Thursday, July 20, 2017

Fantasy Review: Scourge by Gail Z. Martin

Few authors can pull off the delicate combination of horror and fantasy. It's something of an awkward dance of genres, even when you're stretching the definition of fantasy with something like the grimdark movement. When you're talking heroic/epic fantasy, it becomes even more of a challenge, and yet Gail Z. Martin has done it again.

Scourge: A Darkhurst Novel is a book that opens with the exorcism of a violent, vengeful spirit, and then immediately leaps into a lynch mob extermination of a nest of undead, fast zombie-like monsters. It is almost like an urban fantasy in epic fantasy clothing, with some contemporary influences (like Buffy & Supernatural) that I'm sure many readers will catch along the way, but regardless of genre, when your heroes are undertakers, you know you're in for an unusual read.

This has all the hallmarks of a Gail Z. Martin novel. First of all, you have strong, complex characters with personalities, involved in real, often messy relationships. The Valmonde brothers are at the heart of it all - with all the bickering, infighting, and brotherly camaraderie you'd expect - but they're surrounded by an equally strong cast of supporting characters, and one of the more entertaining villains you are likely to come across in Lord Mayor Machison.

Second, you have a full, deep mythology, complimented by some exemplary world-building. The supernatural here is only half the story, but it is a fantastic half that delivers on all the promise of ghosts, ghouls, monsters, and more. On the more mundane side, it has the familiar flavor of a medieval fantasy, but with a strong political aspect involving merchant princes and trade guilds of Ravenwood. There is a little bit of info dumping, but it is crucial to the plot, even if it does drag the story down a bit.

On that note, there are some pacing issues with the book that may bother some readers. While it has a frantic, kick-ass opening, there are some prolonged lulls in the middle of the book, and the conclusion feels rather sudden. Part of that is due to the narrow focus, keeping the three brothers at the heart of the action. While a few more POV characters may have helped with the pace, they would have felt out-of-place in a story that belongs to Corran, Rigan, and Kell. Really, so long as you remember that this is the opening chapter of a new series, the pacing (and info dumping) is completely understandable.

If you're okay with swapping dragons for monsters and armies for merchants, with a family of undertakers as your unorthodox heroes, Scourge is a fun read that does something unique within a crowded genre. Well worth a read.

Paperback, 400 pages
Published July 11, 2017 by Solaris

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday - The Dragon Lords: False Idols by Jon Hollins

"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.

The Dragon Lords: False Idols by Jon Hollins
Expected publication: August 29, 2017 by Orbit

Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Hobbit in this rollicking fantasy adventure series.

The Dragons who once ruled over the land are dead.

The motley crew that stumbled through that revolution are rich and praised as saviors.

Everyone gets to live happily ever after, right?


Well, it might have worked out that way if the dragons in Kondorra had been the only ones. If they hadn't been just the tip of the spear about to fall upon the whole world...

Okay, so I still need to catch up with The Dragon Lords: Fool's Gold, but the paperback is sitting here beside me, waiting patiently for its turn. How can you resist "Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Hobbit"?

Saturday, July 15, 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.

No new review titles this week, but I did make a few purchases.

The Black Elfstone: The Fall of Shannara by Terry Brooks

The Pharaoh's Secret by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington


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.

On the e-reader, I should be finishing Scourge: A Darkhurst Novel by Gail Z. Martin this weekend, with Wraith Knight or Straight Outta Fangton by C.T. Phipps next, in hardcover, I'm deep into The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams.



What's topping your shelves this week?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: An Echo of Things to Come by James Islington

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

An Echo of Things to Come by James Islington  
Expected publication: August 22nd 2017 by Orbit

The second book in the acclaimed Licanius Trilogy by James Islington.

"Love The Wheel of Time? This is about to become your new favorite series." - B&N SF & Fantasy Blog

"Fans of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson will find much to admire." - Guardian

In the wake of a devastating attack, an amnesty has been declared for all Augurs-finally allowing them to emerge from hiding and openly oppose the dark forces massing against the land of Andarra. As the Augur Davian and his new allies hurry north toward the ever-weakening Boundary, however, fresh horrors along their path suggest that their reprieve may have come far too late.

His ally in the Capital, the new Northwarden, contends with assassins and politicians, and uncovers a dangerous political secret. Meanwhile, their compatriot Asha begins a secret investigation into the disappearance of the Shadows.

And Caeden races against time to fulfill his treacherous bargain with the Lyth, but as more and more of his memories return, he begins to realise that the two sides in this ancient war may not be as clear-cut as they first seemed...

I have to admit, Islington's debut slipped my notice when it first hit shelves, but I have heard nothing but good things about it. My copy of The Shadow of What Was Lost, the first book of The Licanius Trilogy, arrived this morning, so I shouldn't be too long in catching up.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Fantasy Review: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

I was honestly getting tired of the whole grimdark scene. I felt it was becoming monotonous and repetitive. It wasn't the darkness or the absence of hope that bothered me, it was something else that I couldn't quite put my finger on. As soon as I picked up Blackwing, I realized what that something else was.

Imagination. Wonder. Awe.

Yes, grimdark has become so obsessed with finding new ways to drag the reader down into horror and depression that it's lost sight of those soaring emotions that the fantasy genre, as a whole, has always provoked. Ed McDonald clearly recognizes that, and in Blackwing he's given us a novel that manages to be GDAF while still provoking that classic sense of wonder and awe.

This is almost a new genre, an epic, post-apocalyptic, grimdark fantasy that's full of imagination (and horror). It has been eighty years since the climactic battle that ends most epic fantasy sagas, a victory (of a sort) won at an unbelievable cost. The magical destruction wrought by Nall's 'Engine' has left a wasteland of ghosts, tainted magic, and monsters between two kingdoms. The looming threat represented by that weapon of mass destruction did nothing to end the conflict, however. It just twisted open warfare into a monstrous sort of terrorism, complete with the magical equivalent of suicide bombers and child assassins.

