Saturday, July 29, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter I


The List:
-Iona
-Inverness, Iceland, island
-Instant
-Immortality

The Result:

"The Incident on The Island"

Iona could feel her heart thudding and her chest growing tighter, as if the corset she wore had shrunk two sizes in only an instant.

Callum still paid more heed to the moor around them than the pretty lass on his horse.
“Cummon, ye infernal beastie,” he muttered under his breath. “Show yerself.”

Iona felt the faintness dancing around her ears. As slowly as it had poured over the mountain range, the roll of fog now eased itself back, disclosing more and more of the deep-black peat, and the island at the center of the moor. There was something large there, something that moved—something dangerous. Iona had never felt so naked and vulnerable. Every instinct within her screamed at her to run, to escape, to never lay eyes on whatever horror inhabited the moor.
Callum McGowan had no such inhibitions.

“WELL?” He thundered, sloshing forward a few paces into the swamp. “I’VE COME FOR MY SON, YE BOGGART! WHY DAEN’T YE FACE ME NOO!”

Iona couldn’t stand it any longer. She flopped indecorously off the horse’s back, the sound of her dismount muffled by the mound of moss she landed on. Just when she turned her back on her captor, she felt Callum’s rough hand on her wrist.
“And just where d’ye think yer goin’, lassie?” He snarled, yanking her back toward him.

He turned back to the last remaining mass of fog still shrouding The Thing.

“Aye, lookit what I brought ye! One o’ yer fine Brides, wot with her pretty—“ he stopped when he saw her empty fingers. The muscles in his jaw tightened, and his mad eyes rolled toward her. “What’s all this noo?” He pulled her against his body so he could reach her other hand.
Iona’s fear came out in ragged, gasping sobs.

“Where is it, ye witch?” Callum threw her down upon the soft, squelching ground. “Where’s that bloody ring ye swore would never leave yer hand till yer hand left yer body?”

Iona saw The Thing rise out of the clouds and screamed in terror.
Callum whirled around as the mighty Midnight Dragon spread its wings and landed in the bog just inches away from them. The moor was deep enough there to drown a man, yet it hardly covered the dragon’s legs.

“What is your intention, small man?” the Dragon rumbled. “Why do you invade my solitude?”

Iona cowered at the grand, rolling sounds of its voice, but Callum was too incensed heed the warning.
“Why? Bloody beast asks me why? Oy, you! That’s my son you have in there!” He pointed to the tall crater rising out of the middle of the moor. “I want my son given back to me, unharmed!” He turned back to Iona and hauled her upright again. “See? I’ve brought one o’ the wenches of Brodgar, the Lady Iona herself! Take her instead, and let my son go free!”

“The lad is your son?” The Dragon bent its head closer to the irate man. “I found the foolish boy wandering the hillside, too intoxicated to stand, so ignorant that he would infringe upon forbidden lands—he is rightfully my prisoner.” The Dragon tilted its head to inspect Iona a little closer. “This woman is not the Ecrivaine. She is not the one I seek.”

“What the blazes do you mean?” Callum raged. “’Tis Iona Brodgar, the latest Bride of the Moor!”

“She is not the Ecrivaine. She does not bear the Ring!”

SHE BLOODY BORE IT WHEN I TOSSED HER OVER MY SADDLE NOT TEN MINUTES AGO!” Callum’s face was a dark, angry purple when he drew his dirk and hauled Iona against its blade. “If ye won’t gi’ me my son,” he rasped, “Then I’ll slit ‘er throat right here and noo. That will be the end of Clan Brodgar, and the end of you!”

The Dragon hissed, and two thin jets of smoke issued from its nostrils. “You would not dare slay an innocent woman in my presence,” it warned.

“By this hand, I will!” Callum yelled in return, shaking his fist in the Dragon’s face. “I’ll kill her, and then I’ll gather my whole clan from Inverness and when I return, I’ll kill you!”

Iona whimpered at the edge of his knife. She tried to ease her neck out of harm’s way, but he held her too close. The dragon did not respond to the threat. The last remaining heir of Brodgar took advantage of the silence to plead.

“Callum, don’t do this!” she begged softly. “Please, I’ll do anything! Please, just don’t kill me—“

“Silence, ye daft woman!” He returned his attention to her with a vengeance. The blade of the knife sliding across her throat caught against her skin, drawing a small bead of blood. “’Tis yer aine fault we’re in this mess, and hanged if I let ye go free for it!” He dropped her in a heap, and she clutched the hem of her skirt against the wound to staunch it.

“Well?” Callum challenged the dragon yet again. “Is he in there or not? By heaven, if you’ve done injury to my poor son—“

The dragon jerked its head back, causing Callum to flinch and stop in the midst of his words—but the action wasn’t intended for Callum. Instead, the Midnight Dragon reached into the crater behind it, and pulled out a small, dirty bundle. The dragon released the bundle with the same amount of gentleness as Callum used with Iona. She saw it land, saw the pale hand on the edge of it, and when she took that hand, the head tilted up: Callum’s son, alive and well—and positively scared sober.

“Courtland!” the burly man gasped, but he’d taken only one step when the dragon commanded, “Come no closer!”

The massive claw stamped down between Callum and the two younger folk.

“To shed innocent blood has dire consequences, be it human, or otherwise,” The Midnight Dragon said to Callum. “You have shown yourself to be a cruel, greedy man—so now here is the consequence of your foolish actions.”

Reaching out a single claw, the Midnight Dragon gently brushed the outstretched arms of both Iona and Courtland, leaving behind a raw, red mark that burned deep into their skin. The pair cried out, while Callum could only pace like an angry lion. Finally, the Dragon lifted its claw, and Callum immediately dropped to his son’s side, looking at the angry scar that now marred his skin.

“What did ye do to them?” Callum asked.

“I have Marked them both,” the Midnight Dragon stated. “To preserve their lives. Both of these children now possess immortality. The Ring of Brodgar is their salvation, and their protection. If I am killed by any hand save the one that bears the Ring of Brodgar, so too will these ones die. If the Ring is found and used improperly by anyone who is not descended from the last person to bear the Ring of Brodgar, then her immortality will end. If the Ring is again used improperly, your son will die.” The Midnight Dragon flourished his wings and leaned upright. “My time upon this island is at an end. Heed my warning, Callum McGowan. Your best chance to save your son from the Dragon’s Mark is to find the Ring yourself—there are ones who know what is to be done. I must travel to the future now, to the Land of Ice, where someone will use the Ring—and if it is someone of your lineage, all will be restored. If not, know that you have doomed two souls by your ignorance. Heed my warning!”

With a mighty flap of its wings, the Midnight Dragon vanished from the moors of Brodgar, and was never seen there again.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

This story was based on an event referenced in the course of The Suggestion Box, Volume 2: The Legend of The Ecrivaine. If you'd like to read the rest of the story, just follow the link!

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:
-Letter A ]       [-Letter H

Friday, July 28, 2017

Introducing: The Book Lovers' Blog Hop!

Cue the epic fanfare!

August is almost here, and I've had the excellent fortune to participate in a month-long blog hop, all about my favorite things in the whole wide world:

BOOKS!!

I, along with almost 20 other bloggers, will be sharing with you the joys and heartbreaks of reading, our best advice, our recommended sources for all your literary needs, our hopes and dreams--and, of course, our favorite books! Be on the lookout for the picture at the top of the post, because that's your cue to expect awesomeness!

Here's a list of participating bloggers, so you can bookmark the sites ahead of time. The way it works is that each of us are hosting a question (or two!), and each day, we'll be posting the question of the day, along with the answers provided by participating bloggers. So if you're not following me on Facebook already,  feel free to do that, as I'll be sharing each post that I answered--or you can just be sure to check the host blog on that day, to see what my answer was! (To help, as the month progresses, I'll be linking the answer posts on the questions in this post, so all you would have to do to find the post, if you haven't saved the blogs, is to simply click on the hyperlinks as they show up, and it will bring you right to the post in question)

Jo Lindsell-- www.JoLinsdell.com 
 
Skye Hegyes-- www.skyehegyes.com 
 
Katherine A. Pisana-- www.katherineapisana.com 
     August 3rd: "Where do you get your books?"  

Brandy Potter-- www.brandypotterbooks.com 
     August 28th: "When did you get into reading?"
Belinda Bekkers-- www.BelindaBekkers.com 
Casia Schreyer-- www.casiaschreyer.wordpress.com  
V. L. Jennings-- www.virginialorijennings.com  
C. J. Brightley-- http://www.cjbrightley.com  
Just B. Jordan-- www.JustBJordan.com  
     August 26th: "Name a book that made you cry."
 
Sade Rena-- www.saderena.com/blog 
     August 15th: "What's the best book series?" 
 
 
Tabitha Caplinger-- www.tabithacaplinger.com 
 
Laurie Lucking-- www.landsuncharted.com 
     August 31st: "Do you take part in readathons? If yes, which are your favorites?"
 
K. M Carroll-- kmcarrollblog.wordpress.com 
Karina Fabian-- www.fabianspace.com  
Jebraun Clifford-- www.jebraunclifford.com 

And I will be hosting on August 4th ("Best Read of 2017 So Far?") and 21st ("Which author would you most like to interview, and why?")! UPDATE: We had a blogger back out, so I've also covered the post for August 5th ("Who's Your Favorite Author?") Check it out! See you all on those dates!

Happy reading! And...

Catch you further Upstream!

 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Reader's Review: "Devotion" by Katika Schneider


Synopsis from Amazon:
Demons were nothing but legends...

Or so the young General Nessix Teradhel had always believed. Abandoned by her god and caught in a political trap with her late father's old comrade, Nessix had barely kept herself together even before these startling reports appeared.

But now Mathias Sagewind, the fabled White Paladin, has arrived on her quiet island nation of Elidae with confirmation of such terrors. Wielding the name of the Mother Goddess and divine strength not seen in years, he is Elidae's best chance at victory. In the wake of a holy war, Nessix must learn to trust Mathias as he attempts to guide her from a troubled past and protect her from a tragic future.

>>>>>>>

My Review:

This book taught me a valuable lesson in what happens when a very emotional person gets too invested in not just wonderful characters, but also a specific outcome for those characters. Now that I have calmed down a bit, I can recommend this book! 

I will be honest, it kind of crept up on me as I was reading. It was a slow, gentle acquaintance, mildly intriguing at first but gradually more and more irresistible until the last, where a certain outcome for certain characters so completely caught me unawares that I promptly lost all composure! (And I upset a few innocent people and I am very sorry! But really, that one part is maybe five percent of the book, so let's just focus on the other 95 percent, shall we?)

This book is just flat-out amazing. The care and creativity invested by the author just shines in the way different characters' beliefs affect their interactions, and even the direct interactions between the mortal and celestial planes—not a very frequent occurrence in typical fantasy literature, and rarely is it done so well. I absolutely love it when a book can pull off a completely fabricated religious system without coming across as intentionally mocking or over-emphasizing an existing religious system. Brandon Sanderson did it well through the Mistborn series, and Katika Schneider pulls it off here in DEVOTION. The relationship between Mathias and his goddess is contrasted with another character's devotion to the evil entity intent on defeating the goddess and enslaving mankind--er, "fleman"-kind, as the inhabitants here are even a race distinct from humans, though I'm guessing they look a lot like humans. (How's that for another cool thing?)

There are a lot of different kinds of relationships in this book, and they all work together to give a world refreshingly abundant with life, a story that does not conform to your typical "toughened warrior girl goes up against a demon army and receives divine intervention in the form of a scruffy warrior guy and sparks fly and they get together" trope... It's so much more! There's a heartfelt message at its core about what constitutes trust, about the nature of belief, and various examples of, as the title says, Devotion. I spent about a week and a half thoroughly wrapped up in this book, and I would encourage fantasy-lovers looking for something new and different and definitely exciting to do the same! (And hopefully that one scene won't throw you like it threw me!)

I would rate DEVOTION a solid ****4 STARS****, maybe even 4 and a half, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the writing itself; it is a book written with an engaging style and excellent prose! In fact, if you're the sort who watches Game of Thrones and isn't fazed by character death and scenes of extreme peril, and you're looking for a new kind of fantasy literature to sweep you away—you will very likely be fascinated and entertained by the exceptional world of DEVOTION and the other Tales of the Fallen!

Further Reading: (Epic Fantasy/Warrior Women/Divine Wars/Engaging Plot)

The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie
Spirit Knights--Lee French
       -Girls Can't Be Knights
       -Backyard Dragons
The Portal Prophecies--C. A. King
     -A Keeper's Destiny
     -A Halloween's Curse  
The Cadeau Series--Connie Olvera
       -Who Can You Trust?  
Alexi Sokolsky: Hound of Eden--James Osiris Baldwin
        -Burn Artist
        -Blood Hound   
The LouisiAngel Series--C. L. Coffey
        -Angel in Training

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter H


The List:
-Herman Haggerty, Harriet, Hailey
-Human Resources, Hawaii, Honolulu
-Half-past, Holiday
-Hologram, hero, hand, hookah
 
The Result:
 
"To Honor a Hangman"

At precisely half-past eight in the morning, Herman Haggerty strolled into his new office. The coy young receptionist grinned and nodded to him as she prepared incoming files for the day and sent them to his tablet.
Herman snapped his fingers, and the holographic screen appeared in his vision. It had been nearly a week since his promotion, but so many people still sent him congratulatory messages. Herman scrolled through them with a roll of his eyes, basking in the mingled envy and awe expressed by these employees.
He had earned this spot. Because of his ruthless initiative, Peres Corporation would break ground on the island of Hawaii to set up a fully-automated distribution center right smack in the middle of that most-coveted vacation destination for those with credit to blow. Because of his cleverness, they would do it without the additional "worker welfare" tax typically levied on stores with a minimum staff of ten people. Herman had figured out how to automate the whole store so that just nine programmers could keep things running smoothly. Without the added tax, and the development of android clerks to man the store, Herman Haggerty had just secured a round-the-clock revenue source, just on the brink of the holiday season. Everyone was happy for him.

He made his way down the hall as one by one each manager came to the door and greeted him. Just outside his office, the personal secretary he'd chosen from the Executive Escort pool smiled and stepped forward to accept his jacket.
"It's good to see you, sir," she chirped.
At her cue, the line of managers began applauding. Herman executed a perfect turn and raised his hand to smile and wave his acceptance.
In the flurry of adulation, one man stood out. Herman's eyes scoped him out instantly, the old man at the back standing with his hands folded. 
The moment ended, and Herman refocused on his supportive fans. He gave them another wave, turned, and entered his office.

"Harriet?" He called over his shoulder as the secretary entered behind him.
"Yes, sir?"
"I liked that entrance. Notify all staff that we'll do it again tomorrow."
"Right away, sir."

Herman was a benevolent man. Maybe the old guy didn't understand who he was. Maybe he felt a little awkward about applauding. Well, he'd know for sure by the end of the day!

The next morning when Herman walked in, every employee stood waiting for him. A rousing bout of "Huzzah" echoed and repeated the whole way down the hall. Herman shook hands with the managers like a celebrity on the red carpet. He turned around to give them a wave again—

And there was the same man! Still standing stoically next to the door, still staring at him with the same mild expression. 
"Harriet," Herman hissed as the managers dispersed, "who is that man?" He pointed down the hall.
"What man, sir?" She asked softly, glancing toward the managers.
Herman gripped her arm and pulled her close. "That man!"
"I can check files with Human Resources for you."
"Do that!" Herman plopped at his desk and tried to focus on his goals for the day.

He had just gotten off the phone with the foreman in Honolulu when Harriet requested entry. Herman allowed it, and she stated, "Sir, I've found the man."
"Great! Send me the file," Herman replied, waving her off.
It arrived on the hologram, and Herman eagerly scanned the file.

"Hmm, Nick Carson, eh?" He glared at the photo in the top corner. "I'll teach you to scorn me..." he checked the Employment History section. He winced at the headache crawling into his temples. "Integra? Well, that explains it." Peres had overtaken that company more than fifty years ago, yet there remained a few holdouts who clung to backwards ideals and strange philosophies of professionalism. Most of them were pretty harmless, but that wasn't what bothered Herman. Nick Carson needed to be taught a lesson, and it needed to be soon. 

But how was he going to justify going after just one man?

The issue hounded him all afternoon. It followed him into the lounge that evening where he met his wife, Hailey, for dinner. He should have been enamored with her. After all, she wore a new outfit in the style that showed off every inch of her exquisite, curvy body. She had spent all day at the spa getting her face and hair done in the latest style. Rhinestones gave her eyes an extra glimmer, and a dash of glitter graced her neck. He knew it would be the flavored kind. She liked to taste good, just for him.
She took a long drag on the hookah they shared and blinked slowly at him. 
"What's on your mind?" She whispered warmly.
Herman took the pipe and inhaled, willing the vapor all the way into his sinuses. "Trouble at work," he muttered.
"Trouble?" Hailey echoed, leaning closer. "Didn't you just get promoted to Assistant Director?"
"It's been a couple weeks, but yeah."
"I heard about the memo you sent out, that everybody needed to stand and cheer when you arrived in the morning."
"Yeah, and most of them do." He thought of Carson and his gut twisted again. 
"Most?"
"There's just this one guy who never budges an inch."
"Then have him demoted."
"It gets better: he's one of the Integra holdouts." Herman paused to fill his eyes with the twisting, sparkling dancer on the stage behind him. She, at least, did what she was told. He wondered mildly if Harriet had been trained to do any of those moves. He leaned over to sniff deeply at Hailey's shoulder.
She tilted her head to expose her neck to his lips. "I see," she said. "So you don't want to look bad when you complain about this one guy."
"Right," huffed Herman between kisses. "I mean, Integra probably doesn't exist anymore, but those idiots are famous for how good everybody thinks they are. I need to teach him who's boss, but I need some kind of cover to help me keep my reputation."
"Well," Hailey mused as Herman enjoyed the flavor of her neck glitter, "What if you were to come up with a way to implicate all the Integra holdouts still actively employed? He wouldn't have anywhere else to go, where he could be untouchable."
Herman paused his kissing. "But what could I use, though?" He muttered. 
Hailey leaned back, and her facial jewels winked at him. "Your authority is much higher than it was when you were just the CEO, isn't it?"
Herman nodded. "That's why it just frustrates me that a guy like him won't give me the respect I deserve! After all, President Parisian chose me to be his personal protege! How much higher do I need to be to warrant any kind of honor from those people?"
She still smiled. "Do you still have those secret files from back in the day? The ones you assigned to Integra employees under the table?"
Herman squinted at his wife. "Yes; what do you expect me to do with those?"
She laughed. "Oh honey, don't get so nervous! I'm just saying, what if you were to alter those files, removing your involvement—"
The implication of her plan began to take shape in his mind. "If I removed myself from the equation, and filled in the name of an Integra import instead—"
"The blame rests squarely on their shoulders," Hailey finished, giving him a small peck on the cheek.
"Ohhhh," Herman gushed, "President Xavier would not be happy to see those files with all those names."
Hailey nodded, "And with all of Integra taking heat, nobody's going to notice a doddering old programmer. You could do to him whatever you wanted, and everyone will think he deserved it. You'll be even more of a hero."

Herman wagged his head as he kissed Hailey's full, soft lips again. "You're hot when you play dirty, you know that?" He whispered.

Nick Carson was going to hang, and Herman Haggerty would gladly do it with his own hands, if he had to.
>>>>>>>
 
This excerpt is based on the projected plot for "Focal Point", a future novel in the ReBible series, based on the book of Esther. As a contextual reference, for those who know the story: "Nick Carson" is based on Mordecai--his real name is Mike Decker, and he remained in the corporate city owned by Peres Corporation (aka the Persian Empire) and took on a cover identity, along with his daughter Vanessa, who takes the cover name of "Tricia Carson" when she is forced to participate in a televised contest to become the personal assistant (much like Harriet in this scene) to President Xavier (King Xerxes). Herman is, of course, Haman, who has it out for the "former Integra employees" (the nation of Israel being represented in this story line as a small business called Integra Communications). Follow the hyperlinked text for previous excerpts--some of which may not end up in the novel at all, since only recently I've been inspired with new ideas to add to contribute to the setting. Enjoy!
 
 
Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Reader's Review: "Barrow Fiend" by Amy Hopkins


Synopsis from Amazon:

When Emma is approached by DCI Greyson to assist with a case, her first instinct is to say no. Still shaken by the attack on her life six months earlier, and balancing her friendships with a budding relationship, she'd prefer to stay clear of the danger.
However, circumstances force her hand and she throws herself into the investigation. She soon realises that her target isn't a mysterious creature, but a dangerous man without the slightest care for human life...
Can Emma survive the biggest risk she's ever faced, or will she have to sacrifice too much?

>>>>>>

My Review:

You know that feeling when you finish a book and it has taken you through such a roller coaster that when you finally get to the end you feel all hyper like you want to solve all the world's problems and you're just going to forego all semblance of punctuation in the process?

Yep, this is basically me just now.

I read the first book in the series about a year ago, and absolutely adored it—now reading the next one is like revisiting old friends, seeing how much everyone has grown since the last harrowing experience, and vehemently rooting for them in the face of this new peril!

I loved every moment of this book. Emma is more accepted into the Talent community—albeit grudgingly, and it doesn't mean that she has grown in confidence in her abilities. Doesn't help that most of the Talented people in her life view her as either a political tool or a pretentious weakling. But when a string of vandalism uncovers a dangerous smuggling ring that threatens to expose the Other world to our own—Emma has no choice but to dive in and help prevent the impending disaster, even if it might kill her in the process.

The expansion in the world-building that happened in this novel was absolutely amazing and just stellar in every way! I loved the lessons learned and the way the characters unfold even more this time around. Harrod and his stuffy ways getting overruled or told off for his insensitivity, Martin preferring to withdraw from pressure and yet having to step up and defend those in danger, even the way Emma grows to depend on Gibble and Barg as more than just "non-human assistance", but as friends. No spoilers, but she does get taken pretty low, and the way various characters rally around her touched me deeply. The camaraderie in this story is absolutely delightful. This is just the sort of wholesome storytelling that remains treasured for generations, with none of the "grey morality" or "questionably intimate scenes" that very often accompanies urban fantasy adventures dealing with magic and makes it hard to share with a younger generation.

Amy Hopkins blows me away with BARROW FIEND, and I would rate it *****5 STARS***** all the way, and add without hesitation an Upstream Writer Certified WHOLEHEARTEDLY RECOMMENDED endorsement. A delightful adventure from start to finish, and characters worth raving about!
 
Further Reading: (Urban Fantasy/Excellent Series/Great Characters/Good Pacing)
 
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie  
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed
        -I Still Have A Soul
        -I'm Still Alive 
 The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair
        -Street Fair
        -A Fair Fight 
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart
       -Wolf's Path
       -Tiger's Shadow
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd  
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Serial Saturday: "Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter G


The List:
-Gondu
-Great Moon Rising
-Gorge, gulch, graveyard
-Gate, Giant Squid, General, gills, gossamer, gauntlets, garnets, garland

The Result:

"Gondu's Gamble"
 
The sunbeams cast rippled patterns over the seabed, broken by dark shadows darting to and fro. The kingdom of Undersea was awash with activity: the King's Army would be setting forth on a mission to conquer the monsters that had been plaguing the merfolk.

"General Gondu!" A messenger swam through the long, narrow maze of passages that served as the army garrison. "Has anyone seen the General?"

A bulky guard eyed the lithe swimmer only just over half his own size. "The General is in his quarters," he drew the name out slowly, his gills flapping in barely-concealed irritation. The soldier drew two thick bone-knives from their sheaths on his back to check their blades. "He's kind of hard to miss, if you know what I'm saying."

The scrawny young messenger popped his throat gills in terror, but scurried on his way.
"General Gondu!"
"Get outta the way!"
The messenger had to dart and twist to avoid being pushed back by an entire unit swimming toward the exit behind him. Twisting and curling his tail fluke out from among the savage blades, the messenger sighed with relief as he hovered in the empty tunnel.
Wait—empty?

"General Gondu, sir?" The messenger inched forward.
"... No, no; that's not it. Why, I'd be delighted, your majesty. For me? Ah, that's quite lovely!"

The messenger followed the droning, aimless voice till he came to the opening in the coral wall, draped across with a curtain of sea grass.
"And now," the voice continued, "shall we discuss that betrothal you mentioned? Your daughter is quite—"
"General Gondu?"
"WHAT?"

The messenger darted back against the far wall as the tall, grey-skinned merman lunged toward him. Bulging green eyes glared from amid a tangle of red hair as Gondu sneered at the messenger.
"How dare you sneak up on me like that?" He thundered. "Do you want to be taken for a spy? Don't you know that I could have you exiled? My mother's a gossamer, she could rot the scales right off your—"
"General Gondu, sir!"
"Do not interrupt me! I am a General in the King's Army and I will not be disrespected by meaningless little—"
"The King is ready to depart, sir!"
The messenger delivered his notice and made for the nearest exit.

Gondu ruffled his neck-gills in disgust. "Guppy," he snarled, withdrawing into his room.
He emerged a few moments later, wearing a pair of golden gauntlets set with glittering garnets, his hair interwoven with a green seaweed garland. He paused to observe his reflection in a shiny slab of obsidian, flexing his long limbs and straightening his tail.
A chorus of voices outside the garrison distracted him from his musings. Gondu slipped out an opening and joined the school of soldiers swimming overhead.
The merman beside him snorted. "Took you long enough!"
"Shut your gob," Gondu jabbed him in the side, sending the merman into the current of several other soldiers.
The merman just ahead, a long, swift soldier with white hair chopped short, turned back to glance over Gondu's accessories.
"You're ridiculous, Gondu, you know that?"
"Hey!" Gondu stiffened but did not slack his pace. "Remember, Gryff, you're a captain and I'm a General. You should show me more respect!"

Gryff shrugged. "You really think a couple of trinkets and seaweed in your hair is going to protect you from these monsters?"
Gondu rolled his eyes and held up his hands. "They're not just trinkets, Gryff. Remember the event that just happened?"
"The Giant Squid attack?"
"No, you gutless grouper! The Great Moon Rising!"
"So? Rumor has it that this is he last one we will be celebrating in a long while."
Gondu frowned. "Who says that? Never mind, that's beside the point. My point is—you know how my mother is a gossamer, right?"
Gryff gave a careless pop of his gills. "So?"
"So I got these from her." Gondu held up his hands to admire the gauntlets.
"Your mother gave you useless pieces of treasure that offer you no protection and make you look like a cucumber."
"They are ENCHANTED!" Gondu practically screamed.

Far ahead, the commander swimming next to King Davor turned back to survey the army. "DISORDER IN THE RANKS!" He boomed, his fiery orange tail of hair whipping out from under a helm of scallop shells. His yellow eyes traveled down the long, snaking school till he saw the mass of green and flash of gold.
Gondu caught the furious stare of the commander and stared right back.
Gryff twisted forward. "Great, now you got us in trouble," he muttered.
Gondu folded his arms. "I'm a general. He can't make trouble for me."

The army swam onward until they reached a long, wide crevasse lined with quartz crystals and hard coral branches: the Glittering Gorge, the very edge of Undersea's boundary.

"Gather!" Boomed the commander, and all the mermen pulled in close to hear him. Gondu jostled and floated higher till he was near the top. He hated having someone else's tail in his face, as much as he didn't mind obstructing the view of those behind and below him.

"Generals!" Commander Dyllum instructed, "Our scouts have sighted the predators frequenting a few areas along our borders. Each of you will be posted to those areas, with the task of corralling the creatures and directing them toward the King's division, which will be posted at the geyser under the rise at the down-current edge of Undersea. General Tynnan, you will lead the squadron toward the Great White Shark’s hunting grounds, in the ship graveyard,” He waved his spear, and the General split off with his men.

“General Urgyn,” Dyllum indicated another merman, “Your group will track the Giant Squid currently feeding on the schools in the Tunnel Caves.”
Gondu watched with envy as a second portion of the mermen departed. He had always envisioned himself as the hero who would vanquish either the fearsome shark or the terrifying squid. The fact that those two predators had been assigned to other units meant that he was left with—

“General Gondu!” Again, Dyllum’s eyes bored right through Gondu’s face. “Post your guards here at the Gorge, to await the Giant Oarfish. When it comes, you are to direct it there,” he gestured with his spear up the rise behind them, “toward the geyser.”
Gondu felt his gills tense; he wanted so badly to protest the unfairness of his position. After all, shouldn’t the merman with enchantment to protect him be the one to lead the largest group against the fiercest predator, rather than waiting for some eel’s cousin to come wedge itself among the crystals and coral? But just before the words came out of his mouth, Gondu saw King Davor pass by, leading his men up the very rise. He would show the king just how respectful and dutiful he could be!
“Yes, sir!” Gondu barked, gratified when he saw the king pause, his dark hair swirling in the current.
Dyllum only joined the pod and traveled to the rise without a backward glance.

Gondu turned and stared at the mermen aimlessly hovering behind him.
“You heard the commander!” he barked. “I want all you worthless bottom-feeders to take up positions along this gorge! The Oarfish is coming! Move your tails!”

The shadows deepened as the sun moved along its course. Still, the oarfish did not make an appearance. Gondu watched with growing fury as plenty of other fish coasted by his post—but not the great, impressive predator he wanted. He drifted off in the direction of the Tunnel Caves. How he longed to be there! He could almost hear the shouts of those soldiers as they gave the Giant Squid chase through the arches—
“Hey!” Gondu flinched as a merman called out to him. “Where are you going?”

Gondu turned and gave the insolent perch his most ferocious stare. Bringing himself up straight to his full height, he growled, “Never you mind! Attend to your duties!”

A moving shadow distracted him from his anger. The Squid! He could see flashes of its tentacles as the mermen herded it up toward the rise. Every soldier felt the explosion of the geyser and heard the lusty cheers as the Giant Squid met its hot, sulphuric end. Gondu even heard some of his own men calling out to their barrack-mates—or so he thought.

“Fish ho! I see it! General Gondu, I see it!”

Gondu whirled around just in time to see a dark streak slice through the water. His gills began fluttering faster than they ever had before.
“Oh! Um, okay,” he stammered, thinking hard about how they were ever going to get that creature contained in the gorge; it was headed the wrong way! How was he ever going to gain the recognition he sought?

“Change of plans!” he announced to his squadron. “Follow the oarfish toward the Tunnel Caves!”
“Follow it?” queried one of the soldiers. “But Commander Dyllum instructed us to—“
“I know what are instructions were!” Gondu snapped. “I say we’re changing the plan. We’ll corner the oarfish in…” he swam out a ways, seeking a location just ahead of where the oarfish aimed, “That gulch!” he pointed to a shadowy gap. “We’ll get him in that gulch and finish him off ourselves!”
“But what about—“
“DO NOT QUESTION ME!” Gondu raised both fists, letting the dying sunlight glint off the gold gauntlets. “I AM YOUR GENERAL AND YOU DO AS I SAY!”
He turned and swam toward the gulch.

The closer he got, the more he began to recognize that it perhaps wasn’t the most strategic location, as far as being able to control the charging oarfish—but at the same time, the troop on the rise would have an excellent vantage point to see what should promise to be a stupendous battle—even if it was just an oarfish.

“INCOMING!” a solder at the back screamed, and Gondu whirled around just in time to see the oarfish charging directly for him! Easily twice as long as Gondu himself, the predator’s eyes seemed to follow the glint of the golden gauntlets, and Gondu rushed away with an unbecoming shriek. Too late he noticed the length of garland stretching beyond his hair, right into the oarfish’s path.

Every tendon in his body seemed to snap as the oarfish took the garland in its mouth and twisted in the opposite direction of Gondu’s flight. The soldiers in his command all swam like scared angelfish, well out of reach of the oarfish’s sinuous tail.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Gondu screamed, as the oarfish dragged him like a length of rope from a shipwreck. “SOMEBODY STOP THIS MONSTER!”

Finally, a few of the spear-bearers drew close enough to distract the oarfish, who released its grip on Gondu’s garland—but the garland itself remained tangled in its jagged teeth. Gondu wrenched himself away, and one of the spears scored a hit, drawing a red cloud of blood from the fish’s side, but the oarfish lashed out immediately, chomping at the merman’s tail fluke.
Gondu fought to put as much distance between himself and the oarfish as possible. He was just supposed to direct his portion of the troops, wasn’t he? He didn’t necessarily need to be part of the fighting.
“Dear mother, protect me now,” he whispered to the gauntlets.
“LOOK OUT!” a merman screamed, and Gondu found himself once again the target of a very angry oarfish.
Gondu held up his gauntlets. “NOOO!” he wailed.
The snout of the oarfish caught him square in the chest and sent him reeling and tumbling backward as the fish merely glided right over him. When Gondu finally regained his balance, the gauntlets were gone. He had no more protection—and no weapon.

“SHARK!” one of his men screamed, and Gondu saw the clear trail of blood left by the oarfish—and the Great White Shark, just in the act of coming up the rise, surrounded by General Tynnan and his soldiers… coasted right across the dark current.
The General had to bark out quick orders as the shark immediately descended into a blood frenzy. Now every available mer-soldier fought to take the Great White Shark down, while it swam after the wounded Giant Oarfish. Gondu, meanwhile, cowered in a cave; there wasn’t much else he could think of to do. He trembled in the shadows like a little guppy, while King Davor himself came off the rise to finish off the shark, once it had slain the oarfish that should have been Gondu’s responsibility.

Gondu watched the whole scene and drifted his own path back to the garrison of Undersea. He knew what his fate would be.

~o0o~

“General Gondu,” King Davor announced in the royal court on the following day, “in light of your disobedience, your disregard of direct orders, your foolishness that placed so many valiant soldiers in needless peril, and your willful disregard of your post—you are hereby dismissed from my army!”

“NOOOO!!” a creaking voice wailed from just in front of the coral walls. An ancient merwoman—more of a withered sea-hag than merely an elder—glided forward, her pale-grey hands reaching like the feeders of a sponge. “Your Majesty, I beg you! Forgive my son, he is but a boy!”
Gondu cringed at his mother’s simpering response. If Davor wasn’t going to pay him any attention, why did he need to keep working so hard and getting into dangerous situations, anyway?
His mother continued, “Please, take my son back—his military stipend is the only thing sustaining me in my old age!”
King Davor folded his arms, and the Royal Medallion glinted on his chest. “I have passed judgment,” he said firmly. “Present yourself to the Council if you seek assistance, but your son will no longer have a place in my army. He is a coward and a buffoon—“

You take that back!” The hag rasped, shaking a gnarled finger at the king. “Do you not know how dangerous it is to gainsay a gossamer as powerful as I am? I know you think you’re so special because your little daughter got the last fairy’s Gift—well, faugh I say to that! I have a Gift, myself! And with that Gift I curse your daughter! May her Gift bring you nothing but grief! May your Grace tumble into an early grave! May you never know a moment’s goodwill—“
“REMOVE THIS WITCH AND HER UNGRATEFUL SPAWN FROM MY COURT IMMEDIATELY!” King Davor thundered, and a host of guards dragged the keening gossamer out of sight, with Gondu following limply behind.

Davor relaxed and glanced to the throne next to him. His wife, Queen Yssandra, stretched out a hand toward him, and he took it. In the other arm, she cradled their infant daughter, a tiny thing who was all black tail and purple hair.
“Do not worry, my love,” Davor murmured to Yssandra. “I vow that I will let nothing ever happen to you or to our child. Dayina will never be allowed in the kingdom again. All will be well.”

~o0o~

Did you enjoy this story? "Gondu's Gamble" is a tie-in tale to my fantasy novella, "Princess of Undersea", available on Amazon!

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reader's Review: "I'm Still Alive" by Kelly Blanchard


Synopsis from Amazon:

Sorcerer Prince Lorrek returns home to find chaos. It is feared Princess Mordora has released an ancient, embittered magic user from his prison. He must be stopped before he regains his strength and reduces all mankind to dust. At the same time, visitors from another world have come. They claim the World Orbs and handblades of Cuskelom are theirs, and they want them back, or there will be war. Lorrek must resolve both issues without ushering in another age of war and conflict.

>>>>>>>>>

My Review: 

Three books in, and this series CONTINUES to astonish me! After the intense emotional roller coaster of the last one... I suppose I should have been expecting more... but I was not prepared for how much more Blanchard was ready to deliver! 
If you've made it this far in the series, get ready to see more of the different kingdoms, learn more of the ancient legacy, and discover a slew of new, deadlier conflicts to face! More of everything: more giggles at Vixen's sassy quips, more gut-wrenching at the effortless power of a mysterious new villain, more sympathy as Lorrek expends more and more of himself to try and keep all his friends (and family... to say nothing of the whole freaking world!) from falling apart at the seams, more heart-stopping clashes between enemies, more lush, thrilling scenery as the characters actually travel to locations that before had only been mentioned in reference, more jaw-dropping reveals as characters you thought you knew turn out to have VERY intriguing secrets! 

I love it. The development felt very well-thought (well, except for one thing... I still can't figure out why [SPOILER] had to happen, though the narrative explains it well enough, but MY WORD!!!) and totally irresistible, and the expansions weren't just "adding for addition's sake", but each new concept served a very real purpose in the plot and character arcs. I loved the number of times the title came into play, (not going to delineate, because SPOILERS, but yeah!) creating a consistent theme throughout the book.
I am continuously fascinated by the new developments and the world-building exercised in this series, and I positively cannot wait for the next book!

Without a hesitation or a doubt, I give this a full *****5 STAR***** rating, and add to it an Upstream Writer Certified ABSOLUTELY RECOMMENDED endorsement. If you're looking for an excellent mashup of science fiction and fantasy, of magic used in tandem with technology in a plausible manner, of characters that leap off the page in real color and inspire real emotions, and expertly-drawn, action-packed scenes that will take your breath away--you do not want to miss a single word of the Chronicles of Lorrek!

Further Reading: (Fantasy/Sci-fi/Great Characters/Fantastic World-building/Great Storytelling)

The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed
        -I Still Have A Soul
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie  
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart
       -Wolf's Path  
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
    
-Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd 
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways 
Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
     -Dream Stalker 
The Cadeau Series--Connie Olvera
   
   -Who Can You Trust?
The Untamed Series--Madeline Dyer
       -Untamed  
The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair
        -Street Fair
        -A Fair Fight
 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Serial Saturday: "Suggestion Box, Vol. 4--A to Z Challenge" Letter F


The List:
-Fernando, Fiona, Freddy, Felix
-Farthen Festival, Fortnight
-Fetherwynde
-fight, fire, flame, fear, family, florins, fate

The Result:

"The Flames of Farthen's Eve"
 
The folks at Farley's always said he had a gift. That's what they would call it.
"You're so talented, Fern!" They would gush. "The fire is like clay in your hands, you can make it do anything!"
A bitter smirk curled his lips as he sent a few stray flames skittering toward an unassuming corner, where they would fester until he gave the word. He would make the fire do things tonight, things these people had never seen before, things they wouldn't be prepared to stop.

The market square ahead of him hummed and clattered with activity. Most merchants had their booths already secured, prepared for the Farthen Festival beginning tomorrow. Normally, the celebration lasted a whole fortnight. Fern smiled to himself. With any luck, these folks wouldn't even see it begin.

As he made his way through the alleys, he reflected on how this town remained the most familiar to him, out of all the cities he'd performed in. Yet this town, out of all other towns, held that special magic that returned him to a small boy of eight years old, running down the narrow, twisting streets, down alleys barely wide enough for him.
He didn't have a prayer of fitting in them now, but the fire could. He let the small, glowing bundles roll like living embers into the spaces.

The quick slap of feet caused him to turn, a splay of flames in his palm.
The big round eyes in the tiny face before him held the glint of reflected fire.
"Pretty flowers!" The tiny person gushed, her mouth gaping in awe.
Fern clenched his fist, squelching the gleam and the fire.
The little girl wilted without the light, and she scurried away back to the square without another sound.
Fern stood rooted to the spot. It wasn't the first time a big-eyed little tyke had been drawn to the flame like a moth to a candle. Most children huddled behind their terrified, resentful parents, trying to withdraw themselves as far away from the flame as they could.

Not Fiona. Nothing he could do ever fazed Fiona.
Fern hesitated the merest fraction of a moment, tiny wisps of flame in hand. He knew exactly what she would say, what she would do, if she were there. He could just picture her, standing in the street just behind him. Watching.

He would turn, and meet her gaze.
"What are you doing, Nando?"

Only she understood his name. Everyone else could only manage as far as "Fern", and besides, Freddy Farley told him that nobody used names like "Fernando" anymore.
Except Fiona.

The flame puckered and hissed, the heat of it nipping at the quick of his nail. Fernando dropped it and sent it on his way.
Fiona wouldn't stop him. She probably believed the news he was dead. He remembered spreading that rumor himself, just to keep her from searching.

Almost the same way she fought to keep him from searching.

She would try to outsmart him at every turn. Her persistence made him regret ever confiding in her.
"Please, Nando!" She would beg from the mouth of his tent, the minute he opened his eyes. "I want to help you find your family!"
"No, Fiona!" He would growl. "Your place is here with Farley and the others."
She would fold her arms and stamp her foot. "You know good and well that they're just as much my family as yours!" She would chide him. "Maybe our families were friends."
"No!" Fernando would push past her to go warm up for the day's fire-juggling. "You're not going with me! I have to find my father alone."

Find him? More like face him. Fernando smiled a little bit more as he sent his little "sentries" into a blind corner. He'd had so many questions when someone finally told him that the misplaced memories in his head truly belonged to his life as the son of Felix Fidelius, the chief of Fetherwynde. A chance meeting with his old nurse, Fannie, brought his past to light, and she painted such a forlorn picture of the whole family that Fernando had all but jumped at the chance to break away from Farley's troupe. According to Fannie, the friendly, jovial Freddy had all but stolen Fernando off the street the last time they performed in Fetherwynde, so the next time they neared the town, Fernando vowed to return to his family and never to leave them again. Fifteen years he had remained with the troupe, watching, tracking, imagining the look on both his parents' faces (for surely they both still lived!) when their lost and long-forgotten son came running up, a fully-grown man. Then one night, he seized his chance.

He had almost finished. In a few minutes, he could begin.

The road to Fetherwynde wasn't altogether long or treacherous. He arrived in due course, and found the house of the Chief Magistrate. Striding inside, he made straight for the only room in the house from which he heard voices, and presented himself to his father with the words, “I’ve come home!”

The smile on his face disappeared as the memory soured in his head. His father had stared at him, actually gaped, more fear on his face than elation. The young man at Felix’s right hand had actually deigned to sneer at him, “Who the blazes do you think you are?”
Fernando had been forthwith removed from the house, and by skulking around and listening close, the chilling truth had unfolded: he hadn’t been lost that day. Felix had sold him to Freddy Farley for the grand sum of fifty thousand florins, because even then, Fernando had begun displaying the hallmarks of a born firemage, and the pompous magistrate was afraid of the stigma such an unnatural occurrence would bring to the Fidelius name. Fernando had disappeared from the streets of Fetherwynde for the second time—but it wasn’t an accident, and he wasn’t really gone. Five days later, here he stood, on the edge of the city, eyes focused intently on the spires of the Fidelius family home.

“Fumetas,” Fernado whispered.

A flame jumped up on the western side of the palace, followed by another close by. The furious firemage watched in delight as the “flowers” he had planted sprung into full bloom. Alarms rang, crowds began shouting as they ran about his feet like so many frenzied ants. Fernando laughed inside as he fairly floated among the shadows. Happy Farthen’s Eve to you all, he thought.

“Nando.”

The reproachful voice stopped him as easily as a wall. The ground beneath his feet became soft, and Fernando doubled back, turning to face the speaker.

“No…” he grunted. “I told you not to follow me!”

Fiona stared at him. “I didn’t,” she answered, turning and twisting her hands. “They sent for me, because of what you have done.”
Fernando felt the ground behind him sink away, forcing him to step closer to her, and farther from freedom. He could see the Federals with their iron chains gathering behind Fiona, waiting for him to tumble feebly into their grasp.
“No!” He let both of his hands ignite, sending the men scurrying away in fear. Only Fiona stood firm. She splayed her fingers, and a fine dust like mist spread out from them, building between herself and the flames till an entire wall of sand smothered the flames. He glared at her, preparing to call up the hottest blaze yet.
Fiona’s chin trembled, and he could see the tears in her wise eyes. “Fernando,” she begged softly, “Please don’t do this! It isn’t you!”
“What isn’t me?” Fernando snapped back, spreading his hands beyond the boundaries of the sand and levitating globes of living flame above his palms. “This isn’t me? Of course it is! You know I’ve never been anything else!”
The soldier cowering behind a tree shouted something at Fiona. She sobbed in earnest now. “People are dying, Fernando! Tell me you are not so cruel, to leave so many innocent lives to such an unjust fate!”
Fernando threw back his head and laughed. “Unjust fate? You want to talk to me about unjust fate? Try being sold like a common steer because your own father couldn’t stand what you were! Try living your whole life thinking that you were one thing, finding out the truth, and then finding out that who you were is exactly the person nobody wanted! You think I don’t know anything about unjust fate?” The ground rumbled as Fidelius Tower collapsed in a well of fire. Who held the power now, Felix?

Fiona lifted her chin and advanced. The ground softened again under her influence, but Fernando baked the ground beneath him with fire to make it hard again.
“You will stop this!” she declared flatly.
“Never!” Fernando replied.
Fiona set her mouth in a grim line. “So be it,” she answered.

The fight between the firemage and the Earthmage didn’t last very long. Fernando immolated his whole body and spread flame over every inch of the area around them, but time and again, Fiona diffused it as easily as she had when Fernando would lose his temper at Freddy in their younger days. At the last, Fernando dared to release a flood of fire directly at Fiona herself. Instead of retreating or even merely staying put, Fiona ran—right into Fernando’s outstretched arms. Flinging her arms around him, she unleashed a torrent of sand around them, snuffing out the flame and tearing Fernando’s skin and clothes with thousands of tiny cuts. When the flame died, so did the whirlwind, and Fernando collapsed, bleeding heavily. The spark had all but gone completely out of him at the strength of Fiona’s attack.

She remained, as the hesitant Federals advanced with their shackles, ready to take the firemage into custody. Fiona cradled his head in her lap, weeping softly.
“I’m sorry, Nando,” she said. “For your childhood, for your father, for your family, for your city… I’m sorry… Forgive them… Forgive me…”

This story was inspired by this image; credit goes to JasonEngle
Also in the Series: