Cover reveal and exceprt: Alexander dan Vilhjalmsson’s “SHADOWS OF THE SHORT DAYS”

Blurb: A strikingly original Icelandic debut set in a strangely familiar alternate Reykjavik where wild and industrialised magic meet.

Sæmundur the Mad, addict and sorcerer, has been expelled from the magical university, Svartiskóli, and can no longer study galdur, an esoteric source of magic. Obsessed with proving his peers wrong, he will stop at nothing to gain absolute power and knowledge, especially of that which is long forbidden.

Garún is an outcast: half-human, half-huldufólk, her very existence is a violation of dimensional boundaries, the ultimate taboo. A militant revolutionary and graffiti artist, recklessly dismissive of the status quo, she will do anything to achieve a just society, including spark a revolution. Even if she has to do it alone.

This is a tale of revolution set in a twisted version of Reykjavik fuelled by industrialised magic and populated by humans, interdimensional exiles, otherworldly creatures, psychoactive graffiti and demonic familiars.

Perfect for fans of contemporary fantasy in the style of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians or China Mieville’s The City & The City.

Author bio: Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson is an Icelandic author who lives in Reykjavík. Shadows of the Short Days is his first novel. He writes in both Icelandic and English and is the founder and editor of Iceland’s first SFF magazine, Furðusögur (Weird Stories). Alexander is also the vocalist and lyricist for Icelandic black metal band Carpe Noctem.

Excerpt – Chapter One

Garún removed her mask and stepped away from the wet graffito to see clearly the whole of the hex sigil she’d painted. It was difficult breathing through the filters on the leather mask and it felt good to taste the fresh air. It was dark; the only light came from the pale moon that sat low in the sky. She relied on insight and feeling when she painted, so the dark didn’t bother her. She didn’t need to see to know if the graffiti was good or when it was ready. She simply felt it, but it was a raw feeling. She wanted to be sure, so she slipped the goggles over her eyes in order to see the sorcerous seiðmagn bleeding from the paint.

Sharp geometries jutted out unexpectedly from the red and obscure graffito, and even though the paint wasn’t dry yet the seiðmagn already radiated powerfully into the environment. Exhausted from the work, Garún felt dried up after using so much delýsíð paint in such a short time. While she painted, the emotions expressed within her art were amplified by the delýsíð in the paint and cast back to her in a vicious psychedelic cycle: she was the snake that fed on itself. Now, it was complete. Garún turned down the volume of the electronic music booming in her ears and focused on letting the painting speak to her.

The graffito was in a good location atop the store Krambúðin and with luck it would be weeks until it was discovered. All the while it would continue to bleed seiðmagn into the environment, where it would infiltrate the subconscious of those nearby. It would slowly infect their minds and sow the seeds of discord. If left undisturbed, the painting would become as a death mask over the building and its neighbourhood.

Krambúðin was a store owned by Sigurður Thorvaldsen, a merchant who ran several enterprises in the greater Reykjavík area. The one below Garún’s feet had become one of the most popular colonial stores in the city since Sigurður had moved to Reykjavík and set up shop almost the same day as the occupation of the Crown began. Not for the soldiers, but for all the people from the countryside flooding to the city to work for the army. The Crown needed a large working force, especially to build the forts in Viðey and the barracks on Seltjarnarnes. Sigurður had pushed those out who threatened his business, threatening, blackmailing and maiming – but, above all, profiting. By the time occupation became colonisation and the forts of the colonial masters were built, Sigurður Thorvaldsen had become a wealthy man and Reykjavík a fully grown city.

The graffito Garún had sprayed on the roof was an anti-prosperity hex. It was intended to drive away the establishment’s elite customers who prized Krambúðin’s imported luxury products. Exotic spices, delicate fabrics, handmade soaps, candies and perfumes were only a small fraction of the merchandise available. Those who did not subconsciously avoid the store would become victims to the hex. Pushy customers would argue with the staff, who in turn would be unhelpful and patronising. With luck the influence would spread over the whole street as the graffito fed on the people’s negative emotions and spewed them back out. She hoped that it would be able to remain unharassed for longer than her other work, which had all been found within a few days.

She took the spray cans and the painting mask and stuffed them into her backpack along with the goggles. Before climbing down from the roof she double-checked that she’d left no empty cans behind. She slid down the fire escape ladder in the back and turned up the volume again. It was calm and slow, the bass steady and comforting, telling her that nobody was around, nobody was watching. She ran silently through empty yards, vaulted over the fences in her path. The beat became faster the closer she got to the Hverfisgata Road and the stressed rhythm hinted that the police might not be far down the street. She weaved through alleys and backyards alongside Hverfisgata’s busy road. The evening traffic had barely started to trickle downtown. Sudden breaks and booming bass lines told her if someone was about to cross her path or about to look out of their window, and she reacted instinctively, ducking into cover and waiting for the threat to pass. She could never be absolutely sure that she had not been seen, and often it was hard to read the music, but after endless practice it had become almost second nature, a part of her natural reflex. She let go and let the music speak to her subconscious.

The closer she got to Hlemmur the more uneasy the music grew. Patrol cars were lined up in front of the police station, which was fused with the central station like a tumour grown outside a body. The beat was thick and murky, the music absolutely deafening. She turned down the volume so it was barely audible, pulled her hoodie up and tried not to think about what would happen if she was stopped for a random search.

The central station was home for those who had nowhere else to go. Hobos, junkies, a few blendingar. She made sure not to glance towards them as she felt them notice her walking past. As if they resented her for not sitting with them in the gutter. Policemen stood by the ticket booth and gates, docile but formidable. She tried to keep a low profile, but without it being suspicious. Just as would be expected from a blendingur like her.

She took the train to Starholt. Most working people had got home by now and the nightlife didn’t pick up until after midnight, so the train was relatively empty. The city lights took on a blurred halo in the grimy windows.

No one greeted her when she came home. She missed Mæja. What was she thinking, leaving the cat with Sæmundur? He could barely take care of himself, let alone a cat. She was unsure what her intention had been, exactly. She’d wanted him to feel guilt or remorse, or anything at all, there at the end. But he had been simply too numb and now her little cat was probably starved to death underneath worm-eaten manuscripts and dirty socks. One more thing she tried not to think about.

Her studio flat was a bedroom, kitchen, working area and living room simultaneously. The sink was filled with paintbrushes and squeezed paint tubes were found on almost every surface. Half-completed paintings were scattered around in stacks leaning against the walls. The air smelled of paint, oil, acrylics and spray mixed in with a faint, sour reek of delýsíð. It was probably good that she was rid of Mæja. The cat would have been long dead from all the toxic chemicals in the air.

Garún took off her large headphones and removed the audioskull from the backpack. Sæmundur had summoned the noisefiend himself and bound it into the skull when she’d started to tag small, powerful delýsíð staves here and there. Wires stuck out of the bare headphones, an old operator’s headset she had converted. She had always meant to make a casing from wood or brass, but had never got around to it. The headphones were plugged into the forehead of the audioskull. The skull had a blue shade to it, covered in runes and esoteric symbols coloured a dark red. It was both illegal and dangerous to summon demons, but Sæmundur never cared about risks. She’d got a used portable transistor radio cheap and had been listening to it on the go, carrying it around in her backpack. That’s what had given him the idea. Transmundane beings were incredibly dangerous even when bound in bone, and Garún had absolutely lost it when he gave her the skull. Still, she had used it.

She took off the black clothes and emptied her backpack. She hid the clothes, along with the backpack and audioskull, under a loose board in the closet. Inside there was a hidden compartment where she put the nearly empty delýsíð spray cans. She was practically out, and she needed more. She’d gone tagging a bit too frequently these last weeks, excited for the upcoming protest they had planned. She would have to get more. The bright and unnatural colours had stained her fingers. She turned on the shower and washed her hands with strong and coarse soap before stepping in. The water smelled faintly of sulphur, a familiar and soothing feeling.

After the shower she dried off with a towel and wrapped it around her head to dry her shoulder-length hair. She stirred a raw egg into skyr and read a book while she ate. The book had come free from a nearby café; many of the coffee houses in Starholt had various kinds of free shops and trade markets. Many of the local residents were artists and it aided them in their never-ending pursuit of inspiration and materials. This book was written nearly a century before, long before the occupation by the Crown. The novel was about a huldukona who wanted to become a poet, but her poems were rejected by the Hrímlanders because of who she was. Because of what she was. All her life was one long struggle. The book was singed and burned and many pages had been ripped out of it. There still remained some readable parts and Garún devoured them. She’d never found a novel about huldufólk before.

When she finished eating she wrapped the towel around herself, sat out on the balcony and rolled a cigarette. Just a bit too tight, so she had to work her lungs to inhale the livid smoke. Winter had begun smothering autumn and the evening dark was sharp and deep. The apartment buildings surrounded a playground where a few children played in an old wooden play castle that had once been multicoloured, but the paint had peeled off long ago. No one was monitoring them. Late as it was, this was a common sight. She looked over to the other balconies. Clean laundry hung out to dry on taut clothes lines everywhere, among the junk that artists and collectors had gathered: old fishing nets, rusted iron and driftwood, sheets of corrugated iron and other garbage that was a gleaming treasure in some eyes.

Garún threw the butt over the balcony and went inside. She had to get more delýsíð spray paint. Viður would hook her up. She put on a pair of old jeans and a plain black top, grabbed a moss green coat on the way out. She took her time walking to the central area of Starholt, the epicentre where the art types and other ideological outcasts, self-declared or not, met each night with the common goal of gossip, flattery, drink and dope in various degrees. As she got closer to the heart of it all, the neighbourhood came to life. Massive cement towers gave way to lower, friendlier houses. Electric lamps with stained glass lit up the streets, twisted modern sculptures that were a welcome change from the Crown’s uniform standard issue lamps everywhere else in the city.

Gangs of náskárar sat on eaves over dark alleyways, selling drugs. They were adorned with markings of their tribe, all of them warriors with iron-clad claws or beaks. Bright laughter moved through the crowd like an infectious cough and occasionally glasses of beer shattered. Huldufólk and humans hung together in separate groups outside bars and clubs.

The huldufólk’s attitude towards her was reserved when she walked past them, all of them reflexively reaching out to see who was there. Garún barely noticed, having grown used to shutting it out long ago. Not that humans considered her an equal either – on the contrary – but some huldufólk had a vicious way of upholding what they considered the old ways, and she served as an offensive reminder to them of how far they had fallen.

She shook off these thoughts and lit another cigarette to clear her head. Those strangers didn’t matter. She had found her own people. And above all, she had herself.

Shadows of the Short Days will be released on July 11th, 2019 by Gollancz.

Cover Reveal: Andy Peloquin’s HEIRS OF DESTINY series

A kingdom of death. A war for power and profit. Young heroes caught in the crossfire.

Kodyn expected hardships along his journey to return a kidnapped girl to her father. Yet harsh deserts and cutthroat bandits prove far less lethal than the foes that await him in Shalandra, the City of the Dead.

In the shadows of golden spires carved from mountain stone, currents of corruption and vice run deep. Priests of the god of death rule with an iron fist, imposing a rigid caste system that elevates some to a life of privilege and condemns others to miserable squalor.

Together with Aisha, a fierce warrior from the north with the mystical ability to speak to the dead, Kodyn must survive the cesspool of high society deceit and betrayal.

Polite smiles hide sharp knives. Killers, criminals, and bloodthirsty cultists lurk around every corner. Can these youths overcome impossible odds to save the realm?

Click now if you love action, intrigue, and heroic deeds that will set your heart racing! For fans of A.C. Cobble, Jeff Wheeler, and Robin Hobb, Heirs of Destiny is a thrill ride on epic fantasy’s darker side… you’ll enjoy every minute.

Trial of Stone (Book 1) — Jan 22, 2019
Crucible of Fortune (Book 2) — Feb 5, 2019
Storm of Chaos (Book 3) — Feb 19, 2019
Secrets of Blood (Book 4) — Mar 19, 2019
Ascension of Death (Book 5) — Apr 16, 2019
The Renegade Apprentice
(Book 0 – prequel novella) — May 14, 2019

THE COILHUNTER CHRONICLES (COVER REVEAL)

From USA Today bestselling author Dean F. Wilson

Welcome to the Wild North.

In this “weird west” series of grit and vengeance, an eccentric bounty hunter faces off the criminals and creatures of a lawless land, from man to monster, from nature to machine. Expect gadgets and guns in this hybrid of steampunk, western, dystopian, sci-fi, and fantasy. Expect Nox.

COMING FEBRUARY 2019

LOSTLANDER

Welcome to nowhere.

Nox, the Coilhunter, wakes up in unfamiliar territory, victim of a deranged man who claims he’s from another world, and who’s building an army of slaves to help him get back there.

The eccentric bounty hunter must face off the wild of the desert and the wild in men, all the while trying to piece together what happened from his fractured memory.

Some go to the Lostlands to find themselves, but the Coilhunter is on the hunt for the true Lostlander: the Man with the Silver Mane. Folk say those Magi are lost without their magic, but Nox has long found his own kind of mojo in his gadgets and his guns.

COMING 2019

SIXSHOOTER

In the vacuum left by the death of a powerful ganglord, six gangs go to war, and Nox must restore order.

COMING 2019

DEADWALKER

Nox has killed so many criminals that he’s earned himself some time off—until those criminals start coming back from the dead.

These are just the beginning of the Coilhunter Chronicles

New anthology announcement!

We’re excited to share a list of contributors for the upcoming anthology Rise Above: Stories of Compassion and Overcoming the Odds. The anthology will be published by Dark Engine/Robber’s Dog Pub. and will be available in both e-book and paperback formats. All proceeds will go to “To Write Love On Her Arms” (TWLOHA), a very well-known Suicide Awareness charity. These are the participating authors:

RJ Barker
Michael Baker
Mark Barnes
James Bennett
Christian G. Cameron
Jamie Edmundson
Josh Erikson
Ben Galley
Rob Hayes
Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Alec Hutson
James R. Jakins
Shona Kinsella
Ulff Lehmann
Dale Lucas
Ryan Mueller
Noelle Nichols
Andy Peloquin
Charles Phipps
Anna Smith Spark
ML Spencer
Anna Stephens*
Ben Stevens
Deborah A Wolf*
Dean Wilson
James Wolanyk

* unconfirmed but likely

There may be additional authors added to this list over time. The deadline for submissions is April 2019 with a hope for publication in late spring/early summer.

These stories will explore themes of perserverance, overcoming adversity, and compassion. We are extremely excited about this project and we will continue to share updates in the weeks and months ahead.

Book and a Pint: “Never Die”

with Michael Evan and James Jakins

So here it is… Our debut segment of Book and a Pint, with our first subject/victim…Rob Hayes’ Never Die. We hope you can get a laugh or at least a few smiles, ughs or groans out of this!

ME: So…first few chapters in..what did you think?

JJ: I really liked Century Blade’s backstory. Really cool worldbuilding.

ME: Yea I like the way he told that story. I’m a big fan of books where an actual story within a story takes place.

Never Die releases January 29, 2019.

JJ: I also have to say, this is the most anime book I’ve read possibly ever and I’m really mad at him for pulling it off so well.

