Sunday, June 2, 2024

A Thing Immortal: A Tale of Western Horror by Barry K Gregory

I'm a huge fan of indie books. I've found, of late, that the stories I encounter in them are often far more inventive and unconventional than what I find with their traditionally published brethren. A Thing Immortal by Barry K Gregory is one such book. This story is a glorious mashup of the American West that exists only in popular culture with horror – that's the best way to explain it. I picked it up last year when it was a contender in SPFBO.

Gregory plays loose and fast with history to concentrate rather on a story of gradually unfolding mystery and dark terrors, as we follow the doings of a small handful of characters that include a Native man who can fly on borrowed wings, an old gunslinger, a Black bounty hunter, and a mysterious girl. Oh, and a massive spirit wolf. 

I think what I liked the most about the story was that it didn't pull its punches. There's some seriously dark stuff happening here, reminiscent of early Stephen King, that left me feeling gritty behind the eyes. And I liked the fact that Gregory doesn't explain everything – he leaves much up for me to fill in the gaps, which is something else I appreciate. Yeah, so Trigger Warning time, there is some seriously Bad Stuff that happens to the girl (as can be expected in the context of the story's setting), but it's not on screen so to speak (thank dog) but if mention of this sort of thing in a story does bother you, perhaps this one is not for you. Beyond that, the setting is pretty brutal in how all minorities are handled, so be warned, there are people doing and saying things that wouldn't fly in a more civilised setting.

This is a solid read, and while there were a few little typo gremlins here and there, they didn't harm my overall enjoyment of a solid story that wraps with an almost Gaimanesque conclusion.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest by Jennifer Paxton

One of the great things about my Audible subscription is the access that I have to The Great Courses series of lectures. The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest by Jennifer Paxton gave me that deep dive that put so much into context. Plus, it gave me oodles of jumping-off points for further research that I heartily recommend to any author looking for fresh material to mine, whether you write fantasy or historical fiction. I can see where George RR Martin gets so much of his inspiration – and that's only England. I can imagine that the rest of Europe must be equally fascinating, and I don't think there are enough hours in the day.

As the title of this series of lectures suggest, we really do get an overview of some rather exciting times in the British Isles that seem, over the years, to have acted as a magnet for waves of invasion, with the resultant cultural stewpot that has had such a massive impact on world history (while giving a good idea as to why England has ended up being such an aggressive colonial power).

What I liked about Paxton's delivery is that she will hit the pause button to go in depth into certain topics – I particularly liked her exploration of chivalry. She also gives a great explanation on how the monarchy was set up, and how its relationship with the nobles played out. We see, also, a glimpse into English legends, such as King Arthur and Robin Hood, but I will admit that the plethora of kings and queens with their names and the complex interrelationships got a bit dizzying – fascinating, but something I'd need to return to with more focused looks into particular eras.

Paxton is personable, easy on the ear, and she takes a vast and daunting subject and presents it in a way that is easy to understand. If you, like me, are looking for an overview of an era that will set many events into context, then I reckon this series of lectures is a great place to start (especially for those of us who've been drawn into the subject thanks to series like Vikings and The Last Kingdom on telly).

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

The Serpent's Quest has arrived

Before what I now fondly call the Great Panini, I laboured under the assumption that 2020 was going to be my year. I'd seen the release of my first traditionally published novel which had gone on to win an award or two, and I was due to appear at a few Comic-Con Cape Town panels, as well as a bunch of literary festivals. Go me. Then not. But let me backtrack a wee smidge.

October 31, 2019, Toby and I were sitting in the hotel lounge after we won our prizes, and we struck on the bright idea to collaborate. We had these grandiose ideas of a trilogy we could quickly put out. But even the best plans sometimes make detours (as we were to find out), and those three books quickly became four, and then five –The Splintered Fool series. 

Which we pretty much wrote during lockdown, and kept me sane as all my carefully laid plans turned to ashes, and then continued when the world slowly slid back into some semblance of regular abnormality. (Is there even such a thing as a New Normal? Ugh, I hate the term.)

