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Review: The Wizardry of Jewish Women by Gillian Polack

I’m still reading only happy books for June, but a thing that made me happy recently was discovering that Gillian Polack’s The Wizardry of Jewish Women was getting a reissue with a new publisher!

The book was originally published by Satalyte Publishing, but not long after it was launched, the press had to close down. As the book was no longer available, I decided not to review it and frustrate anybody who wanted to get hold of it.

But now it’s available again as an e-book through Bookview Cafe, a cooperative publisher run by authors from across a range of genres. Bookview Cafe’s authors include Katharine Kerr, Vonda N. McIntyre and Ursula Le Guin, so you know they’re onto something.

I’m so pleased Wizardry is available again because I loved it. I’ve enjoyed Gillian Polack’s intriguing blend of the everyday and the magical before, in The Time of the Ghosts, Ms Cellophane, and The Art of Effective Dreaming.

The Wizardry of Jewish Women – the blurb

Pink tutus, sarcasm, amulets and bushfires: that is suburban fantasy in Australian cities. It is magic.

Life is never quite what it seems, even without the lost family heritage delivered to Judith and Belinda in boxes.

Judith (who owns the haunted lemon tree and half the boxes) wants an ordinary life. Mostly.

Belinda wants to not be so very worthy. If Belinda weren’t Judith’s sister, and if it wasn’t for bushfires and bigots, Belinda’s life would be perfectly ordinary. Judith will tell you so. You don’t even have to ask.

Belinda’s friend Rhonda has a superpower. Each time she sees the future or reveals deep secrets, seekers for the ‘New Nostradamus’ come closer to destroying her life. Her hold on normalcy is very fragile. So is her hold on safety.

Judith and Rhonda are haunted, Judith by her past and Rhonda by her gift of prophecy. Will they ever come into the sunshine and find happiness?

The review

The Wizardry of Jewish Women is primarily set, like The Time of the Ghosts and Ms Cellophane, in  Canberra. It seems an unlikely city, full as it is of bureaucracy, windswept suburbia and a reputation for Olympic Level Mundanity – but it’s one of Polack’s special skills to taken what seems to be a grey surface and fill it with subtle colour and disturbing undercurrents. It certainly makes me see my old hometown in new lights when I visit.

The story begins when Judith and her sister Belinda inheret a box from an apparently disreputable grandmother and discover a scrap book of hidden Jewish magic, recorded in a kind of hidden message. Their histories and their actions with the book’s contents are obscurely bound up with those of Rhonda, whose prophetic insights have turned her into a recluse.

Each woman faces domestic difficulties as well as wider threats, from the very real-world danger of Australian bushfires and oppressive exes, to the more creeping, opaque threats of lurking but tangible evil and the consequences of magic.

Polack weaves an inexorable web of subtle detail and slow reveals. What begins in humble Australian suburbia, populated with middle aged women who are agitated with where they are in life and the family and friends that surround them, has the oddness creeping in before long. Small strangenesses, fleeting discomforts, hints of threat and threads of something sinister build and build until protagonist and reader both are confronted with the need for action.

The Wizardry of Jewish Women is a fine example of Polack’s skill with this kind of world-building, taking us from intimate domestic life and troubles to the still-intimate peculiarities of her finely drawn characters’ intersections with magic and devilry.

Along with all the virtues of the writing and tone as a well-crafted piece of fiction, the book springs from an Australian experience that departs from the mainstream, inspired as it is by Polack’s own Jewish heritage and experiences. It’s woven from more diverse cultural threads than the usual Aussie milieu and offers a richer, deeper view of Australian culture and experience as a result.

Wryly humorous, very human and steeped in both suburbian realities and fantastical strangeness, The Wizardry of Jewish Women moves from quietly engaging to absolutely gripping before reaching its satisfying conclusion.

It’s a fabulous little book. You should read it.

Get The Wizardry of Jewish Women in Mobi or Epub formats at Bookview Cafe. 

Review: Fake Geek Girl by Tansy Rayner Roberts

As mentioned in my review of Ruining Miss Wrotham, I’m on a kick of reading only happy books for the month of June, as an antidote to the bleakness of the world and some deeply disturbing and unhappy books I’ve read in the first half of the year.

Along with more of Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother series, which I’ll review a bit later, I pounced last weekend on some short fiction by one of my favourite writers, Tansy Rayner Roberts.

Roberts has some fantastically fun short story series going on at present, including the Castle Charming series (Glass Slipper Scandal is the first one of those) and the Belladonna University stories, the first of which is Fake Geek Girl.

The Fake Geek Girl of the story is a rock band, headed by the charismatic Holly, who writes songs inspired by the geeky life of her twin sister Hebe despite the fact Holly doesn’t really get the geek life. The songs are ironic. Possibly. The band’s drummer, Sage, is Hebe’s ex.

They’re all good friends – though cracks are starting to appear as Sage frets that Holly’s about to break up the band to go solo. Fellow bandmember, Juniper, has her own set of issues, Sage and his uni flatmates are looking for a new roomie, Hebe might like a guy she’s met if he’ll stop mistaking her for her sister, and Holly might be hooking up with an awful ex.

The action is set at Belladonna University, which splits its curriclum between the Real (that is, magic studies) and the Unreal (which is mundane stuff like engineering).

The tale unfolds with characteristic energy, sharp wit and cracklingly good characterisation. If it wasn’t enough that I adore the writing, in this book everyone has agency, the narrative boldly tramples over stereotypes and cliche, and it flings a bucketful of glittering fresh narrative confetti everywhere. To put the fruit-and-feather Carmen Miranda bonnet on top of the glory cake, Fake Geek Girl ends with a song lyric that makes want to sing. It speaks to my heart, no lie.

Actually, a while back, as a result of supporting Roberts’ Patreon, I read the second of the Belladonna University stories, Unmagical Boy Story, before I got to this one. It didn’t harm the reading of this book, which contains a reference to the characters who appear in Unmagical Boy Story. I am very thrilled to see, however, that the third Belladonna University story, The Bromancers, is currently being podcast on the Patreon. Soon it shall be released in ebook form and it shall be mine, I tell you, miiiiiiiiiiiiiine.

In conclusion: if you’d like a happy read, for the month of June or at any other time, the Belladonna University series, starting with Fake Geek Girl, is right up there in glitter and song. It’s a positively joyful thing.

By the way, I’m all ears for Happy Reads. If you have any recommendations for books that fit the bill, leave a comment!

Cover Reveal: Near Miss

I’m excited to reveal the cover of my next work of fiction – a Clan Destine Press Encounters short story. Near Miss is full of romance, sex, fabulous hair, rock music and political yarn.

Near Miss

Glory is a rock chick. She’s fierce. From a distance she keeps seeing a gorgeous woman with fantastic hair.

Ness is a hairdresser. She was named for the Loch. She’s been admiring the lead singer of Glory Be for ages.

Fate keeps preventing them from meeting, until the night of the yarnbombing in Melbourne’s Treasury Gardens – a night that knits their lives together.

*

Near Miss is due out in July 2017

Cover art by Willson Rowe

 

New Release: And Then…: The Great Big Book of Awesome Adventure Tales Volume 1

and-then-cover-onlyIn 2015, Clan Destine Press launched an Indiegogo fundraiser to create a fabulous anthology of rollicking adventure stories!

Just over a year later, on 31st December 2016, And Then…: The Great Big Book of Awesome Adventure Tales Volume 1 sprang into the world, arms upraised, TA DAAAAAA! to be at least one good thing in 2016.

Clan Destine invited some of Australia and New Zealand’s best genre writers to be part of the anthology, and I’m very proud to have been one of them. In Volume One, I keep excellent company with so many people whose work I admire: Sulari Gentill,  Jason Nahrung, Alan Baxter, Jason Franks, Lucy Sussex, Amanda Wrangles, Evelyn Tsitas, Peter M Ball, Dan Rabarts, Kat Clay, Sophie Masson, Tor Roxburgh, Emilie Collyer and Tansy Rayner Roberts.

This volume contains 15 stories of adventures: each with two heroes, each with a touch of something Aussie or Kiwi about them – but otherwise set across different times and places, from Goldrush Melbourne to outer space.

