Monster in the Forest

I actually took this picture myself and it’s the best one I managed all year!

“I told you to stay away from me.” Cana rolled away from him. There was plenty of room in the clearing and the fire was still bright.

“I thought we stayed close when camping in the woods,” Sion said. “To keep warm.”

“It’s past midsummer,” Cana said. “It’s not cold.” She rolled over and looked at the stars peeking through the canopy of leaves overhead. “The fire will keep away wolves and the horses will warn us if anything approaches. Get some sleep. We should reach the castle by noon tomorrow.”

“You won’t come into the castle with me?” Sion asked.

“I’ve been warned about monsters in the castle.” Cana said. “Besides, as you said, I’m just a girl.”

“Tomorrow I go to fight a monster,” Sion said. “This could be my last night on this earth. Won’t you at least make it a little warmer for me.”

“No,” Cana said, shifting her blanket a little further away from him.

“I could come back laden with jewels and gold,” Sion says. “The rumours say that there is treasure beyond counting.”

“And that is why you are going to the castle.” Cana said. “If there was no castle then the villagers could rot under monsters for all you cared.”

Sion laughed. “A man has to make his way in the world,” he said.

“I’m only here because of the steward’s orders,” Cana said. “You could turn back at any time.”

“I received no encouragement from village,” Sion said. “Don’t you fear monsters?”

“We fear them,” Cana said. “And we have learned to recognise them. You are going into this with a black eye because you couldn’t learn to take ‘no’ as an answer and the men of our village are protective.”

“And the women are no fun,” Sion said. “You are sleeping with a knife under your pillow. Don’t think I didn’t notice. Is that why the priest refused to bless me and my weapons?”

“It’s because you wouldn’t confess your sins first,” Cana said. “The whole village heard the argument.”

“Tomorrow I face a blood sucking, immortal creature that has powers that no-one can measure,” Sion said. “Won’t you warm my bedroll, to give me the comfort I need?”

Cana turned back and looked at the greasy, red face, predatory intent clear. “Save your strength. You’ll need it.” She looked coldly into his eyes. “And you’ll never make the castle if you try to force me.”

Sion laughed again. “It’s worth asking, at least.” He placed his sword in the clear ground between them. “There, do you feel safer?”

“The horses will warn of any movement,” Cana said. “Goodnight.”

Cana watched him leave the next morning and then tidied the campsite. Those who tracked the creature in the castle came at all times of year, so she stacked up firewood against the winter. She had lost count of those that she had brought here, seeking their fortune and, perhaps. fame. There had even been a few that had wanted to serve what they thought lived in the lonely fortress that was a short ride down the path. There were raspberries in the forest, and she picked a good basket full before the shadows lengthened. Then she made up the fire and waited.

She became aware of a presence. “You defeated him?”

Calixtus nodded and joined her near the fire. “To be truthful, he was a careless warrior. And he was avoiding me as he searched for the fabled treasure. I think he would have fed you to me to buy time if he could.”

“And you’re unhurt?” Cana asked.

“I can’t be hurt like you,” Calixtus said softly. “But no, he didn’t land a blow. The black eye didn’t help. Let me guess, he tried to flirt with Maria?”

“He tried more than flirting!” Cana said. “Fortunately for him, her husband reached them before she could do much.”

“How is Maria?” Calixtus asked.

“She’s well.” Cana said. “Rhia has had her baby, it’s a boy and they are calling him Calix, after you.” She frowned. “Father John’s joints are hurting him, I think, though he isn’t saying anything.”

“I’ll call in soon and see what I can do,” Calixtus said. “And I’ll have a look at the mill while I am there.”

Cana smiled. “You know so much. Perhaps you should take an apprentice.” She loosened her tunic.

“Perhaps I should,” Calixtus said. He held up his hand. “I won’t need blood for a while. The would-be warrior gave me plenty and there are many animals in the forest. But thank you.”

Cana shook her head. “You have saved us from so many monsters. Now, sit, share some raspberries and let me tell you all of the news.”

With King’s Silver being released on 8 February, I’m revisiting some of my medieval stories. I hope you enjoyed this.

Book Review: Kolkata Noir by Tom Vater

I wanted to review books as a way of pushing myself out of the comfort zone and out into the amazing world of unknown books. Tom Vater approached me for an honest review of Kolkata Noir and I happily accepted. I am glad I did as this novel is very different from my usual reading habits. It may be different to my usual choices, but I greatly enjoyed it.

The novel’s name is perfect. It is set in a city called variously Calcutta, Kolkata and Killkata and combines the steamy atmosphere of West Bengal with the clipped, dark pessimism of noir literature. It is a heady combination.

The book is divided into three sections. The first is called Calcutta and is set in 1999. An English traveller, Becker, meets a newly created police inspector, Madhurima, and the two characters find themselves working together to solve a seedy plot involving the Indian upper classes and a British interloper. I love the way the noir themes of money and corruption intertwine with the feverish heat of Bengal. There is tension between the two characters but they are pulled apart by their separate life paths.

The second section is called Kolkata and is set in 2019. It’s the same city (the name changed in 2001) and once again Becker and Madhurima meet to solve a problem. This time it is British incomers inciting trouble among the dispossessed and lost of the Kolkata slums and rubbish heaps. Once again the tension is felt between the two characters as they work together to solve the deaths and destruction caused by the hunt for the fabled Mother Teresa’s treasure. Once again the characters are pulled apart by their life paths.

The third and final section is called Killkata as the city once again changes her name and is set in 2039. The city is drowning as global warming raises the sea levels. Corruption and lawlessness now rule instead of any government and the people left behind struggle frantically for survival. Madhurima reaches out to her old contact, Becker, in a desperate attempt to help someone she loves and he, of course, responds. This is by far the darkest section as the two companions struggle through the shadows as the world is falling around them.

There are two distinct strands to the book. One is the dark shadows of the noir genre. There are the seedy secrets, the grotesque underclass, the morally bankrupt high society and the dark deals that define noir. The contrast between the fantastically rich and the desperately poor is well drawn and stark. People make difficult decisions in impossible circumstances and the intangible link between Becker and Madhurima is very much part of the noir tradition. People make difficult choices, heroic decisions and unlucky calls. The stories are full of shadows that grow darker as the book progresses. As ever, there is a glimmer of hope in the end as people make hard choices and still decide to do the right thing regardless of personal cost.

The other strand is the city itself. Tom Vater talks so eloquently about the Indian culture and the relics of British rule. You can almost feel the sultry air as he shows the city and her former riches. I admit that there were times when I had to turn to the internet to understand some of the references, but for me that was a plus as it broadened my knowledge. The constant intrusion of the old British Raj still pushing into current Indian life is a recurring theme. History is still casting shadows.

Quibbles – the three sections are quite short. I personally think that each could have been expanded. There could have been more about the characters and further depth as the stories were expanded. I suspect that I am just being greedy. The book works. I just wanted more.

You can find Kolkata Noir by Tom Vater as an ebook, audio book, hardback or paperback at Amazon.co.uk.

Book Review: Dread Uprising by Brian K Fuller

Disclaimer – I don’t know the author, and I read the book through Kindle Unlimited, without being asked. This is a book I thought looked interesting and decided to read

First thing that I noted is that this is a chunky book. I usually read on my phone while waiting for my son, and most of the books I have been reading don’t take that long to read. If you read this in paperback, however, it’s over 400 pages long! It didn’t feel too long, though. As a writer, I’m aware that sometimes things can be trimmed or padded. It can be a difficult call to make. Objectively, I’m sure that there could have been some cuts made, but I enjoyed all I read and I didn’t feel anything dragged. The conversations, the descriptions and the action scenes all contributed to the story and the development of the characters. It was a well-paced, satisfying read.

And speaking of things dragging (or not), I thought the pace throughout was good. It was varied and interesting, with some great action sequences. I am a sucker for a good fight scene, and I think that these were great. You never lost track of who was doing what, which is testament to the skill of the writer, because these fast paced, detailed scenes with plenty of characters can be hard to track.

It wasn’t just a series of action scenes, though. The characters were distinct, interesting and well drawn. I loved that the characters developed through the story, changing and responding to changes in a believable way.

The plot is modern day fantasy, where Ash Angels battle Dreads, the forces of Good versus the forces of Evil. The setting has a well thought out, consistent and subtly complex background. At first it seems to ignore the theology that comes with the concept of Angels, but the implications are addressed as part of the plot. I should add that the plot has plenty of twists and turns, and some amazing surprises. I’ve had to be careful to avoid spoilers, because it’s worth uncovering the layers as the story progresses.

I am going to risk being a little controversial. I would say that this is a masculine book, as in there is more focus on the characters and the action than on relationships. This does not mean that the relationships are treated poorly, and that the interactions between the characters are not well drawn, just that romance is not the main focus.

I really recommend this intense, well paced, action packed story and I shall be dipping in to the rest of the series. Here’s a brief taster from the prologue:

The shot hit to the right of his forehead, tearing away part of his skull. Even that wouldn’t keep a Dread down. She took a quick bead on the pale face of the Dread next to him, a chunky biker with a devilish grin. But before she could pull the trigger, the glowing red radiance around him blasted outwards like the dawn of an evil sun, and a demonic haze washed out her vision – Spirit Shock, a dark gift some Dreads possessed. Everyone in the field called it ‘Getting Torched’. Everyone who survived it.

Book Review: Borrowed Magic by Stephanie Foxe

This is a good book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I will almost certainly dip into more books from Stephanie Foxe.

You have snappy dialogue, well drawn, multi layered and believable characters, a great plot with unexpected twists and a believable and coherent magic system that isn’t overtly explained but is instead subtly shown throughout the book. The fight scenes are great, the hints of passion are amazing and I want to know more.

The only thing is, it’s in the first person present tense! I do not do well with first person present tense, it doesn’t draw me in the way that a more conventionally written story does, although in this case it does pretty well. It has very nearly almost come close to possibly considering changing my mind. Here is the opening paragraph, and you have to admit that it works:

I’m the only healer in two hundred miles who would let a vampire dump a half-dead snack off on my doorstep. I’m also the weakest healer in over two hundred miles, my magical talent is in brewing potions and salves, but I can keep a necker alive if a vampire gets a little over zealous

I read this on Kindle Unlimited, this is an unsolicited review, and I can recommend this book if you don’t mind first person present tense.

Book Review: Out Like a Goddess

I enjoyed read this book, it has an interesting background, it has some sparky dialogue, some great action and there are some beautiful descriptions.

I read this for free, entirely unsolicited, from Kindle Unlimited. It’s not a bad read. I don’t regret the time I spent with this story. However it didn’t quite hit the spot with me.

I think the problem I have with this story is that I feel that it could do with being around 25% longer. Sometimes it feels like the story is rushed past some parts, or details are skimmed over. I would like to have a clearer set up about the deities and the way they interact. Of course, anyone who is writing using the Olympic deities is going to be compared to Rick Riordan and he is a tough act to follow. April Canavan doesn’t have the same take as the Percy Jackson series, which is kind of refreshing, but I personally would have liked to know more. Perhaps it will grow in the next books of the series.

As an entirely personal preference, I would like more distance between Gods and non-Gods, to have more of an air of glory about them. It doesn’t mean that this book isn’t worth reading, just that it didn’t push all my buttons. Here is a (non-spoiler) example:

The only one of the gods of the wind who didn’t live with her was sitting there, eating a banana and reading a newspaper.

“‘Boreas,’ she greeted with a smile. ‘What are you doing here so early?’ Normally he didn’t show up until after everyone had eaten breakfast and calmed down a little.”

It also ended on something of a cliff hanger. Hopefully this will be resolved in the next books. It isn’t my favourite end to a book, though.

I’ve said the negatives about this, but there is a lot of good in this story. I think it’s going in interesting directions and I will almost certainly read the next in the series.

Book Review: Realms of Ghosts & Magic by J S Malcom

This is a well-written, entertaining book about magic in our present day world, with a well thought out, logical magic system and a recognition that being a witch doesn’t pay the bills. The pacing was great, with some variation, the descriptions had depth and supplemented the story and the characters were well thought through.

It is written in the first person present tense, which can be an acquired taste, particularly with the use of the present tense. That means that you get quotes like:

A few moments pass as Dean considers his options. Which are basically zero, so I’m not bothered. The fact that my skin has gone from tingling to crawling tells me he’s got a serious problem on his hands. A problem that I seriously doubt a psychic could deal with. Add to that, I can’t imagine one being dumb enough to try. Any true psychic would steer clear. So Dean has me or no-one…

I love the details included, the way that everyday, mundane life is used as a touchstone and counterpoint to the magical world and I love the reality of the language. It is an interesting, detailed, well imagined world with great plotting and lots of hints that don’t give the game away until the end. I can say that it is a good book to settle down with.

I have two issues. The first is that it ends on a cliffhanger, but not an irrational cliffhanger, so that is down to personal preference. It isn’t my preference, but it isn’t a bad end to the book. It is a logical, sensible, rational and consistent end to the book that leads well into the next of the series. If you don’t mind this sort of cliffhanger, then you will be fine.

The second issue is my completely irrational prejudice against first person present tense. It has it’s value as a method of story telling as it makes all the action very immediate and, if well written (and this is), it can make it very relatable. I think it is utterly awesome for short stories. My completely irrational dislike is that I feel that it can affect the flow of information so that you get more ‘tell’ than ‘show’ and that it can affect pacing. JS Malcom has done a wonderful job conveying the information necessary for the plot and the pacing works great. In fact, the way that the background is gently introduced during the story is wonderfully handled. I still have this completely ridiculous aversion to first person present tense.

If you are okay with a cliffhanger ending and a story in the first person present tense then I would be happy to recommend this book and to perhaps check out the sequel.

Book Review: The Omega Prize by Leann Ryans

This is erotic fiction. I practically never read erotic fiction and I blush very easily. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The Omega Prize is a science fiction story set in a world where there are dominants and submissives, alphas and omegas, and many are ruled by their pheromones. The story is set on a rough and ready space station with the heroine, Brie, trying to hide her nature as she works as a bartender. The hero, Zander, spots her true nature and, well, I don’t want to give too many spoilers.

I usually avoid erotica as there is often more biology than story. The Omega Prize is definitely a story – a well written story with real characters. It is relatively short, but there is a journey that the characters make and it’s an interesting journey.

I found the dialogue crisp and believable, and I enjoyed the description of the settings, with a great flavour of the darker scenes of sci fi movies. I am not sure how qualified I am to comment on the quality of the erotica, but I found it, well, erotic. It wasn’t mechanistic but had a wonderful, sensual, feline feel to it.

Now for something surprising. Alongside with a great setting, crisp dialogue, sensual scenes and three dimensional characters, there are some really excellent descriptions of hand to hand combat. It is great to see such a vivid description of a fight. Again, I don’t want to put too much in, but the combat, the passion and the characters are all legitimate parts of the story. I loved it

Another in the series is promised, and I am looking forward to it.

Book Review: The Ring and the Coin Purse by Marianne Madson

I actually had Book 2 in the series recommended, but I went and read Book 1 first.

First things first – I loved it. I found myself relaxing in to it. It’s a story of a mysterious coin purse, a magical ring, extra dimensional beings and, well, all sorts of good stuff.

I get the feel that it is aimed at a young adult market, and the language used is very straightforward and streamlined and there is a wonderful clarity in the descriptions. This balances out a plot that intertwines intricately between different viewpoints, time periods and even worlds.

To be honest, sometimes I got a little lost in names, but a sneak peak at the next book shows a ‘who’s who’ and I think I will be referring back to it. And I am looking forward to learning how this world works as the series unfolds as Marianne Madson doesn’t dump a swathe of information on you but teases glimpses in as you read the book.

Perhaps my favourite passage, because it is so vivid and intriguing:

An old childhood memory of her Father comes to mind.

It’s of a moment she had forgotten but now can clearly recall.

Her Father is staring at her with his own grey gold flecked eyes.

He touches her forehead with the tip of his right index finger while saying in a hypnotic tone.

“Remember to act when you find the Red coat, Rose, DON’T LET THIS OPPORTUNITY SLIP AWAY!”

It is a story with a lot of light and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

The Ring and the Coin Purse by Marianne Madson