Tag Archives: fantasy

[D&B Vol. 01] Episode 005

The demon blood had stiffened on her battle tights. It flaked away in small patches, covering the cell’s wooden bench in spots of darkness every time she shifted.

Her thighs hurt from laying on the hard surface, her hips and shoulders too, all those soft points objecting to a night spent in close contact with something never meant for sleeping. Not that she’d intended to sleep, not with her cell mate looking at her with hard calculation, but exhaustion had pulled her eyes closed almost as soon as the door slammed closed behind her.

She hadn’t dreamed, not even of that dark space between lives.

The dull throb in her legs and arms brought her half from sleep, but it was the dull itch between her shoulder blades that woke her.

Someone had lowered the lights during the night, leaving the cell in half-gloom, but the figure across from her was easy to make out.

A man sat where the hard-eyed woman had. Lean and pale he slouched against the wall, his white-blond hair model perfect, the dark roots just so. He stared at her out of pale, black-rimmed irises that had always reminded her of light trying to escape a black hole.

He smiled. ‘You’re usually harder to find.’

Byrne was up and across the cell, teeth bared, summoning her trident to her hand. A force like an anvil sent her crashing back into the wall. Starlight burst behind her eyes, coming with sharp pain as her head hit the concrete, trident dissolving before it had formed. She must have lost a few seconds there, because when she blinked he was above her, staring down, and for a heartbeat she thought she saw concern replace his smile.

‘I’m going to kill you,’ she said.

The smile flooded back to his face. He crouched. ‘You always say that, but so far…’ He gestured to his unruffled T-shirt and jacket. ‘You’re not doing too well.’

Byrne struggled to stand, getting her feet under her before the same force that had sent her into the wall pushed her back down.

He shook his head, brushing his hands down his jeans. ‘I don’t know Byrne, twice in two lifetimes your sister has died on your watch.’ He folded his arms over his knee and leaned in close. ‘Maybe you should get another job?’

She spat. The blob of saliva hit his cheek, and he jerked like she’d hit him. His expression turned to stone, and even though she couldn’t see his eyes, she could see his anger in the fine tremble of his hand as he wiped the spit away. The same anger made the invisible band holding her down tremble.

Satisfaction coursed through Byrne’s blood and she smiled, showing teeth. ‘She’s not dead arsehole.’

‘She will be.’ He didn’t look at her, but at the spit on his hand. ‘She’ll make sure Suun sees to that.’

‘Not if I told Suun I won’t follow.’

His head snapped up. ‘You can’t do that,’ he said, but was the hint of a question buried under the certainty in his voice.

‘I can,’ she said, satisfaction running through her veins as she felt the invisible band crack. ‘Nova may stick a knife between her ribs, but you’ll still be stuck with me, Tellamoth.’


Don’t forget to check out the episode notes for more behind the scenes content.

!!! Very Important Question time !!!

Do we think Tellamoth is truly evil? Might he be a) redeemable or b) not guilty of the things we suspect he is?

[D&B Vol. 1] Episode 004

‘Sword Uthor!’ She barely heard Della yelling behind her, deliberately shut her ears to the power of her friend’s voice, to the command in the name she’d left behind when she’d stuck a knife in her own heart and launched herself into new life.

Not again. Not again. Not again. The chant matched the pound of her feet. Nurses scattered before her, adding their voices to Della’s command to stop. But she wouldn’t, not after the things she’d seen. Oh Powers, the things she’d seen. 

Byrne burst through the doors at the end of the long hall, ignoring the “No admittance” emblazoned across the front. There were more yells, a man hurrying towards her, white coat  flapping, another in the solid blue of a police uniform starting with surprise, hand falling to the gun at his hip. 

She let it flow around her, concentrating on the solid pulse in her chest, the link only a Sword could feel, the one that drew her to her sisters. A window separated her from the emergency care ward, beds and the quiet hush machinery, some occupied, others not and there, there a pale blue curtain blocking the view at the end of the room.

The doctor stepped in her way, towering over her. There was compassion on his face, buried under the anger as he reached for her—

She put him on the ground, stepping over his body as he wheezed for air, already rushing the police officer as his gun cleared its holster. He hit the nurses station, back sliding down the shiny white front before his arse smacked the floor, gasping for air like the first, pieces of his weapon shattered around him.

The curtain at the back of the ward called her, the hot pulse behind her breastbone telling her to hurry. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry. 

Byrne ripped the fabric aside.

Sunmetal didn’t glint or glow. In the grip of one of the royal blood it burned, a ravenous flame fit to rival a star, just like the tip of the dagger hovering over Nova’s chest.

Fear obliterated moderation and Byrne sent her youngest sister crashing into the wall. The dagger fell from Suun’s hands and Byrne caught it on reflex, snatching the burning metal out of the air. It turned black in her hands, the fire eating itself until nothing by but the pitiless cold of space remained.

In the hands of the blood sunmetal burned, but in her hands, the hand of the royal Bastard, it wasn’t flame that licked the metal.

Nova slept, her long black hair arranged in one of Suun’s careful braids, her face a mass of bruises, her right arm an ugly stump wrapped in bandages. 

‘It’s what she wants Byrne.’ Suun’s soft voice drew her gaze to the floor, to the baby sister she’d sworn to protect with her last breath. 

Eyes as soft as her voice, and as dark as the blade in Byrne’s hand gazed steadily back. No reproach, no anger, just a steady, soul deep understanding that cut deeper than any recrimination. Not for the first time, Byrne wondered if Suun had seen the horrors she had, felt the pain, the fear in the time between lives.

‘It’s not what I want,’ Byrne said.

Boots pounded behind her, sharp clack of authority and danger that reminded her of long-ago barracks full of soldiers. Reinforcements had arrived, come to take her away, yelling at her to drop the weapon and get on her knees. She let the dagger fall, touched the cold floor with her knees, but her gaze never broke from Suun’s.

‘When Nova wakes up, tell her to do whatever she wants.’ Byrne said as rough hands grabbed her arms. ‘But I’m not going to follow.’

Byrne had time to see Suun’s complexion turned a whiter shade of ghastly, before the hands pulled her up and marched her out of the hospital.


Don’t forget to check out the episode notes for more behind the scenes content.

Question time

I sense something strange about Byrne, something to do with why sunmetal turns black and cold in her hand, while it burns gold when one of her sisters touches it. 

What do you think this strangeness might be?

 

 

 

 

 

[D&B Vol 01.] Episode 003

Another lifetime. Another war they couldn’t win because her sister and Empress fell for the same pretty face.

Suun had kept Nova alive long enough for the paramedics to find them. The woman and her partner had both had the calm, stoic expressions of those who had seen it all, but Byrne had recognised the too-wide eyes and pale sheen of shock as they’d half-jogged into the gym showers. 

There’d been a handful of seconds where all they did was stare, eyes agog at the four teens in their battle-stained uniforms, before Della had laid a hand on their shoulders. The paramedics had gone about their work then, not seeing the incor stains or claw marks, just like the people around Byrne didn’t see them now. 

The hospital beeped and rustled soft-footed nurses rushing past her in a sea of pale blue and white, the doctors striding past with coats flapping, cocooned in their bubble of command.

She knew that feeling, the power, the rush of command, remembered it well from that lifetime when she’d wielded the might of her sister’s armies. Remembered too the crushing despair when she held Nova’s body in her arms as the Imperial city burned around her, the strength of its legions laid to waste by her sister’s indiscretion.

And now…now she stood in a hospital ward while the Hordes paced beyond the Veil and her sister struggled to breathe. 

‘We were meant to do it better,’ Byrne said to herself. 

‘We will.’ Della wrapped a hand around Byrne’s arm, hugging it tight to her chest. ‘We know Tellamoth’s true face now, and I know once we complete the ritual, we’ll recognise it in the next life—’

Byrne ripped her arm out of Della’s embrace, horror stopping her heart, making her voice shrill. ‘What?’

The next life? Their lives were now, the threat was here. There was no guarantee if they performed the ritual, committed themselves to another go at the Wheel, that they would recall anything in another life. 

Byrne remembered the most out of them all, fragments of memory and snippets of knowledge that pressed against her brain and haunted her nights. Every day the weight of it threatened to swallow her whole, every night she dreamed of blood and terror. And never did she remember enough or soon enough to prevent the same sorry tragedies. 

Even now, she recalled Della as she had been before, tall and statuesque, raven hair cascading down her back, arms banded in the golden marks of a priestess, screaming as the power of the universe pulled her apart molecule-by-molecule. 

Della reached for her again, big dark eyes soft but steady, hiding the thread of steel Byrne knew lurked behind. ‘It was Her last order Byrne.’ 

Byrne shuddered at the way Della’s voice seemed to echo when she used the Imperial ‘Her’. She worked to push back the memories of echoing marble corridors and a sea of bowed heads, of always standing to the left and two steps behind Nova. Pain and regret swamped her senses, made it difficult for her to concentrate on the here and now, and maybe Della knew, counted on it even because her next words barely penetrated the haze of memory. 

‘Suun’s with Her now.’

Byrne ripped herself out of the memory. ‘No.’ The colour left her cheeks, she felt the blood drain to her feet but the dizzy rush didn’t stop her from spinning on her heel and sprinting down the corridor.


Don’t forget to check out the episode notes for more behind the scenes content.

Question time

What is Suun doing to Nova and what’s Byrne going to do about it? What kind of empire do you think Nova ruled?

 

Greying, pudgy & menopausal: Laura E. Goodin on Strong Female Characters

Laura E. Goodin is the author of After the Bloodwood Staff, an Australian fantasy about a quest that doesn’t go quite how it’s supposed to.

BELINDA: Tell us about Sybil, one of the two main protagonists in After the Bloodwood Staff: what makes her strong?

LAURA: In a way, it’s her weaknesses and pessimism that make her strong. She chooses to express her pessimism as a relentless drive to be both competent and prepared, because the worst could happen at any moment–and I always had in the back of my mind while writing that at some point in her life it already has. Her inability to make herself vulnerable, even to the people she loves, makes her freakishly focused and almost impossible to intimidate, and it has given her a lifetime habit of self-sufficiency. Her stubbornness really annoys the people around her, but it also gives her a crystalline clarity of intention and tremendous integrity. As is the case with most people, her greatest strengths are her greatest weaknesses.

BELINDA: What drew you to writing Sybil in particular?

The cover of After the Blackwood Staff by Laura E. Goodin
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LAURA: Speaking as a greying, pudgy, menopausal woman, I can tell you that there is a regrettable dearth of greying, pudgy, menopausal woman heroes in speculative fiction. And this is, in fact, regrettable, because once a woman gets to this point in her life, she is badass. She cares less with each passing day what other people will think of her. She has experience, along with the perspective to interpret it wisely. And chances are good that, like Sybil, she has spent her life acquiring a staggering array of skills that are useful in hundreds of different tight spots and baffling dilemmas. It’s a joy to write such a character.

BELINDA: What messages/examples do you think Sybil provides readers?

LAURA: I want readers to go beyond the whole tiresome “age is only a number” thing; instead, I want them to think, “There are wonderful things about being every age. Not everyone is trying to be or stay young: there’s adventure and wonder in being not young.” Sybil, I hope, is an example for readers of someone who stares life full in the face, no games, no pretensions, no struggles to be anything other than what she gloriously is–and to be fully whatever that ends up being at each time in her life.

BELINDA: What traits and/or features do you think make for a great strong female character?

LAURA: When someone–anyone, really–is strong, it means they can keep their head and operate in any circumstances, because they have a fundamental, perhaps even unconscious, conviction that whatever happens, they will find a way to keep going. Women characters (and women in real life, as well) can sometimes have problems developing this conviction: perhaps they have been protected all their lives, perhaps they’ve been actively sabotaged whenever they’ve tried to succeed at even small things. These small successes are crucial, though, because as they accrete, they become confidence and resilience. Back 30 or 40 years ago, people were very keen on the idea that if you develop children’s self-confidence, they will succeed. This is putting the cart before the horse. You have to let children succeed so that they have the evidence that underlies any kind of workable self-confidence. A strong female character–or (and this is often more interesting) a character who becomes strong as the story progresses–has faced an escalating series of challenges, each of which lets her think that perhaps she can handle this one as well. And this one. And this one.

BELINDA: What types of strength would you like to see more of?

LAURA: In the real world? I would love to see more instances of people deliberately turning their back on personal gain or advantage so that they can do what’s right. For example, should I admit that the idea that I’m getting praised for at work is really someone else’s? I could keep my mouth shut and get the praise, and perhaps even the raise. Their mistake is not my problem. But someone who’s truly strong will choose clarity and integrity over personal advantage, and tell the truth, even if there are people telling them it’s a “mistake”. In a world where integrity consistently takes second place to “scoring” or “winning”, I would love to see more people say, “I’ll take the risk: I’ll trust that doing the right thing will not just give me a better life, but will make the world a better place for everyone. I’m not going to scheme and connive and claw scraps of flesh from the people around me. Instead, I’m going to stand tall, arms wide, head up, heart open, and say and do what’s true and just, even if I’m mocked, even if I’m despised, even if it means I don’t ‘win’'”

That’s the type of strength I’d like to see more of.

BELINDA: Who are some of your favourite strong female characters?

LAURA: I can’t go past Xena, Warrior Princess: flawed, tormented, but still constantly striving to be braver, kinder, more committed to both justice and mercy. Also, although this always raises eyebrows, I love Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew (at the slightest provocation, I will argue at length for the play being, at its heart, a feminist text; don’t get me started). Jill in Lewis’s The Silver Chair and The Last Battle was a serious role model for me as a child. I also love Jessica in Dune, Nita in Duane’s Young Wizards series, Thursday Next in Fforde’s The Eyre Affair and sequels, Luna Lovegood, Ellie from Marsden’s Tomorrow series, Mulan (of course), Karana in O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, Aerin in McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, and, perhaps most formatively, Harriet in Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. There are many others, but these are definitely some of my very favorites.

About Laura E. Goodin

Laura E. Goodin, author of After the Blackwood Staff
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American-born writer Laura E. Goodin has been writing professionally for over 30 years. Her debut novel After the Bloodwood Staff was released December 2016 from Odyssey Books; her next novel, Mud and Glass, will be released in mid-2017, also from Odyssey Books. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications, including Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Review of Australian Fiction, Adbusters, Wet Ink, The Lifted Brow, and Daily Science Fiction, among others, and in several anthologies. Her plays and libretti have been performed on three continents, and her poetry has been performed internationally, both as spoken word and as texts for new musical compositions. She attended the 2007 Clarion South workshop, and has a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Western Australia.

You can find out more about Laura on her website and connect with her via her blog and Facebook.

Feature image courtesy of Neil Moralee. Used under a Creative Commons licence.

Brave, Vulnerable & Scared: Felicity Banks on Strong Female Characters

Felicity Banks is the author of Heart of Brass a steampunk novel about a young women with a brass heart and a family obligation that’s interupted by a criminal conviction.

BELINDA: Tell us about Emmeline, what makes her strong?

FELICITY: Emmeline has been taught that her duty is to marry well, giving her family the financial security that they need—and saving her younger siblings from poverty in the process. No-one finds it easy to think outside of the box society puts us in, but Emmeline is eventually able to find another way to fulfil her duty as well as acknowledging what she really loves. . . SCIENCE!! Continue reading

Going Her Own Way: LG Surgeson on Antiheroines

LG Surgeson is the author of the fantasy adventure series The Black River Chronicles, including the short story Clara’s Buttons.

BELINDA: Tell us about Clara, what makes her an antiheroine?

LG: Clara grew up on the dirty streets of Aberddu (pronounced Aber-thee) city. She was orphaned during the Summer of Fire, and left picking over the rubble of destroyed temple. She was found by Iona Pringle, a local adventurer, who took a certain amount of pity on the young Clara. She hosed her down, fed her and handed her over to the Guild Below–an organisation famous for its skills in thievery, among other things.

The Guild took her in and trained her in some of their trade mark skills; pick-pocketing, appraising items, forgery, and general thievery. It was in the guild that she met Min, Luce & Angel the other members of her gang and between the four of them they set about making a living by mugging rich people.

Irrepressible is the best way to describe Clara, nothing keeps her down for long. She’s had knock after knock, but she always bounces back. She doesn’t take anything or anyone seriously and she’s not afraid of breaking the law. Clara is a petty criminal who will lie and cheat to keep her head above water. She is loyal to handful of people, but she would still push them out of the way to get the last crumbs in the pie-tray. Continue reading

Straying from the norm: Sophia Madison on antiheroines

Sophia Madison is the author of Blue Ruin, a gothic fantasy about a woman named Maura and the vampire who intends to use her to end the world (as we know it).

BELINDA: Tell us about Maura, what makes her an antiheroine?

SOPHIA: Everything. Maura does things a normal (sane) person wouldn’t do. But she makes the choices we can’t–choices that are too difficult. She wasn’t always an antiheroine. In fact, her character started off as a bratty teenager…and then mutated into this ass-kicking, whiskey drinking, cigarette smoking, bad-ass, cold-blooded, immortal killer. She was the easiest character to write, but the hardest to edit. She’d become such an antiheroine that she became hard to like and relate to. Her actions early in the novel turned readers off. I never thought I’d have to tone down a protagonist before. Continue reading

The Ugly Princess by Henderson Smith

Cover of The Ugly Princess by Henderson Smith
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Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review

3.5/5 stars

I love The Ugly Princess for its message and for having a truly ugly heroine. It’s message, that beauty is only skin deep, came through strong, right from the first page. I especially loved how happy the heroine, Olive, was to be ugly in exchange for her other gifts and how she rejoiced in every new boil and wart.

Continue reading

Altaica by Tracy M Joyce

Cover of Altaica, by Tracy M Joyce
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I’d been hanging out to read Altaica ever since I saw the cover art (yes, I know, I’m shallow) and once I had my hands on it, I devoured it (in the literary sense). The storyline was engaging, the plot kept rolling along and there was never a moment when I was bored or tempted to put the book down.

At the start, I did have a little trouble with the frequent changes in point of view – which sometimes happened three or four times within the same scene – but I quickly became used to the head jumping.

My only quibble was, because there were so many characters to keep up with, I didn’t have the chance to connect with any of them. There were a few scenes (the one with the horses and the river springs to mind – you’ll know it when you read it) that weren’t as heart-stopping as they could have been because I hadn’t REALLY connected to the characters and didn’t care enough about their plight. Maybe if one or two of the minor characters hadn’t had their own point of view, I’d have had more time to get to know the others and those moments would have been as gut wrenching as I know they could have been.

Will I buy the sequel? YES! Despite my quibble, I enjoyed Altaica and I’m looking forward to what Ms Joyce springs on us next.