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Gaelland – The World of The Last Quarrel, by Duncan Lay

Posted February 26, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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The Irish being raided by pirates from the Ottoman Empire? It certainly sounds like fantasy but, while the lands of The Last Quarrel are indeed inspired by Ireland (Gaelland) and the Ottoman Empire (Kotterman Empire), there is also more truth in this relationship than you might think. One of the inspirations for the story was the real-life Sack Of Baltimore, where a small Irish fishing village was completely taken into slavery by raiders from North Africa. And yes, the Ottoman Empire never stretched that far but there is every chance some of the many “white slaves” taken from the UK and Ireland and Europe ended up there.

But how close are the two mythical countries to their real-life inspirations?

Well, not so much. Yes, they have a flavour of them and the character names and places are either directly taken or inspired by real names and places. The biggest difference is, of course, the magic.

Ireland has quite the tradition of magical creatures and legends but the magic in Gaelland takes that a step further. The land essentially has two different type of magic. The first is natural magic, which a few talented people can draw from the air around them and use to change the world. Its powers are limited to what occurs naturally and merely mimics actions that can be found in nature. Using this magic is through cause and effect – the magician needs to use their own energy to replace what they take. Then there is blood magic, which is granted only in exchange for human sacrifice. The only cost there is your soul – and, of course, the innocent you slaughter to gain power.

Natural magic is celebrated and those lucky enough to be able to wield it can command huge sums of money for their skills. Because of its power, it is heavily regulated, with its own Guild. This Guild also sets the fees and makes sure nobody is tempted to use their magic for the common good. It is the King and the nobles who have most command of the magicians, using them to display their wealth and power. Natural magic is respected, although regarded a little suspiciously by many people. Only the rich can have it used on their behalf, so it is rare indeed that ordinary people can feel its effects. It has also given rise to many strange tales, including the stories of selkies, mythical beasts that look like seals but can apparently take the form of men at will. And, if angered, they will take lives as well.

Blood magic, on the other hand, is truly feared. It is blamed on witches, with more power gained through the sacrifice of the young and innocent – preferably children. Tradition and superstition claims that witches cannot abide the touch of metal, so it is thought any type of iron can avert their evil.

Some of that is true … These two magic forms come to blows in The Last Quarrel, as Fallon, his wife Bridgit and Prince Cavan desperately try to unravel the mystery of what is happening to Gaelland. Magic will both help and hinder their search …


The first three episodes of The Last Quarrel are on sale now!

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Cover reveal(s) – The Last Quarrel by Duncan Lay

Posted February 3, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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Gaelland is a nation gripped by fear.

In the country, fishing boats return with their crews mysteriously vanished, while farms are left empty, their owners gone into the night, meals still on the table. In the cities, children disappear from the streets or even out of their own beds. The King tells his people that it is the work of selkies – mythical creatures who can turn from seals into men and back again – and witches. But no matter how many women he burns at the stake, the children are still being taken. Fallon is a man who has always dreamed of being a hero. His wife Bridgit just wants to live in peace and quiet, and to escape the tragedies that have filled her life. His greatest wish and her worst nightmare are about to collide. When an empty ship sails into their village, he begins to follow the trail towards the truth behind the evil stalking their land. But it is a journey that will take them both into a dark, dark place and nobody can tell them where it might end …

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The Last Quarrel Episode One is now for sale. All other episodes are available for pre-order.


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Could Infinite Monkeys Actually Create the Works of Shakespeare?

Posted January 16, 2015 by Eve Merrier

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You’ve heard that enough monkeys with enough typewriters would eventually create the complete works of Shakespeare? Well some people with access to monkeys got a grant, and a computer. Then Hamlet happened. Sorry, that’s not true. Here’s what really occurred:

They put the computer in the monkey enclosure to see what literary masterpiece they might type. It turns out that monkeys really like the letter ‘S’.  The six Sulawesi crested macaques, called Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan, typed little else on the five pages they produced. They also mostly destroyed the machine and used it ‘as a lavatory’. Monkeys, we expected more of you.

monkeyTo look at it from one aspect, the point is not actually to discover if monkeys can do it, but to find out if randomly punched keys, ad infinitum, will create Shakespeare. In fact the origin of the phrase held no mention of monkeys. It’s probably a variation of Aristotle’s example of a book whose text was formed by letters randomly scattered on the ground. Eighteenth and Nineteenth century French mathematicians often discussed the idea of a book which was created by a random splurge of letters from a printing press. It was one of these French number-chiefs, Émile Borel, who brought monkeys into it: he said they could eventually come up with every tome in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

tumblr_ni64vnpRaX1u80812o1_400So real life monkeys are no good – they will just pee over everything – and the capacity for monkey concentration is kind of not the point, but how about hypothetical virtual monkeys? A computer generation was set up, in which virtual monkeys typed at random. Each day they created an eighteen or nineteen character string of real words that happen in Shakespeare.

Pretty early on a twenty-one character string, recognisably from Love’s Labour’s Lost appeared:

KING. Let fame, that [wtIA”yh!…

Which looks remarkably like:

KING. Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Live regist’red upon our brazen tombs,
And then grace us in the disgrace of death.

The record was this from Henry IV, Part 2:

RUMOUR: Open your ears; [9r’5j5…

Which matches the first part of:

RUMOUR: Open your ears; for which of you will not stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?

tumblr_n6b65jkMKT1qd8w33o1_500On average, one character was added to the string each year, so truly infinite (virtual) monkeys, with infinite time and/or greater speed might just pull it off.

Shakespeare’s fab, but we’ve already got Shakespeare. What use is monkey plagiarism? If I had infinite monkeys, I think I’d try and coax them into writing something new. I would like to see infinite monkeys trying to get an agent, securing a publishing deal, and eventually collecting the Booker Prize and making their awards speech. Sadly, I don’t think that’s going to happen, so for the moment I’ll stick to reading books written by humans. Reality, you disappoint me sometimes.


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Book Bingo – The Reading Game You Need to Play

Posted January 9, 2015 by Eve Merrier

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A new year comes with it pressure to make resolutions, and in the reading world, it’s usually, “How many books are you going to read this year?” Personally, I’d rather not set a numerical goal: What if I choose to read Ulysses, then War and Peace? Or one unending tome? I’d rather not race through it to arbitrarily win against myself. I think all reading time is time well spent. Many book bloggers do the number thing beautifully-, for example – but personally, I’d be terrible at keeping to a target. I’m sure I can’t be the only one.


That’s not to say I don’t like a challenge.

When not writing, editing, or generally spending time on the interweb, I work for the library service. I’d like to introduce you to the brilliant game that we’re all playing in the libraries at the moment. It’s called ‘Book Bingo’.

Here are the rules:

1. You pick a line of six squares. The line can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal.
2. For each square, match the description with a book of your choice.
3. Read the six books (not necessarily in row order). Tick them off as you go.
4. Glory in your reading achievements.

Book Bingo Surrey Libraries

This is the Surrey Libraries version of the Book Bingo card. If you happen to be reading this in Surrey, England, I strongly suggest you find yourself a participating local branch. If you’re not, do it just for fun with the shelves of your local bookshops, library, charity shops and the contents of your ereader (perhaps with a few shiny new Momentum titles). You just need to read six books, of your own choosing, in your own sweet time. That’s my kind of challenge.

peanutslibrarycardBook Bingo could inspire you to discover books that you’d never think to try. It’s also a bit of an intellectual challenge: While covering at a charming village library we tried to come up with books set in schools that were suitable for adults (and weren’t Harry Potter). Another brilliant attribute of Book Bingo, and specifically this card, is that it encourages you to ask for recommendations (especially from people who work in libraries – they know their books!). In my opinion, this is the absolute best way to discover new favourites. It also encourages you to chat to other book lovers, which is always a life-affirming treat.

While I’m on the subject, enjoy the sneak peek of my bookshelves in the above picture. I unreservedly recommend 100 Facts About Pandas.

Join me in a game of Book Bingo! Do you want to play? Tweet me @EveProofreads.

UPDATE: We loved this idea at Momentum so goddamn much that we made our own game! If you want to play Momentum Book Bingo share your results with us on Facebook and Twitter! 


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A stranger in a strange land: guest post by Louise Cusack

Posted November 14, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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I’ve been watching the wildly popular new television series Outlander, adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s 1991 novel of the same name. It’s about WW2 army nurse Claire Randall who is visiting Scotland when she’s sent back in time 200 years, leaving her husband behind and needing to marry young and handsome highlander Jamie Fraser for protection. Outlander (the novel) is currently Goodreads #2 top romance of all-time, so this is a popular story that’s still selling strongly 23 years after its original release.

The television series features stunning Scottish landscapes and a regularly bare-chested male lead played by hunky Scot actor Sam Heughan, which might explain its popularity with non-readers as well. But according to blogs and reviews springing up across the Internet, the stranger in a strange land aspect of Claire coping with the primitive day-to-day life of eighteenth century Scotland is one of the most thrilling aspects of the story.

Unlike other historical dramas, this series looks at a time period through the fresh eyes of a twentieth century female character, allowing us to put ourselves in Claire’s shoes as she rebels against their patriarchy, is disgusted by their medical practices, and occasionally delights in the strangeness of it all – exactly as we might.

Of course, this isn’t the first stranger in a strange land story to enchant audiences.


Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole into Wonderland have thrilled generations of children, and Avatar, where cripple Jake Sully saves the beautiful planet of Pandora, is the highest grossing movie of all time. Not to mention Edgar Rice Burrough’s hero John Carter, transported to Barsoom/Mars – a particular favorite of mine that was made into a Disney movie a few years back. I used to devour Edgar Rice Burroughs novels as though they were Mills & Boon when I was a teen, thrilling to the adventure of a ‘clean limbed fighting man from Virginia’ saving the princess and falling in love. Beyond the romance, I was falling in love with a genre that lets audiences see a new world through the eyes of a stranger.

A Princess of Mars was soon followed on my shelf by Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness and Frank Herbert’s Dune as firm favorites (along with Outlander). Not to mention that my first big crush was on Captain James Kirk of the starship Enterprise whose mission was to boldly go where no man had gone before…

I couldn’t get enough of characters going from one world into another, so it was also no surprise that I’d settle on stranger in a strange land stories as the theme I wanted to explore as a writer. Across, fantasy, romance and erotica, that theme is a constant, but my absolute favorite is my Shadow Through Time trilogy that begins with twentieth century Catherine falling through a Sacred Pool into Ennae and discovering that in that world she is Princess Khatrene, with a hunky champion of her own and adventures and romance more thrilling than anything I’d ever read.

So in celebration of all things stranger in a strange land, Momentum is offering the first book of my trilogy, Destiny of the Light, for free so you have your own vicarious adventure in an otherworld. And as one book-blogger said, “If you love your fantasy to be slightly gritty but with plenty of swoony romance, Destiny of the Light is for you!

 Louise Cusack‘s Destiny of the Light is currently FREE!

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In conversation – with Amanda Bridgeman and Nina D’Aleo

Posted November 12, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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Two of our authors, Amanda Bridgeman and Nina D’Aleo sat down to have a chat about their books and their approaches to writing.

Bridgeman_Amanda    D'Aleo_Nina

A: Hi Nina! It’s great to be chatting with you today. I’m a big fan of your work and am looking forward to picking your brain. So tell me, you’ve written three SFF books now. Is the process getting any easier for you?

N: In short. No. :) It’s still the same chronic rewriting and second guessing for me, but I guess in ways that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it makes for a thorough knowledge of the story, from every conceivable angle.

Number 3 for you too! (Congratulations!!) Is it getting any easier for you?

A: I’ve released 3 books, but I had them all written before I got the first one published. So, for those ones, I can only really comment on the editing process – which I do think is getting easier. I’m definitely more attuned to what I need to look for, thanks to what has been picked up in the past (which hopefully makes my editor’s life easier!). I’ve only just recently written a brand new novel, so that was my first experience at writing again – and as it is a completely stand-alone novel not linked to the Aurora series in any way, it was a good test for me. There were days that it was slow going, and others where I seemed to race along, but I think that’s par for the course. I do think my writing has improved though. I’m certainly editing out the mistakes of the past before they’re committed to the page!

So what sparks your inspiration? After you have that first idea, how do you go about turning that into a fully fleshed story?

N: Good question and I think there’s been a whole heap of inspirations for all my books – people, stories, movies, art, poetry, music, animals, places  – pretty much everything I come into contact with! I think it’s probably the same for a lot of writers and artists as well. Once the idea for a story pops up then I’ll go into planning mode, so world, characters, storyline – everything goes down in whatever order I’m feeling like.

But tell me more about your Aurora Series – there are 3 books out now and more on the way – did you do an overall plot and planning at the very beginning or have the stories evolved as you wrote?

A: The story evolved as I wrote. It was only supposed to be one story, but as I wrote I seemed to undercover more and more story lying underneath. The good news for readers, though, is that I have now plotted the whole series and it will come to a definite end around book 7/8. I recently received a comment from someone suggesting that I was writing more books (and stretching out the story) for the commercial aspect of it, but this is completely untrue. The story itself dictated how long it would be. I have this (rather major) over-arching plot and several subplots that need to be tied up, and they can’t be tied up in one single book. At least, not if I want it to be realistic! Anyway…

Tell me, what do you find the hardest thing about this writing business?

N: Time, I think…. Just getting the time to sit down and write – it’s been an insanely busy year, but I’m hoping next year will be a bit different.  And also I think what you touched on above, it can be difficult to put stories out there and pause for judgement. On the flipside, it’s also a massive privilege and mostly awesome (everything is awesome!) to have people reading our books. That’s living the dream! And speaking of dreams – I think it’s that time. I think we need to talk characters…

Can you tell me a little bit about the leading men in your Aurora series – just a teaser for readers who haven’t started the Aurora series yet?

A: The leading men in the Aurora series are far from perfect, but they each contain elements of the perfect ‘man’. Saul Harris has the maturity, experience and the leadership skills to captain the Aurora team. He’s firm but fair, and because of this he has the team’s respect and trust . . . Daniel ‘Doc’ Walker, is intelligent and caring – two traits required of the medic and ship’s 2IC. He’s easy going, but when required he becomes the soldier he needs to be. Throughout the series his easy-going character is tested, and the ‘perfect’ guy proves that he makes mistakes too . . . James McKinley is hard man, and a courageous one at that – a key trait for Harris’ right-hand man in the field. He pushes people to prove themselves, but he also pushes himself to be the best. As the series unfolds, his hardened external layers are slowly removed, and the man hidden inside comes to light…

Now, I am a big fan of the leading men in your books (Copernicus and Darius to name a couple). So for readers who haven’t started your books as yet, tell us a little bit about them?

N: I’m going to say for Copernicus, tall, dark and dangerous and Darius – he has a hard exterior but there’s love there – somewhere on the inside – (and I have to say McKinley is my fav Aurora boy, but they’re all great). But I’m thinking we shouldn’t forget about the girls either – your leading lady, Corporal Carrie Welles, sharp shooter and elite soldier. She’s just starting out but she’s already been to hell and back.

When you write female characters do you find yourself naturally writing tougher ladies, is it something you wanted to do purposely. And if so, why do you think that is? (for either)

A: I like to write tough women, but I also like them to have their weak moments. That is what makes them human and I think what makes them appeal to readers. I come from a  line of strong women – my mother and my grandmothers – whom I dedicated Aurora: Darwin (and the whole Aurora series) to, so I suppose it’s bred into me in a way. They are women who have just picked themselves up and carried on when faced with hardships. Sometimes strong women make the mistake of being too strong and not allowing themselves to be weak or ask for help, and it is at this point that they seem to fall apart, because they can’t cope with not being perfect. This I think, is a big driver for Carrie Welles in my Aurora series. She is a woman who has to look deep inside herself to pull the courage out that she needs to survive, and she is also a woman who has to lower her defensive shield to admit when she is wrong or needs help, and to allow love to enter her life…

You also write strong women, and they seem a little damaged in a way due to the secrets they keep, but because of this they’re fighters – and survivors. What drives that in your writing?

N: Good question… I think I’ve always been attracted to the idea of the survivor – the person who can take every hit, psychologically and physically, and still keep going. For me that really defines a hero – not because they’re incredibly brave, or gifted, or perfect people, but because they never stop, despite the scars and damage.

Now I understand you’re working on a book that is outside of the Aurora Series, can you tell me a little bit about it and what it’s been like venturing out of your universe?

A: Yes, the new book is called The Time of The Stripes and it’s another sci-fi, but set on Earth, current day. It’s told from multiple perspectives and follows the immediate events surrounding a worldwide phenomenon. It’s a pretty tense drama, so readers of the Aurora series will hopefully enjoy it. It’s been a very interesting process to write! In some ways it’s been difficult in that I’m having to build characters up from scratch again – especially after spending so long with my Aurora characters, who I know like the back of my hand. It had also been a while since I’d written anything new so that harsh reminder of just how long it takes to write a novel was a wake up call! On the plus side, it’s been great to try my hand at building another world, in part to prove I could, but also just for having an opportunity to try something new and take that breath of fresh air was wonderful. But now I’m ready to crack on with more of the Aurora series!

So how did you find the experience of going from the The Last City/The Forgotten City to The White List?

N: It was pretty cool – I’ve always got a few writing projects going at once so it wasn’t too much of a leap, but there’s always those readjustments, where you have to find the right voice for the character, but overall it was great.

So thank you very much for chatting with me AB – any final advice for aspiring writers looking to get their work out there?

A: Study the market as best you can, be prepared to work hard, and learn patience! Writing and getting published is a marathon, not a sprint.

And what advice would give them?

N: I completely agree with you and I’ll just add in – don’t give up!

A: Yes! Good point. Well thanks for chatting with me today, Nina! It’s been great getting an insight into your wonderful books!

N: Thanks AB! It’s been great chatting with you too!

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Q&A with Sophie Masson

Posted November 10, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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We asked our wonderful author Sophie Masson some questions about her upcoming release Trinity: The Koldun Code.


 1. What inspired you to write the Trinity series?

I could say that what inspired me was my lifelong fascination with Russia, and that’s true. I could also say that it was inspired by my long-held desire of writing a big urban fantasy series, one that blends the everyday and the magical worlds, the natural and the supernatural, against a modern setting which makes the whole thing even more striking. That would also be true. And I wanted it to have other elements I love too, such as a good spice of romance and a sharp tingle of mystery. But Trinity might just have stayed as an idea in the back of my mind, if it hadn’t been for a chance glimpse on the Moscow Metro: a young man in modern jeans and leather jacket, but with the timeless, striking face of a prince or a legendary warrior, such as I’d seen that very day in paintings in the Tretiakov Art Gallery.

In that instant, just before the young man got off the train, Trinity really came alive. For there was Alexey Makarov taking shape in my mind, and there was Helen’s voice describing him. And I knew I could not rest until I had told their story.


2. Russia is such an evocative setting, how did you come to choose it?

As I mentioned, I’ve been fascinated by Russia since I was a child, when I read Russian fairytales, and later, Russian novels. My father (who comes from France) loves Russian music and art, so we were exposed to a lot of that at home. Much later, I visited Russia (I’ve been there twice now) and loved it—it was just as interesting as I had imagined it, in fact even more so! It’s such a mix of so many different influences—hugely diverse, enormously paradoxical, and extremely addictive.


3. Speaking of Russia, magic is such an ingrained part of their culture, how did this influence you?

Heaps! Russia is the absolutely perfect urban fantasy setting—you hardly even have to make anything up! From the Parliament trying to regulate witchcraft to the businesses who employ wizards to the scientists studying DNA for evidence of psychic talents to the ‘energy vampires’ who people firmly believe in, this is a place where the supernatural and paranormal are taken for granted by many, many people. And yet it’s also totally modern, with very high literacy and education levels.


4. What was your favourite scene to write, and why?

My favorite scene is the one where Helen and Alexey meet for the first time, in the woods. Everything changes in that moment for Helen, and it is truly magical, in all kinds of ways. Writing it gave me goose bumps!


5. What can we expect in the second book The False Prince?

A new threat on the horizon as a figure from the past resurfaces and causes havoc both natural and supernatural at Trinity. Watch this space!



Trinity: The Koldun Code is released on the 13th of November.


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Space Opera and why YOU are reading it!

Posted September 18, 2014 by Stephen Jones

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Here’s something you weren’t expecting to read today – I Love Space Opera! I have ever since I was grown from a crystal in the orbital laboratory of Dr Klien Purnicious.



To make your own!

Jokes, was NOT grown in lab in space (because I’m a human) BUT I do love me some space opera. Let me inform you, dear reader, of why space opera should be in your eyeballs more than it already is. If it’s already in your eyeballs 100% of the time – Congratulations!


You, nerd, may rest for this article.

Romance and Drama

So of course you like the minute of human drama and romance because, who doesn’t? Seriously, give me their names. Sure maybe you don’t appreciate The Bold and The Beautiful but you like characters and plot points and twists and…like…Story 101. We’re not even going to argue about this.



Hush that sweet brain of yours.

So imagine the minutiae of human drama and romance spread on a galactic scale! It’s an exciting idea that’s been explored in space opera ever since a person looked to the stars and said “Let’s put people in that”. We’re talking the basis of religion here. The Greeks, Romans, everyone knew that that’s where the magic was. That’s where Gods descended from, that’s where they returned and that, my friends, is space opera.



Ok, I may be flinging the metaphorical bone a little high here but it’s not an entirely stupid point.

Modern space opera continues the tradition but instead of magic bringing them down here, we’ve got the technology to take us to them. Them in this case is stars and planets – not Gods.

It’s not like we have stories about missions to the God of War.




Or to the King of the Gods.


Nailed this one pretty hard, amirite?

But free from the Earth the romance and drama of human existence can expand to fill the cosmos itself! It’s pretty cool, you can admit it.

Still not cool enough for you? How about I put it in terms you can relate to…


That’s right, space operas are often so good because they are a gritty reboot of earth operas! Not literally operas per say…





You put a crew of people in a submarine then suddenly – Emergency! Oh noes! How do they escape? Who was responsible? Is it Red October or U-571 rules?



Das Boot? Damn it!

Now, you put them on a spaceship headed to a new colony, or they’re testing a new dimension-jump-warp-accelerator and suddenly BAAM! – Emergency!



In the first instance the worst thing that happens is drowning, maybe some light radiation poisoning followed by drowning.

But in space? Where no-one can hear you scream? You can break the speed of light, go through a black hole where you and the crew a spegettified and then come out the other side as a mix of everyone that was on board. No one died, but there’s something…new on board. After defeating the…being…you turn the ship around but don’t have enough plasma-cooling-dilithumm-crystals to go back through the black hole and when you investigate the nearest source it turns out to be an exact duplicate of YOUR ship!


Really? Das Boot rules again?!?

You can see where this is going. Submarine? Drowning. Spaceship? Exploration of the human condition, our place in the universe, our fears, monsters and daemons AND drowning!

Really?!? I thought for sure the drowning would get you hooked. Let’s try…

Genre Mashing

Ahh, the great Mash of ’09, such a great summer. We were young and foolish back them. Why I remember when we combined pop rocks and chocolate in our McFlurry. Those were the days – the terrible, cramp filled days.

McDonalds Mississippi Mud Pie McFlurry2


It both created, then sealed, stomach ulcers.

But not all mashing is a bad idea. Potatoes do well with a bit of mashing, as does…



She only wants you for your brains, man.


What if you combine space and the wild west?



Space opera!

What if you combine space and romance!?



Space opera!

Or even space and war?!?!



Space opera!

Long story short, put something in space and it’s just better. As well as being space opera.

And that, sweet summer child, is why you should read Space opera.

 Love space opera? Try the bestselling Aurora series by Amanda Bridgeman! Aurora: Darwin is 99c for a limited time only!


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Posted July 24, 2014 by Mark

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Kat brought her eyes back to Amber. “Am I still in danger?” she blurted. 
      “Of course you are.”
An unexpected visit from Kat’s grandmother adds a shocking twist to the unfolding mystery of her hybrid heritage. Add to this a romantic tangle of epic proportions and Kat’s visit to Akilina’s chateau in the idyllic Loire Valley is shaping up to be anything but relaxing. 
Kat’s powers are growing, and with war between the races looming new alliances are being forged. And everyone, it seems, wants Kat on their side …
This title is the fourth novella-length episode of Dark Child (Covens Rising), which will conclude with Episode 5. Please visit for further information.

Chapter 35

Kat woke to birdsong. The morning light streamed through a tall open window; a tasseled cord held back brocade curtains. Though Alek’s sable rug lay tumbled across the foot of the bed, the sheets and coverlet were crisp and unfamiliar, the room surrounding her equally so. She had a vague – very vague – memory of being carried downstairs from Sabine’s apartment by Alek, and being transported out of Paris by car. So this must be Akilina’s château. Her aunt hadn’t refused her entry, despite their disagreement last night – which, now she came to think of it, had probably been caused mostly by her being in a rotten mood because she was hungry and overtired. Right now, none of it seemed important enough to fight about. Akilina had one set of beliefs and Kat had another. Maybe they didn’t mesh, but it was hardly the end of the world. She stretched, yawned, and looked around.

There, on the other side of her bed, lying full length on top of the covers, was a familiar giant cougar. He regarded her sleepily through half-closed eyes, and when he saw her looking at him, started to make a rough, throaty rumbling noise. He was … he was actually purring.

She reached out to smooth her hand over the thick fur on his head, and he closed his eyes again, and nestled his head into the spare pillow. So Alek had found a way to stay past dawn, exactly as he’d promised. Funny to think how, only a short time ago, she’d found him terrifying in his cougar form. Now that she knew he wasn’t a wild animal and she was in no danger of being eaten alive, she was almost more comfortable with him when he was like this.

Kat pushed back the covers, and slid her legs out of the bed. Her bare legs. Her t-shirt, bra and panties were all there but her jeans definitely weren’t. She glanced back at Alek, but his eyes were closed, and the golden brown fur on his back rose and fell with his regular breaths. Any bet, it was Alek who’d stripped off her jeans before putting her to bed. Luckily, that was all he’d taken off. She’d been seriously out of it last night. She didn’t even remember arriving here. Being so dependent on others, so vulnerable, was frustrating as hell. She’d no doubt be rediscovering the joys of claustrophobic restrictions on her movements now the attacks on hybrids that Ionescu had predicted had begun in North America. Her protectors would be back on alert again.

Kat found her clothes, including her neatly folded jeans, in an armoire against the wall, and she changed her underwear and dressed quickly with a wary eye on Alek. At least she was feeling good this morning. More than good. Alek’s blood obviously packed more of a punch than Jonathan’s, which probably made sense. He was older and, from everything she’d seen, definitely more powerful.

When fully dressed, she went to stand by the bed. Alek opened one eye a crack to survey her. Not asleep then.

“I thought I’d go exploring,” she said. “I’ll be fine on my own, given it’s daytime and all.”

She expected a protest but he just rolled his head to the side and gazed at her sleepily. A pretty clear body-language signal that he didn’t mind what she did. “You don’t seem worried about me going wandering by myself.” She paused to eye him speculatively. Only last night he’d been the one telling Akilina she had to be moved out of Paris without delay. So why wasn’t he protesting against her leaving his sight? Kat rubbed her wrist absent-mindedly, moving her bracelets up and down. She frowned, then looked down at the one Luc had given her last night. On impulse, she covered it with her hand, pressing it into her skin. And then she could sense them out there, like pinpricks of light in her consciousness. Most of the Paris unalil were spaced evenly to form a distant perimeter around the house. The rest were in a group somewhere outside.

Kat rolled her eyes. “Let me take a wild guess. This entire place is ringed by unalil on guard duty, isn’t it?”

Alek answered with an expression that was probably a cougar’s version of a grin.

Kat shook her head with annoyed resignation, before heading for the door.

As she walked down the wide stone hallway, a memory returned to tickle her mind. Alek had said something to Akilina last night. Something about the others coming back. So, hopefully, that meant Alek’s unalil family were all here somewhere, even Amarok. Yesterday, for a brief moment on the train, she was sure their minds had touched. Was it really possible she had contacted Amarok somehow, even though he’d been hundreds of miles away? A sudden pang of homesickness rushed through her, a need for something familiar. Kat closed her eyes with that thought running strongly through her mind, and immediately sensed another, brighter spark.

She had no idea whether she was doing this mind-connection thing right, but sent a thought toward that familiar energy source. Amarok?

Waiting for you to wake up.

The reply came so immediately that she couldn’t doubt it was really him. And he was close. By concentrating, she found she could trace a path toward him, through the quiet building. The place was huge. Already she’d climbed a staircase and passed dozens of closed doors, and the scale of the hallways and foyers she’d gone through gave her an image of how big the rooms inside must be.

She rounded a final corner, and found Amarok, in wolf form, lying across the doorway of a room. He jumped to his feet when he saw her.

“Hey!” She bent down to put her arms around him, and he nuzzled the curve of her neck. Kat gestured at the partially open door. “Is this Amber’s room?”

Amarok nudged her behind the knees, and she pushed the door open a little more and stepped into the darkness. She paused a moment so her eyes could adjust, then crossed to the bed she saw against the far wall. Amber was nestled beneath the blankets, sleeping. Her expression was peaceful, her features porcelain smooth. There was nothing pinched or gaunt about her anymore, and she’d been both when they’d first rescued her. Kat stood silently by the bed for a while, but Amber didn’t move. Her chest rose and fell, in unhurried rhythm, as she slept.

Kat left the room quietly, then turned to Amarok, who was still waiting outside. “She looks so much better!”

She wants to speak with you, tonight.

Kat nodded, and pulled the door back to its previous position, slightly ajar.

“Can we … is there somewhere we can talk?” she said.

Amarok nodded his shaggy head.

“Good.” She stretched out her hand, and he touched it with his nose. “I have to do something first, though.”

Kat led the way downstairs, to where she could feel the Parisian unalil grouped near the house.

“Do you mind waiting here?” she asked Amarok, and then opened the final door leading out to a walled courtyard abutting the château. It was paved in weathered stone, with beds of rosemary and other herbs in a formal pattern. On the many paths crisscrossing it, half a dozen giant dogs were sprawled, soaking up the sun and resting.

Kat stepped outside, and the nearest, a huge, shaggy Leonberger, jumped to his feet. This one she recognized; even though she’d only seen him out of the corner of her eye for a moment, flying through the air yesterday morning, he’d kind of stuck in her memory.

“Luc,” she said, with a nod of greeting. “Thank you all for coming here and protecting me. I’m sorry I don’t know everyone’s names. I guess I’ll get to know you all with time.” Kat frowned as a sudden thought came to her. “Unless … ” She covered their bracelet with her right hand, and pressed it into her skin. She felt it get warm as she pulled energy from the sunlight around them. As she focused on each stone in turn, she realized they each contained their own unique energy, and she could feel those sparks, like a signature attached to the being they were linked to. It made sense; from what Akilina had told her last night, each stone contained an individual drop of blood. She could sense each of them and call to them in her mind, individually or – for their energies were interlinked with each other, as they were with hers – as a pack.

Can you all hear me? Asking the question felt a bit silly, like saying “Testing, one two three … ” into the microphone in front of a half-filled auditorium.

A chorus of acknowledgments met her; French, and Karpat, and muted canine growls. It didn’t seem to matter. The eyes of each of the huge dogs in the courtyard were focused brightly on her, and she could sense the others out there were also listening, beneath their shady trees and sprawled on top of stone walls.

I know you now. I know you all. She touched the mind of each in turn, and their names came to her. There was Emeka, the big barrel-chested russet mastiff over beside the fountain. The chocolate-coated pointer lying alongside a bed of sage and thyme was Thierry, and, with his floppy ears, he certainly looked less fierce than some of the others. Like Guy, the black Rottweiler, and Jaouad, the black and fawn Doberman beside him, both watching her alertly, ears pricked. Each was solidly muscled and looked bred for attack. And then there was Stéphane, a Carpathian sheepdog, who rose to his feet and shook himself before trotting over to stand beside Luc. He looked immense, though maybe that was just because of his abundance of shaggy gray and black fur.

Far away on the property perimeter were Julien and Rémy, one a speckled black and white setter and the other a chestnut-colored Irish setter. There was Kwasi, a light brown ridgeback, and, finally, Marcel, a lanky gray wolfhound. From each, she could sense both gratitude and devotion.

I’m getting to know you unalil males. Kat let her humor shine through their connection. You tend to be the type to protect first, ask questions later. But you need to know what sort of threat we’re facing.

Then she let the images flow from her mind to theirs: the memories she had all but repressed, of her battle back in the White Mountains with the enhanced monsters from the laboratories beneath the Hema Castus, of their subsequent trip to Hema Castus, and of the emaciated trapped seers, and, finally, the building collapsing in on itself, in ruins.

You must all have heard about the attacks on Tabérin hybrids in America. We don’t know if or when the Directorate threat will find us here. But from something Luc said, I gather you all have your own history with them, and I’m asking you to remember that we are few, and you’re all valuable to me. Dont take unnecessary risks with your own safety to protect mine. We talk before we fight, and, as Ive shown you, when I need to, I can protect myself. Okay?

Again, a chorus of acknowledgments, tinged with respect this time. They’d heard rumors, heard part of the story, but most of what she’d shown them had been unknown to them.

As she finished, Luc separated himself from the rest. The big dog came right up to her, and bowed his shaggy head, butting his black nose gently against her leg. She could feel his approval of what she’d just shared. She hadn’t liked reliving some of those moments, but these males – however new to their roles – were now her inner circle. In a funny way, she felt, they were her ‘pack’. They wouldn’t respect her leadership without knowing what she was capable of, and given the critical nature of the threat they were facing, it was imperative that they work as a team.

As Luc raised his eyes to meet hers, she smiled, and ran her hand through the fur on his neck. There’s someone I’d like you all to meet.

“Amarok?” she called.




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Posted July 17, 2014 by Mark

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The hunger was worse every day, and now there was only a whisper-thin line holding her back from a dark red sea. 
      “You would feed me?” Her voice came out so husky and low that it was a wonder he heard her.
In Paris, Kat hears of horrifying events back in the States. The leader of the Directorate is openly attacking those with mixed Tabérin and human blood. Hybrids like her. And chances are he’ll be turning his attention to Europe next. 
Kat knows she needs to go into hiding again. But then her Tabérin aunt, Akilina, reveals something about Kat’s heritage that changes everything. If Akilina is right, the Directorate will stop at nothing until they have eradicated Kat and the threat she represents. No matter how many they have to kill to get to her …
As the threat from the Directorate intensifies, Ben and Yara barely escape the US with their lives. But being trapped together on a boat bound for Europe could prove much more dangerous than anticipated. Because one of them is in transition, and needs to feed …
This title is the third novella-length episode of Dark Child (Covens Rising), which will conclude on July 31 with Episode 5. Please visit for further information.

Chapter 24

Amarok stood staring out into the darkness. Forest smells drifted in on the early evening breeze, and the stone balustrade was cold beneath his forearms. The snow-capped peaks of Slovenia’s highest mountain range rose behind him and continued on toward the border with Austria and Italy in the north-west, while Lake Bled lay far to the east, three thousand feet below. Despite the troubling circumstances that had brought them there, he liked this remote castle of Aron’s. It was too long since the family had spent time here.

Amarok, where are you? I need you.

Kat’s words reverberated through his head, and, for a brief instant, he was aware of her surroundings in far-off Paris: a railway carriage, and her feelings of uncertainty and fear.

Kat? He felt her register his shock at the sudden contact, and in the next instant, she was gone, the brief connection between them sundered. Amarok hesitated only a second before hurrying to see his sister.

“I was just coming to look for you,” Della said when he entered the room. “Things have taken a bad turn.”

“She’s worse?” He went to the bedside to see for himself.

Amber’s eyes were open, but she was staring up sightlessly, mumbling to herself.

“No.” Della shook her head. “She’s fine – I think. But she’s in a vision state of some kind. Something bad is happening elsewhere.”

“Does this have something to do with Kat?” Amarok asked. “I was coming to see if Amber was awake, and ask her what she sees for Kat, because I’ve just received a cry for help.”

“What do you mean, received?”

Amarok tapped his head.

Della’s eyes widened. “Kat contacted you? It was more than a decade before I could establish a reliable psychic connection even with Corrin, who I was so intimate with. With you all, as you would be aware, it took much longer.”

“It was only for an instant.” Amarok frowned. “As if she didn’t quite know how to do it properly. But I’m sure it was real. I saw her on a train.”

Della nodded, her eyes troubled,  and then looked down at Amber’s face. “Perhaps you could try to talk to her. She may respond to you.”

“She’s crying!” Amarok said in wonder. And it was true. Silent tears were streaming down Amber’s cheeks, dampening the pillow beneath her.

He laid his hand against one cheek and leaned down to kiss her on the forehead.

Amber blinked, and looked up at him with recognition. “Brother, I see so much death.”

Amarok gripped the pillow beside her head. “Kat. Not Kat?” he demanded.

Amber shook her head from side to side. “No, this happens far away, across the ocean. Whole families slaughtered.”

Della directed a shocked glance at him. “Who?” she asked. “Is there anything we can do?”

Amarok smoothed back Amber’s hair with a gentle hand. “Who is doing this? And who are the targets of this violence?”

“Our distant kin. Our Tabérin blood. Too many to help. Too many to save.” Amber blinked away tears. “But we must be ready to receive the survivors.”

Amarok exhaled, and shared a look with Della across his sister’s bed. He touched Amber’s cheek gently. “Amber, is Kat in any danger? She … communicated with me tonight. She was afraid.”

Amber stared off into the distance, and shook her head at last. “No physical danger. But she will need us. We shall go to her tonight.” She frowned, and looked up at him, her expression troubled. “Alek is already in Paris. He can get to her faster. Why have you not sent him to her, silly Amarok?”

“Sometimes, you see too much,” Amarok said grimly. He bent and kissed her again. “I’ll contact him now.”

“Amarok?” Amber called as he turned to leave. “The covens will rise. All this death will bring the witches out of hiding. There are dark days ahead, and Katerina will need our faith now more than ever.”

Amarok was troubled as he returned to the quiet balcony he’d been on when disturbed by Kat’s call for help. He wasn’t yet sure of the link between the deaths Amber had seen in her vision and the witches. But, given the violent history between the Tabérin and the Families of Power, any mention of them wasn’t good.


Establishing a connection with Alek was ridiculously easy, though Alek growled at the intrusion.

What do you want?

Nice to see you still excel at the small talk, brother. Amber’s been getting visions. Something very bad is happening back in America. Find out what you can. But be careful – she also warned of retaliation by the witches.

Amarok wished the next part of his message was as easy to raise with Alek, though he knew Amber was right. If Kat needed protectors, Alek was closest. Maybe his reluctance had something to do with the fact that Alek had received a phone call last night that had sent him hightailing it back to Paris, only he’d refused to tell anyone what was going on.

Spit it out. What is it you’re so reluctant to ask me?

Amarok could hear the amusement coming from Alek. It was impossible to hide feelings from each other when engaged in this sort of connection, and clearly, his own conflicting motivations were coming across loud and clear. Kat had called to him, not Alek. It frustrated him no end to be sending Alek to do a task he’d have infinitely preferred to reserve for himself. But, with Amber still in a fragile state, Amarok’s loyalties were divided. Alek’s were not.

Kat needs backup. You’re closest.

Got it. And then Alek cut their connection.

It could have been worse. He’d expected to feel gloating triumph radiating from Alek at gaining the upper hand in their ongoing tussle, and he’d been spared that. Mostly he was annoyed at himself. For years, he’d been selfless in his protection of Kat. But lately, especially where Alek was concerned, he had trouble putting his own needs last. Perhaps Alek’s innate competitiveness had awoken his own, and realizing what he had to lose had shown him how much it was worth fighting for.

Amarok sighed, and turned to go back inside. Amber had made her pronouncement, so they would travel tonight.


9781760081508_Dark Child Covens Rising 3_cover

Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 3 is available now where all good ebooks are sold


Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 1 is available FREE where all good ebooks are sold



Go back to where it all began with Dark Child (Awakening): Episode 1 available now for FREE where all good ebooks are sold



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The genre kids are all right

Posted July 15, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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So when I’m not writing posts here I’m actually living a whole other secret life full of action, teaching secondary students about books and writing and stuff. Kind of like Batman. Just without the hero status and heaps of money. But otherwise just like Batman.

Anyway, one of the enviable tasks I get is to introduce fifteen year olds to the subject of Literature. Which means a type of explanation needs to occur where what distinguishes Literature from ‘normal’ English is clarified, and why the books read in Literature are different to those read in English.

It’s a strange conversation, and it’s noticeable just how much the students struggle to articulate the difference between something that is literary and something that isn’t. To be honest, I’m not sure if I have yet worked out a way of making this point clear. What is clear is that they quickly discover that they need to divide their reading, between what is serious and worthy of study, and what is enjoyable.

I loathe this moment. The point where teenagers feel they must put away childish reading and grow up, as if that’s what literary means. Yet we see this distinction reflected everywhere.

In her piece for Slate, ‘Against YA’, Ruth Graham argues that adults should be embarrassed for reading a novel targeted for a younger audience. Titles like Divergent and Twilight and The Fault In Our Stars are singled out for being pleasurable yet trivial moments of escapism, and far beneath a mature and ‘adult’ sensibility.

A cursory glance at the book reviews in last weekend’s papers reveals something in the region of seventeen titles that would appear on the literary end of the bookshelf, and three toward the genre end (if one is running with the literary-genre dichotomy). Of the three genre reviews, two are under 200 words long, compared to the 800-plus afforded to the literary reviews. The genre titles are described as ‘taut’, ‘terse’, and ‘well-structured’, whereas the literary are allowed to look at ‘complex and persistently myth-confused questions’, with characters who are ‘witnesses to extraordinary revolutions [yet] resigned to their fate.’

Even more, one of the genre titles is unfavourably held against Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch – which is comparable neither in plot, style or genre – and Charles Willeford, whose entries into the genre have been around long enough to earn literary esteem.

Okay, maybe it was a bad weekend. But I hazard not. We seem unable to escape this idea that one type of book is worthy, and another not. That one type gets all the ink and the awards and the measured reflection, the other is sidelined and measured against redundant standards. One gets festivals, the other conventions.

And when one might stray into the other, there’s short shrift that borders on disdain.

But I think there’s something in this idea that (some) people view genre as childish, and therefore embarrassing to read – as Graham suggested – and that it is a guilty pleasure and we should really be above such indulgences. It’s the moment I see in the classroom, when the students feel like their childhood imagination is being frowned upon.

It’s hard not to see why.

With almost clockwork regularity, the books that top the lists of favourite/best/most acclaimed young fiction are distinctly genre titles. They involve magic, talking animals, imaginary lands made real, wizards and witches and adventures through time and space. There are distinctly dystopian stories, and others that are pure fantasy, others that push magic-realism into childhood imaginations, and collisions between one genre and another, between one real world and one entirely fantastic.

And like that, we ask it all to stop. All these award-winning titles must then be shelved, and we must go and read serious things. And yes I know we don’t, but this is the illusion that is presented. This is the fallacy that is created by calling a subject Literature, by classifying and critiquing one set of stories one way, and others entirely differently.

What is so wrong about the types of stories we read as children that so many are afraid to recognise their worth as adults? Why can we easily view The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe alongside Anne of Green Gables in children’s book lists, yet shudder at Doctor Sleep occupying the same space as The Perfect Scent, as ABC’s The Book Club did recently?

If we consider genre titles to be enjoyable, even necessary for children, there is something in that for us adults. In spite of the limitations of a subject called Literature, the one thing I try to impress on my students is that once upon a time, Romeo and Juliet was popular, genre fiction. As was (and is) Frankenstein. The only reason they can be classified as ‘literary’ now is the good grace of time, and familiarity.

The stories that last are the important ones, and the ones that will last are the ones we read the most. And just like Batman, they may not be the books we feel we need but instead they’re the books we deserve. And keep coming back to.



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Podmentum: Thronementum

Posted July 11, 2014 by Mark

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We’ve done specials on Star Trek and Doctor Who, now we bring you a special episode all about Game of Thrones! We discuss the TV series and the books with special guests, including former Podmentum host Anne Treasure. This is also Mark Harding’s final episode as host. Oh, and massive spoiler warning for Game of Thrones.




Death, Sex & Money podcast


Words of Radiance: The Stormlight Archive Book 2 by Brandon Sanderson


Brilliance by Marcus Sakey


Orphan Black


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Posted July 10, 2014 by Mark

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In her dreams, she craved fresh blood. Warm human blood. And her incisors were long, sharp – able to bite through a fragile layer of skin with ease. What sort of monster does that make me?
Kat discovers that her presence in Paris isn’t such a secret anymore. But if she has to battle the Directorate again, it seems she’ll have much more support this time. Some of it from the most unlikely sources.
Meanwhile, teenage loner Ben discovers that he has much more in common with Yara Fortes, the girl of his dreams, than he ever hoped. But in a cruel twist of fate, the shared secret that links them together could also get them killed …
This title is the second novella-length episode of Dark Child (Covens Rising), which will conclude with Episode 5 on July 31. Please visit for further information.


Chapter 13

In English Lit class on the morning after his nocturnal excursion, Ben sat at the desk across from Yara, instead of in his normal position near the back. He was still high on adrenalin. He’d hardly been able to sleep after returning home last night and, even now, hours later, he was sure his pulse was elevated above normal – though that may have been for another reason.

“Yara.” He spoke in a piercing whisper, and she cocked her head slightly in his direction, while continuing to face forward.

“I’m sorry about last night at your house. The lights and the dogs and everything.”

She turned to face him in a flash, high spots of color in her cheeks. “What? That was you? You idiot, Ben, do you have any idea how dangerous … ”

“I’ll be more careful next time. Shhh,” he hissed, finger to his lips as he turned back to the teacher.

“Next time? Are you crazy?” Her voice had risen above a whisper now.

“Yara Fortes, eyes front, please!”

Yara gave a last meaningful glance in Ben’s direction. She was clearly biding her time until class ended. As soon as the bell rang, though, Ben escaped from the room. He didn’t want to give her the chance to spend any more time convincing him not to do something he was absolutely determined to do.


All the shutters were closed when he arrived home from school. Falcon was up early. Ben walked through to the kitchen and found his guardian waiting for him, his broad shoulders and long legs looking too big for the chair at the kitchen table. Ben rarely ever saw Falcon just sitting like a normal person. He usually went to work soon after rising for the night, and didn’t return until close to dawn. The rest of the time he spent sleeping in his heavily shuttered room.

So, Falcon sitting there at the table already made Ben suspicious. His next words proved there was reason to be.

“Any plans for tonight?” As usual, Falcon’s tone was calm, but the eyes that surveyed Ben were sharp and knowing.

Ben measured him, trying to guess how much Falcon already knew without betraying anything by his own expression. He kept his mind carefully blank as he answered.

“Ah, not really. Why, do you have a night off?”

“Funny.” Falcon’s tone suggested it was anything but.

They continued to stare at each other and, despite his best efforts, Ben felt himself growing faintly defensive. Damn, he hated it when Falcon did the waiting thing. Ben always caved in first. But this time he was determined not to give anything away if he could help it.

“So … ” Falcon continued in an offhand way. “You weren’t planning another trip to the Fortes house tonight, by any chance?”

“How did you know?” Ben burst out. He was absolutely certain he hadn’t let a single stray thought enter his mind. Over the years, he’d had plenty of practice at blocking out unwanted thoughts.

Falcon glanced down with a secret smile, and then gave a little shrug, as if the answer was obvious. “GPS tracker in your Vespa.”

“Damn. That’s really sneaky, you know that?”

Ben tried to feel angry about it, but couldn’t. It was so like Falcon. No matter what you did, he was always one step ahead, even if it was through using something prosaic, like a piece of human technology. It might have been a complete invasion of privacy, but Ben knew that, ultimately, anything Falcon did was for his own protection.

“Ben, I don’t want to be breathing down your neck, but I’ve got to ask you not to go back there. It isn’t safe.”

“Why?” Ben knew by his tone that Falcon wasn’t talking about the motion-sensor alarms and lights, or the guard dogs, though most people would have thought them reason enough.

Falcon’s eyes met his, the warning in them clear. “They’re not a normal family. Mess with them and it’s trouble, big trouble. And I mean the kind we’ve been trying to avoid for you. What on earth were you doing there?”

Ben’s eyes fell to the ground. He was silent for a moment. Then he faced Falcon, his expression serious. “I already know they’re not a normal family. Yara’s like me, I think. Part Tabérin. And she’s in trouble. Someone in that house … they’re making her drink blood, even though she hates it and it makes her ill.”

Falcon’s eyes narrowed. “And Yara would be … who? The girl from Italian class?”

Ben nodded.

“Let me guess. Yara Fortes?”

He nodded again.

“You like her?”

Ben didn’t want to answer that, but his response was plain from the dark red staining his cheeks.

Falcon swore softly under his breath, and shook his head disbelievingly. “Next time, could you maybe pick someone whose father doesn’t work for the Directorate? Ben, if she’s Victor Fortes’s kid, this is something we really don’t want to get involved in. Especially now.” He frowned. “Some stuff happened recently that caused a lot of tension at work. This is a really bad time to be attracting attention, especially with a background like yours or Yara’s. I want you to promise me you won’t go back in there. It’s too dangerous.”

“I don’t care if it’s dangerous,” Ben said stubbornly. “She’s on her own in a virtual prison. I have to help her.”

He faced Falcon, letting his clear recollection of every interaction between Yara and him float to the top of his mind: the dreams she was having, the way she’d reacted when she cut herself, her narrowed gaze as she caught him watching her in the library and, finally, Yara forcing down the glass of blood, and curling up in pain on the bed in her room.

He knew Falcon was reading his memories, because he gave a grunt, and swore again.

“Like I said, trouble. If she is Victor’s kid and she’s half Tabérin like you, it could be he’s trying to force her transition through feeding her blood. That’s just a theory, mind you, because it’s a godawful, ill-advised thing to attempt, in my opinion.” Falcon fell silent. Ben wished he could see past his ever-present emotional mask and guess what he was thinking.

At last, Falcon shook his head. “Dammit, Ben. Okay, but not tonight. Tonight, you don’t go near the place. We’ll do it my way – in a few days.”

Ben couldn’t believe his luck. Falcon was definitely the kind of person you wanted on your side when doing this kind of operation – but they’d never, ever done anything like this together before.

“You’ll help me? You can get time off work?” He knew that whatever it was his guardian did every night in his job with the Directorate, it didn’t usually leave him time for anything else. Not till now, anyway.

Falcon’s voice was his habitual rough growl. “I’ll make time.”

9781760081485_Dark Child Covens Rising 2_cover

Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 2 is available now where all good ebooks are sold


Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 1 is available FREE where all good ebooks are sold



Go back to where it all began with Dark Child (Awakening): Episode 1 available now for FREE where all good ebooks are sold


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Posted July 3, 2014 by Mark

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Kat Chanter isn’t your ordinary girl. And she isn’t your ordinary vampire, either. The ruthless Directorate would go to any lengths to have her power – including murder. And when that leads to a war between races, Kat’s fate becomes the ultimate prize …
Kat is done with being on the run, or so she hopes. A new pathology job in Paris is her big chance to start afresh, far from the Tabérin Directorate who want her dead. Sure, adjusting to life as a half-vampire, half-human hybrid in transition poses its own challenges, but it’s nothing Kat can’t handle … until the past starts to catch up with her.
When she’s approached by one Tabérin male from her past, she can explain it away. But add in another territorial Tabérin with a newfound conscience and it’s starting to get crowded on Kat’s Montmartre window ledge. Past experience tells Kat to be cautious, especially in her vulnerable state. But how can she tell friend from foe?
Perfect for fans of The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Dark Child (Covens Rising) is the highly anticipated sequel to the best-selling urban fantasy novel Dark Child (The Awakening). This title is the first novella-length episode of Dark Child (Covens Rising), which will conclude with Episode 5 on July 31. Please visit for further information.


Chapter One

The wave of dizziness swept over her without warning. Hang on, girl. Katerina Chanter clung to the stainless steel surface in front of her and closed her eyes, fighting off the nausea that followed. Not again.

“You okay?”

Kat opened her eyes to see the freckled face of Eoin, her Irish workmate, tilted in her direction. It was just the two of them here in the hematology lab of the American Hospital of Paris, and right now Eoin was watching her with a perplexed frown, waiting for her response. He mimed drinking from a glass, and grinned.

“Been on the sauce again, Kat?”

She gave the smile she knew he expected. “Huh, I wish. Just low blood sugar, I think.” She’d thought the lies would get easier with time, but it turned out they didn’t – however necessary they were. It wasn’t like she could tell cheerful Eoin, with his mop of curly dark hair and infectious smile, that what she really needed was a hit of blood, pronto.

“Go on then.” He nodded toward the lab door. “Take your lunch break early. Go and get something to eat. Bloods from the oncology clinic aren’t due back for an hour, at least. I can cover until then.”

Kat battled against the helpless frustration that welled up as she walked through the hospital hallways toward the exit. She’d been trying to stay heedful of the calming advice Amber had given her shortly before the seer had left Paris. Own your present, Amber had said. But living in the here and now, avoiding her painful memories of the past and her fears for the future, would be so much damned easier if her body wasn’t constantly reminding her of how vulnerable she was, caught in this pre-transition state: half human and half not.

A sense of uneasiness halted her part way along the final hallway, and the back of her neck prickled in awareness of being watched. She turned to look behind her, and the place was, of course, full of people. Patients in transit between wings, trailing their IV fluid stands. A cleaner or two, and a group of surgical staff in scrubs, deep in conversation. Nobody who shouldn’t have been there. Nobody’s watching you, she told herself firmly. But still the feeling lingered, and when she turned to resume her path to the door, she walked a little faster than before.

Kat took a deep breath of fresh air as she exited the hospital and headed out into the sunlight. She’d been in this job for less than a week, and in Paris for only a few days longer. The threat to her life from the Tabérin Directorate was something she and her protectors all hoped they’d left behind in America. Especially since they’d gone to the extra trouble of faking her death before they fled to Europe. With any luck, her cell phone and engraved bracelet had already been discovered in the rubble of the Directorate’s Hema Castus Institute, and they’d have crossed her off their hit list. Nobody except her protectors knew she was in Paris, and even they had left her now the threat was over. Char and Jonathan were running a new club in York, in northern England. Alek and Amarok and their unalil family had gone somewhere remote, to aid in Amber’s recuperation. The last to leave had been Akilina, her hyper-vigilant aunt, who’d retired to her château in the Loire Valley last week – close enough to come rushing back if Kat needed her.

But now, Kat was forced to acknowledge that there was a huge difference between a threat that no longer existed and one that was merely … deflected. She had some freedom, yes, but only during the daytime. Come nightfall, she had to be safely home behind locked doors. No exceptions. Because the Directorate were still out there, and if she made even one misstep, they’d be onto her.

The constant vigilance was wearing away at her nerves. Making her jump at imagined shadows, even in the middle of a sunny spring day like today. This was supposed to be a fresh start, which was exactly what she’d told Alek she wanted, the night before he’d left Paris with the others. A fresh start, with the past safely behind her – and that past definitely included the golden-haired cougar shifter, and the painful confusion he always seemed to inspire in her. Of course, after Alek had left Paris, she’d found the bracelet he’d left for her. And she hadn’t quite been able to bring herself to take it off since.

Her health problems seemed similarly difficult to leave behind. As she headed away from the hospital, down the tree-lined Boulevard de la Saussaye, Kat mulled over her ‘symptoms’. The dizzy spells, the nausea – she couldn’t ignore the fact that they were happening more often. Even now, walking too fast was making her head swim. Were these symptoms of impending transition, or something else, as yet undiagnosed?

It was frustrating that these problems hadn’t gone away even though, despite initial reluctance, she’d been religiously following the regime Akilina had laid out for her. Before agreeing to leave Kat in Paris, Akilina had insisted she agree to take daily doses of blood that the Tabérin elder’s blood-made ‘daughter’, Sabine, was sourcing through a hospital contact. Kat’s current independence … living in Montmartre with Sabine, her new job at the hospital … it had all been contingent upon setting her aunt’s mind at ease.

“Not only have you been through an ordeal, it seems clear your body is preparing for transition. A normal human diet cannot sustain you. And I don’t want you taking the Directorate doses, even if we could source extra for you. It’s treated, and denatured. You must have fresh human blood.” Akilina’s expression had been so serious that Kat felt it was easier just to accede to the request. It seemed pretty clear that if she hadn’t, her aunt would have rethought the whole plan to leave her alone with Sabine and decided to stay to keep an eye on things. That was not what Kat wanted. She appreciated her aunt’s concern for her, she really did. Though their connection was recent, she couldn’t ignore the wishes of the woman who was her only link to the father she’d never known. Still, having someone around who was so concerned, so protective, was sometimes a little … claustrophobic.

Kat arrived at her favorite lunch place near the hospital, a modest bistro on one of the River Seine’s small islets, Île de la Jatte. She slid into her usual seat, giving a grateful smile to the waiter seating her. He was the main reason she kept coming back here; he seemed to have taken a liking to her on her first visit, and fast, attentive service in Paris wasn’t something to be taken lightly – especially when you had limited time for lunch. She ordered the plat du jour, like she always did. It was hard to pass up two courses at such a reasonable price. Since starting this job last week, she’d been eating her biggest meal at lunch, and for dinner having soup from a big batch she made every few days. Having her appetite back was one thing she was glad of. It seemed when she was supplementing her diet with a good dose of O positive every day, she could eat normal fare without it tasting like cardboard. She still found herself zoning in on the meat dishes every time, though.

Her steak and fries arrived quickly, and she cut into the meat as soon as the waiter had turned away. As she’d requested, it was ‘au bleu’, or rare. Very rare. The way she always needed it these days.

As she raised the fork to her mouth, she noticed her hand was shaking, and it didn’t become steady until she’d almost finished the steak. She tried not to let it worry her, but it was unnerving having her body give such clear signs that it wasn’t coping. Not on one dose of blood a day, anyway. She finished her steak, and picked at a few of the fries, then looked up and caught the waiter’s eye. He hurried over to remove the plate, and then brought her dessert; tarte tatin with thick cream. She was a bit addicted to the upside-down apple pie, which seemed to be served everywhere in Paris.

Her waiter lingered to hold the door for her as she gathered her things and left. Very thoughtful, as always.

The walk to the hospital seemed half the distance on her return journey. The same body she’d been dragging along before lunch was weightless now, and she was uncomfortably aware of the connection between this and the meat she’d just eaten. Like the symptoms it corrected, it was happening too often to ignore. But, just lately, it seemed that even a good meal of red meat didn’t make her feel better for longer than a couple of hours.

She sighed. Maybe it was time. What she was doing now clearly wasn’t working … but, given her aunt’s protectiveness, she wasn’t thrilled by the thought that her logical next step was to call Akilina for help. Still, she couldn’t ignore the possibility that the elder’s blood was the only thing that would work for her now, anymore than she could face the counter possibility: that nothing would work.

Kat entered the coolness of the hospital, and passed a white-garbed orderly who was adjusting a wheelchair. The tang of his sweat assaulted her, and she knew with a certainty she couldn’t explain that he’d had curry for dinner the night before, and started his day with black coffee. She continued down the hallway to the pathology department, rounded a corner, and swung open the door to the hematology lab. Eoin called out a greeting and reached for a clipboard.

“Hope you’re feeling better, because the oncology bloods have come in. A big batch.” He walked over and handed her the clipboard with a wink. “Be a star, and start while I grab a bite to eat? I haven’t been out yet.”

Was it her imagination, or did he seem a little flustered? Kat’s nostrils flared as she caught the scent of stale perfume on his shirt collar. Having met his wife Lainey a couple of days ago when she’d come to take Eoin out to lunch, she recognized a trace of the fragrance she wore. But there was another, fresher scent too, though Kat knew Lainey was away in Dublin. She’d only chatted to the woman for a few minutes, but Kat had liked Lainey instantly; she was the type to face everything with a smile, to see the best in everybody.

Even, probably, to see the best in a philandering husband.

“Kat?” Eoin prompted.

She forced herself to meet his eyes. It was none of her business why he was late going to lunch, and why his jacket smelled like Audrey, the nursing unit manager from oncology. No matter how much she wanted to say something, to exhort him not to do this to his lovely wife, she couldn’t. It wasn’t her place. Especially not when her suppositions were based on abilities that weren’t human. For a moment, she fancied she heard Eoin’s heart beating, a hurried staccato thump thump thump thump thump.

She took the clipboard with a forced smile. “Sure, I’ll go ahead and start. Enjoy your lunch.”

As soon as the door had closed behind him, Kat dropped the clipboard onto the stainless steel counter with a clatter, and sank onto a stool. Her hand went straight to her rune necklace, and she pressed it hard against her chest, closing her eyes and taking deep, slow breaths.

It’s not normal, a worried little voice in her head taunted her, in a refrain she knew all too well by now, but then another part of her cut in with a relaxed southern drawl. Honey, you ain’t never been normal.

“Ain’t that the truth,” she said aloud to the empty lab, with a wry smile, and went over to her handbag to retrieve a small sample tube.

At least, with Eoin gone, she could do her daily check on the blood sample she’d taken from herself when she’d started work here. She hadn’t centrifuged it. She hadn’t refrigerated it. In fact, in every regard she’d done the opposite of her training. The sample should be degraded. If it had been normal human blood, the cells would have broken down by now.

She drew a small amount of blood from the sample tube, and prepped a slide. When she slid it under the microscope, and focused – well, she couldn’t say she was completely surprised by what she saw, seeing as it was the same thing she’d seen every day so far. The blood sample was still perfect. Completely abnormal in its concentrations, with its huge overabundance of elongated platelets and shortage of red cells. But otherwise perfect. Not a hint of hemolysis. Despite her having exposed them to sunlight, and frozen and rethawed them, and dipped them in boiling water, the red cells looked as smooth-walled and robust as they had on the day she’d taken the sample. Five days ago.

She disposed of the slide, sealed the tube again, and returned it to her bag with a sigh. So, basically, her blood was super blood. It could live outside her body for days on end, even under the most extreme conditions. Maybe at least part of that could be explained by her Tabérin heritage. She’d never had the chance to get any Tabérin blood under the microscope, and the scientist in her itched to confirm her hunch that all Tabérin blood had a similar platelet and red cell profile to hers. It also made sense that the blood of a near-immortal being would be able to withstand a heck of a lot more punishment than a human blood sample.

But something still stood out as strange. During her short stint at the Hema Castus Research Institute, back in New York, the windowless lab and all the protocols her workmates had introduced her to had made one thing very clear; the scarce blood samples they were studying, the two other samples with elongated platelets, just like hers, couldn’t tolerate even the tiniest amount of sunlight. It wasn’t a leap to assume that those blood samples had been from other hybrids, those with both human and Tabérin blood. And that Tabérin blood, like the Tabérin race, was fatally compromised by sunlight. So far, Kat thought, her reasoning made sense.

But she’d left her own sample tube on the windowsill in full sunlight for a couple of hours two days ago, and when later she’d examined it under the microscope, she’d seen no after-effects whatsoever. Why was sunlight not an issue for her blood? It was yet another thing to add to the litany of oddness that had plagued her ever since her life went to hell in a hand basket a couple of weeks ago.

Kat shook off thoughts of the mystery, picked up the clipboard, and went over to start on the oncology batch. Her fingers were quick and sure as she methodically placed the samples in order. She’d been noticing changes like that in every area. Better vision and sense of smell. More strength, speed, dexterity, and, at least, with Eoin gone, she could apply those to getting this batch done in half the time it would usually have taken. Hopefully, before the effects of her lunch wore off.

It would have been nice to find some sort of middle ground, instead of these alternating states she’d been experiencing lately – heightened senses and abilities, followed by debilitating weakness. She gave a mock grimace. Ah, who wanted normal, anyway? Definitely overrated.

Tonight, though … if things didn’t improve, she had to call Akilina.


Dark Child (Covens Rising): Episode 1 is available now where all good ebooks are sold



Go back to where it all began with Dark Child (Awakening): Episode 1 available now for FREE where all good ebooks are sold


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I, MORGANA by Felicity Pulman: Excerpt

Posted July 1, 2014 by Mark

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I am an old woman now. My bones creak and scrape together like bare branches in a winter wind. I ache with longing for my youth. When I notice my reflection, I am aghast at the vision of the hag who looks back at me. I mourn the passing of who I was, and everything I could have been. More than anything, I long to reverse time. Throughout the years I have tried and tried to do this, without success. Now, even my most potent spells and incantations cannot transform me into the young woman I once was, with all my life still to live. With age, my magical powers have all but deserted me. Once I was desired by men; now I am disregarded by all and loved by none.

And I ask myself: How has it come to this, when once the future looked so bright and full of promise? And I swear a sacred oath to the gods, whoever they may be, that if only they would grant me my life anew, along with the wisdom I have learned so painfully, I would not make the same mistakes again. I would not lead us all to destruction.

But the gods are deaf to my prayers and to my promises. All I can do now is call for parchment, cut my quill, and tell my story. I shall start at the beginning, because that’s when the first seeds of doom were sown: when I was a child and believed I had the power to make the whole world new.



“Look at me, Merlin! Look at me.” I twirl and twirl, giddy with delight, bubbling with laughter as the earth turns around me and my hair flies into my eyes.

“Well done, Morgana! You must concentrate now; think about being a bird. How will it feel when you are flying?”

I close my eyes and I try, I try so hard, because I know how much it’ll please Merlin if I succeed. Around and around I spin, the world gone dark around me, the air swishing past.

“Open your eyes, Morgana! Look about you. See that raven? Remember what I told you? You have to think that raven, be a raven.”

I am a raven. I am a raven. I am Merlin’s raven. I am! I am a raven flying, flying high, soaring into the sky, riding on the wind.

 I think it. I will it with all my heart, my mind, my soul.

Something shifts. Something changes. The air feels cool against my cheek, my black feathers ruffle in the breeze. I look down as a little girl dissolves into light and shadows, and I know that I am free!

Merlin knows it too. I can see him down there, shading his eyes from the sun as he stares up at me. I feel such exultation, such triumph, I could almost burst. I am Morgana, Merlin’s raven, and I have the whole realm in my power. All that I can see below me will be mine one day. I know that’s true because my father has willed it, and Merlin has promised me.

He’s waving at me now, beckoning me to come down, for I have proved myself to him. But I am gone beyond him. I am intoxicated with joy, with the sensation of flying and the knowledge that at last I have unlocked the secret to shape-shifting. Now I can escape from my earthbound body and become anyone or anything that takes my fancy. And so I fly on, for the first time able to look down on the land that one day will be mine, and on the people over whom I shall rule. Beyond the spit of land on which our castle stands is the dark blue ocean, buffed into sharp waves by a brisk wind. It’s a ragged coastline of jagged cliffs, marked by the foam of breaking waves at their base. The sea hides a multitude of broken dreams, ships coming close to harbor but caught by waves and tide instead, and torn to pieces on the cruel and unforgiving rocks below the surface.

Bells ring out as I fly over the abbey. Obeying their urgent summons, the monks of Tintagel hurry to Mass in their great stone church with its cross at the summit. In my bird’s mind I pull a human face at them, for their love of the Christ is not for me. I put my trust in Merlin’s magic, not the will of the god they worship.

On a whim I fly onward, to the place where my father died in battle, for I have never been allowed to see the place where he fell, just as I was not allowed to see his dead body, nor was I able to mourn him openly, as a daughter should.

Once I come to the battlefield, I alight on a branch and look out across the bare scrubby grass that lies baking in the glare of the sun. I try to imagine how it must have been: my father’s troops trying to defend our territory against the soldiers of the High King; a battle that ended in the death of my father, Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. My heart fills with sorrow as I recall the events that led to that moment.

It all began when my father was summoned to London to pay tribute to the new High King, and made the mistake of bringing his family with him, for it was then that Uther Pendragon fell in love with my mother and she with him. I remember how awed I was by the magnificence of the High King’s palace and the presence of kings and nobles from across the southern country. We’d walked along the banks of the River Thames, my father and I, while he’d announced his dreams for my future.

“I shall not make any arrangements for your betrothal, Morgana, not yet. There is time enough to choose a worthy consort to be at your side, but it is you I shall name as my heir, and it is you who will rule Cornwall in my stead. I’m putting my trust in you, Morgana. You must take care of my realm and rule wisely and well. You must not fail me in this. Do I have your word that you will do as I ask?”

His words had so filled me with excitement that I’d stopped walking and faced him. I’d crossed my hands over my heart and sworn an oath that I would never let him down, and that I would do all that he asked of me, and more.

My father had laughed then—not at me, but with relief, because he knew that I understood the gravity of his charge. And I saw the love and pride that shone in his eyes when he presented me to Uther, the High King, as his heir.

But there are other things I remember about that time. How Uther followed my mother, Igraine, around his court, seizing every opportunity to take her hand and press it to his lips for a lingering kiss. At the time I’d thought it a mark of his respect for us, but later I understood that Uther loved my mother. I also remember the growing tension between my father and mother that culminated in a bitter quarrel and led to our hasty departure from London.

Just six months after that, my father is dead and my mother remarried.

I shake my glossy feathers into smoothness, as if I could at the same time shake myself free of memories. Conscious of time passing, I look out over the battlefield once more, and mouth an anathema against the man who caused my father’s death. Then, with some trepidation, worried I may have lost the knack of it, I launch myself off the branch. I spread my wings and my body lifts up into a current of air that will blow me toward the forest and Merlin.

My flight takes me over the castle and I look down at its inhabitants, tiny as ants as they swirl in patterns around the courtyard, going about their business. I fly closer so that I can see them more clearly, for I am intrigued to find out what people might do, how they might act when they believe themselves unobserved.

I see my mother, and my heart catches in my feathered breast. She is sitting in her private arbor. With her is Uther Pendragon. As I watch, he places his hand on her stomach and leans over to kiss her cheek. She laughs, and puts her hand over his—and I realize the significance of what I see. Looking at them now, at the way their joined hands stroke the curve of her belly, I understand that soon I shall have yet another rival for my mother’s love.

How I hate Uther Pendragon! I hate him for the way he took my father’s place so soon after he was killed. That he loves my mother beyond reason, I have no doubt. But I blame him most bitterly for my father’s death in battle and for seizing our kingdom. I also blame him for taking my mother away from me. These days she has eyes only for him.

If only I knew how to do it, I would strike Uther Pendragon dead! And my mother’s unborn child with him. Merlin has promised to teach me more tricks and more magic than mere shape-shifting; he’s promised to give me all the gifts I shall need to rule a kingdom. I don’t want another rival for Merlin’s affection. What I really want is to change things back to how they were; to turn back time and have power over life and death, and that’s what I would learn from him.

A sudden thought strikes terror into my heart: What if my mother bears a son, what then? I fly back to Merlin as quickly as I can and, as soon as I’ve transformed myself, I question him.

He gives me a fond smile. “You have nothing to fear, Morgana. Remember: your father has named you as his heir, even if Uther has usurped your position for the moment. But I believe you have an even greater destiny, for while Uther dabbles here with your mother, he is neglecting his duty as High King. The kings of Britain are jostling for power, leaving our country disunited and increasingly vulnerable to attacks from across the sea. You have courage, and intelligence, and you have shown great aptitude in the magical arts. I believe that when the time comes, and with my help, you will have the strength and the knowledge to unite all the tribes of Britain and bring them under your protection so that we may live in peace and prosperity once more.”

I take comfort from Merlin’s words, for they justify my father’s trust in me. But Merlin has not yet finished.

“A word of warning,” he says, and now his voice is stern. “When I bid you to return from flight, or to do anything else, I expect you to do as you are told. No!” He raises his hand as I open my mouth to argue. “I know it is a temptation to fly further and to test yourself, especially when you are new to shape-shifting, but you must always respect your magical powers, Morgana, and use them wisely. You are six summers grown now; old enough to obey my instructions as well as learn from me.”

“Of course I shall do everything you ask, Merlin.” I am so grateful for the mage’s reassurance of my destiny that I will promise him anything. I am also grateful to have escaped a long lecture. Although I love Merlin, and will do anything to please him, I do hate it when he’s cross with me!

Merlin is something of a mystery to me. He has power, I know that—the power of a mage steeped in magic—yet he is not a member of our court. My mother has become a devout Christian since marrying Uther, and anything to do with the occult has been banned. But Merlin and I have always met in secret, right from the very first when, by chance, I escaped my nurse and my sister, and ran into the forest beyond the castle looking for adventure. Merlin found me—or perhaps he knew I would come that day and so he waited for me? I know not, but since then we have always met in the forest, and I have told no one about what he is teaching me.

He looks a bit like an elderly owl, with tufty white hair and piercing eyes that seem to see right through me. I know that he believes in me, for he cares for me as a father would. And I try to please him in everything, for there is much I can learn from him, lessons I need to understand if I am to fulfill the shining destiny he has promised me. I am determined to do well, to be the best. I am determined to justify his faith in me, and fulfill the oath I swore to my father.


I, Morgana by Felicity Pulman is available now where all good ebooks are sold



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GORGON by Greig Beck – Excerpt

Posted June 11, 2014 by Mark

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City of Uşak, interior Aegean region, Turkey

The Uşak rug bazaar was one of the largest in the country, with buyers coming from neighboring provinces to select the best, which they would sell internationally at greatly inflated prices. Before dawn, hundreds of sellers crossed the Lydian Cilandiras Bridge over the Banaz Stream, to compete for space in the bazaar and for the buyers’ attention. It was still dark, but soon the sun would rise, and the cacophony of hawkers’ voices, haggling traders, and playing children would turn the park-like grassland into a riotous circus of sound and color.

Halim watched his mother and grandmother unroll a pair of enormous rugs, their best. Pressure was on all of them to sell their wares early and then be off home. There was death about, a grotesque illness sweeping the countryside. The whispers hinted that the army had collected the bodies of the afflicted, and whole families, whole towns had been wiped out. The newspapers had urged people to stay indoors. A djinn, his grandmother had whispered knowingly. Other old women had picked up the word, and made the sign of the evil eye over their faces, so the devil would not see them this day.

Halim’s mother held his shoulders tight and stared into his face as she laid down the law to him: he was to stay close to her or his grandmother. Halim hummed and drew on the ground with a stick, watching his mother smooth the rug’s edges, and then work with a fine pick to adjust any thread that dared to lift its head above its brothers. He knew why she paid the rug such fussy attention – it took many months to weave, dye, and then dry, but a single sale could deliver enough money to keep the family comfortable for the next half-year.

Bored, Halim said he was going to have to pee, and headed off to the tree line. Once out of sight, he changed course and instead made for the bridge. His mother would scold him if she knew, and his father would more than likely thrash him for disobeying her. But this time of year, snakes, frogs, salamanders, and all sorts of wonderful creatures came out to bask in the day’s warmth. If he could catch one, it would keep him amused for the entire day.

He leaned over the side of the bridge, and waved at his dark reflection. He had the stream to himself, save for several large dragonflies, about a thousand chirruping crickets, and a few small birds warbling in the trees hanging over the water. There was a chill on the back of his neck – cold, but not unpleasant. Halim had collected a handful of stones, and now he dropped them one at a time into the cool swirling water, causing a few minnows to dart out of the reed banks to investigate, before vanishing in flashes of silver and green. He hummed tunelessly in the pre-dawn. He knew if they didn’t make a sale early, they would be there all day and long into the warm evening, before grandfather came with the truck to carry the three of them back home for a late supper. Until then, it was dry flatbread with pickle jam – luckily, he liked pickle jam.

As he watched the water, chin on his hand, the air misted and became cooler – like smoke lazily drifting across the stream surface to dull its sparkle. He looked skyward, expecting to see clouds pulling across the sky – which would be a tragedy for his mother, and all the rug sellers. Three hundred and sixty-four days a year they prayed for rain, but on the day the rugs were unfurled in all their brilliant dyed glory, they prayed for it to be dry. Today there were no clouds, just the same thin mist drifting in from the east. He squinted; it seemed thickest down the road, as if his grandfather’s truck was backing up, blowing exhaust fumes. But there was no truck, no noise, and even the birds and crickets had grown quiet.

Halim angled his head, his face creasing as he concentrated. In the center of the rolling mist, something was taking form, rising up, solidifying, a dark center appearing as if the cloud was denser at its core. The shape was tall, moving toward him, but gliding rather than walking. He grimaced, rooted to the spot. Something about the dark mass instilled dread in the pit of his stomach.

‘Hello?’ His voice was weak, betraying his nervousness. Speak like a man, his father would have said. Halim regretted wandering away from his mother and grandmother. He had the urge to turn and flee, and not stop until he was hugging his mother. But he couldn’t move.

The mist began to clear, and just as the form became a figure, something warned him to look away. He spun, crushed his eyes shut, and placed his hands over his face. He leaned far out over the bridge, holding his breath while he waited. He could feel it now, freezing cold on his back, every hair on his body standing erect, his skin prickly with goose bumps. There was no sound; it was like he had stuffed cotton in his ears, the air muffled and silent around him.

He couldn’t take it any longer and opened his eyes, looking down into the stream. He saw himself in the water, and looming up behind him, something so monstrous, so horrible and terrifying, that he immediately voided his bladder into his trousers. He felt bile in his throat and an explosion of pain behind his eyes. The warmth down his legs unlocked his stricken throat and he found his voice, screaming so long and loud he thought he would never stop.

He did, when consciousness left him.

When he awoke, his head hurt, and there was a needle-like pain behind both eyes. His senses slowly returned – he felt the sun hot on his face; he heard the stream slipping by underneath the bridge, crickets singing, dragonflies zooming about, their iridescent wings and green eyes like tiny jewels.

Halim had never owned a wristwatch, but the sun was well above the horizon – hours must have passed. His mother would skin him alive. He got to his feet, staggered a few steps, then began to run, back along the path, through the trees and into the bazaar. But instead of the swirling dust, riot of color, and noise of hundreds of people haggling, fighting or laughing, there was nothing. A silence so total, he had to rub his ear to make sure he hadn’t been struck deaf.

‘Mama? Nana?’

People everywhere, but all so still. Some were lying down, others were kneeling or sitting, many with hands thrown up trying to shield their faces. Halim saw that all were a ghastly white, even their eyes were the bleached blankness of dry sand.

He found the small square of ground marked out by the beautiful reds and blues of the rug dyes his family preferred. Mama was there, sitting crosslegged, one arm out, the other hand over her face. Nana was kneeling, tiny as always, her hand in front of her face, warding off the evil eye. It hadn’t worked.

‘Mama?’ He touched her – she was as hard as stone.

He nudged his grandmother, and she toppled over, her body remaining in its pose, stiff and unbending.

Halim crouched next to his mother and edged in under her outstretched arm. ‘I’m sorry, Mama. I fell asleep. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’

His head ached terribly as he leaned against her, feeling the hardness under her clothes. The familiar feel and smell of her, of her warmth, perfume, and love, was gone. A tear rolled from his cheek, to splash onto her leg. It dried quickly on the stone.



GORGON is available now where all good ebooks are sold

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How to read more than one book at a time

Posted May 27, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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It occurred to me the other day – not for the first time – that I was reading too many books at once. For multiple purposes, some legitimate, others more indulgent, the reading pile is not so much reflecting those yet to be read, but rather those that are in a current stage of being read. And this would be okay, if I didn’t keep adding to it.

It works like this: first, read a book because you want to.

Then, read a book because you have some other obligation (in this case, I need to teach the book to a classs, which must happen in a timely manner to fit the curriculum).

Then, join a book club so that you have another time-determined book to read.

Then, join another book club with different people because misery loves company, and obsessive book readers need a different crowd to share their obsessions with.

Then, pick up a book that you have already read but just have to dip back into because you love it so much and can’t resist. Or the book loves you, it practically knows what you like from a read. But you have an open relationship. It lets you read other books so long as you come back to it. Anyway.

How do you read multiple books at once?

1. Invest in audiobooks

This is the best way to do it, especially if you have a regular, clockwork-type schedule that involves commuting. Additionally, with digital downloads replacing CDs, they’re infinitely easier to manage now. (I feel old saying that, but come on, the Stephen Fry-narrated Harry Potter audiobooks were something like 100 discs. That’s a lot of inserting in and out of the car stereo.)

As someone who was prone to re-reading a lot, I decided a while ago to save all the books I had already read for audiobooks, to read them in an entirely different fashion. It’s great.

Essentially, I get a half hour in on the drive to work, half an hour back, and with books varying from ten to forty hours in listening, you can cover a read in a couple of weeks. Added bonus: switching your brain out of work-mode on the way home.

2. Alternate days

One book one day, one the other. Oddly enough, this can create more excitement in sitting down to read a book, knowing that you’ve got to wait just a bit more before you get back to it. And then the disappointment at having to wait another day to pick up the next chapter is quickly erased when you get to return to the other book your’re reading.

For advanced players of this game: have a different book for each day of  the week. You have your Monday book, your Tuesday book, and so on. I’m not even kidding.

3. Limit your time

Half an hour on one book, then switch. Almost like a Pomodoro technique for reading. This does have the unweidly effect of blurring plots and characters into one big congealed narrative mess, but sometimes that’s not so bad. When someone tries to pitch a book as American Psycho-meets-The Lord of the Rings, you could actually achieve that just by going from Bateman to Baggins in one sitting. Think of the possibilities.

4. Mix your mediums

You’ve got the book by your bed, and the audiobook in the car. Now just add one on your phone, stick another one on your iPad by the couch and you’re set. Each place becomes a specific read, so that not only do you vary when you read your multiple books, but also where you read them.

5. Relish the differences

Ensure that each book you’re reading – at different times, in different places, in different ways – is wholly different to the rest. Keep your genres and your styles distinct, to minimise cross-pollination of your imagination, and keep each story vibrant and resonant.

For the ultimate book nerd, keep notes as you go, allowing yourself time to reflect and ingest before switching onto the next book. Then again, if you’ve got time to make notes, you’ve got time to squeeze another book in.

Occasionally I do preference one book over another, and it gets a bit more of a go, but I’ve yet to feel like I’m not reading anything properly, or doing any of the books a disservice. In the end, I don’t think it’s a byproduct of the hyperactive state society seems to exist in these days (though perhaps it does have something to do with that post I read a while back on calculating how many books you can read before you die), but I don’t seem to be able to get out of this multiple-book state.

But why would you want to, when there are so many books to read?





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The White List by Nina D’Aleo – excerpt

Posted May 14, 2014 by Mark

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Chapter 11 is watching you.  

Silver is an intelligence operative working for an agency that doesn’t officially exist—beyond any government and above the law. Chapter 11 is the kind of place a person can join but never leave. And it keeps a third of the world’s population under constant surveillance. At work. On the street. In their homes. 

Why? Because of Shaman syndrome. 

One in three people are born with Shaman syndrome, which endows them with abilities they cannot control and do not even know they have. It is Chapter 11’s responsibility to cap and surveil these walts—as they are known—to ensure their talents don’t turn ugly for the ordinary people around them.

After Silver’s partner, Dark, is seriously injured by a walt, Silver is driven to investigate. What starts as a routine investigation isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, especially when she discovers there’s a price on her head. 

Chapter 11 might be watching the world, but it can’t see the division in its own ranks. Someone wants the white list—the list of every known walt that Chapter 11 has capped—but for what purpose? Silver needs to find out the secret behind Shaman syndrome, before it’s too late. 


In rush-hour traffic, it took me a good hour to reach the destination. I parked under a streetlight and stepped out to look around. I’d ended up at an abandoned warehouse close to the waterfront shipping sector of the city. There weren’t any houses in sight. I checked the address on my phone and it appeared to match what I’d written down—but it didn’t even seem like the right suburb. Strange.

Night had now taken over from the light and heavy shadows stretched across the concrete square leading to the darkened warehouse. I shivered in the evening breeze. The air carried a tinge of smoke and the murmur of a storm. I stared at the warehouse. Smashed windows, graffiti marked, creepy and isolated—everything about the place said stay away. And I wasn’t about to argue. I started to get back into the car, but then thought maybe Dark had an old street directory in the trunk that I could check. So I went around and opened it up, rummaging through Dark’s duffle bag of tools. Footsteps sounded close by. I looked around the side of the car. A person, a woman, was approaching. I recognized her as the girl from the elevator at Dark’s apartment building.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

I stepped out from behind the car, not sure what she meant, confused at seeing her again, and by her saying but not sounding sorry.

She closed the distance between us fast and punched me in the face. A terrible debilitating pain crashed me to the ground and my eyesight blanked out then flashed back in. I rolled away as her boot rushed toward my head. I scrambled to my feet and grabbed for my gun. It was gone. The girl gave a nasty smile and opened her jacket. She was wearing my duty belt. I stared, shocked: how had she gotten it off me without my knowing? She took my gun out of the holster and held it up as if to say, Looking for this?

I struck fast, slamming my hand into her throat. She reeled and I bolted. There was only so long fists could hold up against bullets. Shots rang out and I lunged behind the side of the warehouse. The girl came after me, pulling on night-vision headgear as she ran. I crashed blindly beside the building, dragging my hand along the wall and stumbling over unseen rubble. I turned the corner into a lamp-lit area and saw a wall blocking my path. It was too tall to climb. I looked left and right searching for a way out and spotted an open window up about twice my height. I could hear the girl’s running steps closing in behind me.

I darted forward and grabbed a discarded cardboard box. I shoved it up against the side of the warehouse and climbed on. It collapsed, dumping me onto the ground. I swore and grabbed another box. I leaped up and reached for the window, grasping at the ledge. I stretched up, every part of my body straining. My fingertips closed over the windowsill. A hand darted down from the window and closed over my wrist. It wrenched me off my feet and dragged me upward.



The White List by Nina D’Aleo is available now where all good ebooks are sold! Click here to purchase or find it at your preferred ebook retailer


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Should I keep reading?

Posted May 5, 2014 by Mark

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As avid readers, we’re often faced with the dilemma of what to do when life attempts to crash our reading time. Sometimes there are practical reasons to stop reading. Sometimes there are ethical reasons. And sometimes you should just keep reading.

1. Someone asks, “What are you reading?”

KEEP READING My significant other asked me this the other night. I tilted my book slightly so she could see the title on the cover but didn’t engage in conversation.

2. Someone sustains an injury

DEPENDS Look up, see if they’re ok. If they are, keep reading. If not, gauge the level of injury before putting your book down. Bruises = keep reading. Any blood = sigh and make a show of putting your book down, so they are aware of what an idiot they are. Broken bones = ok, stop.

3. Your phone rings

KEEP READING The sooner the caller learns to send a text like a normal person, the better. You’re giving them a valuable life lesson.

4. Someone offers you food

PUT THE BOOK DOWN Always go with the food. Bonus points if it’s free food.

5. You approach your destination

PUT THE BOOK DOWN I cannot tell you how many times I’ve missed my stop when I’ve been reading on public transport.

6. Someone invites you out to do something ‘fun’

KEEP READING Ok first of all, I’m reading and reading is delightful. And second, all the fun stuff happens indoors, everyone knows that.

7. Someone offers you a drink

DEPENDS Assess the caffeine/alcohol content first. If someone is interrupting your reading time to offer you water or juice or some other lame drink, don’t even look up.

8. There is something good on TV

KEEP READING That’s not a good reason to put your book down. Unless it’s Star Trek, then it depends. Keep reading if it’s the original series, Voyager or Enterprise. Put the book down for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

9. Your significant other/parent/roommate will get angry if you don’t put your book down

KEEP READING Everyone knows the secret to successfully living with another person is to find something you do that annoys them and do it as often as you can.

10.  You’re about to be arrested

KEEP READING A dose of escapism is probably what you need right now.



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Excerpt: The White List by Nina D’Aleo

Posted May 2, 2014 by Mark

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Chapter 11 is watching you. 

Silver is an intelligence operative working for an agency that doesn’t officially exist—beyond any government and above the law. Chapter 11 is the kind of place a person can join but never leave. And it keeps a third of the world’s population under constant surveillance. At work. On the street. In their homes. 

Why? Because of Shaman syndrome. 

One in three people are born with Shaman syndrome, which endows them with abilities they cannot control and do not even know they have. It is Chapter 11’s responsibility to cap and surveil these walts—as they are known—to ensure their talents don’t turn ugly for the ordinary people around them. 

After Silver’s partner, Dark, is seriously injured by a walt, Silver is driven to investigate. What starts as a routine investigation isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, especially when she discovers there’s a price on her head. 

Chapter 11 might be watching the world, but it can’t see the division in its own ranks. Someone wants the white list—the list of every known walt that Chapter 11 has capped—but for what purpose? Silver needs to find out the secret behind Shaman syndrome, before it’s too late. 

Chapter 3

In this club, La Nox, the term exotic dancer didn’t quite cut it. Seriously I had to admire the athleticism of those girls. They were managing to maintain sexy while performing major feats of strength and acrobatics. They were flipping, jumping and kicking, dancing and sliding up and down poles that extended the full two stories of the club—all this while virtually nude. I had a mental flash of myself up on stage, out of breath and sweaty, mascara running and flab flying as I failed at cartwheels and fell into the crowd. Not a pretty sight. Maybe the imagery was overly self-critical. I did maintain a certain level of fitness—it was necessary for the job—but even so, the usual extent of my nude escapades involved dashing from the bedroom to the shower and back and I couldn’t imagine that changing any time soon.

Not surprisingly Dark knew exactly where he was going, so I trailed him through the club, which was crowded with patrons both male and female. I spotted the bachelor party, now one of many, settling into a corner booth. Dark and I took a position by the bar where we could keep them in sight and wait for our chance. A topless waitress came to take our drink order. She recognized Dark and spoke to him by name. They exchanged niceties and, to my partner’s credit, he looked her in the face the entire time—which was surprisingly more difficult than it sounds. In most human cultures, staring directly into someone’s eyes while talking, other than in intimate situations, comes across as threatening or strange. Our eyes naturally wander, especially to anything unusual—like a gigantic pair of double-Gs covered only in body glitter. She tried to strike up a chat with me as well, but I gave closed answers and kept my arms by my sides—my Italian parentage tended to make me talk with my hands, and the last thing I needed tonight was to accidentally grope some unsuspecting exotic waitress mid-conversation about the sunny weather we were having. She left and Dark glanced at me and snorted.

“What?” I asked.

“Could you be any more uptight?” he asked.

“We’re not on vacation here,” I told him defensively. “We are actually working.”

He shook his head and muttered, “Another arrest by the fun police.”

I gritted my teeth. I hated when he called me the fun police. It made me feel like he was some young springbuck cavorting through the fields of fun while I was the grumpy frumpy killjoy chasing him down with an oversized net, trying to foil all his good times. In reality, whatever Dark did with his time off was his business. Whether he felt as if we were married or not the fact remained we weren’t. I didn’t keep tabs on him and I didn’t try to curtail his fun. I could be fun and spontaneous too … At least I kept telling myself that and hoping it was true.

It was something I questioned, though: how did people see me? How did I want to be seen? How did I even see myself? Who was I? I’d heard that whoever we really are emerges when we’re all alone, unobserved. Well, when I was alone … I was usually asleep. It was the only chance I got. I wasn’t sure what that said about me, but now wasn’t really the time for self-reflection. Now we were working.

A group of lap dancers had surrounded our bachelor party. One girl stood gyrating in front of the walt. He was rocking, but not in time with the music or with the hypnotic circles of her hips. He was moved by an even more savage, primordial drive, one that was about to rip through his reasoning and send him green. The dancer would be the first one hit. I imagined pieces of sequined thong, silicone and lower intestine splattered across the walls and this time the imagery was not exaggerated.

“Bos, we’ve got to move now.” I said.

“No shit,” he muttered back. “I’ll try to get him to the bathroom,” I said.

“I don’t think there’s time,” Dark replied.

The walt staggered to his feet, knocking the dancer out of the way. Dark reached into his jacket and drew his primary weapon. If the walt lost it before we could get him, there would be no other choice but to put him down—not a concept that sat well with me. As a partnership, we’d never had a fatality before and that wasn’t pure luck. I put myself on the line every time to stop a shoot. The put-downs were murder—no matter how you dressed it up. Not that I had ever mentioned this conviction even to my partner, let alone any of our colleagues.

I moved past Dark, weaving a quick path through the crowd. I reached the walt and, with a glance to make sure none of his friends were looking, took hold of his wrist and directed him away from the dancers. He resisted, pulling back sharply. His otherwise handsome features twisted with anger and confusion. I tried to give him a reassuring smile and spoke close to his ear, “It’s okay, buddy. I know you’re not feeling great. Come with me, I’ll get you some help.”

I touched his hand lightly, slipping a sedation patch onto his skin. I noticed the spot from the laser sight of Dark’s weapon vibrating on the side of his head. I tried again to lead him away. This time, the sedative working fast in his system, he followed with minimal struggle. I took him down a crowded hall toward the women’s bathroom.

In most clubs on a busy night, the line to the ladies’ room would be a mile long, but here, with women guests the minority, it was inhabited by only two other girls. They were dressed in super short dresses and heavily inebriated. They were hugging each other and singing loudly into the mirror, using their tiny shiny purses as microphones. Their ankle-breaking high heels slipped around on the tiles. They cheered as we entered and both tried to high-five me on their way out, missing completely. One slapped my shoulder and the other lost her feet and fell over—legs in the air, flashing her underwear to the world. She lay where she’d fallen, paralyzed by hysterical fits of laughter. Her friend joined her on the floor and the two of them rolled around wetting themselves with the hilarity of it. The scene didn’t look quite so riotous from where I was standing, but I’d had my fair share of drunk and disorderly nights in my younger days so I really couldn’t judge.

I managed to shuffle the blitzed duo gently out of the bathroom and close the door on them. I moved the walt into a cubicle and sat him down on the toilet. I turned and locked the door, but as I turned back, it happened. He gasped. His pupils went from pinpoint to fully dilated in one second. All his muscles tightened. The veins in his neck bulged. I only had time to duck as he lunged at me, taking a swing that ripped the cubicle door off its hinges and sent it flying into the bathroom. It hit the mirror with so much force the glass exploded. I twisted and lunged backward, trying to get out of his way, but the walt caught me with an upper cut to the stomach. My ballistic vest absorbed the impact, but it still knocked the air out of me. I landed sprawled on the tiles and the walt rushed me. Completely disoriented by his condition, he misjudged the distance between us and smashed into the wall instead with a brutal whack that rattled my teeth and broke a row of tiles.

He reeled around, blood streaming down his face. He tried to charge again and toppled sideways, taking out a sink. It shattered to the floor and water gushed from the fractured pipes. I took the chance and leaped at him. I caught him around the middle and crash tackled him to the ground. I tried to pin him, but I may as well have been wrestling a rhinoceros. He flipped up with so much force we hit the ceiling and crashed back down to the tiles. His body mostly broke my fall, but then he was on me, his fingers clenched into claws, reaching for my neck. I went for my TRANQ gun.

The bathroom door flew open. Dark charged in with his weapon drawn and took aim at the walt. The young guy broke for the window, smashing through the glass and a good part of the wall. Dark and I both cursed and rushed for the damage. We looked out and saw the walt crashing down the fire escape. He found his balance and jumped from the structure down to the alleyway—a good twenty-five feet below. He landed on his feet running. We scrambled out onto the metal steps and flew down after him. We reached the alley and sprinted toward his fleeing shadow.

“No good,” Dark yelled out to me. “He’s heading for the road.”

We couldn’t allow the walt to cause a crash. Dark pulled up and dropped to one knee. He took aim at our walt’s back. I kept running, drawing my TRANQ and firing before he could get a round off. The dart struck dead on, into the back of the guy’s neck. He ran at least another two yards with enough sedative in him to drop an elephant, and then the effects hit him and he stopped. He didn’t fall, which would have been normal: he just froze. We ran the distance and as soon as we got to him, Dark threw the stocks around the walt’s arms and locked him down. We were literally five steps from the end of the alley, where pavement met a busy inner-city road. A constant stream of headlights passed before us. Our walt was shaking.

Tears shimmered on his cheeks. He looked young and scared, confused. He was struggling to whisper, his lips reluctant to move, “I’m sorry. I want to go home. Where’s Mom? Where’s Dad?” Then he bucked back and shouted. “Fuck off!”

Dark fought to hold him. I ripped a syringe off my duty belt and pumped another dose of paralytic into the guy’s neck. His eyes rolled back and his head hit his chest.

Dark and I exchanged a glance. This one was a real fighter. He stumbled to one side and we struggled to right him. His wallet tumbled out onto the ground. I crouched to pick it up, while Dark started walking the walt back down the alley. A honking horn drew my attention and I glanced up. Across the street, I saw the silhouette of a man in black standing, watching. I couldn’t see if his eyes were on me or not, but somehow I felt they were. A bus crossed in front of my line of sight and when it passed the person was gone. I dismissed him as a random passer-by.

“Sil,” Dark called for me from halfway down the alley. I shoved the walt’s wallet into my pocket and rushed to catch up. Dark was already on his cell phone calling in the catch and ordering a clean-up crew for the bathroom and a tech to check for CCTV footage. For sure Chapter 11 surveillance would have recorded the catch—including my use of the TRANQ, which was, as I well knew, against Chapter policy. Since every person is different we couldn’t be sure of the exact amount of drug needed to bring down any one individual, so we couldn’t be sure that one hit would be enough and that wasn’t good enough as far as the Chapter were concerned: regulations were to go straight to lethal force. Even so I’d always preferred to answer to my superiors than to my conscience.

“I’ll lay the cover for the friends,” I told Dark as reached the parking lot.

“No, you take him. I know who to ask,” he said. He handed over the shackled man and flipped me his keys. I headed for the car while he jogged back up to the entrance of the club. We needed to get someone to tell the friends the cover story—that our walt had decided to call it a day and had caught a cab home to sleep it off. I assumed Dark would ask one of the girls he knew in there to pass on the message. I looked around for witnesses to refute the story, but there were only a few knots of people up near the entrance of the club and no one was looking. The clean-up crew would double-check that.

I reached Dark’s car and directed the walt into the caged-off back seat.

“Watch your head, buddy,” I said, helping him to lower in. I locked the door and went around to the passenger side. The adrenalin was draining fast from my body, leaving my limbs weak and heavy. It hadn’t exactly been a flawless catch, but the job was done. Zero fatalities.


 The White List by Nina D’Aleo is available from May 13 where all good ebooks are sold and is available for preorder now

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Books every writer needs to read

Posted April 24, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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In the middle of the debate about whether one can actively teach writing, or whether it’s an autodidactic process gleaned from years of practice, reading and osmosis, I got to wondering about books writers read to help their writing.

Not necessarily the books about writing, per se, but rather the books we read for examples, and inspiration, and indefinable reasons that relate to putting us in the right mindset to sit down and write. And I imagine it’s different for everybody, there’s a set of books for each of us depending on need and demand. But at the same time, the reasons why we need these tokens of inspiration should be the same for all of us, we just exercise them differently.

Then I came across Flavorwire’s ‘25 Books Every Writer Should Read’, the latest in lists of these kind that seek to define truly where the wellspring of knowledge lies, by reducing it down to dot points. And normally these lists are all fine, in an instantly enjoyable and immediately disposable kind of way, but this one bothered me a bit. A lot, actually (as much as one can be bothered by a list).

I had read nothing on this list. Not one book. Several I hadn’t heard of. Was I deficient in some way? Would I never truly be a writer because Flavorwire determined I didn’t read the right books? Of course not, it’s just one person’s opinion. The oddity was in how divergent their opinion was to mine, when it comes to the source of inspiration.

So, here’s my list. The books I think every writer should read.

1. A book that is captivating from start to finish.

Bonus points if you read this in one night. But essentially, it’s a story that just hooks you from the first sentence, a story that keeps you churning through the pages yet hanging on every word, desperate to reach the end and know it all. Lately, for me, that was Floundering, by Romy Ash.

2. A book that is great with dialogue.

I hate writing dialogue, I find it difficult and I either underwrite it or overwrite it, and find it infinitely helpful to have good examples at hand. And for that I find Cormac McCarthy enormously helpful, if only because his dialogue works perfectly (for me) – it gives you the voice of the character, their rhythm and pitch, their humour and their emotion. And it does it so sparsely, that you never feel as if the dialogue is working too hard to get your attention, particularly in No Country for Old Men.

3. A book that is great with plot.

One that shows how to weave the threads of the narrative together, how to combine characters and scenes and elements of the plot and drop them into situations so plausible and natural that it’s impossible to see where the artifice ends and the naturally occurring lives of the characters take over.  I inevitably have a Stephen King book close by, but mostly I refer to IT, because it does everything, and is so enormous as a narrative that there are countless examples throughout.

4. A book that is a classic of the genre.

If only to know where you’ve come from, and what you’re working on top of. If we’re all dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, it’s worth becoming familiar with the giants so that we can have a sure footing. Has to be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

5. A book that is short and efficient.

Even if you don’t want to be when you’re writing, it helps to know how to do it. And when it’s necessary. Less is more and all that. And it’s not just about being obscure, but about using words to the maximum of their ability. For this I like Steven Amsterdam’s latest, What the Family Needed.

6. A book that is enormous and complex.

And if you want to attempt something that isn’t short and sparse, how do you do it without burdening the reader with too much plot? How do you write 600-plus pages and still make sense of the narrative on the page? In your head? And how do you tie it all together? I like big books and I cannot lie, but writing that much terrifies me. But I look to Umberto Eco, and Foucault’s Pendulum.

7. A book that is great with setting.

Particularly if the setting is crucial to the story (when isn’t it?), and you don’t want to feel like you’re artificially inserting description and location just to make the place a character in the story, and other clichés. I love writing about place, and how it works within a narrative, and there’s any number of books I draw on to help with this, but for now I’ll go with Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino.

8. A book that is great with characters.

Just to round it out, particularly for me who always worries that the characters I write aren’t interesting enough, or don’t translate from my head into someone else’s head the way I want them to, I always need to go and see how others do it. Easiest solution for me is to go read someone who has written more characters than I can imagine: Terry Pratchett and Night Watch.

9. A book.

Any book. Whatever book you like. The book you’re currently reading, because all writers should be readers. Or the book you’re terrified of because it’s so good and you’ll never write anything close to it, so you just sit it next to your computer, taunting you with its brilliance. Or the book with a great cover that you just love to look at because it reminds you of the story inside, and how that reminds you of the story you’re trying to write. It doesn’t matter. Just read books, and use them, they can only help your writing.

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Excerpt: Troll Mountain: Episode III by Matthew Reilly

Posted April 23, 2014 by Mark

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A dauntless young hero.

An army of brutal monsters.

An impossible quest 

Journey to the mountain …

Raf’s mission to Troll Mountain is in ruins. 

Having penetrated the mountain, only to be caught in the act of stealing the fabled elixir, Raf must now face the trolls’ champion in a fight to the death.

As the trolls gather to watch the fight, Raf watches them closely. If he can somehow survive this fight, his mission may not be over.

The final battle for Troll Mountain is about to begin. 



The trolls poured up and out of the lone tunnel that granted access to the Winter Throne Hall, fanning out as they did so, rushing eagerly to the eastern side of the great open space so as to get the best view of the Fighting Platform.

Storm clouds rumbled overhead. Rain was coming.

The king and his entourage mounted the winter throne while Raf and Grondo marched across the open-air hall, through the ranks of trolls, to a plank-bridge leading to the Fighting Platform.

As Raf strode past all the trolls, they mocked him, spat at him, declared their eagerness to see his blood.

But then, fleetingly, Raf noticed two things: first, he snatched a glimpse of one of Ko’s distinctive little green barrels over by the north-western column. And second, he saw Düm.

The gentle troll was lingering at the very back of the crowd of trolls, over by the single entrance cut into the floor of the Winter Throne Hall, unnoticed by any of the others.

Before he could see any more of Düm, Raf was shoved across the plank-bridge onto the Fighting Platform. Grondo followed behind him.

The two hobgoblin jesters were already on the wooden stage, pantomiming a death match. One stabbed the other with an imaginary sword and the second one fell, clutching his chest in mock agony. The two jesters scampered off the platform as Raf and Grondo stepped onto it.

The plank was removed and Raf suddenly found himself standing alone with the troll champion out on the round wooden stage, high above the eastern slope of the mountain. The stage was perfectly circular, perhaps twenty feet across, and made of thick wooden planks.

By the gods, Raf thought, now he really hoped he had interpreted Ko correctly.

The sight of the barrel made him think that perhaps he had, but then again, he might have gotten it all terribly, terribly wrong—

“Choose your weapons!” a troll who appeared to be some kind of referee called.

“My war hammer!” called Grondo.

The crowd cheered.

“And you, thief? Choose your weapon, for what it will be worth!”

The trolls laughed.

Raf thought for a moment. “My axe.”

A massive hammer was thrown onto the platform. A troll was sent below to the cell area where Raf’s axe had been sequestered.

As he waited for its delivery, Raf’s eyes scanned the Fighting Platform desperately. He was sure Ko had been directing him to challenge the king, knowing that such a challenge could not be refused, and thus bring himself here—although perhaps Ko hadn’t known about the king’s special privilege. And Raf had seen the barrel up here and Düm …

But why? What was Ko’s plan? The Fighting Platform was completely bare. There was absolutely nothing here that Raf could use.

He looked up and saw that, owing to the way the platform extended out from the Winter Throne Hall, he could see the crenellated battlement ringing the summit of Troll Mountain, complete with its troll-added horns.

If he could fling a rope over those horns, he supposed, his current position offered a viable route up to the Supreme Watchtower, but such a throw was well beyond his range and right now, with the imposing figure of Grondo looming before him, finding a rope and throwing it was the last thing he could do.

At that moment, Raf’s axe was tossed onto the Fighting Platform and the scene was set.

The massed trolls leaned forward, leering, salivating. The Troll King grinned nastily. His son, Turv, did the same; his wedding day would be remembered for a long, long time.

Raf’s heart sank.

He’d clearly got Ko’s plan wrong, and now he would have to face the trolls’ best fighter in mortal combat.

Grondo towered over him, impossibly huge, his tusks rising from hairy tufts on his jaws, one of his great gray fists gripping his enormous hammer.

Raf just stood there, puny and thin, holding his home-made double-bladed axe. The axe hardly looked capable of nicking Grondo’s thick hide.

Then it started raining. Thick pelting drops. The trolls didn’t even notice. Rain didn’t bother trolls.

“We don’t have to do this, you know,” Raf said to the champion. “We don’t have to fight.”

Grondo smirked. “Fool. You do not realize. This fight has already begun.”


Grondo lunged.

Raf dived. And the hammer came down on the stage with a resounding boom. So powerful was the blow, splinters flew up from the slats.

Grondo swung again, chasing after Raf, but Raf dived clear again.

Boom, boom, boom!

Duck, roll, dive.

The rain kept pouring. Lightning flashed.

The crowd cheered at every swing.


As the trolls roared at the action on the Fighting Platform, at the very back of the crowd, Düm came alongside the she-troll, Graia.

“Graia,” he whispered. “If you want to leave Troll Mountain forever, come with me now.”

Without a word, Graia took Düm’s hand and followed him down the stairs, away from the Winter Throne Hall.

A short way down, in a tight bottleneck of a tunnel, with the echoes of the crowd far above them, Düm did a strange thing: he closed the thick stone door—the only point of entry or exit to the Winter Throne Hall—and then he reinforced it with a pair of heavy stone sleds parked nearby.

Almost the whole troll community was up on the winter hall watching the fight … and he had just trapped them all up there.


Somehow, Raf was still alive, dodging and evading Grondo’s mighty swipes, slipping and sliding in the rain.

The rain didn’t help Grondo’s footwork and at one point, Raf managed to run under one of the big troll’s lusty blows and swing at him with his little lightweight axe—and he drew blood from the troll!

The axe cut Grondo’s skin under the armpit, in one of the few places where a troll’s skin was soft and sensitive.

Grondo froze.

The crowd gasped.

The big champion touched the nick, and saw his own blood on his fingertip. He glared balefully at Raf.

He wasn’t hurt. He was angry.

Grondo roared, a great bellow, and, raising his hammer above his head, came charging at Raf.

Hammer blows rained down around the darting figure of Raf and had any single one of them hit, he would have been knocked senseless and done for.

Grondo’s charge was fast and furious and relentless and it afforded Raf no chance of reply. Indeed, it took all his nimbleness to evade the flurry of blows—until suddenly, Grondo anticipated one of his moves and trapped him at the edge of the stage.

Grondo had him.

Raf had nowhere to go. He stood there exposed, soaked by the rain and lit by the lightning storm.

The big troll swung the final blow of this match and Raf went flailing off the edge of the platform.


Troll Mountain: Episode III is available now for $1.99 where all good ebooks are sold




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Excerpt: Troll Mountain: Episode II by Matthew Reilly

Posted April 17, 2014 by Mark

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A dauntless young hero.

An army of brutal monsters.

An impossible quest.


Journey to the mountain … 

The only unguarded entrance to Troll Mountain is the abandoned kingdom of the hobgoblins. 

With no other route available to them, Raf and his newfound friends, Ko and Düm, enter the dark, dank world of the hobgoblins. 

But is it truly abandoned?


Chapter 10

The realm of the hobgoblins was a dank collection of dark tunnels and immense stone caves, all cut out of the living rock. Exposed sections of a strange rust-colored stone could be seen in its walls. These sections were framed by long-abandoned scaffolds and ladders.

“What is this strange stone?” Raf asked, touching it.

Ko said, “This ‘kingdom,’ it would appear, was actually once a mine. Similar mines were common in my homeland, for that substance you see is raw iron which, when smelted in a furnace, can be used to make very effective weapons.”

“I have heard tales of an ancient tribe of men who lived in these lands,” Raf said. “They were clever men, and they wore shiny armor and bronze helmets with red plumes. But they left when their home city, across the sea to the south, was attacked, and they never returned.”

A short way down the first tunnel, Raf’s group came to a broad pit in the floor, spanning the entire width of the passageway. At the base of the pit were a dozen upwardly pointed wooden spikes. In among the spikes, Raf saw the remains of a troll, skewered by no fewer than five of the deadly stakes.

The troll, he noticed, was not very decomposed. “That corpse hasn’t been here long,” he said.

“A rogue troll seeking shelter, I would guess,” Ko said.

“It must have entered from the other side,” Raf said, “for the spider web sealing our entrance was undisturbed.”

Düm just nodded in agreement, saying nothing.

Two small stepping stones protruded from the right-hand wall of the pit: the only way across.

Raf and Ko skipped easily across the stepping stones, but Düm needed the help of a rope to get across. It was a simple but effective trap to stop a troll from entering the cave system.

They passed through two massive mine-caves, each connected by long straight tunnels that contained other traps. Grim hobgoblin decorations flanked the walls: more troll skulls, and some bear and wolf skulls.

In the first of those caves, Düm found a large wooden sledgehammer near some other mining tools. For a human, it was a large thing, to be wielded with both hands in a slinging over-the-shoulder motion, but Düm held it lightly in one hand.

Flanking the entrance to the next tunnel were the rotting corpses of not one but two trolls: they were both affixed to the wall with their heads sagging and their arms spread wide, their giant hands nailed to the stone wall.

Raf stared up at the dead trolls in disgust.

Düm just averted his gaze.

“Hobgoblins did this?” Raf gasped.

“Yes,” Ko said softly.

They passed between the two hideously displayed trolls, entering the narrow stone tunnel beyond them.

“Why would the hobgoblins leave this place?” Raf asked. “It gives ample shelter and good defense against the trolls.”

Ko said, “Hobgoblins are most unpleasant creatures, not just because of their cunning but because they only consume. They do not build anything. They do not domesticate animals or plants. They do not renew. Hobgoblins live in places built by others and they simply consume what is available for as long as it is available. Then they move on to another place and slowly destroy it. Hobgoblins cannot see beyond the needs of the present moment. They stayed here for as long as it sustained them and then moved on.”

“Are trolls any different?”

“Oh, trolls are much smarter,” Ko said. “Why, this is the cause of your current dilemma. The trolls deduced that they needed to secure their food and water supply for the future. They did this by damming the river and essentially enslaving the human tribes downstream. They give you just enough water to survive and you give them food. This enforced tribute feeds the trolls with minimal labor on their part. In this regard, the troll is much smarter than the hobgoblin.”

They edged further down the tunnel.

“What exactly is a hobgoblin?” Raf asked.

Ko shrugged. “Hobgoblins are smaller than men, but they speak like men. They have hands and feet just like ours but their skin is coarser, leathery, more bristled. If they were not once men then maybe they were once apes—it is as if they are an animal caught halfway between the two, for they share features of both.”

As Ko said this, Raf realized that the tunnel through which they were walking was becoming oddly warm and humid.

They came to a doorway and stepped out into an enormous cavern.

Raf stopped at the sight that met him.

A broad lake of steaming water filled the floor of the mighty space. Raf had seen thermal springs before, but not an entire subterranean lake.

A low wooden bridge spanned the hot lake, giving access to a most unusual feature that dominated the far wall of the massive cavern: a railless stone path cut into the rock wall itself. It switched back and forth up the three-hundred-foot wall, steadily ascending. Any slip or stumble would result in a fall into the steaming pool at its base. Bored into the huge rock wall from the path were many man-sized mini-tunnels.

At two places up the path’s length there were ancient guardhouses with drawbridges folding down from them that spanned gaps in the vertiginous walkway. At the moment, the lower of the two drawbridges was folded down and open, while the upper one was folded up, barring passage across its void.

At the very top of the path, Raf saw an imposing stone doorway like the one through which they had entered the old mine: the exit.

Raf stared up in awe at the incredible feat of engineering.

Beside him, Ko wasn’t looking at it at all. He was peering at something on the ground nearby. He dropped to his knees to inspect it. “Oh, dear, this is not good.”

Düm saw what Ko was examining and sniffed with distaste. “Droppings…”

“These are mountain wolf droppings,” Ko said. “And they are fresh.” He drew his sword with a sharp zing.

“Mountain wolves…” Raf said. He was already gripping his flint knife.

Düm hefted his sledgehammer.

Ko said, “Something did move in after the hobgoblins abandoned this place…”

A sudden cackle of laughter echoed out from the upper reaches of the cave.

Raf spun.

Düm turned.

“I seeeeeee you!” a thin reedy voice called from the darkness.

“I see you, too!” another voice called from another direction.

“I see you three!” a third voice called.

Raf spun again, eyes scanning the cavern, but he saw nothing, no movement.

“You shouldn’t have come here,” a lower voice said from somewhere much closer. “Because now you must die.”

Raf’s heart was pounding as he turned once more to face the tunnel through which they had come and abruptly found himself staring into the eyes of a hobgoblin holding a sword.

The sword came rushing at Raf’s face.


Troll Mountain: Episode II is available now for $1.99 where all good ebooks are sold

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Excerpt – Troll Mountain: Episode I by Matthew Reilly

Posted April 7, 2014 by Mark

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A dauntless young hero.

An army of brutal monsters.

An impossible quest.


Journey to the mountain …

In an isolated valley, a small tribe of humans is dying from a terrible illness.

There are rumors, however, that the trolls of Troll Mountain, the valley’s fearsome overlords, have found a cure for the illness: a fabulous elixir.

When his sister is struck down by the disease and his tribal leaders refuse to help him, an intrepid youth named Raf decides to defy his tribe and do the unthinkable: he will journey alone to Troll Mountain and steal the elixir from the dreaded trolls.

But to get to Troll Mountain, Raf will have to pass through dangerous swamps and haunting forests filled with wolves, hobgoblins and, worst of all, the ever-present danger of rogue trolls …

The journey to the mountain has begun.



Later that evening, long after the last fires in the camp had winked out, by the light of the full moon, Raf slipped away from the small collection of shanties that formed the village of the Northmen.

As he crested one of the higher hills, he looked behind him and saw a glow on the distant southern horizon, far beyond his village: the settlement of the Southmen tribe.

For many generations the Northmen had fought with the Southmen, but few remembered what had actually caused the rivalry. Perhaps it was their base physical differences: the Northmen were fair of skin and hair, while the Southmen had a darker complexion, with long beards, hairy forearms, and bushy eyebrows.

As a child, Raf had been instructed to raise the alarm should he ever see a Southman anywhere near their lands. Sure, Southmen did not steal children in the night, but they were scum, untrustworthy dogs who would steal your crops the moment you turned your back.

It was similar with hobgoblins. Smaller than a man but more cunning and sly, a lone hobgoblin could slip into your hut in the night and steal all of your allocated food from beside your bed. Acting alone, a hobgoblin was a troublesome thief and while its cackling in the night might give a child nightmares, on its own a hobgoblin was of little danger to a human—it would be quick to flight. Larger groups of hobgoblins, however, could be lethal: if a gang of them caught a man and pinned him down, they would eat his flesh while he was still alive. Hobgoblins did not build or make anything. They lived in caves in the mountains or in abandoned places built by others.

Trolls, however, were another matter entirely.

They did steal children in the night.

And even a single troll was deadly.

Any news of a rogue troll in the valley triggered great fear and panic. Fires would be lit and a night watch instigated if a rogue troll was known to be about.

If Raf ever saw a troll he’d been told to run away as fast as he could.


The trolls lived to the north of the river valley amid some forbidding mountains that, by an accident of geography, sealed off the peninsula on which the valley tribes lived.

The Black Mountains, they were called.

The mountains dominated the landscape, jagged, dark and tall, and always within sight of the valley: a constant reminder to the Northmen, the Southmen and the other minor tribes of the strange foreign culture that held ruthless sway over their lives.

For it was within those mountains that the trolls had blocked the river that flowed into the valley. And by controlling the flow of water to the peoples of the valley, the trolls exacted tribute from them: food and, occasionally, human sacrifices.

Apart from the trolls, the Black Mountains held within them other dangers: isolated clans of hobgoblins and roving packs of mountain wolves.

Between the river valley and those fearful mountains was a ribbon of barren land known as the Badlands.

Once, it had been a healthy forest fed by the same river that continued on into the valley, but now the Badlands was little more than a stinking waste of swamps, marshes, and bracken. It was a dead land that conveniently separated the creatures of the mountains and the humans in the valley.

Dawn came as Raf crested the northernmost hill of the river valley and beheld the Black Mountains and the Badlands. A chill wind rushed down from the mountains, bitingly cold.

A tribal elder had once told Raf that the trolls liked the cold, needed it, that they couldn’t survive in warmer climes—which was why they stayed in the mountains and sourced tribute from the human tribes.

For a long moment Raf stood on the summit of that last hill, caught between two worlds: the familiar world of his valley and the unknown world before him.

Sure, he had practiced with his weapons at the edge of the Badlands, but he had never dared to venture any kind of substantial distance into them.

But today is different, he thought. Today I must.

He looked behind him and beheld his own valley again, with the scar of the dead river running down its length, and for a moment he doubted his mission and considered going back—

No. He was going to do this.

He was going to do this for his sister.

And so, with a deep breath, Raf turned toward the Badlands and stepped out of his old world.


TROLL MOUNTAIN is a serialised ebook from bestselling author Matthew Reilly. Episode I is available on April 8 where all good ebooks are sold. 

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