The problem is, there's a very real chance that Nall's 'Engine' is broken, and the agents of Deep Kings are anxious to determine the truth.

From beginning to end, this is Captain Galharrow's tale. He is the protagonist, point-of-view, and conscience of the tale. A scarred and bitter veteran of too many conflicts, he's as haunted by his past as the world is by its future. At first, he just seems like your typical hard-edged anti-hero, but there is genuine depth to his character that goes along with his tragic backstory. Despite having fallen into a life as a bounty hunter, magically tied and indebted to more than one sorcerer, he is a good man for whom the end always justifies the means, so long as he is the one to pay the price. Ezabeth, the other character of note here, is an interesting woman and an even more fascinating catalyst for the story. She is a woman of mystery, capable of astounding feats of magic, and yet scarred by her own past. We spend as much of the book wondering whether she recognizes Galharrow for who he is as we do contemplating whether she is truly mad.

As much as I enjoyed it, I did have one challenge with the book. What we see of the world is fantastically detailed, and the mythology of the Nameless and the Deep Kings is intriguing, but we never really get a sense of the world itself. Much of that is due to us being tied to Galharrow as a point-of-view character - we only know what he knows - but I feel like the story could have used something like a campfire story or a drunken recollection of how the world used to be, what lies beyond their stronghold, or what the cities beyond the Misery are said to be like. Without that context, it almost feels as if these god-like forces are fighting over a whole lot of nothing.

Blackwing not only had one of the greatest opening chapters I have read in ages, it had a finale that was worthy of the story leading up to it. So many epic fantasies seem to fall apart at the end, with a climax that simply cannot compete with the expectations we've built as readers, but McDonald delivered on every aspect of it. I'm not sure where Ravens' Mark heads next, but I'm definitely curious to see where it takes us.

Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Expected publication: July 27th 2017 by Gollancz

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from Gollancz in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Follow the Money by Gail Z. Martin (author of Scourge)

Follow the Money
by Gail Z. Martin 

Follow the money. If you want to know why someone is doing something--especially if it's something they shouldn't be doing--follow the money.

All too often in epic fantasy, we just start with the assumption that the king and nobility were born wealthy and go from there. Things get interesting when you start asking questions. Where did they get their money? Was it a one-time thing (like a grant or a reward or a treasure) or is there an ongoing flow of money--and where does it come from? How financially stable are they really? What would it take to make them unstable? Who had money and lost it? Who wants money and will do anything to get it? Does money equal social status? Are there people who kept status and lost money? Got money and couldn't get status? What about those who fell out of favor or were born on the wrong side of the blanket?

When I set up the world for my new Darkhurst series (first book, Scourge debuts July 15), I came at it from a little different angle. In my Chronicles of the Necromancer series, Margolan is peaceful and prosperous until the coup and the rise of the Usurper. In my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, the same war that devastates the political structure and wipes out magic also destroys trade inside Donderath and with the other affected kingdoms.

I picked a different inspiration for the medieval society for the Darkhurst books from what I'd done in the past, looking at the Hanseatic League and the heyday of the Italian city-states of Venice and the Medici era.

The kingdom of Darkhurst and its ten constituent city-states are a squabbling economic 'family' ripe with ambitions, jealousy, old grudges, backstabbing, seduction and betrayal. Prosperity and power come at a bloody cost for those at the very top of society. Our heroes, Corran, Rigan and Kell Valmonde, are undertakers, far removed from the halls of the ruling class. Even so, magic and monsters turn their lives upside-down and plunge them into intrigue and danger.

Magic and money are inextricably tied together. Rich people will be able to hire more and better mages. Poor people might not be allowed to use magic at all. Magic that can create a profit by providing a business advantage will be sought-after. Magic that might pose a threat to those advantages will be controlled or punished. So in Darkhurst, only the ruling class are allowed to hire witches. The trade Guilds are hereditary professions, each with its own trade-specific magic, but outside of that, other magic is forbidden.

The fortunes of a city-state lie in its ability to forge good trade agreements with the others within the League. Those that are the most prosperous and have mutually beneficial agreements gain status and power. They get better quality products and commodities--including food. Those with lesser rankings get what's left. And if there's a cost to the magic of the upper classes? The price will weigh the heaviest on those city-states that are the least profitable. If nothing else, they can bleed.

It might sound dull to say that economics shapes the world we live in, but pause for a moment and you'll see the truth of it. Just take a look at the political, social and cultural ramifications of the BREXIT or NAFTA, or closer to home, the impact of a merger or bankruptcy to a major corporation. The Great Depression, the Great Recession, World Wars, and regional instability as well as natural disasters have economic impacts that shake everyone from the One Percenters to the convenience store clerk. Hemlines, music, birth rates, travel, movie genres, food choices, housing options, population shifts, even whether society trends liberal or conservative, all have been linked to the ups and downs of the economy--both on a national and individual level.

So it only makes sense that would hold true for an epic fantasy world as well, and in Scourge, it opens up all kinds of reasons for intrigue, betrayal, schemes and loyalty.

Yes, Scourge is a book about medieval monster hunters. But when the Valmonde brothers discover that the monsters have masters and the masters have an agenda, they are suddenly thrust into a level of political intrigue far beyond what their job as undertakers ever prepared them for.


