Featured Excerpt: The Sand Scuttler by Rosalyn Kelly

Kalal stoked the flames in the smoky hut in the farthest corner of the Rasheed estate. The busy street noise floated in with the dust. Medi was tied face down to a table and writhed like a snake against the bindings. He had a cloth stuffed in his mouth which stifled his screams. Jakira could taste sweat and vomit on the cloth that bound her mouth and it made her gag, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the boy.

“This one was a slave before, so you’ll need to scrape off his old mark and add a new one,” said Big Bulai to Kalal. She sat on a stool by the door, enjoying what little breeze there was. She lifted a heavy rock up and down, flexing her muscles, bored.

Kalal looked at the soles of Medi’s feet, found the mark and pulled a hot metal poker from the fire. He started to scrape at the boy’s flesh. Medi thrashed against the table. Tears fell from his eyes and sweat formed on his shaved head, splashing to the floor. The smell of burning flesh seared Jakira’s nostrils. Kalal put the poker back in the fire to allow it to heat up again and when it glowed red, he took it and drew an R in a circle on the sole of Medi’s other foot. Medi’s thrashing stopped and he went still.

“Passed out with the pain,” Big Bulai snorted. “Pathetic boy.”

Kalal smeared what looked like meat grease onto Medi’s soles and unstrapped him, heaving him off the table and laying him on the floor.

“Your turn,” Kalal said to Jakira as he approached her. She screamed through the sicky cloth in her mouth and fought wildly like the stray cat she and her mother had once trapped for food, when father had gambled his wage and there was no money for meat, but it was no use. Big Bulai came to help Kalal and together they strapped Jakira to the table. This is it. Once I am marked, I am a slave forever.

Medi’s golden brown eyes flickered open and he looked at her, the pain etched across his face. He looked away as Kalal pulled the poker from the flames.

“Here goes, little bitch,” Big Bulai said.

Jakira writhed and thrashed as Medi had done, braced herself for the pain as Kalal took her ankle and positioned her foot so he could reach the sole. She clenched her eyes and her fists and took a breath. She could hear Kalal grunting as his grip around her ankle tightened. But there was no hot, searing pain, no burnt flesh. Or perhaps it was so painful she could not feel it.

“Do it again!” Big Bulai shouted.

The flames sizzled as Kalal’s poker was shoved in the coals. Jakira slowly unscrewed her eyes. Medi stared at her, mouth gaping. She looked over her shoulder as much as the straps would allow to see the two slaves looking closely at her foot. Kalal pulled the poker from the flames and pressed it to her sole. She watched as he did it but she felt nothing. Why do I not feel the flames?

“What the fuck are you doing wrong?” The overseer grabbed the poker and thrust it against Jakira’s foot.

“She doesn’t feel it,” Kalal said with confusion. “It doesn’t mark her.”

“Impossible. You’ll feel this, little bitch.” Big Bulai used tongs to pick up a glowing coal and placed it behind Jakira’s knee. But Jakira didn’t feel it. The surprise on Big Bulai’s face made Jakira snigger through the cloth stuffed in her mouth.

“You think this is funny?” The overseer unstrapped Jakira and, with Kalal’s help, picked her up.

Jakira realised she was about to be thrown in the fire, and the fear of pain overcame her again. She struggled as she was launched into the flames, they licked up around her as she sat on the coals. She could hear Medi sobbing through the crackling of her burning sack tunic, but she did not burn. She simply stood up and stepped out of the fire and onto the dirt.

Kalal fell back, as if he’d seen God, but Big Bulai glared. Jakira looked at the skin on her arms, it had no new mark or burn or blemish.

Knuckles connected with her jaw and Jakira fell to the ground next to Kalal, whimpering.

“So, you don’t feel the fire, but you feel that pain don’t you. Kalal, hold her down. I’m going to carve on her mark.”