ME: Yea I loved the mention of Century Blade coming back as a Yokai. Did you ever read that Usagi Yojimbo comic?

JJ: I haven’t but I’m a little familiar with the character.

ME: Samurai bunny. Basically more samurai than bunny.

Speaking of anthropomorphic animals I’m doing some research for my new book this week…Miami Seaquarium! Need to see seals and walruses (Walri?) in their unnatural habitat.

JJ:Awesome! So, what are you going to call this book?

ME: Not there yet. Research first. Which makes me wonder…what kind of research do you think Rob put in to this book?

JJ:See, seals are cool and everything, but you want to write a book where the research really just requires you sitting on the couch and “taking notes”. For Rob, I guarantee it was a months long binge-watch of anime and wuxia movies. Maybe some Kurosawa.

ME: I’m kinda glad I liked the book. If he’s the method writer type and I gave him a bad review I’d be worried he’d kick my ass.

JJ:I mean… We don’t know for sure he isn’t…He could have the Iron Gut technique.

ME: Chapter 46

Rob Hayes vs Bad Review Guy

JJ: What’s his hero name, though? He needs something cool like “Emerald Wind” or “Whispering Blade.”

ME: Carpal Tunnel Dagger?

Way Too Prolific Spork?

Wait no…Chapter 46…-Mighty iPhone vs Prolific Spork?

JJ: That’s a much better chapter title. Might be some copyright issues, but I think we’ll be okay.

ME: What… is Spork registered?

JJ: Probably. Hold on

(45 seconds later)

Holy shit… I just googled that. The word spork is actually trademarked…

ME: Fuck off!….Ok Chapter 46

The Mighty Eye Pod vs Spork-X

JJ:These are rapidly moving away from good hero names…Anyway, can we address the issue that this book is basically just a really revamped version of Pokemon? And I mean that in only the best way.

ME: I actually typed Pokémon while you typed it then erased it because I thought my other bit was funnier

JJ: Ha! Fine. I’ll give you that. I was serious, though. It’s an eight year old kid going out into the world and creating a team of very dangerous creatures. Using them to fight others and then adding the defeated to his team.

ME: Yea I can see that ..I just kept thinking Sixth Sense except instead of “I see dead people” it was “I heal dead killers”

JJ: That definitely changes my reading of the story. Now all I can picture is young Haley Joel Osment leading these killers around.

ME:At least it’s not old Haley Joel Osment. He’d be getting them in bar fights and crashing SUVs

JJ:I’m pretty sure they’d manage all that on their own.No crashed SUV, but they do crash that water dragon…

ME:Dragons are cool . Any type really. But the swimming kind are on a different level of awesome.

JJ:This is true. I know I’m generally a fan.

ME:My wife wrote a short story about a dragon. Know of any anthologies ?

JJ:Subtle, real subtle. Why, yes, Michael, I do. I know of one coming out early next year. Some writer friends and I put together a genre-less anthology.

(Tragic back story: my wife’s entry came in too late and was denied)

JJ: Not to detract from this insightful discussion about Mr. Hayes great book about dead heroes…

ME: But seriously though how much does The Emerald Wind kick ass? He’s like an undead Shrek….that kills people.

JJ: Shrek in that he’s grumpy and pretends that he hates everybody?

ME: Yea sort of. I kind of read all his bits with an Irish accent. I love those conflicted badasses that want to just be assholes but end up being decent dudes. Bear in mind..If you died a horrible death and then we’re somehow brought back to life by the anime version of Haley Joel Pikachu and told that you needed to kill an untouchable grand master emperor to not die again ,how pissed off would you be?

JJ: Hm… I’d probably be a little more okay with it than Emerald Wind was,but I would not be optimistic about my chances.

ME: And the topper of all this..is that the booze tastes like shit to all these undead second chancers!

JJ:Not just that, but food… I love food… so much… Okay, I would be very unhappy with the whole situation

ME: I think you’d take be able to take out that emperor though man, just bring Jackson Smith with you. He’s in every bloody one of your books. I’m sure he could teleport in to the real world for some ass kicking.

JJ: Yeah, but with the exception of his really putting himself center stage in Summervale he’s more likely to just move a few pieces on the backend. He’d be the guy in Ein’s hometown that told a bunch of stories about Cho so he would think to sew her back up.

ME: Speaking of Ein, what’s the deal with all the barefoot toe stubbing? man..I have kids and this is triggering me now. Shoes are important.

JJ: Haha. Man, when he sits down and just starts sewing his foot up. That actually got me a little bit. I’m an adult man and I couldn’t do that.

ME: Yea the last time I dropped something on my toe I think I cried and ran to the doctor

ME:Seriously though…without giving much away, Cho was freaking awesome. That battle at the end… I’m still reeling

JJ: Yes! And you called the sword name.

ME: Yea it’s weird I saw that coming but it didn’t take away from it’s awesomeness when it finally happened, and I’m not going to spoil either of the names of Cho’s swords

JJ: Sometimes seeing it coming actually makes it more satisfying.

ME: So …ending…where you shocked ? Cuz I’m still thinking about it!

JJ: I wouldn’t say shocked. It was set up pretty well. Enough hints to make it obvious enough. The biggest shock for me was the abruptness of each hero’s final scene. Mostly Iron Gut…

ME: Yea and that kind of leads in to the whole idea of how ultimately they were kind of pawns in a much bigger game.

JJ: Yeah. Very well done story. Every reveal, for the most part, fit what had been established.

ME: And what’s awesome is that should he want to write a sequel there are limitless possibilities.

JJ: Yeah. I like that it’s fine as a stand alone, but the world has room for a lot more.

ME: So Mr. Jakins drive this thing home with your overall review of this one.

JJ: I’d definitely give it a 5/5. I think I chose it as one of my favorite reads of the year, so that should say something. It’s a world I’m ready to jump back into, but even if Hayes leaves it as is, I’m happy with what he gave us.

ME: Yea me too. I’ll further that by saying if you love Anime inspired fantasy with killer fight scenes, memorable characters , vengeful spirits ,and creepy kids, add this one to your 2019 TBR ….or Spork X will hunt you down in the night…Or was it the Vengeful Spork?

JJ: Mighty Sporker X.

ME: Yes!!! Finally, that’s the ultimate hero name. And…copyrighting…now!

Well the new year is just about upon us. What’s coming up for 2019?

JJ: Hopefully just the right amount of books for me to keep up with. But I know that’s won’t end up being true…

ME: Yea I’ve resigned to the fact that I will never read 90% of this bloody mountain.

JJ: Mine was big before. Need to get faster… 2018 was the year I jumped my audible listening speed up to 1.25x. Maybe 2019 is the year I get it to 2x.

ME: Well the good thing is we both read and loved our next one! And it’s an actual comedy. We’ll be back in a few weeks with our next Book and a Pint where we try to out-funny Mr. CT Phipps with just about as many Vampire jokes as we can throw out.

JJ: Vampire jokes? Ah man, this is gonna suck…get it? I’m hilarious.

ME: That joke kinda bites, dude

JJ: …

ME: See ya in a few!

SPFBO4 Finalist Selection

For myself, Emma, and Timy, this was our first year as acting judges in SPFBO. Although we’ve followed the contest and read many of the entries in years past, we didn’t realize how challenging being a participant would be. The process of eliminating so many quality books was daunting. Our list of semi-finalists ballooned from six to eight, and there were still several books that we wanted to include that didn’t make the first cut (I’m looking at you, Dragonshade and Servant of Rage.)

Our semi-finalists ran the gamut of speculative fiction: urban fantasy, epic fantasy, grimdark, military fantasy, high and low fantasy, and a couple that laughed in the face of classification. We were lucky enough to draw books from both traditionally-published authors and self-published authors, and we were just as amazed by debut novels as much as those with predecessors. Some of our semi-finalists had hundreds of reviews, and others had just one or two. Regardless of the winner, we hope that our coverage has sparked interest for readers to seek out some of these lesser-known gems. And when you’re done, tell your friends! Write a quick review; a sentence or two will suffice. This contest is living proof that community word-of-mouth can help do a world of good, for writers and readers alike.

Thanks so much to Steve Rodgers, Josh Erikson, Scott Kaelen, Brian Anderson, Mitchell Hogan, Toby Bennett, Steve McKinnon, L. L. McNeil, and the rest of our thirty entrants for their tireless dedication to crafting these novels that we’re all lucky to have experienced. Thank you for getting your vision down on paper and sharing it with the world.

While we thought highly of all our semi-finalists, we agreed that there were two that were a cut above the rest. These two were Josh Erikson’s Hero Forged and Steve McKinnon’s Symphony of the Wind. Both were debut fantasy novels that did so many things well: they had rich, wonderful characters, exciting and unpredictable plot threads, and creative and immersive world-building. But one book had a certain “wow” factor that caught us all off-guard. It kept surprising us with how much it packed into one novel, and how well it was all executed. So, we at Fantasy Book Review would like to congratulate Steve McKinnon for his excellent, action-packed, and genre-defying novel Symphony of the Wind, our choice for the SPFBO4 Finals.

Symphony of the Wind
Our SPFBO4 Finalist!

My full review for Symphony of the Wind is forthcoming, but my elevator pitch would describe it as a “military post-steampunk fantasy with enough stirring action sequences to rival Pierce Brown’s ‘Red Rising’ series. It deals with post-war PTSD, political propaganda and conspiracies, organized crime, celebrity culture, environmental threats, and a smattering of Greek mythology. It has characters you love who will die, and characters you hate that just won’t go away. And it’s funny as hell.” Emma Davis and Timy Takács have posted their reviews if you’d like to read more about it. Our official SPFBO score is 9/10.

We also loved Hero Forged and think it deserves a second chance in the contest. Therefore, we are pushing it forward as our Senlin Safety Net selection. This story, set in the infamous urban nightmare of… Nebraska…, is about finding and keeping your humanity amongst dimension-hopping demons that are trying to possess you. It features wonderful sexual chemistry between its two leads, and it’s also funny as hell. The tonal shifts in the story are handled brilliantly. This is the start of the Ethereal Earth series, and Erikson himself performs an excellent audiobook version. Read FBR’s reviews from Emma and myself, Timy’s review from RockStarLit Book Review, and check out what Esmerelda Weatherwax thought about the audiobook version on her blog.

Our ‘Senlin Safety Net’ selection

Congratulations and good luck, Josh!

Now I’m going to turn it over to Timy Takács and Emma Davis who will share some of their thoughts.

— Adam Weller

Back in the summer when I first checked out our group, I had an idea of which books would be favourites among us. Symphony of the Wind wasn’t one of them. Then Emma picked it out as a semi-finalist and I got intrigued, so jumped onto it. Probably because I had low expectations, but by the time I got to the halfway point, I was sold. The richness of the world, the many layers, the well-detailed characters were all jumping out to me. By the time I finished, I knew this is going to be our finalist. It totally blew my mind and even though I gave voice to some criticism in my review, I had no doubt Steven McKinnon has a great career before him. I’m really happy to see him succeed and I sincerely hope he’ll do well in the finals.

Even though we are here to celebrate our finalist, I’d like to give a shout out to every one of the authors in our group! Especially our semi-finalists: Josh Erikson, L.L. McNeil, Mitchell Hogan, Brian Anderson, Scott Kaelen, Steve Rodgers and Toby Bennett. I especially enjoyed The Endless Ocean and Hero Forged which was a close runner up. Although I’m sad to see them go, I’m sure we will hear from them in the future! I would also like to thank every author I got to know through our correspondences and interviews. I really enjoyed being part of Fantasy Book Review’s team on the sidelines and I am looking forward to acting as a judge in the finals! Best of luck to everyone!

— Timy Takács

Boy, did I ever luck out. In a SPFBO group filled with memorable, imaginative, and accomplished writing, I got assigned both Hero Forged and our finalist: Symphony of the Wind. Each stood out in ways that simply demanded a place in the semi-finals.

In all honesty, I nearly put Symphony of the Wind aside. If I hadn’t been reading it for a competition, I might have. I don’t like airships. I don’t do steampunk/cyberpunk of any sort. I never used to read self-published fiction. I even said in my review that the book doesn’t start out as well as it might have. Now I’m thinking that might just have been my bad attitude…

So yeah, my narrow-minded self got a serious lesson this year.

What I’ve learned beyond anything else during this SPFBO is that talent is everywhere and that I’ve been ignoring some of the best places to find it. Just because a book has a low number of Goodreads/Amazon reviews (Symphony had one before the competition I think) or doesn’t have a big-name publisher, doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. There are so many incredible people putting themselves and their work out there— give them a chance to wow you. Seriously. Some of these books aren’t just good, they’re truly bloody fantastic. Both Josh Erikson and Steve McKinnon went straight on my must-read list, as have several of the other authors I’ve discovered this year. And it’s been beyond thrilling to see other people in my group enjoying them as much as I did.

Choosing was always going to be hard. In the end though, it had to be one.

And Symphony of the Wind is incredible. It smashes genre classifications. It’s funny and clever and so damn surprising. The world is a place you could fall into and never leave. Not literally because you’d probably die ridiculously quickly, but just because you don’t want to let these characters go. Take your eyes away for a minute and something dire will have happened, believe me. It’s a place with magic and tech and monsters, plots within plots, a whole wide world to explore. I have never read anything like it. I said in my original review that I flat out loved it and that feeling remains. I’m already looking forward to a reread. And don’t even talk to me about how excited I am for what comes next… So…

HUGE CONGRATULATIONS Steve McKinnon, your book is not only the winner of our group, it’s one of the best I’ve read this year. This is very clearly the start of something big.

— Emma Davis

Interview with Graham Austin-King

by Michael Gruneir

MG: At what point did you know you wanted to write full time?

GK: I think I’ve always wanted to write. When I was  younger it had that unrealistic feel to it though. A bit like wanting to be a movie star or and astronaut. Authors were special people. As it turns out we’re not that special. I started writing full-time when my kids were still home with me. Until they began school it made financial sense, things have just carried on from there.

MG: And you decided to self publish as well..was this a conscious choice from the beginning ?

GK: Not entirely. I finished my first book back in 2013. If I’m honest I sent it out to agents way before it was ready, which probably happens more often than you’d think. After a round of rejections it was obvious that the book needed more edits and I think it was around this time that I decided to self-publish. As it turned out the book was quite well received, enough to attract the attention of a small-press publisher anyway. Things didn’t work out there but I don’t have any regrets. the thing with self-publishing is that there is a momentum to it. I’d love to have a series out with a traditional publisher too, but to do so I’d have to neglect my s/p work, and if you publish something reasonably regularly then you may well be forgotten

MG: Your Fae series was a rather ambitious debut and it dealt with some very dark and mature themes, domestic abuse being one of them. What was your inspiration for the series, and did you have any concerns about how it would be received by Fantasy fans?

