Book Review: “Dry Land” by Jennifer Anne Seidler

Book Title: Dry Land

Author: Jennifer Anne Seidler

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: ***

 

I really enjoyed this book. It was clever and well executed, and the length was just right. I generally don’t read a lot of SciFi so this was a bit of a gamble for me, and one I’m glad to report has paid off. I’ve read some Asimov, and of course the Star Wars books, but otherwise I prefer to watch SciFi, simply because I’m not scientifically minded and some authors of this genre can get pretty heavy with jargon which makes it awkward to read for the laymen amongst us. Thankfully Jennifer Anne Seidler isn’t one of them, and everything was explained in a concise and easy to follow style that didn’t have me stopping every few paragraphs to look something up. This left me blissfully to enjoy the story and characters as they should be, so that alone deserves a big kudos in my humble opinion.

The story revolves around astronaut Ted “Shakespeare” Hardison, who is part of a team going up to the moon indefinitely for a terraforming project. It’s hinted at pretty early on that the Earth is in bad shape, almost post-apocalyptic, particularly in America. We find out that Ted has played a very large role in the project, specifically designing the technology needed, and that his work is one of the two great loves of his life.

His other great paramour is his wife, Colby. She’s an intriguing character, and from the get-go you realise there’s something different about her, which is soon revealed to be that she isn’t entirely human – she’s an android. Because Ted doesn’t know when or even if he will be returning to Earth, the opening scene is the two of them saying goodbye and signing their divorce papers. Even with the relatively short appearance Colby makes at the beginning of the book, their relationship is a powerful one. As a reader I felt an immediate sense of how hard it was for them to part from one another, which in turn gave me an instantaneous connection to Ted, and an insight to his character and motivations.

I always enjoy a story where I feel sympathy for the protagonist, and more so when I don’t have to wait around for that. I was invested in Ted by the end of the prologue, and despite her brief appearance, Colby too. Despite that Dry Land isn’t exactly a romance, I found myself hoping they would be reunited again soon, a wish that was granted in a squiffy sort of way by the end of chapter one.

The writing was clean and easy to follow, the characters were deep, and the plot was unique and interesting. It’s definitely worth taking a chance over.

You can find out more about Jennifer Anne Seidler at her facebook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/drylandnovella

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“Digression To Innocence”

“Wait for me!” I shout, laughter lilting my voice as I stoop to remove my heels so I can keep better pace with the others. They all run ahead, singing and joking as we make our way through the deserted high street towards the main square. After a brief struggle, my feet are finally free, and heedless of the rough, cold pavement, I begin to run too.

The street lights burn bright orange, and the shop windows are a cool white, making the town look surreal, a mixture of shadow and light. Soon I catch up, re-joining the noise and revelry of the others, and linking arms, we briefly attempt to can-can. We stumble and supporting each other we manage to remain upright, all laughing from the very pits of our souls at the sheer fun of it.

“Ah!” someone to my left gasps, grabbing my arm and shaking me in her excitement, “I can see the square!”

We all race the rest of the way down the hill, whooping like gleeful children, and some small part of my mind registers that I’m no longer holding my shoes…

The entrance to the club flashes enticingly, the heavy base from the music within vibrates through our bones even from here, luring us ever closer. The florescent coat of the Bouncer hurts my eyes for a moment, and so I look away, my blurry vision fixing quickly on the large ornamental fountain in the town square.

I hear my friends calling me to hurry up, but something about the fountain looks wrong, and I can’t seem to put my finger on quite what. As my vision sharpens and becomes accustomed to the darkness, I am suddenly jolted by the realisation of what I’m seeing, and a slow, mischievous grin spreads across my face.

I look sideways at my waiting friends, and gesture to the large stone structure before me, my smile growing ever larger, laughter once more bubbling up within me. “Look! Someone’s put bubble bath in the fountain!”

I turn back to face the white, frothy mound, a childlike glee pulling my bare feet slowly towards its sparkling purity. The faint summer breeze rushes across the open square, pulling at the glittering foam until a few small pieces separate and float towards me. I hold out my hands and catch some, looking down at the soft, weightless treasure, before blowing it from my hold as I might have done with a seeding dandelion when I was small.

Before I know it, I am standing on the edge of the fountain, the snowy mountain wobbling like jelly with every faint puff of wind. My friends are soon stood with me, and we all clutch each other’s hands, smiling and giggling like six-year-olds, eyes glowing with joy and simple pleasure as we count, “One! Two! …THREE!”

We jump.

Book Review: “Hard Luck” by M.A. Ray

Book title: Hard Luck (Volume 1, Saga of Menyoral)

Author: M.A. Ray

Genre: High Fantasy

Rating: ****

 

It’s been a while since I last sat down to read a high fantasy book, and Hard Luck doesn’t disappoint. It has everything I look for in this genre: Magic, colourful characters, first rate world-building, and a nice gritty undertone that adds a sense of realness despite, well… the elves, if you see what I mean.

The story is set in Rothganar, a place that you are pulled into immediately as the opening scene unfolds in mysticism and a spell gone horribly wrong. The consequences of this short prelude mean very little at first, but you still feel a sense of loss despite that, something I think points to some very skilled writing. Four pages into the book, and I was already emotionally invested.

It stands to reason that in eliciting this sort of response in a new reader, the protagonist is also someone you find yourself immediately attached to. My sympathy for Dingus began from the moment I read his rather unfortunate name, and only swelled further as the full horror of his life became clear. The way the author deals with the prejudice Dingus faces is unapologetic and with such integrity that it brought a lump to my throat, and immediately had me firmly backing her protagonist to the hilt. In a show of yet more skilful writing, the fact that the situation makes you want to jump into the pages of the book and beat the living daylights out of Dingus’ antagonists also makes you immediately cheer for the first appearance of Vandis, a travelling knight who does just that.

Their relationship is one the best I’ve read in a long time, and as Vandis takes Dingus under his proverbial wing, the progression of both characters as the story moves along is masterful. When they are later joined by Kessa, yet another stray with a horrific backstory, the three of them bounce so well against one another that they all come to life in a way I haven’t been privileged to read in quite some time. Their dialogue is spot on, each with a very clear voice and tone, and not ever forced throughout.

On that note, I wanted to address something I’ve seen criticised quite seriously in other reviews, and that is the swearing. Yes, there is a fair amount of cussing throughout, and mostly from Vandis. Vandis is a crusty old knight who quite happily drops the f-bomb, and personally I think it adds to his character that he does so. It would be bizarre for someone of his background and disposition to say “good heavens” or “whoopsie daisy” or whatever, and I don’t really understand why in this day and age, with writers like George Martin sprinkling the dreaded “C U Next Tuesday” like glitter, (So disgust. Much rude. Wow.) that anyone would be offended by such a thing. No one seems bothered by any of the quite vivid violence in the book, or the allusions the paedophilia for that matter, which is surely far more disturbing? These things mentioned, I also don’t understand why anyone would think the swearing is the only reason this book isn’t suitable for children, but apparently that’s just me.

This is not a children’s book. That much is evident before you even finish the prologue to be honest, but as to the parents looking down their noses at this excellent book because of the swearing, I’m afraid I have bad news: If you think your teenager doesn’t swear, you’re living in a fantasy world even more expansive than Rathganar, and that’s truly a grand feat of imagination.

That said, what I do think is important to point out is aside from Vandis’ characterisation, the swearing is there for another quite excellent reason. At the beginning of the book, Dingus is seriously downtrodden, and quite literally at that. He is understandably afraid and nervous, and very meek around others. By the end of the book, however, he is cussing right along with Vandis, and actually at him at one point, laughing and speaking his mind with an ease and comfort that shows the outward signs of his mental healing. If cussing offends you, that’s just fine. We’re all different – personally I’m very offended by beetroot, and I’ve yet to find anyone else who shares my deep revulsion for it – and that’s just fine. What isn’t fine is trash talking an excellent author for your own quirks, and implying that their differing use of language to yours shows some kind of want of skill or talent.

The book is far and away one of my favourite reads in the genre for quite some time now, and I can’t wait to jump back into the story for more of these fantastically written and intricate characters. The Saga of Menyoral has another three books currently available for consumption, and I would very strongly encourage anyone who enjoys bold, brassy fantasy to go and check them out, as well as the author herself, who can be located on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/marayauthor

Cover Reveal! “Silver Shackles” by Fiona Skye

Silver Shackles

Revelations Trilogy: Book Two

by Fiona Skye

silver shackles cover

Cover image by Rachel Bostwick

Available on Amazon and in print June 15, 2015!

When you steal from faerie queens, the consequences are painful and sometimes deadly.

Were-jaguar and TV personality, Riley O’Rourke, has been looking over her shoulder ever since she stole from the Dark Queen of the Unseelie faeries. When Riley is contacted by an informant with knowledge that can blow the lid off the story of the year, she can’t pass up the opportunity to investigate. What she finds instead is something that puts her at the mercy of the Dark Queen, a creature not known for her compassion.

When Riley’s boyfriend, David, realizes she’s missing, he’ll do whatever it takes to get her back, including starting a war with the Unseelie. The balance of power among the Fae courts is shifting, and if David makes one wrong move, Riley could end up crushed in the struggle. But after being the subject of the Queens’s legendary cruelty, will there even be anything left of Riley to save?

Get Taming Shadows, Revelations Trilogy: Book One on Amazon now!


fiona skye - author photoFiona Skye is a fantasy and historical romance author, currently living in the deserts of Southern Arizona. She shares a home with her husband, two kids, three cats, and a Border Collie.

Fiona’s passion for story telling began early in life. She loved playing make-believe and inventing elaborate fantasy worlds for her friends and her to play in. At age twelve, she wrote her first short story, based on a song by a 1980s hair band. After giving it to her English teacher for editing and rewrites, she learned to love the entire writing process, and has dedicated her life since then to writing, only to be occasionally distracted by her insatiable love of yarn and crochet, and the dogged pursuit of the perfect plate of cheese enchiladas.

She counts Diana Gabaldon and Jim Butcher as her favorite authors and biggest influences. Joining these two on the list of people she would wait in queue for a week to have a coffee with are Neil Peart, Kevin Hearne, and Brandon Sanderson.

Find her at the following links:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/fionaskyewriter
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/fionaskyewriter
Website: http://fiona-skye.com/

“Cruel To Be Kind”

‘But Mama!’

Midori looked at her daughter, green eyes big and pleading in her round little face, and tried to stay strict. It was difficult because she wanted to give Naomi everything she wanted, but there were just some things that weren’t practical at all. Not even safe, in this instance!

‘Naomi, I mean it,’ she said firmly, focusing on the deep scratches up the seven-year-old’s arms. ‘You cannot keep it, and that’s final.’

It was hard not to flinch at the utter betrayal on the child’s face at her words, and Midori didn’t miss the way she moved to stand protectively between her mother and the monstrosity she had apparently been keeping in her room for the past three moons. When Gerrard had come to tell her about the mysterious injuries Naomi had been collecting recently, her mind had automatically turned to darker places, to people harming her child, people who wanted her out of the way. She most certainly hadn’t expected to find Naomi had been keeping a Griffin in her chambers as a secret pet!

‘It doesn’t belong here, my darling,’ Midori tried to reason. ‘It belongs out in the forest, where it can grow big and be free.’

…Where it couldn’t further hurt the little girl who so adamantly defended it, she added in the privacy of her own mind. Where had she even found the creature? How had she managed to sneak it into the Keep without a single person noticing, even? It was about the size of a very large dog already, and for all Gerrard had told her Griffin weren’t given to killing people, Midori could see it had already attacked her daughter, and would likely do so again. Naomi, however, remained unmoved.

‘Mama, please!’ she begged, and Midori felt her resolve waver. ‘Please, please! I won’t ask for anything ever again!’

‘It ain’t yours to ask for, lass,’ Master Gerrard spoke up from where he was standing in front of the closed door, making certain no one could get in. She hated having to involve him in this, knowing full well that if they were caught he would be in a great deal more trouble than any of them, but she had no one else to trust here. Gerrard cared for Naomi, and he wasn’t afraid to be firm with her where Midori disliked it intensely, but she knew he stood to lose a great deal more than she did if he was found out by her husband, covering for her daughter.

Glancing across at him, Midori shook her head minimally, indicating to leave this to her, and he stood down. She turned back to her daughter and the snoozing creature behind her with a sigh.

‘If you want a pet, we could find you a puppy or a kitten, perhaps?’ she asked, wondering if the child was just lonely. Naomi didn’t have any friends her own age here in Ffion, and Midori was sure it must be difficult to only have Master Gerrard and Midori herself for company.

‘I don’t want a pet, that’s not why I want to keep it,’ the little girl shook her head vigorously, little brows furrowed and jaw clenched. ‘It was father’s fault! I saw him! He killed her mama out on a hunt, and he didn’t even care that she had a baby who would die! He just laughed!’

Well, that explained where she’d found it, at least. Her father had been taking her out on occasion to make a warrior out of her, which by all accounts had usually involved some kind of humiliation or cruelty for the child. Naomi was doing her best, and Gerrard said he was already so pleased with her progress in archery and fencing, but her father seemed less intent on helping her grow and far more interested in teaching her that he was in charge.

‘I nursed her,’ the little girl pressed. ‘I brought her back here to keep her safe and feed her, but she’s still not big enough to go back into the forest yet. She can’t fly, and she has to learn to hunt, but I don’t know how to get her back outside again…’

Midori looked back at Gerrard again and saw her own indecision mirrored in his expression. Of course Naomi had wanted to help the baby, of course she’d taken it under her own proverbial wing to raise it, and of course Midori couldn’t be angry with her for that, but it didn’t make the situation any easier.

‘Mama,’ her daughter pulled her attention back again, and she was surprised to see the hard determination in her little one’s emerald eyes. ‘Mama, if you and Master want me to send her back into the forest now, then I should just kill her. If she goes back outside by herself she’s going to die, so it would be more kind to do it quickly.’

Midori was so shocked by this, she was glad when Gerrard spoke once again. ‘Do you mean that, lassie?’

‘Yes,’ Naomi nodded. ‘I don’t want to be cruel like father. I don’t want to leave her to suffer.’

Gerrard seemed to consider this. ‘You’d do it yourself?’

‘Gerrard!’ Midori gasped, appalled that he was even considering this as a viable option. Her daughter was growing up so fast, growing up into a pillar of strength that she knew she would be proud of forever, but she was still just a child. Everyone seemed to forget that she was only seven!

‘No mama, I don’t want to be like him!’ Naomi cried out. ‘All father cares about is what other people think of him, but I won’t be like that! I won’t care what anyone thinks of me! I only care about doing what’s right, and letting her starve isn’t right! It isn’t!’

Unable to stand it anymore, Midori knelt down and opened her arms to her daughter. Naomi immediately ran to her, cuddling up as a child her age should be able, and allowed her mother to whisper placations and promises that everything would be alright. She expected Gerrard to be disapproving, but when she glanced across at him he simply shrugged one shoulder and sighed.

‘I can get a few of the lads in here tonight,’ he said. ‘Try and sneak the thing to the stables for now until I can ask for a bit of leave and take it out to learn how to hunt.’

‘Really?’ Naomi gasped, looking up at her teacher with wide eyes. ‘You’re going to do that? You really are?’

Gerrard wagged his index finger at her. ‘So are you, lass. This is your mess, and I ain’t cleaning it up alone, you hear? Now you go get what you need for the night so you can stay with your mama while your charge here is taken care of.’

Naomi whooped with glee and went running into the adjacent room where her clothes were kept. Watching her go, seeing the return of innocence in her behaviour, Midori smiled at the guardsman. It would be easy enough to get permission to take Naomi out into the forest for training purposes, and she knew he had friends in the garrison that would help him get the beast out of the Keep again. Still, he was taking a huge risk, and she wanted to thank him.

‘Don’t bother,’ he grumbled, cutting across before she could even finish drawing breath. ‘I think she’d have done it, killed it I mean, but as much as I want her tough, I don’t want her jaded any more than you do. There’ll be plenty of blood on her hands in years to come, and there ain’t no call to start early.’

Midori held her peace out of respect for him, but knew she might never be able to thank the grumpy swordsman for all he had done for her daughter already. It brought her a great deal of comfort to know that he would be there for Naomi if ever she couldn’t.

‘Look at the cussing thing, though,’ he tutted, indicating the sleeping Griffin, perfectly comfortable and at ease on Naomi’s bed. ‘It don’t give a single, solitary damn.’

Midori could only laugh quietly. ‘We should thank our lucky stars. Next time she might bring home a dragon!’

“A Champion Emerges”

Glancing down at the uncharacteristically silent child beside him, Gerrard chewed over just how best to handle the current situation. Naomi was watching the sword match being played out with a thoughtful expression, her brow furrowed deeply and mouth drawn together in a tight line. She wasn’t usually given to tantrums, despite her tender age, but it didn’t take much to see that she wasn’t happy in the slightest.
Her father had summoned her that morning, along with her lady mother and Gerrard himself, and declared that she was to begin training as a knight effective immediately. Both he and Lady Midori had known it was coming, but at only six years of age now, the little girl hadn’t truly understood what she was being told to do. When she had tried to ask in that inquisitive way of hers, her father had lost his temper in a manner Gerrard thought was ill-befitting a man of his station, for all it wasn’t the guardsman’s place to say so. Her mother had tried to defend her, which hadn’t ended well, and Gerrard hadn’t had a great deal of choice but to hold the distraught child back from her angry parents.
Lady Midori was a gentle woman, not raised to the sort of violence and turmoil her life had become, but she still braved the anger of her husband in defence of her daughter. She was from Tsumetai, where the balance of power between men and women was very different to here in Ffion, and she held herself with a great deal of dignity because of it.
Unfortunately she had very little power here, and eventually her husband delt her a vicious blow that knocked her to the ground whilst bellowing about her dishonourable conduct. She wasn’t able to do much more than watch with Gerrard as Naomi was dragged forward and given a swift lashing for questioning the will of her father. It had been hard to watch, the child not understanding what she had done to deserve it as she cried and screamed in pain, but Gerrard knew that to interfere would help no one in the end. It was hard, but to lead the life now laid out before her he knew the little girl was going to have to learn sooner or later. It was better now, he tried to convince himself, when she was chastised with nothing more than a birch switch a couple of times, and not in any real danger of injury.
When her punishment was done, her father had handed her over to Gerrard and told him to see to her education until she was old enough to enlist properly in six years. He tried not to show how relieved he was to be given charge of the girl, and wasted no time in taking her out of the Keep, still sobbing, and towards the garrison. Lady Midori, however, he had no choice but to leave to her still furious husband, and prayed to the Gods that the poor woman had the sense to hold her tongue and spare herself any further torment.
Gerrard frowned darkly, watching the sword match with only the barest interest. They would spectate for a while, give the lass a chance to calm down, and then he planned to take her to be fitted for clothes that would serve her better than the pretty dresses she was used to. She had stopped crying a while ago at least, but he could see a storm brewing in those eyes, and knew she was going to have it out sooner or later. When she did speak, it was far more quietly than he’d expected.
‘Will mama be alright?’
Gerrard looked back down at her again, but she hadn’t moved a muscle. She just continued to watch the swordplay with that deep little frown, and so Gerrard turned back to do the same.
‘She’ll be alright, lassie,’ he nodded. ‘She might not look it, but your mama is as strong as Tsumetese steel.’
The little girl nodded once, quite solemnly, then hesitated a moment before asking another question in that same quiet voice. ‘Does he hate us?’
It was a damn complicated question, that was the problem. Gerrard didn’t think much of her father, but he owed him allegiance, and it felt wrong to speak ill of him no matter how justified it was. Aside from that even, Naomi was only six. Was there any way to explain the situation to a six year old that she would understand? In a way that wouldn’t damage her forever? Not likely. He had to find a middle ground.
‘He’s your father,’ Gerrard answered simply. ‘What he thinks and feels isn’t your concern, nor mine. All you need to know is that when he tells you to do something, you just get along and do it, as well and as quick as you can.’
She looked at him now, her brow knit together tightly and her eyes alight with an anger not suited to someone her age. ‘Why?’
‘You’re a soldier now, lass,’ he said. ‘At least until you’re old enough to take up your father’s mantel, but until then you do as he tells you. That’s your lot, just as it’s mine. We do as we’re ordered and that’s all there is to it.’
‘I don’t think that’s right.’
Gerrard didn’t really know what to say to her, and instead kept his silence. She turned back to watch the fighting, less slumped than she had been previously, her little hands clenched into fists over her knees. The silence stretched on a while longer, but as the matched ended, the victor standing over his opponent decisively, she spoke again.
‘Mama says only cowards hurt people weaker than them.’
Trying not to look skywards for patience, Gerrard wished her mother would be more careful, but still some part of the guardsman felt a pride for both females. Lady Midori wasn’t going to be cowed by her husband, and she was already instilling the same sense of right and wrong into her child. It was going to be trouble, but if Naomi was going to learn how to command others then it would serve her well to have a strong backbone in the face of adversity. Gods knew she was going to have a lot of that before her time was done.
Taking a deep breath, Gerrard turned to the girl and touched her shoulder with his large, rough hand. She looked up at him again, her bottom lip trembling slightly as she tried not to cry.
‘That’s why you’ve got to be strong, lassie. You work hard and learn all you can, and you get strong,’ he nodded encouragingly. ‘Because there are bad people in this world, people who don’t think like your mama, and people who need to be protected from them. You get strong, lass, and you can make sure that the weak have a champion.’
‘A champion?’ she asked, green eyes wide.
Gerrard nodded again, giving her shoulder a squeeze. ‘That’s right. It’s your job to look after those that can’t look after themselves. Your duty. In this life that’s all that counts.’

Book Review: “Extraordinary” by K.M. Herkes

Book title: Extraordinary (Rough Passages Volume 1)

Author: KM Herkes

Genre: Dark/Urban Fantasy

Rating: ****

 

At the risk of making a cheesy cliché, Extraordinary by KM Herkes really was an extraordinary book. (I’m not sorry!)

It’s quite dark, but beautifully so, the style of prose like a curling mist with the occasional sharp edge concealed and cutting the reader unexpectedly. I felt an air of “nightmare” through the whole thing, and while it isn’t a horror, it gave me a huge sympathy for the protagonist throughout.

Valerie Wade has come out of an abusive marriage, trying to raise two children, look after her disabled and bigoted mother, while holding down multiple jobs. As though this wasn’t enough, she also has a genetic disorder which threatens all she holds dear with the possibility of an untimely death. Despite all these tribulations, Valerie remains an optimistic protagonist, one who seems very much like she wants to believe the world is much better than she’s seen so far, and always looking for the positives of her life. She is forgiving and wants to please, and I think it’s these crucial characteristics that keep the story from descending into horror.

I felt a great sense of connection to Valerie throughout, and kept hoping right along with her that things would get better. She was believable, and as it becomes increasingly apparent through the story that her disorder could mean more than just death, the first-rate world building has dragged you into the story before you even realise what’s happened.

There’s a little subtle social commentary throughout, which I loved, regarding prejudice and, of course, abuse and the many forms it takes in people’s lives. I was sorry when I reached the end, and far too quickly, but as this is the first in a series and there are another two currently in print, I’m looking forward to experiencing more from this talented author.

Along with the “Rough Passages” series, KM Herkes has also written “Stories of the Restoration” of which I have the first book currently waiting on my e-reader, and along with a bubbling facebook page, a fantastic website which I recommend you go check out: http://storysculpting.blogspot.co.uk/

“A Day of Ghosts”

The rains had come at last. There had been concern starting to bubble through the people of Koren as more and more time passed before the seasonal downpour began, threatening lives as well as livelihoods with the delay. Now striding through the palace halls, Lord Darius, the country’s regent, could hear the almighty clamour as the heavens opened at last, and felt a sense of immeasurable relief at the sound.

It was a weight off his mind, of course, but right now he had more pressing concerns than celebrating a victory that, frankly, had been completely out of his hands in any case. Namely his youngest nephew, Arun, the future King, and his apparent vanishing act from the history lesson he was supposed to be attending. For the third time this week.

Darius knew that there were a great many people who would make excuses for the young Prince, including the history tutor who apparently hadn’t any intention of reporting his missing student had it not been for an impromptu visit to the classroom. Darius wasn’t about to let it slide, however, and when he found the boy he was in for a shock.

He wasn’t a bad child, not really, but he pushed his luck far too often and these things were important. Who knew if there would come a day in Arun’s life when he would be faced with someone important and have absolutely no idea who he was talking to, simply because he had skipped the majority of history lessons growing up? It was downright careless, apart from anything else, and easily preventable.

Of course he realised it was dull, especially for a nine year old. Gods knew Darius had hated it himself, and he was never even supposed to have ruled the country, the unexpected and harrowingly consecutive deaths of both his older brothers leaving him the last living adult of their family. He had no choice but to take care of things until Arun was old enough, but he was determined that the boy was going to be as prepared as he possibly could be for the role he was expected to play in the meantime. He wouldn’t wish on his nephew the trials that had come to Darius himself as he’d attempted to learn how to govern even while he was expected to get on with it. When the time came Arun would be ready and capable, and if that meant dragging him kicking and screaming to his lessons, then that was exactly what he would do.

If he could find him, that was. Quickly losing his patience, Darius scoured the palace room by room, not wanting to alert anyone and cause a panic at Arun’s disappearance and fending off well-meaning Courtiers that kept stopping his search to point out the very obvious rain. If he didn’t know how much the boy disliked this weather he might have thought he was outside with everyone else. As it was, Arun was very like his father and was more of an indoors person. Fardin hadn’t had much stomach for the rain either, and often delegated visits to the snowy Tsumetai to Darius, and damp Ffion to their other brother, Gulzar.

The thought made Darius smile, thinking of his brothers and the sons they had left behind in his care. Rayan, Gulzar’s boy, was shaping up to be a fine swordsman, and would one day take up the mantle of Arun’s bodyguard and commander of Koren’s armies. He showed a restraint and diligence that Arun had yet to grasp, and if Darius was honest, might never blossom in the younger boy.

They were both so different, for all he loved them equally, but where Rayan was sedate, Arun was temperamental. Both felt their emotions deeply, of that Darius had no doubt, but the young Prince was already prone to emotional explosions that likely wouldn’t serve him well when he was King. He could only hope that with enough time Arun would be able to hide his feeling adequately, at least in public, and if not that he wouldn’t let them govern all his actions.

Arun really was a great deal like his late father, and that worried Darius, because it also meant he was a great deal like him as well. He was under no illusions that he allowed his heart to run away with him when he really ought to know better, but both Darius and Fardin had suffered for their romantic tendencies, and if there was a way to spare Arun the same woes then he would do it.

On some level Darius knew it was unfair to expect so much of a child his age, but it was better he grow up understanding the pressure he was under than trying to protect him from it. In the end it wouldn’t do the boy any favours to coddle him, and it would be far easier on him to grow confident with full knowledge of his responsibilities. It might make him arrogant, of course, but it would certainly be easier on him than being timid.

Assailed by memories of his brothers, Darius came to a halt in the hallway and sighed. He had been ruling for eight years now, and at last he was starting to get the hang of it, but he still had another twelve to go before Arun would be old enough to take his rightful place as King. He wished the boy had someone better to look to for guidance than him, wished he knew how best to help. It wasn’t supposed to have been this way, and there was only so much he could do for his nephew.

If Fardin had lived, if his sentimental heart hadn’t gotten the better of him, Arun would be free to grow up as himself. Darius couldn’t help but wonder if he was wrong to try and stifle the boy’s emotions, if it was cruel to try and force his obvious nature into something else? It was for his own good, that’s what he told himself, but was he really being truthful? The more he thought on it, the more he wondered perhaps it was his own fear of seeing his nephew hurt, of losing him the same way he had lost his brother in the future that drove this line of thought.

‘Are you giving up?’

Arun’s voice directly behind him made Darius pivot in surprise, and sure enough the boy was grinning up at him, yellow eyes alight with mischief. His hair was starting to get long again, he noted, as the boy swiped the thick black curls out of his eyes and tried not to laugh.

‘And just what do you think you’re doing?’ Darius asked, trying not to notice the more obvious similarities between Arun and Fardin, now brought right before him in sharp clarity. It was like looking back in time to his brother when he was a boy, playing jokes and causing trouble with that very same grin plastered across his face.

‘Following you,’ the boy shrugged. ‘I saw you leave the classroom.’

Darius wanted to slap his hand into his forehead at the notion, wondering why he hadn’t heard the cheeky rascal. His instincts were usually sharper than that! He managed to keep himself composed, however, and instead crossed his arms and stared down at the young Prince.

‘It’s interesting you should mention the classroom, boy. Would this happen to be the very same classroom that you should have been taking lessons in today, but were, in fact, not?’

‘I was bored!’ Arun admitted with a roll of his eyes and a completely unrepentant look on his face.

‘It’s not meant to be fun,’ Darius replied. ‘It’s work, and it’s important.’

‘Not that important,’ the boy reasoned. ‘People get announced before I meet them, and Rayan can just tell me who everyone is, anyway.’

Darius looked skywards and sucked in a deep breath with slow deliberation to buy himself time and the patience to not smile. He realised that lack of confidence was something Arun was never likely to suffer from, at least. It brought him a small measure of comfort.

‘Rayan won’t always be there, you know.’

The seriousness of his implication seemed to be completely lost on the boy, and he just shrugged again. ‘Well, I can just marry someone who knows this boring stuff then. That way she can always be there, even if Rayan can’t.’

‘Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out,’ Darius said. ‘Except that no one is going to want to marry a stupid King who can’t even be bothered to learn history.’

‘Of course they will,’ Arun scoffed, clearly amused at the idea. ‘I’m going to be very handsome when I grow up. Everyone says so.’

This time Darius couldn’t stop his laughter at the utter absurdity of the child. Perhaps there was a more to be said for his similarities with his father after all, the supreme confidence of the statement echoing Fardin on all levels. He looked fondly down at his nephew, obviously proud to have made him laugh, and ruffled his hair.

‘You need a haircut,’ he informed the boy, subsequently changing the subject. ‘You’re going to start walking into things if you aren’t careful, and you might just ruin that handsome face of yours in the process.’

Arun swatted his uncle’s hand away with a laugh, but then looked uncharacteristically uncertain. ‘I thought I might grow it. Like father.’

The laughter petered away at this revelation, and Darius had to silently acknowledge that today was going to be a day of ghosts. He could see that the boy was sensitive to raising the subject, worried that he might be denied, and Darius knew he didn’t have it in him to do that. Smiling at his nephew, he saw hope kindle plainly on his face, and motioned for him to turn. Arun did as he was told, and with practiced ease, Darius braided the mess of curls neatly out of the way and tied it off as he had often done for his oldest brother.

“Marked For Purpose”

Seated in the shade of the wooden arbour of the castle courtyard, Lady Midori enjoyed the warmth of the Ffionite summer as much as she was able. Her constitution was delicate, but despite that and being originally from the snowy continent of Tsumetai before her marriage, she found the warmth pleasant. She had to be careful, but she refused to spend half of the year cooped up inside the Keep alone. Instead, she would come out here and watch from the safety of the shade as her daughter Naomi played on the open lawns, enjoying the sound of her sweet laughter.

Now five years of age, Naomi had recently come into her magical skill and had learnt that she could make trails of flowers sprout up behind where she walked if she took off her shoes. She was currently dancing across the grass, laughing and singing, leaving swirling trails of daisies behind her. Midori smiled at the sight her daughter made, hair loose and skirts hefted above her knees as she twirled and waved to her mother in between her innocent activities.

Magic was rare in Tsumetai, even something frowned upon and regarded with suspicion by many. Naomi’s gift had come from her father, along with her bright green eyes and disobedient hair, and despite Midori’s discomfort with the first, she had grown quickly to love and accept it as just another wonderful part of her child. Gerrard, the guardsman that had been present at Naomi’s birth and silently taken it upon himself to care for her when Midori was unable, had been much more at ease with the magic and explained that the child would need to be taught soon how to use it safely.

It had also transpired that while magic was more common here in Ffion than in Tsumetai, Naomi’s gift had revealed itself far more early than was normal. The news worried Midori, but pleased her husband, something the little girl seemed rarely able to accomplish no matter how hard she tried. Midori knew her daughter would understand one day, but for now she felt a keen sympathy for her, growing up hated by her own father simply for being a girl.

It might not have been so bad had Midori been able to provide him with more children, but Naomi’s birth had removed all chance of that, yet more that the child was unfairly blamed for by her father. Now he was cold to them both, and there was very little either of them could do about it. Midori did everything in her power to make certain Naomi felt love from her, and Gerrard had become a sturdy pillar of support to them both, already an important fixture in the child’s life. She also had her uncles and aunts who doted on her, both here in Ffion and across the sea in Tsumetai, and so far she hadn’t seemed wanting. She might never know the love of her father, but she would still know love.

Watching her daughter spinning on the spot and giggling as flowers grew up rapidly around her little bare feet, Midori mentally chased away the shadows that had begun to plague her thoughts. The sun again felt warm on her skin, and she sighed, closing her eyes and tilting her head back to bask. She stayed that way for a while, listening to Naomi laughing and singing a strange little tune that seemed somehow familiar. It was only when Midori realised that Naomi was laughing and the song still played that she looked up in confusion.

Her daughter was still twirling around, but rather than just daisies there were other shrubs and plants growing up around her, magic coiling and singing with her voice. Midori gasped as her daughter became swept up by it, but before she could call her to stop, there was a huge, thundering sound, and the ground shook violently.

‘Naomi!’ she cried, coming to her feet, even as the magic blasted up beneath her tiny daughter and a huge explosion of rock and soil shot upwards, lifting the girl out of sight. Midori cried out in horror, terrified by the shriek Naomi made as she was raised by the rocky outcrop to a point almost level with the second floor of the Keep.

‘Mama!’ came Naomi’s startled little voice from far too high above her, loud now that the noise of moving land and singing magic had ceased. Suddenly her head popped over the side and Midori felt like she might faint. ‘Mama, I broke the garden!’

‘Oh Gods!’ Midori gasped, her hands over her mouth. ‘Oh, my darling, stay where you are! Don’t move!’

‘What the cuss happened?’

Midori whirled about to see Gerrard running across the courtyard, his eyes bulging slightly as he looked up to the great spike of rock and her daughter perched right on the top of it. He let out a low whistle as he stopped before it, clearly impressed, but Midori had no time for such things. Her little girl was only a breath away from falling to her end, and for all she loved her dearly, Naomi had a wilfulness that had also come from her father and was still hanging precariously over the edge.

‘It’s so high!’ she giggled, bouncing excitedly. ‘I can see the whole world!’

‘I seriously doubt that, lassie,’ Gerrard snorted. ‘You’d have to go a lot higher for that.’

‘I can go higher!’ came the horrifyingly fearless answer.

Midori suddenly felt her legs give under her and sank down to the soft grass faintly. Gerrard seemed to suddenly realise how distressed she was and winced apologetically at her. He was a good man and he had done such a lot for them both already, but Naomi needed no further encouragement to test things a five year old had absolutely no business testing.

Clearing his throat, Gerrard crossed his arms and called up in a serious tone. ‘Alright lassie, time to come back down.’

‘Nope!’ the child sniggered. ‘Come get me!’

‘I hope you ain’t talking back to me,’ he frowned. ‘Come on, now. That’s enough worrying your poor mama for one day.’

Midori suspected she was pouting if the little whine of disappointment was anything to go by, but she was too high up to be sure. Looking up made her dizzy and she covered her eyes, unable to watch any longer. No sooner had she done it than the ground shook again and a breath later she found her daughter cuddling up to her, trying to pull her hands down from her eyes.

‘It’s okay mama, don’t be scared. I’m sorry.’

Midori clutched her daughter to her like a lifeline, her heart beating far too quickly in her chest and her vision blurred and distorted from the sheer terror of what had just happened. She was shaking desperately, clearly far more distressed than the little girl in her arms. Naomi just seemed to be enjoying the attention.

‘Her father will need to know,’ said Gerrard quietly. ‘That much power is rare. Dangerous, even.’

Looking in horror at the guardsman, Midori instinctively covered her daughter’s ears, despite on some level knowing it was too late. Her little Naomi, dangerous? Gerrard looked sympathetically back at her and then the child in her lap. Midori only held her closer, wishing she could keep her safe forever from a world that seemed to have already marked her for purpose.

A Fond Farewell

Perhaps this is a huge cliché, but as with a great many “bookish” people I had a very lonely childhood. I didn’t have many friends, I wasn’t good at school, and I never really seemed to fit in anywhere. I found my solace in books, in the school library, tucked away at home on weekends and reading stories about people doing great things and seeing incredible sights. I would open the pages of a book and be transported away from my very dull existence to somewhere infinitely better. One of my favourite escapes was, of course, the Discworld.

It might not surprise a lot of you to know that the very first Terry Pratchett book I read was Equal Rites. I was thirteen (or thereabouts) and I just randomly picked it up at the library because the cover was interesting. I was already very big into fantasy, so anything that mentioned witches or wizards was a sure-fire way to grab my interest, but once actually into the story it was so much more than that.

Even now I find it difficult to explain how I was pulled into the Discword so completely, and so very, very quickly. It was a fantasy book, of course, there’s no denying it, but at the risk of sounding hard on other authors it was also somehow more. Much more. There was a tone to the writing, a humour that I felt kindred to, as well as a dark prod at the human condition I had never seen before. I never have since, either. I believe it was this unique style that captured my imagination, along with the vibrant characters and spectacular world-building, that made me view writing, particularly the fantasy genre, in a very different light.

Terry Pratchett wrote the things I loved, and still love to this day. He wrote about magic and dragons and dwarves and trolls and far-off kingdoms, but very much as his style of writing was, he also wrote more. He wrote about war and prejudice and murder and that very grey area between what is right and what is wrong. What’s more he did it all in such a way that you didn’t even realise that what you were reading was a satirical commentary even remotely applicable to our own, very real society.

Terry Pratchett made me realise that where so many people had tried to tell me that the dragons flying about my imagination was somehow a sign of foolishness or juvenile interest that would and should fade over time, I could keep them and still have something worth saying. I wanted so much to make a difference in the world, even then, to make people see the evils around us and perhaps make them question their own responses to it. I still want that, and I strive for it in every little thing I write, and I have Terry Pratchett to thank for teaching me with his own work that you can always be more – your writing can always be more than the labels humanity is quick to slap onto anything that dares show its face.

Like millions of others I was deeply saddened to hear of Terry Pratchett’s passing, and I feel as though I have lost a dear friend. Of course, I’m not half the writer he was, and I suspect I never will be. If Sir Terry was Sam Vimes then I would be Nobby Nobbs by comparison. That said, I learnt a great deal from him, and his books will always line both my shelves and my heart.