Categories
Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews

Death, Rites, Lore, & More: How do various fantasy books look at these things?

I’m not sure I’m readily equipped to handle such a big topic yet but I’ve been preoccupied with death and started thinking about how death, ghosts, remembrance, rites, customs and etc are portrayed in different fantasy books.

I’ve also been taking fan submissions for what to write about this week and a Twitter follower said something like “books and/or quotes that left you breathless.” This was a pretty easy thread to combine so here you go, friend!


I know there are a lot of really unique takes on death throughout the fantasy genre but I wanted to take a look at a few I’ve read recently (think the past few years, or, I remember them vividly enough to comment).

First off, in broad terms, a lot of military fantasy handles death in a light that tends to reflect our modern day thoughts.  Characters can die en masse during conflict, some go out as heroes, others die in accidents or simply senselessly, much as in real life.

I’ve got to mention one passage first that left me absolutely breathless when I read it – from Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson.  One could write three essays on death in Malazan but it’s an embodiment of what I wrote above, everything from hundreds of thousands dieing in one day to an isolated hero, to the last man standing.  Malazan spends a lot of time brooding on death and remembrance, with reincarnation and spirits and many, many related themed explored throughout.

Anyway, here is that passage:

The unnamed soldier is a gift. The named soldier–dead, melted wax–demands a response among the living…a response no-one can make. Names are no comfort, they’re a call to answer the unanswerable. Why did she die, not him? Why do the survivors remain anonymous–as if cursed–while the dead are revered? Why do we cling to what we lose while we ignore what we still hold?

Name none of the fallen, for they stood in our place, and stand there still in each moment of our lives. Let my death hold no glory, and let me die forgotten and unknown. Let it not be said that I was one among the dead to accuse the living.

and a quote from Toll the Hounds:

Survivors do not mourn together. They each mourn alone, even when in the same place. Grief is the most solitary of all feelings. Grief isolates, and every ritual, every gesture, every embrace, is a hopeless effort to break through that isolation.

To face death is to stand alone.

Whether or not you agree, I feel this in my bones.  I’ve thought about these passages more than anything else I’ve read in the last year, I’m sure of it.

So let’s look at how death is handled in some other popular (and not so popular) fantasy.

I know there’s a lot of understandable hatred towards Harry Potter right now but as a kid, it was the first book I read that took an honest look at death and put it in palatable terms for me as a young reader.  The series takes a frank look at how much is lost in war, the cost to community, family loss, orphans, and also gives the reader the idea that family never leaves us. When Harry saw his family in the Mirror of Erised, it planted that seed for honor and remembrance and the ones that never leave us, a scene rehashed at the end of the series.  It also runs the themes of heroes, accidents, senseless  curse rebounds, and that no one is immune to death. My favorite was the story of The Deathly Hallows, embracing the eventuality of meeting death on equal terms.  I also love the idea of Thestrals, the skeletal pegasus that is invisible until someone has viewed death – terrifying but actually very friendly and useful once a respectful relationship has formed.  I could write pages on Thestrals alone.

Another favorite series of mine that I talk about frequently, Green Rider, has choked me up more than once in it’s remembrances of the fallen.  I have never read a book with such a subculture built around death and preservation.  The catacombs are the scene for some of the most moving parts of the entire series and shows that heroes and history can be cherished and revered.  The main character has an affinity for communicating with ghosts (which will break your heart some times) but she also experiences such things as a type of berserker ride fuelled by ghosts, the shenanigans of ghosts wreaking havoc in the archives, and more.  One of my favorite scenes is a remembrance ceremony where they all say the name of a deceased rider. That all said, it’s another fantasy series that kills characters in conflict, lets some go out at heroes, some die cruelly at the hands of enemies, and some are just. So. Senseless.  Which is another reason why I shamelessly label Green Rider as military fantasy.

Moving on to a book which holds a rather alien view of death that stopped me cold when I first read it- Slaughterhouse 5.  Just think about death for a moment and try to expand to a nonlinear frame of reference, then read this passage:

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them….

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments.

Kurt Vonnegut

A bit mind-blowing, isn’t it?

There are lots of YA fantasy books that focus on death too, like Scythe, where Neil Shusterman looks at death from a pinpoint of random necessity.  It’s not fair, and no one is immune, but a universally accepted construct of the reapers.  Some other recent ones include The Keeper of Night, about Japanese reapers, and Give the Dark My Love, about necromancy and the toll of plague and death on one’s sanity.  Love and souls.

I’d be amiss if I talked about YA/MG books and didn’t mention The Graveyard Book. I love this book because it gives kids the wonderful message to not fear death, to embrace being alive, and to kind of introduce the solitude and isolation that comes with grief.  If the Macabray existed, would you dance with the dead even if you had no memory of the fact?

You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change

This is starting to get long, so I want to end with another of my favorite authors and how he tends to handle death in his books – from a Christian perspective. Jeff Wheeler writes a lot of fantasy with Christian undertones, so you get everything from the funeral rites of Kingfountain to The Deep Fathoms, where the living can visit the dead once a year should the proper channel be opened.  In one series he offers us a land of the dead symbolized by a wall, in another it’s spirits exiting through a portal in the abbey.  I always find his deaths to be terrible but necessary, back to the theme of heroes and wars and accidents.

Very briefly, some indie books with interesting takes – The Last Blade Priest where deaths are sacrificed to these vulture type deities for sustenance and a whole religion (and conflict) is built around the practice.

A Touch of Light by Thiago Abdalla – I don’t honestly remember this one too well already but there was a new and interesting theme regarding not mentioning the dead at all.   It was really convenient for the characters who seemed to be chased by memories of the dead, frequently.


Wrapping this up, I have always been fascinated with how different books handle death.  I’m not even speaking of books where death is a character like, oh I don’t know, Terry Pratchett, but as a theme or subtext or just a book with interesting ideas. 

Do you have a book that deals with these topics that you enjoy or that made you think? Even a quote? Let me know in the comments!

Categories
Fantasy

Travels in the Dark by Jordan Loyal Short (Book Review)

Happy weekend everyone, hopefully you’ve all got some good reading time planned!

It’s hard to talk about book three in a series without giving anything away, so I just want to make a few general comments about the conclusion of The Dreadbound Ode trilogy.

The Skald’s Black Verse was decent, I loved The Weeping Sigil, and found Travels in the Dark to be the weakest of the three but still a great read and satisfying conclusion.


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Travels in the Dark
  • Series: The Dreadbound Ode #3
  • Author: Jordan Loyal Short
  • Publisher & Release: Self Published, March 2022
  • Length: 342 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ yes for dark fantasy fans!

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Lyssa is going to the Dead Place and everyone she killed will be waiting.

As the Hidden One’s twisted plan to resurrect the Deep Gods unfolds, the only way to stop him is a secret buried in the land of death.

But Lyssa has not given up. If the Deep Gods can return, so can she.

Can Lyssa find a way back? Can she delve into hell’s darkest corners and emerge with the lore to stop the Deep Gods’ rise? Or will she become a lost soul, like so many of those she loved in life?

Ancient horrors will wake. Skalds will sing. And a blind seer will see the shadows gather.

Lyssa Pedersten has tasted poison, and hell had best beware.


Whew… Overall this series was very, very good.  It’s rare for me to sit down and binge a series like this but it was hard not to know what happens next. If you TL:DR this review, just know that I recommend it for dark fantasy fans that like equal parts character and action driven content with tons of world building.

Brohr, aka mister “this dark and no darker”, is trying to figure out how far into the void of corruption he is willing to go. Can he regain his own agency? He is willing to travel to Hell, the outer void, or straight into a clash of monsters to get Lyssa’s soul back.  That’s great for Lyssa because fuck being dead, she’s not done with life and has a long road through the underworld to travel.  Then you have Henrik who is balancing by the hair of his little toe over a pit of political vipers while witnessing the aforementioned clash of gods. I think, for all that I didn’t like Henrik at first, that he ended up being my favorite character.  All three have pretty amazing arcs.

Each characters storyline will break your heart in this book as they finally come to their fates.

The mood and setting just keep getting darker.  Lyssa’s trip through The Dead Place was probably my favorite part even if I never cared for her as a character.  The terrors and obstacles she navigated were cool, sad, and added a lot to the world building.  Talk about letting hell loose 😅

Is it bad that my favorite character was a talking severed head, and a minor side character in the form of an 8 year old girl?  This, if nothing else, to me showed that everyone retains a choice despite their situation.

A smile found its way to his lips, despite everything, as he spied Greta bobbing down the hallway with Sascha’s head tucked under her arm.

The world building continues to grow too and once again, only adds to the story.  There’s more lore, we see The Dead Place, encounter more magic, and see all the terrible choices that people end up making as the end of the world closes in. Ooh I loved seeing how these people grew and adapted to overcoming challenges, and seeing who still had hope at the end.

That all said, this was the hardest for me to read. Compared to the first two books, the ebook was challenged with editing and formatting (KU version) where the other two were near flawless.  I also had some minor questions at the end. Then there were just silly things like ok if this creature is totally alien, it probably doesn’t have human arms and legs (even if there are hundreds of them) …. It was just overall harder for me to get through, was a tad repetitive for it’s length, and really needed a final proofread.  Don’t let that deter you though please!

Don’t get me wrong, I love this series and recommend it fully for dark fantasy fans. It’s both character and action driven, full of lore and world building, and wrecked me a little bit. Overall the series gets a strong ⭐⭐⭐⭐ from me and I can’t wait to see what he does next!

Categories
Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews Science Fiction

Happy Veterans Day ~ Let’s Chat About Some Favorite Military SFF

Happy Veterans Day to those who have served! I wish I had taken the time to compile a list of SFF authors who are also veterans, but for sure if anyone wants to throw some names out there I will make a post at a later date to feature them! Those also a link at the end which leads to a great article on how various authors took to writing military sci-fi after their service!

For now, let me randomly pick a few military science fiction & fantasy books that I have enjoyed, have been recommended, or want to read! Definitely comment if you want to add any favorites or make recs!

The Fantasy books are pretty well known but I would love to know what y’all think of my sci-fi picks, mostly written by veterans!


Let’s start with fantasy, because I only have three to mention that I’ve read in the past few years:

1) Green Rider: doesn’t present itself initially as a military fantasy.  The riders are a much underrepresented and fascinating branch of the Sacoridian army that function as the King’s messenger service, but are also fully trained and equipped to fight.  They serve many roles. The riders become more prominently featured as a military branch throughout the series and gain respect and military involvement due to the actions of the main character, Karigan, and their leader,  captain-turned-major Laren.  Might be a good choice for those transitioning into harder military fantasy

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2) The Black Company: I don’t think Glen Cook needs any introduction.  My favorite thing about these books initially is that the narrator is the chronicler/medic, and he doesn’t quite understand magic nor care for warfare so much, so you get a chronicle of events from a more human perspective.  It’s pretty military though if not so tactically heavy.  It’s wild throughout the first few books and I’d like to keep reading at some point for sure.

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3) I’ve only read the first two, but I’m amiss if I leave Malazan off my list of military fantasy books.  All I’m going to say is epic battles, huge sorcery, devastating consequences, it’s all there.   I’m not an elitist but I’ve had a blast reading so far and Deadhouse Gates was phenomenal.

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Sci-fi:

I’ve read less military sci-fi than other genres over the years but have found a few favorites, and many more that I’d like to get to.  Kindle Unlimited has an absolute wealth of space Marines and military sci-fi to surf and I always wish I had time to randomly try and find more gems.

1) I’ll start with Starship Troopers because it helped spawn the entire genre.  I read and reviewed it last month and definitely think it’s worth checking out just for how influential it was.  Plus, Heinlein was a veteran of the U.S. Navy! 

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2) Speaking of veterans, while surfing Kindle Unlimited I stumbled across another veteran who writes Military SF.  I’m pleasantly surprised at how many people I know that have read and enjoyed Frontlines by Marko Kloos.  My reviews for the first three or four books are up on the blog here.  MK – thank you for your service!

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3) Another Veteran, one that I haven’t read yet but need to check out, is Michael Mammay and his Planetside series. He is a retired Army officer! These books come highly recommended and Mammay is pretty chatty with book recommendations on social media which makes me appreciate him.  Thank you for your service as well!

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4) Another Veteran & author that I would like to continue reading, is John G. Hemry aka Jack Campbell. He is a retired Naval officer and has written a ton of military sci-fi books, including The Lost Fleet series as well as some spin offs. Thanks for your service as well Mr. Hemry!

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5)  Not long ago a friend also recommended Evan Currie’s series On Silver Wings.  He said “sometimes you just want explosions!” These books seem pretty short after the first one and are fairly highly rated, so I may check them out some day. I don’t believe Currie is a veteran but if he is, I apologize!

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I also found this article that talks about some famous and not so famous veteran authors! It’s a great read for sci-fi fans https://www.stripes.com/former-troops-building-second-careers-in-military-science-fiction-1.417224


Please let me know what you think, add to my list!

Categories
Fantasy Romance Young Adult

Lakesedge By Lyndall Clipstone (Finished Copy Review)

Thanks to Bookish First and the publisher, I was able to grab a finished paperback of Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone. I keep saying I’ve broken up with YA, but when a free finished copy of a Gothic sounding fantasy with a pretty cover is offered, it’s hard to say no….


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Lakesedge
  • Series: The World at Lakes Edge #1
  • Author: Lyndall Clipstone
  • Publisher & Release: Square Fish, 08/22 (paperback release with excerpt and bonus content) – original 2021 thru Henry Holt & CO BYR
  • Length: 416 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ for older YA or even new adult aged readers 

Here’s the synopsis:

A lush, gothic fantasy from debut author Lyndall Clipstone about monsters and magic, set on the banks of a cursed lake, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Brigid Kemmerer.

When Violeta Graceling and her younger brother Arien arrive at the haunted Lakesedge estate, they expect to find a monster. Leta knows the terrifying rumors about Rowan Sylvanan, who drowned his entire family when he was a boy. But neither the estate nor the monster are what they seem.

As Leta falls for Rowan, she discovers he is bound to the Lord Under, the sinister death god lurking in the black waters of the lake. A creature to whom Leta is inexplicably drawn… Now, to save Rowan―and herself―Leta must confront the darkness in her past, including unraveling the mystery of her connection to the Lord Under.


My Thoughts:

First off I will say that my favorite thing about this edition is probably the art – cover, interior, very pretty.  There’s also bonus content including an interview and annotated pages in this paperback edition which is always fun.

To generally look at Lakesedge as a Young Adult book: it’s ok, and I think teens will enjoy it more than myself as an adult reader.  Shoot me though but I’m sticking to my sexual content objection for the advertised age range.  they could have done worse, but I don’t think characters going from first kiss to pooling desire in a matter of seconds is something 14 year olds need to read 🙄 I’m going to keep saying it because I know I have parents and at least one teen who come here for clean YA recommendations, and I value you guys!

Ok, ok, anyway, off my soap box, let’s talk about the book

For my own personal enjoyment as an adult reader, I actually did like the setting and atmosphere.  The big house at Lakesedge and the gardens were moody and dark and made for a great spooky season read.  The scary parts weren’t too scary and all together the monsters, shadows, corruption, and darkness in all it’s forms contrasted nicely with the cottagecore personalities of some of the characters. 

I liked Clover and Florence, Arien too, the side characters were great.

While there is a lot to like in the book, the two main characters both drove me nuts. They had huge saviour complexes and Violeta and Rowan both ended up annoying me almost immediately. Yes yes everyone is very brave and utterly ridiculous and no one else can save the day because, saviour complex! Part of me does get it and I think that teen readers will have a better time with the storyline.  Their annoyance and relationship gave me major Sorcery of Thorns deja vu too.  I’m not shipping it at all, my mind went straight to the Hades and Persephone theme.

Favorite character? Hands down the Lord Under and I wanted more from him and more about him.

Another fault of many YA books, this one included, is that there’s a ton of very repetitive inner monologue and I just get so bored reading it. Violeta spends sooo much time thinking the same things over and over. Is he a boy or a swamp monster? No one else can protect these people! Gosh! It was also hard to read about her memories surfacing because honestly, it’s first person point of view, she wouldn’t just randomly remember the biggest events of her life.  It’s more like she would have chosen to talk about them when she did, but presenting it as random flashback memories was an odd choice.

To end on a good note: the magic is kind of cool, there’s a light and a dark and it certainly takes its toll on the user.  I think it needed a little more background as far as how the magic came to be and maybe an appearance from The Lady, but, I didn’t hate it. Speaking of Hades and Persephone, I hope the entire second book focuses on the world under because that is a potentially cool storyline taking place in an oddly comforting setting of moths and soul trees.

Overall I think this one has an audience in new adult fantasy romance fans. It’s moody and a bit Gothic and I wanted more in some parts and less in others. The setting and atmosphere were the high points for sure. As a YA book I give it three stars, and as an adult reader I’m kind of in that zone too but am a much bigger fan of Novik’s fairy tale-ish monsters


Thanks for checking out my book review of Lakesedge – I claimed a free copy using my accumulated points and am leaving a review voluntarily, all opinions are my own 

Categories
Fantasy

The Sword of Mercy and Wrath by N.C. Koussis

It’s nearly the end of GrimDarkTober and I want to talk about the last book I finished this month!  The Sword of Mercy and Wrath is a dark fantasy book with werewolves, their hunters, a twisted trope of adopted sibling rivalry, set in a world of territory conflict and war.


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Sword of Mercy and Wrath
  • Series: The Swords of Dominion, #1
  • Author: N.C. Koussis
  • Publisher & Release: Self, September 2022
  • Length: 267 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ for fans of  dark fantasy and action

***See note on the synopsis at the end


This is an exceptionally addictive read.  For such a short novel, N.C. Koussis packs nonstop action and character development from start to finish to create a fast paced read that is hard to put down.

The two main points of view are Tristain, off to war as a knight’s squire in hopes of making a name for himself and getting his adopted sister and mother away from their abusive father back home.  The other is Selene, the sister, attacked by a werewolf and in turn sets off with a dashing inquisitor to become a hunter of those monsters.

I think the Selene character stole the spotlight from Tristain and ran with it.  I enjoyed both viewpoints but her character arc was the best part of the book for me.  An interesting look at how grief and revenge can cause a loss of identity as Selene shucks off her last to become a remorseless werewolf hunter for the religious order.  The training was brutal and dark and everything I’d expect from an order that targets those with hurt in their heart and no where else to turn.  Then the question becomes – can Selene find herself again?

Tristain took a bit of a different arc and showed us the life of the army, the depths of betrayal in the novel, and that monsters can take many shapes and forms.

I liked how both characters, and most of the side characters, were in the moral grayzone.  They had faults, they were ravaged from war and hardship and grieving, making mistakes and learning from them.  The book was pretty dark though the middle to end but managed to keep up a thread of hope that I don’t see in a lot of Grimdark anymore. The end was… Uh… Well, I’d like a sequel, let’s put it that way.  (My heart didn’t need a hug at all before the epilogue).

While I did truly enjoy the book, the action, the battles, the military strategy, the violence that all makes up a solid dark fantasy, one can guess by the length that there might not have been a ton of world building.  I am a world building fanatic and (while I 100% recommend the book for fans of fast paced action packed reads), I really wanted some more background and development for the world, the characters, the political conflicts, maybe some more history, just those little things that flesh out fantasy worlds.  I know that’s not necessity what the author set out to do but I think it would have helped without slowing things down too much.

That said though, the action and moral conflicts and characters more than carried this book! I am now patiently waiting for the next installment👻

I didn’t include a synopsis because I think it reflects an earlier version of the text that isn’t quite accurate.

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series ~ Featuring John Palladino

For my super special Halloween edition of Sunday Brunch this year, I’m so excited to jump into the book tour for The Trials of Ashmount in conjunction with Escapist Book Tours! This book is great for GrimDarkTober and John Palladino is a local author so I’m dually excited to share this interview. Actually he might fight me on that statement but in general, WNY is “local” in my eyes.

I’ve already read and reviewed the book, so search for that on the blog if you’re interested! Also do check out the other tour posts here on the Escapist website!

Read on to see some great thoughts on the Grimdark genre, Trials, the next book, and of course, Halloween vs Christmas.  

Anyway, let’s get on with it 🎃


🥞Welcome to the Sunday Brunch Series! As an introduction, can you tell everyone your favorite thing about ‘spooky season’?

🎤Well, my favorite thing about “spooky season” is that it’s the beginning of my favorite stretch of year – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas (my favorite holiday), New Years, and, on top of all that, the weather gets cold, it becomes darker, and snow begins to fall. I love all of it. And to me, Halloween is the start of it. And maybe I’m ashamed to admit it, but I also enjoy the holiday music – it adds to just a generally positive atmosphere in stores and stuff that isn’t around during the rest of the year. 

🥞What’s your brunch order today?

🎤 I’ll be honest – I’m usually asleep when brunch occurs. However, if I’m at brunch, I’d probably order a breakfast sandwich (sausage, egg, cheese on an english muffin because that’s the only way to have them and I’ll die on this hill) and then some sort of potato side. Hashbrowns? Sure. Those are good. 

🥞I’m willing to forgive some rabble rousing, but do explain how bringing up Christmas in October is a good idea 🤣 p.s. this is about the authors Twitter handle, which states that Christmas is better than Halloween 😳

🎤Is there such a thing as there ever being a bad time to bring up Christmas?? It’s the best holiday. Presents, snow (though not so much anymore lol), vacation, music, the food? It’s all splendid. I’d do Christmas once a season if it were up to me. Halloween I could live without. It’s a fine holiday, but I don’t generally participate. Costumes are cool, but I generally stay home and hide during Halloween. Halloween is social, Christmas is not (unless you’re one of those family families, in which case, I wouldn’t like Christmas… who wants to do all of that travel and family visiting when you could be in your own house? I know – plenty of you… but for me, I prefer times when I don’t have to deal with people, and most Halloween celebrations are packed with other costumed people!). Also I’ll just say it, and I know this is going to offend a lot of you… pumpkin spice anything is gross. I know, I know, I apologize. I just hate the smell, taste, and look of all the special pumpkin spice stuff… I am not willing to completely write off Halloween, though. As a kid it was always my second favorite holiday. I suspect if I wasn’t single and had somebody to hang out with, or a family, I’d probably be more willing/eager to participate. But for the last decade of my life, I’ve not participated in a single Halloween event. 

🥞 Alright, let’s talk about the book. So there are a bunch of pretty different characters in Trials, is there one point of view that you either wrote yourself into or just enjoyed writing the most?

🎤I loved writing the Demri, Villic, and interlude chapters. Kelden/Seradal/Edelbrock all had enjoyable chapters to write, but Demri and Villic I never got sick of writing. Villic was definitely based on my childhood. As a kid I had major introversion and found socializing with anyone to be a very difficult/nerve-wracking experience. His fears are directly related to my experiences. Fun fact about Villic – originally he wasn’t a main character in the book. His role was expanded after discussing why he was in the book with my editor and early readers. And now, I hear from a lot of people that he’s either their favorite/second favorite character, so I’m really happy I did. Overall though, Demri is my favorite character to write. I think he’s just a blast. I struggled with the decision to actually write out his stutter for the entire book or not. I wrote the first draft with the stutter written out and a few people mentioned I should just note that he had a stutter. I didn’t want to do that though because I thought it would make Demri’s character more real, and nobody would forget that it existed. Demri owns his stutter, it doesn’t bother him, and it felt sort of disingenuous to “hide it” behind a “he spoke with a stutter” because it’s such a big (yet also insignificant) part of his character. 

🥞 Is it hard, as an author, to put your characters through hell and back?  I don’t think anyone in Trials had it easy 😳

🎤 No. I see all the time that people are upset about the things they do – like they cry over something they wrote. I don’t understand that. When I’m doing something bad to a character, I’m laughing and grinning ear-to-ear, excited for people to read it, and hoping they’re surprised by it. I will say that book two I’ve written a few things that made me sad because I sort of wanted more time without said things happening (I can’t be more specific without spoilers). However, that’s what made sense for the story, so that’s why it doesn’t bother me. 

🥞 Did you have a scientific method for who you were going to kill off, or are we an impulse murderer? (P.s. your character page was amazing)

🎤Mostly impulse. There were a few deaths that I planned on, but a good majority of the ones in Trials just sort of happened. And thank you – the character page was a lot of fun to do. The heading started out as a joke to my editor, but she loved it so much I kept it. 

🥞 What elements do you think make up a good Grimdark? Where did you succeed the most bringing that into Trials?
 
🎤I think the best Grimdark stories have realistic consequences, an unpredictable nature, and morally gray characters. Those are the three aspects I most judge a book on when deciding whether or not it’s Grimdark. Personally, I think I did a pretty good job at implementing all of these into Trials. I get a lot of messages/comments on some of the surprises in Trials – I’d love to elaborate, but I can’t without spoiling the book. In regards to morally gray characters, I don’t necessarily mean that everyone’s a prick, but that everyone acts in their best interests (or most of the characters – it’s not wrong to have a “heroic” character in a Grimdark world, but a majority of people don’t self-sacrifice like the characters in epic fantasy often do). 

🥞 Feeding off of that, do you have any personal favorites or Grimdark book recs for us?

🎤 I will always recommend A Song of Ice and Fire by GRRM and all of the books in the First Law world by Joe Abercrombie. For people who enjoy a very dark-feeling world, check out Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar – the overall “vibe” of the world might be the most cringe-inducing I’ve experienced.

🥞 Can you tell everyone how book 2 is going? Any hints you’re willing to give us?

🎤 Book two is just about finished being edited by Sarah Chorn. I can’t wait to edit the book and get it out there. The title is Buzzard’s Bowl and there is a brand new main POV character I think everyone will like. Her name is Ashen, and that’s all I’ll say for now, although if you want to know a little more, read on.

🥞 Seeing as it’s Halloween, what’s your favorite costume that you’ve ever worn? Bonus points if you have a photo!

🎤 This is a great question but it’s really difficult for me because I don’t even remember most of the costumes I’ve worn. I haven’t dressed up for Halloween since I was sixteen. I’ll say a werewolf. I DO have a picture of it but I have no idea where it is. And it’s physical because the whole digital thing didn’t really exist back then…

🥞 Thank you so much for taking the time to interview! This last space is an open forum for you so feel free to talk about anything in the world you may want to here!

🎤 Iwant to thank Athena for this fun interview! Hopefully my Halloween takes weren’t too painful for you to deal with 😛 

Alongside book two in the series, I’m working on releasing a short story anthology called Before the End that’s going to have a bunch of stories set in the world of Cedain. Some of the characters will be familiar, while others will be completely unique to the anthology. There are also a few character introductions who will appear in Buzzard’s Bowl. I’m also considering putting a pair of characters into book three. Some of these stories can be found, unedited, on my website, johnpalladino.com One of these stories is a character introduction to Ashen, the brand new main POV character in Buzzard’s Bowl. I think people will enjoy her – she’s quickly become a favorite of mine. If people want to wait for the anthology, I plan on releasing it BEFORE Buzzard’s Bowl comes out. I don’t have any ironclad dates for either of these. My *hope* is to release Before the End this year, and Buzzard’s Bowl at the beginning of next year. We’ll see if everything pans out, though. This is hoping that there aren’t any major delays from any of the services I’ll need to pay for (which is often unusual).

Meet the Author:

You’ve stumbled upon somebody who takes nothing seriously, not even author bios. It’d be a good guess to say John Palladino was born in 1988, lives in Avoca, New York, has a bachelor’s degree in Business Management, and enjoys hibernating at home while writing. He might also lie and say he enjoys pets, long walks on the beach, and his hobbies include happiness and scuba diving. You’d see right through those lies, however, and notice he prefers the simpler things in life—reading, video games, and making ill-timed jokes. John also dislikes taking care of anything that excretes substances.


Here are the author links & Giveaway info!

Author Website: https://johnpalladino.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AGrimBastar
Facebook:  https://facebook.com/AGrimBastardAuthor
Goodreads:  https://goodreads.com/AGrimBastard

Giveaway Information:
Prize: A Paperback Copy of The Trials of Ashmount!
Starts: October 27, 2022 at 12:00am ES
Ends: November 2, 2022 at 11:59pm EST

Direct link:  http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/79e197ac63/

Categories
Fantasy

Jamedi @ Vueltas Reviews ‘The Worthy’ by Anna K. Moss (A GrimDarkTober Guest Post)

Surprise surprise, I am lucky enough today to present one last GrimDarkTober guest post for you all!  There’s always that one person who waits til the final moment before sending something awesome over 🤣

Anyway, Jamedi @ Vueltas is a SFF blogger who turns out an incredible amount of review and interview content.  Everyone should check out his links below, and for now, his review of a dark fantasy called The Worthy by Anna K. Moss!


Book Information:

Title: The Worthy

Genre: Dark Fantasy / Grimdark

Pages: 432

Intended Age Group: Adult

Published: August 15th, 2022

Publisher: Self-published

Heres the Synopsis:

Blood is thicker than water.

Tell that to Prince Barsten, betrayed and abandoned on foreign soil. His sister is intent on claiming the throne and he’s intent on stealing it back. One of them might succeed, if it weren’t for a sacred creature infecting people with its emotions. Rage, fear, paranoia, despair. As their country collapses, the royal siblings must stay true to themselves or find out just how thick their blood really is.

Moss’s compelling debut novel dives into a desperate kingdom, full of intrigue, treachery and sapphic-longing. Fast-paced and awash with sinful characters and fetid settings, The Worthy is a must-read for all lovers of dark fantasy.


The Review

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐(4 out of 5 stars)

The Worthy is the debut novel from the British author Anna K. Moss. As a big fan of the grimdark genre, reading it was a no brain, and I have 0 regrets about it because I felt constantly the same vibes as when I’m enjoying some of Abercrombie’s works, the same level of brutality, the morally grey characters, and those situations that make you feel uncomfortable; in definitive, what separates grimdark from dark fantasy in my opinion.

We are going to be mainly following two POVs, Ailith and Barsten, daughter and son of the king of Crell, both trying to make merits to ascend to the throne. Let’s start with Barsten, because his condition as the prince of Crell, and his struggles to make himself worthy in the eyes of his father, leads him to lead an invasion to Jintin, where he will enter in contact with a creature, the Sentinel, and where he will be treasoned by his own men (especially Grey), and almost assassinated, being captured by the Jintians. On the other hand, we have Ailith, princess of Crell, with a long list of achievements for the kingdom, but whose main problem is simple: is a woman, and we are in an extremely sexist society; her own father doesn’t take her seriously, exacerbating the conflict between her and his brother for the throne. This conflict between brother and sister will be the main fuel for the conflict in this novel

Quote_2_-_The_Worthy

There are other POVs in this story, but personally, I found them pretty pointless, adding almost nothing to the novel and its development, sometimes feeling more like a drag than a help to the plot.

Moss uses this novel as an excellent way to treat certain themes as can be sexism, and more in concrete, how women tend to be deemed as less by their masculine counterparts, without taking into account their merits; the sapphic love is also treated, lightly, but as a subplot in the Ailith story, adding another layer of complexity to the character, one that is struggling because, despite all her merits, she is not being taken in the account due to her sex. Political intrigues are used in a brilliant way, using the conflict that the king is fueling between his sons as the better way to reach power, especially on the part of certain lords.

Characters are well developed, most of them pretty significant to the development of the story, especially certain secondary ones, such as Grey, who remembered me to Lord Varys in ASOIAF, always machinating, always doing what he considers the best for Crell, working also in the best for himself. We could call him one of the sparks that starts the fire over Crell, leading to chaos and violence.

Quote_1_-_The_Worthy

As a good grimdark novel, violence and gore abound, following the line established by other grimdark writers. The world is brutal, almost hopeless, but still rich on the detail level. There are two different countries, Crell and Jintian, each one of them being totally different. Crell represents the status quo, the brutality, the supremacy of men over women, and the resistance against change; Jintian is the opposite, a place where equality exists, prosperity being the rule and not the exception, where people climb due to its merits (and highly influenced by keeping control of the Sentinar).

Said that I find there are some problems in this novel that don’t allow me to give it a better score, despite I enjoyed it greatly while reading. As said, I find some of the subplots adding nothing to the main story, dragging the pace sometimes (which outside of this concrete subplot is excellent); and personally, I found the ending to be too abrupt, letting so many things open. An excellent story still, but it felt like the dessert for this meal was missing.

In summary, The Worthy is an excellent debut, and a must for grimdark lovers, people who love it so much. The world created by Anna K Moss is rich, and full of nuances; and honestly, I would like to see more of the different countries there. Characters are grey, making you uncomfortable cheering for any of them, being used as the perfect way to discuss some modern themes such as feminism and equality are


About Anna K. Moss:

Anna K Moss grew up in the shire, both literally and figuratively. Books were her constant companion and she quickly learnt they were far more interesting than reality. She trained as a journalist, but news writing dealt with too much truth, so she veered off into videogames and make-believe. The Worthy was her first foray back into words, with both feet planted firmly in the imaginary. She’s happily married, queer, and has a dog called Ethel

Anna Moss


You can find Jamedi online at:

Site: https://vueltaspodcast.wordpress.com

Twitter: @jamediGwent

Plus others here at https://linktr.ee/jamedi

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy

The Weeping Sigil by Jordan Loyal Short (Book Thoughts)

Wrapping up GrimDarkTober here with … More dark fantasy! Back in August, I was lucky enough to participate in a book tour for The Skald’s Black Verseand knew that I needed to read The Weeping Sigil sooner rather than later. As always, I’ll keep this one 99% spoiler free.

I eventually bought the audiobook and despite that and despite enjoying the narration quite a bit, I ended up reading the second half pretty quickly.  Fully recommend checking out this series if you like dark fantasy, folklore, and fast paced action with some scifi elements.


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Weeping Sigil
  • Series: The Dreadbound Ode, #2
  • Author: Jordan Loyal Short
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 2020
  • Length: 337 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Here’s the synopsis:

Adrift in the void, Henrik’s rescue is only a prelude to slavery.

But his new life on Tyria is not at all what he expected. When the illustrious House of Quoll purchases him, Henrik finds himself living in the home of his old enemy, Prefect Brasca Quoll. Desperate to hide the truth of his last days on Heimir, Henrik dives into the murderous game of Tyrianite politics. Devastated by the catastrophe on the Norn homeworld, the Federation teeters on the brink of civil war.

While the Shining Ones maneuver their champions for the final confrontation, Henrik’s fevered visions unveil the scope of Moriigo’s nightmarish rebellion.

Aboard a stolen voidcraft, Brohr and Lyssa hurtle into the depths of the starry abyss, on a desperate exodus in search of safe haven. But the outer reaches of the system are full of strange worlds, haunted ruins, and bizarre cults.

As anarchy grips the streets of Tyria, Henrik vows to reveal the true peril facing the Federation: Moriigo’s return! While rival electors, assassins, and federal inquisitors plot the downfall of House Quoll, Henrik must bind himself to the future of his onetime enemies, lest the horrors of his prophetic visions come to pass


So this one picks up right where The Skald’s Black Verse left off.  The Skoljan refugees are heading towards Brohr’s blue planet but have no idea why, and Henrik is adrift in space awaiting rescue.

I think this one excelled most by introducing a lot of new places and people to the world.  Descriptions of the Clockwork and other marvels of the new worlds kept me interested.  Seeing the grand Roman-esque world of Tyria and it’s politics and intrigue.   Terrifying void creatures that actually just wanted to cuddle each other? Ok. I’m down.

Probably the best thing about the book is that I just like Short’s writing.  For a self published book these are exceptionally well edited, and the audio (narrated by Aaron Smith) sounded amazing too.

I think I mentioned the little chapter preludes in book one’s review.  They’re occasionally just anecdotes or parts of texts but often add a lot to the world.  We finally learn what the Dreadbound are because of these little excerpts so I definitely recommend paying attention to them.  Anything quoted from text or prophecy (or heresy)? ends up being if not important, at least interesting.

Henrik and Brohr are still the two main points of view, but now we also get to meet a raider captain named Petra and of all people, Brostar Quoll (Brasca’s father).  I actually liked the Henrik storyline the best in this one as we see him become a pawn of prophecy, blinded, and wreaking all sorts of amazing havoc in Tyria.  I didn’t even dislike Brostar, he seemed like a much better person than his son.  The little kid was cute too and I’m more than a little afraid for his future.  All the political intrigue, plotting, betrayal, and prophecy tied into this storyline was amazing.

Not that Brohr’s storyline was dull, but I can only take so much screeching and bloodshed.  I liked the segment regarding the “shit luck” of the people, because it’s a real dark fantasy trope for characters to just keep making the best out of whatever is left to them. It’s certainly sad to see every ounce of the Norn refugee’s hope stamped out but I just feel like Brohr is heading towards his part in this inevitable war of the gods, and it’s not as interesting yet.  I never liked Lyssa nor cared about her either so… my bad, more Henrik please!

No one had asked him if he wanted to be haunted, to be cursed, a butcher, a horror. He did not walk a path of freedom, but one of fate. She would understand. The sagas needed monsters (p. 253)

So yeah, there wasn’t much hope here at all.  It kept getting darker, and darker, and darker, right until the end.  There’s more magic, more prophecy, more of everything, and I’m probably to jump right into book three and have absolutely no regrets about it.

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews

Why I Gave Up on Grimdark Fantasy (A GrimDarkTober Guest Post from At Boundary’s Edge)

October is wrapping up along with a great month of GrimDatkTober guest content from a few of my favorite people across the SFF blogosphere.  I hope everyone has found a few more books to add to their ever growing TBRs!

Today I’m happy to present the last GrimDarkTober guest post for you all.  Nowadays he mostly sticks to Science Fiction, but Alex from At Boundary’s Edge used to be a huge fantasy reader as well.  True to his brand of cranky-but-actually-cinnamonroll-in-disguise vibes, check out this great piece on why he eventually put GrimDark aside

 


Why I Gave Up On Grimdark Fantasy

I grew up reading fantasy. I tried a thick, somewhat battered omnibus of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings twice before I was 10. Admittedly, I never made it through The Return of the King, but I was absolutely enchanted by the world. I remember seeing Robert Jordan’s Winter’s Heart on the shelves of a used bookstore and thinking from the sheer size that it must be something truly Shakespearean in content. I didn’t complete either Tolkien’s or Jordan’s epics until much later on, but I filled my time with other classical epic fantasy. The Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks were my first adventure in collecting a whole series. I read David Edding’s The Belgariad and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, and knew I was hooked on fantasy. As I hunted out new books to read, and sent my mother to do the same, I soon found myself in possession of a book with a bloodstained map for a cover. It was called, rather enticingly, The Heroes, and it was written by a man named Joe Abercrombie.

I was fifteen, and The Heroes offered me a new window on fantasy. This was a fantasy where people died a lot. There were no heroic sacrifices, just meaningless and pointless deaths. It was great. Blood spattered on every page, there was no clear-cut good and bad. Most of all, it was absolutely hilarious. It wasn’t only Union soldiers who had split sides by the time I reached the end. I rushed out by the other books set in the same world, and found them all in a similar vein. Though the books were filled with hateful characters, the writing itself was a clearly loving poke in the eye of the tropes and stereotypes of the fantasy I’d read up to that point. It was while looking for Abercrombie’s next book that I encountered the word that would change it all. Grimdark.

Finally I had a label for this darkly humour thing I enjoyed so much. I let that label guide me to my next reads. And so I came across Mark Lawrence. The Broken Empire wasn’t quite as riotously funny as The First Law, but Jorg had a way with words that could get a laugh out of me at times. His successor, Jalan from Prince of Fools was a much more jovial character. The comedic elements running through this books were distinctly British. A raised eyebrow and a ‘here-we-go-again’ mentality when it came to the tropes. These stories weren’t so much subverting tropes as having fun by actively running against them. And that’s what grimdark became to me. Fun. Over the top violence and a fistful of jokes wedged in for good measure.

At around the same time as I was reading Lawrence, I started Peter V. Brett’s The Demon Cycle and Brent Weeks’  . Both of these were books I had seen bearing the grimdark label in some corners of the online community, so I assumed they’d fill the same void. But they didn’t. I enjoyed both series, but neither was particularly funny. Even when they were over-the-top, I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being played straight. They weren’t laughing at how bloody they could be, they thought it actually meant something. It was a emo, edgelord mentality that left me utterly cold.

Within a year or so, I discovered the work of David Gemmell, a forebear of grimdark who truly believed in heroism, and his work was a breath of fresh air. Gemmell’s work also led me to that of Stan Nicholls, who surely deserves more credit for running ahead of the grimdark curve. His Orcs novels are a sweary, bloody spectacle, at one point putting a unicorn horn to truly inappropriate use. But they’re funny. Weapons of Magical Destruction in its title alone tells you the tone of the book. A satire not only of fantasy, but of real-world events, all told with a crazy grin and an axe in each hand.

Meanwhile, the modern grimdark train rolled on. As an avid fantasy reader, I did what I could to keep up. I bought the first book of countless series, looking for that same witty high. I bought Anna Stephens’ Godblind, Michael R. Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption, Devin Madson’s We Ride the Storm, and Mike Shackle’s We Are the Dead. I can’t honestly say I enjoyed a single one of them. They were well-crafted books, but they proved to me one incontrovertible fact. Grimdark had started taking itself seriously. The joy was gone. The laughter was dead. There were still some good books falling under the grimdark label. R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War is more of a historical fantasy, but uses that history of violence to provoke thought. Adrian Selby’s Snakewood is one of the few books to include a magic system that doesn’t make me pull my hair out. Anna Smith Spark’s Empires of Dust is a literary masterpiece in terms of prose, and even includes some of that too-rare humour amid all the misery and tragedy.

As the grimdark label covered more and more books, it ceased to hold the meaning that had drawn me in all those years ago. Worse still, the nihilism had spread to the far corners of the fantasy genre. Fantasy became a place where hope was for idiots and anyone calling themselves a hero was only after your money. It just wasn’t fun anymore. The worst offender was R. Scott Bakker’s The Darkness That Came Before, a book that was, with its central thesis that men exist only to destroy and subjugate each other, so utterly devoid of cheer that I finally decided to call it a day.

Grimdark has cultivated a reputation for telling it like it is. For showing the world for the horrible place it is. But that’s wrong. Yes, there are bad things in the world (and worse than you’ll see in most grimdark books), but there’s joy in the world too. Even in the worst of situations, people will crack a joke. If all you’re doing is showing humanity being horrible to itself, you’re not being anywhere near as smart as you like to tell yourself. So much of modern grimdark seems intent on wallowing in self-pity, and dragging the reader down with it. Quite frankly, it’s become dull.

So yes, I’ll still read Joe Abercrombie. I’ll pick up Anna Smith Spark’s next book. But because of the author. Not because of the genre label that gets slapped across the cover.

Grimdark – whatever you are anymore – I’m done with you. Let me know if you get your sense of humour back.


You can find him online at: 

Blog: https://atboundarysedge.com/

Twitter: https://mobile.twitter.com/HormannAlex

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews Horror

Roots of Darkness: The Horrifying Origins of Sword & Sorcery (A GrimDarkTober Guest Post by Peat Long)

This Sunday I’m thrilled to present a GrimDarkTober guest post from a book blogger who needs little introduction!  One of the many awesome people I met through a Wyrd & Wonder read along, Peat Long’s blog offers up a ton of book reviews, articles, lists, plus many other curiosities. With no further delay, here’s his article!


Roots of Darkness: The Horrifying Origins of Sword & Sorcery

For many, October tis the month of darkness. Gloom, murk, and perhaps a side of iniquity. Book twitter is full of tributes to this spirit, which is obviously difficult as bookish folk have no taste for the macabre and spooky, not least of which is Athena’s Grimdarktober.

Therefore, in my own tribute, I give her and you this post on sword & sorcery.

Some of you might not see the connection here. You might be thinking what does the genre of over-muscled louts seeking a totally not-compensating for anything life of big swords and scantily clad ladies have to do with dark fiction? The answer to that starts with two words.

Weird Tales.

Back in the 1920s, when pulp magazines played a big part in the American literary landscape, there was a magazine named Weird Tales. It was founded specifically to be a home for supernatural stories at a time when there was none, with repeated references to a particular influence: Edgar Allan Poe. A lot of the fiction published in the magazine reflected that influence; ghost stories, gothic stories, horror stories. But some of it was the nascent genre of sword & sorcery. How did that happen? And what influence did that have on the stories?

Some of the how lies in the peculiar mindset of Robert E Howard, whose Conan stories formed the accepted recipe for sword & sorcery. He was a bookworm who absorbed everything, a would-be pugilist with a dislike for the modern world, not to mention an author in search of ways to make a sale. Unconventional settings and violent stories came naturally to him, and were a natural addition to the more conventional horror fo the magazine.

A great deal of the how also lies with the very nature of Weird Tales. Its writers formed a close-knit community, writing to each other often, and few of them wrote as often as old Mr Nightmare Fuel himself, HP Lovecraft. His influence was felt in many ways – one proto S&S tale was inspired by him asking the author why not a story told from the werewolf’s perspective, another story got published after he prodded the editor – but the biggest was that of his stories.

At which point you start to see some other S&S staples enter the canon. Weird snakemen. Sinister sorcerers and their eerie cults. Indifferent, terrifying gods. Alien monsters and forgotten communities of malevolent people. In some respects, these are things the early S&S authors would have looked at anyway as these did reflect the fears of the time, but these are very much the sort of thing Lovecraft loved. As such, they very much part of what Howard, and other early S&S writers influenced by Lovecraft such as Clark Ashton Smith and Fritz Leiber, used.

Which means that, amid the tales of conquest and feud, of picaresque adventure in exotic locales, you get a distinct vein of sword & sorcery stories that are almost pure horror. Situations where mighty sinews, honed skill, and indomitable wills only allow our heroes to survive where all others have died. The worlds might be more historic than Lovecraft’s contemporary gothic stylings, the heroes more alive and sane at the end, but the similarity is marked.

And the result is some very dark fantasy fiction, perfect for your October reading! Want some examples? Here’s a few to look up…

Worms of the Earth by Robert E Howard – Howard’s most horrifying tale probably belongs to the character Bran Mak Morn, whose attempt to get revenge against the Romans involves making common cause with those he’d rather have nothing to do with. Very creepy.

The Howling Tower by Fritz Leiber – This adventure of Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser can be found in Swords Against Death, a collection which features a great many horror-esque stories. In this case, what seems a simple case of finding treasure in a tower goes rather unpleasantly wrong.

The Black God’s Kiss by CL Moore – This one can be found in just about any Jirel of Joiry collection, many of which are named after this story. The long and the short of it is some bastard takes Jirel’s castle and makes some presumptions about her sexual interest in him, so she elects to go to hell to find a weapon to right all of this. Hell is, unsurprisingly, somewhat unsettling.

The Testament of Athammaus by Clark Ashton Smith – This short can be found in the Hyperborea collection. It is the tale of a city’s downfall and an execution that won’t go right, told with mordant humour and gruesome horror, and a very nasty villain.

The Unspoken Name by AK Larkwood – From the old to the new. Larkwood’s riff on The Tombs of Atuan also includes plenty of that horror S&S feeling as the former priestess Csorwe navigates many, many terrifying challenges in her bid to prove her worth to her saviour.

The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall – Another recent piece of weirded out adventure that seems to be in the spiritual lineage. It is more high flying and epic than most of the names here, but the adventures of Vasethe through the nine-hundred and ninety-nine spirit realms contains a good dose of uncanny wonder.

So there you go. Even the hardiest of heroes have horrifying moments, and all because it’s baked into the genre right at its very inception – hopefully you look up some of these stories and enjoy the dark side of sword & sorcery this Grimdarktober


You can find Peat online at:

– Twitter: @PeatLong

– Blog: https://peatlong.wordpress.com/