Review of Shadow Booth Volume 4 Short Story Collection by Various Authors Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis 

It’s as Peter begins to wade into the tarn that he spies the strange canvas structure at the edge of the trees. It looks like an abandoned Punch & Judy booth, he thinks, but dirty and tired, stained black with mould. Ignoring the water licking cold about his ankles, he squints to read the crimson scrawl on the plank propped against it. Enter the Shadow Booth, it says, and you will never be the same again.

The Shadow Booth is an international journal of weird and eerie fiction, publishing emerging and established writers of the strange. Drawing its inspiration from the likes of Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman, The Shadow Booth explores that dark, murky hinterland between mainstream horror and literary fiction.

Volume 4 includes new weird and uncanny fiction by: Gary Budden, Jay Caselberg, Tim Cooke, James Everington, Lucie McKnight Hardy, Giselle Leeb, Polis Loizou, James Machin, Andrew McDonnell, Jane Roberts, Ashley Stokes, Anna Vaught, Charles Wilkinson and Marian Womack.

Review

My annual plunge into the darkness that is the Shadow Booth was a joy. Usually I would highlight certain stories for praise. Ones that stayed with me longer than others, or had a specific quality I enjoyed. Whether that was a character, setting, or a writing style I had previously not encountered. However with this volume every story contained specific qualities which grabbed my attention leading me into the shadows of dread that had been written with both excitement and fear.

The reason that this volume cast more shadows that I wanted to visit was because the writers of each story constructed a question into their texts. Some had simply one question, where others contained many but as a reader I was captivated. I wanted to discover every answer to every question. Whether that was an internal question about myself and how I understood the world. To external questions that asked you to investigate what is being presented to you in more detail to increase your understanding further.

The writers did this in such a way that you felt as if you were being dragged down a deep dark hole kicking and screaming in protest but at the same time you wanted them to draw back the curtain and let you in. Horror troupes and supernatural troupes were simply the vehicles that they used to drive these messages home. However the reason this volume has stayed with me longer the other three, is because it went back to what I want from horror and the supernatural. It sent shivers down my spine, it made to sleep with the lights on, but most of all it made to think. I was terrified but I couldn’t stop reading. That’s what I need from these kind of stories I need to be afraid and be challenged.

Every story challenges your moral compass. The further the reader goes into the collection the more layers were revealed to them. It was almost as if they were a detective but instead of trying to solve clues to a murder it was them who were being examined. Throughout the stories this kept returning. Whether it was somebody questioning what they had witnessed because of drug use or a mother trying to come to terms with tragedy. The more the reader reads every story the more they will become invested in finding the answers but what I enjoyed most is that all these stories will give different messages to different people. Therefore you will always come back to learn more. This is a well edited collection of stories that carries with it a variety of important messages that everybody can sample and enjoy.

It receives 4 stars. A well executed read. I am happy to recommend. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review this doesn’t effect my views.

 

Review of Juniper By Ross Jeffery Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis 

Juniper is the first book in Ross Jeffery’s proposed trilogy: a post-apocalyptic horror about an insane American town seemingly at the edge of reality. As Juniper suffers from scorching drought and medieval famine, the townsfolk are forced to rely on the ‘new cattle’ for food: monstrous interbred cats kept by the oppressed Janet Lehey.

But there’s a problem: Janet’s prized ginger tom, Bucky, has gone missing, flown the coop. As Janet and her deranged ex-con husband Klein intensify their search for the hulking mongrel, Betty Davis, an old woman clinging to survival on the outskirts of Juniper, discovers something large and ginger and lying half-dead by the side of the road.

She decides to take it home…

Juniper is surreal, dark, funny, and at times: excruciatingly grotesque. Buckle up for a wild ride through the dust-ridden roads of a tiny, half-forgotten American town.

Review

Juniper is a book everyone needs to read. I couldn’t stop reading Juniper because of the unique voice Ross projects onto every page. Ross is like a spider weaving a complex web of perspectives that ask the reader to look beyond his writing to find the deeper meanings in this melting pot of text. The story centres around three main characters. Each one impacting upon one another in several ways throughout the narrative. Injecting interesting arcs that maintains the readers attention throughout. All three are well fleshed out meaning that you absorb their flaws and relate to their daily struggles.

These three characters are Betty an old woman who roams the outskirts of Juniper in search of roadkill for her pot. She is rumoured to be older than Juniper itself there from the very beginning. Children believe she is a witch. She was the most interesting character. Ross described her superbly drawing you into how she survives leaving a sense of mystery around what her role is in this dead end town. Janet is a beaten woman who can feel her life slipping away as she struggles against the violence of her deadbeat husband Klein. Klein is an ex con who delights in causing havoc throughout his marriage and neighbourhood lording his power over everyone forcing them to live in fear.

I lost myself in Juniper. A town that has been forgotten by the wider world left to rot in its own misfortune. A sun scorched wasteland where the worst of society go to die. The descriptions of Juniper are so vivid that it almost becomes a character all on its own. A ravenous monster of warped creation that the unfortunate cast of characters barely survive. As I continued to read I found myself picturing Juniper in all its glory, as if I was a lone traveller on a road to redemption with no end in sight. Even though the setting is influenced by the vastness of America and its forgotten communities. I couldn’t help but begin to draw parallels with the disengaged and desolate areas of the United Kingdom that have been cast aside in the current climate.

By using Juniper in this way Ross focuses our attention on several struggles that his characters face from domestic violence to homelessness. Through the characters Ross discusses a multitude of themes displaying many different abuses of power whether it is control over an individual or a community. Throughout the narrative Ross showed these abuses with a skill that allowed you to judge for yourself who truly was the hand of evil, and demonstrated the devastating impact these themes can have on a community. Ross brings these themes into the light wonderfully helping to remove the taboos. This was the main message for me from this book that we must discuss all elements of human capacity to generate conversations to change the downward spiral that we seem to be flying towards at unforgiving speed. What made Juniper different is that we are shown the situations from all perspectives from the abusers to the victims insight. Ross isn’t afraid to show the reader that his characters have many conflicting emotions that at first glance would make you believe they are doing the right thing. As this dark themed narrative progresses, Ross implodes our judgements on the disease that is humans in the western world asking us is this truly what we want future generations to inherit.

What Ross has been able to achieve in this novella is nothing short of remarkable. The character developments, multilayered meanings, and the sense of place that is created is breathtaking. A sense of place is an element of books that I need to hold my attention if I don’t engage with your setting you lose me and in Juniper the setting is breathless. For a debut book Ross has engaged my curiosity and this is only our first encounter with the dark beast that is Juniper. This book is Armageddon meets Salem’s Lot. A highly recommended read. I cannot wait to see what Ross writes next. Well done you receive 5*.

About the Author

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Ross Jeffery is a Bristol based writer and Executive Director of Books for STORGY Magazine. Ross has been published in print with STORGY Books, Ellipsis Zine 6, The Bath Flash Fiction Festival 2019, Project 13 Dark and Shlock Magazine. His work has also appeared in various online journals such as STORGY Magazine, About Magazine TX, Elephants Never, 101 Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Soft Cartel and Idle Ink. Ross lives in Bristol with his wife (Anna) and two children (Eva and Sophie). You can follow him on Twitter here @Ross1982

I received a copy of Juniper in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

Why not treat yourself to a copy by clicking on the link below

https://storyoriginapp.com/universalbooklinks/bf102188-40e1-11ea-a9d2-cf337a3bfa89

Review of God of Broken Things ( The Age Of Tyranny Book 2) by Cameron Johnston Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

An outcast magician must risk his body and mind to save the world from horrifying demons, in the heart-pounding epic fantasy sequel to The Traitor God.

Tyrant magus Edrin Walker destroyed the monster sent by the Skallgrim, but not before it laid waste to Setharis, and infested their magical elite with mind-controlling parasites. Edrin’s own Gift to seize the minds of others was cracked by the strain of battle, and he barely survives the interrogation of a captured magus. There’s no time for recovery though: a Skallgrim army is marching on the mountain passes of the Clanhold. Edrin and a coterie of villains race to stop them, but the mountains are filled with gods, daemons, magic, and his hideous past. Walker must stop at nothing to win, even if that means losing his mind. Or worse…

My Review

After finishing the explosive Traitor God. I was eager to discover how Johnston would continue the journey of the mysterious and at times mildly irritating Edrin Walker. Reeling from the truths he discovered about the Arcanum who rule Setharis and the deaths of two of his best friends in Traitor God.

We find Walker in turmoil hell bent on uncovering how many mages have been infected by the evil Scarrabus that caused the betrayal of a once trusted ally and the murder of his best friend. As the story develops Johnston peels back the layers of these soul sucking parasites giving us an in depth look into how powerful they are and the lengths they will go to accomplish their sadistic mission. I was pleased that this aspect of the narrative further developed. As I had several questions regarding the complexity of the Scarrabus. Where they originated, who is behind their involvement in the downfall of Setharis, and could they really be stopped.

Johnston provides this information in graphic detail making for a story that has you racing to keep up. What I enjoyed most about how Johnston revealed the information to the reader was that at no point did I feel as though I was been drawn in an info dump. The reveals were seamless, moving the plot forward at a neck breaking pace adding gruesome details to the already horrific image of the Scarrabus in my mind. The Scarrabus are a relentless manifestation of pure darkness in the world of Setharis and will have you reading through your fingers.

However, they are only half of the story that Edrin Walker finds himself at the centre of. Even though he pretty much saved Setharis by nearly getting himself killed. He still isn’t trusted by most of the Arcanum. Half want him dead and the others treat him as if he is a cobra waiting to strike. Plus, things are about to get worse when he is sent on a mission to help stop the invading army of Skallgrim with a bunch of mercenaries that would sooner put a knife in his back. First though he must navigate a region of snow-covered mountain passes that house some of the vilest creatures imaginable. Some Edrin though were long buried.

This is a highlight of the world that Johnston has constructed. His mythology is so vivid, and complex that as you keep reading you find yourself in a weird space between fearing these gruesome beings that are hunting our crew of misfits, and at the same time wanting to know more about them to discover the thought process behind this deep ingrained mythology. This is what I enjoyed most about Johnston’s writing. He enabled the reader to go beyond the ruined city of Setharis, which is described in such vivid detail in Traitor God, that you feel as though you would be able to walk through as if it were New York or Leeds. Sampling the sounds, tastes, and smells of this city steeped in magic and mystery.

That had its place in the narrative making for a fabulous murder mystery and revenge backstory that helped set up what is to come making you want to read book 2. However, what makes God of Broken Things better than Traitor God in my opinion is it moves at a faster pace tapping into the mythology and people’s fears in ways that doesn’t stall the plot. At times in Traitor God I found myself saying do we really need to know this. Drawing my attention away from what I was enjoying about the plot. I must stress this is only personal preference Traitor God was still one of my books of 2018.

God of Broken Things got rid of those problems, creating a vicious beast that made it feel as though a Ford Fiesta had been replaced by a Ferrari. Opening our eyes to a range of interesting sections of Edrin’s world that Johnston had only given us glimpses of in Traitor God. As Edrin moves forward within these places we begin to see a clash of cultures relating to how people hold suspicions and legends to their hearts. This causes several problems for Edrin as he grapples with his control over his own magic and how far he can take it before losing himself.

God of Broken Things is a fantastic end to what has been a spellbinding series of engrossing magic systems, vile creatures that still haunt my nightmares, and side characters such as Eva and Cillian that only help to enhance your enjoyment of this brilliantly written narrative. This is Grimdark with a delicious twist and I hope more people sample this dish. It receives 4 stars.

I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

 

Review of Shallow Creek from Storgy Books Written by Dan Stubbings

Review

After being such an avid reader of Storgy magazine. I was intrigued to discover what the crew of devilish dark minds that run the publication had in store for us from their annual short story competition. I am pleased to say they haven’t disappointed. Enabling readers to face their fears and go into a world entirely of their own making. The Storgy team challenged us to drip our toes into their eerie playground of Shallow Creek. A town with a past many hadn’t survived all we were given through the generous invite of the mysterious Mallum Colt was a character, a location, and a special item that had to be involved at some stage throughout your story.

This blank canvas of options has allowed for unique and original tales to be born. With writers constructing their haunting babies along the way. Diving far into this imaginary town in search of its hidden treasures. This collection is a masterpiece and does the world of story and imagination proud. So strap yourselves in while Uncle Dan tells you all about it.

Sometimes when I open a collection of short stories, I find myself reading out of order. This is usually due to several different reasons it maybe because a certain writer is present, and I have read their previous works and want to see if they have expanded on an existing world or character, or it could be something as simple as a title of a particular story catches my eye. However, with Shallow Creek I found myself glued from the first page to the last.

The reason why this was the case with Shallow Creek is because I experienced something that hasn’t happened since I read Interview with a Vampire for the first time. Every story ignited a fire within me that forced me to absorb every word, dissect every paragraph, and begin my own investigation into every plot twist as if I were an expert detective sent to close an unsolvable crime.

The beauty about this anthology is that even though it keeps a steady pace maintaining your interest throughout. You don’t feel as though you are missing any important details or discarding themes that may become significant later on. Ross, Tomek, and Tony the editors have done an incredible job of assembling this intertwined narrative that exposes us to all corners of Shallow Creek from Devil’s Gorge to the asylum. Introducing readers to a cast of charismatic characters that you hope to never meet in a dark alley by the time you finish your fingers are bleeding with excitement.

What makes this collection stand out in the never-ending sea that is the horror and supernatural genre is the themes that have been highlighted within the context of this spooky old town.

One story I couldn’t stop reading was Behind These Eyes by Alice Noel. A haunting story told through the eyes of multiple characters that centres around the illness dementia. However not all is as it seems and the story takes on a sinister twist. Alice opened an insight into the loneliness and terrifying world of dementia in a way that I haven’t encountered. Weaving threads of deception that make you question whether you ever truly know a person? By the time I finished my hands were shaking.

Arrowhead by Daniel Carpenter was another that stuck with me long after I had finished reading. Its my favourite story within the collection. For me it just has everything mysterious characters, intrigue, and that sense of mystery that allows it to transcend several dimensions of the horror genre. Told through the eyes of a dead-beat Lenny. We are taken into a world of addiction and obsession that gets under your skin. As more of the narrative was revealed you closed your eyes. I adored how Dan was able to fully submerge me into the world he had created in his mind. It was that one story that when I finished I had to reread it straight away just to revel in its mastery. Bravo Dan Bravo.

I am not going to discuss every story in the collection as I would be here all night. There is however one final gruesome tale I want you all to know about. A story called Backwards by Adrian J Walker. A murder investigation with an ending I didn’t see coming at all. To say I was afraid by what Adrian produced wouldn’t even begin to cover it. I will say this though whatever you do don’t read this one in the dark. It reminded me of a demonic cross between Jack Reacher meets the Walking Dead.

This collection has all the aspects that makes me love this genre. From creepy murder mysteries to abandoned shacks in the middle of nowhere. It has something for every reader of the weird and wonderful delving deep into the masters of collective narrative from Bram Stoker to Anne Rice. Yet at the same time creating a fresh perspective on what is achievable within the unexplored depths of the dark.

It receives five stars. Congratulations to all the writers you have constructed something totally unique. I adore Shallow Creek and hope to experience countless visits.

I received a copy from the publishers in exchange for an honest review this doesn’t affect my views.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Tales from the Shadow Booth Volume 3 Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis-

Welcome to The Shadow Booth, the international journal of weird and eerie fiction.

Volume 3 is published as an ebook and a 200-page mass-market paperback.

Volume 3 contains stories by: Nick Adams, Judy Birkbeck, Raquel Castro, Armel Dagorn, Jill Hand, Richard V. Hirst, Verity Holloway, Tim Major, Annie Neugebauer, Robert Shearman, Gregory J. Wolos.

My Review

Tales from The Shadow Booth is a collection of short stories that I can’t wait to read every year. Volume 3 was no exception. Two hundred plus pages of eerie mind -bending tales that have a way of seeping underneath your skin, forcing you to consider every twist and fright long after you have turned the final page. As it says on the cover enter the Shadow Booth and you will never be the same again. I personally don’t think there could be a more accurate statement about how each volume changes you as a reader and a writer.

Dan Coxon has done an incredible job with the editing compiling a delicious blend of stories that leap off the page. They are so vivid that you feel as though you are watching a collection of movies, with each new tale adding something extra to the mix. What I enjoyed most about this dark tome was that it stayed true to the previous volumes yet at the same time added a new branch to the tree of horror and supernatural. Venturing into landscapes that explore a wide range of cultures and shed light on stories that include love, lost, violence, and the entire spectrum of humanity.

As with all collections there were stories that I enjoyed more than others. However, what I will say is that this volume makes you take your time as you sample each offering delivering a buffet of visionary delights that rival the best in the genre.

Some of my favourite stories from the volume were:

The Cherry Cactus of Corsica by Verity Holloway

It’s a story I have reread numerous times.  It’s a story of concern, experiments, and blood. It hooked me from the first paragraph. It centres around a young teacher who notices some odd behaviour being exhibited by a troubled pupil. As he digs deeper and tries to understand what could be causing it, we are drawn into a world of poisonous plants, strange professors, and beings that genuinely send a shiver down your spine. Verity has been able to create a story that taps deep into readers fears. Tales that used to keep you awake as a child. Yet present the reader with a different idea on some of the oldest beings in the arena that is horror.

I adored how she delicately pulled back the veil between our world and theirs. Making you hold your breath as every character trait and flaw was exposed in a frenzy of delicious prose that made me yearn for more. I didn’t want the story to end. I think she could early turn it into a full novel. If you read one story from this collection read this one, it will change how you view the world.

I Have a Secret by Raquel Castro

This is a hauntingly beautiful story of a boy’s changing relationship with his sick mother and neglectful father. That develops into a compelling yet worrying picture of how all family dynamics change over time. Enabling this narrative to be told from the child’s perspective adds a greater sense of vulnerability and naivety. That adheres to the theme of the volume of showing how we as humans are sometimes not aware of the damaging impact our actions have upon young minds. The supernatural element which runs parallel to the main thread within the story, only heightens the interest as you struggle to protect this child from what is about to happen next.

The School Project by Richard V Hirst-

This story gives you as a reader what you look for when you enter the supernatural and weird genre. What I mean when I say that is it makes the ordinary day to day things take on a sinister twist. The story opens with the author setting the scene an isolated school in a village that has a murky past is about to undergo an inspection from an outsider.  What appears to be your ordinary secondary school soon turns into something much darker. The story reminded me of a mashup between the Manchurian Candidate and Van Helsing. The dark undertones ripple out well beyond the narrative and make you question the origins of your own school days.

Cousin Grace by Jill Hand-

This piece of horror sinks it teeth into you as soon as you run your fingers across the first sentence, causing a sensory explosion within your mind. What appears at first to be unsolved family trauma takes on many faces, forcing the reader to doubt every word that is being fed to them. It is an expert example of how to write an unreliable narrator and opens the collection beautifully.

This volume builds on the legacy of the previous two issues. Pushing the boundaries on what the horror and supernatural community thinks belongs in their field and tastes. It receives four stars and I encourage any readers and writers of creepy disturbing stories to pick it up.

I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

 

Review of Beyond the Black Gate by Joseph Sale Written by Dan Stubbings

Review

Gods of the Black Gate was one of my standout novels for 2018. A delicious dark abyss of murder, manipulation, and creepy that made the dark demon within my heart sing. To say I devoured it would be an understatement. I inhaled it in two sittings. I personally thought that it stood up brilliantly as a standalone. However, I did have some unanswered questions about Rogers and the man that has haunted my dreams Craig Smiley.

Therefore, I was delighted when Joseph informed me he was writing a sequel called Beyond the Black Gate and did I want a review copy. I jumped at the chance. I couldn’t wait to fall back into this oasis of dark treats that hasn’t left me since the first book.

The good news is Joseph has outdone himself. Creating a plot and world that oozes off the page in a lake of light and dark exploring character flaws, environments, and chilling dialogue in such detail that engages readers from the first page. Taking them on a mind-bending adventure that straddles multiple genres from horror, fantasy, and detective mystery. As chapters unfolded, I found myself imagining a lovechild mixed between Frankenstein and The Harry Bosch books written by Michael Connelly, as our cast of disgruntled, damaged, unwanted heroes try to understand their own views on the reality they find themselves in.

Every chapter added something interesting pulling you deeper in the abyss of madness that Joseph has created. Whether it was a new complicated character, landscape, or a peer into the minds of the multiple viewpoints Joseph utilises throughout the narrative. You couldn’t help but be enthralled as he opened windows to ideas you quite simply didn’t know were possible. Joseph has been able to go beyond the perimeters and troupes of specific genres, and engineer something that is a work of art.  I can’t wait to see what he produces next. He is fast becoming one of must-read writers I love his words.

Beyond the Black Gate opens with Rogers down on his luck sat at a bar not knowing what to do next. His nemesis the evil mastermind Craig Smiley is gone murdered by his own hand. His years of torment at the hands of Smiley finally at an end. He should feel complete. His demons extinguished, and yet he can’t seem to shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right.

This thought takes us as a reader into world of wonders that ensnares the senses, and opens dark corners of our own minds that we never knew existed. As he brings back the demon that is Craig Smiley. This revelation scared the shit out of me. How could Joseph bring him back. What was going to be the next chapter within his demonic story? It had me both intrigued yet at the same time worried that Joseph would stray away from what makes Smiley so terrifying. I shouldn’t of been concerned. Joseph adds another layer to Smiley that makes him more manipulative and cunning than I ever thought possible as he goes on a quest through his own personal hell in search to understand why the gods betrayed him?

An element I wasn’t expecting however and was pleasantly surprised by in the evolution of Smiley was the relationship he creates with a character called Pheona. A mysterious woman that has her own story to tell. Joseph gives hints throughout about her true identify however your never quite sure if he’s telling the truth. I greatly enjoyed this subplot as I tried desperately to join up clues, as both her and Smiley hide their true natures from one another making you wonder who would be the first to strike a deadly blow. This produced an interesting dilemma, allowing for some detailed dramatic scenes which added wonderful characteristics to both individuals, making you as a reader explore this dynamic further to find out how it all ends in this ever-changing landscape of disillusions and fears that rapture the fundamentals of Smiley ideology.

As I continued to turn the pages, I couldn’t help but begin to draw comparisons with Dante, and Egyptian mythology when reading Smiley’s trek through the vivid and desolate landscape of his self-imposed hell as he is presented with his sins. These scenes are written so expertly that you feel as if you’re Smiley encountering these threats having your mind invaded with dark thoughts as you fight to become you once again.

Every character’s story from the first entry in this universe is developed with quirky and explosive consequences that drove the plot to a frightening but satisfying conclusion. I adored how Joseph showed our characters different struggles whether it was survivor’s guilt, or alcoholism. Joseph can explore these complex issues with sensitivity and the precision of an expert surgeon. Taking us into his world effortlessly, moving the goalposts of what we should except from fantasy and mystery.  This is a delicious cake of complex character development and world building that you hope never ends.

I love Joseph’s voice and how he makes shivers run down my spine with the smallest amount of description. Beyond the Black Gate is a wonderful sequel, and answered all my questions. You won’t be disappointed well-done Joseph. 4.5 Stars.

Review of A Thousand Roads by John Robin Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

Azzadul, the god-king, the Lord of Light revered by many. When the darkness corrupted him, he became the Dark Lord, feared the world over. His magic, once a gateway to immortality for his people, delved instead into horrors as he sought ever deeper levels of mastery. Children were stolen from their beds, coveted for his blood-rites. When he vanished, it all ended, and the people of the world tried to forget, to move on…

Jak Fuller has always wanted a home. An orphan born ten years after Azzadul’s disappearance, he has wandered far and wide, trying to forget the memory of a burning woman. When he comes to Fort Lasthall, on the outskirts of the Dark Lord’s former kingdom, he hopes to finally settle into a peaceful life. Instead, he finds himself unnaturally compelled by a dark, terrible voice, a voice that knows him, calls to him. A sense of destiny that fills him with fear.

New powers are rising in the dark places of the world. A master of fire-rites called Talamus the Red, arch-foe of Azzadul, seeks to enslave the world with a magic he has been developing for the many centuries of his life. Ready at last, there is only one weakness in his plan, an obstacle he is determined to remove: a boy, bound to an old magic that just might resurrect the power of Azzadul.

The very power bound to Jak, before he was even born…

My Review

Lately I have been looking to widen my reading tastes and discover new stories that haven’t been given a chance.  This has led me to some excellent self-published books that I have been able to review and add to my ideas for my own work. Therefore, I was thrilled to be asked to review John Robin’s A Thousand Roads.

A dark fantasy that forces you to completely rethink how an epic fantasy can be written. Now when I first opened the file from John and saw that his novel was 700 plus pages, I thought to myself what on earth have I let myself in for. However my doubts were soon cast aside as John takes you on a journey that I have rarely encountered within fantasy.

I will be honest though when I first started this complex and epic tale, I thought here we go again an orphan boy, lost gods, and ancient magic. Just another diluted Princess Bride mixed with some Lord of the Rings.  However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. John has been able to create such imaginative world-building, and complex characters that I found myself fully submerged within the story of the main protagonist Jak Fuller.

I wanted to know all aspects of his life. John allows us as readers to do just that. Taking us through every aspect of Jak’s life, from his late childhood when we first meet him entering Fort Last Hall as he moves from place to place with nothing more than the clothes on his back, and a wagon full of disregarded books all the way through to his damaged and scarred adulthood. This is for me is what is so compelling about this book. It moves away from the traditional fantasy narrative of only giving glimpses of a character’s formative years, and instead decides to dive into what Jak has been subjected to throughout his mysterious life. Allowing readers to experience his entire journey and discover why he is the way he is.

John’s talent as a writer truly shines through in these moments. His writing is detailed enough that it doesn’t overwhelm you but gives you just enough to build up an image in your mind of who Jak is and why he is central to everything. John does a fabulous job of slowly constructing Jak’s backstory. As well as introducing characters which will have a large impact upon him gradually. Enabling you to get to know them at your own pace which helps stop you having to check back to remember who they are, and why they have been added. You will find yourself wanting to encourage Jak, scream at him, and at times kill him. As he faced with several painful and hollowing choices.

This is one of the main themes throughout the narrative putting Jak in a position where he is forced to decide and face the consequences of his decision. As he tries to save his world from one of two evils. A powerful deity by the name of Talamus who wishes to enslave the world. There is only one way to stop him and Jak holds the key. However, to save the world from one monster Jak must enlist the help of an even greater one.

By the name of Azzadul. Azzadul vanished ten years however an ancient magic has restored his powers. Once known as the Lord of light his lust for power and immortality caused him to become corrupt and vicious destroying more than he rescued.  This choice however for me is more aimed at the reader as it begs the question as a human how many roads have you stared down in your life wondering which one to take? Wondering whether it will enhance your life for the better or worst and you hesitated or went straight ahead without regret. John does this throughout and I love it.

The chemistry between the two deities Azzadul and Talamus is electric, as they go back and forth to discover who will win this epic battle of wits. Some of the language used is so creative that I felt as those I was watching a Hollywood movie play out in my head. The imagery was so strong. As Jak is thrown in the middle of this mayhem you can’t help but fell in love with him but you will just have to read the book to find out why. This book ventures into dark territories and areas of society that is rarely given the light of day. However, John does it with a tenderness that forces you as a reader to evaluate everything you read with the critical eye of an expert detective. As you continue reading you will soon discover that nobody and I mean nobody can be trusted within A Thousand Roads.

This imaginative and dark fantasy will hold the attention of readers with its complex characters and well-constructed world. My only criticism would be that at times certain scenes were to long causing some of the tension built from previous chapters to be decreased. However, this should not stop people from picking up a copy as it is a highly enjoyable read. It receives 4.5 stars.

Thank you to Alicia Smock of Roll Out Reviews for making me aware of John’s work. Thanks to John for allowing me to review it and sending me a copy. This doesn’t affect my views.

 

Review of Ice Fall By Stephanie Gunn Written by Daniel Stubbings

About the Book

The Mountain on the planet of Icefall holds the mystery to a lost colony and an irresistible, fatal allure to the climbers of the universe. Maggie is determined to be the first to make the summit. Aisha, injured in a climbing incident herself, has always supported her wife, trusting Maggie would return from her adventures. But no one ever returns from the Mountain.

Review

This fast paced novella has everything a sci-fi fan could wish for. Creepy AI’s, space-travel, futuristic technologies, lost colonies, unconquered mountains and planets you cant help but want to explore.

The story is told from the viewpoint of spacecraft pilot and injured climber Aisha. A character that as the plot thickens, we discover has many secrets that as we dig deeper begin to expose some unpleasant truths about her past and future. One of them being her ongoing fight to support her wife’s ambitions of been the first climber to summit the mountain on Ice Fall. As she continues to struggle with the ongoing pain surrounding her mysterious headaches, and secrets coming from all sides we as a reader begin to wonder about what truly lurks beneath the surface of these two main characters. At times it made my skin crawl as I became more and more submersed in this vivid world of Stephanie’s creation. Hoping with every turn of the page to uncover what the mountain held.

One of the joys of Stephanie’s writing is that it makes you feel unsure and disturbed. She just has that amazing quality which every writer I like to read has, where you think she leading you down one path but then totally flips it on it’s head and makes you go what the hell. I loved it. These characters and world grab you from the moment you open the cover, and dont let go whisking away on an adventure that will make you question everything you think makes you human. When the story begins we are told that the planet us humans call earth has long been destroyed. Erased from the universe by wars, greed, and feminism meaning humans have had to colonise, and develop technologies that help them to thrive in a new environment known as Icefall.

An ice colony in the far reaches of space with a mountain nobody has conquered. Many have tried as the climb isn’t difficult, but for some reason nobody ever seems to return. Some trip never to rise, some fall asleep never to wake, and others step off the edge without so much as a scream. Making you wonder the entire time what dark secrets does it hold.

The level of detail Stephanie goes into when describing the climbs on this fictional world is astonishing. From the equipment they use to how their breathing changes as they rise is done with breathtaking accuracy. Throughout these passages I felt as though I was Maggie and I was there to conquer this beast that lay before me this allowed me to fully submerge myself into this imaginative world, and become the character which is something I always look for. I couldn’t wait to read on. For a novella it is jam packed with ideas. However at no point did I feel short changed with every thread concluding with an unseen twist or ending I enjoyed.

My only criticism would be that sometimes you lost who was speaking in some of the dialogue. Therefore causing a drop in some of the tension that had be created. However this was a small thing in what otherwise was a well polished novella, with a unique idea and plot.  It gets 4 stars from me a highly enjoyable read. I will be recommending it to other sci-fi fans.

sg

About Stephanie Gunn

Stephanie Gunn is an Aurealis and Ditmar award nominated author of speculative fiction. In another life she was a research scientist. Now she spends her time writing, reviewing and reading. And buying far too many books. She lives in Perth with her family.

 

I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

Review of my Book of the Year Dark Pines by Will Dean Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

SEE NO EVIL

Eyes missing, two bodies lie deep in the forest near a remote Swedish town.

HEAR NO EVIL

Tuva Moodyson, a deaf reporter on a small-time local paper, is looking for the story that could make her career.

SPEAK NO EVIL

A web of secrets. And an unsolved murder from twenty years ago.

Can Tuva outwit the killer before she becomes the final victim? She’d like to think so. But first she must face her demons and venture far into the deep, dark woods if she wants to stand any chance of getting the hell out of small-time Gavrik.

Review

Ill admit when I first picked up Dark Pines, and saw that the protagonist was deaf. I thought here we go again. Another author who won’t have done research, resulting in a character that appears weak, which forces them to have to rely on others to feel part of their society, and makes them feel almost embarrassed to be disabled.

This kind of portrayal had become the norm for me when reading disabled characters in literacy or film. Where it appeared that writers had simply gone into a dark room, and produced these stereotypical characters without considering to consult disabled people. Which would have enabled them to get true opinions and find out if these characters they had written were accurate representations of how the disabled population saw themselves. Instead of simply allowing the writers to adhere to some kind of inclusion quota. This caused me to disengage with these characters as I became more frustrated over time as I felt they didn’t reflect me as an individual.

Therefore it was a breath of fresh air opening this book and discovering that Tuva the main protagonist is the complete opposite.  Quite frankly there isn’t enough words in the English language to tell you how much I adore Tuva Moodyson. I cried tears of joy, as I raced ahead to discover more about this bad-ass woman.  As Will had finally made me feel that a disabled character represented me in all their glory. Thank you Will.

At no point did he make Tuva weak or make her need anyone else to accomplish her goals. She is a fiercely independent woman who is proud of her disability, and never hides, or uses it for an excuse. I was punching the air with glee reading paragraph after paragraph saying this is me in female form. Will has done an incredible job of capturing what it truly means to be a modern day disabled person, other writers take note this is how we want to be written. Will absolutely nails it. He empowers Tuva in several ways she is a respected journalist, she lives independently, and has a vibrant sex life and drives a mean truck that seems to take on anything. I didn’t want the book to end. She is a character that stays with you. I haven’t been able to get her out my head since I finished this epic read.

Now if that isn’t enough to make you go out and buy this book on the spot. There is more to wet your appetite.

Will is like an award winning chef adding just the right amount of ingredients to make you devour this book in one sitting. From gory detailed murders, to a range of memorable characters. My favourite of which are a pair of mysterious wood carving sisters that I truly hope I never meet down a dark alley as they scare me to death. They are so creepy.

They are just one of several characters that help to create a fast paced narrative. That causes you as a reader to continuously question each characters motives, as Will moves you around his chessboard of murder and deceit you begin to wonder will Tuva figure it out in time, and live to see another day.

What further makes it standout is the setting. A dense, dark, Swedish forest that seems to come alive as each scene unfolds. Drawing Tuva deeper into its clutches, as she goes in search of what could be the connection between the murders of the present, and a set of murders known as the Medusa murders carried out many years previously. The connection being of course that all the corpses have their eyes carved out. I loved this signature of the murderer. I found it unique helping to build tension as you tried to uncover who would lose their eyes next.

This book has everything you look for in a crime novel. Atmospheric setting, an engaging and multi layer protagonist. Unique killings, well rounded subplots with satisfying conclusions. It has it all. I cant speak highly enough of this astonishing read. 5 stars isn’t enough it’s that good. All I can say is go out and buy it now. I love it.

Review of Tales from the Shadow Booth Volume 2 Edited By Dan Coxon Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis 

The booth juts at an angle from the sand, the canvas taut beneath the weight of the drifting dunes. Janet almost passes it by. But it’s the sign that snags her attention. Painted in rust-red onto three pieces of driftwood, the sun-bleached planks lashed together with lengths of twisted blond twine, it looks surprisingly fresh. Enter the Shadow Booth, it says, and you will never be the same again.
The Shadow Booth, a journal of weird and eerie fiction, returns for Volume 2! Drawing its inspiration from the likes of Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman, The Shadow Booth explores that dark, murky hinterland between mainstream horror and literary fiction.
Volume 2 contains new stories by: 

Chikodili Emelumadu
Dan Grace
Kirsty Logan
Johnny Mains
Ralph Robert Moore
Mark Morris
Gareth E. Rees
Giovanna Repetto
George Sandison
Anna Vaught
Aliya Whiteley

Enter the Shadow Booth, and you will never be the same again…
Review

This collection of dark and eerie tales from several contemporary and diverse writers is a readers dream. Once I started reading I couldn’t put it down. Every story has its own uniqueness that draws you in and forces you to keep reading with each one seeming to build upon the last.

Three stories from the collection that stood out for me were:

We Are the Disease by Gareth Rees. An eerie tale set abroad a ship trapped in the Arctic ice. As more crew members become effected by their isolation they begin to see and witness strange creatures and behaviours. Throughout the story Gareth had me on the edge of my seat making me wonder is this real, or is it the crew giving into their basic fears, which is making them create these sightings. Throughout the entire story your never quite sure what is the disease? Gareth’s voice and writing style is simply gripping. I could almost feel my fingers burning as I turned pages racing to finish.

The next was My Father’s Face by Giovanna Repetto. A tale about a man who has lost his memory and how he fights to get it back. As the story unfolds however we begin to question is this person trustworthy, and what are they hiding. It moves at a neck-breaking speed and makes you question everything you thought you knew about family. It was my favourite story in the collection. The voice is so unique. I want to read more by this author I loved it.

The final story was Feasting;Fasting by Anna Vaught. A story featuring elements of tradition horror and supernatural. A strange house, an unusual family, and a small village with a story to tell at no point does Anna give away who they are, what they are, and why they are there. She allows you as a reader to draw your own conclusions, and decide for yourself who these people are, and what their story is. It is a totally different take on the haunted house narrative.

This book has something for everyone. Unique writing styles, cultures, and author voices that make it stand out from the crowd. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the weird and wonderful. The three stories I selected are only glimpse of what awaits. Go and check it out. It gets four stars. It is a highly polished read.

I received a copy from the publisher for an honest review this doesn’t effect my views.