blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Wisdom of Crowds – Joe Abercrombie

The conclusion to The Age of Madness

CHOAS. FURY. DESTRUCTION.
THE GREAT CHANGE IS UPON US . . .

Some say that to change the world you must first burn it down. Now that belief will be tested in the crucible of revolution: the Breakers and Burners have seized the levers of power, the smoke of riots has replaced the smog of industry, and all must submit to the wisdom of crowds.

With nothing left to lose, Citizen Brock is determined to become a new hero for the new age, while Citizeness Savine must turn her talents from profit to survival before she can claw her way to redemption. Orso will find that when the world is turned upside down, no one is lower than a monarch. And in the bloody North, Rikke and her fragile Protectorate are running out of allies . . . while Black Calder gathers his forces and plots his vengeance.

The banks have fallen, the sun of the Union has been torn down, and in the darkness behind the scenes, the threads of the Weaver’s ruthless plan are slowly being drawn together . . .

Capping off the AGE OF MADNESS trilogy, THE WISDOM OF CROWDS brings the series which is revolutionising fantasy to its stunning conclusion . . .

Read my reviews of the previous volumes; A Little Hatred and The Trouble With Peace

My thoughts: I was looking forward to this and I was not disappointed. With elements of the American Revolution and lashings of the French (especially the Terror and Robespierre – a bloody time had by all) as well as a good dose of Abercrombie’s straight talking Northmen and chaos all around.

As the Burners and Breakers take the Agriont, King Orso finds himself on the wrong side, again. I do enjoy his dry sense of humour as everything around him falls apart.

Savine is of course plotting like mad to stay afloat and not end up being chucked off a tower or anything, Leo is making his mark in politics and learning to live with one leg and only one working arm. Less Young Lion than Limping Lion perhaps.

Meanwhile in the North, Rikke’s planning to finally return Black Calder to the mud with an audacious plan that will either unite the North or end up with everyone dead. So business as usual.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As I’ve enjoyed the whole series (and the ones before it set in the same world). It’s dark and twisted and funny. The characters are boldly written and thoroughly awful, all of them, but in a way that somehow makes them likeable. I cannot wait to see what Abercrombie does next. I mean, peace can’t last for long, can it?

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

books

Book Blitz: The Orchid Farmer’s Sacrifice – Fred Yu

TheOrchid copy

I would buy this book based on the cover alone! Check out The Orchid Farmer’s Sacrifice, coming this Fall!

The Orchid Farmer's Sacrifice - eBook (2)The Orchid Farmer’s Sacrifice (The Red Crest Series #1)

Expected Publication Date: October 5th, 2021

Genre: Asian Fantasy/ Epic Fantasy

He was born of prophecy. If he can’t embrace his destiny in time, his country is doomed.

Ancient China. Spoiled and overconfident, eighteen-year-old Mu Feng relishes life as the son of an honored general. But when his sister is abducted and his friends slaughtered, he flees home. He soon discovers the mystical birthmark on his body has attracted an enormous price on his head.

Pursued across the Middle Kingdom, Feng finds allies in two fierce warriors and a beautiful assassin. When he learns his ultimate enemy plans an incursion with advanced weaponry, he must call on his friends and his own budding military genius to defend his country. His plan is desperate, and the enemy outnumbers him twenty-five to one…

Can Feng fulfill a duty he didn’t know he had and unite the empire against a terrifying force?

Coming Soon!

Chapter One

Mu Feng woke to the call of a rooster, unsure where he was. He was staring into an empty flask flipped over and wedged against a stack of plates.

He pulled his silk robes tighter around his body. This was not his bed. His body lay bent and twisted against the hard edge of a wooden table, and his face was soaked from sleeping in a puddle of spilled liquor all night. He supported himself on one elbow to stretch his sore hip.

His three friends were still asleep, two of them snoring on the floor and another sprawled on a narrow bench, his arms and legs dangling.

Vague memories of the night before brought a smile to Feng’s lips—drinking, eating, and playing dice deep into the night. Empty flasks were scattered everywhere. Two large buckets of water remained half full.

Feng flinched against the dull pain at the base of his skull. He rubbed his oversized forehead and reached for a bowl. He hadn’t drunk enough water, and now the headache would nag him all day.

He sat back and gulped down the water, one bowl after another, and then paused to take a deep breath. He remembered coming to the Rider’s Inn with three of his best friends last night. The first floor of the little inn was packed. There were no rooms left upstairs, and the innkeeper was going to ask one of his customers to find somewhere else to stay because the general’s son, Mu Feng, needed a place to sleep.

Feng assured the innkeeper he would be drinking all night and didn’t need a room.

He remembered the innkeeper bringing him the very best drink they had to offer, a liquor made from sorghum buried in the ground for thirty years. It was something so exquisite only a Tiger General’s son could afford it. Feng remembered sipping the liquor and commenting that the taste resembled an onrush of invading cavalry, the sound of a thousand war drums approaching until it became thunder, then breezed by to leave an exhaustive state of calm. One of his friends laughed and told him to get drunk.

Feng needed to hurry home. The ride back would not be long—only a trip through a small forest. But he was to train his father’s pike unit that morning, and it wouldn’t look good for the instructor to arrive late.

The front door had been left open, and a little boy, his face filthy and his clothes in tatters, stood outside.

The boy’s a beggar and wants something to eat, Feng thought. He took a piece of copper from his pocket and stumbled to the door. The boy inched back, leaning away as if preparing himself to run.

Feng placed the coin on the table closest to the entrance. “Here, kid. Get yourself some food.”

Ding, facedown on a bench only a moment ago, was already on his feet.

“We need to go,” Feng said. “I can send a servant later to pay the innkeeper.”

“You must have paid him four times already,” Ding said. He planted a sharp kick into one of his friends on the floor and squatted down to scream in his ear. “Get up, Wen!”

He proceeded to the next drunk, curled under a table and still snoring, and kicked him in the ribs. “Get up, Little Chu. Feng needs to go home.”

Little Chu groaned. He lifted his head, his eyes still closed. “I don’t want any breakfast.”

“You’re not getting any,” Feng said with a laugh. “But there’s plenty of water in that bucket.”

Ding headed for the door, his long sword dangling by his side. “I’ll get the horses ready.” He stopped by the table near the entrance. “Who left the coin here?”

“It’s for the kid,” Feng said, turning and pointing outside. The boy was no longer there. Feng walked to the door and pulled it wide open for another look. “He was just here.”

Wen lumbered to his feet, towering over the others. “What boy?” he asked, his voice booming across the room. He hoisted a heavy bucket to his lips for a gulp or two, then poured the rest of the water over his head.

“A young beggar,” Feng said. “So many of those little things around here.”

Wen’s laughter thundered across the room. “See? Even a beggar knows he can’t take money from a dead man. You drank so much last night the boy thought you were a hungry ghost.”

“Shut your mouth,” Chu shouted, clapping Wen’s back with the hilt of his sword. Wen laughed even harder.

Ding returned, pulling the horses with one hand and carrying all four saddles with the other.

Feng stepped into the morning sun and took a deep breath. He reached for the harness of a gigantic warhorse, a gift from Uncle Shu this year for his eighteenth birthday. He stroked the nose of the charger, then the mane, and took the saddle. The horse reminded him every day that he was an adult, despite his boyish features and lanky arms, and he was commander of the best pike men in the world.

Little Chu turned back to the mess they were leaving behind—the empty bowls, the plates, and the overturned liquor flasks. “Too bad Du didn’t want to come last night. Since when did we ever go drinking without him?”

“He wanted to,” Ding said, “but he was vomiting and couldn’t get up. Must have been something he ate at the whorehouse.”

“He ate at a brothel?” Wen asked. “What kind of meat do they serve there?”

Ding turned to his friend with a smirk. “Why don’t you ever go to the whorehouse, Feng?”

Feng finished saddling his horse and leaped onto his charger. “Let’s go.”

“Feng’s father is a Tiger General,” Little Chu said. “He can get any girl he wants.” He guided his horse toward the road and squeezed its belly with his stirrups. The horse lurched forward.

“But then he’ll have to marry her!” Wen shouted from behind, hurrying after his friends. “I’d rather pay some money to amuse myself than be stuck with a wretch in my house.”

In a moment they were on the main road, riding at a comfortable pace. After a while the path bent into a forest and narrowed. The four friends merged behind one another, proceeding in single file. The dirt trail was an easy ride, well maintained and free of overhanging branches and intruding vegetation.

It was still early in the morning, and the ride home would be short. Feng relaxed a little, but not entirely. His father would be furious if he found out his son was too drunk to come home last night and couldn’t return in time to train his pike unit. He might even forbid Feng from leading his men again, a position Feng had to beg for over the years.

General Mu, Feng’s father and one of four Tiger Generals in the empire, was known as the General of the Uighur Border. He guarded the westernmost fortress in the empire. The portion of the Great Wall that he protected and the North Gate, which opened into the City of Stones, faced the land of the Uighur. It was the final stop on the Silk Road before entering the Middle Kingdom.

General Mu’s city was one of few fortresses built in a valley along the northern mountain chains. It was low enough to lose the advantage of elevation, which so much of the Great Wall depended on, but flat enough for travelers and barbarian traders to meet in this border city. Over the years General Mu had imposed heavy punishments on anyone harassing or discriminating against the foreigners, and despite countless skirmishes at the Great Wall, the City of Stones was never attacked in earnest. Commerce thrived at a time of heightened tensions between the Middle Kingdom and the barbarian nations. Chinese and Uighur, Khitans and Mongols assembled in the same bustling marketplace in the center of town and bartered. The city seemed oblivious to the politics of the Asian kingdoms.

The general placed his only son, Mu Feng, in command of the pike unit, but he was never permitted to confront the barbarians. The archers, the cavalry, and the anti-siege personnel were all deployed during border skirmishes with the Uighur.

Feng’s pike units were never battle-tested, and he never understood why. In military matters his father always sought his advice and often adopted his strategies. For years he studied The Art of War and every other military classic his father could access. In simulated battle, Feng had proven again and again he was capable. Yet, his father never trusted him in a real war.

Feng and his friends breezed along the narrow forest trail with Ding in front, Feng following from a short distance, and the other two in the rear.

Moments later, Feng noticed two rows of armed men standing in a line, motionless, blocking the road.

“Slow,” Feng said, loud enough only for his friends to hear. “Bandits.”

The foliage around them was dense with thick trees and low branches reaching into every empty space. It would be impossible to penetrate the forest and ride around the blockade.

Ding reined in his horse and slowed to a walk. “Small-time bandits trying to rob the general’s son. Wait till they find out who you are.”

Wen sent his horse lurching forward and stopped in front of the outlaws, so close he could have easily barreled into them. “Why are you blocking the road?”

None of them answered. They simply stared.

“If you don’t step aside, we’re going to run you over!” Wen said, his booming voice echoing through the forest.

 The armed thugs remained silent, motionless. Wen reached for his sword. Feng held out his hand, fingers outstretched, and motioned for him to stop.

“There’s only ten of them,” Little Chu said in a low voice. “And they’re on foot.”

“Get out of my way,” Feng said to the bandits, his voice loud and firm. “We’re military officials. We have important business in the City of Stones.”

A short bandit with a gray topknot broke into a smile. “Military officials,” he said, speaking slowly as if to pronounce every syllable. “Exactly what we’re waiting for.”

Feng stiffened. Soldiers earned modest salaries. They were well trained and armed, and very few of them traveled this road. For a small team of robbers to block the road, waiting for soldiers to rob, didn’t make any sense.

“One of our women was raped last night,” the short one continued.

Ding moved forward to Feng, his hand on his weapon, and whispered, “There’s more of them in the forest on both sides. Maybe a hundred.”

Feng nodded and turned back to the short bandit. “You’re not listening. Civilian crimes should be reported to the magistrate, not the army.”

“The criminal was a military official!” the thug shouted over Feng’s voice.

“I see,” Feng replied, fighting to remain calm. His heart was pounding.

His hand crept into his pocket to touch a bronze plate half the size of his palm, a token he always carried with himself. He still remembered the day so many years ago when he was afraid to climb onto a horse for the first time. He went to bed that night feeling disgraced and useless. His father came to his bedside and gave him this little bronze plate embossed with an image of a fierce tiger. His father told him if he carried it in his pocket, he would be able to do anything he set his mind to because the tiger held the powers of the Tiger General, powers meant for the strong and courageous. Much later he realized it was a standard pass the Tiger Generals’ messengers used.

He kept this one particular plate on himself every day.

The situation in front of him required much more than strength and courage. A hundred bandits had gathered to surround a few soldiers when very little money could be made.

Something was very wrong.

“Bring your evidence to the magistrate, and he’ll assign officers to investigate,” Feng said. “But blocking the road and randomly harassing any soldier is plain stupid. Harm the wrong soldier, and you’re all going to be killed.”

Chu pulled up behind Feng. “They’re behind us as well. We’re surrounded.”

“The criminal may be you!” the bandit continued, pointing the butt of his saber at Feng. “Why don’t you come with us to the magistrate, and we’ll talk about it in front of him?”

So, they didn’t intend to rob. They were looking to abduct, and they were waiting for the right moment to strike. The group of friends was in grave danger. Feng drew his horse back, opening up the space in front so he could see everything around him. How could this be happening?

Feng’s heart raced faster than he could withstand. They were on horses, and the bandits were not. That extra speed was their only advantage. He didn’t notice anyone on the road earlier, so they couldn’t have installed too many traps or ambushes behind them. Turning around, charging through the bandits in the rear, and riding the main road back toward the Rider’s Inn seemed like the sole course of action.

“After all, you look like a sleazy rapist to me!” the bandit shouted for all to hear. There was a roar of laughter.

“How dare you!” Wen shouted, drawing his sword. “Do you know who he is?”

Feng reached out in alarm, trying to grab Wen’s attention. He was too far away. Wen’s loud voice pierced through the thundering laughter.

“He’s General Mu’s son! Do you all want to die?”

The bandits fell silent, but only for a second. With a roar the men from both sides of the forest charged. Feng drew his sword, spun his horse around, and shouted, “Retreat! Back to the Rider’s Inn!”

His friends reacted, turned, and broke into a hard gallop. The bandits swarmed in like floodwater. Feng had never encountered a real battle before, but if they were out to kidnap for ransom, then he—not his friends—would be the prized possession. He needed to lead the bandits away from his friends if they were to have any chance of escaping.

Feng turned around and attacked the short bandit with the topknot, flying past him and slashing him across the face, almost cutting his skull open. The thug died instantly. Feng stabbed left and right, kicking his horse’s belly to urge it forward, struggling to break through the ring of hostiles.

Then he heard Wen shouting from behind. “Feng’s stuck back there! Feng’s stuck back there!”

“No!” Feng screamed as loud as he could. “Back to the inn!”

He knew they heard him, but in the distance he saw them approaching as fast as they could.

“No!” he shouted again. A spear flew across the air and struck Wen in the belly. He bowled over and fell from his horse. The bandits surrounded him and stabbed him over and over again.

Feng stared in disbelief. “Wen!” he shouted. They weren’t out to kidnap. They intended to murder. He kicked his warhorse and pummeled into the dense rows of bandits, slashing and stabbing as hard as he could, hoping to get to his other two friends before it was too late.

Chu’s horse screamed, lurching back and dismounting its rider.

They were attacking the horses. Without horses there would be no hope of getting out alive. Feng leaped off his mount and sent his horse away, wielding his sword with both hands like a battle ax and carving a path to Little Chu.

It was already too late. Chu was surrounded and stabbed from all directions at once, multiple spears and swords buried in his body. Dark blood poured from his mouth, and with his last breath, he screamed, “Run, Feng!”

Feng stabbed a bandit in the rib cage, pushed his sword all the way in until the hilt slammed against his chest. With a roar he shoved the writhing body into a crowd of enemies. He grabbed someone’s saber and swung and thrashed behind himself, fighting off those attacking his back while shielding his front with the dying bandit. He planted his feet on the hard ground, sensed Ding’s location, and pushed his way through.

Ding had already fallen off his horse, but he was hiding behind two trees standing very close together in front of a narrow gap only one person could penetrate at once, allowing him to hold back his attackers.

Feng forced his way to the two trees and dumped the dead bandit from his own sword and into the gap to seal it. He then circled around the smaller tree. “My horse is still alive,” he said. “Let’s go!”

He whistled for his horse and grabbed another saber from a dead bandit, and with a weapon in each hand, he leaped out from behind the trees and slashed at his nearest enemy.

The bandits were hardly skilled swordsmen. They were poorly coordinated and clearly had never trained to fight together.

But there were so many of them.

Feng created an opening when his warhorse broke through from behind. The massive charger was kicking and stomping the enemy, pressing them back, throwing them into disarray.

Ding stood right beside him, covered in blood—perhaps some of his own blood. “Go!” Feng shouted. He slashed another bandit in the neck, lodging his blade in the man’s collarbone.

“Careful!” Ding shouted from behind. Out of the corner of his eye, Feng noticed a spear flying toward him. Ding leaped in, crossing in front of Feng and blocking the spear with his body. He collapsed, the warhead plunged in his abdomen.

“No!” Feng wrenched his weapon free, hacked down another enemy, and leaped onto his horse. He grabbed Ding and dragged him onto the saddle, smacking the horse with the side of his saber. The charger surged forward. They were on a warhorse, one of the best in the army, and the bandits originally sealing off the road were out of position. Many were killed. Others couldn’t climb over the dead bodies littered across the narrow path. Feng’s warhorse met little resistance.

Ding yanked the spear out of his belly, and with a shout he threw it into the closest bandit. A stream of dark blood flew from Ding’s mouth.

Slowly he leaned his full weight against Feng’s back, fading out of consciousness. Feng threw away his saber and reached back with one hand to clutch his friend’s belt, preventing him from falling over. He urged the horse on, and the powerful stallion responded, charging forward at breakneck speed. The shouts and insults from behind were fading. In a moment, Feng found himself riding in silence.

His back was soaked with Ding’s blood. Ding’s breathing was becoming shorter and quicker.

“Ding! Wake up, Ding!”

How could this be happening? To think a few hundred untrained ruffians would dare confront a Tiger General’s army for mere ransom was hard to believe. Besides, they could have captured Wen and Little Chu when they fell off their horses. But they rushed in to kill without hesitating a step, as if taking them alive was never considered.

Feng felt a squeezing pain in his chest at the thought of Wen and Chu. They were gone. They were drinking and laughing and bickering only last night, and now they were gone.

A little side path branched off from the main road, and a small house hid behind a row of trees. He pulled his horse’s reins toward the house. It looked like the home of a local peasant, with coarse mud walls and an old wooden door once painted red. Feng had never spoken to a peasant before, much less asked one for help. He was the son of a Tiger General, high above the rest. Normally the peasants would be kneeling in front of his father’s mansion.

With Ding dying behind him, it didn’t matter if he had to bow to a beggar.

Feng reached the front door of the hut, dismounted, and dragged his friend’s unconscious body with him.

He took a deep breath and pounded the door with his fist.

An old woman with a wide gap between her oversized front teeth opened the door. She looked at Feng from head to toe, then at Ding. “Come on in,” she said. “I was afraid you wouldn’t knock. He’s bleeding to death, you know.”

Feng was more thankful than surprised. He lifted his friend as gently as he could and dragged him into the little hut. There was nothing inside except for a small bed, a table, and a brick cooking stove in the corner.

“We were attacked by bandits. There were four of us, and—”

The old woman sneered. “Stop barking like a neutered dog. You lost a fight, and you want to hide here. Put him in the bed. I’ll boil some towels to clean his wounds.”

Feng ignored her insolence, dragged his friend to the bed, placed him on his back, and tucked a coarse pillow under his head. Blood dripped everywhere. He yanked open Ding’s shirt and sucked in his breath. “No,” he whispered. “No.”

Ding looked up with a blank, lifeless stare.

The old woman brought a bucket of water and with one glance turned around to leave. “You should’ve told me earlier. I wouldn’t have brought the towels if I knew he was almost dead.”

Feng climbed onto the bed with trembling hands, lifted his friend’s head, and wrapped his body in his arms. “How do you feel, Ding?”

“I’m cold.”

“I-I’ll find you a blanket. I’ll—”

“No. Don’t leave.”

Feng held his friend tighter. “I’m here. I’m here.”

“What happened, Feng?”

Feng’s entire torso shook. His quivering lips were barely able to speak. “I don’t know.”

“Wen and Chu. They’re gone?”

Feng nodded.

A sob escaped Ding’s lips, and a trickle of tears rolled down his face. “I’ll . . . I’ll see them soon.”

“No!” Feng said. “Stay with me, Ding. Stay with me.”

“I’m sorry, Feng. You and Du are left behind. It’s still better than drinking alone. Tell him to stop eating at the whorehouse.” Ding tried to laugh at his own joke but only managed a choked sob. “How could there be so many bandits here?”

Feng shook his head, unable to respond.

“I’ve never heard of . . . of so many bandits . . .” Ding’s voice trailed off, and then the room was silent. Even his light gasps for air faded.

“How did we fail the people?” Feng whispered, struggling to speak so Ding could hear him. “Why did so many turn to crime?”

Ding took his last breath, his cold, limp body sinking into Feng’s arms. For a moment, the tears wouldn’t flow.

“Why are the people discontent?” Feng’s broken voice managed to say. He held his friend’s body closer. He felt ill and dizzy, as if he might vomit and faint all at once. He squeezed his eyes so tightly together that his tears couldn’t flow.

He threw his head back to scream.

“He had a gaping hole in his chest,” the old woman shouted from across the room. “Did you expect him to live?”

Feng collapsed on his friend’s body and wept. He shook with every sob, his clenched fists pounding the bed with every convulsion.

The door flew open so hard the old iron hinges rattled. A group of peasants carrying thick bamboo poles charged in, all of them young and strong. They moved in lock step with perfect discipline. They formed an arc around the door, each facing a different direction with their bodies poised to react. Feng recognized them.

“How dare you break my door!” the old woman shouted. “Get out of my house! I’ll report you to the magistrate!”

One peasant drew a sword halfway out of his bamboo pole, and the old woman fell silent.

A tall man with thick eyebrows and a short beard stepped in. He acknowledged the old woman once, then turned to Ding’s body.

“I’m sorry.”

“Uncle Shu,” Feng said, his voice trembling. His father’s brother was here, a powerful man of great skill and military prowess. At least he was safe now. “Wen, Chu, and now Ding. They’re all gone.”

Uncle Shu came to the side of the bed.

“How did you find me?” Feng asked. “How did you know?”

His uncle pulled a ragged sheet over Ding’s face so the horrid look of death would not stare back at them. The little hut was silent while he took Feng’s hand and led him to the table on the other side of the room. “Sit. I need you to calm down and tell me what happened.”

“I . . . we . . .” Feng couldn’t find words. He was so relieved to see his uncle and even more relieved to see the army’s elite, personally trained by his uncle, gathered around him. Strange, they were dressed in the coarse gray fabric of peasants, and their weapons were concealed in bamboo poles. Why would his uncle need to travel under disguise?

“You’re safe now, Feng,” Uncle Shu said. “Tell me what happened.”

Feng’s hands were still shaking.

Uncle Shu motioned for one of his men. “Bring the young master some liquor.”

Just the night before, they were drinking the finest liquor the little inn had to offer, laughing and playing dice late into the night. Feng remembered debating Mongol military tactics. Little Chu’s words echoed in his head. The Mongols may have the strongest cavalry in the world, but horses can’t climb walls. I can drink a bucket of liquor and still defend the country.

One of the soldiers placed a flask of liquor in front of Feng.

“I let my friends die,” Feng whispered. He didn’t wait for his uncle to respond. He grabbed the flask and emptied it in his mouth, guzzling the hard alcohol without taking a breath. He planted the flask on the table and tried to shake his head clear as his vision already began to blur.

