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Review: Ruining Miss Wrotham by Emily Larkin

Ruining Miss Wrotham is the fifth in Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother historical romances. Like the splendid Unmasking Miss Appleby before it, it’s set in the Regency period and follows the story of a descendent of a woman who used a faerie wish to grant her female descendents a wish of their own on a significant birthday. Wishes are always granted but are not always wisely chosen – this faerie godmother is baleful indeed. Some wishes for faerie gifts end in madness and death.

I went ahead to read Ruining Miss Wrotham without first reading the intervening books of the series, but it interfered with my enjoyment not a single jot. This story is as well crafted and energetically paced as the first, with crisp characterisation, wonderful wit and rich period detail, yet all with a modern sensibility. No swooning heroines here, and the heroes are strong and kind.

The Blurb

Eleanor Wrotham has sworn off overbearing men, but she needs a man’s help—and the man who steps forward is as domineering as he is dangerous: the notorious Mordecai Black.

The illegitimate son of an earl, Mordecai is infamous for his skill with women. His affairs are legendary—but few people realize that Mordecai has rules, and one of them is: Never ruin a woman.

But if Mordecai helps Miss Wrotham, she will be ruined.

Ruining Miss Wrotham follows Eleanor – otherwise known as Nell – as she tries desperately to find her sister, who really is a ruined woman, having run off with a soldier when she was fifteen. Sophia’s ruin has tainted Nell as well, ending her engagement to Roger, Earl of Dereham. Abandoned by their father, Sophia has been left fending for herself, and her letters to her sister have been intercepted and destroyed.

But Nell has finally received a long-delayed letter from her sister, and she’ll do anything she must to save her. But it’s still a week until her 23rd birthday, when she’ll wish for the faerie gift of being able to find people. Until then, she’s relying on Roger’s cousin, Morcedai Black, the illegitimate son of the previous Lord Dereham, because a week might be too long.

Nell learns that, despite his reputation as  rake, Mordecai Black is a decent man, and though he’s had lovers he has never ruined a woman. He’s also in love with Nell’s vivacity and repressed penchant to be unconventional, but his proposal is rejected because she finds him dictatorial. She’s had quite enough of men telling her what to do.

But she’s falling for him too, and decides that if she’s ruined by association anyway, what would it matter to take the next step?

Ruining Miss Wrotham takes our characters across England and too unsalubrious parts of the world in the desperate search for Sophia and her baby. It also takes Nell and Mordecai through their own histories and growing connection, through danger and the arrival of the faerie gift, which doesn’t go as planned.

It’s an emotional ride, but with the comfort of knowing it will arrive at a happy ending. It was a much-needed balm after I’d finished reading the dark and depressing The Handmaid’s Tale and The Little Stranger in the weeks before.

Ruining Miss Wrotham has launched my Month of Reading Happy Books as an antidote to the preceding two and the state of the world generally, and I couldn’t have made a better choice!

Get Ruining Miss Wrotham

 

Review: Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath

One of the things I enjoy about Tumblr is that you never know what surprising new thing will cross your path. One day on my dash, amid all the posts about incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, people being thrilled by Yuri on Ice (it’s charming; I loved it) and The Science Side of Tumblr, a post about Jason Porath’s Rejected Princesses artwork came past putting some vapour-brain who claimed no woman of colour ever invented a thing or amounted to much.

Following the links I discovered that Jason Porath had once worked as an animator for Dreamworks. The idea for his series of the women of history and legend who deserve to be better known came from Jason and his fellow animators discussing the questions: Who is the least likely candidate for an animated princess movie? (Hence the ‘Rejected’ in front of ‘Princesses’ in the title.)

Porath kept suggesting women he’d learned about that the rest of the crew had never heard of.  “I thought that should change,” he says in the forward.

The result is a book of nearly 100 women of history and legend (some smudging that line) who were powerful, cunning, determined, inventive, deadly, ambitious, righteous, and altogether superbly badass.

Each entry is illustrated with a portrait in an animated-princess style, though the subject matter isn’t necessarily Disneyesque. Each is coded with markers to note how graphic the content will be, from a nice good defeats evil green to warning for violence, abuse, rape and self harm, so that readers can better choose what to share with their kids.

Sounds grim at times, but Porath has a flair for storytelling and a sassy wit, in the footnotes as well as the text. His breeziness doesn’t ignore the more troubling parts of these women’s fates (or sometimes very stabby behaviour). They’re not all good women, but they are women of note who should be better known.

Of course, some of them are well known to me, like Ada Lovelace and (thanks to Netflix’s Marco Polo series) Khutulan, but most were new to me.

One reviewer questioned the historical accuracy of some entries, but Porath provides a bibliography and I look forward to investigating more about these women, now I know who they are.

I read my copy on my Kindle app on the iPad so I could better enjoy the colourful art.

 

Buy Rejected Princesses

More Rejected Princesses

News: Sherlock Holmes short stories and CrimesceneWA

“I hear of Sherlock everywhere since you became his chronicler.” Mycroft Holmes, ‘The Greek Interpreter’.

You may have noticed that I’ve been writing a lot of Holmesian fiction of late – sometimes in short stories where they are the traditional epic best friends, and sometimes as a romantic couple. (I maintain that all interpretations are valid interpretations.)

Whichever approach I take, the world’s most famous crime fighting duo solve crimes and bicker amiably, and are enormous fun to write.

I’m delighted to announce two upcoming anthologies in which I have Holmes and Watson stories (the epic best friends approach).

Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Casebook is due out in hardcover in November 2017, but the cover was recent revealed along with the list of contributors and the editor, Christopher Sequeira.

Bonnier Publishing’s blurb on the fully illustrated anthology says:

It’s 1890. Holmes’s fame has spread even to the colonies, and he and his stalwart chronicler Watson are swept up in an array of mysteries Down Under. They find themselves summoned from place to place, dealing with exciting and unique mysteries in every corner of this strange island continent.

All the stories are original and are set in Australia. My contribution, ‘The Mystery of the Miner’s Wife’, is set in Ballarat. I’m so excited to be in the company of Lucy Sussex, LJM Owen, Kaaron Warren, Steve Cameron, Jason Franks, Kerry Greenwood and others.

Keep an eye out here or at Bonnier’s imprint, Echo Publishing, for more news closer to the release date.

But wait, there’s more!

I also have a story in MX Publishing’s latest anthology of canon-era Holmes stories. ‘The Case of the Temperamental Terrier’ appears in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part VI: 2017 Annual, which is due for release on 22 May 2017.

Proceeds of the book support the Stepping Stones school for children with learning difficulties that operates out of Arthur Conan Doyle’s former home, Undershaw.

Here’s an excerpt from my story:

“I swear Mrs Hudson, some days after the park, it’s like he’s a different animal!”

These words, overheard as Mrs Hudson spoke to her friend on the front step of 221b Baker Street, were the herald of one of Sherlock Holmes’s oddest cases. In fact, Holmes and I, on our way to a programme of violin concertos in the city, would have passed both women by had Mrs Rees not added, “Though the next day he’s always back to being Charlie the snap-hound again, more’s the pity. Miss Darrow likes him better with some snap, she says. Of course, he doesn’t snap at her. ”

Holmes abruptly ceased his stroll and regarded the white Aberdeen terrier at Mrs Rees’s feet with curiosity. Charlie was a common sight each morning as Mrs Rees, the housekeeper from 189 Baker Street, took her mistress’s pet to the park. The dog was notorious for his dour disapproval of the street boys who frequented Baker Street and his stern persecution of the park squirrels.

Charlie cocked his head and regarded Holmes with as much impudent curiosity as that with which Holmes regarded the dog.

“And which animal does he seem to be today?” Holmes asked.

You can pre-order the paperback or hardcover at:

My final bit of news is that I’ll be a guest at CrimesceneWA in September 2017. You can follow the convention and announcements as they happen at CrimesceneWA’s Facebook page.

 

Review: And Then… Volume 1

I do love an adventure story. I love them even more when they feature two people adventuring together. They don’t have to be two human people – just two beings having mutual adventures is very much my jam. It’s the main appeal of the Sherlock Holmes stories for me, and it’s the reason I was so delighted to have a story accepted into Clan Destine Press’s And Then… anthology last year.

Volume One of the anthology was published in December 2016. It contains my story, ‘Virgin Soil‘, a tale of gold rush shenanigans, dark magic, monsters and a shapeshifting man/rat.

My delight has grown exponentially by seeing my name in the Table of Contents alongside so many writers I admire. There I am, nestled between Peter M Ball and Dan Rabarts, whose story here, ‘Tipuna Tapu’, has just won the Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction in the 2016 AHWA Australian Shadows Awards! I couldn’t be happier.

Although linked as adventure stories featuring dynamic duos, all written by Australasian authors, the settings and themes of the fiction in And Then… are otherwise a gorgeous sprawl across time and genre. Historical, contemporary, fantastical and futuristic in turns, in all kinds of locales, And Then… is a sparkling hoard of treasure.

A few of my favourite gems:

I loved the gritty noir feel of both Jason Nahrung’s ‘The Mermaid Club’ and Peter M Ball’s ‘Deadbeat’. Jason Franks ‘Exli and the Dragon’, with one protagonist essentially a sentient pillow, is witty and surprising, and displays Franks’s characteristic energy and originality. Lucy Sussex takes us to the jungle in ‘Batgirl in Borneo’, and is as always wry, clever and thoughtful. The collection is rounded out with Tansy Rayner Roberts’ ‘Death at the Dragon Circus’, a story of teeth and ways of flying, but also fondness and the search for a place to be yourself.

Each story in this anthology could easily be the launching pad for a series, and I’d happily spend more time with all these adventurers and the worlds they inhabit. Perhaps we can encourage the writers to do just that!

In the meantime, there’s And Then… Volume 1, with volume 2 to come, and all these worlds of adventure to explore.

Buy And Then… Volume 1

 

Narrelle’s 2016 Holiday Reading Rec List

2016-banner

 

Whatever the end of the year means to you, generally it means a few lazy days and grabbing some time for a bit of reading. Whether you’re preparing to soak up the sun in the southern hemisphere, or rug up warm in front of the fire (or frolic how you please somewhere in the middle) it’s always a good time for a new book!

Naturally, I have some recommendations for you!

Narrelle M Harris has a bumper year

If you’ve somehow missed the excellent year I’ve had, may I draw your attention not only to The Adventure of the Colonial Boy, a Holmes/Watson romance set in Australia in 1893, but also to Wilderness, the third of my sexy spy thrillers about Martine Dubois and Philip Marsden.

In addition, there are the many wonderful anthologies in which my work’s appeared this year: Intrepid Horizons, A Certain Persuasion (queer interpretations of Jane Austen), The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes stories Part V: Christmas Adventures (traditional Victorian era Holmes and Watson) and A Murmuring of Bees (queer Holmes/Watson romance and erotica). In the next few weeks, Clan Destine’s And Then… anthology will be joining them with my 1851 fantasy, “Virgin Soil”.

That’s enough variety to keep you going for a few weeks, but if you’ve already been a champion and supported my work throughtout the year, I can also recommend some other fantastic books.

Narrelle’s 2016 recommendations

GoodReads stats tell me that I read 84 books this year, so I was clearly reading as fast and hard as I was writing.  So many good books too! Here are some of my favourites:

Romance and Erotica

alberts wars 2Herotica Volume 1 by Kerry Greenwood. Full of delicious queer love stories throughout history.

Albert’s Wars by Stewart Jackel. A bittersweet wartime love story. I cried. 

Definitely Naughty by Jo Leigh. Short, fast, fun, sexy read!

Science Fiction

THRIVE coverThrive by Mary Borsellino. This is the review in which I sang songs of praise to this book.

Are you there, God? It is I, Robot by Tom Cho. Tom’s work, like Mary Borsellino’s, is always an absolutely brilliant, brain-opening treat.

Trucksong by Andrew Macrae. Sentient trucks. Post apocalyptic Australia. So Aussie. So gritty. So good.

 

Fantasy

12th nightMonstrous Little Voices: These five novellas set in and around Shakespeare’s plays and life were an early gem and utterly brilliant.

  • Coral Bones by Foz Meadows;
  • The Course of True Love by Kate Hearfield;
  • The Unkindest Cut by Emma Newman;
  • Even in the Cannon’s Mouth by Adrian Tchaikovsky; and
  • On the Twelfth Night by Jonathan Barnes

Lady Helen and The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman. Regency-era demon hunters, deft and fast-paced with fabulous frocks, manners that are not always impeccable and sexual tension you could cut with a knife!

The Time of the Ghosts by Gillian Polack. I didn’t think anybody could make me find Canberra interesting, but I was mistaken. Gillian Pollack does it effortlessly with the intriguing and marvellous tale of three older women, their protege Kat and all the kid-darkghosts becoming corporeal and dangerous in the ACT.

Tansy Rayner Roberts’ delightful novellas Glass Slipper Scandal: A Castle Charming Story, Unmagical Boy Story: a Belladonna University novella and Kid Dark Against The Machine. This woman keeps writing winners.

Young Adult

Pin Drop by Roz Monette. Life on the street for a young woman in America. Realistic but hopeful, with a positive ending.

fast pitch coverFast Pitch by Tim Martin and J Creighton Brown. I don’t normally go for sports books. I really loved this one.

Thyla by Kate Gordon. Tasmanian YA. An amnesiac girl is found in the wilderness. As her memory slowly returns, we learn why Tessa is a bit unclear on modern technology and what’s really going on with some missing girls from the school she now attends. Loved this one. Looking to get my hands on the next, Vulpi.

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Crime

DrownedVanillaGhost Girls by Cath Ferla. Set in Sydney’s Chinatown, it’s crime in a transient Australian community and it’s fantastic.

Livia Day’s Cafe La Femme series:  A Trifle Dead, Drowned Vanilla and The Blackmail Blend novella. Set in Hobart. Tasty, tasty crime! (Livia Day is another name for Tansy Rayner Roberts, just going to prove that everything she writes is perfect)

The Astrologer’s Daughter by Rebecca Lim. Another crime novel exploring more diverse sections of Australia’s community. The splash of paranormal with the astrological charts just adds piquancy to the fantastic whole.

Non Fiction

Richard III: The Maligned Kingthe-maligned-king by Annette Carson. I’m convinced. I’m now a committed Ricardian. What’s more, I think Henry Tudor is the one who did for the kids. Boo. Hiss.

Reckoning: A Memoir by Magda Szubanksi. Powerful and deeply moving.

Blockbuster! Fergus Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Lucy Sussex. Lucy breathes vitality and wry humour into this biography of a book.

Lives Beyond Baker Street: A Biographical Dictionary of Sherlock Holmes’s Contemporaries by Christopher Redmond is an incredibly useful book of the prominent, the famous, the influential and the infamous of the Victorian era. Handy if you’re writing Sherlockian fiction.


That’s probably enough to be getting on with!

Enjoy your reading, one and all, and I hope you have a relaxing break as we head into 2017, filled with excellent reading!

And please share your recommendations in the comments for holiday reading.

Xmas Gifts for Writers: The Journal of Infinite Possibility

img_6469It’s only November, I know, but Christmas is coming anyway, with all the inevitability of sunrise, vampires in fiction, and a writer’s need for either coffee or wine (or both).

Speaking of writer’s needs, here’s a really neat gift idea for the writer in your life. Whether they’ve got thirty books under their sparkly belt or they’re still experimenting with style, form and pen name, you can’t go wrong with an inspirational journal.

And oh look, here’s one that Clan Destine Press prepared earlier!

The Journal of Infinite Possibility is a gorgeous little journal indeed. For a start, it’s full of pages waiting to be filled!

Mind you, the creators of this journal are writers and artists themselves and well know the terrifying tyranny of the blank page. That’s why the pages here aren’t exactly blank.

img_6463Instead, every page of The Journal of Infinite Possibility contains a picture, a quote, a prompt. Places to doodle when the words aren’t wording, images to colour in when doodles aren’t even doodling.

Actually, there’s plenty of space here for artists as well as writers, or for those scarily talented people who do both! They’ll certainly be inspired by the gorgeous covers and corner illustrations by Sarah Pain, Ashlea Bechaz, Vicky Pratt, Loraine Cooper and Ran Valerhon! (Two of that august list have created covers for my books with Clan Destine!)

img_6470A few of the pages are shown in part here so you can see how gorgeous this whole package is. The only real danger is that the writer who gets this won’t want to ink up the pretty pages. But ink it up, folks! Make it messy and crazy and bursting to full with your own  ideas sparked by these words and pictures and blank spaces just begging to be decorated with words, lines, lists, scrawls, sketches and the seeds of something bigger.

What the hell. Don’t get it for some other writer. Get it for yourself.

It’s what I’ve done.

New release: A Murmuring of Bees

amob-5Improbable Press has a new anthology of Holmes/Watson romance stories, celebrating the celebrated sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his biographer, friend and (in these stories) lover John Watson.

Some stories are sweet, others steamy. Many involve cases. Some are set in the Victorian era while others take place in 21st century London. In some they are young men solving crimes, and in others they have retired to Sussex.

They all contain some sort of reference to bees or honey.

I’m utterly delighted to have both a short story and a poem in the book and to be in the company of other writers including Kerry Greenwood (the Phryne Fisher series) and Atlin Merrick (The Night They Met) as well as many excellent writers being professionally published for the first time.

The Blurb

cover-a-murmuring-of-beesThink of Sherlock Holmes and you think of mysteries, John Watson…and bees. While Arthur Conan Doyle sent the great detective to tend hives in retirement, here bees are front and centre in stories of love and romance, war and hope, of honey on the tongue and a sting in the tail. In tales of rare nectars, secret diaries, and the private language of lovers, bees may be the buzzing heart of the story…or as ephemeral as a murmur. What you’ll find in every tale are John Watson and Sherlock Holmes helping one another, wanting one another, loving one another.

To encourage a world where such love is seen for the precious thing it is, profits from “A Murmuring of Bees” will be donated to the It Gets Better Project.

Excerpt from my story, Nectar

After they’d been in the basement for thirty six hours, they weren’t joking any more. Sherlock refused to discuss his symptoms but John knew them anyway: the decreased sweating; the onset of muscle cramps; the increased respiration and the incipient fever. Sherlock was more dehydrated than John, and was betraying the signs sooner. Neither of them was critical yet, but they were far from comfortable.

After everything they’d been through together, it began to look like this was how they’d die. Together. Of thirst.

In the thirty-seventh hour, the storm broke out.

Rain spattered through the open window onto John’s face, waking him from a reverie that was more a stupor. He absently licked drops of water from his lips, and again: then his eyes were wide open. He lurched to his feet and staggered towards the window.

The pattering rain became a driving downfall. It ran in rivulets through the broken window.

John pushed his cheek against the wall, shoving the side of his mouth against a steady stream that gathered in a crack and poured down the bricks. Water flowed over his lips and tongue and down his dry, dry, dry throat. The water tasted of dust and brick and God knew what else, and it was the best water John had ever tasted in his life. He pooled a mouthful and swallowed it. Pooled a second. Swallowed it.

He tried to put his hands under the stream, but the chains wouldn’t let him get that close. So he pooled a third mouthful, larger than the first two, and held it behind pressed lips.

He took two strides to Sherlock’s side, dropped to his knees, and shook Sherlock awake.

Sherlock peered at him with weary perplexity. John tapped Sherlock’s mouth with his fingers. When Sherlock didn’t respond immediately, John poked his fingers between Sherlock’s dry lips to part them, hovered—his mouth millimetres from Sherlock’s—and then he opened his mouth to let the water dribble carefully down.

Sherlock made a small, desperate noise and swallowed the water. He tried to catch a spilled droplet with his tongue.

“Sorry,” rasped John, “Had a full mouth and couldn’t warn you. Wake up, now.” He was already moving back to the wet bricks; to the precious rivulet of rainwater.

After a small swallow, John filled his mouth and returned to Sherlock. He transferred the precious cargo into Sherlock’s cupped hands. Sherlock was sucking at his wet fingers as John returned to the window; came back ready to fill Sherlock’s palms again.

Sherlock tilted his head back. “Lose too much that way,” he croaked, and opened his mouth.

London rained on them for an hour. It was almost like she wanted them to live. For an hour, John went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. He drank sips almost as a by-product of collecting water for Sherlock, and fed mouthful after mouthful of water to his friend. Buying time.

Sherlock revived a little with every mouthful, though his first strange thought on waking to John watering him mouth-to-mouth persisted.

What kind of flower actively feeds nectar to the bee?

The rain stopped, and John stopped, slumping in exhaustion beside Sherlock on the floor. They leaned against each other.

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me,” laughed John, “You’ll make me think we’re not getting out of this.”

Sherlock didn’t say anything.

“You’re welcome,” said John.

To find out how they are rescued (of course they are rescued!) and what happens afterwards, pick up A Murmuring of Bees and support a good cause at the same time.

Pre-orders for the 5 December paperback release are now available at:

A Murmuring of Bees is already available as an ebook.

 

Review: Pin Drop by Roz Monette

pin-dropIssues like homelessness loom ever-larger on the horizon, especially in western countries where you’d think we were wealthy enough as nations to ensure everyone has the minimum requirements of food and shelter. This feels especially true when it comes to children.

Yet homelessness continues, spurring less compassion and more censure – not of the system but of individuals living on the streets. Young, fit and healthy? Why haven’t you got a job? Why aren’t you at home? Why aren’t you in foster care, at least? The idea seems to be that if you’re on the street, that’s where you want to be.

Of course, it’s a much more complex issue than that, with neglect, abuse, poverty and mental health issues among the many contributing factors. It can be hard to wrap your head around it all, or to work out how to help.

Cedar Grove Publishing, which has a catalogue of strong titles under its banner, brings the excellent Pin Drop, by Roz Monette, to the table.

Pin Drop is narrated by Mo Perez, a very smart 16 year old living below the poverty line with her older sister (her legal guardian) having escaped from a foster system that failed them both. She’s a voracious reader, though struggles with basic maths. Her nickname, Pin Drop, was earned by her capacity to drop raw, unvarnished, unpopular facts into thoughtless conversations. Mo finds people difficult, but she adores the dogs she walks to earn a little money.

Then her sister takes off with a new boyfriend, leaving Mo to fend for herself. Despite her best efforts, Mo has to leave school and the cheap, terrible flat she shared with Marci, and ends up on the streets, where she has to survive on her native cunning and merely fifth grade education. Living on her wits and the edge of starvation, she nevertheless strives to remain honest and independent. When she meets Derek, a newbie cop, they both have lessons to learn.

Mo’s voice in Pin Drop is raw and powerful. You can feel compassion for her situation but she defies any attempt at pity – she’s strong, she is fiercely independent and she’s a fighter. Her distrust of people is understandable given her past, but she’s far from heartless and has compassion for the underdog. Her integrity comes at a cost but you can’t really begrudge her for it.

Mo’s story is set in America, and her story isn’t everybody’s, but it’s a powerful insight into how some people end up on the streets, and how difficult it is to get off them again. And she tells it without lecturing, hectoring or preaching. She just tells it like it is.

The book is pitched at older teens, but I think it’s an excellent book for anyone who wants a lively, engaging, hard story about a real world topic that seems beyond fixing. It may not solve the issue, but it will give you some insights into the human beings who have to live it.

Buy Pin Drop

 

Review: The Evolution of Glory Loomis by Michael Bassen

glory loomisThirteen year old Glory Loomis discovers a second hand book about strange goings on in Roswell that appear to show her parents and much older brother, but under completely different names. Before she gets far into the book, strange things start happening around Glory – and to her.

The Evolution of Glory Loomis proceeds to unspool at a great pace – not unlike the pace in which Glory begins her evolution into a metasapien and resolves on ways to save the world. It’s snappy, light and fun, more cartoony than realistic with its approach, but very entertaining.

From the start, it’s clear that several people have their eye on Glory, who seems a pretty typical teen in the opening chapters. Who these people are, and whether they intend her harm or good, is revealed over time – and some characters motivations switch or become deeper as the story moves on.

The villains can be fairly Scooby-gang level, but author Michael Bassen has done a fantastic job of exploring the impact of the physical and pyschological changes on Glory. She has to cope not only with an intellectual expansion, but catching up with the emotional and philosophical sophistication that is way ahead of her teenaged experienced. Some dark things happen, and she makes some serious mistakes, though she tries from them, especially when it comes to a fellow late-blooming metasapien named Peter.

The story touches only lightly on the ethics of making the world a better place without actually asking anyone in the world about it, but it’s a likeable book that flows easily. That it left me with questions about the rightness of Glory’s actions – although they are for the greater good –  is not, I think, a bad thing.

Buy The Evolution of Glory Loomis

Read about The Evolution of Glory Loomis at Cedar Grove Publishing

Review: Ashamet, Desert Born by Terry Jackman

ashamet cover

Sometimes, you open a book and it’s just not the right time for it. That happened to me six months ago when I looked at the opening paragraphs of Chapter 1 of Ashamet, Desert Born. I saw odd names, references to non-Earth physiology, and thought, “I don’t have the mental energy for this”. I put it aside and went on to other books that I was both reading and writing.

That, dear reader, was a mistake.

Fortunately, a week ago I saw it on my ereader again, remembered that I’d offered to review it and decided to try it once more.

I’m so glad I did.

Ashamet, Desert Born is a marvellous book. It’s full of intrigue and adventure; it’s intelligent and engaging; it’s romantic and exciting!

The book is narrated by the Ashamet of the title – a prince whose father bears a holy symbol that Ash lacks, though both suspect is just the result of jiggery-pokery by the priests. Ash is happy to be a soldier, and we meet him on his wedding day. Descriptions of him and the various peoples come to his great celebration indicate they are a humanoid but not necessarily human people, but all the potential awkwardness I saw in that never eventuates, because Terry Jackman is a subtle and clever writer.

This is certainly an alien world, and its creation shows influence from Arabian Nights tales, but it unfolds as its own thing. Various cultures, social mores, rituals and practices unfold with slow grace, all from Ashamet’s perspective, so the reader is never overwhelmed with tedious infodump.

Ashamet’s world is one in which males outnumber females to a huge degree – and actually my only criticism of the book is that with females so completely elided in the story, I find myself wondering how such a biologically awkward thing has come to pass. I’d very much like to see more female characters in any follow up (and I very much want to read a follow up!).

This leaves us with a complex society in which same-gender relations are the norm. So when Ashamet receives a rare slave as a wedding gift – a male who is rather old to be a virgin, but clearly an innocent and so prized – his relationship with the unusual Keril becomes the central theme of the book, affecting as it does both Ashamet’s emotional life, as well as his social and political ones – and Keril’s too, of course.

We already know from the very first paragraph that assassins have tried to kill Ash. From there, an intricate story is woven of court politics, family relations, complex alliances, and traditional social expectations.

Ash narrates with humour and depth – a smart male, politically savvy and spiritually sceptical. The odd things that begin to occur, including a itching sensation on his arm that begins to form into a sign of heavenly blessing, alarming because he doesn’t believe in such powers.

Jackman manages to build a narrative in delicate layers that reveals a world without lecturing, that reveals Ashamet to us through his thoughts and deeds, and then weaves more and more complication into the story until we reach the action-packed denoument. Because we only know what Ashamet knows, some elements still come as revelations, because they haven’t been heavily foreshadowed by the writer.

In the end, I found Ashamet, Desert Born beautifully paced, filled with characters of depth and texture, with enough action balanced with enough thoughtfulness and a thread of tension to reveal a fully developed world. The enigmatic, innocent and  yet perceptive Keril is balanced beautifully with the wit, courage, strength and heart of Prince Ashamet. Their love story is interwoven flawlessly into the wider tale of political and religious intrigue.

Of course I wish there were more of a female perspective – but with enough mystery left at the end of the story (which is otherwise well concluded) I have hopes that a second book in this world will give us more of a look into the female experience of these fascinating cultures and people.

I will certainly be looking for more work from Terry Jackman, who writes with such intelligence, emotional depth and subtlety.

Read and interview with Terry Jackman

Buy Ashamet, Desert Born