyan’ in the Lakota-Sioux dialect.

As with any reimagining of a legendary being, I was conscious of cultural appropriation. My own reimagining of the Thunderbird, I focused on the connection between the prairie and desert landscapes, the reliance on the life-giving thunderstorms, and as a being invoked to protect land but also warriors and their horses.

research, Short Fiction, Writing

Gothic Folklore of the Shipwreck Coast

In a recent story, I explored one of the worst shipwrecks that occurred off south-eastern Australia, a notorious stretch of coast known as the “shipwreck coast”. I have been fascinated by the history behind a treacherous, narrow bay, the Loch Ard Gorge named after the 1878 shipwreck of the Loch Ard merchant ship, one of the Australia’s deadliest shipwrecks, where only two survived from the 54 on board.

Loch Ard Gorge is located near Cape Otway on the south-eastern Australian coastline where the infamous southern Ocean has eroded the sandstone coastline creating many the natural rock formations including the ‘twelve apostles’ along the Great Australian Bight. This region is prone to storms and pounding surf from the Antarctic, and rich marine ecosystems of great white sharks, seals, whales, dolphins and many species of fish and other marine life. This thriving region is also home to more than two hundred shipwrecks during Australia’s colonial history, a short span of time compared to the sixty thousand years of indigenous occupation.

In writing my own fictionalised account of this historic event, I imagined a third survivor, one who fled England for Melbourne undetected, a damned soul for who must eventually pay their due. I was inspired and fascinated by the gothic folklore of the sea, damned sea voyages encapsulated in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Homer’s The Odyssey among others.