First Keeper by Steven Kelliher: A (mini) Review

First Keeper tells the story of the first Ember of the northern sands, and the nightmarish scenario that led to his awakening. fbdf95e4e244cbe2ab51e211f45e4f77

It serves as a prequel that takes place roughly 15 years before the start of The Landkist Saga, and features cameos by many of the main characters whose trials are chronicled beginning with Valley of Embers.

First Keeper by Steven Kelliher is a short story, only 33 pages long by my Kindle’s count. I have not yet read the Landkist Saga (beginning with Valley of Embers) but I’ll begin this review by stating that this little tease of a tale makes me look forward to diving in to the rest of Kelliher’s work.

The writing has an evocative style, some lines and paragraphs almost carrying a touch of something poetic about them. We’re introduced to Ninyeva, who in turn introduces us to the story of the first Ember by way of a tale told by the fireside.

Keliher’s way with prose might not be for everyone, but I found it to be rich and beautifully detailed right where it needed to be, and the scene of the “birth” of the first Ember is a skillfully wrought thing, one that still sticks in my head several days later.

It is available on Instafreebie here and you can also find it on Goodreads here. This is a quick shot of a story that I definitely recommend.

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A Post That Is Not About Writing

It’s about grief. So really, you can stop there if you like. I won’t side-eye you at all if you back away slowly.

But today is September 18th. This date has absolutely no importance to me or my family. No birthdays, anniversaries, deaths… there is nothing I can think of to attribute to this particular day that should matter to me. Family

And yet here we are, two years and three months out from my father’s death (Passing? Demise? Shuffle from this mortal coil? None of them sound right.) and the grief from it is pricking at me like a fresh, raw thing.

When I was a kid, there were no major deaths that rocked our family. I was lucky not to lose any immediate family members at a young age, so I imagined that grief would start out harsh and painful, loads of wailing and the whole sackcloth and ashes bit, but then it would slowly taper off, the sharpness would dull, eroded away to a pebble of sadness that would make me feel occasionally misty or sentimental when something would trigger a memory to bubble back up to the surface. That would be it. A steady progression, and nothing more.

But lo and behold, two years out from dealing with the death of my dad and a miscarriage, and the rough edges haven’t worn down. Last night, my youngest daughter wanted me to read a book about owls to her, and I sat there and bawled and blubbered through the entire story, because there was a Grandpa Owl and he took his little owl grandkids fishing and I’M OUT I’M OUT I’M DONE MY FACE FEELS THICK AND BURNY AND I DON’T LIKE THIS ANYMORE.

It was like stepping onto what I thought would be a safe, quiet, one-lane dirt road and getting run down by an out-of-state U-Haul towing a pick-up truck behind it. And I’m still feeling the repercussions of it today, like the slightest thing might set it off again, and all for seemingly no reason. 12931044_10156633333710462_5131290375944612566_n

But I guess since life is like that, smacking you in the face with things you’re not ready for and not expecting, it follows that grief (a fallout from life, really) would share the same characteristics. It doesn’t slowly fade away, all graceful-like. Instead it likes to wallop you from behind, steal your pocket change, and kick dirt on you one more time before it runs off to hide again.

So what is the point of this post? Grief sucks. There’s no way around that. And it doesn’t always get easier. It might change shape, take on new and different qualities, but it never really goes away. It becomes a part of us, like a scar, a wrinkle, that weird spot on your shoulder that you probably should get checked out… It’s there, an echo of loss that ripples out and affects those still living in its wake.

*sigh*

I miss you, Dad. And the kids miss you, too.

Giveaway! Giveaway! Giveaway!

Last month was the second bookiversary (or “book birthday”, if you prefer words my laptop doesn’t tag with a red, squiggly line as being not real) for my historical fantasy/horror The Half Killed. Now, I had it all planned out in my head. I checked the calendar, made certain I still had plenty of time to put everything together, and then – WHOOSH – August 25th came and went and here we are halfway through September and I’m late to the party. DSCN0498

So! Here’s the good part: You get a chance to win one of two signed copies of The Half Killed (signed by me, sorry) that will be delivered to your door (not by me, sorry) IF you win. And how do you win? Well, let’s see…

Rules:

To enter you must write a haiku. What’s a haiku? A poem that is 5-7-5, or five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third.

I don’t like haikus.

But I like to win free stuff.

What a quandary!!!

See? That easy. Post your haikus in the comment section below, and I will read through them all!