GK: Firstly, I don’t plot, at all. So an awful lot of the twists and turns in the book were as much as surprise to me as they were to anyone reading it. Things like the true nature of the ritual of the Wyrde, or the origin of mankind, just came off the cuff. So I didn’t really have the opportunity to worry about these themes as I didn’t know about them beforehand. I’d always wanted to play around with the notion of faeries and the fae, especially in a morally grey, self-interested, sense. I think most fantasy fans have moved beyond the epic pitting of good vs evil. Fantasy has evolved a lot in the last twenty years or so and I think a lot of readers are more interested in seeing characters they can relate to rather than paragons of virtue. We (and I include myself in this) want to see conflicted characters, people who fail, people who make bad decisions, or the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons. Because of this I wasn’t worried about how the books would be received. I just worried I’d managed to pull it off as well as I hoped.

MG: Faithless was a huge critical success. Really a wonderful dark, claustrophobic nightmare of a novel. Did you know you had written something special once you hit publish? Did you expect such a response?

GK: I don’t think anyone really knows what to expect when you publish a book. I had done more rounds of editing than I usually do with this and had a HUGE crowd beta reading it. I knew the twists worked, but beyond that I had no idea it was going to get the response it did.

MG:What were some of your main influences specifically when in case to Faithless, and it’s subterranean world and the society that inhabited it?

GK: Back in the early 90s there was a computer game called Dungeon Master. It was when computer graphics were first starting to move beyond blocky blobs and the sound effects began to be more realistic. Dungeon Master was groundbreaking, the monsters roamed about on their own and would often hunt you down when you slept. That’s where the initial idea for Faithless came from. I had just finished the Riven Wyrde trilogy and felt a bit burnt out. Faithless was supposed to be a fun little novella, a literary dungeon hack. Somewhere along the line things got more complex.

MG: From out conversations in the past you mentioned that a sequel for Faithless was not always in the cards. What’s the status on that now?

GK: My latest book comes out on November 30th and the real work on the Faithless sequel will begin after that but it’s definitely happening.

MG: So tell us a bit about the new one..which by the way I’m really enjoying and I suspect will be massive.

GK: The Lore of Prometheus is a massive departure from my usual style. It’s set in this world, present day, and tells the story of John Carver, a British SRR (special forces) veteran who struggles with PTSD and a gambling addiction. During his time in Afghanistan his team was ambushed and captured. Whilst being interrogated, and watching his men being killed one by one, Carver manages to stop a bullet in mid-air, by force of will, or by magic – he has no idea.

MG: Yea it’s quite different, and incredibly fast paced I’ve been reading it any chance I’ve had to read and it’s pacing is fantastic. Do you have bigger plans for this as a series or are we looking at a Standalone?

GK: There might be a sequel, or possibly a serial.

MG: What’s your writing schedule like? And when you aren’t writing what takes up most of your time?

GK: I write every weekday. Writing, editing and marketing take up a full eight hour day really. I tend to write in sprints of thirty minutes or so, unless I can get into a good zone. I have a small horde of children that ravage the surrounding towns and villages. If I don’t keep them in check then people tend to complain. You only answer the door to an angry mob brandishing torches and pitchforks so many times before you get the hint.

MG: So between writing and domestic duties have you had any time to read anything and if so , any recommendations?

GK: The last book I read was written by one of my editors, Alicia Wanstall-Burke. Blood of Heirs is her debut novel, an epic fantasy with worldbuilding that has been heavily influenced by her native Australia. Easily the best debut I’ve read in years.

MG: It’s been on my TBR for a while. Heard great things. So aside from the fantastic book you have coming out , can you talk in a bit more detail about your next year of writing and when we can expect more from you..maybe a bit of a Faithless sequel teaser?

GK: I expect to have The Godless (working title) out in 2019. The book will see the return of Kharios and Leesha as the ramification of what Ossan has done begin to hit home. I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into it, particularly the world-building which impacts on a number of books. Depending on how things go with The Godless I should also break ground on the first of the books in the Riven Wyrde Legacy. We’ll just have to see.

MG: How important is a great cover to you? I notice you’ve worked with Pen Astridge who I am a huge fan of.

GK: A cover can be hugely important. I’ve been self-publishing for almost five years now and it’s something that simply can’t be under-stated – find talented professional and hire them. Editors, proofreaders, formatters, and cover artists. It’s a very rare person that can write and also do any of these things, and in my experience 9 times out of 10 any expenditure will be paid back in short order.

MG: And on that note, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?

GK: Slow down. I’ve made most of the mistakes it’s possible to make when writing. Most of them have been caused by impatience or a perceived need to get things finished. Just about every book will be improved by tossing it into a drawer for a couple of months while you work on something else, and then returning to it with fresh eyes.

Interview with James Jakins

By Michael Gruneir

James Jakins is a self published author of both Urban and Epic Fantasy. His debut novel Jack Bloodfist: Fixer was a SPFBO 2017 top 10 finalist. He recently released his third novel Knights of the Dead God, and he has a massive year ahead of him. I recently talked to James about his ambitious plans for 2019.

MG:Hey man so how’s NaNoWriMo treating you? You getting out at all or just sequestered somewhere on a keyboard?

JJ:NaNo is going great. I’m cheating a little by working on a 20k word novella instead of the 50k words the event usually encourages. So it hasn’t been as much of a marathon.

MG:Yea because when you have Jack Bloodfist in your corner you can break the rules on these things right?

JJ:Yeah. Jack said it was okay. I don’t actually think he has that sort of authority, but he’s a big guy so people tend to let him get away with it.

MG: I want to write a novel man. I have this concept with seals and a Walrus and maybe beer…think that would fly with them?

JJ:I feel like beer and walruses-walrusi?-are a natural fit. They just got the look of someone that loves beer too much. Also, as anyone that’s read Fixer will tell you, seals make everything better. Just make sure the seals don’t turn into attractive redheads and I won’t accuse you of stealing the plot of Jack Bloodfist 3.

Seriously, though. Write a novel.

MG:Speaking of classic books, Congrats on Knights of the Dead God, it’s just brilliant. Talk a bit about it and how it falls in to the world of Jack Bloodfist

JJ:Thanks! I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

Knights fits into the World of Jack Bloodfist primarily through the two main characters. Both Arthur and Miki are introduced in Jack Bloodfist: Fixer. There’s also the world they find themselves in during that opening scene of Knights. In Fixer, Jack learns the story of where his family came from and how they ended up in Virginia. In Knights, Miki and Arthur are transported back to the orcs homeworld. So, while both books take place in very different settings, one that of an Urban Fantasy world, and the other one you’re more likely to find sitting around a table rolling dice, they both exist in the same, I think the best word would be: multiverse.

MG: Cool…I love when everything just connects somehow. I notice one of your Characters Jackson Smith seems to appear just about everywhere.

JJ:Ah, Mr. Smith. Yeah, Jackson has appeared in one form or another in almost every story I’ve written. He was originally intended as an easter egg that was really just for me. As a kid whenever I read books I had a game I played where I figured out which of the less important characters I could have replaced. Someone inconsequential enough that I couldn’t break the story, but still got to do something cool. Then, as I got older I learned of the phrase “Deus ex Machina” and that was when Jackson was born. He’s that character. Someone from outside the story who’s stepped into a minor role with his goal being to nudge the story in the right direction. He really was never intended to be as big a character as he ended up being, but while writing Fixer I knew I needed a wizard character and instead of coming up with one whole cloth I thought it would be fun to slot Jackson into that role. Then he got away from me a little and now he’s actually a pretty big player in that story.

MG:Yea he’s a total badass. That’s always a fun thing in your books like in Son of Thunder, They ride vehicles called O.R.Cs.

JJ: I love orcs, man. After Fixer I felt bad not having any orcs in Son of Thunder, so I got the word in there at least.

MG: Speaking of Orcs, I’m sure the drunk pink elephant in the room of SPFBO followers and fans of hilarious Urban Fantasy is wondering what’s going on with Jack. It seems like it’s been a while since he’s made an appearance. What’s up with that and when will he be back?

JJ: Good news, Everybody! I’m currently working on the second book(Titled Jack Bloodfist: Freelancer) and it is coming along very well. Took a little break from that for my NaNoWriMo project, but Jack is priority number one. The current plan is for an early 2019 release. Aiming for April. I got a neat little synopsis if you want to see it?

MG: I know a lot about it but I’m sure others will.

JJ: Yeah, cause you’ve got that sneak peek. Here’s the blurb as it exists now: “Jack Bloodfist is an orc that has been known to fix things. Now he’s working for anyone willing to sign a check.

When he’s not handling security for a werewolf pack’s monthly meeting he’s helping a dwarf find a stolen magic spear.

But sometimes a thief isn’t really a thief. Sometimes they’re a preacher’s wife who also happens to be a powerful necromancer with even more powerful friends: Rogue demons, extra-planar monsters, and the obligatory zombies.

From small Southern towns, to an elf king’s court, to the rooftops of New York City, Jack’s gonna have to call in every favor he has if he wants to make it out the other end in one piece.”

MG: That sounds like all kinds of chaotic goodness. It’s Jack turned up to 11! Love it! And from what I’ve seen and read this will be one of the big ones to look out for. Got any plans for the release?

JJ: I will finally sleep…

No, I’ve got some stuff planned. Biggest, and for me the coolest part, of every book is getting that awesome cover ready. For Freelancer I’ve got the amazing Pen Astridge working on this one.

MG: Awesome! I love her work. That’s massive. How did that come about?

JJ: Well, bit of an insider tip here. The secret to getting a professional to do work for you is to reach out and agree to pay them. For Freelancer, I’ve been debating doing a bit of a rebranding of the Jack Bloodfist books. I still love the cover for the first book but I’ve had a number of people express that they’re not big fans of it. The truth is that people judge a book by its cover, so I want to make sure they see something that their judgement deems worthy.

MG: I have no doubt that Pen’s covers will bring even more hype to the sequel. Sounds top class. So how many books do you have planned for Jack? And what else do you have in the works?

JJ: So, after Freelancer I have three more Jack books planned out. Two more in the series proper and then a stand-alone. I definitely plan on coming back to the world and characters often, that’s just all the Jack stories I have in my never-ending list of ideas at the moment. Other than Jack my biggest project at the moment is my new series, of which Knights of the Dead God is the first. I’m calling the series “Broken Redemption” and have a total of 7 books planned. After Freelancer I’m actually planning on just focusing on those for a while. I try really hard to make sure every book I release works as a stand alone with no cliffhangers, so I really hope that fans of either of my other series are okay with a little bit of a wait, again…I feel like I should also mention my Thunder’s War series. I’ve started the second book, Lightning’s Price, but it’s on hold at the moment. It’s definitely going to happen, but it’s been harder to write than I’d expected. Not because I don’t think I can, but for completely personal reasons. One of the main characters in the book is based on one of my best friends who committed suicide in 2017 and there are days where writing that character hurts a little too much, especially because that book puts the character through the ringer. So it’s definitely coming, I just ask that everybody be patient with me. But trust me when I promise that when it does come? It’s gonna be amazing.

MG: So I’m assuming it will require little sleep and a lot of coffee to handle this. 7 books? That’s immense! Do you know where you’re going with all this already ?

JJ: I do. I have every single one of the books plotted. Some more than others, but every single one has the bones in place and just needs the squishy bits layered on top. It’s going to be 7 books, each one just a little different from the others, all leading up to what I hope everyone agrees is an epic finale. And, yeah, definitely a lot of nights with less sleep than is probably healthy.

MG: Well take care of yourself my friend. If there’s ever been a time I wish I had a Delorean it’s right now. I can’t wait to read all of this . Consequently I’m very sorry to hear about your friend. I think you had mentioned something about an anthology dedicated to him in a past interview

JJ: Yeah. Man, how could I forget to bring that up? Myself and a few other writer friends put together an anthology that’s going to be benefiting suicide awareness and prevention. We have a seriously amazing group of writers who contributed. The Anthology is genre-less, meaning we have stories ranging from literary fiction to horror to bizarro to fantasy. It’s called “Where There Are Dragons” and all the stories at least have the word “Dragon” in them. There are some amazing stories in there and I think there’s going to be at least one story for every type of reader. That’s going to be releasing in February of 2019. I’m hopefully going to have an “official” announcement of some kind at some point.

MG: Busy year! That’s also an amazing cause. I hope you do well with it. What about some recommendations if you’ve actually had any time to read. What’s good?

JJ: I primarily do audio books these days because that lets me listen while I do the other stuff I have to do to not die. I have listened to a few good ones lately. Let’s see… Just the other day I finished Dyrk Ashton’s “Paternus,” and loved it. Sat on it for too long. I thoroughly enjoyed RJ Barker’s “Age of Assassins,” CT Phipps’ “Straight Outta Fangton.” If you’re in the mood for something weird and potentially disgusting, my good friend Austin James has a short story collection coming out next month called “Indistinct Conversations.” I don’t want it to go to his head, but dude’s good. I’ve actually been pretty lucky lately. Haven’t really picked up any books this year that I haven’t actually enjoyed to some degree.

Oh! And, if anyone’s looking for recommendations, the finalist announcements for this year’s SPFBO are starting to come in. You know I’m going to be watching that score board.

MG: Awesome! I particularly dug Fangton and Paternus as well. A couple of  last things before we wrap up, hows the podcast tour working out?

JJ: Having a lot of fun with it. I talked with Dani and Greg from Book Geeks Uncompromised last night and got to nerd out about DnD, so I call that a win. I also always enjoy talking about my books and writing in general, so I hope at least a few other people get something out of it.

MG: Totally. I’ve enjoyed listening. Well thanks for taking the time dude, but lastly, the good word is that you’ve created a new character for Freelancer that’s like Boba Fett but 5 times more badass. Any truth to that?

JJ: Well, some(one) readers are calling him that. But yes, there is a character introduced in Freelancer that many(you) are going to love. Michael Gunn is his name. No idea where I got that inspiration from… He’s basically just another excuse for me to write a bard into a story and that’s always a good thing.

MG: Well I for one can’t wait to read about him. I’m sure his spinoff series will be a crowning achievement. Thanks man, always a pleasure and super stoked to read it all.

JJ: Thank you! Appreciate the excuse to talk about my stuff. Hope it delivers!

Interview with Richard Nell, and read the first two chapters of KINGS OF ASH

Richard Nell concerned family and friends by quitting his real job in 2014 to ‘write full-time’. He is a Canadian author of fantasy, living in one of the flattest, coldest places on earth with his begrudging wife, who makes sure he eats.

His debut novel Kings of Paradise is an epic, coming-of-age, low-fantasy novel, and the first of a three-part series. Book two, Kings of Ash, is set to release on January 17th, 2019. You can preorder it here, and read the first two chapters here.

So, Richard, tell us a little about how the Ash and Sand series came together. Have Ruka, Kale and Dala been banging around in your head for a while, or were they inspired by something in recent years?

Whew. Couldn’t have started with ‘what’s your favorite color’, or something, eh? Ash and Sand really started as the idea of two clashing cultures and people, one rich and geographically blessed, the other…not so much. I wanted to explore lots of themes about civilization, nature and culture and was really prepared to go anywhere the story took me. But pretty quickly I became obsessed with the characters. Ruka in particular haunts me still. I hear him when I jog, when I listen to music, when I read the news. He reminds me his story isn’t finished, and is kind of a pain in the ass.

There are quite a few cultures that this series explores, and a reoccurring theme is showing how these different cultures treat their criminals and prisoners. What real-life societies have inspired the creation of these cultures and the treatment of their citizens?

I love world history, so you can be sure almost everything is inspired by something real. The ‘Ascomi’ are a mix and mash of ancient Danes, Horse-tribes like the Scythians or Mongols, and a matriarchal people called the Miningkabau. The Pyu are a more straight-forward blend of polynesians and South-East Asians. As far as criminals and prisoners… I’m very interested in how different cultures handle the dispossessed, outcasts, rejects and rebels, which are almost inevitably single men. Even forgetting any discussion of morality, these men can be extremely dangerous to a society’s health, particularly if they grow too numerous, for all kinds of reasons. I think it’s a theme that remains very relevant.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you plan all the major plot points in advance, or let them grow organically? Has this process evolved over your writing career?

Basically a bit of both, but I prefer to plan. I have a theme or two, a question or two I want to explore, then I do a lot of world-building until I get a very good sense of the setting and can start dropping characters in my sandbox. I always have long-term objectives/plot points, but how I get there is really up to the characters, and how they develop is very open to change. If I get stuck, the answer is almost always ‘do some more world-building until this situation has a better framework’. But I’m quite careful about not ‘writing myself into a corner’.

Kings of Paradise has been growing in popularity since its launch, through word-of-mouth and lots of positive reviews. What takeaways have you learned since its release? Has it changed the way you’ve approaching writing or marketing, now that book two is set to drop?

If I knew just how much work this indie madness was before I started, I may never have tried. Building that word-of-mouth and the reviews is truly a sisyphean task, particularly in the beginning. Success builds on success, however, so once you’ve got good reviews or won an award or anything to help you stick out from the rabble, things get easier. Not easy, but easier. I have a lot more leverage these days and that takes a little pressure off, though I am still a very small fish. At least for book 2 there’s more than 0 people waiting for it. That helps a lot, too.

A lot of people were surprised that Kings of Paradise was eliminated in the first round of the SPFBO tournament. I had you picked for a finalist, if not the outright winner. Even so, have you gained any positive insights from being a part of the contest?

My favorite poem is ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling, and amongst the many lines of good advice is a true gem: ‘meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same’. What he means is don’t rely on or worry very much about luck, good or bad. In an art contest with 300 participants and 10 judges, we are not talking about a 100 meter sprint with a clear winner. There’s lots of subjectivity, lots of personal taste. You win some, you lose some. Keep working, keep improving. I actually wrote a blog post about it. On Failure.

You’ve released a couple of flintlock novellas that take place in a separate universe than the Ash and Sand series. Do you have plans to write any more stories in this universe? Can you talk about any other projects you’re working on?

Yes! There’s a complex world of demons and gunpowder percolating, centered on a possessed immortal (but dying) god-king. This will likely result in 2-3 books, as well as leaving room for other novellas. But first, of course, I need to finish the Ash and Sand trilogy, with the final book (tentatively titled Kings of Heaven) likely arriving 2020. After that, all bets are off.

Why are you still answering these questions instead of working on book three?

You promised if I did I wouldn’t get the hose again?

PUT THE LOTION IN THE BASK – uhh, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you for your time, Richard.

READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS OF KINGS OF ASH 

 

Read an excerpt from Graham Austin-King’s “THE LORE OF PROMETHEUS”

John Carver has three rules: Don’t drink in the daytime, don’t gamble when the luck has gone, and don’t talk to the dead people who come to visit. 

It has been almost five years since the incident in Kabul. Since the magic stirred within him and the stories began. Fleeing the army, running from the whispers, the guilt, and the fear he was losing his mind, Carver fell into addiction, dragging himself through life one day at a time.

Desperation has pulled him back to Afghanistan, back to the heat, the dust, and the truth he worked so hard to avoid. But there are others, obsessed with power and forbidden magics, who will stop at nothing to learn the truth of his gifts. Abducted and chained, Carver must break more than his own rules if he is to harness this power and survive.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Mackenzie sucked hard on the water tube, swilling it around in her mouth before she swallowed. The grainy paste clung to the inside of her mouth, sticking to the back of her teeth. She might have to eat the stuff to stay alive but, dear God, it would take a lot longer for her to actually enjoy it.

She’d lasted almost two days before she gave in and swallowed it down. For most of that time, she’d been too nauseous to feel hungry anyway. Eating had cleared away the last remnants of whatever drug she’d been fed, and the water had done the rest.

She figured she’d been in the room for about four days, but it was hard to tell with no windows to give her any reference. The lights came on right before she was blasted with water. She suspected they were on some sort of daily timer. It was impossible to know for sure, though. It could have been every eight hours for all she knew.

Sometime between the first water blast and the second, she’d given up screaming and started listening. Anyone within ear shot would have answered already if they were going to. Listening though; that had told her something new entirely.

The faint whine of electronics was just about audible through the walls, though she had to hold her breath to hear it. Once, she thought she caught the sound of footsteps, but the most important sounds didn’t come until the second day: the faint sounds of shouting.

The shouts were like hers to begin with, the words indistinct, but the tone was clear. Whoever it was passed back and forth between outrage and fear, alternating between screams of fury then, later, a quieter begging.

She’d shouted back until her throat burned, not realising the futility of it at first. She’d only heard them when she was holding her breath and utterly silent, and even then, she’d just caught the barest hint of their shouts. Whoever it was had no chance of hearing her unless they were as silent as she was. She needed them to adjust to their situation. To accept where they were for the time being. To stop yelling and start listening.

The voice, when it came, was soft—almost tentative, and from a completely different direction.

“Are you real?” it asked.

“Yes!” she shouted her answer, her heart suddenly pounding in her chest. “Yes, I’m real. I’m here.”

There was no answer.

She fell silent, concentrating on not making any sound that might drown the voice out. It had been louder than the distant shouting, loud enough that it could have been from the next room. Maybe it was.

Her patience ran out. “Are you there?”

No answer.

“Hey!”

Silence.

“Hey, arsehole. Answer me!”

“I thought I was dreaming again.”

Was it a man’s voice? It was hard to tell through the thickness of the walls. He, if it was a he, sounded either delirious or stoned, or maybe he’d just lost his grip on reality. Any of these were equally plausible in a place like this. She was barely keeping it together as it was.

“What’s your name?” she asked carefully, keeping her tone soft and level, as if speaking to a spooked horse.

There was a long pause before he answered. As if he had to wrack his brain for the answer.

“Armond. My name is Armond.”

French then. Or maybe German? It didn’t really matter. “I’m Mackenzie. Do you know where we are?”

He laughed then, the sound high and hysterical as it came through the concrete. “We’re in hell, Mackenzie. Hell on Earth.”

Probably better to just ignore that one, she decided. “Are we still in Kabul?”

“Where? No, but this room is dark most of the day, Mackenzie. I have no windows. I have no idea where we are.”

“Were you in Kabul, too?”

“Afghanistan? No. No, I was in Syria. In Damascus.”

Damascus? Syria was the other side of Iraq. It was thousands of miles away from Kabul. Where the hell was she?

He had a tone to his voice, an edge, like he was broken. It didn’t matter, it was enough that there was someone to talk to. Enough that she wasn’t alone. They spoke tentatively; like young lovers touching for the first time, each both excited and afraid of the other, but unable to stop themselves.

He’d been in Syria, with Oxfam, when he was taken; an administrator for one of their regional projects.

“How long were you there?” she asked.

“Eight months,” he replied, before his voice drifted into silence. “Before. You know, before this.”

“What did you do before that?”

“Iraq. Medecin sans Frontières for a couple of years. I don’t like going home so much these days. This job gets to you, and everyone at home just seems so blind to what they have.”

She nodded, despite the fact nobody could see her. He was right. The last time she’d gone home to Brisbane for Christmas it had been almost painful. The food left on the table was more than the street children in Kabul saw in a month.

Talking to Armond was hard work. He tended to fall silent for long periods, ignoring her when she called him, and she wondered if he was passing out. Or maybe he was being fed drugs. It wasn’t just that though. He was maddeningly guarded and refused to answer many of her questions about himself or what had happened to him.

It was another two days before she thought to ask the most obvious questions. “How long have you been here, Armond? Have you seen anyone?”

He’d fallen silent again and she forced herself to count to two hundred before she called out again. He was damaged, that much was obvious from his voice. Yelling at him would only make things worse.

“They still come for me sometimes,” he said, when she’d just about given up on getting an answer. “Not so much as they used to. Sometimes I think they forget I’m here.”

“What do they want?”

He laughed; a bitter, splintered sound that barely made it through the wall. “They want miracles, Mackenzie.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, but Armond had fallen silent again.

*

By the end of what she thought was the first week, she was fatigued and listless. She blamed the diet. The gruel was enough to keep her alive, but it likely lacked a lot of essential nutrients. She slept often, though how much of that was down to boredom was anyone’s guess.

Armond hadn’t spoken to her in days and in her weaker moments she wondered if he was still alive. She’d wondered more than once if he’d ever really been there in the first place. She marked the passing of time by the lights. Each time the spotlights blazed on, it was the beginning of another day. By her reckoning, she’d been in this prison for nine days.

The door was built into the glass wall, fitted so closely that it was invisible in the shadows that wreathed that end of the room. She gaped at it as it opened, an impossible thing that made her bolt up against the restraints. The figures that emerged were dressed in white medical garb. A man and a woman. They did not look at her, busying themselves with erecting a small stand a few meters from her. It was some manner of clamp, designed to hold something in place.

For the briefest moment she was bothered by her nakedness, a fleeting hangover from when she’d had a normal life.

“Hey!” she managed, her voice croaking. “Let me out. Please?”

The man glanced at her once. A plain, Middle Eastern man who could have come from anywhere. His eyes flickered over her bound form and then he turned back to the clamp, setting a large candle into it and lighting it before heading for the door.

“Let me go!” she screamed after him.

The door gave a pneumatic hiss, slid shut, and thunked back into place.

“Mackenzie?” A voice broke into the room through unseen speakers. “You are well?”

The question called for an answer, but it brought with it a realisation. They could hear her. The room must have a microphone in it somewhere. The thought that they had been able to hear her screaming for days on end, and just ignored it, passed quickly, smothered by the knowledge that they had probably heard every word she had shared with Armond. Somehow that was worse, and a spark of rage ignited in her chest.

“I’m tied up, you sick fuck! How the fuck do you think I’m doing?”

“Tell me about the fire, Mackenzie.”

“What?” She frowned at the glass wall across the room. “What fire?”

“You were nine years old, I believe?”

She stiffened against the frame, biting down the gorge that rose in her throat. “Fuck you.”

The voice ignored her, continuing in a calm voice. “The fire burned out your apartment complex in Brisbane. It completely destroyed everything above the third floor. What floor were you on, Mackenzie?”

“Go to hell!” She’d worked long and hard to bury that memory. It was why she’d left home in the first place. Tears pooled in her eyes despite herself, and she swore she’d cut the bastard if she ever got out of these restraints.

“But your apartment was different, wasn’t it? In the living room was a clear area. A circle untouched by the heat and the flames. That is where they found you, isn’t it, Mackenzie? But it was only you, wasn’t it? Your mother and father were killed, even your sister, died in those flames. How long did you spend in care homes, Mackenzie? How long was it before you were finally adopted? Was it until every child worth having had already gone?”

She bit down on her shaking lip, tasting blood. She’d be damned if she would answer him. The story had spread throughout the local news. It had followed her through counselling and into foster care, and then to two different schools when the bullying and name-calling had driven her out. They’d called her a freak. They’d thrown lit matches at her, and set her hair on fire, laughing as they told her to put them out.

“I believe it was you who held back those flames, Mackenzie.” The voice was relentless, droning on despite her tears and clenched fists.

“What do you want from me?” she grated from between clenched teeth. Maybe if she offered them something, they would leave her alone.

“Show me how you did it. Put out the candle.”

What?”

“Put out the candle, Mackenzie.”

She stared blankly at the glass. What was this? “How? I can’t reach it, you idiot.”

The voice turned hard. “Do not play with me, Mackenzie. Put out the candle and you will be treated well.”

The threat hung in the air, unspoken, but she heard it anyway.

She tried blowing, though she was easily three meters away from it. The best she managed was to make it flicker.

“I can’t,” she said, sagging back against the frame.

“Put out the candle, Mackenzie. Don’t blow it. Put it out.”

“I don’t know how,” she admitted.

“You do. You have tamed fire before. Put out the candle.”

She was going to die. The knowledge came slowly, creeping in like fog over a field. They wanted the impossible from her. Armond was right. They wanted miracles, and she had nothing to give them.

“I don’t know how I did it,” she called out again, pleading and hating herself for the weakness in her voice. “I don’t even know if it was me.”

“Put out the candle.”

The voice nagged and demanded for what felt like hours, repeating the order as the candle burned down, and wax dripped onto the floor. Eventually it fell silent, ignoring her protests as they turned to begging pleas.

She remembered so little of it. She’d been so young and what she could recall had a vague, dream-like quality to it. Sensations were all she could really remember.

The heat on her skin, and the roar of the flames in her ears.

She remembered the fear, so strong that it overrode everything else as she’d curled into a ball and pressed her eyes to her knees. Beyond that, it was just memories of the aftermath. The feel of the fireman’s jacket as she was carried out; rough and yet smooth on the hi-vis stripes. The smell of the smoke, and the way everyone looked at her—wonder mingling with a sympathy so sharp it cut into her.

“I can’t,” she whispered. “I don’t know…”

She let her voice trail off. They weren’t listening. They were going to kill her. It might take months, but eventually, when they grew tired of her failure, they would kill her. She let the thought grow, the certainty growing with it, until it overwhelmed her and the tears began again.

“Give them what they want.”

She looked up, tossing her head to throw her dark hair back from her face. “Armond?”

“It’s better to just give them what they want, Mackenzie,” he repeated. He sounded calmer than usual, more lucid.

“I can’t,” she said. “They want a miracle and I didn’t bring any with me.”

She snorted a laugh then, tears still fresh on her face. It started as a giggle and built until she couldn’t stop even if she’d wanted to. She laughed until her stomach hurt and it left her gasping. She’d been drugged and abducted, chained up in this room by mad men, and told to perform wonders or die. The whole situation was so absurd that it seemed like there was nothing else to do but laugh.

The Lore of Prometheus will be released on November 30th, 2018. You can preorder it now.

Graham Austin-King was born in the south of England and weaned on broken swords and half-forgotten spells. A shortage of these forced him to consume fantasy novels at an ever-increasing rate, turning to computers and tabletop gaming between meals.

He experimented with writing at the beginning of an education that meandered through journalism, international relations, and law. To this day he is committed to never allowing those first efforts to reach public eyes.

After meandering across both England and Canada he settled once again in the north of England  surrounded by a seemingly endless horde of children and a very patient wife who can arguably say her husband is away with the faeries.

The Lore of Prometheus is his fifth novel and draws on a foundation of literary influences ranging from David Eddings to Dean Koontz.

Connect with Graham:

Preorder link: mybook.to/TheLoreofPrometheus

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/graham.austin.507

Twitter: @Grayaustin

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41943371-the-lore-of-prometheus