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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.

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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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The Rarkyn’s Familar

Publisher’s Description

An orphan bent on revenge. A monster searching for freedom. A forbidden pact that binds their fates together.

Lyss has heard her father’s screams; smelled the iron-tang of his blood. She witnessed his execution. And plotted her revenge.

Then a violent encounter traps Lyss in a blood-pact with a rarkyn from the Otherworld and imbues her with the monster’s forbidden magic. A magic that will erode her sanity. To break the pact, she and the rarkyn must journey to the heart of the Empire. All that stands in their way are the mountains and the Empire’s soldiers—and each other.

But horrors await them on the road- horrors even rarkyns fear.

The most terrifying monster isn’t the one Lyss travels with…

It’s the one that’s awoken inside her.

Monsters of a feather flock together.


*** I received an ARC and I’m leaving a voluntary review ***

Review

The Rarkyn’s Familiar is the debut Fantasy novel by New Zealand author Nikky Lee.

The Rarkyn’s Familiar follows the protagonist Lyss, an orphan apprentice in a camp of lowly trained mancers. When hunting with two brothers from the camp, they come across a landslide in the mountain roads. A partially destroyed cart contains one of the kingdom’s most feared creatures trapped within a cage. A rarkyn. In a series of well-intended gestures, the three release the powerful sigils on the chains and free the rarkyn but not before it bonds itself as a familiar to Lyss.

Now bonded as familiars, Lyss and the rarkyn have a short amount of time to find someone in the capital capable of breaking their bond before the overwhelming magic of the rarkyn drives Lyss insane. Hunted by the Order mancers, soldiers and the rarkyn’s last captor, Lyss’s magic grows more powerful the more time she spends bonded to the rarkyn but so does her own dark potential. Time is running out for Lyss and the rarkyn if they want to survive the binding.

Final Thoughts

The Rarkyn’s Familiar is an engaging debut novel exploring a unique concept of familiar bonding; where a human becomes bonded to a fantastical creature. This adds a refreshing aspect to the storyline and complex world building that feels genuine for these characters and histories. The is a truly worthwhile read from a new voice in epic fantasy.

Conclusion

A great read for anyone seeking a unique from a debut author and a well-crafted epic fantasy. Highly recommended!

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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!

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The Eternal Machine

Publisher’s Description

A woman with the strength to rebel. A shapeshifter who wears the souls of the dead. Together, they face a lethal enemy… Em helped create it. Now she must craft its defeat. In a city owned by industrialists, Em sells her magic to make ends meet. The extraction procedure is brutal and potentially deadly.

Desperate for change,she joins an underground resistance movement to weaponise her magic and stop the abuse of workers. Meanwhile, a mysterious voice wakes Ruk from a decades long slumber and compels him to become human. He wants to break free but is torn between his shapeshifter instincts and the needs of the soul that sustains him.

On streets haunted by outcasts and predatory automatons, a new danger emerges – an ever-growing corruption of magic and science. Em and Ruk must put aside their differences and pursue it – each for their own reasons. Their discovery will forever change their lives… Or end them.


*** I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review ***

Review

I read The Eternal Machine by Australian author Carol Ryles, a debut novel combining steampunk, gaslamp fantasy and alternate history.

The Eternal Machine follows the protagonist Emma as she ekes out an existence in the lower classes of society, selling her magic alongside many others for the money to support themselves. Their magic is used to as energy for the powerhouses that support the industrialisation movement in this steampunk version of Victorian society. But as Emma begins to realise the extent of her true magical strength when left undrained by the powerhouses, she rivals the mages who run the powerhouses and society. Together with her partner Lucien, she begins to investigate the Groundists, a movement of radicalised lower classes determined to topple the powerhouses and the mages who rule them.

But Emma’s magic awakens an ancient shape-shifter, Ruk, who begins searching for her. The shape-shifters are few but powerful beings and Ruk kills Lucien, assuming his form and identity. But as Emma and Ruk enter the Groundist movement, Emma begins to learn more about her past as demons awaken and like the shape-shifters, are drawn to her power. In a company of other powerful Groundists, Ruk and his fellow shape-shifters, Emma and others battle the mages and the demons until the truth of Emma’s birth right is known and her entire world changes forever.

Final Thoughts

The Eternal Machine is a fascinating alternate history exploring the industrialisation era and social class suppression. I particularly enjoyed the combination of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy, the use of magic and technology in an alternative history setting was very well done. Perhaps the only downside to the book was it felt unnecessarily long, and some character development was rushed when introducing motivations which the extra length of the book could have focused on better. Overall, the world-building was supreme and the concept unique and refreshing.

Conclusion

A new steampunk read from a debut author in the genre. Highly sophisticated world-building with combination of alternate history, steampunk and gaslamp fantasy makes this suitable for audiences of all three genres. A well-recommended read!

Short Fiction, stories

13 Lives of Alice Release


I’m thrilled to announce that 13 Lives of Alice, a dark anthology of Alice in Wonderland inspired tales for adults, was published by Black Hare Press on 7th December 2021.

13 Lives of Alice features my dark gaslamp fantasy “The House of the Cat Si” inspired by the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, folklore of the Cat Si, shapeshifting cat fey, and the historical inequalities and special expectations affecting women in Victorian society. “The House of the Cat Si” may contain themes and elements which may make some readers uncomfortable. If you’re interested in the research behind “The House of the Cat Si”, you can read more here.

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy in ebook, paperback or hardback of 13 Lives of Alice, you can find more details here.

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Cold as Hell

Publisher’s Description:

The town of OpenFields is cold as hell…

Magic exists in OpenFields, and everyone but Adie plays their part. So what happens when murder and strangers visit the secret town?

Adie’s normal isn’t “normal.” Cameras watch her sleep, the eyes of the townsfolk narrow at her sight, and when she discovers her bosses’ office in disarray, and a stranger who makes her heart thunder, her world changes forever.

Author Neen Cohen’s Cold as Hell is an Urban Dark Fantasy like no other.

What secrets do OpenFields hold?

Adie’s journey will rock the town to its foundation.


Review:

I recently read Cold as Hell by Australian author Neen Cohen.

Cold as Hell focuses on the town of OpenFields, an isolated rural town where magic blossoms only within the town limits and none stray beyond the boundaries. But there is a dark undercurrent to OpenFields that is immediately apparent when a series of murders brings detective into the town. For protagonist, Adie the deaths in the town and the disappearance of her lover Lisa, and the stirring of her own supposedly dampened magic, has her on edge. The arrival of Tala, an alluring detective with connections to Adie’s own terrifying nightmares draws the two closer to the truth of OpenFields.

Soon, Adie and Tala confront the leader of OpenFields and expose the cult for what it is. But their plans go awry when they’re drawn deep underground to the source of the magic for OpenFields and the many deaths that have provided it. In the darkness beneath the town, Adie is forced to confront the truth about herself and the knowledge that Old Gods are imprisoned not just in OpenFields. She and Tala must chose a path to follow into the future.

Final Thoughts:

Cold as Hell was a murder mystery, urban fantasy and complex folklore woven together into its sinister cult-like town of OpenFields. Unfortunately, these threads often seemed to tangle leaving some questions unanswered and underdeveloped characters led to confusing decisions. Despite this, Cold as Hell was a unique novella exploring complex social issues of cult behaviour, pressures for those identifying as LGBTQI and all the while, exploring unusual folklore. A promising debut in urban fantasy.

Conclusion:

Recommended read for those who enjoy Australian urban fantasy, LGBTQI characters and an unusual folklore inspiration.

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The Heart is a Mirror for Sinners

Publisher’s Description

Welcome to The Heart is a Mirror for Sinners and Other Stories.

Slatter’s work has been described by the legendary Ramsey Campbell as “enviably original, and told in prose as stylish as it’s precise. Not just disturbing but often touching, her work enriches and revives the tale of terror.”

From the fierce changeling children of ‘Finnegan’s Field’ to shades of old gods in ‘Egyptian Revival’, from the Lovecraftian echoes of ‘Lavinia’s Wood’ to a new kind of Victorian sleuth in ‘Ripper’, and from the re-imagined fairy tale of ‘The Little Mermaid, in Passing’ to the tender terror of ‘Neither Time nor Tears’, the stories in this collection spring from dragons’ teeth scattered on the field of story.


Review

One of my favourite reads was The Heart is a Mirror for Sinners and Other Stories by Australian author Angela Slatter.

The Heart is a Mirror for Sinners and Other Stories is a fantastic and disturbing collection with a few favourites that I really enjoyed. The novella ‘Ripper’ is a Victorian crime viewed through a gothic and supernatural lens. ‘Finnegan’s Field’ is a chilling tale about changelings.

Final Thoughts

The Heart is a Mirror for Sinners and Other Stories is a varied collection that is well-written, perfectly executed in the distrusting nature of psychological horror, supernatural horror and dark fiction.

Conclusion

Highly recommended for those readers who enjoy a literary style of dark fiction, the chilling nature of supernatural horror and the disturbing dread from psychological horror. A must-read!

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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!