More rules:

The contest will remain open until midnight (EST) October 12th.

Your haiku must stick to the 5-7-5 rule. Any shenanigans and your entry will be disqualified.

Your haiku must include the word bacon.

What was that?

Yes, it must include the word bacon. I might be lenient if you manage to reference or allude to bacon without actually using the word. Creativity counts!

I will be the only judge (possibly I’ll bring in my husband to help judge if I’m stymied.)

One winner will be selected randomly. The other winner will be purely my choice (Bias! Get your bias here!)

And with that, I wish you all good luck and happy haiku-ing!

Paternus by Dyrk Ashton: A Review

The gods of myth, monsters of legend, heroes and villains of lore.

They’re real — and they’re coming back to finish a war that’s been waged since the dawn of time.

Fi Patterson and Zeke Prisco’s daily routine of caring for the elderly at a local hospital is shattered when a catatonic patient named Peter unwittingly thrusts them into a conflict between ageless beings beyond reckoning. A war of which he is the primary target, and perhaps the cause.

In order to survive, Fi and Zeke must forget everything they know about the world and come to grips with the astonishing reality of the Firstborn. Only then can they hope to learn the secrets locked in Peter’s mind, help stave off an ancient evil that’s been known by many names and feared by all, and discover truths about themselves perhaps best left hidden.

51DIp5SRjAL._SY346_That’s the description from the book. I loved American Gods (with which this shares a faintly similar feel.) I love mythology. This was an easy sell.

I want to say that the story starts with… But, no. The story starts laying down pieces from all different parts of the puzzle right from the beginning. There are parts about Fi (Fiona) simply trying to navigate the regular ups and downs of near-adulthood. There are monsters and fights in the back alleys of our own contemporary world. There are lovely passages with equally lovely prose that follow the gods and heroes from yesteryear – the ones who have survived the last few millennia of fighting and family squabbles – and give us glimpses into their current shenanigans away from the prying eyes of humans.

It sounds like a lot to juggle, but Ashton handles it well, leaping from one character’s viewpoint to another without the fear that he’s going to leave any loose ends hanging. Instead, he manages to weave together all the parts of myth and legend we’re familiar with into something that feels like an entirely new mythology, one that holds a promise of being even more sprawling and intricate than what the first book delivers.

Now, all of that said, this is me avoiding mentioning more than what’s in the description above because I don’t wish to spoil anything. But there are a fair amount of well-paced action sequences balanced with plot and character reveals in order to let one catch their breath. Things happen. Stuff… does stuff. There. That’s about all I can say without fearing I’m going to ruin something for someone.

Now, it took me a few days after finishing to decide what star rating to apply to this. While I loved the mythology and reveled in the information and the knowledge of how much research it probably took to write Paternus, I have a few quibbles that kept this from being a stunningly perfect read.

There is some head-hopping in the book, which pulled me out of a couple of scenes, especially near the beginning. But it smoothed out as it went along (or I simply became used to it and so didn’t notice it as much.) I was also less entranced with the “contemporary” or “normal” sections with Fi and Zeke as I was when the various characters from mythology took the wheel, so to speak. Perhaps because of the contrast with the more timeless, mythology-heavy chapters, those bits seemed weaker? Or perhaps it was just a subjective thing, and it took my brain a bit longer to make the jump from one section to another.

But aside from my own nitpicky things, this is an excellent book. My kindle said it was around 500 pages in length but it didn’t feel anywhere near that long. There is violence in this book (it’s based around characters from world mythology, so…), there are beheadings, and yet it isn’t a non-stop bloodbath (not that there’s anything wrong with that sort of thing.) It’s a solid story all around, and one that sets an impressive stage for the next in the series…

 

Sapphire’s Flight by K.S. Villoso – A Review

Disclaimer: I am acquainted with the author. Unfortunately, I’ve been acquainted with the author for a dozen years. That could mean I’ll be nice. Or… it could mean I’ll be as honest about her work as I would be with an irritating cousin or sibling. But I thought I would get that out of the way. 51Q24q6zIKL (1)

Originally I intended this review to encompass my thoughts on the third book in The Agartes Epilogues, Sapphire’s Flight. But Sapphire’s Flight isn’t a standalone book, and the more I attempted to gather my thoughts on it, the more I realized it would be equivalent to reviewing only the last third of a book without any mention of the previous chapters.

