“the setting is vivid” – Review of Thorns of a Black Rose on Al-Alhambra

On his Al-Alhambra blog, The Wanderer (aka Mada) has reviewed Thorns of a Black Rose by David Craig.

Cover design by PR Pope

He starts by describing the book as reading “like an RPG of the Desert”. I’m guessing that’s Role-Playing Game not Rocket-Propelled Grenade 😉

He acknowledges the world’s influences from Morocco, Ancient Egypt and the Maghreb, adding that he loves “the hint of the Assassin Creed Influence”, and goes on to say that the “setting is vivid, and the description takes you back to a world where dusty deserts and camels embark on a vast sweeping epic journey. There’s bandits, assassins, empires, merchant guilds, all jostling for power”.

He writes that the characters are “finely developed” and then provides a little background to the main protagonists. He adds, “This novel has so much magic I’m flabbergasted that it is this well done”. He also liked the cover, adding in no uncertain terms “THE COVER IS THE STORY!” (his capitals), as well as the writing: “The prose is well written. The writing is on point. The dialogue is great”. His only real criticism is that it could benefit from a map – maybe in the next book (I’ll suggest it to David.)

In conclusion he gives it 5/5.

You can (should) read the full review on the Al-Alhambra site here.

 

“a terrifying and unexpected journey fraught with creatures from a nightmare” – Review of Resurrection Men on The Book Dragon

Cover design and artwork by Alison Buck

On her blog The Book Dragon, book reviewer Nikki has reviewed Resurrection Men by David Craig. With 4.5 stars out of 5 (because “it is good”) she has given a very definite thumbs-up to David’s book. She writes, “In this seemingly normal story about a couple of body snatchers from Glasgow, Scotland in the late 19th century, David Craig takes us on a terrifying and unexpected journey fraught with creatures from a nightmare”.

Nikki begins the review with her impressions after just having read the first chapter. She was intrigued and wanted to know what happens next. So that was a good start!

After reading the rest of the book she wrote her full review. She admits, “This is my first real historical fantasy novels that I have actually finished. I tend to become bored with historical fantasy–especially urban–preferring instead the medieval sword-fighting kind.” But she tells us that, after chapter 3 or so, she got so engrossed in the book that she read about 40% in one sitting and only stopped when she “happened to glance at the clock!” We all know that feeling, and any author is truly gratified that their writing can have that effect on their readers. Nikki adds, “It doesn’t matter whether your’re a historical fantasy reader or a fan of vampires, even if you’re not, it’s still a great book!” She loved the elements of sarcasm in the dialogue, especially between the two eponymous Resurrection Men, it was, she wrote, “the perfect balance between mystery/suspense/horror and comedy. Rather than making the story swing to the absurd, the comedy instead strengthened the other elements and added just a bit of relief for the reader to catch their breath before diving in again.”

Nikki’s description of the ending needs to be read (you can read her whole review here), so I won’t spoil it for you except to say that she finishes her review by writing that the ending was “the perfect way to wrap up the novel.”

Thanks for a great review Nikki.

 

Latest fantasy novel explores cultural differences and the unscrupulous leaders who exploit them

Anarya is an investigator. Yisyena is her business partner and lover. A new contract embroils them in state secrets and the personal vendettas of a murdered champion, a cabal, a puppet king, and a false god looking for one who has defied him.

DARTFORD, KENT – 28 August 2019 – Elsewhen Press, an independent UK publisher specialising in Speculative Fiction, is delighted to announce the publication of Quaestor the latest epic fantasy from author David M Allan. His new novel explores cultural differences and the effects they can have on individuals, while at the same time intertwining the protagonists’ stories in an adventure that ultimately encompasses love, justice, revenge, freedom and magic.
 

Cover artwork: Alison Buck

Magical skills have been a time-honoured component of many fantasy stories, from traditional fairy-tales to modern classics, with the ability to use them often being the result of training, heredity, or theft. In Quaestor, David M Allan envisions a world where two separate nations both have a small proportion of their population who are endowed with magical abilities, but with very different views on the source and purpose of those talents. In Carrhen, magical ability is seen as a gift from the gods, to be used for the benefit of all; while in Sitrelk it is considered to be an inherited talent to be surrendered to their living god in a self-sacrifice.

It is not just magic that is viewed differently in the two countries. Sitrelker women may not own property or a business, and indeed can’t run anything apart from their own household; while in Carrhen as many women as men run their own business and are responsible for their own livelihood and wellbeing. In Sitrelk, same sex relationships must be conducted in secret to avoid bringing shame on a family; but in Carrhen any consensual relationship is accepted without question or even a second glance.

However, even in Carrhen, authority and its concomitant power has a tendency to corrupt, with unscrupulous rulers finding ways to force those with magical talents to do their bidding and advance their ambition.
Peter Buck, Editorial Director at Elsewhen Press says, “In Quaestor, David M Allan achieves the goal of the very best speculative fiction, namely telling a compelling story that keeps you turning the page to find out what happens next while at the same time shining a light on issues of our own world and times. We may not have magical talents, but we do have unscrupulous leaders who use others’ skills to further their own aims at the expense of the general population and even the state itself, who defy justice, who promote inequity, bigotry and hatred, and even see themselves as unimpeachable gods.”

Quaestor will be available to buy on all popular eBook platforms from 30th August 2019 and is already available to pre-order. The paperback edition will be available on 21st October 2019.

About David M Allan

David M Allan got hooked on reading at a young age by borrowing to the max – 3 books, twice a week – from the public library. He was caught up and transported to fabulous other worlds by the likes of Wells, Verne and Burroughs (and later by Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein, Le Guin, Wyndham…). Alas, the journeys were temporary and he had to return to Earth.

His love affair with science fiction and fantasy had him thinking vaguely about writing but he didn’t follow through until after retirement and his relocation, with wife and cat, to a houseboat on the Thames. It was reading one book which he didn’t think was very good that led him to say “I could do better than that” and then setting out to prove it. David has since had a number of short stories published in online magazines, and his debut novel The Empty Throne published by Elsewhen Press. Quaestor is his second novel.

Visit bit.ly/Quaestor-Allan

About the book

Title: Quaestor

When you’re searching, you don’t always find what you expect

In Carrhen some people have a magic power – they may be telekinetic, clairvoyant, stealthy, or able to manipulate the elements. Anarya is a Sponger, she can absorb and use anyone else’s magic without them even being aware, but she has to keep it a secret as it provokes jealousy and hostility especially among those with no magic powers at all.

When Anarya sees Yisyena, a Sitrelker refugee, being assaulted by three drunken men, she helps her to escape. Anarya is trying to establish herself as an investigator, a quaestor, in the city of Carregis. Yisyena is a clairvoyant, a skill that would be a useful asset for a quaestor, so Anarya offers her a place to stay and suggests they become business partners. Before long they are also lovers.

But business is still hard to find, so when an opportunity arises to work for Count Graumedel who rules over the city, they can’t afford to turn it down, even though the outcome may not be to their liking. Soon they are embroiled in state secrets and the personal vendettas of a murdered champion, a cabal, a puppet king, and a false god looking for one who has defied him.

Fiction / Fantasy / Action & Adventure; Fiction / Fantasy / Epic
Print edition: ISBN 978-1-911409-47-2, 304pp, Demy;
RRP £9.99 / €11.99 / US$17.99 (21 Oct 2019)
Electronic edition: ISBN 978-1-911409-57-1, EPUB / Kindle;
RRP £2.99 / €3.49 / US$3.99 (30 Aug 2019)

About the cover

The cover artwork for Quaestor was produced by Alison Buck, illustrating their auras as Anarya borrows Yisyena’s clairvoyant skill.

Revenge, responsibility, confrontation, consequences; demons, disasters and assassins – not party politics, but the new epic fantasy from David Craig

Set in a hot desert land of diverse peoples, this is a world away from the Scottish author’s previous book (set in Victorian Glasgow) but has the same masterful storytelling.

DARTFORD, KENT – 03 July 2019 – Elsewhen Press, an independent UK publisher specialising in Speculative Fiction, is delighted to announce the publication of Thorns of a Black Rose by Scottish speculative fiction author, David Craig. Following on the success of his debut novel, Resurrection Men, a sequel to which is planned for next year, comes David’s new epic fantasy set in a hot desert land of diverse peoples who are dealing with demons, mages, natural disasters … and the Black Rose assassins.

Although set in an imaginary land, the scenery and peoples were inspired by Egypt, Morocco and the Sahara. Mask is a living, breathing city, from the prosperous Merchant Quarter whose residents struggle for wealth and power, to the Poor Quarter whose residents struggle just to survive. It is a coming-of-age tale for the young thief, Tamira, as well as a tale of vengeance and discovery. There is also a moral ambiguity in the story, with both the protagonists and antagonists learning that, whatever their intentions or justification, actions have consequences.

Cover design by PR Pope

David says, “This novel, and those to follow, were born of a desire to write stories set in a large, varied world, from vast, hot deserts to claustrophobic, humid rainforests, to snow-capped mountains and dark, frozen forests. A volatile, living world viewed through the eyes of a band of diverse, intrepid, morally ambiguous adventurers getting caught up in all sorts of trouble. My ambition is tell a series of sword & sorcery-esque adventures that stand alone in their own right while contributing towards a larger over-arching story.”

Peter Buck, Editorial Director at Elsewhen Press, says, “David has an uncanny skill to quickly transport you, as a reader, to the scene of his story. It may be a real place that is already familiar, such as Victorian Glasgow in Resurrection Men; or an invented city like Mask in the hot desert of Thorns of a Black Rose, where you can almost smell the aromas and exotic scents filling the air in the souk, or feel the heat radiating from the baked mud-brick walls. But, more than that, David introduces you to characters that you will soon truly care about, following them on their adventure: excited, worried, thrilled, shocked. David’s books are ideal examples of what speculative fiction does best, transporting readers to another world; a perfect way to escape, albeit temporarily, from the banality or absurdity of the real world – which is especially welcome at the moment!”

Thorns of a Black Rose will be available to buy on all popular eBook platforms from 26th July 2019 and is already available to pre-order. The paperback edition will be available on 21st October 2019.

Notes for Editors

About David Craig

Aside from three months living on an oil tanker sailing back and forth between America and Africa, and two years living in a pub, David Craig grew up on the west coast of Scotland. He studied Software Engineering at university, but lost interest in the subject after (and admittedly prior to) graduation. He currently works as a resourcing administrator for a public service contact centre, and lives near Glasgow with his wife, daughter and two rabbits.

Being a published writer had been a life-long dream, and one he was delighted to finally realise with his debut novel, Resurrection Men, the first in the Sooty Feathers series, published by Elsewhen Press in 2018. Before the next book in the Sooty Feathers series though, Elsewhen Press are publishing his latest fantasy epic Thorns of a Black Rose.

Visit bit.ly/ThornsOfABlackRose

About the book

Title: Thorns of a Black Rose

On a quest for vengeance, Shukara arrives in the city of Mask having already endured two years of hardship and loss. Her pouch is stolen by Tamira, a young street-smart thief, who throws away some of the rarer reagents that Shukara needs for her magick. Tracking down the thief, and being unfamiliar with Mask, Shukara shows mercy to Tamira in exchange for her help in replacing what has been lost. Together they brave the intrigues of Mask, and soon discover that they have a mutual enemy in the Black Rose, an almost legendary band of merciless assassins. But this is just the start of their journeys…

Fiction / Fantasy / Epic; Fiction / Fantasy / Action & Adventure

Print edition: ISBN 978-1-911409-45-8, 256pp, Demy; RRP £9.99 / €11.99 / US$17.99 (21 Oct 2019)

Electronic edition: ISBN 978-1-911409-55-7, EPUB / Kindle; RRP £2.99 / €3.49 / US$3.99 (26 Jul 2019)

About the cover

The cover artwork, representing the city of Mask, was produced by PR Pope, an author also published by Elsewhen Press, based on David Craig’s inspiration from his trip to the Maghreb.

Writing social values in historical fantasy fiction

(By David Craig)

One of the potential pitfalls of writing fiction in certain periods is how to acknowledge social values no longer compatible with contemporary values. With fiction set in the 19th century, there runs the risk of glorifying imperialism/colonialism. Does the writer give their protagonists modern social values with regards to issues like racism/sexism/feminism etc? To do so runs the risk of losing the reader’s sense of immersion. To ignore these issues altogether risks ‘whitewashing’ history or hand-waving over certain demographics being second-class citizens. Homosexuality was a crime, and certain ethnic groups faced persecution and even genocide. But to give the protagonists period values risks alienating them from the reader. Or attracting an unsavoury reader-base.

These were concerns I had when writing Resurrection Men http://bit.ly/ResurrectionMen , a gothic/historical urban fantasy/supernatural mystery set in 1893 Glasgow. Glasgow’s location on the west coast, served by a large river, led to it being heavily involved in trade (such as tobacco) with the American colonies pre-revolution. In the following century it was heavily involved in industries such as shipbuilding and the textile industry, and was known as the 2nd City of the British Empire. The Irish potato famine and the Highland Clearances led to a large influx of immigrants desperate for homes and work.

There are streets today still named after people involved in the slave trade, or plantation locations (Glassford Street, Jamaica Street, Virginia Street).
(On the flip side, James McCune Smith, the first African American to hold a medical degree earned it at Glasgow University in 1837. And in 1986, Glasgow demonstrated its support for ending South African apartheid by naming a street after then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela – ‘coincidently’ the same street the South African Consulate was located on, to their considerable ire. I’m sure they loved having his name in their address.)

Including active, interesting female characters in a time and place where women had little agency was challenging, but doable. A powerful undead female character isn’t an issue, as giving her disrespect is pretty much suicide-by-vampire. My solution for mortal female characters not capable of separating a misogynist’s head from his shoulders with their bare hands was Lady Delaney. Independently wealthy, she has spent a couple of decades quietly fighting the undead and their servants, driven by vengeance. In part sexism aids her, as a woman would not be thought a likely insurgent in the eyes of the (mostly male) secret society running the city on behalf of the undead. Indeed, she takes a leadership role later in the novel, overriding her male companions’ objections by pointing out she’s the most experienced, and the one with the resources to carry out their mission; if they don’t like it, they can walk to their destination.

A minor female protagonist (Kerry) is introduced to the supernatural world and plays a much larger role in the in-progress sequel. In Resurrection Men she’s forbidden to take part in a mission due to her inexperience, but the reader should be able to discern the double-standards in that a male protagonist takes part despite having little fighting experience either.

Which takes us to toxic masculinity. I didn’t consciously set out to address this but found myself indirectly referencing it. As a man, the above mentioned inexperienced male protagonist (Hunt) is expected to fight, despite being untrained. Several times in the novel I use this character to highlight the effect danger can have on people new to dangerous situations; fear and adrenalin can affect the mind and decision-making. But he’s a man, so he’s expected to fight and would lose face in declining.

Male toxicity is further explored in the friendship between the above protagonist, Hunt, and his friend Foley. Hunt knows Foley has issues (what we would recognise now as depression, including suicidal thoughts) but they never discuss it. Foley self-medicates with alcohol and laudanum, which Hunt knows but again lets continue unremarked. Later, Hunt suffers through traumatic events, but this is never addressed by the characters. Again, alcohol is seen as the cure. Both Hunt and Foley are aware of the other’s issues, but the notion that men should be strong and not discuss their problems is prevalent, leading to substance misuse.

Homosexuality. Sexuality isn’t explored to any great extent in the novel, but homosexuality is slightly referenced through two characters. The first is a fairly minor character, rumoured to be gay, largely due to being unmarried, active and owning a big house. He’s quite big in the social scene, sociable, assumed to be very wealthy, so the natural assumption at that time would be that if he’s not married then he doesn’t like women. The character’s sexuality is never confirmed; he may or may not be gay, but regardless, there are a couple of explanations for him being unmarried (spoilers, so I won’t go into them but feel free to privately message me if interested). A secondary protagonist is also indirectly inferred to be gay (or perhaps bisexual), but this is not explored or confirmed in Resurrection Men. It is something that may resurface in the sequels, if it serves the plot or character development. Most of the other characters are too busy for romance, so their own orientations are unknown.

Prejudice. At that time there was a lot of prejudice against Irish immigrants and Catholicism (a sectarian divide which still troubles the west of Scotland today). These prejudices are mentioned in the book, and if not challenged by any of the characters, the reader can make their own judgements. A character displays prejudice towards ‘gypsies’ (Irish travellers) which while not directly challenged, leads to this character being blinded to the real threat.

While many of the characters live a relatively comfortable life, some enjoying a very privileged life, I made sure to highlight the vast divide between the rich and poor of Glasgow, describing in some detail the awful conditions endured by most of the people at that time. The minor female protagonist (Kerry) referenced above is from a poor background, and in the sequel we see the social inequality through her eyes. The sequel also explores the exploitation of child labour that was endemic in Victorian Glasgow. A consequence of the failed 18th century Jacobite uprisings was the persecution/destruction of Highland communities, and this is also explored in the sequel. How successful I’ve been is for each reader to decide.

For any writers reading this, did you find yourself with a similar problem writing characters in a time with different values, wanting to keep them true to the time but still sympathetic? For the readers, what books do you feel did this well, or perhaps not so well?

 

-David Craig

“compelling and relatable” – Review of The Deep and Shining Dark in Locus Magazine

Artwork: Tony Allcock

In Locus Magazine, Liz Bourke recently reviewed The Deep and Shining Dark by Juliet Kemp. Liz starts by describing Juliet’s book as “one part high fantasy, one part political fantasy, and one part old-fashioned sword-and-sorcery – without the swords or the lack of realistic diversity to which old-fashioned sword-and-sorcery was often prone”.

In a thorough review, Liz sets the scene, introducing the city-state of Marek and the main protagonists, and briefly outlines the start of the plot. Liz observes that, although it is a “a relatively com­pact novel, Kemp has succeeded in packing a significant amount in”, and goes on to say that it is a brisk and “well-paced story of politics, consequences, and self-redefinition” with “compelling and relatable” characters.

Noting that the setting is “effortlessly diverse” Liz finishes by saying “I really enjoyed this novel, and I look forward to seeing what Kemp does next”. Thanks Liz, so do we 😉

You can read Liz’s full review here on the Locus Magazine website, even if you’re not a subscriber (and if not, why not?).

The Deep and Shining Dark by Juliet Kemp on Locus Magazine 2018 Recommended Reading List

Artwork: Tony Allcock

On the Locus Magazine website, is a list of Recommended Reading from 2018 (here). Included in the ‘First Novel’ category is our very own Juliet Kemp’s novel The Deep and Shining Dark. You can vote for your favourites in their 2019 Poll and Survey – support Juliet and vote for The Deep and Shining Dark 😉

“intriguing fantasy” – review of The Empty Throne on Risingshadow

On RisingShadow.net, Seregil of Rhiminee has reviewed The Empty Throne by David M. Allan. He starts by describing it as an “intriguing debut” because it’s “a high fantasy novel that contains elements of epic fantasy, adventure fantasy and portal fantasy” and is ideal for readers who like “fantastical and light escapism”.

Artwork: Tony Allcock

Seregil says David’s story “moves swiftly forward and the author keeps up a steady pace”. He adds that it “has a classic and traditional feel” which is rare nowadays, and admits to having a soft spot for this kind of fantasy and loves traditional fantasy fiction.

He says the world is described well, and much of the “fascination of this novel” comes from the author’s way of writing about how the characters protect the world. He says he was “surprised to find a coming of age tale in this novel, because I didn’t expect it” and was also intrigued to find out that romance is part of the storyline, which he enjoyed and which “lightened the story in a good way”.

He concludes by saying that The Empty Throne is “intriguing fantasy entertainment, because it combines action, adventure, magic and politics”.

His final verdict: It’s good and fun escapism for those who want to take a break from reality.

Read Seregil’s review on RisingShadow here.
 

“a refreshingly creative and entertaining story” – review on RisingShadow of Resurrection Men

On RisingShadow.net, Seregil of Rhiminee has reviewed Resurrection Men by David Craig. He starts by describing it as “a captivating and enjoyable reading experience” and goes on to say that it is “one of the most thrilling debut novels I’ve read in ages”.

Cover design and artwork by Alison Buck

In a long, positive review, Seregil says that he loves “dark and well written stories” and enjoyed David’s gradually unfolding, layered story. “What makes Resurrection Men special” he says, “is that it’s a fresh combination of historical urban fantasy and gothic historical fantasy with horror and mystery elements” with “an original take on supernatural elements”. He adds that he likes David’s “vision of the supernatural, because he takes his time to ground his story in reality before delving deeper into supernatural elements”.

He compliments the characterisation and the description of the setting, saying that the “complexity of the story is enhanced by the author’s attention to characters and details” with “fascinatingly flawed protagonists”. Seregil says that David’s depiction of Glasgow feels authentic, with places that actually exist in the city. “In his story, Glasgow comes to life as he tells of its people (the wealthy and the poor), streets, clubs and cemeteries in an atmospheric way. Glasgow is depicted as a vibrant city that has a dark and evil underbelly.”

He concludes by saying that David Craig is a talented new author, whose writing style is “satisfyingly fluent” and who “effortlessly spices up his dark story with bits and pieces of humour”. He is looking forward to reading the next instalment in the Sooty Feathers series, because he “liked this novel a lot and loved the ending”.

His verdict: Resurrection Men is “compelling and entertaining … it’s a highly enjoyable and impressive debut novel” and he ends by saying “Excellent entertainment!”

Read Seregil’s full review on RisingShadow here.

 

“captivating and well-crafted” – review of The Deep and Shining Dark on Risingshadow

On Risingshadow.net Seregil of Rhiminee has just reviewed The Deep and Shining Dark by Juliet Kemp, the first book in the Marek series. Describing it as a “strong debut novel from a talented new author” Seregil compliments Juliet on having produced an entertaining and well-written fantasy with “subtle complexity, good worldbuilding and fluent characterisation”, saying that it was “one of the most positive reading experiences I’ve had this year”.

Artwork: Tony Allcock

Admitting that he read it in one sitting because “The story immediately pulled me in and didn’t let go until I’d reached the end”, