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Burnt Sugar

Publisher’s Description

Decades after the incident in the woods, Gretel has forged a good life in a small village, running a bakery and taking care of her brother and the stray, bedraggled women who find work as her apprentices. Business is good, and when it’s not, Gretel took more from the witch than a knack of making sweet treats and gingerbread, just as her brother returned home forever changed by the torture he experienced.

The book of magic hidden beneath the stairs has kept Gretel and her household comfortable for years, but it also calls to Gretel in the night, demanding she return to the woods and replace the witch they killed. For years, she’s been resisting, determined to keep Hansel and her apprentices safe.

Then Hansel’s drinking goes too far and Gretel realises her brother is dying. Finally, the seductive call of the book’s magic might be too strong to deny…


Review

I read Burnt Sugar (Never Afters, #1) by Australian author Kirstyn McDermott.

Burnt Sugar follows the well-known Grimm fairytale characters Hansel and Gretel in the decades after their abandonment in the forest, and stumbling on the witch’s cottage. The tale of Gretel’s servitude to the witch while Hansel rotted behind bars. That is where the familiar tale we know ends and a new reimagined one begins.

Gretel is now an older woman and her brother Hansel a town-thug and drunkard. After what they both endured in the Witch’s cottage, the siblings have gone down two very different paths in life. Gretel manages a bakery and is haunted by memories of burning the witch alive so she and her brother might escape. Stranger still is the book of witchcraft she stole from the cottage and the gems that frequently appear. In a town that is hard on the poor and wretched, Gretel adopts those she can and provides handouts for those she can’t – the memory of being a starving unwanted child one that is still fresh.

Final Thoughts

Burnt Sugar is an intriguing “what if” novella that offers a conclusion to the tale of Hansel and Gretel. There are some aspects which are unanswered – such as the hands that push at Gretel’s back – reminiscent of the witch’s own ending. Whether this is deliberately unexplained or not it is unclear. Regardless, this is a deeply emotional and thought provoking idea of what might have happened once two children expected lost to the forest, stumbled back to their village and how their lives would have altered from the experience.

Conclusion

A fascinating literary reimagining of the Grimm’s fairytale of Hansel and Gretel. Definitely worth reading for those who enjoy a historical fantasy. A solid fairytale reimagining for those curious to know what might happened after Hansel and Gretel escaped the witch and the forest.

research, Writing

Folklore of the Cursed Aye-Aye

In Madagascar, a highly unusual endangered nocturnal lemur is associated in regional as taboo or fady. The bizarre habits, secretive nature and distinctive appearance of the aye-aye fills some Madagascan peoples with the horror and dread at the sight of it. This has often lead to the slaughter of aye-ayes.

In other regions of Madagascar, it is considered fady to eat certain lemurs, which means that local taboos can actually shield and protect specific species. The aye-aye’s most striking features likely lead to its persecution.

Aye-ayes are medium-sized nocturnal lemurs and are mostly black but have large, highly mobile ears for tracking minute sounds. They’re also the only primate with continuously growing incisors which make them look rodent-like. Most notable of the aye-aye’s unusual physical features is it’s long, thin middle finger which is used to tap rapidly on decayed wood where their sensitive hearing helps detect insect larvae beneath. They then gnaw holes into the wood with those rodent-like teeth and use the long, skeletal-like finger to skewer and scoop out insect larvae.

According to the local views of fady, anyone who has an aye-aye point its long spindly finger at them, will be met with ill-fortune.

But the aye-aye’s eating habits may also contribute to their unpopularity with rural villages. Aye-ayes raid common Madagascan crops like coconuts, lychees, and mangos. This has led to viewing the aye-aye as a crop pest. But aye-ayes also eat seeds from the ramy tree (Canarium spp.) which grow tall and undisturbed near tombs in the Samanioana region where it is considered fady to cut them down. Aye-ayes are found in the peaceful sacred burial sites and surrounding forest, nesting and foraging without much human disturbance. Unsurprisingly, the aye-aye’s preference for the areas surrounding tombs may have inadvertently caused villagers to associate them with death and bad luck.

Other regions only consider the aye-aye fady when it enters a village.  Locals feel uneasy about an animal intentionally displacing itself from its home in the forest to enter a village. Essentially the unnatural act of entering a “human space” from the forest is what creates the bad omen.  They believe the only reason an aye-aye would display such unusual behavior is to foretell illness as the harbinger of death.

The degree of fady varies from village to village and the response to an aye-aye sighting. Regardless, fear is ingrained into this fady. In some northern regions of Madagascar, locals fear any sightings of an aye-aye. If an aye-aye is spotted in the forest, locals believe someone in a nearby village will fall sick and possibly die. If an aye-aye is found in the village itself, sometimes the entire village is abandoned as everyone living there won’t risk sickness and death. Unfortunately, the most common response to seeing an aye-aye is to kill it, hang the carcass or tail from a pole by a crossroads hoping that by moving the aye-aye further from the village, it will protect everyone from sickness or death. There’s also belief that passers-by may unknowingly carry the bad luck away with them when travelling past the carcass.

Aye-ayes are an essential part of Madagascan biodiversity. The challenges of habitat loss, persecution as a crop pest and the damaging effects of fady accelerate their declining numbers. Because aye-ayes are very rare, sightings of one only reinforce the fady through storytelling. One conversationist intended to rewrite that story.

The late primatologist, Dr. Alison Jolly, authored a children’s book titled, “Ny Aiay Ako” (Ako the Aye-Aye) with the book distributed to children’s schools throughout Madagascar to teach and inspire a love of these lemurs. The book’s protagonist, an aye-aye named Ako, transforms fear into fascination and children are inspired to protect this unusual lemur. In fact, the success of the first book led to a six book series, each about a different species of lemur.

Today, the Lemur Conservation Foundation (LCF) continues Dr. Jolly’s work with the Ako Project. A set of 21 Ako Lemur Lesson Plans and accompanying Ako Educator’s Guide were designed to highlight the biodiversity of Madagascar. Educators can use activities featuring characters and themes from the Ako book series to teach about lemurs and their environment. Each teaching kit includes all six of Dr. Jolly’s storybooks and the materials needed to inspire a love of lemurs and encourage conservation action in Madagascar. The Ako Project is now worldwide with all lesson plans and materials available to download free on LCF’s website at http://www.lemurreserve.org/ako-project/. For conservationists, this project is the first step to dispelling the damaging folklore by empowering children with knowledge and empathy for the aye-aye.

References:

Folklore Thursday, Madagascar Superstitions & Taboos: Fighting the Aye-Aye Fady, https://folklorethursday.com/folklife/madagascar-superstitions-taboos-fighting-the-aye-aye-fady/

Duke Lemur Center https://lemur.duke.edu/discover/meet-the-lemurs/aye-aye/

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The Path of Thorns


Publisher’s Description

Asher Todd comes to live with the mysterious Morwood family as a governess to their children. Asher knows little about being a governess but she is skilled in botany and herbcraft, and perhaps more than that. And she has secrets of her own, dark and terrible – and Morwood is a house that eats secrets. With a monstrous revenge in mind, Asher plans to make it choke. However, she becomes fond of her charges, of the people of the Tarn, and she begins to wonder if she will be able to execute her plan – and who will suffer most if she does. But as the ghosts of her past become harder to control, Asher realises she has no choice.


*** I received an ARC in exchange for a voluntary review ***

Review

I recently read The Path of Thorns by Australian horror and dark fantasy author A.G. Slatter (aka Angela Slatter).

Asher Todd contrives to organise a position as a governess at Morwood grange to educate the three children. Hired by elder Mrs Leonora Morwood, despite her son Luther Morwood running the estate. Asher is haunted both literally and figuratively by her past and a terrible plan to seek revenge and destroy the Morwoods.

Enacting her plan becomes harder when Asher reveals her skills as a cunning woman, a witch and healer. Soon, the struggling people of the Morwood estate and local Tarn rely on Asher for their care. Caught between her loyalty to the Tarn and her desire for revenge against the Morwoods, Asher’s hand is prematurely forced unleashing a dark tide of magic, regret, desire, and rage.

Final Thoughts

The Path of Thorns skilfully blends fairytales and folklore to reimagine an equistitely detailed dark Victorian world. An beautiful and deadly world of witchcraft and ghosts, dark magic and desperate actions. A tale of unrequited affection with dark consequences, The Path of Thorns is rich with complex characters, a dark and twisted fairytale set in the dark fantasy Sourdough world.

Conclusion

A highly recommended read for lovers of dark fantasy, horror, gothic horror and ghost stories. The Path of Thorns is a well-written and beautifully executed novel. A must read!

research

Isle of Skye: Fairy Glen

The Isle of Skye is rich in fairy lore. One of the most magical-looking is the miniature landscape of grassy, cone-shaped hills and whimsical rock spirals of Fairy Glen.

There is no documented folklore linking the landscape to the realm of myth, and there have been no actual sightings of fairies, Fairy Glen is rich in folklore. You can easily imagine the the fairy folk in this landscape.

There is another explanation for the rock formations found at Fairy Glen. The geological formations are the result of a landslip, triggered by volcanic activity on northern edge of the Isle of Skye about 60 million years ago. The resultant lava flow that would have covered northern Skye was 1,200m thick.

To many, this otherworldly landscape was created by the fairies. There’s belief the fairies still live here, hiding in the crevices…Remember it’s important to leave Fairy Glen as you found it: the fairies are watching you.

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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!

Short Fiction, stories

Revolutions Release


I am excited to announce that Revolutions, a speculative fiction anthology was released on 25th September, 2021. This anthology is inspired by the theme of revolution and showcases authors from Australian and New Zealand and is published by Deadset Press.

Revolutions includes my dark fantasy “Talismans”, a short story of sacrificial magic and retribution set against the backdrop of rising civilisations and empires. You can read more about my research behind my own story here.

If you are interested in purchasing an ebook or paperback copy of Revolutions, more details are here.

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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!

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Blood Kissed

Publisher’s Description

In a world where magic and science sit side by side, and powerful witches are considered necessary aides for all governments, Lizzie Grace is something of an outlier. Though born into one the most powerful blue blood witch families, she wants nothing to do with either her past or her magic.

But when she and Belle, her human familiar and best friend, open a small cafe in the Faelan werewolf reservation, she quickly finds herself enmeshed in the hunt for a vampire intent on wreaking bloody havoc. It’s a hunt that soon becomes personal, and one that is going to take all her skills to survive–that’s if the werewolves, who hate all things witch, don’t get her first.


Review

One of my recent reads was the urban fantasy Blood Kissed (Lizzie Grace, #1) by Australian author Keri Arthur.

Blood Kissed follows an low-powered witch Lizzie Grace and her human familiar and fellow witch, Belle. Although both Lizzie and Belle are witches of royal bloodlines, neither posses the level of power required to be extensively trained in the magical arts. Belle and Lizzie have talents that lie along the psychometric lines and practice in the rural village of Castle Rock as psychics and simple charm makers. But the town of Castle Rock itself is located on a werewolf reservation but the werewolf pack is hostile to witches.

Lizzie is asked by the mother of a missing teenage girl to locate her using her psychometric skills. But when Lizzie does locate the girl it is a sorrowful discovery of her body. The subsequent events lead Lizzie and Belle to uncover the presence of a man, a blood-witch who is also a vampire. In partnership with the hostile werewolf, Aiden, the murder investigation leads Lizzie and Belle into dangerous situtations as they try to prevent further deaths and uncover the true identity and motivations of the blood-witch.

Final Thoughts

Blood Kissed explores the alternate Australian world where the paranormal is part of reality. Although the relationship between Lizzie and Aiden can feel predictable, the story itself is unique and the prevents this debut in a series becoming too standard. It is a refreshing paranormal story and a promising beginning to a series.

Conclusion

A great read for urban fantasy, a unique Australian setting. Recommended for those who enjoy urban fantasy and paranormal fiction.

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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!