Tag Archives: #DarkLiterature

Thoma, C. (2014). Boreal and John Grey Season 1. Self-published.

I absolutely loved the scifi/fantasy/thriller story Boreal and John Grey, Season One. Thoma is an author that justifies self-published works.  Season 1 contains the novellas “The Encounter” (45 p), “The Gate” (70 p), “The Dragon” (94 p), “The Dream” (100 p) and “The Truth” (107 p).

Although it was early September, the cold bit to the bone and the air smelled like snow. Snow and piss and trash. The alley stretched ahead, empty of life and strewn with crushed cans and paper.

Ella didn’t move. Faint humming filled her ears, and clicking noises sounded. The clouds above shifted, though no wind blew. The Veil was thinning. Shades would be lurking, waiting to pounce. In the past, faint, frail faeries came through; these had recently turned into more malevolent creatures — kobolds and goblins with a taste for blood. (p. 1.)

Right off the story reveals the quality of Thoma’s work and the kind of story we can expect. The first two paragraphs seethe with potential action and foreshadow a dark story. For Boreal and John Grey, Season 1 is a dark and action-filled story about elements of the Paranormal Investigation Bureau (PIB) and its dealings somewhere in the US.

PIB Voyants (“Sight”, i.e. can see Shades) are paired off and sent to investigate and deal with possible sightings of Shades (Vaettir). Ella Benson and Simon Esterhase make up one such pairing. An anonymous call was redirected to their team, yet only Ella turns up to hunt. What she discovers about the Veil and the Shades disturbs her boss, David Holborn. She does not reveal that when a goblin was about to kill her, it was instead destroyed by a man who fought “like a hurricane” and who left after making sure she was OK (without sharing his name). Throughout the story Ella finds that trusted people aren’t trustworthy while suspicious characters might not be suspicious after all. We also meet the ever-trustworthy Mike, Ella’s neighbour, friend and also Oracle (“He hears the Shades.”, p. 116).

Ella and the mysterious stranger are our main characters. Both are “Heroes“, i.e. “solitary people who fight for the greater good to the detriment of themselves and who do what must be done so others can live normal lives.”

Thoma tells us that she was inspired by the Icelandic saga Eddukvæði by Sæmundar (English translation). I saw this in the details of the story and how the characters from the Edda fit into modern US and  its paranoia. Edda’s inspiration made for recognizable yet new and original characters. I loved the description of the alternate evolution on a Boreal world (brrr).

Any steady reader of this blog knows that romance is not my thing. A majority of romance authors seem incapable of writing believable character interaction. Not so with Thoma. In this case I believed both the emotional and physical interactions that took place. The sex was European vanilla, and the violence held back yet remained believable. Swearing fit with its position in the story.

Certain issues were extremely relevant in a global context. Hatred left from wars leading to atrocious actions from extremist groups on both sides (e.g. Dave and Adramar) is one issue. Relationships across racial/ethnical divides is another. Child abuse a third. No preaching was involved. I hate preaching, even when I am the one doing the preaching. The worst part of the story was that it ended.

Information was weaved into the story in a manner that kept the drive going. No stutters or dissonances were found. Due to Thoma’s world-building, and how tight the story was, I found it difficult to  take breaks.

Each episode flowed flawlessly into the next and the amount of editing that must have gone into this showed. Fortunately, the novel ended without a cliff-hanger. There was a clear opening for continuing the story.

By now you must realise that I heartily recommend this scifi/fantasy/thriller. Fun characters, great resolutions, sex and some violence are all wrapped up into one of the better stories I have read this year.

I bought my copy at Amazon.


My other Thoma reviews: Rex Rising

Braden, J. (2013). The Devil’s Concubine. Wayzgoose Press

Cover design by DJ Rogers

With “The Devil’s ConcubineBraden blows a breath of fresh air into fantasy literature that seems swamped with poorly edited stories. I am having a difficult time trying to find fault with it. You seriously need to get this story. Right now (6th May 2018) you can get it for free on Amazon.

The Devil’s Concubine” is part of a series called “The Devil of Ponong“. Currently there are three books in the series. I want more of them They all have proper endings without cliff-hangers and the “problem” is resolved during the novel. The over-arching story is a political drama set in a fantasy world that carries a Far East spirit. It deals with some of the consequences of having your country stolen from you. Braden seems to have done her homework with regards to what it means to be “the protected” and “the protectors” in a protectorate. Dehumanization, corruption, blinders, hopelessness and courage are all topics that are shown, not told, in the story. In fact, “The Devil’s Concubine” is delightfully free of preaching, and manages to put a face to both sides.

The Ponong island chain lies between the Sea of Erykoli and Te ‘Am Ocean, a strategic position that grandfather Zul took advantage of. When he was younger, he invaded Ponong and laid her under the Thampur as a protectorate, with Levapur as the capitol. As with many protectorates in the real world, the Thampur sent their unwanted riff-raff to Ponong. They made up the militia, the government and the bureaucracy. The Thampur consider the Ponongese to be uncivilized and barely human. What that means, in practical terms, is that the Ponongese lost all of their rights. They were not allowed to grow crops, to hunt, to teach their culture or language to the young, or to hold any important positions. When we meet them, anger is simmering under the surface. Some readers belong to cultures that have invaded and some readers belong to cultures that have been invaded.

Pongon is a jewel of an island consisting of many people, but mainly the Ponongese who are shiftless humans with fangs and slitted eyes. Being shiftless is looked down upon by shifters. Top dog in Levapur are the Thampurian human/seadragons. There are also the violent Rujicks who are human/werewolves,  and the Ingosolians who shift between genders. We meet two other shiftless races on Ponong. The Li Islanders are cattish human and the Ravidians have a bony neckruff and a dewclaw for gutting.

QuiTai is our main character and my favourite person of the story. I would love to see more women like this in literature. She has one handicap, being a woman in a man’s world – much like our own, and is not taken seriously by the extremely misogynistic Thampurians and Rujicks. She is probably the most intelligent person on the islands, but has only been allowed roles as acolyte, actress, prostitute, and mistress. Even though she is considered the Devil’s concubine, QuiTai is the reason the Devil hold top “dog” position of the island’s criminal world. She is feared, despised and hated – even by those who should be grateful for her interventions.

Like a school of jewel-toned tropical fish on the reef, the crowd in the marketplace suddenly veered away as QuiTai stepped off the veranda of the sunset-pink building into the town square. They cringed back as she sauntered through the stalls, as if instead of her bright green sarong she were clothed in poison. She’d decided long ago it was their guilt that made them unable to meet her gaze, not judgment. The Devil’s concubine had nothing to be ashamed of.

Against her plays the Thampurian male Kyam. He is an intelligent male who wears the blinders of the conqueror. As a disillusioned exile he is unable to accept his place in life. He refuses to face the political realities of Ponong and he despises the Ponong for being “less than”. Both of them fight for what they believe. QuiTai fights  for the rights of the Ponong while Kyam fights to retain his belief in the ways of the world. A lot of walls must fall for any real change to happen. Where Kyam can use might to retain status quo, QuiTai has to use her wits against the Devil, the Thampur and even the Ponong to even stay alive.

While at first glance it seemed a simple enough request, QuiTai and Kyam Zul both operated in a world beneath the surface. She found his note rather cryptic. Normally people begged her to plead with the Devil on their behalf, but he’d called for the Devil’s arrest too many times to dare beg for that kind of favor. No, Kyam Zul wanted to discuss something with her. How intriguing. If he’d resorted to asking his biggest enemy in Levapur for a favor, he must be desperate.

This is such a great story.

Bishop, Anne; Daughter of the Blood (Black Jewels I) (1998)


Anne Bishop‘s Black Jewels trilogy is one of my favorites and I have read it four or more times. One of the reasons I like it so well is that  it is NOT a romance. Well. I don’t think so. Daughter of the Blood is book one of that trilogy.

In the gray world above, I hear myself howling with laughter. Far below me, in the psychic abyss that is part of the Darkness, I hear another howling, one full of joy and pain, rage and celebration.

Not just another witch coming, my foolish Sisters, but Witch.

We move between the three realms of the Blood: Kaeler, Hell and Terreille. Kaeler and Hell are considered dark realms, places where old rules of protocol still rule. They share the main site of the Queen of the Dark Realms’ seat, The Black Mountain, also called Ebon Askavi. Hell is a Realm of forever-twilight, a realm for the demon-dead who are not yet ready to go to the Darkness and their Guardians. Kaeler is for the living.

Once, the Blood had ruled honorably and well. The Blood villages within a District would look after, and treat fairly, the landen villages that were bound to them. The District Queens would serve in the Province Queen’s court. The Province Queens, in their turn, would serve the Territory Queen, who was chosen by the majority of the darker-Jeweled Blood, both male and female, because she was the strongest and the best.

Back then, there was no need for slavery to control the strong males. They followed their hearts to the queen who was right for them. They handed over their lives willingly. They served freely.

Back then, the Blood’s complicated triangle of status hadn’t leaned so heavily on social rank. Jewel rank and caste had weighed just as heavily in the balance, if not more. That meant control of their society was a fluid dance, with the lead constantly changing depending on the dancers. But in the center of that dance, always, was a Queen.

Terreille, while supposedly not a dark kingdom, has no honor any longer due to the influence the High Priestess of Hayll has had on the Realm for centuries. Rules of Protocol no longer apply and Queens do exactly what they want no matter how depraved.

Just once, I’d like to serve a Queen I could respect, someone I could truly believe in. A strong queen who wouldn’t fear my strength. A Queen I could also call a friend……………..

She was a scrawny little thing, about seven years old. Calling her plain would have been kind……………

“I-I heard you. You wanted a friend.”

Lucivar Yaslana is the first of our main characters who meets Witch, the one whose coming was prophesied. He was given to Queen Zuultah to do with as she wished as long as he was kept alive and whole. She is typical of Terreille Queens, Queens who do not show care for their subjects or for the people in their courts. It is a dangerous realm to be male or female with dark birth jewels or even to be landen (those without jewels).

He was tired and old, and the loneliness he carried inside him all his life had become too heavy to bear. He no longer wanted to be a Guardian, one of the living dead. He no longer wanted the half-life a handful of the blood had chosen in order to extend their lifetimes into years beyond imagining. He wanted peace, wanted to quietly fade back into the Darkness………..

This girl was alive! ….. She couldn’t be more than seven years old………

Then she turned and looked at him. As he watched the summer-sky blue eyes change to sapphire, the surf swept him away.

Ancient eye. Maelstrom eyes. Haunted, knowing, seeing eyes….. Witch.

Saetan Daemon SaDiablo, the High Lord of Hell, the High Priest of the Hourglass is another main character. He becomes Jeanelle Angelline’s father of the heart. His highest wish is fulfilled almost 50.000 years after its foretelling. Through that meeting, Witch finds a person who promises to teach her to the best of his ability and to never lie.

Daemon let out a cry as the jar slipped from his hands and shattered on the bathroom floor. He sank to his knees, hissing as a piece of glass sliced him, and stared at the powder, tears of pain and frustration welling in his eyes. Without the powder to help heal the wounds, he might still be able to heal them to some extent, still be able to stop the bleeding … but he would scar. And he didn’t need a mirror to know what he would look like.

*No!* He wasn’t aware of sending. He was only trying to relieve the frustration.

A minute later, as he knelt on the bathroom floor, shaking, trying not to vent the sobs building in him, a hand touched his shoulder.

Daemon twisted around, his teeth bared, his eyes wild…..

The touch, when it came again, was hesitant, cautious. He shivered as it gently probed his back. Shivered because along with exhaustion and dismay, that gentle touch was filled with a cold, cold anger……….

The reason for the 50 whiplashes was that Daemon augmented Saetan’s power to save Witch. Using power for anything is forbidden without his owner’s permission. As far as he remembers, his entire life has been in the ownership of Dorothea, the High-Priestess of Hayll. Daemon is know as the Whore of Hayll and The Sadist, due to how he reacts to continuously having his body rewarded to Queens or Ladies loyal to Dorothea.

……….. Two black leather books appeared, floating before her. She took one, leafed through to the last written page, called in a pen, and made a notation.

That contract was finished. It hadn’t taken the fool as long to die as she would have liked, but the pain had been exquisite. And the money had been very, very good.

She vanished the book and opened the other one, checked the entry she needed, wrote out her menu, and with a flick of her wrist sent it to the kitchen………

Surreal’s mother was murdered when she was 12 years old. After that she survived as a street-walker. Sometimes she killed her clients. Daemon saved her from her brutal life by taking her to good Red Moon house where they could teach her how to be a better paid whore in a safer environment. Daemon taught her how to hide bodies and kill discretely. She owes him a great deal.  Surreal is the fourth main character of Daughter of the Blood.

POV in Daughter of the Blood is everyone’s but Witch’s. What we learn about Jeanelle Angelline is what they share. Anne Bishop managed to make each of the four POV different from the others. Daughter of the Blood is a dark story that does not pander to those who need people to be simple. Instead, it shows us how differently people handle horrific experiences and how fragile our hold on reality is. Some of the story bears the mark of a first novel.

I’m fairly certain this is a serial you either really like or dislike. Some call it fluff and superficial and others call it magical and amazing. It is representative of the 1990’s and early 2000’s fantasy literature, before urban fantasy and glossy vampires became the rage.

China, Max; The Sister; Skinnybirds Productions; 2014

My copy of The Sister, is the 2014 edition. Apparently, some of the problems in the 2012 edition have been corrected.

“You should have learned to swim.”

The perfect murders are the ones where the murderer is never discovered. As The Sister is a traditional mystery-thriller, that cannot happen. Having said that, the boiler-suit murderer seems a likely candidate for a murderer who might never have been caught in real life. That has to do with his methods.

When we are introduced to him, we find ourselves in Cornwall during the summer of 1967. The year my sister was born.

“You told Lei you were coming here?” the girl asked. “Are you sure she won’t get lonely and come down to join – us?”

“No. She won’t come here. Like I said, we argued, and now we’re not talking … besides, she is scared of this place, what with all those old stories …?”

20 August 1967 three things happen simultaneously. The Milowski family decides to go on a picnic not far from a haunted site. Something he sees through a telescope unsettles seven-year old Bruce, and he decides to investigate that feeling. He is too young to realize how dangerous following such hunches might be.

At the same time, the above-mentioned Lee follows in the foot-steps of her disappeared boy-friend.

Rescuers found his tent pitched near the mine’s entrance. It was empty, his equipment missing. Unable to find any trace of him outside, the rescue team concluded that he must have decided to sleep in the mine. …

At the same time, at Celtic Deep, Vera begins seeing things, and the first thing she sees is the death about to happen.

All three lives are irrevocably changed, while the boiler-suit serial killer gets to keep on doing what he enjoys most in the world.

The Sister is about power. The lengths to which we are willing to go to have it and the lengths to which others choose to go to take it from us. Max China also shows us some long-term effects of traumatic events. Some of these ways of dealing with trauma, reminds me of how I used to deal with my own experiences. I was also reminded of the strength it took to discover how to live with PTSD and to acknowledge the effects of that survival.

China’s serial killer is frightening because he is believable. Watching programs and reading articles about real life serial killers has shown me that the boiler-suit killer would fit right in. Vera’s powers are what brings The Sister into the realm of fantasy/paranormal fiction. I would not want a stone like the obsidian stone in my life, nor would I wish the slightest ability to see into the future. I liked Vera. She is a woman who chooses to bear burdens that most of us would be unable to carry.

The editing of The Sister is good. It is a relief to read a story where the author understands the words he uses, has a basic understanding of spelling and grammar, seems to have the ability to listen to what editors and beta-readers suggest and understands the music of words. In addition, the characters are believable. While I might not like all of them, they are people I can relate to on some level. Yes. Even boiler-suit man. Finally, I prefer the third-person point of view China uses in his storytelling.


Reviews:

Jenkins, David Elias: The First Spark (2016)

The First Spark, Independent (2016)
Cover by David Elias Jenkins

Finding a soul-mate is not a given in life. In Free Spark, David Elias Jenkins introduces us to John and Isabella Gaunt who embody what soul-matedness seems to be all about. At first, their soul-matedness was metaphorical. Due to unforeseen circumstances, it later became literal. Their changing relationship brought heartache and a greater purpose in life. Both knew, without a doubt, that their most important contribution to Free Reign would be to bring down Jonas Reach, Emberdark and their bosses. Getting there demands more sacrifice and heartache for both of them. Those opposing them, find a terrifying pair willing to use any and all tools to get their revenge and stop the precursor artifacts that threaten Free Reign’s way of life.

The Watch is Free Reign’s police force. At first, Free Reign’s best, Maeve fights the couple. She misunderstands what they are about. That probably has to do with the level of devastation left behind them. However, once Maeve herself becomes hunted by the same forces John and Isabella are fighting, she realizes that life is even more complicated than she thought. And Maeve is not a naïve character but knows well that certain people “weigh the law down with gold and influence until it snapped.

“The destructive power of the fire elementals had razed the Longshadow district of Free Reign to the ground two hundred years ago. There were still plaques and memorials to the dead from that disaster in the main square.

Yet the very contraption of cogs and wheels that whirs and rattles me down this mountain is powered by that same magic, harnessed and directed to useful purpose. …

“Three sets of headlights glared at her in close formation like the myriad eyes of an arachnid. They separated slightly as the road widened and Maeve could see riders straddling three Angeldarts.” (loc 3939)

Free Reign is a city where magic (thaumaturgy) and technology intertwine into a type of literature called arcanepunk. The title of the story refers to the thaumaturgy that Free Reign is built on. First Spark bleeds magic into the air, ground and water of Free Reign and has made the city a place where strange creatures feel comfortable. Like all cities, Free Reign is a place where cruelty and succor live side by side in a political system that depends on its leaders being as little corrupt as possible.  I know, I know. Impossible.

The First Spark has enough violence to go around, but it is violence with a purpose. I would find it impossible to believe a story about the dregs of society (be they low or high on the social ladder) without violence. The First Spark pretty much shows this darker side of society as it is. I like the job Jenkins has done in blending law and crime, grief and determination and helpful with destructive. The First Spark is a mystery-thriller with lots of action, some violence and pretty broken characters.

Recommended.

The author gave me a copy of The First Spark to review


The First Spark is available on Amazon

Flynn, Sabrina; The Broken God (Legends of Fyrsta III) (2016)

Although The Broken God can be read alone, it is better to read A Thread in the Tangle and King’s Folly first.

Some characters hit me harder than others. In The Broken God that was the boy Zoshi. There really isn’t anything unique about Zoshi. He’s just another “street-rat” among many others. Like street-rats everywhere, hunger, homelessness and poverty are his companions.

“The street rat had survived eight years in the docks, and he knew what danger felt like. This was it. All prickling over his body, making his legs want to run.”

We first met Zoshi in King’s Folly. His plight broke my heart. Zoshi’s story in The Broken God is just as difficult for me to read.

“… The light wavered with his shaking. Zoshi gripped his own arm, trying to keep it still. He was falling, he was sure of it, and his stomach had been left at the cave wall.

Tears slipped down his cheeks and piss seeped down his leg – the smell of courage. It was strangely reassuring in the void of time and space. …”

Courage is like that, and I love that Flynn recognizes this. I also love that one of the bravest people in her story is this 8-year old boy who had just been through one terror and now tries to muddle through his another. All alone, except for the dog/mammoth/crow Crumpet.

Marsais is a mess. Being at least 2000 years old and a seer will do that to you. His mind travels all potential futures and “endless hallways of memory“. Keeping track of when he is has become almost impossible. His meddling left one of his stabilizers behind. Isiilde did not get on the ship with him. Marsais may come to regret that decision; but like all meddlers, he feels he has done what needed to be done. At least Oenghus is with him. Oen is a rock. Yet even stone can crack. Being without his daughter has also destabilized him. But both men have seriously underestimated Isiilde.

“Finally,” she said, “you’re treating me like an equal rather than a pet to be indulged. I will not become one of Syre’s pet nymphs and I am no longer yours.”

A nymph fighting for the humans who view her as an animal is a struggle for Isiilde. Lieutenant Rivan is probably the only one of the Sacred Order who does not. He is also the only man, other than her father, who is not distracted by her presence. Unless you count  challenging his faith. Blind faith is a dangerous thing. It is easy to forget that knowledge must have precedence. Rivan viewing Isiilde as equal to humans makes him heretic in the eyes of his Order.  He is not alone in questioning old beliefs. Captain Acacia Mael keeps on learning that what her Order claims does not add up with what she observes.

In the meantime, healer must become warrior again. Morigan, and the rest of the Isle of the Wise, are beset by betrayal and the Fey. The Fey are phantoms whose whispers invade a person’s mind and leave them incapable of fighting back. Most become mad or die. Morigan does neither. She and Brynhilde are amazing women who do their best for the people they are in charge of.

I think that what I liked most about The Broken God and The Legend of Fyrsta series was that while there were a huge number of endings, there were no happy endings. There were, however, new beginnings. Occasionally, death is postponed and, instead, another chance was given. Not to make things over or better than before, but to continue trying to make a go of it. We can’t really ask for more than that. Except maybe strawberries.

Absolutely loved it. Definitely recommended.

I was asked to review The Broken God by Sabrina Flynn


My reviews of:

  1. A Thread in the Tangle
  2. King’s Folly

Black, Levy; Red Right Hand (2016)

Black, Levy; Red Right Hand; New York, Tor Books, 2016

Some authors write horror too well for my own good. In the case of Mr. Black, this happened before the end of chapter 6. I could not go on. Not since beginning to read Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill have I been this frightened. The time before that was when I was 15 and tried to read Dracula. So, no very often.

It wasn’t the demon dogs who did it for me. They were just gross and gross can be fun, or at least interesting. But good old Elder God, Nyarlathotep, did me in.

Too bad, really, as Mr. Black’s writing was excellent. But, alas, so is my imagination.


The Red Right Hand was given to me to review by Tor Books