So, let’s begin with the description from the book itself:

The battle at Shi-uin has left scars. The rise of Gorrhen yn Garr to power seems unstoppable. As nations fall, the lines between love and duty become blurred and Kefier, Sume, and Enosh must learn to live with the choices they have made.

That’s not a lot to go on, but then once we reach this point in the story, not a lot can be said without a giant SPOILER tag attaching itself to everything.

All the way back in Jaeth’s Eye, the first book of the trilogy, we’re introduced to our three main MAIN characters (there are other characters who become almost-main characters – it’s a fairly large cast – but we’ll stick with these three for the moment) Kefier, Sume, and Enosh. The former two are not the type who want to get into your usual fantasy shenanigans. So there’s no staring off at a binary sunset wondering how cool it would be to find out you’re heir to some spiffy Jedi Agan magic. They just want to make it through the typical day to day.

A great deal of what happens to our main characters over the course of the series is not important people making big decisions about epic things and wars and sword fights and dragons. Those things are there. They happen, but they happen off-screen for the most part. A lot of what we see is the after-effects of those decisions, a small band of warriors left to face off against a larger army because a Big Decision was made off-screen, and our beloved characters are abandoned and left to pick up the pieces.

Now, so far, I’ve been rather vague about things, and that’s on purpose. There are quite a number of reveals in this series, especially in the final book, so I’m treading carefully so as not to SPOILER anything.

So let’s try to sum up a few things and do some thought-gathering: This series tries to bite off a lot. There is a tremendous amount of history and world-building on display, but not to the point that I was bored to tears by it. Much of it is deftly woven into the story (one moment that stands out is when a bit of world-building is presented in bedtime story form, which meant I didn’t even realize I’d just seen Villoso’s world expand a little more until later, so smoothly was it presented.)

There is a mix of viewpoints, interludes, and prologues, which are all important. When I first read Jaeth’s Eye, I will confess that I was confused at moments because it seemed like there was so much to keep track of, along with a few pacing issues, but as I moved through the book, it all seemed to contract on itself, pulling the various threads together, until I suddenly hit the pay-off and realized just how detailed and well-constructed this world was going to be.

With each successive book, Villoso’s skills grow stronger. By the time I arrived at Sapphire’s Flight, her prose had graduated to a beautiful thing. Her characters are flawed, which means that sometimes I wanted to smack them upside the head. But it made them real, and it made me care. And made me cry in bed at one o’clock in the morning when I arrived at the end of the trilogy.

It is a solid series. It is a remarkably solid fantasy debut. I feel special because I was lucky enough to see some snippets of the early versions of this story. At its heart, it’s about its characters, caught in the machinations of an epic fantasy world that simply will not leave them be. I look forward to reading more of Villoso’s work, because I suspect she’ll only improve and enthrall more and more with each story she creates.

***

Midweek and a Short Story

I have a massive to-do list looming over my head, so instead of tackling that I sat down and wrote a short story.

But! Before we get to that, I do have the pre-order link for The Stranger, a horror anthology due out October 2nd that will include my standalone prequel to The Half Killed, “With My Own Eyes.”

Now, the short story.

It’s another entry into the files of That Victorian-era Werewolf/Gaslamp Fantasy Story I Need To Sit Down and Write. (I keep saying “this fall,” but this fall is almost here, so… hmph.)

So read, enjoy, and be warned that it’s a longer one, nearly 6k words. Just so you know.

An Only Pawn An Only Pawn

A flick, a brief push of air as the folded note cuts a path towards the tabletop, and there is the name and particulars of the person I am to kill, written in a cramped, blotted scrawl.

A confession, Reader: I have never killed another person. No matter that I unfold the paper carelessly, that I read the words forged on the surface of the vellum as if I were scanning the details of a shopping list; inside of me there is a great tremor of something—fear, perhaps—that what I have been appointed to do will mark an event from which I can never recover.

“There’s no concern over whether or not the death should appear natural.” The man across the table from me—Edwards, is his name, as if he were a valet come to decry the muddy state of my boots—brushes his knuckles across his jaw before pausing to bite at the edge of a ragged fingernail. Nothing else about him is ragged, his coat and trousers immaculately tailored, if a bit nondescript. But it’s not our purpose to garner attention here, in a middling tavern that treads a delicate line between the upper echelons of London society and the filthier holes of drink and gaming that share their foundations with the swarms of rats and overflowing gutters near the river’s edge.

“So a slit throat and all will be well, hmm?” I look at the paper again, at the name that loops its way across the upper corner of the page.

Lady Ariadne Drummond.

Continue reading “Midweek and a Short Story”

A Monday Post

I’m notoriously bad at working on multiple projects at once. At this moment, I have three documents open on my laptop, plus this blog post, and the dishwasher is running, and there are cookies in the oven, and STUFF SO MUCH STUFF TO DO I’M GOING TO DIE BENEATH A PILE OF ALL THIS STUFF AND ALL THIS JUNK MAIL I REFUSE TO SORT THROUGH.

And I do it to myself, of course. And secretly (well, not so secretly anymore since this is a blog and I’m typing these words for all seven of the people who will read this) I do it because I want to. Because I enjoy having thirty-nine irons in the fire and also my house is on fire because I’m too busy trying to find a word that means “nonchalant” but isn’t “nonchalant.”

So. Today I’m going to talk about Daughters of Men. It’s a project I’ve been toodling with on and off for about ten years or so (much more off than on, obviously) but it’s finally making its way to the forefront of my brain and so also garnering the majority of my attention.

Brother and sister, they were raised in fear, told to keep to the shadows cast by the walls slowly crumbling down around them.

Kai and Isak Vadra have lived their entire lives in London, scratching out a living in the shadows of the city’s filthy slums. While their mother struggles to keep them safe from the everyday threats of hunger and crime, a new danger presents itself, one beyond the reaches of politics and police.

Their mother does everything within her power to prevent this new danger from tearing their world apart. But instead of safety, it threatens to bring to light her worst fear, that a secret their family has kept for generations will finally be revealed.

I’m going to try to update fairly regularly about progress (I’d LOVE to see this one finished and fine-tuned and published sometime in the first half of next year, but I refuse to make any promises) and I’ll be generous and leave a little snippet from the first chapter here (before I run off to grab those cookies out of the oven.)

Her bowl sat on the floor in beside her, forgotten after only a few bites. Instead, she concentrated on the small tin lamp, her hands clasped loosely in front of her, elbows resting on her knees. Isak watched her, the steadiness of her gaze causing him to hold his breath. The flame flickered once and was still.

“Kai.” Her name was a hiss between his teeth. He glanced at his mother to make sure her back was turned towards them.

His sister’s dark blue eyes met his.

“Stop it,” he mouthed, and shook his head in warning.

Her cheekbones pushed upward, turning her eyes into slits as she smiled. A second later, another flicker of light, brighter this time, shot halfway up the lamp’s narrow glass chimney.

He wanted to say something, wanted to bark an order at her to quit, but their mother was right there, her shoulders hunched forward as she scrubbed at the inside of the soup pot, her sleeves rolled up to her elbows.

Unable to think of another option, Isak kept his head down, picked up his spoon and stirred what was left of his dinner. “Please,” he whispered again, but the flame continued to dance at the tip of the wick, strange shadows cast outside the small circle of light.

The blast made less noise than he imagined it would. The glass went everywhere, a few larger chunks littering the floor between them, while needle-sharp slivers had flown in all directions, some disappearing into the last of his soup.

Kai laughed, then gasped before clapping her hands over her mouth. There was the sound of rummaging above them, and then a match flamed to life and a candle was lit. Their mother stood over the two of them, the sharp lines and hollows of her face exaggerated by the candle’s twitching flame. Her eyes glittered as she surveyed the mess on the floor. She said nothing. Then, she bent down and struck Kai across the cheek.

Isak winced at the sound but failed to look away.

“Here.” His mother threw a cloth at her daughter and nodded to the lump of distorted metal that had been a functioning lamp only minutes before. “Clean it up, every piece.”

“But—”

“Say another word, Kai. Go on, then.”

Kai picked up the cloth and ran the stained edges of it between her fingers. Her bottom lip quivered as if she was about to speak, or about to burst into tears. Slowly, with a hand that trembled, she reached out and picked up a shard of glass from in front of her knee.

Isak picked up his bowl and stacked it on top of his sister’s.

“Go to bed,” his mother told him. Her voice was calm, quiet, as if she was reluctant to disturb the hush that had descended since the lamp went out.

“What about…?” He glanced at Kai, the cloth spread out in front of her, a small pile of glass and bits of metal accumulating in the center of the fabric.

“She’ll be along when she’s done. She has to do this. She has to learn.”