Book Review: Burnt Sugar

Burnt Sugar is the first in the Never Afters Series by Kirstyn McDermott, and published by Brain Jar Press (QLD, Australia).

I’ve been a long-term fan of Kirstyn’s dark revisioned fairytales. Burnt Sugar is up there with the best. Told from the point of view of a very much older Gretel, both she and her brother Hansel carry scars from their early childhood abandonment, near death at the hands of the witch and subsequent escape. But everything isn’t as it seems. There are secrets still unanswered and a book of magic that promises old nightmares and deadly temptations. The prose is lovely and evocative, and the story grabbed me from beginning to unpredictable end.

I will definitely invest in the rest of the series.

Feature Image: Gingerbread house by Theo Crazzolara

Book Review: Bourbon Penn #25

This was my introduction to the Bourbon Penn anthologies and I’m now asking myself: how has it taken me so long to discover them? At 150 pages, Issue #25 is pleasingly weird and quirky, exactly as its cover image promises.

My favourite story was Anthony Panegyres’ “Anthropopages Anonymous (AA)”, which totally nails the thoughts and actions of upwardly evolved bears. The humour is subtle and dark, while the bears’ way of thinking is a dangerous mix of animal and human.

I was particularly drawn to the mystery of Louis Evans’ “Lazaret” with its strange Twilight Zone-esque vibes; and also to the precarious balance of tragedy and creepiness in Simon Stanzas’ “That House”.

E Catherine Tobler’s “The Truth Each Carried” allows the reader to discover more than one secret through the eyes of a perceptive and gifted older woman. Her horses are wonderful!

Allie Kiri Mendelsohn’s “Mosaic” is a tale of magic told from the point of view of a very young adult. Mendelsohn’s use of language does much to enhance the characterisation and setting.

Gregory Norman Bossert’s “Appearing Nightly” is an atmospheric vignette about a magician whose performances are at once perplexing and elusive.

I finished this antho in less than a day. All six stories left me thinking about them afterwards.

Bourbon Penn #25 edited by Erik Secker is available online at Amazon, Book Depository and Bourbon Penn Website

Review: The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke

Orbit, 2013
ISBN 978-0-356-50272-4

Glenda Larke’s years spent as an Australian living in Malaysia are often reflected in her fantasy fiction through the use of non-stereotypical settings and postcolonial themes. Her world-building is complex, distinctive and believable, while her characters’ strengths and (intentional) flaws are both admirable and pleasingly infuriating. The Lascar’s Dagger, Book One of The Forsaken Lands Trilogy continues that tradition and is easily one of Larke’s best.

Saker is a priest, scholar and spy. Handsome and quick thinking, he is courageous and driven by a strong sense of morality which, in matters of the heart, lead him along paths that a hard-hearted or perhaps wiser man would leave untrodden. His story begins with a routine spying mission which is almost ruined when he is attacked by a barefooted sailor – a Lascar from the mostly unexplored islands on the opposite side of the world. When the Lascar disappears into a nearby canal, Saker unwittingly gains possession of his dagger.

Looking over his shoulder, Saker saw the unharmed sailor one last time through the opening of the shutter. He was outside the warehouse, hanging on to a beam of the overhang. He made some sort of hand gesture just before he swung up on to the top of the roof, as agile as a squirrel.

Saker thought it was a wave of farewell, but then he saw the flash of a dagger blade flying through the air.

Not at any of the men below, but at him.

Impossibly, it spiralled through the air, its point always facing his way. It whirred noisily as it came, and the merchants below swivelled to follow its passage. Saker hurtled himself upwards on to the roof.

Something tugged at his trousers and scraped his leg. Grabbing up the rope and the coat he’d left there, he set off at a run up to the ridge of the warehouse roof.

He heard doors crash open below, followed by shouts in the streets. He didn’t stop. He was already on the roof of the neighbouring warehouse when he heard the second pistol shot, followed almost immediately by the bang of an arquebus.

He didn’t look back, but he did look down.

The wavy dagger was firmly stuck through his trousers below the knee, and his leg was stinging.

Larke_LascarsDagger_TP-300x450Saker soon learns that the dagger has a will of its own and if he does not discover its purpose, his knack for attracting trouble may well destroy him.

What follows is an entertaining and thoughtful tale of danger and discovery as Saker is sent to the royal court of Ardrone ostensibly as a spiritual advisor, but in reality as a spy. Immediately he finds himself embroiled in plots and counterplots as Lady Mathilda, a princess who longs to be king, proves herself to be both intelligent and conniving.

At the same time, Saker is blinded to the true nature of Mathilda’s dowdy yet outspoken handmaid, Sorrel Redwing. A woman with a tragic past and hidden magic, Sorrel outwardly disdains him. When the two interact, sparks fly. Saker cannot tell if she is his friend or enemy.

As always with Larke’s fiction, the setting is not simply a backdrop, but as much a player as the characters themselves. The Kingdom of Ardrone and the Regality of Lowmeer are both patriarchal societies separated not only by borders but also by their differing interpretations of religion, their divergent cultures and their leaders’ lust for power. In both regions, religion is linked to magic, while magic is an integral aspect of religion. Both are easily corrupted to support the needs of those who rule.

As a result, the novel’s conflicts and outcomes are logical developments inside the rich social tapestry woven around them. At the same time they are full of surprises that add up to a book that is difficult to put down.

Although I’d like to discuss the Lascar’s place and the post-colonial themes in this novel, I cannot do so without giving too much away. Therefore I will deal with them in my review of Book Two: The Dagger’s Path, which is due out in January 2015.

Jack Gorman Got Cut by a Girl with Sarah Lee Parker

Congratulations to my dear friend and Egoboo writing buddy Sarah Lee Parker whose short story, “Jack Gorman is Dead” in the anthology, Jack Gorman Got Cut By a Girl, is now available for purchase as an ebook from Musa Publishing, an Anthology of Stories by: Goldeen Ogawa, Sarah Lee Parker, Heidi Berthiaume, Keyan Bowes, Nancy DiMauro, Brandie Tarvin.

“Karma is a bitch, and Jack Gorman is about to find out how much.

Jack Gorman would rather spend his time swilling brewskies, scoring with the babes, and watching football. Instead, he’s been cursed by sword-bearing girl he harassed while on a bender….From small California towns to a steampunk past, a magical future, and a space odyssey of narcissistic proportions, Jack flirts and drinks his way across reality only to discover that girls with blades are everywhere…”

Friends Getting Published

I should have posted this last week, but I didn’t have this blog then…

My friends are getting published all over the place:

My dear friend and Egoboo WA crit buddy Joanna Fay has just released her first novel, Daughter of Hope, the fabulous Book One of a an epic fantasy quartet about gorgeous winged Gods, love, betrayal and redemption set in an amazing world of beauty and magic. You can buy it as an ebook from this link at Musa Publishing.

It was an honour to see this book evolve from first draft to finished novel. And what a stunning cover!

On the short story front, my Clarion buddy Chris Reynaga has an excellent Indian story, Trickser’s Song over at Expanded Horizons, while An Owomoyela has a story about facing truth in If the Mountain Comes, over at Clarkesworld Magazine. Congratulations to you all.