The Diana Wynne Jones Experience

Last week I posted the first in this two-post series on How to Read a Diana Wynne Jones Book and What Your Fantastic Journey Along the Way May Look Like, in honor of March Magics (celebrating Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett).

Last week’s was the how, and I now invite you to examine the what.

Part the Second:

What Your Fantastic Journey Along the Way May Look Like

Please note that word: “may.”

May is a word which can mean either (a) one of the 12 months of the year, i.e. as it appears in “May Day” which is May 1st and happens to be the birthday of Michael Fisher from Howl’s Moving Castle, for instance, or (b) “might possibly, perhaps, at certain times or for certain people, or, you know, just generally maybe; so don’t quote me on this because it might be different, dontcha know”. I’m referring, in case there was any doubt, to the latter.

In other words, everyone’s Diana Wynne Jones Experience will vary, naturally, as will the individual journeys of each reader consuming each of her books, which is how it should be.

That being said, here are some basic guidelines of some things you may (there’s that word again…) be likely to find or feel in the course of reading a DWJ book.

a map of Fantasyland from DWJ’s “Tough Guide to Fantasyland” seemed appropriate to put here

A book like you’ve never read before

No matter what you think of the story, or which one it is that you read (despite them all being different than each other) this one’s pretty much a guarantee.

All the humor

These books are funny, I tell you. DWJ has a unique brand of humor in her books which I’m unable to describe, but I absolutely love it, whatever it is.

Mind-bending plot twists

Plot twists, surprises, and reveals, that are entirely mind-boggling and CHANGE EVERYTHING. This often results in the need to immediately re-read the book when you finish. (This is  good sign. It means you’re reading it right.)

Things/animals/items which are not what they seem (and might even be people)

This is a big one. Almost nothing in these books are what they appear to be. Cats and dogs? Eh, they might not be what they seem… A piece of furniture? It could be something else. A character you just met? They could turn out to be totally the opposite of what you thought they were. And that’s one of the most fun things about these books! Possibilities are absolutely endless and keep you on your toes.

Genre? What genre?

Most of these books are hard to pinpoint exactly where they fall in the genre pigeonholes. “Fantasy” is generally the broadest one they fit, but after that… well, you’re on your own. There will be dashes of sci-fi, contemporary, historical/time-travel… and they’re all done in a new way and defy categorization. She has, in effect, created her own genre, which is “Diana Wynne Jones”. (I think we writers could learn from this.)

Multi-worlds, magic, and fantasy like no other

These are self-explanatory. The multi-worlds aren’t always present, but multiple words do feature in more than a few of the books, and are always fascinating. Magic and various fantasy elements usually play key roles in the story and are very original and SO interesting.

Chaos

Nobody does chaos quite like Diana Wynne Jones. She’s excellent at it. Magical chaos, family chaos, just general chaotic explosions of THINGS happening all at once and confusingly and hilariously.

Fascinating character-growth and insight into human nature

Often, these books will feature a young hero or heroine who is being used by some unpleasant acquaintance or relative, for some purpose they don’t understand, and they don’t realize because they’re used to it; they find it out in the course of the story and become their own person, and end up doing the right thing in the end. But the way all of these characters are . . . these books SHOW me things about people, and it’s fascinating and so informative.

The best way to learn things about this confusing thing we call life, is accidentally through awesome fiction. ❤

Families (see Chaos)

You don’t see entire families of characters involved in books much these days, which is a shame. DWJ books often involve not only a hero or heroine but often their entire family… and sometime extended family too. This is not only fun but can be amusing as well, and the dynamics are fabulous.

It may make you want to eat sandwiches

I’ve no idea why, but when the characters eat sandwiches or crumpets or something, it makes me WANT TO EAT SOMETHING LIKE THAT RIGHT AWAY. I have been known to spontaneously make cucumber sandwiches or stop reading just to bake shortbread cookies in the middle of the book. (Note: I don’t cook. Ever. [Well. Hardly ever.] So this is extreme.)

How you feel…

At the beginning:

Well. What a fascinating/unique opening. WHAT am I reading?

In the first third or so:

This book is so… strange… and seemingly random… But I’m hooked anyway! So much strange… This is funny. 😀 What is going on? I’ve never read a book like this; my brain cannot compute, but I’m too busy laughing or wondering where this is headed to notice.

Halfway through:

You may realize at this point that as strange as the beginning started out, you suddenly realize you’re UTTERLY CAPTURED by this book and that everything feels perfectly normal to you and makes perfect sense. And also that you’re entirely attached to the characters and story and don’t want it to end.

During the climactic ending parts:

  • EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING. WHAT.
  • HOW ON EARTH (OR QUITE LIKELY OFF OF IT) IS DIANA WYNNE JONES GOING TO WRAP ALL THESE MESSES UP IN THE LAST TINY FEW PAGES??
  • DON’T END, BOOK, I WANT TO READ YOU FOREVER.
  • PLEASE END BECAUSE I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENNNNS!
  • WUT. PLOT TWIST. O_O

How you feel when it’s over:

  • ALSKJDFLKDJ!!! ❤ Wait… what about…?? WHAT HAPPENED THERE? *mind readjusts* *works out twists* Oh. O_O EEE!! ^_^ But wait… Let me go back…
  • A feeling of joy or elation and a general feeling of extreme well-being toward the book, mixed possibly with confusion on some little point or a feeling that it ended a little two quickly, which instead of causing outright discontent, has a tendency to make you think about the book for hours (and sometimes days) after finishing.
  • I LOVED IT. I need to read it again. NOW. THIS INSTANT.

On that note…

Regarding Re-Reading

Please note that DWJ books are always even better on the second round. You will never catch everything the first time because there are so many layers and twists. The second time will be even richer, since now you know all the plot twists and what everything actually MEANS. It will, of course, lack the wonder of first-time-discovery* but will be full of delightful details and a better understanding/appreciation of it.

*Not always; I’ve sometimes re-read only to discover that I forgot almost entirely about some aspect, and got to re-experience it a second time almost like the first!

So what are you waiting for?

If you’ve never read a book by Diana Wynne Jones, you’d best get started at once so that you can get to that re-reading… (Since one can presumably only re-read a book after one has read it the first time… unless there’s time travel or some sort of magical confusion involved, of course. With DWJ, either option is quite likely.)

With this handy guide to How to Read a Diana Wynne Jones Book at hand, I wish you joy in discovering or re-discovering her works.

(If you need some ideas of where to start, I suggest Howl’s Moving Castle, or glancing at this list of many DWJ books that I’ve read, with some thoughts on each. I’ve also started a DWJ Project page on my book blog which I plan to add to at some point.)

You know what I think we should do now?

I know exactly what we should do.

In the words of a certain charming wizard (in more ways than one) from Howl’s Moving Castle:

“I think we ought to live happily ever after”

So let’s do that, you and I, with our Diana Wynne Jones books. 🙂

As said wizard added, “It should be hair-raising.”

Won’t it just.

I can’t wait. ^_^ I hope you can’t either.

(Thank you for reading. <3)

C is for Cade Peregrine (Songkeeper Blogtour + Giveaway)

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Greetings, Roadlings!

I’m so excited to be a part of the blog tour celebrating the one-year book-birthday of Songkeeper by Gillian Bronte Adams!

#ExploreLeira is an A-to-Z blog series making the rounds through the blogosphere, focusing on different characters, places, etc. in the land of Leira within the Songkeeper Chronicles, and it’s going to be loads of fun! 🙂

(If you’re not familiar with this series, you can read my review for book 1, Orphan’s Song, and book 2, Songkeeper.)

Today, I’m super pleased to have Gillian herself over for a guest post about Cade!

Cade happens to be my favorite character in the Songkeeper Chronicles, and although he’s not a general reader favorite, I maintain he’s misunderstood and is a fascinating character, and fairly epic, to boot. 😉 I hope you’ll enjoy this post’s insight into his character.

And now, I give you Gillian Bronte Adams and her guest post on Cade Peregrine! 🙂

Thanks, Deborah, for hosting me here and helping me celebrate the (almost) one year book birthday for Songkeeper! It is the second book in the Songkeeper Chronicles, which tells the story of a girl who can hear the song that created the world. If this is your first encounter with the blog tour, we are continuing a series of alphabet posts looking at the world and characters and magical creatures of the Songkeeper Chronicles (you can follow the tour at gillianbronteadams.com) and we have an awesome giveaway that you can enter below!

Today, we’re looking at the letter C.

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C is for Cade Peregrine

A tall boy stood before him, clad in a ragged white blouse and tattered breeches, with a fine leather vest on top and a sword belted at his side. His arms were folded across his chest, and his chin lowered so that his eyes seemed to look straight through Ky. Cade, the leader of the Underground.

– Orphan’s Song

Ah, Cade. In another tale on another day, Cade Peregrine could have been the hero of the Underground, instead of Ky. He is a young man rooted in conviction, strengthened by pride, and determined to uphold the legacy of resistance left by his father and the outlaws of Kerby.

“It is insane. For now.” Cade’s eyes glittered in the firelight. “Now, it’s just a dream, but one day it will be a reality. Even now, every dagger we steal, every purse, every coin is a step toward breaking the soldiers’ hold on Kerby. And when we’re ready, we’ll fall upon them and drive them from the city. Then we’ll be free again.”

Orphan’s Song

It was Cade who first saw the desperate need of the children of Kerby who were left orphaned and abandoned when their parents were taken by the Khelari. He realized that their best chance of survival came if they banded together, so he decided to form the Underground. In a cavern below the city, down tunnels where outlaws once roamed, the children found a new home. In the assigned brother and sister pairs, they found both the family they had lost and mentors to teach them how to survive life on the streets. And in Cade, they found someone to look up to and aspire to. A hero, like the legends of old.

Cade is a warrior, trained in the art of the sword by his late blacksmith father. He is a boy of the streets, versed in the skills required to disappear without a trace into a crowd. He is a born leader, capable of managing, organizing, and caring for the orphans of the city. He is a skilled orator, capable of drawing a crowd in so that they hang upon his every word and are swayed to his way of thinking.

“And what is all this?” Cade turned a circle with his hands spread wide then moved toward the digging, forcing Ky to fall into place behind. “Digging your way out, are you? Like rats in a hole.”

By now all activity in the tunnel had ceased, and Cade’s voice grew to fill the silence. He always had been good at speech-making and crowd-wielding. The runners hearkened to his words like starving men begging for bread.

“Running isn’t the Underground way. Out on the streets, it may be every man for himself because that’s what we have to do to survive, but not here—not in our stronghold. Here we stand and fight together. Here we are free. We cannot run away and leave our home behind!”

Songkeeper

He is stubborn and accustomed to getting his way, so it is no surprise that he frequently butts head with Ky—one of the main characters in the Songkeeper Chronicles. Both are convinced of their own rightness and ready to fight for that conviction. Both are willing to sacrifice for those that they care about. It is ironic that the two are more alike than either of them would care to admit. If they could just learn to work together, they would be an unstoppable force.

“It was your half-baked idea to leave Kerby behind. Now what? You have a plan for where we should go and how to get there? Or do you intend to walk thirty runners across the Nordlands in search of refuge with barely enough supplies to last another four days and half our number falling to the white fever already? How far do you think we would get? These are the things a leader has to think about, Ky.” He released his grip so suddenly that Ky wound up sitting on the ground. “So stop whining and think.”

Songkeeper

Not going to lie, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Cade. He means well, but he so often gets the short end of the stick. In the Songkeeper Chronicles, we typically only see Cade from Ky’s perspective, so it’s usually a slightly unbalanced view. Admittedly, Cade can be a bit over-bearing at times, and he occasionally has control issues, but Ky isn’t always completely fair in his assessment.

Cade is the sort of secondary character who has a story that is just begging to be told. As in, there is a file, quite literally, sitting on my desktop begging me to write it. Maybe one day we’ll get to hear a bit from his point of view …

But for now, you can read about him in the Songkeeper Chronicles! Check out the links below for a place to purchase the books.

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Amazon: Orphan’s Song, Songkeeper

Barnes and Nobles: Orphan’s Song, Songkeeper

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And before you leave, don’t forget to enter the giveaway! One lucky winner will take home a copy of Orphan’s Song, Songkeeper, and a gorgeous handmade mug. Two lucky winners will take home copies of Songkeeper! Enter through the Rafflecopter below and be sure to visit www.gillianbronteadams.com to continue following the blog tour. You can earn new entries for each post that you visit along the way. Winners will be announced after April 15th.

Follow this link to enter –> ***a Rafflecopter giveaway***

About the Author

Gillian Bronte AdamsGILLIAN BRONTE ADAMS is a sword-wielding, horse-riding, coffee-loving speculative fiction author from the great state of Texas. During the day, she manages the equestrian program at a youth camp. But at night, she kicks off her boots and spurs, pulls out her trusty laptop, and transforms into a novelist. She is the author of Orphan’s Song, book one of the Songkeeper Chronicles, and Out of Darkness Rising. Visit Gillian online at her blog, Twitter, or Facebook page.

About Songkeeper

SONGKEEPER-FRONT-COVERWar ravages Leira and the Song has fallen silent.

Freed from the hold of a slave ship, Birdie, the young Songkeeper, and Ky, a street-wise thief, emerge to a world at war. Hordes of dark soldiers march across Leira, shadowed by whispers of plague and massacres, prompting Ky to return to his besieged home city in hopes of leading his fellow runners to safety.

Desperate to end the fighting, Birdie embarks on a dangerous mission into the heart of the Takhran’s fortress. Legend speaks of a mythical spring buried within and the Songkeeper who will one day unleash it to achieve victory. Everyone believes Birdie is the one, but the elusive nature of the Song and rumors of other gifted individuals lead her to doubt her role. Unleashing the spring could defeat the Takhran once and for all, but can she truly be the Songkeeper when the Song no longer answers her call?

(Eep, I so want some of Cade’s point-of-view someday! Ahem. 😀 )

So what do you think, readers? Is this your first time “meeting” Cade or have you read Orphan’s Song and/or Songkeeper? What do you think of him? Are you as excited for the third book (whenever it may happen) as I am? And are you looking forward to exploring Leira in this fun A-Z blog tour? Tell me all! 🙂

Wintertale: A Short Story

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Note:

I’m posting this short story (written January-February 2017 — one of those comfortable plotbunnies mentioned in my December Ishness) in honor of Jenelle Schmidt’s February is Fantasy Month short story challenge, which is to write and post a short story of 3,000 words or less, which is fantasy and contains the word snow.

This half-written (at the time) story seemed to fit. (It’s slightly over 3K words, but close enough. ;))

I hope you enjoy. 🙂

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to Caroline Knightley for Kendric’s accidental name, Jenelle Schmidt for the finish-inducing challenge, Christine Smith and my sister for timely encouragement and much-needed support, and the epic sounds of Celtic Christmas music (including this one) which helped inspire this story. And to you, reader, for stepping for a moment into this little tale.

wintertalecover

Wintertale

by Deborah O’Carroll

Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago

In the Bleak Midwinter (Traditional Carol)

~ ~ ~

Dusk fell, and with it his restraint. He had to go—no matter the cost.

Kendric left the lonely woods and strode out across the moor. His long black hair was tied back at the nape of his neck, and a threadbare coat of midnight blue hung from his shoulders—little comfort against the unforgiving chill of this crisp winter night, but he could bear it—for love.

White clouds of mist swirled up from the cold hollows he wandered through as he crossed the moor, the heather touched with frost. His way was lit only by the sky’s silver-grey waning light, and here and there the touch of a will o’ the wisp or other fae lights in the growing shadows. The faerie lights glimmered through the winter-bare trees and shone through the white mist on the moor, as though the stars themselves had come down upon the earth.

More lights appeared ahead—the evening star hung directly above the old mansion on the moor, its dark bulk black against the darkening sky. Golden light filled the windows, brighter in the darkness, like the sun looking out of the windows of Night.

He drew nearer and stopped just outside, watching through the nearest window. Figures moved within, dancing, and strains of music came softly to his ears—the low half-melancholy purr of a violin, a harp like a tinkling brook, the distant strains of the pipes.

Kendric stood alone outside in the darkness as the snow began to fall, watching the scene inside the place he had long known.

A place from which he was forever barred.

“With the face I call my own, at least,” he murmured.

From within his threadbare coat, he took out a black mask like a raven’s face and pulled it over the top half of his face. He slipped inside the mansion through a side door.

Music enveloped him, along with a crowd of dancers in masks, through whom he pushed his way unobtrusively, brushing past the Steward of the house and other faces he knew behind their masks. The midwinter ball was well underway. Ladies’ full gowns twirled around the floor, and men’s dark coat-tails flew as they danced and spun their ladies about in the light of a thousand candles.

One lady was more radiant than them all, at least to Kendric’s eye. She wore a dress like snow, lacy, glistening, pristinely white. Fair hair piled in abundance atop her head, like a mound of sunshine, tendrils escaping to frame the white mask like a swan which graced her gently smiling face.

With one purpose, he approached her, and in the heartbeat between two melodies he whisked her away from her last partner who stepped away, and they were off into the next dance.

Laughing, she tilted her head to look up into his masked face. For a moment, she did not know him; the next, recognition brought a gasp which stole her laughter away. She mouthed his name, but no sound came to her lips as she stared into his smiling eyes.

Kendric gave a quiet nod. “Vanessa,” he murmured in acknowledgment as they continued to dance.

She tensed in his arms, worry creasing her brow, and threw a look over her shoulder—but no one seemed to pay them particular heed.

“How have you come here? Did no one see you arrive?” she whispered.

Kendric shook his head. “No one; unless the stars above or the stones of this house would tell of it.”

Vanessa relaxed. A smile bloomed on her face, radiant as the light through the windows or the sun-like hue of her hair. “Then we will be happy, and not speak for now,” she said. “Nothing in the worlds exists besides us two.”

Kendric smiled too. “As you say, love,” he said softly.

They danced. The music wove a path for their feet, and their hearts carried them together in complete harmony. In that moment, all was perfect.

But like the last glimmer of the sun before nightfall—like the evening star gleaming reflected in a still pool before a stone drops and destroys the reflection in a splashing ripple—it could not last.

The Steward of the house, one of the few who wore no mask, his face solemn, slim, and craggy as a stone, pushed his way silently through the dancing crowd. He had returned with his master—the young man with a black coat, fair hair, and a hawk mask, who was called the lord of that place. Lost in their bliss of dancing, Vanessa and Kendric did not notice them at first.

The Steward stood aside, and the lord of the mansion pounced like a hawk on the dancing lovers. Thrusting himself between them, so that they were forced to stop in sudden startlement, he tore the raven mask away from Kendric’s face.

The music ceased. The crowd stopped dancing—some of the couples moved away, creating a bare space around the two young men standing eye to eye, with the white-gowned lady at their side.

“Skandar,” she began, addressing the lord with hair as fair as hers; but he did not turn away from the black haired young man in the threadbare midnight-blue coat.

“Step away from my sister,” Skandar said—although they had already stepped apart.

Neither moved further. Skandar’s furious gaze through his hawk mask never wavered from Kendric, who did not back down and eyed him levelly, calm.

“You would show your face here?” Skandar demanded.

“I did not intend to, and in fact did not—until you knocked my mask off. You have only yourself to blame for showing my face,” Kendric said mildly.

Skandar clawed his own mask off and flung it to the floor. The quiet sound rang through the hall like a thunderclap in the still silence. Every eye present remained fixed on the two young men facing each other . . . they who once had been as brothers.

Skandar’s voice was dangerously even. “You were banished—a mercy too good for you, but I gave it. Did I not swear that if you set foot here again I would see you punished with death? You have come. And now you will pay for it.”

“Skandar, please,” Vanessa pleaded, taking her brother’s arm.

He spun to face her. “Kendric killed him—in this very mansion!”

“I know you’re upset—” she began.

“If anyone should be upset about the murder of the lord of this mansion, I should. It is my father we’re talking of,” Kendric said gravely.

Skandar’s voice tore from his throat like a wounded animal’s howl as he shouted in Kendric’s face: “He was like my father too!”

Vanessa turned desperate eyes to Kendric. Her voice cracked in an almost-whisper. “Why did you come?”

Kendric glanced at her. His look said it all: that he could not stay away. Instead of answering aloud, he passed her an expression which said plainer than words, “I love you.” Then he was gone—slipped outside past the standing figures before any could catch him.

“After him!” Skandar cried.

Several men in the room surged outside in his wake. Skandar urged them all to horse, and with their grim lord at their head, they galloped in pursuit of Kendric, who rode away across the moor on a black horse with the white evening star on its forehead.

Kendric looked back, once, before he was lost in the snowy midwinter darkness—looked back at the woman in white who stood alone on the steps outside. Their gazes met across the distance. Snowflakes fell around her like the melancholy chords of a harp now silenced as she watched her love ride away in the night.

Vanessa would have done something to help him—anything—if she could.

But it was night, and that was her brother’s hour.

It would be long before the dawn.

~ ~ ~

Kendric galloped hard through the night, the men on horses galloping relentlessly after him.

The chase left the whitening moor under a blanket of hoof-print disturbed snow as Kendric rode into the forest, snowflakes falling about him in the blackness, driving into his eyes with a bitter wind. His hair whipped back behind him, and his horse’s mane and tail streamed in the wind to meld with the embracing shadows as he galloped through the woods.

The bare trees welcomed him into their stronghold, and the shadows of their branches intertwined, lining the ground in interlacing patterns beneath the speed of his passing.

The hoof beats pounded unrelenting behind.

Kendric bent lower to his horse’s neck and rode for all his worth.

Faerie lights lit his way, and moved off in false trails in attempts to misdirect the pursuit. Shadowy and fae beings flitted in the shadows half-unseen, giving him what aid they could, which was little—they could not well come between these two lords. The trees made a way for him and the land beneath guided him onward, while slowing his pursuers and tangling their way with branches—for the land loved Kendric.

But Skandar rode after, disregarding the distractions and obstacles, almost unchecked; for he was Night, driven by a rage born of a broken love like a wounded animal, and nothing would stand in his way.

So they galloped through the night: quarry and hunters, matched; Kendric always a little ahead, but unable to escape completely.

When his horse could carry him no further, he released it and it melted into the shadows, save for the fading evening star which guided Kendric through the wood.

He ran on alone now, through the trees with shouts behind him. At times a stone would trip him, but still he ran. He passed a river which flowed in the winter night over a waterfall, its rushing sound like the wild call of the pipes as the wind sighed through the trees like a violin, the snow falling like the harp chords which had carried Kendric and Vanessa through their joined dance . . .

He could not run much longer. The night had been long and the sky began to silver with the hint of dawn. The snow ceased falling. In a last effort, Kendric scrambled up a rocky hillside through the thinning trees. The treacherous stones threatened to dislodge him with their slippery ice, but he made it to the top, his breath ragged wisps of white on the air.

Skandar and his men had dismounted and climbed behind him, gaining.

Stumbling forward, Kendric emerged from the last of the bare trees and onto a flat hilltop clothed in an untouched blanket of white snow in a circle of standing stones with a natural rock formation behind them. Kendric ran into the ring of standing stones which stood nearly black in silhouette against the sky just before dawn.

“Kendric!” Skandar shouted. He was mere steps behind, crossing into the ring himself, sword in one hand—with the other, he seized the flapping end of Kendric’s coat and wrenched at him.

Kendric swung around and pulled free of his grasp. Skandar swung his sword and Kendric took a couple of quick steps backward to escape it, but a stone hidden in the snow betrayed him, catching his heel.

Kendric fell backward and lay full-stretch on his back, his black hair, outstretched arms, and blue coat spread out to either side atop the blanket of white. The blade had merely nicked his arm, but he lay there without attempting to get up, looking up at Skandar, who stood over him with the sword pointed at him. They remained motionless like that for several heartbeats.

Kendric stared calmly, unblinking, unresisting, at the face of the fair-haired young man who had once been like his brother, who now held a sword ready to end his life. In Skandar’s eyes was only betrayal and anguish. A single drop of blood fell from the tip of the sword blade and blossomed scarlet on the glistening snow.

“Why?” came Skandar’s voice in a hoarse whisper with a wisp of frosty breath. “Why did you do it?”

“I’ve done nothing wrong of which you accuse me,” Kendric said quietly.

Excruciating conflicting doubt twisted across Skandar’s features. “Then who did?” he challenged.

Kendric glanced past Skandar’s form looming above him, to the other men from the mansion who stood fanned out motionless behind their lord just within the ring of standing stones. “Only the stones of the mansion could tell you that.”

“You can prove nothing of your own innocence?” Skandar demanded.

Kendric blinked passively. “Of course not. You have only my word.”

Skandar drew a hissing breath of indecision.

“That used to be enough,” said a new voice.

In their focus on one another, neither Kendric nor Skandar had noticed the new hoof beats.

Just as the sun rose in a flash of golden dawn light bursting from behind the rock formation, Vanessa rode around it into view on a horse as white as the snow all around them; as white as her gown. She swung to the ground—in a swish of her long dress with the lace like a bushel of snowflakes poured down the front—and landed lightly on the snow, the brilliant sunrise behind her sun-gold hair. In a moment she was beside Kendric.

Kendric got to his feet and stood by the lady, who slipped her arm through his as they faced Skandar together.

“He has done nothing,” Vanessa said. “And in your heart you know it, brother. I know you loved his father as your own, but you seek revenge and justice blindly, in the wrong place. Kendric loved his father beyond anything, except perhaps you and I. He would never murder his own father, as much as it may appear that he did. Can’t you trust him, as you used to? No one knows what really happened, but I know—and you should know—that Kendric had nothing to do with it.”

“No one knows what happened . . .” Skandar repeated, half under his breath. “. . . Only the stones of the mansion.” Abruptly, he spun on his heel, the flashing arc of his sword glinting in the sunrise as he still gripped the handle and strode toward the edge of the circle to return to the mansion. His voice turned to harsh determination. “Then we’ll ask them.”

Kendric and Vanessa shared a brief look before stepping quickly after him.

But as Skandar moved to pass between two of the standing stones, he ran up against an invisible force which flung him backward into the snow, sword flying from his grasp as snow exploded into the air around him. The ring of stones shook violently.

The blast made to knock the other men over too, and they all staggered. Kendric stepped before Vanessa to shield her from whatever was happening, keeping her from the brunt of the blast.

Everyone slowly regained their steady footing as the shudder of the stone circle stilled, and they looked at one another.

“The stones are keeping us here, my lord,” one of the men said to Skandar.

“Why would—?” Vanessa began.

Skandar regained his feet in an angry jerk and retrieved his sword, looking around as if for something to wield it on.

But Kendric had already spied the one man who stood outside the ring of stones, watching them distantly from his emotionless stone-like narrow face. Kendric lightly touched Skandar’s arm and wordlessly jerked his chin toward the Steward.

Skandar’s eyes fixed on him and he went suddenly cold and ominous. “What is this?” he demanded.

“The stones of the mansion will tell you nothing,” the Steward said coolly. “They serve only me. As do these.” He nodded almost imperceptibly at the ring of standing stones. “Just as the rest of the land will serve me when all of you are gone.”

Fury crossed Skandar’s face and he pounded his fist against the invisible force which held them within the ring. The stones shuddered again. “This was you, was it? Just let me get my hands on you—!”

“You will not leave this circle,” the Steward said.

“We’ll see about that,” Vanessa said softly.

But the standing stones writhed and began slowly moving inward, in jerks, as if reluctant. The men of the mansion uneasily backed toward the center of the constricting circle of stones, which would crush them if they continued.

Skandar fixed his gaze on the Steward a moment longer, then sheathed his sword, drew a calming breath, and stepped back. “It seems I was wrong about you, brother.” He placed a hand on Kendric’s shoulder and bowed his head. “I . . .” He looked back up and could not continue.

He had no need to.

Kendric’s face remained serious under the life-threatening situation of their traitor Steward, but Kendric’s eyes smiled forgiveness at Skandar—a forgiveness which had been there for a long time.

A look between brother and sister and all was right with them.

Then the three faced the Steward who stood without the circle as the stones continued shifting nearer the doomed group within.

Kendric spoke. “We call the stones to witness.” He glanced at the stones—still grinding forward inch by inch—and went on. “If he has unlawfully slain the former lord of this land and some of your number were witness to it, then show it now by disclaiming his power over you.” Kendric drew himself up, Skandar on his left—a hand on Kendric’s shoulder—and Vanessa on his right with her arm through his, and he went on, voice ringing clear in the frozen dawn air.

“The rightful lords of this land and its lady call upon the timeless stones to free themselves from their enslavement to this unfaithful one who has forfeit his authority over them by his base treachery.”

A deep shudder ran through the standing stones, which shook the ground at their base.

Then they stilled.

A calm fell across the circle. Everyone there could sense the absence of the invisible force holding them inside the ring. The cluster of men breathed again.

The three standing alone remained unmoving and looked across at the Steward. His craggy rock-like face twitched very slightly, but that was all, and his stony eyes stared back at them.

“As for you . . .” Skandar growled.

Kendric cut him off, calm but authoritative, fixing the Steward with an unwavering look. “Begone. Return to your mountain fortress or wherever you dwell, and do not come to this land again.”

The Steward seemed to bend against his will, crumbled stone-like for a moment, and an instant later was gone, leaving a bare patch of ground in the snow where he had been.

As one, Skandar, Kendric, and Vanessa all collapsed to their knees and the next moment had clasped each other in a three-way hug as they knelt in the snow together.

“I think you missed me, then,” Kendric managed to gasp out, half laughing, as soon as he could breathe through the tight clasp the other two held him in, which he returned.

“Missed you!” Skandar scoffed. “Why would such a scoundrel be missed—you interrupted my midwinter ball!”

“And you, brother mine,” Vanessa said, shooting Skandar a laughing look, “interrupted our dance.”

“And you interrupted my death,” Kendric remarked to Vanessa.

She smiled. “Always.” He smiled back.

Skandar sobered a moment, then recovered. “Well, that’s one we don’t need to continue. But for the other two—well.” He surged to his feet, the other two rising with him, and they turned to join the group of men who had been stamping cold booted feet in the snow and moving arms to warm them, murmuring about heading home but cautious of disturbing the lords and lady.

“Yes . . . for the other two?” Kendric prompted, still smiling, his arm around Vanessa.

“We’ll go amend their interruptions by returning to the mansion and finishing them properly, shall we?” Skandar said, a mischievous half-smile quirking his lips. “After all, there’s no interrupted ball or dance which can’t be even better when taken up again.”

Vanessa smiled too. “With all my heart.”

Kendric, Vanessa, and Skandar followed the others to the horses, Kendric in the middle with their arms about him and his about them, the three claiming each other as their own once more—dark head between two fair ones.

Together they left the ring of standing stones to the glistening snow under the brilliant light of a golden dawn.

Life Lessons Learned From Fantasy Tag

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Tag time! And Fantasy time! At the same time — which makes it doubly exciting!

February is Fantasy Month (hosted by Jenelle Schmidt — go check out the linkup and short story challenge for more fantasy fun) and since Jenelle tagged me for this neat Fantasy tag, I thought I’d jump in and do it! 🙂 Thanks, Jenelle!

Rules

1. Link back to Jenelle’s blog
2. Use the image above
3. Tell us 5-10 lessons you’ve learned from reading a fantasy book (or watching a fantasy movie) – lessons can come from multiple sources, as well, of course
4. Tag 2-4 other bloggers to keep the game going

Lessons I’ve learned from reading fantasy? It might be easier to ask what lessons I’ve NOT learned from fantasy… which may be why at first I was having a difficult time with this! (Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. But still.)

Here are just a few of the books and series that have helped show or further illustrate important things for me and are helping to shape me into a hopefully better person.

List (Because Lists)

1. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, and George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, started it all and introduced me to the wonderful world of Fantasy — at least some of my earlier memories of it — thereby widening my horizons and showing me heroism first off.

2. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit taught me (and continues to teach me) that it’s okay to be both adventurous and a homebody, introverted and extroverted, bookish and active, Tookish and Baggins-ish — there’s a place for each of these things, I don’t have to be just one or the other; that if I switch back and forth between them, that’s all right; and the place to be is probably somewhere in the middle… which I can therefore strive toward.

3. The Lord of the Rings taught me so many things that I don’t even know where to start–including nobility, selflessness, and pressing on when things seem darkest. Such a rich well from which so many things can be drawn out.

4. C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia books showed me so much through Aslan, and continues to do so.

5. Patrick Carman’s Land of Elyon series (affectionately called “The Alexa Books”) helped show some things through allegory like about the Creator/heaven/happy endings and so on (also due to Narnia as well).

6. The Bright Empires series by Stephen R. Lawhead is teaching me a lot about life at the moment, particularly Wilhelmina Klug, “Mina”, showing me the kind of woman I would like to be (role-models exist in fiction for a reason, people). Also that nothing is a coincidence. About friendship, love, and loyalty, hospitality and kindness, and loving our enemies. The difference one person can make. That there is a bigger Plan in the universe which can make one feel so much less small and alone. And so many other things.

7. Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series illustrates so well things about people and the choices we make, shying from wrong and choosing the right one — I’ve just been noticing the things in this series on my second read and it’s amazing.

8. Speaking of Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle showed me a way to deal with things when I’m a coward about something (i.e. procrastinating) — that I can “Howl myself into it” as I call it… trick myself into doing things I need to that daunt me. In Howl’s words: “Not likely! I’m a coward. Only way I can do something this frightening is to tell myself I’m not doing it!”

Something as seemingly small as that can change a person for the better, and there are a million little things one can, and does, and will continue to, learn from Fantasy.

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When life seems insurmountable, it’s only natural to compare it to the problems faced in beloved tales of Fantasy — if I’m daunted by an event, I say I’m feeling Baggins-ish and want to stay home, and only need to try to be more Tookish to survive. If something sounds impossible, I can’t even count the times I’ve said, “Well, if Frodo can get the Ring to Mount Doom, I can do this…”

Fantasy in general shows me life in a new light, a new angle, so that it’s fresh and can be seen clearer than through the usual dusty glass of normalcy.

Fantasy taught me that happy endings are possible, that light is stronger than darkness, that love is the greatest thing we can give. It teaches me all the time through truths which are easier to see in other worlds than in our own, and through characters who face it all and yet still stand noble and true. It’s something to look at and think, “I want to be that way.”

Fantasy is such an entwined part of my life that I don’t always think of it as such — it’s as natural as breathing and makes just as much sense. It’s a part of me and I know I would not be who I am today without it.

I Tag…

Christine @ Musings of an Elf | Sarah @ Dreams and Dragons | Claire @ The Overactive Imagination | Tracey @ Adventure Awaits | You, fellow lover of Fantasy who is reading this, if you want to!

(Obviously no pressure to do it; just if you want! ^_^)

What about you, Roadlings mine? Do you love Fantasy (please say yes)? Has it shown you things? And are you going to pop over to Jenelle’s post with a linky and join the Fantasy fun this month? Tell me all in the comments! Thanks for reading, and remember that . . .

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Epic Modern Irish Warriors + Faeries = An Earthly King Review (Blog Tour)

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I’m super excited to be a part of the blog tour for the release of An Earthly King by Hazel B. West!

You may remember my rave review for book 1, Blood Ties, earlier this year in March… Well, good news! There’s a sequel out now, and if you missed a chance to read book one, Blood Ties is FREE ON KINDLE until November 5th. So get thyself over to Amazon and download Blood Ties ASAP, do you hear?

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November, because that’s the last day Blood Ties is free on Amazon!

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Anyhow, I’m here today as part of the blog tour for the second book in the Modern Tales of Na Fianna series, to review An Earthly King! I’m very excited about this book. ^_^

Head on over HERE to follow the rest of the tour!

And scroll down to the bottom of this post for info on a giveaway of signed paperback copies of both books in this series so far! 🙂

First, a bit about the book and author, and then my review (and even an excerpt)! (All this info AS WELL AS a free ebook and a giveaway for two paperbacks? Yes, I know, I know, all of this is too good to be true. BUT IT IS TRUE, so deal with it and soak up the epicness.)

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Title: An Earthly King (The Modern Tales of Na Fianna #2)

Genre: YA, Urban Fantasy, Alternate History

Synopsis

Six months after Ciran defeated King Lorcan and instigated a peace treaty between the High Court of Ireland and the Goblin realm, things have been slowly getting back to normal in the kingdoms. That is, until the council decides that it’s time for High King Eamon to find a queen.

On top of that, there seem to be stirrings of rebellion in the Faelands, as not all the Fair Folk like the High Court’s treaty with the Goblins. So it’s up to Ciran Mac Cool and his company to stop the rebellion before it goes too far, while also trying to keep Eamon safe from potential assassins. And with all the prospective brides rubbing elbows with the High King, that’s easier said than done.

With the help of their friends and a spunky agent from the Bureau of Protection Against Fair Folk, Ciran’s Company attempts to stop the Faery plots before Ireland is thrown into all out war. Again.

An Earthly King is another action packed book in this Celtic urban fantasy series with lots of friendship, humor, angst, and even traces of the Ballad of Tam Lin.

Find An Earthly King online:

Createspace Paperback | Amazon | Smashwords | Add it on Goodreads

About the Author

Hazel West lives in Purgatory, er, Florida, with her books and her hedgehog Horatio. When she’s not writing, she’s reading other people’s books, studying folklore, or binge-watching something on Netflix—drinking coffee is also a given.

You can find her online in these places:

Blog: http://hazelwest.blogspot.com

Writing blog: http://talesfromamodernbard.blogspot.com

Twitter GoodreadsYoutube | Pinterest

My Review

earthlykingcoverpic2-copyAn Earthly King

(Modern Tales of Na Fianna, #2)

by Hazel B. West

YA / Fantasy / Contemporary / Alternate History / Retelling / Tam Lin / Celtic / Ireland

I received a complimentary e-ARC copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review, and these opinions are entirely my own.

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There are so many awesome things about this book, I don’t even know where to begin. I loved it even more than book one (Blood Ties) if that’s even possible. These were definitely among my top favorite reads this year — instant classics for me!

This book has everything: Swashbuckling action, suspense (I’m pretty sure I forgot to breathe a few times), mystery, deceit, evil faeries (and less-than-evil ones), cars and leather jackets and swords, kings and warriors, true love, comradely brotherly relationships, characters I adore so so much, witty banter, humor and dry narrative which had me laughing more than once, awesome Celtic/Irish/Fae folklore, even a touch of retelling in the form of the ballad of Tam Lin — all wrapped up in a thoroughly FUN story which was simply a joy to read. When I say everything, I mean everything!

Have I convinced you yet?? Because really, I don’t know what more I need to add to this. (Except I will totally keep talking about it because obviously this is an excuse to babble about one of my favorites books, I never turn that down.)

I thought it would be different than it was (just like the first one was different than I thought it would be). I vaguely expected it to continue mainly with Ciran and his gang, and while his gang was in it, they were more side characters, since it was mostly about Eamon (I was very very excited to get a story from his point of view!) and others who are spoilery. Which isn’t a complaint; I just thought there would be more of the same group dynamics as there were in book 1. I expected something different, but I do love how it turned out. This one is also actually very different than the first book: while much of Blood Ties was out in the Faelands, An Earthly King is centered mostly around the castle and such, by its very nature, because it is largely about High King Eamon.

I say largely, because although it’s primarily Eamon’s story, it’s not entirely. There are also chapters from the point of view of Ciran, hero of Blood Ties, which made me SO happy, because I love Ciran. He has a lot going on, especially in the aftermath of certain — ahem — events in book 1. So it was great to continue with him. There’s also a new point-of-view character: Bree, who is awesome and I love her to bits.

So yes, this book is told in three alternating first-person points of view… and I don’t even mind. It may sound like it wouldn’t work, but trust me, the author pulls this off masterfully. It’s always a pleasure to be in each of their minds, and I was never mixed up who I was reading about (it may help that their names are at each chapter heading). It was BRILLIANT how the story weaved through their different points of view without repeating anything, but always showing exactly what needed to be seen. Now, I’m a writer, and all I can say is, that’s #writergoals right there. This book blew me away in so many ways.

Setting: A+ in my book. An awesome, modern/medieval mashup of Ireland, with some Faerie stuff thrown in for good measure. Medieval stuff mixed with a little Faerie magic in a modern setting — how cool is that? I’m just saying that when an evil fairy calls your cellphone and tells you to come to an address they’ll text you and to come alone… this is just mind-blowingly awesome storytelling. I’m a fan. Can I just live here? This world is fabulous and (aside from the fact that I’d probably be dead within five minutes) I just want to move to this alternate modern-day Ireland please and thank you.

Speaking of which, I felt so at home reading this book! Something about reading the new twists on various Celtic lore, Faerie lore, Ireland, even Tam Lin bits, was just so… FAMILIAR. Which made me incredibly happy. I felt like I knew these things… things about Irish and Fae and such; they were familiar, the way your neighborhood walks or a fairytale you’ve heard a hundred times is familiar. I read along happily, going “oh, she used that little thing I knew about!” or “oh, what a neat extra tidbit I didn’t know about, but it still feels familiar!” It was fabulous. ❤ My Celtic roots and love of Faerie things coming out, I suppose. (Even if you’re not a Celtic, Faerie nut as I am, you’ll still enjoy it, though!)

AND THEN THE CHARACTERS. I love them so much. *group hug* Their interactions, relationships, and dialog are simply PRICELESS, and the characters themselves are so real, lovable and… just the best.

  • Eamon, High King of Ireland, an excellent king but also a down-to-earth, nice, willing-to-joke-around, comradely and good-hearted sort of fellow, a little overwhelmed with plots and suspicious Fae things, not to mention being expected to marry (especially when all the prospects are so dismal; these women, though. o.o). He was so fun to read about (especially paired with Killian) and I so enjoyed getting to read his story and see things through his eyes!
  • Ciran, hero of book 1, and co-hero of this one, is just AWESOME. I love him muchly. He’s trying to deal with problems in his family and protect his king and he’s just wonderful; not to mention still really fun to read his thoughts. 😀
  • Bree is an introverted but down-to-business agent who is here to investigate fishy Fae stuff, and I absolutely loved her! She’s redheaded and wears red boots and has freckles (oh, the freckles. XD) and she loves books and gets insecure and eats chocolate when she’s nervous, and is kind of shy about people (I relate!), but she’s also really capable and knows her stuff, and she and a certain other person in the book are positively ADORABLE together, oh my word. <3333 She’s the main new addition to the cast, and I just loved her! ^_^
  • Killian… Oh my goodness, this guy. 😄 Eamon’s best friend/captain of the guard, he positively defies description because his relationship with Eamon is hilarious. They have such a brotherly, teasing relationship, and Killian acts all bossy and snarky, always ordering his king around or calling him names and Eamon doesn’t mind and it’s just glorious. I CAN’T WITH THESE TWO. ❤ One of the absolute best parts of the book. 😀 (The snark, though.)
  • A certain Ciran brother who I can’t say much about, but THIS PRECIOUS PERSON. D: Waaah. He and Ciran are great. ❤
  • Daegal is Ciran’s little brother, who has the Second Sight. He’s really beginning to develop as an awesome character in his own right — one of those enigmatic young fellows with more to them than meets the eye. He’s one of my new favorites, actually.
  • Caitlin: Kinda-sorta “Ciran’s girl” (and Killian’s sister… which I always forget, for some reason? o.o) is also awesome. No-nonsense but perfectly warm, friendly, and capable too. Just. All of these characters!! ❤
  • Oberon is… interesting. I will say no more. *zips lips*
  • And then of course (one and all awesome) are the other members of Ciran’s Company (who now have a ballad in their honor about their quest in Book 1 — sung by the rock band Swords and Shamrocks — which is a top hit on the radio. …I just love this story.).

And and and… I COULD GO ON. I loved the idea of BPAFF (The Bureau of Protection Against Fair Folk, an agency who investigate problems with Fae); I loved the sideplot of romance which was adorable but didn’t take the story over and felt totally natural; the BANTER that I just adored so much; there was even some deeper stuff going on with families and relationships and problems to solve; all the relationships and brotherliness; and just… I loved how extremely FUN it was, and I enjoyed myself immensely positively the entire time I was reading. I’m seriously tempted to go back and read both books already… (If only it wasn’t NaNo! *cough*)

Okay, so remember how I said this book has everything? Well I may have been a little economical with the truth there. There’s one thing it doesn’t have, and that is… anything I didn’t like. Did I have any complaints? NOPE, literally none that I can think of right now. (This is rare, okay?)

The author is a genius and I love these books so much. ❤ (Now where’s book 3?? I NEED MORE OF THIS SERIES/WORLD/CHARACTERS IN MY LIFE. And so do you. Go hither and read them at once, do you hear? SHOO.)

Bottom line: An Earthly King is an excellent book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. ❤

Excerpt From An Earthly King

“Maybe it won’t be as bad as you think it will.”

I appreciated my younger brother’s optimism, but didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was far off the mark. I knew without turning to a pessimist’s standpoint that this was going to be every bit as bad as I thought. I had seen Colin O’Rourke shake his head sadly only half an hour before in anticipation of the moment, and when even the cheery redhead could see no silver lining to being surrounded by unmarried women for two weeks, there was something to be very afraid of.

I had been sent to “prepare myself” for the ladies as Killian had put it. It sounded vaguely ominous. I was supposed to be in full kingly attire for guess who else would be arriving with the girls? Their esteemed guardians, the other kings and queen, and many more higher Irish families. The ones who served on my council. Everyone had pitched in with some female relation to offer up to be my bride like they were vestal virgins and I some ancient god demanding sacrifice. I was flattered—almost. The problem was that I knew the reputations of most of these girls and didn’t have a care for any of them—my opinion hadn’t changed since we were forced to meet in our ‘comings out’ when we were twelve or so. And the ones I didn’t know, I didn’t suppose had much more promise. Killian would probably say I was ‘disenchanted’. I just wondered how out of all those girls, there couldn’t be any normal ones.

I cast a sad glance over at my worn leather jacket and jeans tossed into a chair at one side of my room. I wanted nothing more than to don normal clothes and go out to the lists, practice archery or take on the Guard for my own amusement. But that was later this week, as Killian informed me, and it would still be in front of my ‘admirers’.

“If you stay in here too much longer, everyone will just think Airdrígh Eamon is afraid of a bunch of women,” Oran teased with a laugh.

“Then why are you still hiding here yourself?” I asked, grabbing him playfully in a headlock and mussing his hair.

The door opened and Killian came in, casting a longsuffering glance over the proceedings. “You still aren’t dressed? Get your armor on, Eamon! They will be arriving in less than half an hour! Aeden and Ciran just pulled up.”

I released Oran with a pinch to the side as he protested loudly. I took my copper breastplate from its stand and allowed Killian to secure it before he grabbed my long dark green cloak and put that around my shoulders as well, securing it to the breastplate. He then came around to my front, straightening my circlet, and made sure at least part of it was visible in my untamable mass of hair. He scowled at it as he finally yanked my twin braids straight to make sure they showed.

“Don’t ask me what the girls will see in you, because I really don’t know. You look more like a vagabond than a king.”

“I have the black curls and sparkly eyes, what more do I need?”

Killian rolled his eyes. “You’ve got to have a nice set of cheekbones to please the girls these days.”

“But I have dimples!”

“Missed the boat.”

Oran handed me my sword and I buckled it around my hips, checking myself in the mirror. I looked more presentable than was to be expected from Killian’s grousing, and was overall pleased enough that I would at least make a good impression. As much as I didn’t want to do this, I also didn’t want to give the kings any more reason to hate me.

An Earthly King by Hazel B. West

Giveaway

Hazel is giving away signed paperback copies of both books on her blog, so head on over to THIS POST to enter the giveaway! You don’t want to miss this one! 🙂

(An Earthly King is Book 2.) Find Book 1, Blood Ties, here:

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Amazon (free Nov. 1 – 5!)

Smashwords

Goodreads

My Review of Blood Ties

Does this book sound awesome, or does it sound awesome? Do you like the idea of an alternate-history modern/medieval/fantasy blend? And how do you like Ireland and retellings? Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour! 🙂