Monday, March 31, 2014

The Bewitchments of Love and Hate (book #2 of The Wraeththu Chronicles) by Storm Constantine

Title: The Bewitchments of Love and Hate (book #2 of The Wraeththu Chronicles)
Author: Storm Constantine
Publisher: Immanion Press, 2009 Smashwords edition

In book two we break with Pell and Cal, and instead return to the alluringly named Forever – the home of the Varr Terzian. This time we grow alongside his son, Swift, whom we encountered briefly as a harling in book one.

As a pure born (both his parents were Wraeththu) Swift has many advantages over humans and indeed the Wraeththu who started out as humans. He experiences accelerated growth (coming of age within seven years as opposed to sixteen) and a precocious intelligence and aptitude for learning.

To Swift there is nothing wrong with the Varr tribe, at least not at first. They are all that he knows, and it is the Gelaming, that his father is away fighting, that fill him with a sense of concern. The Gelaming threat hovers constantly on his horizon, but doesn’t at first intrude.

Mysterious Cobweb is more fully revealed as a well-rounded character – prone to outbursts but in possession of great insight into the hearts and minds of others.

Swift partakes of both his parents’ qualities, though in him, Terzian’s aggression is somewhat tempered to assertiveness. He is curious and capable of great compassion. What is also apparent of Swift is that he seeks a middle ground, and as such as an almost uncanny ability to patch up disputes – all admirable qualities of a potentially great leader.

There is, throughout this novel, the troublesome Cal, who continues to haunt the lives of those with whom he’s tangled. Sometimes he’s torn gaping wounds – as in the case of Seel. For others he’s been an obsession, for instances Terzian. Wherever Cal goes, he captures hearts, but he has his own demons to face, and his time with Swift offers him that opportunity to come to terms with his past. The process hardly pleasant, and has plenty of fallout.

Some comment of the ending is, I feel, necessary. I expected Constantine to make the conflict between Varr and Gelaming the centre point of the climax, but it isn’t. Resolution of the external conflict is almost bloodless, effortless, in my opinion, and if you’re looking for an action-packed final battle, you’re not going to find it here. Rather, the conflict is subtler, the battleground the hearts of hara and the shifting allegiances between characters. This is where the meat and bones of this saga lie.

Of course I immediately went out and bought the next in the series. I love this epic that much. Constantine hits the mark, as always, with gloriously textured, carefully nuanced tales that slowly unfold like a sumptuous feast.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Enchantment by Charlotte Abel #review

Title: Enchantment
Author: Charlotte Abel
Published: Charlotte Abel, 2011

From the outset, this novel seems exactly as the name suggests. I found myself hooked and enchanted by the premise. After all, what could be more adorable than secret clans of mages in the Ozarks?

Each mage has a name that they live up to. Channie is short for Enchantment, and predictably the boys find her irresistible. But she doesn’t want to end up like her sister, Abundance, who’s ended up with unexpected triplets, so her parents are naturally a bit careful when it comes to Channie and boys.

But with a father whose name is Money, the family runs into trouble when Money gets on the wrong side of a rival mage clan who declare a blood feud, and Channie and her family run all the way to Colorado to escape the folks hunting them.

Now Channie needs to adapt to “Empty” society. (Empties is the term they use to describe non-magical people.) Of course being delightfully naïve when it comes to contemporary culture, Channie finds herself at the butt of jokes. To make things worse, her parents change her magical name to Chastity in an effort to protect her from the predations of the male species. This naturally leads to plenty of complications, especially since she finds herself falling deeply and irrevocably in love with a boy named Joshua.

As soon as she tries to fix one thing, another goes wrong, and step by step Channie finds herself in a deeper bind than before. Very soon she’s in a bit of a mad rush against time to undo a curse and be with the boy she loves.

My overall impression was that this is a fun YA contemporary fantasy novel. The kids do all the mad, bad crazy stuff you could imagine, and they face all the usual issues teens do – mostly related to their relationships with each other and their parents. Not an easy time. So Charlotte Abel’s done a good job expressing that discomfort.

Technically, I feel this novel could have used a tighter edit; my inner editor got twitchy with a whole lot of little quirks, so I feel this needs to be mentioned. Developmentally the pace is a little uneven as well. A little too much teen fooling around and not enough getting on with the story, but then again, that could just be my opinion.

If I have to think of someone to recommend this to, I’d say there’s a chance that the Cassandra Claire and Harry Potter tribes might take the bait. I’m of two minds as to whether I’ll go for the rest in the series, but that’s mainly because I don’t feel fully invested in the characters or the settings. Fault definitely lies with the reader. This is a fun, magical read otherwise.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Uncrowned King by Rowena Cory Daniells #review

Title: The Uncrowned King (King Rolen's Kin #2)
Author: Rowena Cory Daniells
Publisher: Solaris, 2010

I was less than impressed by book #1, The King's Bastard, for various reasons, yet I found the setting and the characters compelling enough for me to sally forth and purchase book #2. I'm happy to report that the writing shows a marked improvement though, from time to time, Daniells does slip up with characters' motivations, and my horrid little editor's eye even picked up some typographical gremlins.

I will, however, state that the characters have totally stolen my heart. Byren is my firm favourite – he's kinda goofy in that he means well and I get the idea that he's not the sharpest tool in the shed. However, he does have a keen sense of fairness in his dealings with others, even if his buddy Orrade's being gay and boy-crushing on him makes him really uncomfortable. Also, he's got his hands full with a rebellion he wasn't even sure he was leading at first. Oh and there's his dealings with that pesky ulfr pack that's a nice twist hinting at further developments.

Piro only just escapes getting herself killed when the evil overlord Palatyne conquers Rolenhold. Her previous experience acting is the only thing standing between her and certain death. Yet, she's out of the frying pan and into the fire when she finds herself captured by a renegade power worker and dumped in the thick of courtly intrigue. The somewhat naive and immature princess needs her wits about her if she wants to remain alive. On top of that, she needs to learn how to use her Affinity gift, and fast.

Fyn finds himself taking an unasked for leadership position when a great evil befalls his beloved monks, but soon he strikes out on a daunting quest. He's a bit too trusting of those he falls in with, which naturally lands him deeper waters. He's a fun character, and his story arc is fascinating to behold. He might not have his older brother's brawn, or manner with the ladies, but out of all the siblings, he's definitely got the smarts.

The premise of this trilogy is simple: three royal siblings are cut adrift from tall sense of security. Each has preconceived notions of what their futures held dashed, and must now find a way forward in a world turned hostile. A major selling point for me was the unconventional magical critters that run amok in the milieu – amfina, cockatric, ulfr, leogryf – each book so far has been a veritable bestiary of strange and unusual beasties. Which kinda makes up for the issues that detract.

Though Daniells' writing is less than perfect, I remain nonetheless invested in this trilogy because I'm suffering from the keen need to find out what happens in the end. And I suppose that's at the heart of every good story when it hits the mark with a reader.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Christian Schoon talks Under Nameless Stars

Christian Schoon and I have a habit of sending each other pictures of strange mammals. Okay, that sounds a bit odder... than it should. But if you've read and loved the first novel in his series, Zenn Scarlett, as much as I have, then you'll understand. But now book two, Under Nameless Stars, has come out, so I'm celebrating its release with Christian and this is one of the stops on his blog tour with an added extra of having a Rafflectopter giveaway below. So, once again, a huge, happy welcome to Christian, and let's get on with the show!

When we were last with Ms Scarlett, she'd stowed away on board a space-faring vessel with one boy and one furry nuisance in tow. It's not too much of a stretch of the imagination to know that things are about to get very interesting. If you sketch the basics for someone who's not read any of the books, can you give us an idea of what to expect in book two without spoilers?

Hi and, first of all: a tip of the visored-helmet to Nerine for letting Zenn and I drop in for a chat. As an author herself, Nerine knows how vital blogs like hers are to other authors when it comes to talking about new releases. So, big, big thanks. As for Zenn’s next adventure, Under Nameless Stars kicks off, as noted, with Zenn and cohorts smuggling themselves aboard the starliner Helen of Troy. To achieve this, they’ve concealed themselves inside the cage-crate of a sandhog boar, an animal vaguely resembling an armored, 12-foot manatee with front digging claws the size of backhoe buckets, a mouth wide enough to swallow a small cow and a foul temper when it comes to sharing its space with anyone else. This launches Zenn on a galaxy-spanning quest to find and rescue her abducted father, and in search of answers to why she’s suddenly begun experiencing disturbing mental “links” with some of the alien creatures in her care. Zenn is studying to be an exoveterinarian; as such, she’s a scientist. She knows there’s no such thing as ESP. But she can’t deny what’s happening between her and these animals.  So, along with her space-operatic journey into the unknown, she’s also dealing with this unsettling and inexplicable condition.

What I've loved so much about your setting is the animals that Zenn and co. encounter along the way. Are there any new and unusual species that you introduce in book two? Any old favourites that return? 

Zenn will meet, and occasionally employ her exovet skills on, an array of new sentient races and alien life forms in this book. One unusual species is the Eta Cepheian-Liquissi Drifter. Cepheian Drifters are sentient, crustacean like creatures who hover above the ground thanks to a five-foot diameter, translucent shell-like structure filled with internally generated methane and other lighter-than-air gases. This species evolved in the upper atmosphere of a gas giant planet like Jupiter, a vast, largely empty space where finding a mate was a long shot. So, the much larger females carry their diminutive male consorts with them, with the males floating inside five transparent, fluid-filled skin-globes suspended from the female’s shell. The males look like rather large brine shrimp and they tend to chatter incessantly. (Inspiration for this is abyssal-dwelling fish on Earth that do essentially the same thing: large female with tiny male mate attached for life.)

Another favorite character is (minor spoiler comin’ up…but this has been revealed elsewhere during the tour, so…) Jules Vancouver. He’s a bottlenose dolphin who gets around wearing a walksuit. He’s a fun guy, great sense of humor, likes practical jokes, is obsessed with antique print-on-paper adventure novels like Treasure Island. He harbors a deep and startling secret that features prominently during an especially harrowing escape scene in the book.

A word on the cover art for Under Nameless Stars – I think the illustrator did an awesome job capturing Zenn's mood. Any thoughts you'd like to add? 

Only that I agree entirely. Both cover images stirred up much love on the interwebs as soon as they appeared. When the first one debuted, I actually received a really sweet comment on my blog from the  father of the photo model (her name is Melissa Tongue, she’s from the UK and does shoots worldwide for all sorts of companies/products/artsy stuff). Her dad was literally bursting with pride about his daughter’s work and that she was on a book’s cover. And, seeing as how she’s the basis for the illustrated images of Zenn, I clearly concur.

So, Zenn and Liam ... What's up with them?

This would be the part where I pause and resort to something like “Well… it’s complex.” Zenn and Liam have history from the first book, of course, where he (book one spoiler alert!) was reluctantly implicated in a plot that nearly destroyed the Ciscan Cloister on Mars where Zenn’s a novice exovet in training. So, while she’s attempting to forgive him for this bit of youthful indiscretion, Zenn remains suspicious of him and his motives when he volunteers to join her in the sandhog crate, which is bound for the Helen. But, as we know, Zenn was raised in a house of science, with relatives who are no-nonsense, practicing exovets, Zenn prides herself on being an eminently logical person. But her isolated upbringing in the Cloister also left her socially naïve and, at times, downright inept. When Liam makes it clear he’s interested in her, she thinks she might be starting to have feelings for him, and she doesn’t really approve of this development. It’s distracting. It’s disorienting. It means loss of control and periodic floods of unreasonable emotion. So, she’s resisting. Will this resistance be successful? Maybe. Maybe not.

Because I like to make my guests squirm, I'm going to ask these two questions in one. What was your favourite scene (without spoilers) in book two? And the most difficult to write? (There always is one.)

Favorite scene: the above-noted escape sequence involving Jules. Can’t say too much here, but it was just a fun scene to write and I was really proud of my dolphin. And also because: black-smoke lurker beast. For difficulties, the last chapter was tough because I love cliff-hangers and kinda wanted to torture my readers with one. My editor said the major cliff-hanger close of book one was enough already and to let the gentle readers off the hook. I agreed to be merciful. I’m just that kinda guy.

In book one you touch on the idea of xenophobia in your Martian colony. Are there any underlying themes in book two? 

After instances of over-confidence that lead to more than one near-disaster in book one, Zenn is questioning herself a bit more in Under Nameless Stars. She’s also suffering from the world-view angst noted above, and she needs to recover some of her mojo on several levels. So, I’d say one of the themes in book two a simple one: never say die, take a step back in a crisis, “know thyself,” understand that you have the resources within yourself to confront the challenge and persevere. Sounds easy, of course, but when under fire/in the heat of battle/running for your freakin’ life, this can be a tough thing intellectually to achieve.

And now one of my favourites ... If you were given the opportunity to turn book one and two into either a film or a TV series, who would you cast in the leading roles? 

Of course, this changes daily, depending on mood, but…. Zenn Scarlett: Alice Englert or Lily Collins; Liam Tucker: Robbie Amell; Otha Scarlett: Liam Neeson; Fane Reth Fanesson: Steven Strait; Sister Hild: Tilda Swinton; Stav Travosk: Nikolau Coster-Waldau; Voice of Jules: Ricky Gervais (c’mon, he’d be great. Besides, then I might get to hoist a pint w/him.)

What are you reading now? 

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health and Disease by Dr. Daniel Lieberman  A decent if not ground-breaking overview of how our evolution has (and continues to) affect our species’ health and culture in the modern age of us primates having way-too-easy access to all the sugar-fat-salt we can stuff in our cheek pouches and scamper away with.

Have any new creatures come into your life since we last spoke? 

Nothing especially spectacular or exotic. But have had a couple of new tom cats wander onto the farm and take up residence in the Cat Barn; these boys will be headed for the vet soon to be neutered. Just a matter of me taking the time to put out the live traps for 'em.  Then, we’ll bring them back and they’ll make the decision to join our colony or move on. The main thing is to shut down the kitty factory before they have a chance to breed on an adjacent farm (all feline guests here are promptly spayed/neutered. It’s part of our deluxe Spa Package.) Also the usual contingent of raccoons, skunks and possums emerging, blinking, into the daylight now that temps are above freezing.

What's in the stars for your future projects? Or is this a state secret? ;-)

Not a secret, but I resist saying too much or it’ll jinx 'em (yeah, I’m superstitious that way). Will admit to working on an animated steampunk TV show concept, and a monster-filled new novel. A third Zenn book is outlined and beckoning, but it’s gotta compete w/ the other stuff in my head, so we’ll see who wins.

And that’s the story from the sylvan hinterlands of the American midwest. Thanks again for letting Zenn’s blog tour yacht tie up at your dock.  Always a pleasure to visit. Cheers!

And ze question!
10. When Zenn hid in the back of Otha’s truck back on Mars, she was how old?
a. Five
b. Six
c. Twelve
d. Nine 

And, here's a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dawn's Bright Talons – cover reveal

Okay, I've been like a schoolgirl crushing on Johnny Depp's lovechild with Brad Pitt about this cover. The release date for my dark fantasy novel Dawn's Bright Talons is still to be established. I'm currently busy with second-round edits and, after that, we'll still wrap the rest of the details for production, like the blurb and all the rest. I reckon the picture speaks for itself when we're looking at what the novel's all about. Okay, folks, meet Michel Roux and Isabeau Letier, vampire and dhampir respectively. Illustration is by the rather talented Nathalia Suellen, an internationally renowned artist. Typographical treatment is by the very patient David Dodd, who put up with my bitching until I was totally happy. The man deserves a medal.

Want to keep updated with my release dates etc, as well as any special offers, then sign up for my newsletter HERE.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Where I'm at or IOW STUFF

I suffer from a severe problem: as fast as I clear the decks when it comes to things on my "to do" list, three more items jump onto my list. I can't help myself. My brain is constantly a few steps ahead of my physical self. If I could clone myself, I suspect I'd only multiply my problem. So I make lists.

But for the sake of an update, to bring my readers up to speed, I'd like to touch on a few of the projects that I'm planning on bringing to fruition this year.

Dawn's Bright Talons is a heart novel. Even now, if pushed, I can't quite say *where* exactly it stems from, except that the story grew. There's a girl. She's dhampir. She's also a dancer. There's a boy, but he's not into girls. He's a vampire. The setting kinda pseudo-Victorian with strong colonial themes. She's supposed to hunt his kind but they end up realising that they're just pawns in a much-larger game played by their elders.

This is also the novel that was on full sub to The Traditional Publisher I Won't Mention, who picked this out of the slush pile of more than 800 submissions for a call ... But remained undecided. I made the difficult decision to withdraw. Hell. This was my Very Big Chance.

I don't regret my decision. I've since contracted the novel to Crossroad Press, and am very happy with the editing decisions made by David Niall Wilson. Not to mention that I worked with the very talented Nathalia Suellen on the cover illustration, something that I might not have been able to do had I gone with the primary choice. So I got the cover art I really wanted. I'm ecstatic about it, because I believe that good cover art is already half the battle won. And I hope to do the cover reveal soon.

Another project that I'm excited about is The Guardian's Wyrd, which I sold to a new South African publisher of speculative fiction, Wordsmack. Once again, I've had totally ace editorial feedback from the very talented Kim McCarthy, who's been savvy to remind me about dropped story arcs and important stuff, like how long it takes to cover particular distances.

The Guardian's Wyrd is a little like CS Lewis's Narnia books in that a boy travels into a magical realm and discovers his own innate abilities. But he's supposed to rescue a prince. None of the damsels are in distress in this fantasy novel aimed at a YA market. In fact, I'd watch out for the ladies. They're downright dangerous. It's actually a bit of a bromance, to be honest.

And because I'm absolutely tardy about sequels, I'm very happy to announce that the publishers have encouraged me to get started on book two. Even better, and what I totally love about Wordsmack, is that they're looking at getting their fiction into the hands of a younger generation of readers by employing mobile technology. I'm really looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

Carrie and I are busy wrapping Blood and Bone, this time a novel [gasps in horror] that follows on the heels of our novella Blood and Fire. We write a cross-over featuring our two favourite bad boys: Xan Marcelles and Ashton Kennedy. It's vampire and Inkarna teaming up to hunt down a dangerous rogue who's threatening the fragile alliance between the two races.

I'm also sufficiently shamed into picking up book two of my Those Who Return series, because the events in Blood and Bone happen way after things that went horribly wrong in the theoretical follow-up to my novel Inkarna, that first introduces us to Ash. Carrie and I never imagined combining Ash with her Xan of Crooked Fang fame would be so much fun, so I guess I'd better hurry the fuck up and finish.

Then there's the accursed The Company of Birds, which is just plain weird. I'm sitting at just past the halfway mark and it's that terrible saggy-middle slump all authors of epic fantasy can probably attest to. So maybe it's not a bad thing that I give it a breather while I finish Thanatos. All I can say is that The Company of Birds is a story I'm writing purely for myself and sod everyone else. It's not following any of the rules.

Raven Kin is sitting with the final-eye beta readers at this point. I hope I've avoided any tweeness. But then again, I totally broke from my usual by writing a talking griffin as a main character who inadvertently destroys a civilisation. And also reports on perhaps the greatest, most tragic love story of his time.

I also have an anthology of my own short fiction that's hibernating on my hard drive, but please don't tell anyone.

Whoops. Well, never you mind. You can see I'm having fun. And at some point I need to get some rest. If you haven't already signed up for my newsletter (which comes out once a month) here's the LINK.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Chin up, buttercup

Things are ... stressful. Seems more than ever before we're running faster to stand still and I can probably throw a whole bunch of clichés at you right now but I'm going to resist the temptation. So, how the hell do I keep it together? So I thought about a few of my coping mechanisms which, although they won't accimagically make everything better and allow me to poop rainbows, they do go some of the way to help me get through my less groovious weeks.

A good friend of mine makes lists whenever she's having a rough week. She laughingly tells me that when she puts "go shower" right at the top she knows things are ... Well. Sometimes everything's an effort. But, I've had those weeks myself where a list is the only thing stopping me from going gibbering down the street shrieking that the Evil Bad Mars Bars are chasing me. The best thing with a daily list is that sense of accomplishment when you cross off items: done the dishes... change the cat litter... edit 20 pages... read 20 pages of that submission... Tomorrow I'll make a new list...

Sometimes, if I look at all my looming deadlines at the same time I want to run gibbering down the street shrieking that the Evil Bad Mars Bars are chasing me. You get the picture. This is why it's so important to only look at the immediate deadlines. You know that old adage about not seeing the forest for the trees? Well, this is about being aware that there is a forest, but you're only going to worry about these two trees... for now.

Another lovely metaphor (and since I love mixing them), deadlines are all about putting out fires. Only douse the flames that are going to singe you now. I learnt this from almost a decade of newspaper publishing. Talk about a high-pressure job. Let's not go there.

We've all been there. I'm guilty as charged. Your mother-in-law just did something to piss you off. Your colleague never gets in trouble for lateness, but then you're late once and now the whole world is ending. Your client blows chunks. You hate your job. You've got a traffic fine... Now here's the really kak thing... NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT YOUR TROUBLES.

Sure, go ahead and post them on social media. Do it often enough and people are going to start thinking you're jinxed or something.

Here's the rub. It's not what you say, but how you say it. IOW, don't be a whiney douche. [Now you know why I try to be so unrelentingly cheerful and positive most days] If you're going to bitch, at least do it creatively, be nostalgic, wistful, wry ... but don't be a prima donna. Everyone's got their fair amount of bantha pudu they have to shovel. You're not alone.

Social media doesn't exist so folks can have personal pity parties. If you really need a shoulder to cry on, phone a friend, or Skype them if they're not even in the same country. Reach out and have a meaningful conversation. Go out for coffee with a friend. Don't shout out your misery to a whole bunch of people online you don't really know and who possibly don't know all the pertinent problems in your predicament. (See, I can make alliteration too.)

Okay, so you've resisted the temptation of letting it all hang out on Facebook? Good. No you're going to make another list. Find yourself a yellow Post-it note and write down the three things that make you incredibly happy right now.

Here's mine:
Reading the entire Wraeththu Mythos back to back.
Playing guitar.
Writing my current work in progress.

Next week this list might change, but these aforementioned items are at the top of what I need to do each day to make myself feel fulfilled and happy. But it's okay if I change my mind. Really. Whenever I feel like a right gobshite, and I'm surround by a pack of twunts, I think of these three things.

When can I make time to read? When will I play my guitar? Will I be able to squeeze in some writing time, even if it's only 15 minutes? Make attaining these small happinesses your micro goals each day. But don't sweat it if you don't get round to it.

Hell, don't stop there. If a print of Tom Hiddleston pinned to the partition of your cubicle makes you happy, do it to remind yourself that Hiddles is gorgeous and perving at him makes you happy. Ditto for that holiday to Cambodia – stick that picture on your partition too, so that you don't lose sight of your dreams. It's so important to remind yourself.

Now here is the most difficult thing you're going to do: give yourself permission to do at least one thing to make yourself happy that's not on your list – be it to read a comic book on the couch, watch an episode of your favourite series or play a console game for an hour. You need, no you deserve something to motivate you. Obviously don't use this as an excuse to goof off completely – set the parameters so you don't stray from what needs to be done (like going to bed at a reasonable hour or going to have that shower).

Don't feel guilty about these pleasures. Life is about excellence, but it's also about happiness. Find the things that make you happy on your own terms. Then do them. Stop worrying about what other people have done to you, and focus on your happiness.

PS, if you thought this was useful, do sign up for my monthly newsletter as I'll give more of the same but geared toward kicking your arse if you're into writerly things.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Last Vampire Standing by Tony-Paul de Vissage #review

Title: The Last Vampire Standing
Author: Tony-Paul de Vissage
Publisher: Class Act Books, 2012

Lovers of action-packed paranormal fiction that involves the perennial favourites – vampires – with a side order of werewolf, will find plenty of what they love in Tony-Paul de Vissage’s The Last Vampire Standing.

Vampire Vlad has an axe to grind. A few centuries ago, he rebelled against his maker – to great disaster. In retaliation, Rigla had him buried undead, and there the matter would have rested if it weren’t for Vlad’s loyal thrall Marius.

Fast forward to 2012. Vlad is hell bent on revenge now that he is fully recovered from his ordeal, and he discovers that his immortal enemy now resides in Savannah, Georgia. Vlad wastes no time travelling to the New World so that he can face his enemy.

Of course no woman is safe from Vlad’s predatory nature, and he wastes no time with the ladies the moment he arrives at his destination. Of course it is love at first sight when he meets Meredith. Fortunately for Vlad, she’s already clued in on the existence of supernaturals thanks to the fact that her sister has been turned into a vampire a while ago. In addition, she’s besties with the unlikely pair of friends – Sebastian, the vampire, and Dusty, the werewolf .

This prepares the ground for what follows: essentially two story arcs – Vlad planning his coup and Vlad and Meredith’s romance.

Vlad as a character made me cringe at times, mainly because he is unaware of his own social awkwardness. He is so accustomed to being obeyed and getting exactly what he wants and when he wants it, that he doesn’t always think through the possible consequences of his actions. Yet at the same time, he’s such an endearing bastard that you can’t help but feel affection for him.

There are times when Vlad’s modern mannerisms seem at odds with his age and cultural background, but as a whole he’s a fun character to get to know. IF you’re in the mood for an oversexed vampire with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, then you’re probably going to get on just fine with Vlad.

Meredith’s a bit of a goody two shoes – a sensible girl whose being too level-headed means she’s not done anything reckless until she meets Vlad. I didn’t feel too strongly about her either way, but I did want to slap her for letting Vlad get off so easy. And, likewise, I felt the other supernaturals allowed Vlad to take charge way too easily. I’d expected a little more reluctance – after all, he is a newcomer. But, who knows, maybe it’s because he’s so damned charming no one can refuse him.

There were a few issues that I had with this book that I feel I need to mention – for the sake of offering an honest, balanced review. Throughout this novel, I felt the pacing was a fraction off. There are the two main story arcs as mentioned earlier, and I feel that there is not enough focus on the conflict between Vlad and Rigla. That being said, this is dealt with briefly at the start and the conclusion. The romance element smack bang in the centre of the planned coup robs it of much of its tension and sense of danger – I personally would have loved to see more build-up in conflict between Rigla and Vlad, and more of a heightened sense of danger. As it stands, the focus is diffused between the two.

There were a few wobbly moments with typos that crept through, so perhaps if there is a chance for the editor to give this another once-over at some point in the future, it might not be a bad thing.

That being said, it’s clear that when we’re dealing with De Vissage, we’re in the capable hands of a storyteller who enjoys his art very much – and it shows. His enthusiasm and attention to detail when it comes to setting and characters provides great entertainment. So often there is something lacking in many other paranormal tales – a sense of playfulness, especially when it comes to dialogue and characterisation – which De Vissage brings across in abundance.

Overall this is a fun, supernatural romp where vampires pack plenty of bite, and I suspect there are enough loose threads left on purpose at the end which suggest De Vissage may have a book two up his sleeve.

Monday, March 10, 2014

What is 'Prime Evil'?

DURING Eugene de Kock’s trial in the 1990s, the media left us in little doubt that he was a cold-blooded killer who epitomised evil. He was given the name “Prime Evil” and became the poster boy for everything that was deplorable about the apartheid regime and the horrors perpetrated during that time.

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist, was serving on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when she first encountered De Kock, who had agreed to testify at a hearing into the deaths of two black policemen. He had been responsible for a limpet mine that had blown up their vehicle.
De Kock had requested a private meeting with the policemen’s widows, which at the time made a huge impression on Gobodo-Madikizela, so much so that she applied for one-on-one interviews with De Kock afterwards.
She wanted to gain a better understanding of this so-called monster and what had motivated him to apologise to the two women.

A Human Being Died That Night, written by Nicholas Wright, is based on the book subsequently published by Gobodo-Madikizela and explores the nature of evil, repentance and forgiveness.
The play centres on the dialogue between Gobodo-Madikizela and De Kock in prison, framed by moments where Gobodo-Madikizela steps aside to address the audience, as if she were a lecturer.
Upon learning of the play’s structure, my concern was how Wright would succeed in creating dramatic tension with such a static structure.

Our attentions are tightly focused on the two people facing each other across the table. The set is minimalist and there is little movement.

Yet I found myself entranced from the beginning, with an almost voyeuristic view of events, with Noma Dumezweni, in the role of Gobodo-Madikizela, facing off with Matthew Marsh as De Kock. The only other character is the silent Gantane Kusch, cast in the role of the prison guard. When the curtain lifted, I was eerily reminded of a scene from The Silence of the Lambs when Clarice Starling meets the notorious Hannibal Lecter for the first time, which I suspected was intentional (an impression that was later confirmed).

Very soon I forgot I was watching a play and was taken on a journey of remembrance.
I found myself disarmed by De Kock the moment he opened his mouth, and felt disconcerted by how my preconceived ideas of the man were being subverted. His self-deprecating humour even had me laughing at times.

We discovered quite soon that, when it comes to the man known as Prime Evil, nothing is as cut and dried as we are led to believe. If he is guilty, then what of the others who are still walking free?

The picture painted by Gobodo-Madikizela portrays a complex, sensitive man who, though fully cognisant of his own culpability, feels genuine remorse for his actions.

In this sense, he is a tragic figure who is as much a victim of the apartheid regime as those whom he tortured and killed. Yet there is no excuse for his actions. He has blood on his hands that will never wash off. He was a crusader for a cruel regime bloated with fear and needless hatred. Yet he is also a man capable of change, who has learnt that the dehumanised “targets” he was tasked to murder were people, just like him.

This is an important play, especially now that we have gained distance from those events that shaped South Africa. We need to remember – and in the act of remembering, ensure we move on from where we came without repeating the atrocities of the past.

If there is one play you see this year – or even if this is the first in ages – make the effort to see A Human Being Died That Night. You will walk away with many topics for discussion and a better understanding of the complexities of our country’s past.

As always, The Fugard Theatre impresses with the quality of the production, and the cast and crew deserve the standing ovation they received.

A Human Being Died That Night runs at The Fugard Theatre until March 15, and will then run at The Market Theatre in Joburg from March 19 to April 6. It will then head to the UK where it will run at The Hampstead Theatre in London from May 21 to June 21. For further information, see or call 021 461 4554.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing by Steven Luna #review

Title: Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing
Author: Steven Luna
Publisher: Booktrope Editions, 2013

I first encountered Steven Luna’s writing when I perchance downloaded Joe Vampire, and immediately fell in love with his writing. He has that comfortable, easy-to-settle-in style that I adore. His characters are surprisingly… normal… despite their circumstances. Okay, granted, that’s not to say that most other authors’ characters aren’t, but Luna has a particular way of expressing individual voice in such a way that you gain an instant impression of what they’re like as people – within and without.

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing combines two of my favourite themes – music and a coming-of-age scenario. Tyler Mills loves music. He has hopes of making a career of it, but when we meet him, he’s auditioning for a sport in a conservatory, and he rebels against perceived strictures in his life. In fact, much of his behaviour at the start of the novel is a knee-jerk reaction to some slight (from his point of view, that is).

And the scary thing is how much I identify with the lad – so much so that as I read, I wished I could reach him somehow and hold up a mirror. Tyler is angry. His mother died six months ago and he and his dad are not seeing eye to eye, despite his promise to his mom that he and his dad would look out for each other.

The two couldn’t be more chalk and cheese – delicate, creative Tyler versus mechanic father Tom. It’s a recipe for disaster now that Miranda has passed on.

Tyler’s girlfriend, Chelsea, provides a stabilising force in his life, but it takes Tyler quite a few hard knocks before he sees what an awesome lady he has in his life. His friend, Xan, and fellow band member, might not be the best influence in his life but as a friend he is solid, dependable – and genuinely cares for Tyler.

The catalyst that sets off this story’s conflict even more is when Tyler has to clean up the house, garage and garden as punishment for something that he did (am not going to give spoilers, so just take my word for it). He finds a stack of old journals that used to belong to his mother, which paint in a surprising history. Tyler is set on a crazy journey, and along the way he discovers not only his parents’ past, but also that the people he knows aren’t quite who they seem to be. I’m not going to say any more because I don’t want to ruin the surprises.

Mostly, we are faced with reality as we want it to be versus the unvarnished (though obscured) truth, which may not be as glamorous as we’d hoped for. Tyler must weigh up his options and accept that which is, rather than hanker after the glitter of his self-created fantasy.

Oh, and the music…

Glorious music threads its way throughout this novel – Luna has an understanding that makes his work a pleasure to read, and oh so inspiring.

This is what YA should be, with authentic characters who have plans and ambitions beyond interest in the opposite gender. They are multi-dimensional beings who get angry, make poor judgment calls then have to deal with the consequences of their actions.

I’m going to close by drawing parallels between this book and Suzanne van Rooyen’s The Other Me, as titles that are similar. If you love YA that is edgy, gritty and laced with characters that are less than squeaky clean, and who do the things your mother warned you about, then these are your books.

But getting back to Luna. He is awesome. He is fabulous. Read his books! They are fun, with a touch of poignancy, and will make you laugh or groan out loud at places.

Okay, I can probably froth and gush endlessly so I am going to shut up now and just tell you to go by Steven Luna’s books.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Demonologia Biblica edited by Dean M Drinkel

Title: Demonologia Biblica
Edited by Dean M Drinkel
Publisher: Western Legends Publishing, 2013

So far as anthologies of speculative fiction go, this one’s a mixed bag; not all the stories were quite to my taste, but I’ll touch on the ones that did stand out for me, and also share a little bit about the one I wrote.

C is for Chordewa: Pet Therapy by Jan Edwards tells of a demonic cat that feeds on the lives of the terminally ill in a hospice. I think it’s the grinding inevitability of death that gave me a chill for this one. Especially how some of the patients still try to make a stand against the death-dealer.

Tracie McBredie’s E is for Eisheth stands out for me mostly because I know that whenever she’s at the pen, I’m in for a treat. This was no exception. The story oozes a brooding, oozing dark sensuality; the demon Eisheth seduces humans and slowly steals their vitality. They are addicted to the very thing that is slowly killing them.

Simon Kurt Unsworth is a master of horror, and with his H is for Hrace, he’s certainly in top form with the creepiness factor. I’ll never quite look at a circle of standing stones in quite the same way again. Also, yikes, the oppressive atmosphere … it was a relief when, well … The totally unexpected happened.

My story is S is for Sitakh: Old Scratch will be a treat for those of you who’re familiar with my Books of Khepera. This little tale features my favourite unrepentant black magician, Jamie. The premise is simple: what if Christians who failed to exorcise a demon turned to a demon-possessed occult practitioner to do the job?

Of course things don’t quite according to plan for Jamie, and he has some unintended results. His solution to the problem is, well … inventive.

W is for Wolf: Urban Wolf by Sam Stone had an unexpected twist that I appreciated. Maybe it’s because I’m intimately acquainted with the advertising industry that I found this tale to be particularly nasty and delightful.

Granted, there are 26 stories collected here, so other readers are bound to find some that stand out more for them than others. Pulling together any anthology is no joke, and a lot of work goes into a project of this nature. (I’m speaking from personal experience here.)

So, if you’re looking for infernal entertainment of this kind, then this collection of brimstone-laced may offer you what you’re in the mood for. Even better, you might discover new authors who appeal to you (and that’s always good motivation to dip into a short story collection).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit (Wraeththu #1) by Storm Constantine #reviews

Title: Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit (Wraeththu #1)
Author: Storm Constantine:
Publisher: Smashwords, 2009

Possibly one of my biggest sins so far is the fact that I keep meaning to read all Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu Mythos stories but don’t ever quite get round to doing so. So, this is on my “to do” list for 2014. After all, Storm is one of my top favourite authors of all time.

I first encountered her novel, Calenture, and also a number of others way back when I was in my teens. I don’t know quite what it was that drew me to her writing – quite a number of things, actually. Her subject matter always hints at the unfolding of some greater mystery and is filled with references to esoteric subject matter, which is grist for my mill.

Not just that, but you get the idea that events are set up against a greater backdrop of epic proportions. There is an underlying current of eroticism without being explicit. I like that – sexual gratification is often implied rather that gratuitously depicted, which is refreshing in this day and age.

Settings and descriptions are lush. Storm takes her time to place you in her world and, as you read it, it is easy to build up a very vivid image of place and characters in one’s head.

The Wraeththu Mythos has, from what I can see, a small but devoted cult following among Storm’s fans. The world itself has also been expanded by the release of anthologies of stories written by fans of the milieu, not to mention fan art to be found on sites like

The premise is simple – mankind’s successor, the hermaphrodite Wraeththu, has come into being, and mankind as a species is on the wane. Naturally this shift in the balance of power does not come without a price, and the world we discover is in turmoil.

But instead of putting up a united front, the Wraeththu themselves are in conflict with each other and seemed doomed to repeat the same mistakes as humanity before them.

Wraeththu come across essentially human – like viewing a woman superimposed over a young man. They do not appear to age visibly, and many of them develop magical abilities. They are a young race, and their abilities have yet to be fully explored, so there’s not telling what sorts of powers or abilities will crop up.

It’s clear why Storm begins her story where she does – essentially a coming-of-age tale for one Pellaz, who has spent his formative years as a peasant cable farmer (as for what cable plants truly are, Storm doesn’t tell us – and that’s fine by me. The name and uses suggest a singularly utilitarian crop that is about as inspiring as baked beans. Kinda like young Luke Skywalker working on his uncle’s moisture farm on Tatooine.)

Which makes Pell’s elopement with the mysterious Wraeththu Cal all the more delicious and forbidden. They head off to a settlement known only as Saltrock, which is run by a Wraeththu named Seel – who has envisioned a Wraeththu community where all can live in productive harmony in their self-made Utopia.

We discover the Wraeththu culture through the eyes of Pell the outsider, who like us is unaware of all the subtle undercurrents – and in that way we know only as much as he himself discovers. The first part of this novel is pretty much just a travelogue of Pell and Cal going forth and adventuring, and some fascinating folks along the way.

Then, of course, everything changes. I won’t say what, but there’s enough of a foreshadowing at Pell’s inception for you to figure out that there are larger plans afoot, whether Pell likes it or not.

All I can add is that this mythos will not have broad appeal, especially in this day and age where authors are encouraged to start their stories off with a big bang and lots of trauma. Of course I love the Wraeththu Mythos, for all its intensity and wild beauty and the textured, slow-moving prose. Storm concerns herself with creating moods and weaving a rich tapestry that constructs her rich mythology. Emphasis is placed on complex relationships and vivid world-building.

The story is ripe with detail, and I was surprised by how much of it felt new even with the second read-through of this novel. Mainly, this story is one of those feel-good, self-indulgent tales for me that I can truly immerse myself in the setting – a not-so-guilty pleasure. The Wraeththu themselves are fascinating, enigmatic beings, and if you’re looking for a supernatural creature that is a magical departure from the bog-standard fare of fairies, angels or vampires, then you really cannot go wrong with the Wraeththu Mythos.