And Then… is edited by Ruth Wykes and Kylie Fox, with title page illustrations by Vicky Pratt and cover art by Sarah Pain

My story, ‘Virgin Soil’, teams a young man with magical powers with a shapeshifter, a man-turned-rat (or vice-versa; he doesn’t remember how he started). Some people might think they’re black magicians, and possibly they are, but someone has to do the dirty work, even on the side of the good guys. It’s set in 1851 during Melbourne’s gold rush years and involves virgin sacrifice – but maybe not the type you’re thinking of.

An excerpt from Virgin Soil:

Rain had made a mud creek of Queen Street, and the blighted stuff stuck like tar to boots of toff and toiler alike. All these thousands milling off the ships at the wharf were no ruddy help either. Sooner the fools were all off to Ballarat for the diggings, the better; or it would be, if there weren’t thousands more on their way, just as foolhardy.

Lucius wove in and out of the crowd, as mud-footed as the rest and more threadbare than most. He darted between the shifting bodies, dodging low to look under elbows and past waists, or stood on tiptoe trying to see over shoulders, and much luck to him, little titch that he was. Finally, he caught sight of his quarry. He shouldered between a burly blacksmith with his knapsack and a Chinaman late arrived from California’s Gold Mountain in pursuit.

‘Oi, Cato,’ said Lucius, coming up shoulder-to-shoulder with his wiry mate, ‘Put it away, eh?’

The accosted Cato, as grubby and as threadbare as his friend, raised an eyebrow at him, his clear blue eyes all bemused, until Lucius jerked his head at Cato’s rear endage, and at the long, slender, and slightly scaly tail that hung down low enough to be seen under Cato’s  weathered Dutch pea jacket.

‘Oh, go to,’ Cato cheerily scolded his tail. He wriggled and the tail disappeared, not only from under the jacket but back into his actual flesh, ‘Alas, I forget to reel the whole in, sometimes.’

‘Well, it is a handsome tail,’ Lucius observed. His eyes were also blue, and sometimes he and Cato were mistaken for brothers, though there was no blood and 260 years between them. Yet they were brothers enough.

Cato plucked at Lucius’s sleeve. ‘There’s the fellow.’ He nodded at a strapping young lad of 19 or so standing with his whiskered father, directing the unloading of goods from The Lady Jane, new arrived from the old country, that had something more useful than gold-diggers on board.

‘Aye,’ breathed Lucius, head close to Cato’s, ‘That’s our virgin lad. It’s a shame. He seems a good chap.’

Fourteen people nearly trod them into the mud for standing still, so they lifted their heels and went with the stream a little way, till they could draw aside into the relative stillness of a cart awaiting a load. One of the horses blew a raspberry with its big hairy lips and gave Cato an affronted look, but horses never paid him much mind. Dogs were another matter.

‘If he is a good fellow,’ said Cato, his lips pursed in a way that made his whole face sharp, ‘Then he would not begrudge his sacrifice for the greater good.’

Lucius scowled, unimpressed with the argument. ‘And would you go whistling to your doom for such nobility?’

Cato, who had tried to do so once or twice, pushed his cheek against Lucius’s shoulder and rubbed. ‘There, there, my Luke. The deed must be done.’

‘I know. Don’t have to like it, though.’

Get And Then… (ebook)

Paperback coming soon, as is Volume 2 in due course.

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.

Quintette of Questions: Eleanor Musgrove

Quintette asks writers five quick questions. This week’s interview is with:

Eleanor Musgrove

COVER IDEAS 41.What’s the name of your latest book – and how hard was it to pick a title?

My new book is called Submerge, and it was a bit of a nightmare to name, actually – I was referring to it as ‘The Bowler Hat novel’ and even ‘Bowler Hats 1’ until the day before I sent it to my publisher! In the end, it wasn’t until I started thinking about a continuation of the story that I realised it would make sense to name it after the central club – and it relates to the themes of the story quite well, too!

2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?

As Jamie, I’d probably cast Jaz Deol, who gamers may know as the voice of Henry Green in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate – he matches up very nicely with how I picture him. For Gina, I’d be inclined to go for Natalie Dormer or someone like her – fun and effortlessly glamorous. As for Addie and Miles, I have yet to find the perfect cast! I think it’s important for people to imagine the characters in their own ways, though, and I’d love to hear who readers would cast as my leads.

3. What five words best describe your story?

Ooh, these questions always stump me. Hmm, let’s see…
Mystery. Friendship. Intrigue. Deception. Romance. How’s that?

4. Who is your favourite fictional couple or team?

Ooh. Well, I won’t lie – my first thought was of Aaron and Robert from Emmerdale! They are playing my heart like a rocking guitar solo right now. My usual answers, however, is that my favourite couple are Benedick and Beatrice from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. They’re bickering children half the time, but they’re very devoted to one another and they feel very real, even centuries after they were written.

What song reflects a theme, character or scene in your book?

Deviating from the four main characters for a moment, I have a secondary character readers will see a fair bit of who has a drag act. The show always starts with a combination of ‘Copacabana’ and ‘Whatever Lola Wants’ – the latter actually makes me think of both Luke and his alter-ego, for different reasons, so that’s the song that immediately comes to mind. It’s probably one of the most regularly-heard songs at the club, too!

The version I’m most familiar with – and therefore rather fond of – is Della Reese’s – from the Magnum advert! That said, Ella Fitzgerald does a cracking rendition, too.

About Submerge

Jamie Hill walks into his local LGBT+ nightclub, Submerge, intending to make friends and have a good time. When he meets comedian Addie Crewe and her girlfriend Gina Wilson, his night is already looking up – but it’s the man Gina introduces him to who really catches his eye. Miles Bradford seems to be everything Jamie could want in a man: smart, funny, kind. Jamie can’t take his eyes off him.

But though Submerge might sparkle on the surface, Jamie knows that the club, just like himself, hides darker secrets in its depths … and even Miles might not be as clean-cut as he appears.

About Eleanor Musgrove

eleanormusgrove-150x150Eleanor Musgrove was born in a seaside town on the South Coast of England, where she developed a love of writing when she was very young. Other ambitions – and homes – have come and gone, but she has always wanted to be an author. After lots of practice, both through writing fan fiction and through participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) most years, Submerge is her first novel. She’s pretty excited about it!

Buy Submerge:

Review: Herotica, Volume 1 by Kerry Greenwood

HeroticaKerry Greenwood may be best known for her Phryne Fisher and Corinna Chapman series, but she has written far and wide, including SF, fantasy and her Delphic Women trilogy, retelling the stories of Media, Cassandra and Electra.

The fabulously diverse and busy Ms Greenwood also takes great delight in romance, including queermance, and has just launched two books of Herotica – that is, ‘heroic erotica’

Clan Destine describes the first volume of Herotica as ‘tales of love and lust between heroic and adventurous men across the ages from Ancient Egypt to a future in space’. Kerry Greenwood describes it as ‘wonderful stories of gorgeous gay men shagging each other senseless in impeccable historical settings’.

Both descriptions are delightfully accurate, and it’s a wonderful thing to read so many stories of men falling in love and getting a happy-ever-after (with an occasional ‘happy-for-now’) ending. I love a happy ending and given the mainstream’s habit of presenting queer stories full of punishment and pain, these stories were an especial joy.

Greenwood has cleverly – and quite charmingly – followed storytelling conventions of the eras in which the stories are set. In tales set in classic ancient cultures, men tend to meet, declare their undying love for each other on the instant and then dedicate themselves to one another thereafter. Stories in later eras have the protagonists generally taking a bit of time to get to know each other, before, bless them, declaring thir undying love and dedicating themselves to one another for life.

The 36 stories start with two men conducting a symbolic battle between Horus and Set and the evacuation of Atlantis; they end with spaceships, androids, heavenly beings and earthy, loving humans. In between are Romans, Greeks and Welsh druids; there are time travellers and summoners of demons; there’s Leonardo Da Vinci, William Shakespeare and Noel Coward; Holmes and Watson and King Arthur’s Court; wars and peacetime, humour and drama; and above all, love.

It’s inexpressibly charming that all the stories and their couples having happy endings (though some are a little bittersweet). Most of the do indeed have these ‘gorgeous gay men shagging each other senseless’, but their communion is rarely explicit, full of the sweetness of love as well as passion.

Favourite stories include… well, all of them. But that’s not especially helpful, so I’ll single out a few.

  • The Library Angel is a love story for booklovers. The Angel presides over an afterlife where all the storytellers and those who loved, and saved, knowledge find their rest, along with all the lost books. This is where our heroes from the burning library of Alexandria find themselves, and it sounds like paradise to me.
  • Aqaue Sulis is one of the stories that ends with notes indicating the story was built on little hints from real life (in this case, an unusual grave from the borders of Roman Bath). In the story, two people have been pulled through time to the Minerva Pool from their respective futures and forge a new life in their new shared past.
  • The Devil’s Bargain sees a scholar summoning a demon to ask for love. Of course, demons can’t be trusted, but things don’t turn out quite how either the summoner or the demon predicted.
  • Salai and Mentzi  is the story of two of  Leonardo Da Vinci’s household and the last days of the Great Master’s life. Salai is the name given to the man who was the model for Da Vinci’s last great painting of John the Baptist.
  • The Secret Diary of Dr John Watson, MD is of course a story after my own heart, with its reading of Holmes and Watson as a love story.
  • Do Not Despair is not likewise a Biggles story, but it’s Biggles-esque and full of derring-do as well as heroic love.
  • I Never Got the Hang of Thursdays is a space opera of a story: it’s a lot of fun and pays tribute to a lot of humorous forebears, including Douglas Adams and The Princess Bride. A sexy space pirate is always good value.
  • Spaceships Other Planets has an awkward genius and his longsuffering best friend finally working their secretly-in-love selves out. I love this sort of thing better than chocolate!

These are particular favourites, but all the stories are a delight – and for all that the theme is consistent, they each have a fresh story to tell, proving Kerry Greenwood has hundreds of stories yet to tell us.

Which is by way of saying that I need to get my hands on volume 2!

Buy Herotica Volume 1

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

 

This year: the writing whirlwind!

And thenSome years, my writing schedule looks pretty quiet. I’m always writing up a storm, but in the way of the writing world, I am not always publishing up a storm.

This year seems a little different. Of course, numerous projects are still in waiting and may be delayed, but if all goes well it’ll look like I haven’t slept for six months while I wrote ALL THE THINGS.

As a bit of a round-up:

And Then… anthology

My story, Virgin Soil, is slated to appear late in 2016 in the two-volume And Then… anthology of Antipodean adventure stories, coming from Clan Destine Press!

Virgin Soil is set in Melbourne and the goldfields in 1851. It’s about a young man with magical powers, his equally gifted friend, a 400 year old shapeshifter who can’t remember if he began as a rat or a man because he has both memories, and a monster that requires a virgin sacrifice. Which may not mean what you think it means. Moran and Cato might look like the bad guys, but even the good guys need someone who’ll do the dirty work…

An Indiegogo project is underway for people who’d like to pre-order the anthology, which contains stories from fantastic Australian genre writers like Kerry Greenwood, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Jason Franks, Alan Baxter, and heaps more. Pop on over and pre-order the anthology as ebooks, paperbacks or hardbacks, and with extra book incentives!

Intrepid Horizons

intrepidhorizonskindlecoverA story called Death’s Door is in a science fiction anthology called Intrepid Horizons, published by UK small press, Jay Henge in April 2016.

The story is about a young woman who writes poetry about Death. Death is a bit of a fanboy and is stalking her to read it. They get to know each other and that changes how they view their own existence… If you’re interested:

The Adventure of the Colonial Boy

ACB launchThis Holmes/Watson adventure romance set in Australia in 1893 takes a homoerotic interpretation of the legendary friendship out of subtext and makes it just plain text.

In it, Watson, believing Holmes to have died at the Reichenbach Falls, received a summons to Australia. Shocked and hardly daring to believe it true, Watson sails for Melbourne. There, he and Sherlock Holmes have to confront their heretofore unexpressed attachment to each other, while at the same time in pursuit of (and pursued by) a deadly menace involving a repulsive red leech.

Reviews have been great so far, and I’ve spoken about it on the radio and in a couple of interviews. It’s from UK publisher Improbable Press, and I’m already doing more work with them. (There’s a big list of where to get the book in paperback or ebook on this page.)