About the Author

The Hawthorn Moon is the annual summer blog tour for Gail Z. Martin, and features guest blog posts, giveaways, surprises, excerpts and more on sixteen blogs worldwide. Find the master list of posts and goodies at www.GailZMartin.com

Gail Z. Martin is the author of Scourge: A Darkhurst novel, the first in a brand new epic fantasy series from Solaris Books. Also new are: The Shadowed Path, part of the Chronicles of the Necromancer universe (Solaris Books); Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Solaris Books); Shadow and Flame the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books); and Iron and Blood a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

She is also author of Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen); The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) and the urban fantasy novels Deadly Curiosities.  Gail writes three ebook series: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures and The Blaine McFadden Adventures. The Storm and Fury Adventures, steampunk stories set in the Iron & Blood world, are co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

Gail is also the organizer for #HoldOnToTheLight, authors blogging about depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide, self-harm and other mental health topics to encourage inclusiveness in fandom and stand in solidarity with fans. Learn more at www.HoldOnToTheLight.com

Find her at www.GailZMartin.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin and  free excerpts on Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.


An Excerpt from Scourge: A Novel of Darkhurst 
By Gail Z. Martin 
Chapter One 

A HEAVY IRON candleholder slammed against the wall, just missing Corran Valmonde’s head.

“Son of a bitch!”

“Try not to make her mad, Corran.”

Rigan Valmonde knelt on the worn floor, drawing a sigil in charcoal, moving as quickly as
he dared. Not quickly enough; a piece of firewood spun from the hearth and flew across the
room, slamming him in the shoulder hard enough to make him grunt in pain.

“Keep her off me!” he snapped, repairing the smudge in the soot line. Sloppy symbols meant
sloppy magic, and that could get someone killed.

“I would if I could see her.” Corran stepped away from the wall, raising his iron sword,
putting himself between the fireplace and his brother. His breath misted in the unnaturally cold
room and moisture condensed on the wavy glass of the only window.

“Watch where you step.” Rigan worked on the second sigil, widdershins from the soot
marking, this one daubed in ochre. “I don’t want to have to do this again.”

A small ceramic bowl careened from the mantle, and, for an instant, Rigan glimpsed a young
woman in a blood-soaked dress, one hand clutching her heavily pregnant belly. The other hand
slipped right through the bowl, even as the dish hurtled at Rigan’s head. Rigan dove to one side
and the bowl smashed against the opposite wall. At the same time, Corran’s sword slashed down
through the specter. A howl of rage filled the air as the ghost dissipated.

You have no right to be in my home. The dead woman’s voice echoed in Rigan’s mind.

Get out of my head. 

You are a confessor. Hear me! 

Not while you’re trying to kill my brother. 

“You’d better hurry.” Corran slowly turned, watching for the ghost.

“I can’t rush the ritual.” Rigan tried to shut out the ghost’s voice, focusing on the complex
chalk sigil. He reached into a pouch and drew a thin curved line of salt, aconite, and powdered
amanita, connecting the first sigil to the second, and the second to the third and fourth, working
his way to drawing a complete warded circle.

The ghost materialized without warning on the other side of the line, thrusting a thin arm
toward Rigan, her long fingers crabbed into claws, old blood beneath her torn nails. She opened
a gash on Rigan’s cheek as he stumbled backward, grabbed a handful of the salt mixture and
threw it. The apparition vanished with a wail.

“Corran!” Rigan’s warning came a breath too late as the ghost appeared right behind his
brother, and took a swipe with her sharp, filthy nails, clawing Corran’s left shoulder.

He wronged me. He let me die, let my baby die— The voice shrieked in Rigan’s mind.

“Draw the damn signs!” Corran yelled. “I’ll handle her.” He wheeled, and before the blood-
smeared ghost could strike again, the tip of his iron blade caught her in the chest. Her image
dissipated like smoke, with a shriek that echoed from the walls.

Avenge me. 

Sorry, lady, Rigan thought as he reached for a pot of pigment. I’m stuck listening to dead 
people’s dirty little secrets and last regrets, but I just bury people. Take your complaints up with 
the gods. 

“Last one.” Rigan marked the rune in blue woad. The condensation on the window turned to frost, and he shivered. The ghost flickered, insubstantial but still identifiable as the young
woman who had died bringing her stillborn child into the world. Her blood still stained the floor
in the center of the warded circle and held her to this world as surely as her grief.

Wind whipped through the room, and would have scattered the salt and aconite line if Rigan
had not daubed the mixture onto the floor in paste. Fragments of the broken bowl scythed
through the air. The iron candle holder sailed across the room; Corran dodged it again, and a
shard caught the side of his brother’s head, opening a cut on Rigan’s scalp, sending a warm rush
of blood down the side of his face.

The ghost raged on, her anger and grief whipping the air into a whirlwind. I will not leave 
without justice for myself and my son. 

You don’t really have a choice about it, Rigan replied silently and stepped across the
warding, careful not to smudge the lines, pulling an iron knife from his belt. He nodded to
Corran and together their voices rose as they chanted the burial rite, harmonizing out of long
practice, the words of the Old Language as familiar as their own names.

The ghostly woman’s image flickered again, solid enough now that Rigan could see the
streaks of blood on her pale arms and make out the pattern of her dress. She appeared right next
to him, close enough that his shoulder bumped against her chest, and her mouth brushed his ear.

’Twas not nature that killed me. My faithless husband let us bleed because he thought the 
child was not his own. 

The ghost vanished, compelled to reappear in the center of the circle, standing on the blood
stained floor. Rigan extended his trembling right hand and called to the magic, drawing on the old, familiar currents of power. The circle and runes flared with light. The sigils burned in red, white, blue, and black, with the salt-aconite lines a golden glow between them.

Corran and Rigan’s voices rose as the glow grew steadily brighter, and the ghost raged all the
harder against the power that held her, thinning the line between this world and the next, opening
a door and forcing her through it.

One heartbeat she was present; in the next she was gone, though her screams continued to

Rigan and Corran kept on chanting, finishing the rite as the circle’s glow faded and the sigils
dulled to mere pigment once more. Rigan lowered his palm and dispelled the magic, then blew
out a deep breath.

“That was not supposed to happen.” Corran’s scowl deepened as he looked around the room,
taking in the shattered bowl and the dented candle holder. He flinched, noticing Rigan’s wounds
now that the immediate danger had passed.

“You’re hurt.”

Rigan shrugged. “Not as bad as you are.” He wiped blood from his face with his sleeve, then
bent to gather the ritual materials.

“She confessed to you?” Corran bent to help his brother, wincing at the movement.

“Yeah. And she had her reasons,” Rigan replied. He looked at Corran, frowning at the blood
that soaked his shirt. “We’ll need to wash and bind your wounds when we get back to the shop.”

“Let’s get out of here.”

They packed up their gear, but Corran did not sheath his iron sword until they were ready to
step outside. A small crowd had gathered, no doubt drawn by the shrieks and thuds and the flares
of light through the cracked, dirty window.

“Nothing to see here, folks,” Corran said, exhaustion clear in his voice. “We’re just the undertakers.”

Once they were convinced the excitement was over, the onlookers dispersed, leaving one
man standing to the side. He looked up anxiously as Rigan and Corran approached him.

“Is it done? Is she gone?” For an instant, eagerness shone too clearly in his eyes. Then his
posture shifted, shoulders hunching, gaze dropping, and mask slipped back into place. “I mean,
is she at rest? After all she’s been through?”

Before Corran could answer, Rigan grabbed the man by the collar, pulled him around the
corner into an alley and threw him up against the wall. “You can stop the grieving widower act,”
he growled. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Corran standing guard at the mouth of the alley,
gripping his sword.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” The denial did not reach the man’s eyes.

“You let her bleed out, you let the baby die, because you didn’t think the child was yours.”
Rigan’s voice was rough as gravel, pitched low so that only the trembling man could hear him.

“She betrayed me—”

“No.” The word brought the man up short. “No, if she had been lying, her spirit wouldn’t
have been trapped here.” Rigan slammed the widower against the wall again to get his attention.

“Rigan—” Corran cautioned.

“Lying spirits don’t get trapped.” Rigan had a tight grip on the man’s shirt, enough that he
could feel his body trembling. “Your wife. Your baby. Your fault.” He stepped back and let the
man down, then threw him aside to land on the cobblestones.

“The dead are at peace. You’ve got the rest of your life to live with what you did.” With
that, he turned on his heel and walked away, as the man choked back a sob.

Corran sheathed his sword. “I really wish you’d stop beating up paying customers,” he grumbled as they turned to walk back to the shop.

“Wish I could. Don’t know how to stop being confessor to the dead, not sure what else to do
once I know the dirt,” Rigan replied, an edge of pain and bitterness in his voice.

“So the husband brought us in to clean up his mess?” Corran winced as he walked; the
gashes on his arm and back had to be throbbing.


“I like it better when the ghosts confess something like where they buried their money,”
Corran replied.

“So do I.”

The sign over the front of the shop read Valmonde Undertakers. Around back, in the alley,
the sign over the door just said Bodies. Corran led the way, dropping the small rucksack
containing their gear just inside the entrance, and cursed under his breath as the strap raked
across raw shoulders.

“Sit down,” Rigan said, nodding at an unoccupied mortuary table. He tied his brown hair into
a queue before washing his hands in a bucket of fresh water drawn from the pump. “Let me have
a look at those wounds.”

Footsteps descended the stairs from the small apartment above.

“You’re back? How bad was it?” Kell, the youngest of the Valmonde brothers, stopped
halfway down the stairs. He had Corran’s coloring, taking after their father, with dark blond hair
that curled when it grew long. Rigan’s brown hair favored their mother. All three brothers’ blue
eyes were the same shade, making the resemblance impossible to overlook.

“Shit.” Kell jumped the last several steps as he saw his brothers’ injuries. He grabbed a bucket of water and scanned a row of powders and elixirs, grabbing bottles and measuring out
with a practiced eye and long experience. “I thought you said it was just a banishing.”

“It was supposed to be ‘just’ a banishing,” Rigan said as Corran stripped off his bloody shirt.

“But it didn’t go entirely to plan.” He soaked a clean cloth in the bucket Kell held and wrung it

“A murder, not a natural death,” Corran said, and his breath hitched as Rigan daubed his
wounds. “Another ghost with more power than it should have had.”

Rigan saw Kell appraising Corran’s wounds, glancing at the gashes on Rigan’s face and

“Mine aren’t as bad,” Rigan said.

“When you’re done with Corran, I’ll take care of them,” Kell said. “So I’m guessing Mama’s
magic kicked in again, if you knew about the murder?”

“Yeah,” Rigan replied in a flat voice.

Undertaking, like all the trades in Ravenwood, was a hereditary profession. That it came with
its own magic held no surprise; all the trades did. The power and the profession were passed
down from one generation to the next. Undertakers could ease a spirit’s transition to the realm
beyond, nudge a lost soul onward, or release one held back by unfinished business. Sigils, grave
markings, corpse paints, and ritual chants were all part of the job. But none of the other
undertakers that Rigan knew had a mama who was part Wanderer. Of the three Valmonde
brothers, only Rigan had inherited her ability to hear the confessions of the dead, something not
even the temple priests could do. His mother had called it a gift. Most of the time, Rigan
regarded it as a burden, sometimes a curse. Usually, it just made things more complicated than
they needed to be.

“Hold still,” Rigan chided as Corran winced. “Ghost wounds draw taint.” He wiped away the
blood, cleaned the cuts, and then applied ointment from the jar Kell handed him. All three of
them knew the routine; they had done this kind of thing far too many times.

“There,” he said, binding up Corran’s arm and shoulder with strips of gauze torn from a clean
linen shroud. “That should do it.”

Corran slid off the table to make room for Rigan. While Kell dealt with his brother’s wounds,
Corran went to pour them each a whiskey.

“That’s the second time this month we’ve had a spirit go from angry to dangerous,” Corran
said, returning with their drinks. He pushed a glass into Rigan’s hand, and set one aside for Kell,
who was busy wiping the blood from his brother’s face.

“I’d love to know why.” Rigan tried not to wince as Kell probed his wounds. The deep gash
where the pottery shard had sliced his hairline bled more freely than the cut on his cheek. Kell
swore under his breath as he tried to staunch the bleeding.

“It’s happening all over Ravenwood, and no one in the Guild seems to know a damn thing
about why or what to do about it,” Corran said, knocking his drink back in one shot. “Old
Daniels said he’d heard his father talk about the same sort of thing, but that was fifty years ago.
So why did the ghosts stop being dangerous then, and what made them start being dangerous

Rigan started to shake his head, but stopped at a glare from Kell, who said, “Hold still.”
He let out a long breath and complied, but his mind raced. Until the last few months,
banishings were routine. Violence and tragedy sometimes produced ghosts, but in all the years
since Rigan and Corran had been undertakers—first helping their father and uncles and then running the business since the older men had passed away—banishings were usually uneventful.
Make the marks, sing the chant, the ghost goes on and we go home. So what’s changed?

“I’m sick of being handed my ass by things that aren’t even solid,” Rigan grumbled. “If this
keeps up, we’ll need to charge more.”

Corran snorted. “Good luck convincing Guild Master Orlo to raise the rates.”

Rigan’s eyes narrowed. “Guild Master Orlo can dodge flying candlesticks and broken
pottery. See how he likes it.”

“Once you’ve finished grumbling we’ve got four new bodies to attend to,” Kell said. “One’s
a Guild burial and the others are worth a few silvers a piece.” Rigan did not doubt that Kell had
negotiated the best fees possible, he always did.

“Nice,” Rigan replied, and for the first time noticed that there were corpses on the other
tables in the workshop, covered with sheets. “We can probably have these ready to take to the
cemetery in the morning.”

“One of them was killed by a guard,” Kell said, turning his back and keeping his voice
carefully neutral.

“Do you know why?” Corran tensed.

“His wife said he protested when the guard doubled the ‘protection’ fee. Guess the guard felt
he needed to be taught a lesson.” Bribes were part of everyday life in Ravenwood, and residents
generally went along with the hated extortion. Guilds promised to shield their members from the
guards’ worst abuses, but in reality, the Guild Masters only intervened in the most extreme cases,
fearful of drawing the Lord Mayor’s ire. At least, that had been the excuse when Corran sought
justice from the Undertakers’ Guild for their father’s murder, a fatal beating on flimsy charges.

Rigan suspected the guards had killed their father because the neighborhood looked up to him, and if he’d decided to speak out in opposition, others might have followed. Even with the
passing years, the grief remained sharp, the injustice bitter.

Kell went to wash his hands in a bucket by the door. “Trent came by while you and Corran
were out. There’s been another attack, three dead. He wants you to go have a look and take care
of the bodies.”

Rigan and Corran exchanged a glance. “What kind of attack?”

Kell sighed. “What kind do you think? Creatures.” He hesitated. “I got the feeling from Trent
this was worse than usual.”

“Did Trent say what kind of creatures?” Corran asked, and Rigan picked up on an edge to his
brother’s voice.

Kell nodded. “Ghouls.”

Corran swore under his breath and looked away, pushing back old memories. “All right,” he
said, not quite managing to hide a shudder. “Let’s go get the bodies before it gets any later.
We’re going to have our hands full tonight.”

“Kell and I can go, if you want to start on the ones here,” Rigan offered.

Corran shook his head. “No. I’m not much use as an undertaker if I can’t go get the corpses
no matter how they came to an end,” Corran said.

Rigan heard the undercurrent in his tone. Kell glanced at Rigan, who gave a barely
perceptible nod, warning Kell to say nothing. Corran’s dealing with the memories the best way
he knows how, Rigan thought. I just wish there weren’t so many reminders.

“I’ll prepare the wash and the pigments, and get the shrouds ready,” Kell said. “I’ll have
these folks ready for your part of the ritual by the time you get back.” He gestured to the bodies
already laid out. “Might have to park the new ones in the cart for a bit and switch out—tables are

Corran grimaced. “That’ll help.” He turned to Rigan. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”
Kell gave them the directions Trent had provided. Corran took up the long poles of the
undertaker’s cart, which clattered behind him as they walked. Rigan knew better than to talk to
his brother when he was in this kind of mood. At best he could be present, keep Corran from
having to deal with the ghouls’ victims alone, and sit up with him afterward.

It’s only been three months since he buried Jora, since we almost had to bury him. The
memory’s raw, although he won’t mention it. But Kell and I both hear what he shouts in his
sleep. He’s still fighting them in his dreams, and still losing.

Rigan’s memories of that night were bad enough—Trent stumbling to the back door of the
shop, carrying Corran, bloody and unconscious; Corran’s too-still body on one of the mortuary
tables; Kell praying to Doharmu and any god who would listen to stave off death; Trent, covered
in Corran’s blood, telling them how he had found their brother and Jora out in the tavern barn,
the ghoul that attacked them already feasting on Jora’s fresh corpse.

Rigan never did understand why Trent had gone to the barn that night, or how he managed to
fight off the ghoul. Corran and Jora, no doubt, had slipped away for a tryst, expecting the barn to
be safe and private. Corran said little of the attack, and Rigan hoped his brother truly did not
remember all the details.

“We’re here.” Corran’s rough voice and expressionless face revealed more than any words.
Ross, the farrier, met them at the door. “I’m sorry to have to call you out,” he said.

“It’s our job,” Corran replied. “I’m just sorry the godsdamned ghouls are back.”

“Not for long,” Ross said under his breath. A glance passed between Corran and Ross. Rigan filed it away to ask Corran about later.

The stench hit Rigan as soon as they entered the barn. Two horses lay gutted in their stalls
and partially dismembered. Blood spattered the wooden walls and soaked the sawdust. Flies
swarmed on what the ghouls had left behind.

“They’re over here,” Ross said. The bodies of two men and a woman had been tossed aside
like discarded bones at a feast. Rigan swallowed down bile. Corran paled, his jaw working as he
ground his teeth.

Rigan and Corran knew better than most what remained of a corpse once a ghoul had
finished with it. Belly torn open to get to the soft organs; ribs split wide to access the heart. How
much of the flesh remained depended on the ghoul’s hunger and whether or not it feasted
undisturbed. Given the state these bodies were in—their faces were the only parts left
untouched—the ghouls had taken their time. Rigan closed his eyes and took a deep breath,
willing himself not to retch.

“What about the creatures?” Corran asked.

“Must have fled when they heard us coming,” Ross said. “We were making plenty of noise.”
Ross handed them each a shovel, and took one up himself. “There’s not much left, and what’s
there is… loose.”

“Who were they?” Rigan asked, not sure Corran felt up to asking questions.

Ross swallowed hard. “One of the men was my cousin, Tad. The other two were customers.

They brought in the two horses late in the day, and my cousin said he’d handle it.”

Rigan heard the guilt in Ross’s tone.

“Guild honors?” Corran asked, finding his voice, and Ross nodded.

Rigan brought the cart into the barn, stopping as close as possible to the mangled corpses. The bodies were likely to fall to pieces as soon as they began shoveling.

“Yeah,” Ross replied, getting past the lump in his throat. “Send them off right.” He shook his
head. “They say the monsters are all part of the Balance, like life and death cancel each other out
somehow. That’s bullshit, if you ask me.”

The three men bent to their work, trying not to think of the slippery bones and bloody bits as
bodies. Carcasses. Like what’s left when the butcher’s done with a hog, or the vultures are
finished with a cow, Rigan thought. The barn smelled of blood and entrails, copper and shit.
Rigan looked at what they loaded into the cart. Only the skulls made it possible to tell that the
remains had once been human.

“I’m sorry about this, but I need to do it—to keep them from rising as ghouls or restless
spirits,” Rigan said. He pulled a glass bottle from the bag at the front of the wagon, and carefully
removed the stopper, sprinkling the bodies with green vitriol to burn the flesh and prevent the
corpses from rising. The acid sizzled, sending up noxious tendrils of smoke. Rigan stoppered the
bottle and pulled out a bag of the salt-aconite-amanita mixture, dusting it over the bodies,
assuring that the spirits would remain at rest.

Ross nodded. “Better than having them return as one of those… things,” he said, shuddering.

“We’ll have them buried tomorrow,” Corran said as Rigan secured their grisly load.

“That’s more than fair,” Ross agreed. “Corran—you know if I’d had a choice about calling

“It’s our job.” Corran cut off the apology. Ross knew about Jora’s death. That didn’t change
the fact that they were the only Guild undertakers in this area of Ravenwood, and Ross was a

“I’ll be by tomorrow afternoon with the money,” Ross said, accompanying them to the door. “We’ll be done by then,” Corran replied. Rigan went to pick up the cart’s poles, but Corran
shook his head and lifted them himself.

Rigan did not argue. Easier for him to haul the wagon; that way he doesn’t have to look at
the bodies and remember when Jora’s brother brought her for burial.

Rigan felt for the reassuring bulk of his knife beneath his cloak—a steel blade rather than the
iron weapon they used in the banishing rite. No one knew the true nature of the monsters, or why
so many more had started appearing in Ravenwood of late. Ghouls weren’t like angry ghosts or
restless spirits that could be banished with salt, aconite, and iron. Whatever darkness spawned
them and the rest of their monstrous brethren, they were creatures of skin and bone; only
beheading would stop them.

Rigan kept his blade sharpened.

Saturday, July 8, 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.

It's finally over. We're all moved into the new house, we're unpacked, the bookshelves are set up, and things are getting back to normal. 

Getting back on track, I added 4 new titles to the review pile this week:

The Mongrel Mage by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King

The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Harkworth Hall by L.S. Johnson




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.

On the e-reader, I am about halfway through Blackwing by Ed McDonald, and in hardcover, I've just cracked the spine on The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: King Solomon's Curse by Andy McDermott

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

King Solomon's Curse by Andy McDermott
Expected publication: September 21st 2017 by Headline

Following on from THE MIDAS LEGACY, Andy McDermott's new Wilde and Chase novel sees our daring duo on the trail of a strange, ancient weapon of immense power hidden in a lost city deep in the African jungle. Perfect for fans of Clive Cussler, Chris Kuzneski, Dan Brown and Scott Mariani.

Nina Wilde is back on the hunt. Now a presenter of her own TV documentary series, Nina is in Jerusalem. Clues found at the Ark of the Covenant recovery site have led her to the ruins of the First Temple, buried beneath Temple Mount. Within them, Nina spots an opening to a previously hidden chamber - a map room which contains a model of a mysterious city thought to contain a great yet dangerous power hidden by King Solomon himself. Analysing the clues, Nina believes that the city is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the most dangerous locations on Earth.

Eddie is in England with their daughter Macy but Nina's phone call is about to change everything. He has had his own problems in the DRC in the past and he isn't about to let Nina go there alone.
Joining forces, Nina and Eddie are about to start a chain of events from which there might be no return...

These books are always a ton of fun, quick reads that deliver on the adventure and thrills, with some historical 'huh' and 'ah-ha' moments along the way.

Friday, June 30, 2017

WTF Friday: Behold the Void by Philip Fracassi

Well, another WTF Friday is upon us, which means we once again turn the Ruins over to those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't always get a lot of press, and which rarely benefit from any prominent retail shelf space.

This week's literary diversions come courtesy of long-time contributor, Donald Armfield.

I own "Mother" which was my first time reading Fracassi's work. That small little chapbook blew me away, with "Altar" following.

Behold the Void contains both stories, and more.

Mother: With a classic touch of horror Fracassi gives praise to "Mother," the birth of a child and a nightmare for parenting..

Altar: Fracassi turns the dial up for others who share my grudge. A well written horror of pool side fright that literally pulls you right in.

Soft Construction of a Sunset: Love is within the power of the mind. Like a setting sun things will melt away or self destruct. Power is what one man wanted more of.

The Horse Thief: A great shootout scene at the end and a hard kick from a horse.

Coffin: The secrets of the wood will be buried with the ones who knew.

The Baby Farmer: All children must die... Until the mark appears.

Fail-Safe: What kind of monster will a young boy become or will be become a man.

Mandala: Is another one of Fracassi's pieces that blew me away. The story builds suspense to the very end.... and the water is rising.

Fracassi has put my fear of drowning a couple inches closer to the bottom of the ocean. If you want a suspenseful mix of horror and weird fiction then "Behold the Void" is that collection.

Paperback, 292 pages
Published March 10th 2017 by JournalStone

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: The Romanov Ransom by Clive Cussler & Robin Burcell

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Romanov Ransom by Clive Cussler & Robin Burcell
Expected publication: September 12, 2017 by G.P. Putnam's Sons

Treasure-hunting team Sam and Remi Fargo's search for a Romanov fortune brings them into perilous contact with an ambitious neo-Nazi clan, in the thrilling adventure from the #1 New York Times-bestselling author.

In 1918, a ransom of enormous size was paid to free the Romanovs from the Bolsheviks, but, as history knows, the Romanovs died anyway. And the ransom? During World War II, the Nazis stole it from the Russians, and after that--it vanished. Until now.

When a modern-day kidnapping captures the attention of husband-and-wife team Sam and Remi Fargo, the couple soon learn that these long-lost riches may be back in play, held in trust by the descendants of a Nazi guerrilla faction called the Werewolves. It is their mission to establish the Fourth Reich, and their time is coming soon.

As the Fargos follow the trail across Europe, Northern Africa, and South America, they know only one thing. This quest is greater than anything they have ever done--it is their chance to make someone answer for unspeakable crimes, and to prevent them from happening again.

Nobody does popcorn thrillers and over-the-top treasure hunts quite like Clive Cussler, and the Fargos are probably my favorite characters next to Dirk Pitt. It's not quite a summer release, but still one to enjoy while kicking back outside for an afternoon.

Saturday, June 24, 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.

Well, we had our last garage sale today and a few dump runs to finish the day. Less than a week until we move, and hopefully I can get back into a routine. 

Despite the chaos of the last month and a bit, I did accept a trio of new review titles this week from a few authors I've read (and enjoyed) before - Mitzi SzeretoJustyna Plichta-Jendzio, and C. T. Phipps.


As a member of the Canadian Science Fiction & Fantasy Association, I also downloaded my voter's packet for the 2017 Aurora Awards this week, which has a ton of Canadian science fiction and fantasy titles I want to read, with a few of the highlights below (the last 2 are Best of the Decade nominees).




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.
Honestly, I haven't really had much time to read, but Mistress Of The Air was a fun diversion, so I will probably follow that up with a long-overdue read of Of Passion and Steam (which contains a Lady Sally short story).

What's topping your shelves this week?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin
Expected publication: August 15, 2017 by Orbit


The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother's mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

The remarkable conclusion to the post-apocalyptic and highly acclaimed trilogy that began with the multi-award-nominated The Fifth Season.

This is yet another one of this trilogies I have been really excited about, but just haven't made time for in my schedule. Maybe knowing that the final book is out there will kick my butt into gear.

Monday, June 19, 2017

#Steampunk #Erotica Review: Mistress Of The Air by S. Nano

Steampunk adventure, bondage erotica, and pulp humour. The three shouldn't go together. Hell, they shouldn't even be in the same sentence, much less the same book. And yet, in so far as Mistress Of The Air is concerned, the combination works.

I've been in something of a reading rut lately, and it seems S. Nano was precisely what I needed.

Mistress Of The Air is the story of Lady Sally Rudston-Chichester (a rich, eccentric, well-connected Dominatrix), The Corseted Domme (the largest airship to ever take to the skies), the odd assortment of men who accompany her, and the even odder assortment of steampunk sex toys and bondage devices that bring them all together. It is an altogether ridiculous tale, full of slapstick pratfalls, running gags, Wiley Coyote-like equipment malfunctions, and daring escapes from impossible situations. Against that backdrop, the bondage erotcia should seem awkward and rather forced, but the sheer charismatic extravagance of Lady Sally makes it all work.

The straight man to this comedic entourage is Captain Wyndham, the only man aboard The Corseted Domme not to feel the bite of her whip. If this were a movie, he'd be Harrison Ford, channeling the most daring characteristics of Han Solo and Indiana Jones, only with a sexy C-3PO replacing Chewbacca as co-pilot. The steampunk elements are as inventive as they are erotic, and their tendency to malfunction beneath the over-enthusiastic hand of Lady Sally keeps the story from getting stale or repetitive.

For my first taste of S. Nano, Mistress Of The Air was actually rather delightful.So much so that I intend to pick up the original three Lady Sally short stories (contained in Beltane Fire, Fifty Shades of Green, and Of Passion and Steam - the last of which I'm actually overdue in reviewing) in short order.

Kindle Edition, 282 pages
Published April 21st 2017 by Excessica

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Spotlight: Mistress Of The Air by S. Nano (#steampunk #erotica)


S. Nano

Genre: Comic, Steampunk, Erotica

Publisher: eXcessica

Date of Publication: 21st April 2017

ISBN: 978-1545250242

Number of pages: 270
Word Count: 79,000

Cover Artist: Kevin Blisse

Book Description:

Mistress Of The Air is a Comic, Steampunk, Erotic Adventure.

Lady Sally Rudston-Chichester owns a brass mine in Zanzibar, a Lapsang Souchong tea plantation in China, a rubber farm in Malaysia, trunk loads of corsetry, and the country’s largest collection of antique whips.

Larger than life, and itching to find new and inventive ways to punish her submissive gentlemen, the Edwardian dominatrix has a vision. Embracing the spirit of the age of aviation, she embarks on a series of adventures on her airship, ‘The Corseted Domme’, with her transvestite maid, Victoria, her airship pilot, Captain Wyndham, and her automaton sex-doll, Borghild.

A select group of submissive gentlemen, consisting of a duke, bishop, lawyer and banker, is invited to join Lady Sally so she can try out her dastardly, electric and steam-powered devices on them. She spanks, whips, and punishes her way across the Empires of Europe, dropping off to visit her aristocratic relatives and friends for afternoon tea.

But Lady Sally’s journey is not uneventful. War is threatening to break out and the Ministry of Aviation want to commandeer her airship for the war effort. And when ‘The Corseted Domme’ has a crash landing, Lady Sally realises there is a stowaway on board intent on sabotaging her airship.

‘Mistress of the Air’ is a genre-crossing comic, Steampunk, erotic adventure as Lady Sally delivers a BDSM kick up the back-side to the Edwardian country house novel.

Amazon UK     Amazon UK Print     BN



“Jolly bad luck on the final race, Wyndham. It was a daring move and deserving of greater

The captain’s face lit up at the compliment. He looked up but couldn’t help but be distracted by the sight of Lady’s Sally’s breasts. Her dress was cut daringly low, and the magnificent orbs of white flesh were pushed up enticingly by her corset and the cut of her gown.

And then she started talking. If Wyndham was embarrassed about what to say to her, he didn’t need to worry. She commanded the conversation and Wyndham listened, bewitched and mesmerised at the vision she laid before him. There was no escape for him. He was pinned into the corner by Lady Sally’s heaving breasts with no escape. He tried to concentrate on what she was saying, conscious of the treatment meted out on Monsieur Le Blon, all the time urging himself to focus on her face not her chest, but it was an enormous effort of will when they were practically thrust under his nose. 

She spoke of her airship. She described how vast it was going to be, how fast, how powerful, and how high it would fly. She described how sumptuously it would be fitted out. She extolled the virtues of her ocean liner of the air. Wyndham nodded enthusiastically as her breasts swelled and subsided with every excited explication of her venture. She enthused about her designers and engineers who were working on it, of the technical challenges they faced and how they had overcome them. Wyndham stood trapped in the corner of the ballroom like a frightened rabbit in headlights all the time trying to distract himself from the sight of Lady Sally’s enormous décolletage as it heaved up and down in front of his eyes.

Then she proceeded to explain how, as he must certainly know, she was the foremost dominatrix of her age and described with great enthusiasm the dungeon that would be fitted out on the airship, and how excited she was about the adventures she would have, and the whippings, spankings and punishments she would administer to the carefully selected group of submissive gentlemen who would be accompanying her on the airship’s maiden voyage.

“It’s my ambition, Captain Wyndham, to be the Mistress of the Air, yes…a veritable Mistress of the Air, and I envisage you playing a vital role in fulfilling my vision.”

Wyndham’s ears pricked up at those words but he only had the slightest moment to interject with a nervous, “oh really,” before the enormous breasts backed him even further into the corner. Lady Sally continued by praising his aviation skills and the daring manoeuvres she’d witnessed at the flying meeting. Wyndham flushed with pride. She went on, much to the captain’s delight, to say how those French aviators were all show and no guts, and she needed somebody who would take risks for her, to serve her loyally and selflessly. Finally, she wound up her diatribe and came directly to the point.

 “Now Captain. I pride myself on my instincts and judgement of character. You see, the matter is I need an airship pilot. I need someone who can share my enthusiasm for air flight and is a skilled aviator. I believe you are my man Wyndham.”

Lady Sally continued extolling the excitement of the new age, how she was going to take her airship on a grand tour across Europe and how he, Wyndham, would be her pilot.
Finally, she concluded, “So that’s all settled then, Captain Wyndham. I can assure you the financial rewards will be considerable. It’s good to have you on board. I’m sure we will share many adventures together. You can report to my airship station at Howden in Yorkshire. My maid, Victoria, will give you all the details.”

With one dismissive wave of a lace-gloved hand she breezed off, leaving the hapless Wyndham gaping in astonishment. He had been swept away by her charisma. He had barely uttered a word. At no point had he agreed to the venture yet he knew in his gut he would accept the challenge. He felt strangely compelled to help Lady Sally fulfil her vision of travel in the largest and fastest dirigible ever to be built.


About the Author:

S. Nano is an author of erotic stories with dark and exotic content in fantasy, paranormal or historical settings, often drawing on the themes of female supremacy, BDSM and fetish but with a seam of quirky humour running through them as well.

His first full-length erotic novel, ‘Adventures in Fetishland’, a BDSM/fetish re-invention of Alice in Wonderland, was published by Xcite Books. His short stories and novellas have been published by Xcite Books, House of Erotica, Forbidden Fiction, Coming Together and Greenwoman Publishing.

His second novel, ‘Mistress Of The Air’, a comic, Steampunk, erotic adventure will be published by eXcessica on 21st April 2017.

Mistress Of The Air Facebook: