THE MIDNIGHT SEA by Kat Ross

14 03 2017

FREE TODAY ON AMAZON

Nazafareen’s sister Ashraf was killed by the Druj (Undead things with iron swords and shadows whose touch meant death) when Nazafareen was twelve and Ashraf was seven. Now, all she lives for is revenge.

When the authorities-that-be discover she has the power to link with a daeva she willingly agrees to do so if this means that together she and the daeva will be a match for the Druj and able to hunt and destroy them. At first, she distrusts the daeva, whose name is Darius, thinking of him only as another kind of Druj but tamed and under her control – litle more than a sentient weapon. But living together, linked like that, she and Darius find themselves growing too close for her comfort in other ways.

This is an alternative version of ancient Persia and features a form of the dualistic Zoroastrian religion, in which two Gods fight an endless war, and people have to choose which side they are on, the Good or the Evil. (I have always found this form of dualism much more philosophically tenable than strict monotheism.) It also features both the prophet Zoroaster, the founder of this religion, and Alexander the Great, though here in this book they remain in the background; in Book 2, Blood of the Prophet, which I have already started reading, they both move into the foreground.

 

Extremely well written and highly recommended.





A Conversation with Writer Jim Hawkey/James Munro

1 03 2017

Kanti Burns interviews the author of the Mariana de la Mar books

Please note that Mariana de la Mar Book 2, Of Witches, Whores and Alchemists, will be on offer FREE from the 1st to the 5th of March.

* * *

Perhaps I should mention in advance that Jim and I are not strangers, though our friendship has always been at a distance, via the internet; we originally got to know each other when, for several years,  we both wrote reviews for the late, lamented MedievalMysteries.com.

KB: So, shall we start at the beginning? It’s a long time now since you wrote the first Mariana book. I remember reviewing it for Medieval Mysteries.

JM: A very long time. I suppose I’ve had Mariana on my mind for about fifteen years. I published the first completed Mariana novel, The Witch of Balintore, with Lulu in 2004.

KB: Then you published two more as part of a planned series, the Mariana Books. But what I want to know, as someone who wrote five-star reviews of the original books, is why you later withdrew them all and then, last year, started publishing radically revised versions of them with new titles and under a new pen-name, Jim Hawkey. And even then, back in 2004, why you started with Marian, Mariana, as a woman of – what? 26? – in The Witch of Balintore – and then afterwards worked backwards until finally you reached her childhood (in Mariana la Loca).

JM: Right. I often holiday in the north of Scotland, and I wrote The Witch of Balintore after spending a month near Tain and on the Nigg peninsula in Easter Ross – that’s where Balintore actually is. I’d already written half of a rather different novel, set in the same area but 800 years earlier, in the 6th century. In that story, the main protagonists were a small indigenous people I called the Elpin – Elps – and suddenly Mariana, who as I say had been on my mind for quite a while, acquired yet another strand to her already very mixed ancestry: Elpin blood, to go with her father’s Scottish ancestry (Pictish, Gaelic and Viking), and with her mother’s Spanish, Moorish, Jewish descent. And she acquired a name to go with it: MacElpin. From there, the novel took off: Mariana from Spain via Paris and London now in the north of Scotland among her father’s people and what were left of the indigenous Elps. It wrote itself, as they say. Then came, Mariana in Paris seven, eight years earlier, with Raoul, who had been in Scotland with her – or rather would be in Scotland with her –

KB: It confuses even you!

JM: No! That was a slip of the tongue. Then I knew I had to write the story of her life before Paris, the one that was originally published as Wrong Way Round the Church. I started it, but got stuck, distracted by other things, busy at the school, and so on. But listen. Let’s leave that and switch to the new series of books. The new Thirteen-Card Spread, the one set in Paris, is called Of Witches, Whores & Alchemists.

KB: Which you wrote under the name Jim Hawkey. Why is that? When an author publishes under two or more different names, it’s often because he prefers to keep the different genres he writes in quite separate. Is that what is happening here?

JM: It is, yes. Under my own name, I normally publish poetry and articles and posts on esoteric religion and philosophy, gnosis, reincarnation, as anyone who follows me on Twitter for instance, or WordPress, will know. When I first started writing the Mariana books, I envisaged them fitting in with this –

KB: Literary novels written by a poet.

JM: Yes, and with esoteric themes, like the witchcraft and astral travel and tarot in what is now Of Witches, Whores & Alchemists.

KB: And the Cathars and the Mary Magdalene Heresy in The Rose of Sharon. Well, I’ve read the new versions of both, and I think I can see what is coming.

JM: The best laid plans of mice and authors gang oft aglay. I’ve found I’m incapable of imposing my will on the main characters in my novels. Mariana in the first two books as I originally wrote them was a Lady with a capital L forced into playing the whore. It wasn’t really working in Thirteen-Card Spread, and spoilt the book. In Wrong Way Round the Church, the prequel to Thirteen-Card Spread, it became obvious that to everyone else she was a whore playing at being a Lady, whatever her background may have been. Everyone, that is, except her late father’s old friend, the Scottish knights Sir Farquhar. He insisted on her being her father’s daughter, the Scottish Lady, rather than the Spanish whore she had become between being kidnapped at the age of fourteen and arriving in Paris with him soon before her twentieth birthday. I believe strongly in character-led novels, and these two were leading me from – from –

KB: From James Munro to Jim Hawkey. From literary fiction to what Graham Green called “entertainments” laced with erotica.

JM: Well, not erotica exactly, but given Mariana’s special niche

KB: So you rewrote the books, giving Mariana a free hand and allowing all those around her to react and respond in the way they naturally would.

JM: Exactly. I’d been bowdlerising my own work! And the turning point was Avignon in the last part of The Rose of Sharon, where Mariana is forced through no fault of her own to work once again in a bordel. The Mariana who – let’s be honest – took to that like a duck to water was not the Lady Marian – or even the Mariana! – I’d depicted in Paris or in Scotland. They had to be completely rewritten. But in order to do that successfully, I had to give myself free rein as well. As James Munro I was – I am – too straight, too much the child of my upbringing, too tight-arsed in a word – too inhibited, too repressed. But when I adopt the Jim Hawkey persona …

KB: You are suddenly free to – I was going to say to be yourself. Which is the real you, I wonder? But can we just get the new books and their titles clear for people who read this. I notice that Mariana in Paris, Of Witches, Whores & Alchemists, is Mariana de la Mar 2 now.

JM: Yes. What used to be the prequel has now been rewritten and published as The Rose of Sharon, Mariana de la Mar 1.

KB: And there is now a new novella-length prequel called Mariana la Loca.

JM: Crazy Mariana. Yes. It is simply a few scenes from her rather magical childhood by the Mar Menor in the south of Spain.

KB: Okay, so we have the prequel and books 1 and 2 all published. And next?

JM: The Undeparted Dead (Mariana de la Mar 3) will be out on April 1st. That’s set in Southwark, for hundreds of years the red-light district across the Thames from London, and in Essex, where Mariana finds herself being used as live bait by powerful people attempting to trap the walking dead –

KB: Zombies? Don’t tell me!

JM: Revenants, back up out of the grave. It seems there were many such in the years following the Black Death, especially in Essex. But also a wraith and a harpy and –

KB: I want an advance copy!

JM: You’ll be the very first. Then there is Mariana in Revolt, which will be Mariana de la Mar 4. You remember what happened in 1381?

KB: The Peasants’ Revolt. But I had no idea Mariana was caught up in it?

JM: Oh, yes. And on both sides. As the Lady that old Sir Farquhar, who has now assumed complete authority over her, still expects her to be, and as one of the girls at the Green Unicorn in Southwark and the Shag in Colchester, Essex, where many of the rebels and their leaders come from.

KB: So let me try to  list them, in order:

Mariana la Loca

The Rose of Sharon

Of Witches, Whores and Alchemists

These are the ones currently available.

JM: In Kindle, yes. Of Witches, Whores and Alchemists is also available in paperback. Then there’s The Undeparted Dead coming out on 1st April, as I said, and Mariana in Revolt, provisional publication date 1st September. This  last one contains a sub-plot called An Errand for Lady Alice, which I’d originally intended to stand alone –

KB: Lady Alice? Not the much-maligned Alice Perrers?

JM: Yes, old Edward III’s mistress.

KB: Plots and sub-plots. Right. Anyway, that brings me nicely to something I always like asking authors about: your thoughts on the interface between fact and fiction and fantasy in historical novels, especially those set in the medieval period. Alice Perrers is fact, a historical character, while Mariana is fiction, a figment of your imagination.

JM: Right. And then we have mermaids and lamiae, which are fantasy. Let’s try to clarify this. Bruce wins at Bannockburn: historical fact. Bruce hiding in a cave by the sea watching a spider swing back and forth: legend that could be historical fact. A woman with Bruce in the cave: historical fiction.

KB: How do you know?

JM: I just made it up. A mermaid with Bruce in the cave: fantasy. So far, fairly clear. But between the last two, for instance, if it’s the woman, not the mermaid, but she’s a witch? She is communicating with the spider, influencing it, making it keep swinging: historical fiction, or fantasy?

KB: Yes, witchcraft – and shape-shifting. All the things that Mariana can do, and her Scottish grandmother, and Niniane in Of Witches, Whores & Alchemists, and the old witch that Niniane and Mariana take on. And then, of course, the revenants and wraiths and harpies you just mentioned.

JM: The question is, to what extent should our criteria for what could have been true depend on their idea of what could be true rather than our idea now?

KB: How many impossible things was it possible for them to believe before breakfast.

JM: When you are writing historical fiction, it’s all a matter of point of view. From the protagonist’s point of view, anything is acceptable and believable that would have been acceptable and believable then, at that time, while anything which would not have been acceptable and believable is inadmissable. When it is First Person narrative, this becomes even more so. A hint by the author to the effect that of course he doesn’t believe all this rubbish, and the whole thing is ruined. His hero becomes a time-traveller, not a native born and bred in the period.

KB: I like that, yes. Homer mixes history, legend, fiction and fantasy and his characters are all absolutely at home in that setting, and we have the impression he believes in it all as well. Whereas Euripides’ Agamemnon and Iphigeneia are clearly time-travellers.

JM: That’s a very good example.

KB: Thank you. And now we’re going to have to stop.

JM: Yes, but before we do, may I just say that I agree with what you wrote in your review of Of Witches, Whores and Alchemists that although it is Book 2 of the series it may actually be the best one to start with.

KB: Because it stands alone, yes, whereas The Rose of Sharon, Mariana de la Mar 1, reads very much like a prelude to it. Probably because you wrote it after Book 2!

JM: True. Anyway, that’s why I chose Book 2, Of Witches, Whores and Alchemists, for my free give-away this week, to introduce the series to new readers.

KB: Okay, I’ll draw attention to that.

* * *

So here we go. Of Witches, Whores and Alchemists, FREE on Amazon from 1st March to 5th March – Amazon.com on the left, Amazon.co.uk on the right.

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hawkey2

 

 

 

 

 





PHOENIX BLOOD by Jenny Schwartz

27 02 2017

phoenix-bloodThis is a story set in a world of magic. Not quite the various worlds of vampires and/or werewolves we have all grown accustomed to – or the world of Hogwarts, although it does feature an English boarding school (the Old School of the series title) where magical talents are fostered.

Sadie Howard’s talent is Finding. She can find anything, whether it be a physical object like the pendant she is carrying when the story opens, or something more intangible like the safety she is seeking as she races into a bikers’ bar on the opening page pursued by two “Stag Mercenaries” intent on killing her and seizing the pendant, and finds safety with a man sitting quietly in the corner with his pet bird of paradise.

(Do you think one can judge a person’s age by the length of her sentences?)

A man called Marcus Aurelius, who nine years earlier “couldn’t fight a feather duster” but now effortlessly disposes of the two killers; who nine years ago had dropped her publicly and brutally, and broken her heart; who nine years ago had not believed in magic but proves now to be a powerful magician in his own right.

(I did it again.)

That, then, is the situation. But who wants the pendant so badly that he is sending Stag Mercenaries after Sadie? Will Sadie and Marcus ever complete the long road journey across the States to California, where she must deliver the pendant? Can their love have survived the nine years of heartbreak and loneliness they both (yes, both) went through? And what, really, is the entity now passing as a bird of paradise and Marcus’s companion?

A great story that on two successive nights kept me riveted to my Kindle till the early hours of the morning.





THE PENDANT by Lawton Paul

27 02 2017

Germany, 1944; Chickasaw, Florida, present day

pendant-coverThe book opens with a chapter entitled Marlina. The chapters are not numbered, only named, and this functions as a prologue, set seventy years before the main action of the story.

Marlina is a nurse in a German military hospital which is now behind enemy lines. She saves a little boy’s life when the only remaining doctor declares him dead. But she has some help in the form of a miraculous metal cone (of extra-terrestrial origin, or so the author implies). She does not know this, but she does take the cone with her when, dressed up as a nun by a helpful priest, she abandons her post and sets out on foot with the boy, heading into the unknown.

Forward 70 years. Angela Fleetwood is a cancer survivor whose husband, Walt, originally brought her to Chickasaw to die. Instead, she recovered, and he died. She believes he was murdered, and this is confirmed in her mind when a neighbour of theirs drowns in her bath and the Sheriff declares that, too, an accident, though Angela is quite sure it was no such thing. Especially as the neighbour, known to be an old woman, proved to have the body of a fit young woman. Her hair, too, was the hair of a young woman; it had been died grey.

Angela must be one of the most original amateur sleuths ever to hit the bookshelves (or rather Kindle). I loved her. And I loved her bizarre collection of neighbours and supporters.

I shan’t forget this story or these characters, and that for me is one of the basic criteria for Five Stars





THE DEVIL’S PRAYER by Luke Gracias

28 12 2016

devils-paryer-cover

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review.

In the 13th Century, in order to save his life, a monk did a deal with the Devil, and as a result the Codex Giga, the Devil’s Bible, came into being. It was lost for centuries, then rediscovered, but by this time, twelve pages of the original manuscript were missing, the twelve vitally important pages known as the Devil’s Prayer.

It is said that one day a woman will give birth to the child of the Devil. And if this person ever gets his hands on the pages of the Devil’s Prayer, then all Hell will be let loose on the world.

When the story opens, we are in the convent of Sancta Therese, a few miles north of Zamora, Spain. There, during the Semana Santa (Easter Week), a secret ritual is enacted, as it has been every year since the 1200s, but this time, at its climax, a nun commits suicide by hanging herself from the bell-tower.

Meanwhile, in Australia, in a world as different as it can well get, a young woman called Siobhan Russo is informed by a priest that her mother, Denise, who has been missing from home for six years, has committed suicide in Spain. That she was a nun going by the name of Sister Benedictine. And that she, Siobhan, must travel at once to Spain, to collect in person a message her mother left for her.

It turns out that Denise, the mother, had done a deal with the Devil years earlier, in order to get revenge and healing after she had been raped and left paralysed. This rape and its consequences form a vivid short story which stands out as rather different from the rest of the book, and after reading it we identify with Denise quite as much as we do with her now grown-up daughter Siobhan. At that time, the Devil had healed Denise in exchange for the souls of her attackers. But her dealings with the Devil had not stopped there. The Devil later brought the child Siobhan back to life after she had drowned in their swimming-pool.

But I am telling you too much of the story. Read it for yourself. It is brilliantly researched and replete with fascinating details. And don’t be put off by all this about “the Devil”. This is a very real, very evil, Devil, a Devil it is almost impossible to say No to – and as the author says in the book, “God and the Devil – one does not exist without the other.” It is a story I shall never forget, and full of characters I shall never forget.

I visited the website http://www.devilsprayer.com and found some marvellous photos of the scenes where the more bizarre sections of the story are set. Here is one of them:

bonechapel





CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS

24 12 2016

HAPPY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!

Let me start by saying that Christmas Bloody Christmas is the title of a book and is definitely not my opinion of the holiday!!

That said, I admit that I am celebrating the holiday by reading this very book, and have so far finished only the first story, which is excellent (if you like spooky horror). I have not been able to find a cover for the whole collection, but this is the cover for that first story:

lora-lee-cover

 

 





THE JAGUAR PRINCESS by Clare Bell

10 12 2016

Pre-Columban Mexico

Let me start with an extract to give you something of the feel of the book:

jaguar-princess-coverIn the Aztec year Three Reed, in the age of the Earthquake Sun, a six-year-old girl named Mixcatl sat in a barge threading its way through the waterways of Tenochtitlan. She glowered at the passing reflections and tugged angrily at the slave yoke about her neck. Leather thongs hobbled her ankles and wrists. Her hands had been tied in front, where she could chew on the length between her wrists when the overseer wasn’t looking. She was making little progressd in freeing herself; the leather was tough.

Scowling and wincing with pain, she felt the sides of her neck above the wooden yoke, where the flesh was raw and full of splinters. A crude and clumsy thing, the collar was made of two Y-forked pieces, lashed together to form a a tight diamond-shaped opening for her neck and two handles that stuck out over her shoulders.

Mixcatl knew well what those handles were used for. She had been dragged from the jobbing lot where slaves were collected for transport to market. The collar handles made it easier for the slave traders to seize slaves and shove them into the market boat.

Reaching up awkwardly with her bound hands …

This story is different from my usual medieval reads because it is set in medieval Mexico not Europe, and from my usual fantasy fixes because the girl changes into a jaguar not a wolf. I don’t know if there were wolves in Mexico but jaguars seem to have been quite common there and very much feared. I noticed the interesting detail, too, that because jaguars are bigger than people and weigh more than them, as people the shape-changers are very heavy (dense is the right word, I think) and can’t for instance swim: they sink straight to the bottom. I would hate that. (The only shape changing I would fancy is into a mermaid!)

As a small child, Mixcatl is sold into slavery – or kidnapped and sold, it isn’t clear.

At the age of six, she arrives in Tenochtitlan, the ancient Aztec city, and there she is sold to Speaking Quail. He is a tutor at the school for young monks and priests of their appalling religion (thousands of people have their hearts torn out or their skin torn off or are burnt alive as a sacrifice every month) but he is a good man.

The story depicts Mixcatl’s development as an artist and the gradual realisation that she is also a shape-shifter. The king wants to kill her – sacrifice her – but she is protected by the ruler of a neighboring state, a kind of philosopher-king who hates the religion of Tenochtitlan.

I liked the description of the city and the way of life, something I hadn’t even imagined before. And I loved Mixcatl, the jaguar princess of the title, and her mentor, the old art teacher who – but I mustn’t tell you any more. Only that after you read this you will never think of the Aztecs and Tenochtitlan the same way again.

There is a film, Cat People, with Nastassia Kinski, and you see her change into a jaguar. That and some other scenes  from the film are very moving, (and should not be missed – nor should the David Bowie soundtrack, so I’m posting it here in case you have missed it!) but the story in this book is much better than the plot of that film.