The rest of the year

As I said, it’s all in flux to a degree, but on the cards for publication later this year are a Secret Agents, Secret Lives story, and another for the Talbott and Burns Mysteries. I’ve just submitted a short queermance story to one publisher with a positive reception, so if that comes off, it’ll be out towards the end of the year. Another queermance story submitted to an anthology may go ahead round that time too, so that will be cool.

A paranormal queermance novel is looking good with one publisher, and I’m co-writing a new Holmes/Watson adventure romance in a modern setting for Improbable Press, called God Save the Queen, which will be out in the latter half of 2016 all being equal.

A few more stories are in various pipelines, so we’ll see how they go. And of course I’m still writing up a storm, as usual.

Whatever happens, it’s a very big year for me already. Thank you to everyone who’s been part of my journey so far, and who continue to support me. May your library be ever full of books that give you joy.

 

Review: Reign of Beasts by Tansy Rayner Roberts

0117HARP_ReignBeasts1I’ve been on a Tansy Rayner Roberts jag lately, reading the entire Cafe La Femme series she writes under the name Livia Day and finally getting to the third book in her fabulous fantasy Creature Court trilogy. I have no idea why I waited so long to get to Reign of Beasts, but it was worth the wait!

I have previously waxed exceedingly lyrical about Tansy Rayner Roberts’ skills as a storyteller, particularly with her plotting. You can never tell where the story’s going to go (in an entirely good way) and each revelation unfurls a dozen possibilities with it. Like the seers seeing a multiverse of futures, it takes a while for the possibilities to be narrowed down – and even then, there’s really no predicting the outcome.

Except that it’ll be satisfying. Oh yes, it will.

Reign of Beasts continues in this magnificent trend, as we run fleet-footed in the wake of everyone’s terrible decisions and rapid beating of their fragile, mistrustful hearts, towards an ending that is epic and utterly satisfying.

This novel brings to a conclusion the beautifully and densely crafted world where humans with incredible powers, gifted to them by a nebulous energy called animor, can turn into animals – hence their name of the Creature Court. Every night they fight a little known enemy from the sky, and by day conduct themselves and their courtesi like it’s the last days of Rome. Which it sort of is, as the Creature Court of Aufleur (and the courts of other cities) are slowly losing their war. The city of Tierce has already been swallowed by the sky, and the people of the daylight don’t even remember it existed.

And now we have the tyrannical Garnet – perhaps worse than Nero ever was – who has returned with dressmaker and surprise Power and Majesty (head of the Court), Velody. They’d both been swallowed by the sky and their return throws the Creature Court into disarray. Well. More disarray than usual.

But the final battle with the sky is coming, and everyone has to work out where their loyalties lie, and it may not be in the same place as where their love resides. Distrust, betrayal, prophesies, love triangles (and pyramids – some of this is much too complex for 3D geometry) and desperation are the obstacles. Not to mention the greatest mystery of them all: why is there a sky war at all?

Reign of Beasts begins in the past, with the Creature Court oddity, Poet, telling the story of his beginnings as an orphan in a theatre show and how he came to join the Creature Court. His story is interwoven with the current troubles and machinations of the Court, until it’s very clear exactly how much he’s had to do with the mess they’re all in, and the schemes surrounding what’s to come.Power and Majesty cover

Once we’re all caught up, the story barrels on ahead at breakneck speed once more. Even the quiet parts are somehow vibrant with the waiting for what happens next?! We’re also never entirely ‘all caught up’ because Roberts continues to cleverly weave in the history of characters and cities that are utterly in tune with everything we’ve known to date, but shed fresh light on current events and coming conclusion.

And even when we finally understand the war and its cause and how it ends, nothing ends obviously. Not everyone gets a happy ending, but perhaps everyone gets a satisfying one. One that makes sense within who they are and what they need.

I could blather on for a bit, but that would be taking up time you should be spending on reading this trilogy. Go. Go now. Off you go. Read this award-winning magnificence! Shoo!

Buy Power and Majesty:

shattered cityBuy The Shattered City:

Buy Reign of Beasts

Other reading while you’re waiting for your books to download