I am now inordinately pleased to say, that after half a decade of hard work, writing, revising, editing and doing all the icky production stuff I won't bore you spitless with, we've got book 1, The Serpent's Quest, now live. It's available in paperback and ebook. Go get your copy now.

If you, like us, are a huge fan of adventure, magic, quests, elves, dragons... Maybe with a spot of tomb-raiding with a side-order of dastardly pirates, we've got you covered. Oh, and mad gods. Or, rather, a mad god.

Toby has this to say, "When I consider what makes me happiest about having written The Serpent’s Quest, I’d have to say: seeing a vision fulfilled. It’s hard to believe it was almost five years ago that Nerine and I began discussing a collaboration. 'We’ll write a book together' became three… then five… books, as we unspooled the narrative we’d so casually discussed, exploring realms that became more substantial the deeper we delved. I’m proud to say, we let our characters lead us and never stinted in telling their story. There was no knowing, when we planted those first seeds, that they would grow so far beyond our wildest expectations, but now I look back in wonder. For all the words we crafted, there are few to express the profound satisfaction of seeing the first book released, or the high hopes I have for those to follow."

And I'll close by saying, this work has been a lot rather like me and Toby were storytelling to each other as we went along. We're both huge fans of gaming and ttRPGs, so much of that sort of energy went into the narrative. I'm also pleased that I've had one of South Africa's top comic book artists, Daniƫl Hugo on board to assist with the cover art. Collaborations with him are always excellent, as it's as if he possesses an advanced degree in mind reading to fully get what's going on in my head.

What's next? We'll be typesetting book 2 next, and book 3 is currently in its last revision stages. Alas, I do not possess an army of clones, but we can confirm that the entire series has been written. We promise there is no GRRM The Winds of Winter scenario threatening to unfold here.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Inheritor (Foreigner #3) by CJ Cherryh

It's probably going to take me forever to finish reading all the books in CJ Cherryh's Foreigner series, of which Inheritor is book 3... And for the sake of those who're not conversant with the world, I'll keep this review short and try to give general points.

Human ambassador/diplomat Bren Cameron continues to be adrift in Atevi society, which is, as always, a potentially lethal minefield for those not adept in the subtle power dynamics of a non-human civilisation. And that's the mistake many humans make when interacting with the Atevi – they simply don't have the hardwiring to understand core human concepts like love or caring. Atevi social dynamics is primarily focused on power and associations of individuals to others and groups that hold power.

In learning an intricate language that is has complex mathematics embedded in its linguistics, Bren finds himself even more alienated from human culture and meaningful interaction – a position which is made even more precarious as factions within the minority human community are viewing him as a traitor while certain groups within Atevi society would gleefully see him dead, too.

The planet's power dynamics have been thrown completely out of whack by the arrival of the human space ship, with the spacefaring humans in dire need of supplies they can only obtain from the planet. We see human and ateva alike vying for primacy in a new space race, as the Atevi assimilate human technology that might make them all but unstoppable if they gain interstellar travel. 

Added to the mix are two human diplomats from the space ship who are now negotiating on the ground – for people who've known only the confines of life on board a vessel for generations, the adjustment to living on a planet is traumatic. 

Cherryh does a deep dive into interpersonal relationships within a distorted, multicultural society in a complex, nuanced way, which may make this a trademark slow read, but as always, she subtly works to pull the rug from beneath your feet near the end, with sudden, frantic action that had my heart racing.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

How to Become a Modern Magus by Don Webb

So, way back when I first sparked an interest in Western esoteric traditions, I cut my teeth on Aleister Crowley (might as well jump in the deep end, amiright?) way back in the early 2000s and also the Donald Michael Kraig classic Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts, which would be interesting to revisit now years later. Lately, I've become a huge fan of the writings of Don Webb, who not only is a fantastic author of weird fiction, but his writings on more esoteric subjects take an approach that appeals to me. He is both wise and funny (a rare combination), and is in possession of a vast cornucopia of knowledge that makes me wonder if he doesn't have a clone helping him parse all that information. I've learnt much from him over the years, and have enjoyed such titles of his as The Mysteries of the Temple of Set and Overthrowing the Old Gods: Aleister Crowley and the Book of the Law. Don brings to the table a healthy dollop of common sense with plenty of the strange in a way that inspires seekers of the mysteries to engage in magical play. When I went through a period of magical stagnation a few years ago, it was Don's writing, in conjunction with a timely reading of my friend Ramsey Dukes' Ssotbme Revised – An Essay on Magic, that rekindled my puckish delight in all things magical.

In any case, I can most likely gush on endlessly, so let me rather get to the point of this review. With all the literature on the topic that's out there, with more traditions and luminary figures in the esoteric world than you can shake a wand at, what I truly appreciate about Don Webb and his writing is that he's so gosh darned accessible and approachable. But whether you meet him in person, communicate via email, or open one of his works, I get the idea that he's big on communicating clearly, with a healthy side order of mischief that will shake you out of your comfort zone. I approve of mischief. It causes you to look at the world slantwise, which is perhaps a much-needed skill these days.

I'm approaching Don Webb's How to Become a Modern Magus from the perspective of someone who's spent years reading a pile of literature. I consider myself quite au fait with many of the approaches and concepts, and I'm glad to say that for me How to Become a Modern Magus succeeded in making me reconsider many of the core concepts of the Western esoteric systems from a fresh perspective.

Don combines his own experiences (and those of people he's encountered) with the knowledge that he's garnered over the years in a book that's not only a fascinating read to gain an appreciation of the work of a modern magician, but he also pulls together a wonderful structured curriculum that will benefit those who are new, as well as those for whom this is not their first rodeo. If you're comfortable in your own practise, it can be useful to follow a 'how to' course that may well highlight areas in your own life that require some honest self-reflection and work. Shake things up. Dance to a slightly different tune from what you're accustomed to.

In this book, you'll most certainly be challenged to step outside of your comfort zone, to not only consider discrete aspects of Self and how they relate to concepts such as the Elements (earth, air, fire, water) but also be presented with core concepts of ritual work, while also engaging in the kind of magical thinking that Ramsey Dukes so delights in (those of you who're au fait with Dukes' tone will be on familiar turf).

When I did my first read through How to Become a Modern Magus, I found myself highlighting so many little paragraphs that are worth a second look – but it's beyond the scope of this review to reproduce them all. You'll really need to go look/see for the ones that resonate with you. What I do take away, even as I work through the book month by month now, is that this is about getting to know aspects of your Self; it's about discovering what it is you truly want; it's about engaging with Mystery; and it's about projecting your Long Desire out into the world and figuring out how to take those steps that will bring you to what you want. As in what you truly Desire. (Thank you, Lucifer... IYKYK.)

Okay, so that's my paltry attempt to try to encapsulate this book in a nutshell. I don't think it's possible, actually, since everyone who does embark on the journey of working through this book is going to have a very different, individual experience. Honestly, this title has come at a good time for me when I've wanted suggested periods of focus on different aspects of Self – a magical boot camp, as it were. And whether you're a rank beginner or a seasoned practitioner, if you engage with this book sincerely, you're in for quite a journey.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

So, really, how ARE things going?

Last year I decided that making monthly newsletters is incredibly stressful. Besides, who reads the things anyway? I know my inbox is where countless newsletters come to die. So, if you're reading this, the algorithm gods have been kind to me, and thank you for your eyeballs.

I would make personal blog posts more often, but truthfully, I've been running around like a chickenless head chasing after those deadlines that so love whooshing by if given half a chance. And my other resolution: do these self-promo posts only when I have the spoons. Not that I ever have enough spoons, but today I've rinsed off a few and I'm stirring.

What's been happening, you say? Well, lots.

In terms of graphic design, my one big client is keeping me on my toes, and while I do occasionally take on smaller layout/design jobs, this is not something I go out of my way looking for. I'm grateful for this work, as it keeps the lights on so that I can engage in what I LOVE doing, which is writing, editing, and coaching. 

The writing front is ticking along. I've got some short fiction out on sub, and I'm currently working on a bit of short fiction for a creative collective, which is really exciting. More on that later once I've got something concrete to share. What I can say is that I'm really excited to be part of this initiative. I've got a chapter appearing in Afro-Centered Futurisms in Our Speculative Fiction coming out via Bloomsbury later this year, which is Pretty Darned Big for me. I'm so excited to be part of this important work.

Things have been quiet, for the most, since Toby and I are still working hard on our five-book series, The Splintered Fool, of which book 1, The Serpent's Quest, is now in its final production stages. I won't lie, it's a PILE of work, but I promise you, once those books start coming, you'll be in for a swashbuckling swords-and-sandals epic full of derring-do, sassy characters, and cosmic horrors. Book one is tentatively releasing in May. I say tentatively, because life.

But I do have some news. If you've been following me on social media, you may have seen that my novella The Princess Job quietly released recently. It's a little nod to my love of Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards Sequence, so if you're looking for a short read that promises a little fun skullduggery, then this might be for you. It's free to read on KU.

And if dark SFF short fiction is your thing, I finally finished the most recent selection of the SA Horrorfest's Bloody Parchment anthology, Weeping Walls and Other Stories. Do pick up a copy and make me a happy editor.

Other than that, I'm knee deep writing on a super secret ghostwriting project. It's keeping my lights on, and it's a project with huge scope that's both challenging and deeply fascinating. I can't wait to share when this goes live, but as I often tell the writers I work with: butt on chair, fingers on keyboard.

So, that's it. For now. If you're on Threads, do come find me there. Although I do post updates on Xitter, the real chatty stuff is happening on Threads and also Blue Sky, to an extent. And if you've read this far, pop me an email and I'll bless you with a ecopy of The Princess Job if you're willing to do me a solid by reviewing it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Author Spotlight on Erhu Kome

The delightful Erhu Kome has stopped by my blog for a short Q&A.

Many of us as writers have that defining moment when they realised that this is the thing you want to do. What was your moment?

My second year in uni. I was studying a course I didn't like. My mind was completely gone from it. When I wrote my first collection of short stories, it was the most satisfying and joyful thing I ever did.

You're stuck in an elevator with me and you've got 15 seconds to tell me about your book – go!

The Smoke That Thunders is young adult fantasy novel about a girl whose life is changed forever after she meets a magical red fox.

What are the three defining works of fiction that you feel people should read if they want to understand you better?

The Concubine by Elechi Amadi, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and any book written by Agatha Christie, lol.

What are some of the themes that are prevalent in your writing?

Family, Courage, Friendship and Love

Why does storytelling matter?

To me, storytelling matters as I am able to share the history, mythology and culture of my people, the Urhobo people, to people who have never heard of us. 

Storytelling matters because it brings the world to people wherever they are. I didn't have to move from my hometown to see other parts of the world and to know its people. Storytelling matters especially to kids to engage their imagination, improve their vocabulary and entertain them in a way no other medium can.

Who is Erhu when you are not writing? Tell us a little bit more about what you do in your spare time and what some of your other interests are.

I'm a mom of two so Mommying is technically my main job, lol. I use my spare time to do my writing and I read in between. My kindle has been a game changer because my daughter likes to tear out pages of any book I'm reading. I also watch a lot of anime. I just finished the first season of Solo Leveling and I loved every second of it. I also like trying out new foods and working on DIY home projects.

Author bio:

Erhu Kome writes stories centered around her Urhobo tribal roots, with a mix of myth and magic. She is the author of
The Smoke That Thunders and Not Seeing Is A Flower, a novella shortlisted for the Nommo awards. She is an Anime enthusiast with a soft spot for any tv show or movie that will make her laugh. You can follow her on Instagram and TikTok @erhukome .