“You shouldn’t be drinking like that, young man,” he heard the old woman say behind him. “Here, drink some water before you vomit all over my table. Not that I don’t have to spend all day cleaning up your friend’s blood.”

Feng grabbed the bowl of water placed before him and drank everything in one gulp.

“Take her outside,” Uncle Shu said to one of his men. “Give her some money for her troubles and ask her to leave us alone.”

Feng felt dizzy, incredibly drunk for a single flask of liquor. Maybe that was what his uncle wanted for him, something to numb his senses and help him forget. “Where is my father?” he asked.

He lowered his head onto his arms, leaned against the table, and closed his eyes. He had slept in the same position on a similar table the night before. His friends were alive then.

Nothing made sense anyway. His uncle was here, and very soon he would be taken home. His father would summon the army, they would round up all the bandits, and soon after he would find out why his friends were slaughtered in broad daylight, why even a Tiger General’s son could be attacked on his own land.

But in that moment he was dizzy and intoxicated, and he wanted to let everything go.

Very quickly the effects of the alcohol disappeared. He didn’t want it to leave his head, didn’t want his escape to be over so soon. He remained still, head in his arms, resting on the table with his eyes squeezed shut. Maybe if he tried not to move, he would eventually fall asleep and have sweet dreams.

“Sir, the young master is unconscious,” one of the soldiers said.

“Bring him to the carriage,” Uncle Shu replied.

“Do we need to secure him? In case he wakes up before we get there?”

“No need. He won’t wake up for another day.”

Feng’s heart beat so hard he thought his ribs would crack. He waited. Two men lifted him off his seat, wrapped his arms around their shoulders, and dragged him outside. Feng was determined to find out where they were taking him and whatever Uncle Shu wanted to do to him. He kept his eyes closed, his arms limp, his head hanging.

They lifted him into an enclosed carriage, settled him on his back, and walked away. Outside, at least a hundred men and numerous horses and carriages shuffled around. Feng heard his uncle giving orders to depart.

“You stay with the young master,” Uncle Shu said.

The operation was well planned and rehearsed. No one asked a single question after that.

Someone climbed into the carriage with Feng. The soldier placed his sword on the floor and shouted, “Go!”

The driver cracked his whip. They eased forward, then pulled into a steady speed. Feng waited. The road became smoother, and the horses picked up the pace. The heavy pounding of warhorses shifted to the front of the carriage, leaving only a few soldiers to protect the rear. The attack units had moved, and it was time.

Feng grabbed the sword lying on the floor of the carriage, drew the weapon, and pinned the blade against the soldier’s throat before he had time to react.

“Where are you taking me?” Feng asked in a quiet voice.

The soldier shook his head. “You—you were supposed to be unconscious . . .”

Feng pressed the tip of the sword harder into the base of his throat, piercing the skin. Blood trickled at the tip. The soldier froze.

“Answer me!”

“We’re going to the City of Eternal Peace.”

Feng’s eyebrows knit together. “General Wu’s fortress?”

The soldier nodded. “Young master, we didn’t mean to—”

“Why is my uncle doing this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why am I being escorted to another Tiger General’s city? Where’s my father?”

“I’m just a soldier, young master. You know we only receive our orders.”

Feng took a deep breath. “I’m going to kill you if you don’t tell me.”

The soldier’s face was blank, his lips pressed together.

“I’m the general’s son. I can kill you for entertainment, and no one would do a thing.”

“We’re the general’s soldiers, young master. But we’re also your soldiers.”

Feng paused, lowering his sword. “You’re the people’s soldiers. You fight to defend the people, not my father or me. Don’t ever forget.”

“I won’t, young master.”

Feng spun his sword around and hammered the soldier’s head with the handle. The soldier collapsed.

Feng reached for his peasant clothing, about to strip him, and hesitated. He had never worn the coarse fabric of a common man, much less the filthy rags of a peasant. He could almost smell the soil stains on the straw sandals.

His own clothing reeked of dried blood, so changing into dirty canvas would not be so bad.

Feng cursed himself for worrying about the quality of his clothes at a time like this. He stripped the soldier and dressed him in his own bloody robes, then lifted the unconscious body with one hand and the sword with his other and kicked the carriage door open. He threw the soldier halfway out, facedown, and released a long, tortured cry.

“Young master!” one of the riders in the rear called. The soldier hurried forward, closing the distance between himself and Feng’s carriage. Feng threw his sword out the partially opened door. The soldier outside evaded the flying sword and was barely recovering when Feng leaped out, slammed into him, and sent him toppling off his horse. Feng recovered his own position on the speeding mount, grabbed the reins, planted his feet in the stirrups, and squeezed the horse’s belly. The other guards were charging up behind him. A side road appeared ahead. Feng saw his opportunity and brought his horse thundering down the little path.

The guards followed. Feng reached for the sword hanging from the saddle, spun around, and charged into his pursuers.

“Young master!” one guard shouted. They recognized him and pulled back. No one wanted to fight the general’s son.

He tried not to think of how his friends had died that morning, how hundreds of bandits waited for him in ambush, how Ding died in his arms. The little beggar at the inn that morning, who watched them from outside and didn’t bother to collect the coins Feng left for him, must have been there to report when they began their ride home. The ambush was prepared for them and only them.

His uncle could have encountered the slaughter in the forest and traced his tracks and Ding’s blood to the peasant woman’s house. There was no way to understand why his uncle was out there looking for him, his elite unit dressed as peasants, or why he drugged his own nephew.

Feng kicked his horse and rode as hard as he could, heading south for Major Pass toward the City of Stones. Major Pass, the main artery running across the north of the empire and parallel to the Great Wall, connected the city fortresses of all four Tiger Generals. It used to be named something else, but the people called it Major Pass because it was the widest, most well paved road north of the capital. Armies and their supply wagons could efficiently move on this road.

As far back as Feng could remember, the empire was at peace within its borders.  Aside from skirmishes with the barbarians in the north and short wars with the island nations in the south, people lived well in China.

He remembered the quick briefing he received from two officers right before he left for the Rider’s Inn. They had told him the Venom Sect was recently active in this area, but no one knew why. Feng recalled asking the local government to involve themselves, saying that the military shouldn’t interfere with civilian criminals.

The Venom Sect was a powerful group of poison users rumored to be four hundred members strong and headed by a ruthless leader named Red Cobra. The officers told him yesterday that Red Cobra was also spotted in the area. Feng laughed and asked how much snake venom it would take to poison an army.

Then they informed him that the Silencer had killed Tiger General Lo. They had expected this news ever since he was ordered to invade Mongolia and capture the undefeated barbarian king known as the Silencer. General Lo walked into Mongolia with only two hundred men in an apparent act of suicide. As of yesterday they still hadn’t found his body. All his men were dead, and the Silencer took no prisoners. Some even said the Silencer was spotted killing off the Chinese soldiers by himself. General Lo guarded the easternmost fortress in the empire facing the Khitans. For the emperor to order him to march away from the barbarian nation he was guarding against to attack an undefeated Mongol king made no sense at all.

None of these events should have had anything to do with what happened that morning. The bandits were clearly not members of the Venom Sect. They were thugs carrying steel weapons they didn’t know how to use, fighting in plain view instead of killing from the shadows.

It was almost noon by now, and Feng was rapidly approaching the City of Stones.

Available October 5th!

About the Author

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As a lifelong student of martial arts, and growing up watching martial arts flicks in the 80s and 90s, Yu decided early on that he would write in this genre. Inspired by George RR Martin’s work, he decided he would write a series in English in this centuries-old Asian genre. Yu has written three previous novels, The Legend of Snow WolfHaute Tea Cuisine and Yin Yang Blades. Yu has a BFA Film and Television from NYU Tisch School of Arts. He was born in Guangzhou, China, but presently lives in New York City.

Fred Yu  

 

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Book Release Blitz: Samurai – Joanna White

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Happy publication day to author Joanna White, and congratulations on the release of Samurai (Valiant #3)! 

Giveaway – An 8 x 11 map from the book, 8  x 11 poster of the cover, and early access to Healed (Digital), the short story ending to Samurai!

SAMURAI OFFICIAL COVER 2021 OFFICIAL!!!!Samurai (The Valiant Series #3) *Books can be read in any order

Publication Date: September 7th, 2021

Genre: Clean Fantasy/ Adventure

Okada Akari and Sakamoto Megumi just may be two women in over their head.
Okada Akari is a samurai, the daughter of the Chief Advisor to the Emperor of the Sakamoto clan. One day on a mission, she is captured by a mysterious warrior and taken to an enemy camp—an enemy filled with strange, foreign powers the likes of which her world has never seen. What’s worse, a foreign stranger is supplying her enemy with weapons her people cannot hope to fight against. Yet that is only the beginning of her journey, one filled with war and love, sacrifice, and darkness.

Sakamoto Megumi has wanted to be a samurai her entire life. However, as the daughter of the Emperor, training is impossible. When the Emperor is assassinated, she is thrust onto a throne she never wanted. As Empress, she must find a way to become a leader her people will look up to, instead of a weak woman unfit for the throne. Her generals are waiting for her to make a grave mistake. Falling in love with her high general might very well be the mistake they were waiting for.

Corruption has touched worlds before, but this time, it will take more than a few Chosen to stop it before it fills the hearts of everyone around them – even the hearts of their closest friends and allies.

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I glanced down at my hand as it rested in my lap. “Do you think I am ready?” My voice was barely above a whisper.

Somehow, he heard me. I glanced back at his reflection. He gently smiled, his eyes were steady and calm, and his voice was void of pity. “I believe you will lead your people wisely, like your father did before you. You have his wisdom and equality inside your heart, Princess Sakamoto.”

I blinked back tears that had begun to form and glanced back down at the one and only hand I had. The real meaning behind his words echoed inside my mind. You are able to lead your people whether you have two arms or one. My strengths outweighed my weakness.

When the young girl, Chiaki, finished combing through my hair, I told her that she could leave. Once the shoji slid shut behind her and I could no longer hear her footsteps, I turned around and met Ryosuke’s gaze. As I stood, I kept my eyes firmly locked on his. Though I could not embrace him, because at any moment anyone could interrupt us, his gaze on mine held more warmth than if I was actually in his arms.

“Your father and your mother both believed in you. I believe in you, Megumi. You are not alone on this path. Never forget that.”

Now Available on Amazon!

Other Books in the Valiant Series

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About the Author

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Joanna White is a Christian Author and fangirl. Hunter and Shifter are the first two books in her debut series, called the Valiant Series. In December 2019, one of her short stories was featured in Once Upon A Yuletide, a Christmas fairy tale anthology by Divination Publishing. Dark Magi, a prequel in the Republic Chronicles came out in November 2019. Glimpses of Time and Magic, a historical fantasy anthology, also featured one of her stories.

She graduated from Full Sail University with a BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment. Ever since she was ten years old, she’s been writing stories and has a deep passion for writing and creating stories, worlds, characters, and plots that readers can immerse themselves in. In 2020, she reached her personal goal of writing a million words in a year. Most of all, Joanna loves God, her family, staying at home, and being a total nerd.

To stay updated and find out more about her novels, where her inspiration comes from, games, giveaways, and more, visit her website at: authorjoannawhite.com.

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Blog Tour: The Winter Garden – Alexandra Bell

Welcome to the Winter Garden. Open only at 13 o’clock.

You are invited to enter an unusual competition.

I am looking for the most magical, spectacular, remarkable pleasure garden this world has to offer.

On the night her mother dies, 8-year-old Beatrice receives an invitation to the mysterious Winter Garden. A place of wonder and magic, filled with all manner of strange and spectacular flora and fauna, the garden is her solace every night for seven days. But when the garden disappears, and no one believes her story, Beatrice is left to wonder if it were truly real.

Eighteen years later, on the eve of her wedding to a man her late father approved of but she does not love, Beatrice makes the decision to throw off the expectations of Victorian English society and search for the garden. But when both she and her closest friend, Rosa, receive invitations to compete to create spectacular pleasure gardens – with the prize being one wish from the last of the Winter Garden’s magic – she realises she may be closer to finding it than she ever imagined.

Now all she has to do is win.

My thoughts: as a little girl I believed fervently in magic and fairies and the power of wishes, a part of me still does. This beautiful, magical book contains all of those things, like a fairy tale for grown ups. It made me a little tearful to finish it because I would never be reading it for the first time again and falling under its spell.

It is also about the power of friendship – that between Rosa and Beatrice and James. A vital enduring bond that helps them all through dark times and leads them to happiness in its different forms.

A truly wonderful, beautiful story, heartwarming and full of magic and marvels.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: A Master of Djinn – P. Djèli Clark

Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.

So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, Al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world fifty years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be Al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.

Alongside her Ministry colleagues and a familiar person from her past, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city – or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems . . .

P. Djèlí Clark is the winner of the Nebula, Locus, and Alex Awards and has been shortlisted for the Hugo Award.

My thoughts: do not stop, do not pass Go, do not collect £200. Just buy this book. It is brilliant. It really is. There’s djinn, magic, delicious food, kickass hijabis, swords, women in killer suits (ok, just one), love, cats, crime, a lunatic trying to take over the world, the German kaiser, a princess, myths come to life, and just so much good stuff.

It’s smart, funny, intelligent fantasy that honestly I enjoyed a ridiculous amount. It made me want to know more about Arabic mythology (must finish reading Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange), steampunk Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century is such a fantastic idea that I just want more.

I loved Fatma and her friends, I loved her smart brain and her defiant spirit, her love for Siti, her burgeoning friendship with the equally cool Hadia – solving magical crime and making time to pray while looking stylish in her hijab at the same time.

I can’t wait for book two and I really want to know more about the case with the terrifying rogue angel and the Clock of Worlds…

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: The Gauntlet & the Fist Beneath – Ian Green*

Fight the Storm.

The endless rotstorm rages over the ruins of the Ferron Empire. Floré would never let the slavers of the Empire rise again. As a warrior of the Stormguard Commandos, she wrought horrors in the rotstorm to protect her people. She did her duty and left the bloodshed behind.

Fight for your family.

Floré’s peace is shattered when blazing orbs of light cut through the night sky and descend on her village. Her daughter is abducted and Floré is forced into a chase across a land of twisted monsters and ancient gods. She must pursue the mysterious orbs, whose presence could herald the return of the Empire she spent her entire life fighting.

Destroy your enemies.

Now, Floré must take up the role she had sworn to put aside and become the weapon the Stormguard trained her to be, to save not only her daughter, but her people…

Ian Green is a writer from Northern Scotland with a PhD in epigenetics. His fiction has been widely broadcast and performed, including winning the BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines competition and winning the Futurebook Future Fiction prize. His short fiction has been published by Londnr, Almond Press, OpenPen, Meanjin, Transportation Press, The Pigeonhole, No Alibi Press, Minor Lits, and more. Twitter Website

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book, I liked Florè a lot – she’s determined, dedicated and tough, but I liked her two cadets, Cuss and Yselda, even more. They’re completely out of their depths but going on regardless because it’s what their captain would want. Fighting goblins and crow-men, meeting species’ they’ve only heard stories about; their mission will take them a long way from the quiet village they grew up in.

The concept was really interesting too – the endless rot storm caused by a battle between gods and the judgment of the final one standing. The way the rot changes people, the insistence that there is “no trial for rot-folk”. The long history of enmity and a fallen empire that once enslaved so many.

The magic system was entirely new – the idea of a pattern behind the universe felt familiar but the way it’s wielded as a weapon – to create fire, and interestingly salt, was clever. The fact that the whitestaffs see it in a different light – studying it and following it rather than applying it directly, was good too – setting up a conflict perhaps in books to come. The twists as the book ends – I need to know what that final scene means!

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Cover Reveal: The Awakening of Artemis – John Calla

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It’s time to reveal the cover for upcoming release, The Awakening of Artemis by John Calia! Read on for more info!

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The Awakening of Artemis

Expected Publication Date: Fall 2021

Genre: Science Fiction/ Speculative Fiction

Orphaned by war and disillusioned about her life, Diana Gutierrez-Adams is on a routine military assignment when she and her team are kidnapped by a domestic militia.  She learns from her captors that her cryogenically-frozen grandfather is at the center of a high-stakes plan to steal technology that will change the world for greed and great fortune.  

Challenged by the conspiracy and pulled by emotions she doesn’t fully understand, Diana’s rescue mission will change her life.  What happens to her is unexpected, perhaps miraculous – an adventure that embraces all her hopes for finding her true self and her place in a world dominated by powerful elites and even more powerful artificial intelligence.  

Coming Soon!

Diana knew that everyone who lived in the pods as well as anyone officially connected to the government had an embedded chip that enabled monitoring technology to identify where every individual was at any time.  The chips also measured the secretion of enzymes and hormones.  Algorithms had been developed to predict everyone’s wants and needs based upon those secretions.  Over time, the algorithms learned from human response and adjusted their predictions accordingly – without human intervention.

– Excerpt from The Awakening of Artemis

About the Author

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A Brooklyn-born, second generation American and the eldest of three boys, writing is his third career and the one about which he is most passionate.  Following graduation from the US Naval Academy and active duty in the Navy, he embarked on a career in business.  He began writing his blog “Who Will Lead?” in 2010 attracting over 115,000 readers.  It inspired him to write his first book, an Amazon five-star rated business fable titled “The Reluctant CEO.”  Currently he makes his home in Fairport, NY, a village on the Erie Canal.

John Calia | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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Blog Tour: What Remains – An Anthology by Inked in Grey

Whatremains

If you’re not into warm and fuzzy beach reads, What Remains is a great book for you this Summer! Check out this amazing anthology by several talented authors. Guaranteed to bring a chill to your hot days!

What Remains

What Remains: An Anthology by Inked in Gray

Publication Date: July 26th, 2021

Genre: Anthology/ Short Stories/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi/ Horror

Publisher: Inked in Gray

Victory at all costs. Even at the price of our own life, the desire to survive transcends all rational thought.

What Remains brings together fifteen tales of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. From sacrificing loved ones or oneself, to doing what it takes to keep them alive, these stories shake the soul, rip out its insecurities and flay them on the page.

Careful who you trust. Some quandaries have no right answer when we cannot save what we love most—or when isolation, desperation, and betrayal leave you no choice.

Take the journey with us to see What Remains when civility, decency, and sanity have all but fled.

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Available on Amazon!

Win a copy here

Authors:

R.A. Busby

About the Author: An award-winning literature teacher and die-hard horror fan, R. A. Busby is also the author of “Bits” (Short Sharp Shocks #45), “Street View” (Collective Realms #2), “Not the Man I Married” (Black Petals #93), “Holes” (Graveyard Smash, Women of Horror Anthology, Vol. 2), and “Cactusland” (34 Orchard, forthcoming).

“I was always instructed to write about what I know,” she states, “and I know what scares me.” In her spare time, R.A. Busby watches cheesy Gothic movies and goes running in the desert with her dog.

She can be found on Twitter and at RABusbybooks.weebly.com

David-Christopher Harris

About the Author: David-Christopher Harris’ fantasy publications include “Olam Ha-Ba” in speculative fiction and poetry magazine Arsenika, “Last Call” in The Arcanist Magazine, “Falselight” on PageHabit, and “Children of Ozymandias” in 50WordStories, among others. He received his M.A. in Medieval Literature, which he uses exclusively to teach his cat Latin. He is currently querying.

He can be found on Twitter and at www.dcharriswriting.com

Andy Dibble

About the Author: Andy Dibble is a healthcare IT consultant who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. He has supported the electronic medical record of healthcare systems in six countries. His work appears or is forthcoming in Writers of the Future, Star*Line, Sci Phi Journal, and others. He is Articles Editor for Speculative North magazine.

He can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and andydibble.com.

LT Ward

About the Author: LT writes mostly speculative fiction shorts and novels while spending her days raising her children and satisfying her never-ending thirst for knowledge through reading, meeting people, and first-hand life experiences. She has short story publications with Dancing Lemur Press, Me First Magazine, Jazz House Press, and forthcoming with Black Hare Press and Cardigan Press. She currently volunteers with WriteHive, a nonprofit literary organization.

She can be found on Twitter, Instagram, and at ltwardwriter.com.

Ben Armstrong

About the Author: Ben is a young author who has been writing stories for over six years now. Recently he has been published in his town’s newspaper.

Maxwell I Gold

About the Author: Maxwell I. Gold is a Rhysling Award nominated prose poet, focusing on weird and cosmic fiction. He is a regular contributor to Spectral Realms, edited by Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi and his work has also appeared in Weirdbook Magazine, Space and Time Magazine, Startling Stories, Baffling Magazine, and many others.

His debut prose poetry collection, Oblivion in Flux: A Collection of Cyber Prose is forthcoming this August from Crystal Lake Publishing.

Maxwell can be found on Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, and at www.thewellsoftheweird.com

Damir Salkovic

About the Author: Damir Salkovic is the author of novels Kill Zone and Always Beside You. His shorter work has been featured in the Lovecraft eZine, Dimension6 Annual Collection 2020, and in multiple horror, science and speculative fiction anthologies.

Find him on Goodreads and at his blog, Darker Realities.

Lawrence West

About the Author: Lawrence J West has been on his writing journey since he was fourteen years old and has always been drawn to fantasy, sci-fi, and horror because of the way these genres allow for the exploration of human experience in unique ways. Since becoming a husband and father he has also found that his writing has a greater degree of empathy and insight.

Lawrence can be found on Twitter.

Sharon Frame Gay

About the Author: Sharon Frame Gay is an award winning author whose work has appeared in many anthologies and magazines, including Chicken Soup For The Soul, Typehouse, Fiction on the Web, Literally Stories, Lowestoft Chronicle, Thrice Fiction, Saddlebag Dispatches, Crannog, and others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee.

A collection of her short stories, Song of the Highway, was released in August, 2020.

Sharon can be found on Twitter and Amazon.

Timothy Johnson

About the Author: Timothy Johnson is a writer and editor living outside of Washington, D.C. His published work includes the novels The Pillars of Dawn and Carrier as well as short fiction appearing in various professional and semi-professional markets. He is an MFA candidate in George Mason University’s creative writing program and an affiliate member of the HWA.

Find Timothy on Twitter and at timothyjohnsonfiction.com.

DL Shirey

About the Author: DL Shirey lives in Portland, Oregon, where it’s probably raining. Luckily, water is beer’s primary ingredient. His stories and non-fiction appear in 60 publications, including Confingo, Page & Spine, Zetetic and Wild Musette.

You can find more of DL Shirey on Twitter and at www.dlshirey.com.

Dan Eveloff

About the Author: Dan Eveloff is a lawyer and sports agent living in Chicago, Illinois with his dog, Reuben. He studied accounting at the University of Kansas, and subsequently earned his law degree from Northwestern University. His short fiction “The Price of Recompense” has appeared in AHF Magazine,Shakespearean Justice” in Aphelion Webzine, and “Prevenge” can be found in Close to the Bone Magazine.

His social media presence can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

Valerie Hunter

About the Author: Valerie Hunter teaches high school English and has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her stories and poems have appeared in publications including Cicada, Storyteller, Edison Literary Review, Other Voices, Room, and Wizards in Space.

Find Valerie on Instagram.

Nicholas Barner

About the Author: Nicholas Barner has farmed, cooked, and written variously in Oakland, Chicago, Maine, and Los Angeles. He lives with his partner, Shelby, and their Dog, Nuni.

He can be found online at nicholasbarner.com.

Thomas Canfield

About the Author: Thomas Canfield lives in the mountains of North Carolina. His phobias run to politicians, lawyers and TV pitchmen. He is still trying to plumb the logic of the sales pitch; The more you buy, the more you save. It never quite seems to work out that way in the real world. Canfield occasionally reviews books on Goodreads.

Among Tall Trees Excerpt

The young boy races for the ridge, a good twenty feet ahead of Jeff. With every painful breath, the distance between them grows. If the boy wanted to, he could already be out of his sight, halfway up the mountain that rises ahead of them, a blue-gray bulk topped with first snow, deep into the thick evergreens. But the child is holding back, glancing over his shoulder every now and then without missing a beat, without interrupting the purposeful elegance of his stride.

Save yourself. Go.

Jeff shouts none of this to the boy, whose thin arms are pumping up and down, skinny legs effortlessly swallowing the punishing grade of the mountain as if unfettered by gravity. Jeff is too busy wheezing, hauling in lungfuls of frosty air, trying to hear his own frenetic thoughts over the pounding of his out-of-shape heart and the tidal roar of blood in his ears. Trying to keep his burning lungs from falling out and keep his feet, clumsy in heavy boots, trudging one in front of the other. Every misstep, every stumble and pause for breath, erodes their already thin lead on the men who hunt them.

They are slow, too, these others: some weighed down with age, like Judge Crenshaw, who is eighty if a day. Some by sloth and neglect, like Big Mike Bragg, who weighs well north of three hundred pounds. Fear herds them together, and a mob is only as fast as its slowest man. But determination drives them, a remorseless singularity of purpose.

Although Jeff can’t see them, they aren’t far behind, marching through the leafless, scattered hardwoods down by the road, fanning out in a rough semicircle to cover as much killing ground as possible. So after a too-brief break, the boy catches Jeff’s eye—he has an uncanny way of looking up at just the right time, or somehow making Jeff do so—and flicks his head.

He doesn’t speak, but Jeff understands. Up. Up the mountain, into the pines. Their mad scramble resumes. Down here there are gaps in the treeline, patches of open ground between thickets and dense scrub, and open ground spells trouble.

Not that the boy seems concerned. Or what to all intents and purposes resembles a boy: a pale, scrawny slip of a kid, eight- or nine-years-old, maybe a small ten. Scabbed knees and elbows and bright green eyes, dirty blond hair cut in an unfashionable bowl around a pinched face. He bounds up the slope in easy strides, each as long as two of Jeff’s faltering steps, looking to the rest of the world—if there was anyone up here to see him—like any one of hundreds of identical, small-town American kids indulging in a bit of horseplay before going inside for dinner.

Except Jeff has seen those arms lock around Clyde Garver. Good old Clyde who Jeff had played high school football with and who fixed cars at Dan Laurie’s garage in town. The boy had grabbed Clyde and wrenched his head clean off his shoulders like a papier-mâché piñata, with no more effort than Jeff twisting a cap off a bottle of Miller High Life.

Except it’s late November in the Great Smoky Mountains. Snow weighs over the town like a judgement, but the boy’s wearing nothing but pants and a thin T-shirt and his feet are bare, and he’s giving no sign of feeling the cold.

Except the horseplay they’re indulging in will end in death. They can cheat it for a while, draw out the inevitable, but the men behind them aren’t about to give up. Good men, or so Jeff used to think. Men he’s known all his life—fathers and husbands and brothers. Men who piled into their trucks and four-wheel-drives without hesitation to hunt Jeff and the child. Men who are not going back down without their prize.

There’s only one end Jeff can see. But he keeps running, up toward the trees under the lowering sky.

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Blog Tour: The Secret of Dartwood Manor – N.A Triptow*

Purchase a copy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Blackwell’s 

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Witches. Ghosts. An ancient secret. Enter a world of myth and magic through this contemporary fantasy reimagining of Jane Austen’s beloved classic, Sense and Sensibility.

The small New England town of Tarryville, Maine is steeped in history, having been settled by the Dartwood and Farris families who fled Salem during the witch trials. The Dartwood sisters, Eden, Mariah, and Melissa, unexpectedly return home after their parents are found murdered. Upon their arrival, the girls are plagued by dreams in which dark spectral beings haunt them. When the hellish creatures seem to be more than just nightmares, another mystery begins to unravel as they discover that the circumstances around the murder of their parents may be far more menacing than they appear. Frantic for answers, they must untangle the mystery of their parents’ murders and reconstruct the pieces of an ancient secret. With the help of the young assistant curator of their family museum, Baden Correia, and an estranged friend from their past, Evan Farris, the orphaned Dartwood sisters must uncover the truth before the darkness haunting their family descends upon them as well.

The ebook of The Secret of Dartwood Manor is currently ON SALE for $0.99! Don’t miss out on this epic deal, only for the duration of the blog tour! Grab a copy HERE. UK readers – Here.


And here’s a link to Wishing Well Publishing’s shop where you can find witchling and bookish swag The official shop of Wishing Well Publishing – Wishing Well Merch (wishing-well-merch.myshopify.com)

INTL Blog Tour Giveaway!

Enter the rafflecopter to win a kindle copy of The Secret of Dartwood Manor + a $10USD Amazon Gift Card!

This is open internationally & it ends on July 21st, 2021 at 11:59pm EST.

Author of young adult contemporary fantasy and retellings, from fairy tales to classics, N. A. Triptow graduated from The University of Utah with a Bachelor of Arts in English Teaching with minors in History Teaching, Theatre, and British Studies. She teaches high school English and Film Studies. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Strategic Communication and Advertising from Purdue University. In her free time, you can find her reading, watching and analyzing movies and television shows, attending the theatre, going on walks or hikes, and playing board or video games with family and friends. She lives in Utah.

Website | Instagram | Goodreads | Twitter

Listen to an audio excerpt of The Secret of Dartwood Manor!

Here’s a link to a playlist of audio excerpts from the book read by the author, N.A. Triptow.

Listen to The Secret of Dartwood Manor’s playlist!

Playlists – N. A. Triptow (natriptow.com)

Q&A with Author N.A. Triptow

  1. If you could interview one of your characters (or have some tea with), who would you pick?

This is difficult for me to answer! I just love all the characters for very different reasons. If I have to choose one though, I would have to say Baden Correia, the Brazilian assistant curator of the Dartwood’s family museum and Mariah’s best friend. He is just so loyal, caring, and brave. My mom was also born in Brazil so it would be so much fun to chat about all things Brazilian, especially the yummy food with him. 

  1. What songs were part of your playlist when writing The Secret of Dartwood Manor?

Music is a huge part of the writing process for me. As soon as I start developing a new book, I always put together a playlist to use while writing it. I actually have the full playlist that I used to write The Secret of Dartwood Manor on my website. It also includes the fabulous theme written specifically for the novel by the brilliant Beckee Davis! Here’s a link to the playlist: https://natriptow.com/playlists/

  1. Tell us your favorite quote and/or scene from your book!

I think one of my favorite scenes is probably between Baden and Mariah when they sneak into the crime scene after the murder. It’s actually one of the audio excerpts read by me that was released on my publisher’s YouTube channel on release day. Here’s a link to the scene if you’d like to listen to it.

  1. How did you come up with the title for your book?

I had a working title that I was using during the writing process, but the final title became clear after the book was finished. I kept jotting down various ideas that didn’t seem quite right and suddenly The Secret of Dartwood Manor came to me, and I knew that was it.

  1. If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?

I think it would be fun to see a prequel about the villains’ pasts. It’s always fun to try to understand what motivates a person and what makes them who they are. Knowing that can certainly humanize a villain even if it doesn’t actually make them technically good. It shows that they’re a person whose choices led them down a particular path. Plus, the villains in this story really have some crazy back stories. Whether I’ll eventually write that or not remains to be seen, but it certainly is a compelling idea.

  1. What is your kryptonite as a writer?

My kryptonite is time. There are just not enough hours in the day.

My thoughts: I wasn’t sure about this book at first, I famously don’t get on with Jane Austen and am not a fan so the ‘inspired by’ had me a little worried at first. But this was actually a lot of fun. The three Dartwood sisters, Eden, Mariah and Melissa return home when their parents are brutally murdered but a lot of things don’t add up so they start to investigate.

Blending magic with the mundane, their quest leads them to discover some things about their family and themselves. I think headstrong Mariah was my favourite of the three, and I definitely felt for her best friend Baden, who’s hopelessly in love with her and she’s oblivious.

It was really interesting and I liked the premise of the villains (no spoilers here) and the way it set up the next book in the series – although it never ends well when decisions are being made for people who aren’t in the room where it happens!

🧙🏻🧙🏿‍♀️🧙🏾Top Five Witchy Movies (as picked by me!) As Mariah and Baden love watching films – here’s a few they could get some info from. 🧙🏼🧙🏻‍♀️🧙🏾

🧙🏻‍♀️Practical Magic – I yield to no one in my love of this gem, starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as sisters, who are also witches. I’ve loved this film since I was about 13. The Owens women are cursed, any man that loves them will die. It’s sad and romantic and creepy and amazing. I love their aunts, and the Midnight Margarita party. But also their bond, which saves them. Bonus – it’s based on a book of the same title and the sequel/prequel was published last year.

🧙🏼Hocus Pocus – more sister witches, more curses, more mayhem in this Disney classic. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy are the Sandersons, brought back to life by Max entirely by accident in Salem. This is a Halloween must watch.

🧙🏾The Witches – based on Roald Dahl’s creepy book, the original 1990 film still gives me the willies. Creepy and sinister, Angelica Houston (still one of the most gorgeous women ever) becomes utterly terrifying. I don’t want to be turned into a mouse!

🧙🏿‍♀️The Craft – sometimes your witchy sisters are your found family, like in this teen classic (look, I grew up in the 90s, these are pretty much all 90s films and stone cold classics as far as I’m concerned!) has four teenage girls harnessing their powers to get some revenge. We are the weirdos mister!

🧙🏻Kiki’s Delivery Service – I had to include this cute as a button Studio Ghibli delight. Witch Kiki sets off on her adventures with talking cat Jiji (I love him so much) and opens a delivery business, on her broom. This is an adorable and lovely film that I’m always recommending.

Tell me your fave witchy films or books in the comments please!!

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: The Wizards – Louis Corsair

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Welcome to the tour for The Wizards by Louis Corsair! Read on for details and a chance to win a $50 Amazon e-Gift Card!!!

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The Wizards

Publication Date: October 4th, 2020

Genre: Urban Fantasy

At the end of the original Absolution, the Executor went back in Time and altered Reality, setting in motion a plan that will destroy him, along with all of Creation. It is a titanic crime that does not go unnoticed. There are some who discovered the crime in the Past, and are trying to do something in the Present to prevent an unimaginable Future. And these men and women are, were, will be the Wizards.

The Wizards is more than just a collection of short stories. It is a multigenerational composite novel that delves into the lives of the Wendells, a patchwork family of orphans brought together by Wendell the Great. These too-human men and women struggle with mastering the Power as much as they do with one another and the landscape of Southern California. From the 1940s to the Present, The Wizards goes back and forth across Time to tell its story.

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Excerpt

In the Beginning

Let us imagine a period sometime in the Past. Yes. Many years in the Past, but not so many that I cannot remember it. And let us imagine men and women with… with… well, see, this is a point we could not agree on. The things my siblings and I could do, can still do, they could be called “talents,” like Mozart’s talent. Yet, that implies biology, which hardly influences the extent and potency of our abilities. 

Our Father, a man I will later call Wendell, and Anita, who I came to love as a Mother, called it, “the Power.” I suppose now you are wondering why we can wield such might. 

Indeed, for what purpose are humans born who can wield the Power? Ah, but that mystery is at the heart of our story. We never figured out why. And so, we are the burdened. Regardless of the why, let us consider the who.

Who are these men and women, you ask? Well, during my childhood in El Salvador, we called them los magos del oeste. Ah, but that is an inadequate title for my tale, for it was the silliness of childhood. Here in America, there are many names for these individuals, thanks to mythology and literature. Let us pick one. 

How about wizard? I have always been fond of that title, though it belongs in the realm of fantasy and myth, now inherited by popular culture. The nomenclature is important to me because it was the name that Isis picked for our little gang. She called us the Wizards. Do not worry about Isis now; I will soon introduce her.

In the beginning–that glorious beginning!–there were three of these Wizards. The first was the man who rescued me from the conscript army in El Salvador. I knew him as Wendell, a name that served “both for Christian and surname,” as EB might have said. He was a statuesque African, for it was easy to tell when he spoke that he was from that continent. 

Let us go now to a specific place in the beginning, to the first time I entered Anita’s home in Beverly Hills. Up until then, I had been constantly awake with worry as we traveled through different cities, always looking, looking. And finally worry became wonder as we entered this great metropolis. Drinking up the lights of Los Angeles in great gulps. Drowning in its people. Every sight mesmerized me.

“Now, Quique,” he said to me in broken Spanish when we reached Anita’s door. I had not yet mastered the English language. “I will speak with my colleagues about you. But I am confident we will find you a place.”

This was a sentiment that bothered me. I still had family in El Salvador, my mother and sister. At that juncture, I feared for their safety. The civil war was brutal, you see, and casualties were plenty. I let Wendell know this and he gave me that potent smile that could convince you to take his side. 

“They are well.” 

That was all he said regarding their fate, and I believed him at once. He was a man who used words to shape truth. It was a skill I often tried to emulate with poor results. Wendell’s words could take physical shape too when performing magic. The mechanism for this art he took with him, for it was missing from his many lessons. 

Ah, Wendell! That cloud of mystery never left you while I was under your care.

With my heart easier knowing my family was well, I followed him into the house. And there I met his associates. One man. One woman.

The house belonged to the woman, who was White and Wendell’s senior by more than twenty years, or so I heard. But Wendell made up for that gap in height; she hardly reached his chest. This was Anita Sendler, a Jew who had survived the Holocaust. The experience served to strengthen her, though; she was hardly a victim. Anita noticed me first and like a hawk blocked our way in.

I am unsure of what passed between the two. My understanding of English prevented me from keeping up with their debate. What I was sure of, then and now, was that Anita was upset that Wendell had brought me, all willy nilly (as some might say). 

My childish scorn for her amuses me now, as it did the other man in the room. He was a carbon copy of Wendell, for they were brothers. This was Gathii Ra, a title he had given himself. 

Gathii Ra smiled when he saw my frown. He said something to the two and then went up to me. After messing up my hair, a behavior that became a habit with him, he stomped the floor with his heavy foot. 

This created some effect I hardly understood, but could hear. Gathii Ra’s words had become soothing, pleading, asking all of us to use our better judgment. 

¡Mago! ¡Mago!” I cried. Quickly, I ran behind Wendell’s legs. 

And while I hid, too scared to open my eyes, I saw… It was my first memory of the Stream. The glowing Anima of Gathii Ra ventured from his body and approached me. Scared out of my wits, I screamed and covered my face with my arms. But…that did something. I heard the adults gasp. Uncovering my face, I opened my eyes and saw that Gathii Ra and his Anima had been re-joined. I had banished it!

Anita’s hard face pruned and her lips formed a crooked smile, eyeing me differently. Gathii Ra laid a rough hand on Wendell’s shoulder, laughing all the while. It was enough to break the tension and give them a chance to speak. 

And they did. For hours. At the end of that conversation, the three came together in a circle and shook hands. Something had been decided. Something important. 

Anita offered me a simple meal of milk and some cake. The adults, all the while, drank wine and danced to some music, she taking turns with each of the brothers. After an hour of this, she caressed my cheek. And it was a happy time, one of my most cherished memories. The energy in that room, my friend, crackled. 

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About the Author

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Louis Corsair is an eight-year veteran of the United States Army. Currently living in Los Angeles, California, he spends his time reading books, going on walks, writing, and enjoying the occasional visit to the beach–while trying to earn an honest buck. As a Los Angeles writer, he feels the weight of famous Los Angeles novelists, like Raymond Chandler, John Fante, Nina Revoyr, among others.

In 2021, he hopes to finish the Elohim Trilogy and its connected novels, including The Wizards Collide, and Apotheosis: Book Three of the Elohim Trilogy.

Louis Corsair

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