2017: Heroes and Vikings, and the Shit Year it was

If it were up to me, I’d wrap 2017 in a whole pile of monkey shit and set that bitch afire. Twice. But part of me wants to hold tight to 2017, to never let that first part of it go. There was good in my 2017, but the shit… oh, the shit. When I look back on this year, I can see the wonderful in it: the successes, the people I’ve met, and those I’ve surrounded myself with. Of that, I am thankful, but the last half of this year especially was life-changing in a way you never want it to be. The way no one ever wants it to be.

There are some things you just never get over, and the loss of my mother darkens any good this year threw my way. This is the first time I’ve mentioned her passing publicly, and I’m not going to go into how amazing she was (she’s a hero, my hero), and how hard she fought (like a fucking Viking), or how fucked-up disease is (I never knew how much I could hate a thing), or how much I miss her (there’s an ache inside that will never go away). She deserves so much more than I could ever put into words.

Writing has always been a solace, but I’m only now starting to think of words again. Small and simple though they be, it’s a start. There’s a normalcy to it that my heart sometimes fights ‒ how can I be ‘normal’ again? But I can almost feel that slap upside my head. Like I said, a fucking Viking.

2017 was the year I had my mother. It was the year I did not.

So I wrote a thing, not long before the world ripped away what was light and good. It’s nothing special, but it’s from a life to which I can never return. A life where my mother’s heart beat in fierce defiance.

I wonder at its content; it resonates now in a way it didn’t when I wrote it. And while I want to see the end of this shittiest of shittest years, I also want to hold onto it and never let it go.


“In blood Skarja walks, the souls of all she’s killed the great shadow at her back!” Mira shouted above the storm’s fury as I grabbed my scythe. “My dreams do not lie!”

Too long I’d stayed; lines appearing on my wife’s face where they never would on mine. I’d run, draw Skarja away. Mira would be spared. This time, no children had I sired.

Howling winds rattled the shutters of our hut as Mira dragged me from the door. “She comes! Your name upon her lips!”

Fear for me darkened her eyes. That was why I’d loved again when I’d sworn nevermore. My kiss lingered, savouring lips I hoped would never curse my name.

“Flee,” I begged. “Wipe me from memory.” I charged into the storm. If I could get to the mountains, if—

Skarja loomed from the maelstrom, spitting my name like venom. “Evka.”

A thousand cuts glistened on her ebony skin, like lightning under the moon’s touch. I knew each one. Had delivered them with hate-fuelled rage ­‒ desperate for what she had that I did not. The shadow behind Skarja writhed as she gathered it to her, faces of the damned morphing into great black wings ‒ shredded and shrieking.

“Not Mira.” I discarded my weapon; dropped to my knees. “Please, not my Mira.”

Skarja laughed; drew me close. Wings wrapped tight tore into my flesh. “You cannot kill a god,” she whispered ‒ words we’d traded since the dawn of the world.

I screamed Mira’s name as Skarja ripped out my heart, taking it as her own. Memories shattered as my twin fled into the night with the one heart we eternally shared.

In the doorway of a hut, a woman sobbed as I gathered my scythe. She, the first harvest for my great shadow.



Art: Malfunction by Skirrill


Festivus Book Pimping: The Tide series by Anthony J Melchiorri

Next in the Festivus Pimping of the Books comes from Anthony J Melchiorri in the form of his military horror series, The Tide. If you’re looking for monsters with a voracious appetite then this is the book… books for you! Like seriously, these are some of the best developed and creepy AF monsters created.

I’ve read five in this series, with the sixth novel only just released (must get on that), and the writing is phenomenally good. Melchorri knows how to weave a tale and keep the action and the tension high pretty much throughout the books. You get small reprieves, but in this world of monsters, any reprieve is welcomed.

As there are six books in the series, I’m not going to give you a breakdown of each – that’d take too long, but here’s the back-cover blurb for the first in the series ‒ The Tide:

Captain Dominic Holland leads a crew of skilled covert operatives and talented scientific personnel. He’s taken them to all corners of the earth to protect the United States from biological and chemical warfare. When his CIA handler, Meredith Webb, gives him a mission to investigate a disturbing lead on a laboratory based out of an abandoned oil rig, they discover the most terrifying threat to mankind they’ve ever faced—a genetically engineered biological weapon called the Oni Agent.

Back in the United States, Meredith discovers a frightening connection between the CIA and the Oni Agent. But her investigations are short-lived when the Agent spreads and brings mankind to its knees. Cities burn as it turns humans into warped creatures hell-bent on destruction.

Dominic and Meredith vow to do everything they can to combat the Agent and find a cure. But will their efforts be enough to turn the tide—or is humanity’s fate already sealed?


These are some badass creatures, and it’s clear Melchiorri’s has tapped into his background in Biomedical Engineering (do not let this man loose in a lab without a serious supply of caffeine) to warp humans into what the characters affectionately call “Skulls”. I’d so love to tell you why, but I don’t want to taint the joy of that discovery for you.

There’s a lot to love about this series: the characters are flawed and believable, the fight scenes are graphically awesome, the Skulls and the way their DNA warps them is most excellent, and the writing is sharp and on point. And guns. There’s a whole bunch of firepower in these books. Oh, and Melchiorri doesn’t shy from killing off characters – that’s a definite plus for me; sometimes you gotta make the hard call.

So if you’re looking to put some horror into your Christmas (and not just the horror of venturing into the Christmas crowds), then I can’t recommend this series enough.

Recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, apocalypse tales, killer monsters, covert ops, political bastardry, puppies.

Available in all formats.

Festivus Book Pimping: Dark Edges by Catherine Lee

Next in the Festivus of the Pimping of Books we’re going to hit some crime. Death and drugs and deception, oh my!  Catherine Lee is an Aussie crime writer, and her Cooper & Quinn Dark Series is really starting to gain some well-deserved traction. Combining murder mystery and police procedural, and set in the heart of Sydney, I was hooked from the first book.

Lee’s narrative is sharp, and the crimes she ‒ or rather Detectives Cooper and Quinn ‒ tackle, could almost be ripped straight from the headlines. That’s the thing with Lee’s books, the crimes committed (and investigated) mirror the society we live in, and while not a didactic narrative on the world’s state-of-play, it does make you think.

Dark Edges is the fifth novel in the series (there are two novellas), and the twists and turns in this story don’t let up. Just when you think you have a handle on it… bam! But that’s what I like in a crime/mystery novel – you discover as the detectives do. And Lee seems to be ramping up the tension and odds with each book.


Here’s the back-cover blurb for Dark Edges:

A football player in the prime of his life is found dead from an apparent drug overdose. Was it an accident, suicide, or something more sinister?
Detective Charlie Cooper is struggling just to keep awake after some upheaval on the home front. But life is busy for everyone, and Cooper is intrigued from the start with this baffling case. Jimmy Dallas was a rising star with everything to live for – would he really have stuck a needle in his arm the week before the biggest match of his career?
Joel Maguire, for one, does not believe his best mate would have knowingly injected himself with anything. Reeling from the shock loss, and dealing with some issues of his own, the Rangers’ star player struggles to put one foot in front of the other, let alone play finals football.
Australian rugby league takes centre stage in the fifth book of Catherine Lee’s page-turning Dark Series. Strap yourself in as Cooper and Quinn tackle the controversial issue of drugs in sport.

Each of the book works as a standalone, so you don’t necessarily need to read them all, but with over-arching character development for both of the detectives, and some secondary characters popping up now and then throughout the other books… well, BOOKS! Who doesn’t love to read books?

I can’t recommend this series enough. Cooper and Quinn are well-developed, well-rounded characters, each with their own flaws and quirks. Having the setting pretty much in my own backyard is a such a welcome change to the generic US-based books that flood the market.

Recommended for those who love crime, murder mystery, police procedural, stabby-stabby, shooty-shooty (yeah, that sounded way better in my head). Look, just buy the book… hell, buy the whole series.

Available in all formats.

Festivus Book Pimping: Primordial by David Wood and Alan Baxter

All right, who wants monsters? And here I’m talking monsters-of-the-deep variety. You do? Excellent! Well, have I the pimp for you! Book pimp, I mean, not… moving on. So, this monster thing I was talking about before you all fell into the gutter, is of the ancient ilk. Primordial, in fact (see what I did there?). And it’s of the big bitey kind.

Primordial by David Wood and Alan Baxter is a ‘creature feature’ novel with the search for a monster purportedly living in a Finnish lake. The book follows Australian marine biologist Sam Ashton, who take on the job of scientific sceptic for billionaire-come-batshit-crazy-dude, Ellis Holloway. Along for the ride is a documentary team, led by Joanne Slater; Holloway’s bodyguard, and a local fisherman. On shore, (yes, they get to shore), is local historian Old Mo, who keeps the legend of Lake Kaarme alive.

This book contains myths and legends, nods to Hollow Earth, Jurassic Park, and a little bit of Jaws thrown in to get the pulse racing in those underwater scenes (swim faster, you fools!).  There’s a lot going on in this story, and the authors take the readers on quite the ride… swim… boat… (shut up). There’s horror, suspense, some gore, a little bit of bow-chicka-wow-wow, but this is a slick novel that will have your pulse racing.

Back-cover blurb below:

Sometimes, the legends are true. When eccentric billionaire, Ellis Holloway, hires renegade marine biologist, Sam Aston, to investigate the legend of a monster in a remote Finnish lake, Aston envisions an easy paycheck and a chance to clear his gambling debts. But he gets much more. There is something terrible living beneath the dark waters of Lake Kaarme and it is hungry. As the death toll mounts, Aston faces superstitious locals, a power-hungry police chief, and a benefactor’s descent into madness as he races to find the legendary beast of the lake.


(Killer cover by the uber-talented Dean Samed of Neostock.)

Buy this book for someone you love, or don’t love, or like a lot or just a wee bit. Look, this is an excellent read with a tight plot, excellent characters, and a monster that will make you wet your pants*. You can’t go wrong.

Recommended for lovers of horror, suspense, creature-feature stories, big-bitey things, legendary creatures, cryptozoology.


* No pants were soiled in the reading of this book.  

Festivus Book Pimping: Red Queen’s War trilogy by Mark Lawrence

Hear ye! Hear ye! Second in the most Festivus of Book Pimping is Mark Lawrence’s Red Queen’s War trilogy. It was The Wheel of Osheim, the last in the trifecta, I read this year. This book also has the honour of being the first story I read on my kindle (I have the paperback also, because having only two books of a trilogy sitting in my bookcase makes me twitch – it ain’t pretty).

The Red Queen’s War trilogy is the second in Lawrence’s grimdark series – the first being The Broken Empire trilogy, but there’s no need to read that first as while there is a most excellent crossover in the second series, each trilogy stands alone.

Right then, trilogy equals three books: Prince of Fools, The Liar’s Key, and rounding it out is The Wheel of Osheim ­‒ a hell of a tome. Like, doorstop size. Makes sense, there’s a lot to tie up in the final book of a trilogy.

So, what’s this about? I mentioned grimdark earlier, and while there’s always some debate as to what that is, I think the most simple explanation is a story that doesn’t pull punches when it comes the darkest depths of human behaviour. Unapologetic characters who do what they must to survive, to thrive, and let the consequences fall where they may. Redemption? Pfft, spit that from thy mouth!

Don’t ever go into Lawrence’s books looking for a rainbows and unicorns and elves and shit – fantasy this may be, but these worlds are filled with darkness and the dead. It’s really kinda cool. The Red Queen’s War trilogy borrows heavily from the Norse mythos, especially with one of the two main characters: viking Snorri ver Snagason – warrior bard. Snorri holds his own (and then some) with Prince Jalan Kendeth – craven tart. They make quite the pairing. It’s magic that tethers the two together, and ultimately what may tear them, and the world, apart.


I could go on, but here are the back-cover blurbs for each, which are far more succinct than my ramblings above.

Prince of Fools

The Red Queen is old, but the kinds of the Broken Empire fear her as they fear no other. Her grandson, Jalan Kendeth is a coward, a cheat and a womaniser; and tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures. Until he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axe man, and dragged against his will to the icy north. In a journey across half the Broken Empire, Jalan flees minions of the Dead King, agrees to duel an upstart prince names Jorg Ancrath, and meets the ice witch, Skilfar, all the while seeking a way to part company with Snorri before the Norseman’s quest leads them to face his enemies in the black fort on the edge of the Bitter Ice.

The Liar’s Key

The eyes of the mighty are on the North. Loki’s key has been found and lies in the hands of a feckless prince and broken warrior. Winter has locked Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxury of his southern palace. The North may be home to the viking, but he is just as eager to leave. However, even men who hold a key that can open any door must wait for the thaw.

As the ice unlocks its jaws, the Dead King moves to claim what was so nearly his. But there are other players in this game, other hands reaching for Loki’s key. Jalan wants only to return to the wine and women of the south, but Snorri aims to find he very door into death and throw it wide. The warrior will challenge all of Hell, if that’s what it takes to bring his wife and children back to the living world. He has found the key – now all he needs is to find the door.

The Wheel of Osheim

All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan, getting back out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. Loki’s creation can open any lock, any door, and it may also be the key to Jalan’s fortune back in the living world.

Jalan plans t return to his debauched life of wine, women and wagering. Fate, however, has other plans. Larger plans. The Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers. In the end, it’s win or die.

Look, I can’t recommend these books enough. I once described Mark Lawrence thusly: thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. Once you start with the man’s books, you’re so immersed in the story that your idea of half an hour reading before hitting the sack turns into hours that no amount of coffee can fix the next morning (adulting be hard).

If that isn’t a hell of a selling point, I don’t know what is.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, grimdark, stabby-stabby, and dead things – there’s a whole lot of dead things.


Festivus Book Pimping: In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson

It’s time! Festivus Book Pimping for 2017 is here! Damn right I’m excited. This is where I get to pimp the books I’ve enjoyed this past year, give you some recommendations, and hopefully have you fine folk make an author very Festivusy (so a word) by buying their book. It’s a win-win! Or… a win-win-win, perhaps.

Kicking the Pimping of the Books of the Fesitvus off is In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson. This book is a novella-length prequel to Madson’s Vengeance Trilogy (pimped here), there are no spoilers for those who have read the trilogy, and you don’t need to have read VT to enjoy this tale. And enjoy it you will.

Madson has a knack for creating characters that are not only well-rounded but also on the grey side. While this book skirts the boundaries of full-on grimdark, it so beautifully dips it toes into the genre that if you’re a fan of stories that blur the lines between light and dark then this tale is definitely one you should pick up.

Set in a pseudo-feudal-Japanese world, the Kisian empire is on the brink of war, held together by fragile threads. Nothing is ever what it seems in Madson’s books, and she doesn’t disappoint here. The language is beautiful, the rituals and ceremonies befitting when gods sit on thrones. The Eastern-flavour of this universe is refreshing, and the setting and imagery comes to life on the pages.


You will die. Your children will die. The empire will burn,

Empress Li is out of favour at court. Foreign-born and past her prime, she is to be set aside. But she won’t go quietly. With nothing left to lose, Li will do anything to stop Emperor Lan signing a secret alliance that could tear the empire apart. Yet when her life is threatened, old mistakes come back to haunt her and only a three-year-old boy can change the course of history.

With everything at stake, could an innocent child be the best assassin.



And you can’t go past that cover. This is original artwork created for In Shadows We Fall, and artist John Anthony Di Giovanni has produced a thing of beauty that captures the essence of Empress Li. There’s always something special about covers that contain original artwork, and Madson’s cover is why.

On a Goodreads scale, I give In Shadows We Fall five stars.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, political intrigue, stabby-stabby, killer magic systems.

You can read In Shadows We Fall free if you sign up to Madson’s newsletter (an ebook copy of the story will be sent to you).  You can also purchase ebook and print from the website here, or you can purchase from Amazon or wherever you buy your reading.

Cover art: John Anthony Di Giovanni

Cover design: Shawn King