Kalal wrestled her to him and pinned her down. Big Bulai crouched and pulled out her knife, grabbed Jakira’s foot, and slashed an R in a circle on the sole. Jakira yelped with pain as the knife sliced through her flesh. When it was done, the overseer stood, her sack drenched in sweat.

“Bandage them and take them back to Jally Cook. Then clean up this mess. Master must know about this… freak.”

Kalal let Jakira go and she crawled towards Medi and slumped next to him, leaving a trail of blood in the dirt. The boy reached out a tentative hand and she grasped it.

The big male slave smeared grease on her sole, bandaged their feet and threw another sack at her to wear.

 

Later, after they had hobbled around the kitchen following Jally Cook’s orders for dinner, Jakira and Medi lay in the dark next to each other on mats in the children’s slave tent. There were three other children, boys, who avoided the newcomers.

“How did you do that?” Medi whispered. She could sense him close to her, but could not see him.

“Do what?”

“Not feel the fire, not be marked by it.”

“I don’t know.”

He accepted her answer and went quiet.

“Thank you,” she said.

“For what?”

“For helping me today, for trying to stop them whipping me. I… I wasn’t a slave before.”

“I know, it’s obvious. I came from another household.”

“Why were you sold?”

“The master needed some money. My mother ran the kitchen and I helped out, but I wasn’t necessary.”

“Who was your father?”

“Who knows… another slave, the master, one of his sons, my mama never said…”

A sharp slap against the tent side startled them.

“Shut up in there!” shouted a voice Jakira didn’t recognise. “You want Big Bulai to flog us all?”

 

About The Sand Scuttler:

 

Ripped from her mother’s arms and forced into slavery, the beautiful Jakira is soon sold. Destined to become her new master’s bed slave when she matures, she’s put to work in the kitchen.

 

But whilst Jakira is being branded, she discovers she can tame fire.

 

Determined to gain her freedom and find her mother before she comes of age, Jakira uses her magic to ask the bloodthirsty God for a miracle.

 

When this fails, a desperate Jakira goes in search of a mysterious creature, the last of its kind, who lives deep in the vast desert. Known as the Sand Scuttler, it can bestow great power on the one it deems worthy.

 

For centuries it hasn’t met that one, until now.

 

Set in the same ruthless world as the grimdark, epic fantasy novel Melokai (In the Heart of the Mountains #1) and twenty years before, The Sand Scuttler tells of the early life of Ammad’s mother Jakira.

 

This adult fantasy novella can be read as a standalone story, no prior knowledge of Melokai is required.

 

Purchase Links:

 

Amazon: mybook.to/TheSandScuttler

https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Rosalyn_Kelly_The_Sand_Scuttler?id=PdJVDwAAQBAJ

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-sand-scuttler-rosalyn-kelly/1128509401?ean=2940155214465

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-sand-scuttler

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1372464599

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/815586

 

 

Rosalyn Kelly biography

 

 

Rosalyn Kelly grew up in the magical New Forest ​in the south of England and has lived around the country ​as well as in the Middle East, and travelled all over the world.

 

She studied English Literature and Language at Oxford Brookes University before embarking on a PR and marketing career.

 

After ten years telling the stories of international brands and businesses, she decided the time had come to tell her own and her debut novel MELOKAI was written in 2016 after quitting her job, going travelling for four months and then writing solidly for the following four.

 

The inspiration for her epic fantasy trilogy came when she was trekking in the mountains of Nepal’s stunning Annapurna Sanctuary.

 

When she’s not putting her heart and soul into book two of the In the Heart of the Mountains trilogy, she daydreams about where to travel to next, paints with acrylic, reads voraciously and writes book reviews on her blog.

 

As well as MELOKAI, there are two novellas (THE FALL OF VAASAR and THE SAND SCUTTLER) and two short stories (PEONHOOD and THE TUNNEL RUNNER) also set in the same world.

 

Author Links:

 

www.rosalynkelly.co.uk

www.facebook.com/rosalynkellyauthor

www.twitter.com/rosalynkauthor

www.instagram.com/rosalynkauthor

www.goodreads.com/rosalyn_kelly

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Featured Excerpt: Hemlock by Jesse Teller

The Decimation of Midvor

 

Dusk lay uneasy on the abandoned farmland. Crops grew out of control, wheat on the ground, too heavy for its stalks. Corn slumped, raided by crows and other birds. A hush had fallen over the surrounding land, and Rayph Ivoryfist and Sisalyyon stood on the road hidden within the trees, studying the town and its growing shadows.

“You say your people told you of the animals here?” Rayph asked.

“The trees are restless,” she whispered. “All animal life, save the birds, has vanished. The people all left.”

From the tracks of carts that had passed, they looked to be carrying very little. Maybe a hundred people had walked this road recently, but Rayph doubted they had much in the way of belongings. “Can you tap into the forest while I go check things out?” he asked.

Sisalyyon nodded. She stepped into the gloom of the trees and dropped her cloak, exposing her naked body. Rayph pulled his eyes away, thinking of his wife and how long it had been since he had seen her.

Sisalyyon was the most ravishing woman Rayph had ever seen. Her perfection was a thing of legend. He heard her roots take the ground, and he turned to see her warping into the form of a cherry tree. The half-dryad dug into the ground. Her arms exploded into branches and blossoms. Her face alone remained that of a woman, and she nodded at Rayph as tears of sap rolled down her cheeks.

“It’s all dead. On the other side of the village, a mass grave holds hundreds of animals. Everything here is either dead or has fled,” she said. “So much decay and murder.”

She heaved as she wept, and Rayph nodded grimly. “Keep me posted.” He stepped from the trees and walked the road to the heart of the village of Midvor and the isolation it promised. Crows screamed at him, raising a storm of belligerent cacophony that gave Rayph pause. He pushed on, letting the night and the sudden chill weigh heavy on his mind. Darkness seemed in a rush, as if filled with bloodlust for the death of the day. Blood red clouds and the bruised purple sky spoke of the brutality of the night’s advance. Rayph touched his dagger, feeling the ally within kick, suddenly awake.

“Are we alone, Fannalis?” One pulse and Rayph knew they were not. He crossed the threshold of the arch over the main road and into the ragged edges of the village, where the houses teetered and moaned with the burgeoning wind. He felt it then, eyes resting on him as he moved, hungry eyes devouring every detail and plotting as he walked. Every door hid shadowy secrets. Every curtain waved in the wind, betraying the darkness within the abode, hungry and waiting.

Fear stabbed Rayph as he walked the dead village, and he wondered at what might have scared away its citizens. He reached the center and found the mill and the town pub. The mill house squealed as the vanes overhead slowly turned, casting new shadows. The mill door was an open mouth, waiting and set to snap closed.

Rayph turned his back to it and approached the pub door. He touched the handle and spat a word, hearing the lock on the other side slide, and the door burst open to slam the frame. The stench of old blood and dead flesh assaulted him. He spat a word, light burst forth from his hand, and he flew into the room.

Chairs had been shattered. Blood splashed the wall and sat in dry, peeling puddles on the tables and floors. Signs of murder hung everywhere, with no indication of the bodies that should be left. He searched the floor for drag marks and found none. Rayph moved on, stepping past tables, cracked and broken, and floorboards creaking, to make his way to the bar and jump behind it.

A great struggle had taken place here. The body of a mighty man lay in shreds on the ground, arms rent and ragged, tossed away as they were ripped free. Huge gashes in the thighs and neck, the face had contorted into a grimace of such pain as to drive a man insane. But the blood was scarce and the prints in it made little sense. He saw handprints and strange smears, marks that could have been knees, and a lack of puddles that nagged at his memory.

“I have faced this horror before, but I know not when,” he whispered.

 

Excerpt from Hemlock: The Manhunters Book Two

The busiest pirate bay in Perilisc is newly infested with vampires. These monsters will soon overrun the world, but the Manhunters must try to stop them in secret. Agents of the king are hunting Rayph’s vigilante crew. With one false step, they could all end up at a royal execution.

Hemlock is available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

 

About the Author:

 

 

Jesse Teller fell in love with fantasy when he was five years old and played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. From exploring the relationship between man and woman, to studying the qualities of a leader or a tyrant, Jesse Teller uses his stories and settings to study real-world themes and issues.

He lives with his supportive wife, Rebekah, and his two inspiring children, Rayph and Tobin.

 

Recognition:

 

1st Prize, The 2017 Drunken Druid Book Award

Literary Titan Gold Book Award
Drunken Druid Editor’s Choice, March 2017
Drunken Druid 2016 Book of the Year Short List
Hungry Monster Gold Book Award

 

Praise for The Manhunters:

 

“Mr. Teller gives us moral dilemmas, fierce and bloody battles, characters that come alive and the power of the magic of words to take us into another place, another time and another reality.”
—Dii Bylo, Tome Tender Book Blog

“This is one of the more fanciful and almost mythical like settings and storylines I’ve read in a while. ” —The Weatherwax Report

“Teller’s world is stunning in its complexity.”
—M. L. Spencer, Bestselling Author of The Rhenwars Saga

“The characters are interesting, the heroes likable, and the villains hateable.”
—booknest.eu

“Has all the ingredients of an exciting, dark fantasy epic: ancient and powerful mages, deadly and vengeful enemies, familial strife, malevolent politicking, and jailbroken criminals hell-bent on revenge.” —Fantasy Book Review

“Jesse Teller only takes his foot off the accelerator to switch to a higher gear.” —The Fantasy Inn

 

Author Links:

Website
Facebook
Goodreads
Amazon
Twitter

 

 

Book Review: Swarm and Steel by Michael R. Fletcher

 

I recieved a copy of this book, not for the review, but for a song; thankfully, a tapdance was not necessary, as I’m not very good at it and plus, I don’t have the required shoes anymore. No worries, I only do honest reviews anyways. I have read one of Fletcher’s previous works, Beyond Redemption. I greatly enjoyed both novels. They are amazing flights of fancy with a “magic system” based upon real life psychological disorders, and great fun as the characters’ manifested delusions wreak havok upon their own persons and that of others. Another focus that the Manifest Delusions Series (this is the third in the series and first standalone) places great emphasis on is religion, and the dynamic between the deluded, the sane, and the deities that watch over them (or don’t) from the “other side,” which Fletcher refers to quite creatively as the Afterdeath rather than the Afterlife … which makes more sense. There are new Geisteskranken, new cultures, new tribes, new towns and cities, all are on display. The story begins with one Zerfall Seele, a powerful Gehfahrgeist or sociopath, wounded in an alley in the greed-driven city of Geld. Everyone is trying to kill her, her sword is missing and she doesn’t know why. And that’s just the beginning, as a narrative four hundred years in the making relates her story, that of her old boyfriend Aas, that of her new boyfriend Jateko, that of her sister Holle and that of her sister Holle’s clone of her, Pharisaer. Needless to add, things get a bit crazy as the interested parties war over the powerful church that the two sisters created so many years ago. If anything, the overarching world takes on even more personality in Swarm and Steel than it did in Beyond Redemption; the rabbit hole goes ever deeper as the reader is treated to the philosophies and deities of multiple societies, some savage and some supposedly civilized, before it literally veers straight into hell. Like one of the protagonists in this novel, Fletcher’s world keeps growing and growing as he shines a great spotlight on a different angle of it in each work. Run out and get it ! 5 out of 5 stars …

 

Movie Review: The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo Del Toro

With this film, I don’t really know exactly where to begin. It’s actually kind of fitting that this is the first movie review that I am going to post on my blog, as it is so noteworthy. I almost didn’t see it, figuring it would be just another cheesy, offbeat romance film; a rom-com with the Universal Studios’ Creature From the Black Lagoon playing the leading man; the director is a big fan of that film apparently. That was the sense that I took away from the trailer that I saw. However, I managed to talk myself into the theatre with the argument that if it was even half as magickal as Crimson Peak had been, then the cost would be worth it. I had also seen Pan’s Labyrinth on video, and I had never seen one of his films in the theatre, so I wanted to have that experience. I was more than pleasantly surprised when the film turned out to be so much more than just a simple romance; it’s a dark, lovecraftian treatise on culture, gender roles, the pressure to succeed and conform, and is also almost a love letter to the twentieth century itself, and what the U.S. used to be. There are a lot of cold war references, both media and otherwise, in passing throughout the film.  Some are films on televisions, posters, everything is orchestrated along with an art deco aesthetic straight out of films like Dark City and video games like the Bioshock series.

The script sets up a little microcosm just like a novella. One plotline regarding another country’s desire to possess the creature for themselves is like a cinematic rabbit hole, following one character home at a couple of points. I have heard that certain groups aren’t altogether happy with their portrayals in the story, but it stands to reason, as characters are only human after all, they would be flawed and not some archetypical paragon making people like them look good. That’s not what the film is trying to portray. It’s a fantasy, or fairytale as some have termed it, which uses pure imagination to illustrate what might be if a merman were indeed found in real life and how men of science would try to exploit it. In an almost grimdark fashion, each of the supporting characters has his or her own little sub-story; Eliza’s gay friend is a closeted homosexual artist, and the U.S. was a very different place back then for people who were considered different. But that is absolutely part of the whole backdrop of the narrative, the theme of being the outsider, the ostracized. The palette is all greens and blacks and whites, but with a few moments of genuine golden hue, as if in a daydream. The shots are often pans, sometimes even fixed pans like those old binocular stations like you’d find at the top of the Empire State Building, but rarely follows. So while the film may have a color schematic similar to Fight Club, the cinematography is completely different. If I had to liken the overall narrative style to anything, I would say that it was most akin to dreaming while awake, with time almost folding in on itself as the plot plays out. And it was one of the few films that I’ve seen in recent years that I truly did not want to end. Check it out!

5 out of 5 virtual digital stars.

Book Review: Art of War: Anthology for Charity, Edited by Petros Triantafyllou

Here is my review of the Art of War Anthology, which was edited by Petros Triantafyllou for Booknest.eu.

Featuring a whopping forty authors, this is an anthology with heart; all of the proceeds are going to the charity organization Doctors Without Borders. A work of art that’s trying to make a difference against the horrors of real-life war, which is obviously filled with heartbreak and atrocity and should be eliminated as much as possible from the face of our planet. Here’s the star-studded line-up, which has both seasoned, traditionally published authors as well as some of the most talented fresh faces from the indie side of the equation: Mark Lawrence, Ed Greenwood, Brian Staveley, Miles Cameron, John Gwynne, Sebastien De Castell, Mitchell Hogan, Stan Nicholls, Andrew Rowe, C.T. Phipps, Rob J. Hayes, Nicholas Eames, Mazarkis Williams, Ben Galley, Michael R. Fletcher, Graham Austin-King, Ed McDonald, Anna Stephens, Anna Smith Spark, RJ Barker, Michael R. Miller, Benedict Patrick, Sue Tingey, Dyrk Ashton, Steven Kelliher, Timandra Whitecastle, Laura M Hughes, J.P. Ashman, M.L. Spencer, Steven Poore, Brandon Draga, D. Thourson Palmer, D.M. Murray, Anne Nicholls, R.B. Watkinson, Charles F Bond, Ulff Lehmann, Thomas R. Gaskin, Zachary Barnes & Nathan Boyce. With a Foreword by Brian D. Anderson.

As for content, most of the stories are standard dark fantasy offerings, with all the trappings you’ve come to know and love … armored knights, gory deaths, castles and steeds and brotherhood upon the field of battle. However, I would like to list the stories that I feel are standouts, in no particular order. The first piece that really jumped out at me was from C.T. Phipps, tapping in with what I understand to be a tie-in to his Wraith Knight Series; demon sex, mansions turning into huge monsters, dessicated undead, and more all make an appearance in this quintessential slice of grim and dark fiction. A very strong showing from Rob J. Hayes as well, almost a short novelette much in the tradition of Joe Abercrombie’s Times Are Tough All Over; the reader actually receives two stories in one, the tale of war veterans trading war stories on the one hand, one a medic and one a berserker, and the story of a green recruit becoming a seasoned soldier over a long timeline.

And Michael R. Fletcher’s offering is more of the dark deliciousness that any fan of the Manifest Delusions Series will expect; a Gladiator-esque tale of life in a fighting pit, but with a serious twist; the vanquished become the living dead, and must remain in the coliseum forever, sometimes as a disembodied head. I won’t say more, but needless to say, the female warrior who is next to fight is experiencing quite a bit of stress as she heads out onto the killing sands. Readers will also greatly enjoy Dyrk Ashton’s story, which is a tale from the world featured in his Paternus series; it’s chock full of teeming hordes, multitudinous armies, enraged gods and other mythological figures, much of which is based on our real-world mythologies. A bit of a contrast in tone, M.L. Spencer’s offering brings the reader back to medieval times, with a vivid tale that has a French or European bent to it. Ed McDonald’s story was a gory bit of surprise; the story of a doomsday weapon, destined to turn the tides in a great war, basically eroding the persons of its handlers. And last but definitely not least, headliner Mark Lawrence contributes a tie-in to the Red Queen’s War trilogy, much in the spirit of the Road Brothers anthology, continuing Jalan Kendeth’s storyline with a journey through the treacherous Aral Pass and some hilarious interactions with a colorful cast of characters.

Overall, 4 out of 5 stars. Available for pre-order on Amazon now, release date: February 13, 2018.

Book Review: Blessedly Bound (Elemental Witch Trials Series #1) by Lucretia Stanhope

This is my review of Blessedly Bound by Lucretia Stanhope, the first in the Elemental Witch Trials series. To start with, it’s of an optimal length in my mind as I personally prefer novellas, which I have stated on numerous occasions. With a book that size, you have more than ample room for narrative and characterization, yet things are very direct without a bunch of unnecessary filler; what you want is to illustrate the tale until it can live in the reader’s imagination, without going insane spelling out every single detail or experience that could conceivably occur from the characters’ perspectives. The author’s interests weave their way into the tale in a variety of ways, and as I also have an interest in painting and artists, I found that aspect particularly fascinating; readers can probably learn a thing or two about knitting just by reading this book!

I also enjoyed the beautiful overtones from the classic beauty and the beast narrative, almost like in Edward Scissorhands where one of the male leads has to look but can’t touch or consummate his and the female lead’s emotional investments in a physical tryst. While it incorporates some of the best elements from hit young adult bestsellers such as Vampire Academy, Twilight and Hunger Games, there are just enough dark and rough edges to keep things interesting; so that, when the romantic elements are finally placed at the center stage, it’s never tiresome as there’s always a dark alley to go down a page or two later. There’s also a greater sense of realism than is common in that genre, so that the piece will be entertaining to both adults and teens. The book very much captures that small-town ambience found in some of the best movies, and sets up a nice little microcosm where you can really get a sense of who the characters are, and the qualities of their respective personalities.

There’s also a good sense of history, as the female lead delves into her past and that of her family, seeking justice for its murdered members. Plot-wise, there is a traditional love triangle narrative branch between the protagonist and the male leads, several intertwined murder mysteries, and everything is neatly wound up by the ending and practically tied up with a pretty bow. But the story’s greatest strength in my opinion is its keen sense of magical realism and descriptions of magical ritualism and the main character Gwen’s journey to find out what her true capabilities are as a witch. And while I definitely saw the twist near the end of the book coming, it worked very well plot-wise and is a very cinematic-style wrinkle found in Hollywood blockbuster films. 5/5 stars; highly recommended.