Games Creatures Play, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner. A review by Jeanette Greaves

Games Creatures PlayThe game – produce an anthology of fifteen stories.

The rules – they must be short stories, they must include at least one supernatural creature such as a shapeshifter, fairy, vampire or ghost. They must include a strong element of a game or a sport. No author can contribute more than one story.

 

Go.

 

And thus was born ‘Games Creatures Play’ an anthology of fifteen stories, bracketed by Charlaine Harris’s ‘In The Blue Hereafter’ at the beginning, and Toni L.P. Kelner’s ‘Bell, Book and Candlepin’ at the end.

There is a great deal of variety in the stories, as you’d expect from such a wide brief. Some of the stories are all about the game or sport. Others, including those from the two editors, use the games as a background against which the story develops. Harris’s story is a Sookie Stackhouse tale, nestled closely into the True Blood universe and its existing characters and mythos. It works nicely as a stand alone, whilst enticing a captured reader deeper into the bigger picture. Kelner’s story works in a similar way, and I was surprised to find that it’s only her second venture into this particular world of the Allaway Kith. There are some interesting ideas in this story, that I’d love to see explored further.

 

Most of the contributions to this collection are set in the approximate present of the 20th and the early 21st century. The exception is Dana Cameron’s ‘The God Games’, a story about a man travelling to the Olympic Games of ancient Greece, on a vital mission. The games and the sports are richly and authoritatively described, but take a back seat to the plot and the characters.

 

Anthologies are made for dipping into, and a change of tone is welcome from one story to another. We certainly get that. There are several stories with a strong dose of humour, including Scott Sigler’s story about an unconventional supermarket exorcism, ‘The Case of the Haunted Safeway'; Mercedes Lackey’s entertaining yarn, ‘False Knight on the Road’ about a Prohibition era bootlegger getting into a motor race with the wrong person; and ‘Hide and Shriek’ in which Adam-Troy Castro plays fast and loose with the concept of apocalypse at the hands of a group of very mixed ability demons.

 

Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Dreamer’ is a bloody and violent story, well paced and packed with action, as befits a ‘capture the flag’ challenge.

 

Of course, an anthology about the paranormal shouldn’t be without its dark side, and we get that in spades, kicking off with ‘Hide and Seek’ by William Kent Krueger, a particularly nasty yet atmospheric telling of innocence lost and hope abused that left me looking for a kinder story to end the night on. If you like your horror uncompromising, this one’s for you. Joe R Lansdale’s ‘Dead on the Bones’ is another story of innocence lost, but it’s treated in a very different manner. For me, this is one of the stand out stories of the anthology. The characters are well drawn, the setting is exotic enough to fascinate, and the protagonist is both sympathetic and appealing.

 

Moving on to team games, the dark theme continues with ‘On The Playing Fields Of Blood’ by Brendan Dubois, a well managed mixture of bloody history, lacrosse, revenge and betrayal across the centuries. Ellen Kushner tackles a similar idea in ‘Prise de Fer’. The sport is fencing, the insult to be avenged is very personal, and the location has moved from the mountains of North America to a finishing school for young ladies in France, but the anger is the same. I particularly enjoyed Kushner’s story for its technical details of the sport, and the very satisfying ending.

 

Vengeance is a hot topic, unsurprisingly in a book about competitive sports and games, and in Caitlin Kittridge’s ‘The Devil Went Down To Boston’ we find a heroine with many good reasons to seek revenge on a world that has let her down too many times. Finding herself backed into a corner, she uses her talents and the skills she has learned in her chosen field to take on the ultimate player of games.

 

Jan Burke’s ‘Stepping into the Dead Zone’ captured me almost from the first sentence. It’s a beautiful story of friendship and loyalty, with a centrepiece school dodge ball game lovingly described in a way that sets the tone for the second part of the story. I got a sense of a world beyond this story, and would be interested in seeing it developed further.

 

At this late point in the proceedings, I will confess that I am a fan of paranormal fiction, especially the short form, but I have very little interest in sport. And yet, Seannan McGuire’s ‘Jammed’ left me cheering on the young women in this Roller Derby story. The characters are a wild and lively mixture of normal and paranormal women, the challenge they face is made vivid and urgent, and the resolution is satisfying. This is another of the stories that turns the anthology into one for the shelves, because I want to re-read this story again and again. It’s great fun, and the protagonist is a memorable one.

 

The penultimate story is Laura Lippman’s ‘Ice’. It’s place in the book is between the mayhem of ‘Hide and Shriek’ and the fast paced ‘Bell, Book and Candlepin’. It really does give the reader a chance to pause and gather energy before the final sprint to the end of the book. It’s a quiet story, touching only gently on the sporting theme of this collection. It’s a brilliant, heartbreaking little gem about the nature of story itself, and the manufacture of history at a very personal and local level. I loved it.

‘Games Creatures Play’ is out on 3rd April, published by Jo Fletcher Books.

 

 

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Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop – a review.

Daughter of the blood coverFor some, it’s the moment you walk out of customs in a foreign airport. For others, it’s the studio signature music that heralds the start of a film. For me, it’s the slow turn of the page, the march of black marks on white paper that become a new world of experience and thrills.

I was looking forward to Daughter of the Blood, the first of a dark fantasy trilogy. It’s been a while since I enjoyed a new world, new characters, and I expected to like this book.

I admit that within just a few pages, I was tempted to turn my back and leave. Anne Bishop has built a world filled with magic, power and beauty, but so many of the early scenes portrayed the cruelty of power, and the privilege of perfection, that I felt repelled. There was, additionally, a lot to take in. Three worlds, between which some travel is possible, by some people. Two classes, the landen and the Blood. Many levels of magical ability – measured and displayed by the colours of the jewels worn by the Blood.  Four levels of existence – the living, the Demon Dead, the Guardians, and the ghosts. The mad and the sane. Above all, two sexes of the Blood, engaged in a power battle that stands in the way of love, and poisons sex.

I left the book on the table, and decided to get back to it the next day.

Overnight, something happened. The characters had their hooks in my brain, and I found myself eager to get to grips with the story. By the mid point of the book, I was in the state that a reader loves – I resented every moment that wasn’t spent in the company of the Demon Dead, Witches, and Princes of the richly woven, connected worlds of Terreille, Hell and Kaeleer.

The characters are, in the main, stereotypical, but this is a work of dark fantasy, and in a strange world, of strange powers, it’s a relief to have familiar figures to guide us through the story. It’s a fast moving book set in a complicated world, and it took me a few chapters to get to grips with the workings of magic and power, and the relationships between the main players. I’m glad I made the effort, and trusted the author, because this is a good story, well told.

This is a book about magic, hope, strength, patience and love. It is also a book about blood, torture, murder, child abuse and rape. Because of that, it isn’t an easy book, but for me, it became a compelling read, and I look forward to the sequel, ‘Heir to the Shadows’.

Originally published in the US in 1998, and now published in the UK. ‘Daughter of the Blood’ is the first book in the Black Jewels trilogy. Available now as ebook from Jo Fletcher Books, the paperback edition is released on 6th March 2014.

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Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald – A review

The series that started with ‘Planesrunner’ and continued with ‘Be My Enemy’ continues at a rollicking pace with the third novel ‘Empress of the Sun’. It would not be wise to treat it as a stand alone novel; it hangs upon, and draws on, the events in the previous two books, so leaping in mid series is not advised. That said, going back to read the first two books is hardly a task to be avoided, but an initiation to enjoy.
A young adult novel that brings together alternate universes, steam-punk, lizard queens and a massive feat of space engineering needs a sure hand at the wheel, and thankfully, in Ian McDonald, it gets one. Ian is not afraid to give his characters and ideas time to gel together, making ‘Empress of the Sun’ a satisfyingly chunky read.
The book picks up the twin tales of two teenage boys, Everett Singh and his alter Everett M Singh, an almost identical boy from an alternate Earth. Everett Singh is the son of a physicist who, having discovered how to travel between different universes, has been exiled by those who are threatened by his invention, and want it for themselves. That invention, the Infundibulum, has been downloaded onto Everett’s iPad and launched him (and the crew of the airship ‘Everness’) into the many adventures that are documented in the series. The alter, Everett M, has been engineered and blackmailed to fight against Everett. The boys are physically identical enough that Everett M fits convincingly into Everett’s world, where he spends the duration of the book. He shows himself to be, like his alter, a strong and inventive teenager who survives challenges from several quarters, growing and maturing in the process. The story follows three main characters – the two Everetts, and the ruthless Charlotte Villiers, a power hungry steam-punk villain from another alternate Earth. McDonald handles the multiple viewpoints well, making Villiers’ actions understandable whilst keeping her character an unsympathetic one.
Although the book is populated by a variety of interesting characters, the show is almost stolen by the landscape and setting of the world into which Everett and his friends crash at the start of the book. It is a richly drawn and fantastic world, utterly unlike any of the Earths that we have previously seen in this series, and its evolutionary history has led to a precariously balanced civilisation that is on the edge of extinction. The addition of Everett and his friends from the Everness to the volatile mix brings about a situation that threatens the whole of humanity.
The paths of the two boys take an interesting turn, initially we are presented with the idea that Everett Singh is the hero, and Everett M the villain, but as the story progresses, both boys are changed by their experiences, and we are challenged to reconsider our ideas.
The adventures in the book are brought to a satisfying close, but we know that the main story arc still has a lot of potential, and at the end of the book we get an intriguing taster for the fourth book in the series.
Empress of the Sun is out now, published by Jo Fletcher Books.

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The Other Side of Dawn – review

The final book in John Marsden’s ‘Tomorrow’ series gives the young reader that rare and unusual gift – no easy conclusion.
Since we were introduced to Ellie Linton in ‘Tomorrow, when the war begins’, we’ve followed an extraordinary and vivid tale of teenagers at war. The story started six books ago. when Ellie and a group of her friends took themselves off for a few days to explore ‘Hell’, an area of barely accessible Australian wilderness a few hours hard drive from the Linton’s ranch home. When they emerged, they found that their country had been invaded, their families detained, and their homes abandoned. The series is not for the easily shocked; descriptions of animal suffering are treated with a typical farm girl matter of fact attitude.
The story is told in the first person by Ellie, who has been elected as the diarist by the rest of the group. By the end of the first book, she and her friends have already become a nascent guerilla force, determined to be a sharp thorn in the side of their country’s invaders.
The Other Side of Dawn sees the group back in Hell. Less than two years after the beginning of the invasion, they have made links with overseas allies, become the guardians of a group of younger kids, and developed strong bonds between themselves. Well supplied by their foreign allies, they plan a daring attack on the enemy at a crucial point of the war. The aftermath of the attack, however, sees Ellie separated from her friends, and forced to rely on her own mental and physical resources through a series of potentially fatal threats. As she travels through a country made alien by war, she meets new allies and new enemies, and has to make fast judgements to decide who is a friend, and who is not.
As the war comes to a close, and families are reunited, Ellie faces new problems – things are not as she expected them to be, and we leave her as an emotional casualty of war, a teenage girl who has killed and wounded the enemy to protect her friends and to fight for her country. Ellie has to find her place in the new Australia, a very different place to the one she grew up in, and fought to save.
Ellie is a hero for our time, a strong, adaptable teenage girl who keeps her conscience and her humanity through the worst of times, who knows when to lead, and when to stand back and use the strengths of her friends. I would strongly recommend that you introduce her to your teenagers this year.
The Tomorrow series was first published in the 1990s, and has been relaunched by Quercus books with an eye catching new set of covers.

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A review of Impossible Spaces

You can find a review of Impossible Spaces, which mentions ‘Mistfall’, here. 

 

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Impossible Spaces – now out

impossible spaces coverI have a story in the new Hic Dragones anthology, Impossible Spaces. I was thinking about interchangeable places, as a theme for the story – railway stations, bus stations, chain stores, that kind of thing. Then I started to think about natural situations, and it struck me that fog is a great equaliser. In fog, sound is deadened, and the landscape disappears. In the fog, we can be entirely alone. I started to think about a woman, alone in the fog. I started to wonder, what if she wasn’t alone? What if the fog was her companion?

I enjoyed writing Mistfall, it was one of those stories that just fell out, fully formed. It’s got twisted love, and death, and rock’n’roll. What more could you want?

Impossible Spaces is available now, from Hic Dragones.

Copies are also available at the wonderful Ebb and Flo bookshop, Gillibrand St, Chorley, or directly from me. £8.99 or £11.69 by post.

 

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A Night of Strange and Dark Fictions

Hic Dragones presents… A Night of Strange and Dark Fictions
as part of Prestwich Book Festival

Monday 27th May, 7.30pm, Prestwich British Legion (near Heaton Park tram station)

Tickets £6 (+ booking fee) in advance from the festival’s ventbrite shop.
http://strangeanddark.eventbrite.co.uk/

Featuring a short reading from one of my latest short stories.

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New story coming soon.

I’ve had a story accepted for the next Hic Dragones anthology, Impossible Spaces.  Watch this space for more news.

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Flash Fire – 29th November

FlashFire posterI’ll be reading at this event on 29th November, 8 pm, at the Park Hotel in Lancaster.

Facebook link.

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Wolf-Girls now available as an e-book.

http://www.hic-dragones.co.uk/#/wolf-girls/4565397194

Wolf-Girls is now available in mobi and epub formats at £4.99. Now all you papyrophobics can get in on the wolfie action.

 

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