Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Since Jill is no longer hosting it, I'm joining Can’t Wait Wednesday movement over at Wishful Endings.

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford
Expected publication: September 12, 2017 by Tor.com

Three friends go looking for treasure and find horror in Jeffrey Ford's The Twilight Pariah.

All Maggie, Russell, and Henry wanted out of their last college vacation was to get drunk and play archaeologist in an old house in the woods outside of town. When they excavate the mansion's outhouse they find way more than they bargained for: a sealed bottle filled with a red liquid, along with the bizarre skeleton of a horned child

Disturbing the skeleton throws each of their lives into a living hell. They feel followed wherever they go, their homes are ransacked by unknown intruders, and people they care about are brutally, horribly dismembered. The three friends awakened something, a creature that will stop at nothing to retrieve its child.

I actually landed an ARC of this earlier in the month, so I won't be waiting quite as long as many of you, but I think you'll agree this sounds like a damned creepy adventure.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What Rayden Valkyrie Offers to Today's World

I've said many times that Rayden Valkyrie has become the character that enjoy the most when it comes to my writing.  With my roots in fantasy, there is no question that the world she travels and explores holds great appeal to me, as do the plots that she is a part of.

Above all, though, the things that she offers the world of today comprise the majority of reasons as to why she has become so near and dear to me.

An inspirational character is timeless. It doesn't matter if they are in an ancient world setting, such as the one Rayden Valkyrie lives in, a modern one, or some distant futuristic one in a galaxy far away.  It is through inspirational characters that light can come into the world from the page, especially during trying times.

The inspirational qualities of Rayden Valkyrie were battle-tested with me before the first manuscript was ever sent to an editor.  From the first time I grasped a vision of her character, she served as a beacon of inspiration during some personal times of trial for myself.  I have since seen her become an inspiration for many readers, several of whom have shared very personal stories that illustrate why they developed a close bond with the Rayden character.

Looking at Rayden and the world of today, I can see a number of ways in which she can have a positive impact.

The essence of Rayden is self-esteem and self-confidence.  She believes in herself and knows both her strengths and weaknesses.  She is confident without becoming arrogant, and this confidence encourages those she assists and gives pause to enemies confronting her.  In a world where so many struggle with issues of self-esteem and confidence, Rayden calls to everyone to believe in themselves, and stand tall each and every day.  Through her character, she gives encouragement to develop that inner strength that comes from self-esteem and self-confidence, and that is something I see a great need for in the world of today.

Self-determination is another key component of Rayden's inspirational ability.  When she decides on a course of action, she sets out to accomplish her aims without second-guessing or wavering.  She does not allow others to control her or tell her what she should be.  She follows her heart, something a lot of people are dissuaded from and discouraged from doing in our world.

Rayden also exudes a high level of discipline.  She trains hard, and regularly, to keep up her fighting skills and advance them.  She keeps a focus on the things that must be done, and adheres to them with a steadfast approach.

She is not one to procrastinate or do something halfway.  Her discipline and ability to take the small steps every day that build up to make major steps possible separates her from most of the crowd, but it also serves as a good model of what it takes to be successful in any kind of pursuit.  In that way, she speaks powerfully to the world of today.

Rayden is also an independent thinker.  In a world where there is a tendency or drive to categorize people, and fit them into neat boxes and apply labels to them, Rayden is a character that shuns categorization and labeling. Her moral code can find genuine connection with people of all types and backgrounds.

This core is something not driven by politics, religion, or any sort of ideology, but truly on an individual level, guided by what she finds to be right or wrong.  It is in this area of true independent thought that she stands as a major threat to the characters in her world that seek to control others.

In a similar way, she calls to the people of our world to think for themselves, question everything, make use of reason, and scrutinize situations on a case by case basis.  A person that becomes that sort of individual is not one that can be labeled or grouped, and these kinds of individuals are perhaps the greatest obstacle to the would-be puppet masters of the world.

Living with an honor code is another defining characteristic of Rayden that I find to be part of her inspirational appeal.  It is a dynamic aspect of her character, as she is always honing herself and working to live up to the ideals and values she embraces.  She is not dogmatic, but neither is she bogged down by a mindset that is afraid to identify rights and wrongs.

Rayden respects differences and the many varied things found among other people and cultures, but not to the point where she gives a pass to things that she sees as true evils.  If she encounters a wickedness, she will confront it and does not care one bit what others might say or whether her action will be popular.   This kind of honor code is not something that needs validation from others, and it is a harder road to travel, but develops the kind of people who will not stand by in the face of tyranny, abuses, and other evils that plague the lives of people worldwide.

As a character, Rayden has a lot to offer the people of today.  Through her actions, she serves as a powerful example of what an individual can be for others.  In a world that so many are finding increasingly rudderless and uncertain, she can be a beacon in the darkness, and this is why I have grown to have such a passion for her character and story.


About the Author

Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based out of Lexington Kentucky. His works include the Rayden Valkyrie novels (Sword and Sorcery), the Rising Dawn Saga (Cross Genre), the Fires in Eden Series (Epic Fantasy), the Hellscapes short story collections (Horror), the Chronicles of Ave short story collections (Fantasy), and the Harvey and Solomon Tales (Steampunk).

Stephen’s visual work includes the feature film Shadows Light, shorts films such as The Sirens and Swordbearer, and the forthcoming Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of a Lionheart TV Pilot.

Stephen is a proud Kentucky Colonel who also enjoys the realms of music, martial arts, good bourbons, and spending time with family.

Twitter:  @SGZimmer
Instagram: @stephenzimmer7


About the Book

Thunder Horizon
by Stephen Zimmer

A deadly menace stalks the shadows of the lands to the north, stirring the winds of war. Farther south, the power of the Teveren Empire spreads with every passing day, empowered by dark sorcery. Formidable legions bent on conquest are on the march, slavery and subjugation following in their wake.

Within the rising maelstrom, Rayden Valkyrie has returned to the Gessa, to stand with the tribe that once took her into their care as a child. No amount of jewels or coin can sway her, nor can the great power of her adversaries intimidate her.

With a sword blade in her right hand and axe in her left, Rayden confronts foes both supernatural and of flesh and blood. Horrific revelations and tremendous risks loom; some that will see Rayden's survival in the gravest of peril.

Even if Rayden and the Gessa survive the trials plaguing their lands, the thunder of an even darker storm booms across the far horizon.

Thunder Horizon is the second book in the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy.

Heart of a Lion
by Stephen Zimmer

Rayden Valkyrie. She walks alone, serving no king, emperor, or master. Forged in the fires of tragedy, she has no place she truly calls home.

A deadly warrior wielding both blade and axe, Rayden is the bane of the wicked and corrupt. To many others, she is the most loyal and dedicated of friends, an ally who is unyielding in the most dangerous of circumstances.

The people of the far southern lands she has just aided claim that she has the heart of a lion. For Rayden, a long journey to the lands of the far northern tribes who adopted her as a child beckons, with an ocean lying in between.

Her path will lead her once more into the center of a maelstrom, one involving a rising empire that is said to be making use of the darkest kinds of sorcery to grow its power. Making new friends and discoveries amid tremendous peril, Rayden makes her way to the north.

Monstrous beasts, supernatural powers, and the bloody specter of war have been a part of her world for a long time and this journey will be no different. Rayden chooses the battles that she will fight, whether she takes up the cause of one individual or an entire people.

Both friends and enemies alike will swiftly learn that the people of the far southern lands spoke truly. Rayden Valkyrie has the heart of a lion.

Heart of a Lion is the first book in the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Promo Blitz: Shadows & Teeth Volume 3

Date Published: June 15, 2017
Publisher: Darkwater Syndicate, Inc.

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Out of the shadows and meaner than ever, volume three of this award-winning horror series packs international star power. Featuring ten brand-new stories by the legendary Guy N. Smith, the prolific Adam Millard, master of horror Nicholas Paschall, and others, this collection is certain to keep you up at night. Take care as you reach into these dark places, for the things here bite, and you may withdraw a hand short of a few fingers.


My body crumpled forward, my forehead resting on the floorboards. I would have remained this way, if I had not been roused by a shout from behind me. Rosario roared and shook his head like an enraged bull, stamping his feet and frothing between gritted teeth. He clutched his temples and shook his head, and when he had gathered enough clarity of mind, he leveled a penetrating stare at the djinni and yelled, “Enough!”
All around Rosario, the peasant men stood frozen as though they were statues, eyes on the djinni. Clenching his jaw, he staggered forward a step, inadvertently brushing against one of the men. The man instantly spilled to his knees in supplication, droning, “I adore thee, oh my lord!” in such rapid succession that the words were hardly perceptible.
Scowling with rage at this irreverence, Rosario let fly an uppercut swing with his hook. The metal flashed in the dim candlelight and caught the man in the crook of his lower mandible. The man did not so much as scream, so overawed was he by the djinni.
Rosario raised his arm aloft, lifting the man fully erect, looking like a fisherman with a prize catch. Then he tore his dagger out of his belt with his opposite hand and plunged it into the side of the man’s neck between the skull and the shoulders. The skin at the peasant’s neck pulled apart, opening his throat as though his shoulders were yawning wide, until at last the weight of his collapsing body snapped his head off his neck. The body slumped to its knees and spilled headlong, gushing blood in spurts from its severed arteries.
Something like a sigh came from the djinni. Then it said, “Man is a foolish child who calls many things gods. Man knows not the gods.”
Its skin seemed to dull, losing some of the magnificent radiance it exuded, and I found that I was no longer overawed in its presence. Rosario helped me to my feet and together we addressed the djinni. The remaining three peasants all were unconscious, seemingly asleep on the floor.
“In the name of the most high, I command you to speak your name, djinni!” I yelled, thinking it could be cowed in the same manner as a demon might.
The djinni’s eyes widened. If it had eyebrows, they would surely have bobbed at my effrontery. Its eyes narrowed into angry slits that contained all the deadly chill of a winter snowstorm. “Hadst thou instead come to visit me, I would have attended thee in the manner befitting of a guest. I would have filled thy mouth with rotten pus until thy belly were full. Thou wouldst have told me a great many wondrous things of thy life, and I, having learned such, would have sent thee home with an anus so full of scorpions the trail of blood behind thee would stretch for miles.”
The images each word represented, along with the concepts and sensations those phrases conveyed, flashed in my mind as the djinni spoke. They are as vivid now as then—by God, I still taste the pus! These images are always in the forefront of my mind, constantly playing out before my eyes, and it is hard to focus on anything else except through purposeful concentration.
“Wherefore hast thou brought me here?” it asked.
Seeing how my last attempt at communication had failed, I bowed my head and spoke in lowered tones. “Djinni, we have called you to ask a favor.”
“Indeed,” it cut me short, “it is always so when mortals call upon the djinn. Impudent humans! What boon seeketh ye? Be it pleasure? I shall show ye such pain that the greatest pleasure would be anticipating its end! I ask again: wherefore disturbest me thou?”
It was then I explained we sought to spare your daughter from the ailment that would surely take her, and requested the djinni’s succor.
The djinni sighed, if otherworldly beings can be said to sigh. “Alas, thy mortality is a concept thy limited intellect can only dimly grasp.” It looked down at the floor as it considered this, then raised its gaze to make eye contact with me. “What wouldst thou have me do? The child is already dead.”
An image of her flashed in my mind’s eye. I was there, in the room with Bernadette as she languished in her bed, delirious with fever. The eyes I saw her with were not my physical eyes, as they saw more than human eyes could ever hope to detect. Bernadette’s body was like a red-hot fireplace poker, glowing orange from her core. The glow collapsed on itself, giving way to lifeless, cold black, shriveling into her center like a bonfire shrunk to embers. I knew she was dead when the light faltered and snuffed out, leaving nothing but a dreadful stillness in its passing.
Brother, do not think for a moment that so terse an account of your daughter’s death should mean I was hard-hearted about the matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. She was my niece, and—by God!—my only living relative; that is, save for you of course, if ever you should return to read this.
Her passing crushed me. It opened wounds in me, wounds that weep much as my eyes might weep. And while time has dried my tears, it has done nothing to soothe the ache of missing her.
I was flashed back to my study with the djinni standing before me. The realization that Bernadette was dead weighted my body; I crumpled to my knees and collapsed to all fours.
All of this, for naught! Frustration churned the searing bile in my stomach. “You must be able to do something,” I pleaded.
The djinni cocked its head to one side. “Thou hast misunderstood. I can do a great many things.”
“You could not save her!”
“Thou didst not ask.”
My mouth went dry on realizing it was right—I had not asked it to save her from the disease. “Save her!” I blurted, figuring this was as good a time to ask as any.
“I cannot. She has died.”
I plunged my fingers into my hair and clawed at my scalp. “Quit speaking in circles!”
“I speak as plainly as I can. Ye men possess little aptitude for understanding.”
“If you cannot save her, then…” I stammered. At the time, I did not know why I had broken off; I was only aware that I had stopped mid-sentence. I had found that strange, especially since I had already deliberated on what it was I wanted to say before saying it. In retrospect, I think I know what halted my tongue—some combination of my conscience and divine intervention giving me one last chance before I could commit a heinous sin.
“Then… bring her back,” I finished my sentence.
“It is already done.”
I blinked, and then again, looking upon the djinni in mute shock as its words sunk into my mind. Was Bernadette alive? When had she been brought back—when I asked, or sometime prior? Had she even died? It was not lost on me that the djinni could be lying, but before I could ask any questions, it said, “Thy niece lies upon her deathbed. Lay her body down in this circle before moonrise tomorrow night, and thou shall have what thou seeketh.”
A thought occurred to me then that I wanted to give voice to, but I stopped myself. To even reflect upon it sent shivers down my spine. What might the djinni want of me in exchange?
As if it had sensed my thoughts, the djinni said, “Thou wonderest what thou must offer to uphold the bargain. Rest assured, human, thy debt is paid in advance.”

About the Author

Our award-winning horror series brings together the very best in international horror. Volume three features the UK’s legendary Guy N. Smith, the prolific Adam Millard, and master of horror Nicholas Paschall, among other established names in the genre.

Bio For Series Editor, Ramiro Perez: 
Born in Cuba in 1941, Ramiro Perez de Pereda has seen it all. Growing up in a time when then-democratic Cuba was experiencing unprecedented foreign investment, he was exposed to the U.S. pop culture items of the day. Among them: pulp fiction magazines, which young Ramiro avidly read and collected. Far and away, his favorites were the Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard. Ramiro, now retired from the corporate life, is a grandfather of five. He devotes himself to his family, his writing, and the occasional pen-and-ink sketch. He writes poetry and short fiction under the name R. Perez de Pereda. He serves Darkwater Syndicate as its Head Acquisitions Editor—he heads the department, he does not collect heads, which is a point he has grown quite fond of making. Indeed, it’s one reason he likes his job so much.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Since Jill is no longer hosting it, I'm joining Can’t Wait Wednesday movement over at Wishful Endings.

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett
Expected publication: September 12, 2017 by Viking

International bestselling author Ken Follett has enthralled millions of readers with The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, two stories of the Middle Ages set in the fictional city of Kingsbridge. The saga now continues with Follett’s magnificent new epic, A Column of Fire.

In 1558, the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, royalty and commoners clash, testing friendship, loyalty, and love.

Ned Willard wants nothing more than to marry Margery Fitzgerald. But when the lovers find themselves on opposing sides of the religious conflict dividing the country, Ned goes to work for Princess Elizabeth. When she becomes queen, all Europe turns against England. The shrewd, determined young monarch sets up the country’s first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions, and invasion plans. Over a turbulent half century, the love between Ned and Margery seems doomed as extremism sparks violence from Edinburgh to Geneva. Elizabeth clings to her throne and her principles, protected by a small, dedicated group of resourceful spies and courageous secret agents.

The real enemies, then as now, are not the rival religions. The true battle pitches those who believe in tolerance and compromise against the tyrants who would impose their ideas on everyone else—no matter what the cost.

Set during one of the most turbulent and revolutionary times in history, A Column of Fire is one of Follett’s most exciting and ambitious works yet. It will delight longtime fans of the Kingsbridge series and is the perfect introduction for readers new to Ken Follett.

I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but The Pillars of the Earth & World Without End are two book that I enjoyed (and appreciate) immensely. Hard to believe it's been 10 years, but I'm definitely up for the next chapter.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

A pair of dark new titles this week, one from a fellow Canuck and the other from a scholar of Cenobites:

Worship Me by Craig Stewart
[August 1, 2017]
Something is listening to the prayers of St. Paul’s United Church, but it’s not the god they asked for; it’s something much, much older.

Before by Paul Kane
[September 5, 2017]
Described as "the dark fantasy version of Cloud Atlas," Kane's BEFORE is as wide in scope as it is in imagination


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

I'm just starting in on a few titles, so we'll see if they grab me - Sip by Brian Allen Carr and Wrath of the Ancients by Catherine Cavendish.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Fantasy Review: The Black Elfstone by Terry Brooks

It has been a very long time since I last read a Terry Brooks novel but, as was the case with Raymond E. Feist bringing his Riftwar Cycle to a close, the prospect of seeing Shannara come to an end brought me back.

The Black Elfstone feels very much like a return to form for Brooks, despite it's disappointing page count and its unprecedented weight of darkness. It's a broad-sweeping epic fantasy, with multiple stories intertwined, a dire threat to the Druids, and a seemingly unstoppable force marching upon The Four Lands.

Everything and everyone here are in conflict, ranging from the intimate (between individuals) to the massive (between races). The only problem is, with such a short novel to kick-off the series, it isn't always clear how or why those conflicts are relevant. For instance, the whole storyline with Tarsha Kaynin' brother is a bit muddled, although I suspect his magical madness is establishing him as a foil for his sister somewhere down the line.

The characters are reasonably strong and interesting, something Brooks has always excelled at, but their motivations are somewhat suspect. For instance, Drisker Arc is an ex-Druid who evokes memories of Allanon, complete with his estrangement from Paranor, but his willingness to trust in old foes is foolish. Similarly. Dar Leah is a swashbuckling sort of hero, at the forefront of the action throughout the book, but it seems like he can't decide on when to take a stand - and it costs him. Finally, Tarsha Kaynin may be one of the strongest female characters Brooks has written, but even she can't decide between loyalties and impulsive frustration.

What ultimately redeems all of those flaws, however, is the finale. The Black Elfstone has a big climax, and pays off beautifully.

Hardcover, 318 pages
Published June 13th 2017 by Del Rey Books