Review of The Old Guard By Greg Rucka written by Daniel Stubbings

Of late I have found myself been drawn back to my childhood love of comics. Everybody loves the classics. Saying that I wanted to move away from the well-known comics and find something new and fresh. That would make me salivate like a dog with rabies until the next issue hit the shelf.

I am pleased to say I found it. Its called The Old Guard by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez. The first page draws you straight in this is a fairy tale of blood and bullets, It is the story of one woman and three men who cannot die. Mostly. Their names are Andy, Nicky, Joe and Booker. It’s a story about time, and age and ages, and about friendship and love, and regret. I mean if that doesn’t grab your attention then I don’t know what will.

As the series opens up we find out that the four are an elite team of combat operatives similar to the SAS.  Which have been sent on a mission by an old friend but it’s not as it seems. This set us up for a ride that will take us from the deepest jungle to the city of love Paris. As they go in search of truth and hopefully revenge as well as encountering an unexpected surprise along the way.

This series of comics is currently only five issues old, and already we have seen some major character developments, as they are being told in installments giving us all four main characters viewpoint.

The first five have been told mainly from the point of Andy. Which I have to say so far is my favourite character, giving you as a reader a sense of mystery throughout. You just never seem to know what is quite going through her head. She is a very complex being having a deep internal struggle with herself, as wrestles with her own immortality. Trying to figure how she fits into this group of immortals who have nobody else but themselves.

Greg Rucka writing of this character just makes you connect on so many levels, as he takes you through a number of memories from her long life. Some barely remembered and others crystal clear without giving away her true age. This is an element which is returned to throughout the series so far helping enforce some of our judgements on Andy, but at the same time cast a dark cloud over other aspects in which Greg has hinted at in previous issues.

The art of Fernandez only helps heighten these aspects. With highly detailed fight scenes, flashbacks, and sequences that just tie the story all together. Making for an adrenaline rush which I have to say I not experienced with many other comics.

My only criticism of the series so far, is the lack of explanation about what made them  immortal. Well mostly we have been told some ways in which they can die, but I would really like to know what made them immortal if it was some act of god or virus. I would also like to know what is the purpose of their immortality. Why are they here, and what gets them selected.  I am sure this will come as the series develops just I would like to see more background to some of the other characters.

This series has everything fight scenes, guns, myths, and a crew of characters that you cant help but love and hate. It does what it says on the first page, it is a story of bullets and blood and lots of it but trust me it worth it.

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Short Story- Erased Written by Daniel Stubbings For Storgy Exit Earth Contest

Blood had long been forgotten, all that mattered now was ink.  It was all that mattered ever since he had vanished clutching my arms, begging me not to let him go.  I can still see the fear in his eyes as his body turned to dust like all the others. Blood was just a trace of our old lives, flashes of a world before the erasing had begun. That was five years ago and still, I harboured the scars.  Those scars had lead me to a place I knew all too well, cloaked in darkness, a place where I had truly learnt what it was to be what they called drawers. Bending my knees, I slid down onto the stone floor, pressing my back against the wall as I peered into the darkness. A cold prickle going down the back of my skull as a face emerges from within. Covered in scars, eyes deep emerald, a grin spread across its lips, begging me to remember. Who was it?

A cold sweat ran down my spine. I stood and walked over to a set of old Chester drawers. A dull light shone in from two small windows just above eye level, hidden from the outside world. A grey, steel spiral staircase leads up to other parts of the house. The basement is small and damp, multicoloured geckos running along the walls. A battered grey mattress covered in plain white sheets acted as my bed, positioned tight against the wall. A full-length mirror hung above the headboard reflecting back a self with rows of leather bound journals piled high, covered in dust. Each one numbered and dated, giving me a timeline of when this all started; dreams, nightmares, and keeping track of the erasing.

I pull open the drawers and peer inside two leather bound journals stared back at me reaching down I turn the pages of the first one I come to. It is filled with random sketches, unfinished stories, and details of each event. I push it aside, grabbing the other flicking to its final few pages, tracing my fingertips over the wolf’s head on its spine, its silver eyes whispering within my mind. Stirring my blood, forcing millions of images to flow across my eyes the hairs on the back of my hand stand on end, wind whistling through my ears. I stare down at my hands blackening from heat radiating from the journal, it was coming…… it was here….. what I knew as the ink. I turn, throwing the journal against the wall, my skin tingling as red flames pulse through veins. A shadow crossed my face as I looked into the mirror. My mouth is suddenly dry like a dessert; I lick my lips as the air crackles around me like the atmosphere of an electric storm.

The muscles in my arm tense as I focus on the ink surging through my veins.  taking a deep breath I try to remember every detail of my dream. My eye develops a muscle spam out of my control as the ink spreads underneath my skin, glowing a deep purple as it rises to the surface. I stared at my reflection; my eyes are tired and sore. A voice whispering in my mind. This is what you are, what you have become….. you’re a drawer. Quickly, I placed my fingers over the mark, two silver eyes within a black wolfs head and pressed firmly down. The response was instant, violet ink erupted from my fingertips. Tears ran down my face like acid, eating away at my flesh, and scraping against bone, as my dream began to appear in front of me. A pair of piercing amber eyes framed in a flat ebony face, stared at me as I begin to guide it onto the papers of my journal. My skin tears with every stroke a piercing scream breaks across the air; my legs give way forcing me to the ground. Lifting my head, I peer at the journal.

There it was….. my dream, my nightmare, lording over me as if it were a king.  A smile creeps over my lips, as I inspect my body. Deep purple slashes run along my arms, parts of my flesh have been melted away. Vapours of black smoke rise, pools of dark black ink surround my feet and hands as a thin line of sweat covers my forehead. A shiver gurgles down my spine; I try and stand but my legs collapse from under me. My eyes are haunted with fear as I turn and look into the mirror seeing dark shadows pooled in its corners. A wide grin across their dark, featureless faces, all laughing at me, all saying the same thing….. “More ideas are coming and you’re running out of time. I push myself up and run towards the stairs, taking them two at a time only stopping for breath when I reach the top. Grabbing the door handle I throw it open allowing a blinding white light to escape that pierces my eyes.  I step into a large living area and before I have barely taken two steps, I collide with a tall gentleman.

He dressed in a long grey overcoat interrupted by shabby dark hair and a pair of old biker boots strapped to his feet, all accompanied by deep ruby tattoos covering his neck and legs. Partial drawings of buildings, weapons, and scripture from important speeches throughout history adorned his body. His voice was husky…..“Nice to see you, there’s no need to fall at my feet.” He laughed as he held me up allowing me to catch my breath. He walked me over to an old wooden table, surrounded by two sturdy leather chairs with each of us taking a seat. His long shabby hair covered his eyes. “What are you doing here Reggie, were not supposed to meet until tomorrow?” A fresh cut leaked blood down his left cheek. “I heard some rumours, details that might be of interest to you” he said nervously. Last time you came to me with so called information, it just added more questions to what we already knew. We both know you are just in the same position as me so show me your arms Reggie.” His eyes scanned the room checking all the doors and windows. “Why do you need to see my arms Jin?” growled Reggie as he clenched his hands into fists. “Easy there Reggie, I just need to check something out, you know we are both drawers?” Have you been having any impulses lately?” Reggie just stared into space tapping his bonelike fingers against the wood.  Leaning forwards, she stared into Reggie’s eyes, a deep, piercing look. “Okay Jin, I do have some drawings you need to see.” Thoughts raced through Reggie’s head as to what drawings, he was thinking on his feet?  After an uncomfortable silence Jin responded, “Okay Reggie, let’s see them”.

Reaching inside his coat, he pulled out a battered, old leather-bound journal, larger than hers but in the same style, then placed it down on the table. Pulling up his sleeves as he often did, his tattoos moved spontaneously as if they were alive. I reached out and traced my fingers over them and felt a humming energy building that forced my eyes to change to a deep blue. Surges of emerald flames danced up my arms blackening my flesh. I quickly pulled back into my seat; this was an energy I had only felt once before. He was going to a place drawers should not seek.

Grimacing pain slowly etched across his face, his mark had dissolved, his protection was gone. “Reggie! what have you done?” I screamed. His lips curled into a cruel grin, his eyes manic with fury. “You know what I’ve done Jin, you know where I have been.” The colour drained from my face as his eyes turned a milky white, the heat radiating off him in waves pushing me backwards. His skin rippled emerald flames cutting into his bones as the tattoos fought to break free. Listening to his final words as he stared at me with soulless eyes he muttered, “Jin, it can’t be erased otherwise our world has no meaning, all the events we’ve experienced will be erased forever. We embraced it, you know what we did?” he whispered. The flames took him into the shadows blinding me for a moment as I slowly moved to open his journal. “This will only add to your burdens” I thought to myself as I fought to resist the temptation.

I hadn’t even heard her approach as she glided across the floor in front of me. Her hair glistened with silver flashes of time woven into a tight indigo ponytail that swayed down her broad back. Her dark oval face was deformed by two parallel scars that sliced through her full black lips, like a shadow trailing in her wake. She glanced back every so often as she moved towards an ivory seat. Her eyes were strangely hidden offering no insight into what she may be thinking; who was she I wondered?

Grabbing Reggie’s journal, I turned to the last entry; it was of a woman, the description matching her perfectly. It must be her; surely it couldn’t be anyone else?

I didn’t move as she glided back towards me, her eyes still hidden. Staring down at the picture another name began to rise from the page burning in golden fire. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the fierce light before I recognised the outline of a name….Keira! Kiera!

As Kiera moved closer her eyes emerged, they were a piercing deep amber. I recognised her as the girl I had seen in my dream. What was she doing here? “It’s good to see you Jin” she whispered quietly. “How about you listen for once, and forget what you just saw on that last page?” She flicked her wrist, threads of golden ink emerged from a vortex in her outstretched hand, wrapping around the journal and igniting it in a ring of deep orange flames. The intense heat burnt my hands; I was beyond being comfortable so reluctantly, dropped it onto the floor. I edged backwards resting against the table, the ink moving in parallel lines underneath my skin. “Who are you?” I asked uncomfortably. “How do you know me and why were you in my dreams?” The questions stumbled out without me pausing for an answer. My hands were shaking uncontrollably as I tried to disguise my increasing anxiety. Kiera laughed at me and began to run her hands through her hair “I am Kiera, I know you well but you know that already, I am in your dreams but you have seen me before. Think carefully Jin and ask yourself, “What am I?” I know you have heard my name before…….” One question merged into another as I felt myself becoming frustrated at my inability to work it out.

I systematically searched my memories but tiredness began to overcome me. Finally, something clicked……. “You’re an imaginative.” I whispered at first before rising to a piercing scream. “That’s right Jin I am” her eyes instantly going black. Her shadow spread like a wild fire engulfing us both. Quickly I shut my eyes trying to focus on what I could hear but it was too late.

A wave of coldness washed over me that grew with every heartbeat, spreading up my arms and legs. Tentacles emerging from within searching for my eyes as a foul-smelling fluid rose in the air.  I twisted and turned, screaming, trying to break free of its embrace. I dug my nails into my skin trying to force ink to the surface. “Jin, what have I told you? I would only add to your worries”.  Keira’s voice sounded menacing as I fought to keep my eyes shut from her piercing finger nails cutting into my eyelids. My ink slipping away, my energy fading, the dream had been too much; talking with Reggie had been too much. I had felt that energy once before, the energy I felt surging through Reggie was all flooding back entering my head as a distant memory resonating back to that day, back to him. I soon realised that I had been here before, I’d seen this all before. “Glad to see some of it is coming back to you” said Keira.  “Why don’t you open your eyes? We are here now”.

At first, I was hesitant but slowly I opened my eyes. Keira was staring back at me but her shadow had vanished. Her arms cradled around me like a baby, her eyes blurred with tears. As she lowered me to the floor she whispered, “Sorry about that, it was the only way I knew”. “What do you mean it was the only way you knew?” I screamed. “Really Jin what do you think it was?” She replied fixing me with those deep amber eyes as she stood behind me, her image coming in and out of focus as she lifted me to my feet. “I am not sure but I am sure I felt it before in a time away from here” I said nervously. “I can’t answer that for you, why don’t you look all around?” she whispered. Taking a deep breath I turned my head. I was surrounded by mirrors with a dull blue light coming from a source unseen. I stared into one of the mirrors looking past my reflection and focusing on Kiera. One of her eyes had turned black and had sunken into her skull, her hair had changed to charcoal black. Her scars vanished leaving behind full red lips, she smiled squeezing my shoulders “Don’t worry’’, I look worse than I feel” She giggled. “All will be revealed shortly”. She said moving towards a dark corner.

I noticed we had company, their back facing me in the room, a hood concealing their identity. Kiera glided in just behind them and whispered something in their ears. Even before she spoke I heard the words in my head “She is here so what do you want to do?” There was a pause…. “It is time Kiera, she has to know leave us.” Kiera turned giving me a brief smile and wave as she faded back into the shadows.

All around went silent as one word erupted from the figures lips, “Erased.” Suddenly stone began breaking underneath my feet as the energy built. An orb of yellow light surrounded the figure, blinding me for a moment as it stretched out its arms towards the mirrors. I watched in horror as mirrors grinded against the stone floor, cracks forming over their surface sending shards of glass in all directions, cutting my face and hands. Black droplets of ink hit the floor as wind whistled around me pushing me down turning me onto my back I lifted my head and quickly scanned the room. Nothing much was left but for a tunnel lined with bright white candles. In a moment, the figure took me by the arm with a tight grip and dragged me towards it, each candle spontaneously lighting seconds before we approached it.

A hot wind touched my skin blowing grit into my eyes. The air turned humid making it hard to breath but the figure pulled me through the dark tunnel, shimmers of light guiding us to some unknown destination. “Where are we going?” I shouted looking up at the figure but it remained silent, tightening their grip menacingly. As we grew near to the end of the tunnel a large, round stone chamber came into view with a strange red light flowing across it walls. The figure loosened their grip around my arm and took my head into their hands turning it clockwise towards the wall. Despite my fear I couldn’t look away, my eyes widening as I took it all in. The walls were covered in drawings and images of jungles burning to the ground with rivers flowing blood then turning to dust. Statues had been decimated and lay randomly across the ground.

I stared at the figure intensely, “What is all this?” I asked. It took a moment before answering in a hoarse voice, “You remember now don’t you, you know what happened?” I stared again as it pointed to the middle of the room. I turned my head and could see a girl; she was laid down on a black dentist’s chair, strapped securely by brown leather straps. Black orbs of liquid dripped from her lips. The figure released me, its face still concealed by their hood. I rose slowly unsure of how to proceed…..”Why does all this feel so familiar? Why do I know this room?” I began asking myself.  I ran my fingers through my hair and walked forward peering down at a female presence, her skin covered in deep black scars oozing ink from within. Her eyes were now a piercing emerald green and blank of any emotion, her clothes ravaged and torn from her body. Clear tube like structures stemmed from her forehead pumping a solid blue liquid around her brain. As I approached slowly she sat up fixing a stare at me with her eyes. “Welcome home Jin” she whispered reaching her hands out towards me.

I edged back unable to take it all in. “What do you mean welcome home?” I shouted peering into her eyes as something troubled me at the back of my mind. She smiled and replied, “Really Jin, you been gone too long.” I grabbed her by the shoulders shaking her, demanding an explanation.  I turned to my left and peered into the shadows watching intently as another hooded figure began to emerge. Reggie smiled at me with a crooked grin, Kiera turned away as the hooded figure pulled back their hood revealing themselves. His long black hair, thin face and bright blue eyes gave me a friendly smile. I screamed at them repeatedly “What are you? What are you?” expelling air from my lungs as I dropped to the floor exhausted. I looked into the mirror and saw the face I had been dreaming about night after night. Scars shaped like crosses on my cheeks, emerald eyes, misshaped head and ink surging through my veins.  I suddenly realised It was me strapped to the chair talking to myself, crawling at my flesh as screams echoed through my skull.

My dreams finally made sense as the memories flooded back. Screams thundered through the base of my skull causing my eyes to ache….what had I done? Why was I here? Why could I only remember the ink? Sobs rocked my body as James came and hugged me “Don’t worry, it didn’t hurt, were all just broken memories” he whispered as he kissed my forehead. He gave me one last hug before joining Kiera and Reggie as they faded back into the shadows.  I laid back looking up at the images as they merged into one. I stood alone in a sea of bodies, a tidal wave of ink covering their skin; the mark of a drawer branded across their arms glowing in a violet light.  I looked above the images, slowly realising there are some words written in my own hand burning in a pure white light. I read them several times before I understood. Jin Drawer your ideas ended our world, you’re the only person left. I closed my eyes and cried myself to sleep I was never leaving this place. What had I become?

 

 

 

Review of Trails of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy By Rick Riordan Written by Daniel Stubbings

This book catapults us back into the world of the demigod Percy Jackson. With new twists and turns, that will have you laughing out loud, as well as making you hold on tight.

This book is the second in the series and follows on from The Trails of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle. The main narrative within the story centres around Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, music, and prophecy, as he wrestles with the lost of his godly powers, and is forced to live as an acne infested teenager called Lester after he is cast out of Olympus by his father Zeus.

In order to become a god once again, he is tasked with restoring the three oracles from ancient times. The opening character begins where the previous book left off Apollo, Calypso, and Leo, going on a quest to rescue Apollo’s Demigod master Meg. A twelve year old child of the Greek goddess of agriculture Demeter, who is in the clutches of her evil stepdad the Emperor Nero the first member of the Triumvirate.  As the story continues Meg’s character arch really begins to develop in interesting ways from her powers increasing, and her internal struggles against her stepdad.

What I liked most about this book. Is the way in which Rick was able to develop characters from his previous series, and make them feel fresh and new without making them feel out of place. However also maintaining what made us love them in the first place. My favourite being Leo Valdez, a Demigod of the Greek god Hephaestus, along with his trusted sidekick Festus the huge malfunctioning bronze dragon which we meet in the Blood of Olympus series.

This story has a number of subplots but essentially centres around the groups quest to find Meg and the second oracle which are both located somewhere within the American Midwest. If this task wasn’t daunting enough, the oracle is located within a haunted cave which if  it doesn’t kill you. Forces you to go insane. To make matters even worse the oracle  is  been pursued by the second member of the deathly Triumvirate, who’s thirst for blood  hasn’t been seen for over a millennia. To further complicate matters he is a former lover of Apollo, and as the story develops we find Apollo holds a dark secret over his demise.

Now my only criticism of this book is that at times it can seem predictable. As I read on I found that I was finishing sentences, and able to see how the characters were going to proceed. Yes the fight scenes are enjoyable, and Rick is able to weave mythology in a way that doesn’t bore his audience.  However I wanted more an unexpected twist, a character development we didn’t see coming, and just simply more mystery to keep us entertained.

Now your probably wondering well if its predictable why would we read it. Well here my answer. If you like a book that makes you remember the old tales of heroes, gods, and creatures, that does it in a way that will make you laugh out loud  as you ride on the bus then this is the book.

Rick has a marvelous way of taking the modern day and mixing it with the old. Now some of you may argue that so are a lot of authors within urban fantasy, but the reason why I keep coming back to this series, is that the characters stay with you. Adding new dimensions and subplots that just hook you in.  It a delightful read for both adults and children alike.

If you liked this book tell me what you liked?

Also if you have any feedback please let me know?

Follow me on Twitter @dan_stubbings

 

Review of The Gift Maker by Mark Mayes Written by Daniel

Why should you read the Gift Maker? What sets it apart from all the other fantasy/fairy-tale stories you have read either as a child or adult. Well that just it. This book isn’t just a fantasy novel it is able to cross a number of genres from romance to mystery to puzzle solving this book has something for everyone.

Making for a very interesting debut. The story is told through the eyes of three main characters Thomas, Liselotte, and Jo. Their journey begins after Thomas and Liselotte receive two mysterious small blue boxes in the dead of night. Catapulting them into a quest where everything is not as it seems, and into a world that brings new meaning to the world of fantasy and folklore. Sometimes a dream, sometimes a nightmare, and at other times you’re not quite sure. Each aspect crafted by the deliciously dark Reynard who I have to say is one of my favourite villains if you can call him that but that would be giving too much away.

The world in which Mark has constructed is so vividly written that you cant help but be absorbed into its pages. A great mix of hunters, mythical creatures, and magic that seems to have no end. It does however have elements that seem familiar snow-covered mountains, a mastermind orchestrating a quest for people to complete. At times it could have been mistaken for a mixture of Stardust and Lord of the Rings but I loved it. Mark has been able to breathe new life into old tales, and create characters that you can’t help but care for.

The only criticism I have is the ending. Yes everything is resolved and keeps you on the edge of your seat right until the end, but I wanted to see more of this world, I wanted to know everything about the characters, I wanted to go deeper into the language, and wanted to see more of the dark undertones which lurk in the background.

This however takes nothing away from how well written this book is. It is a stunning debut and I guess me wanting to find out more about this world only furthers my point. It is quite simply a must read for any reader.

If you have read this book tell me what you enjoyed and what you didn’t?

If you have any feedback? Do please comment I really do take your opinions into account.

And also why don’t you follow Mark on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Mark_J_Mayes

You can also follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/dan_stubbings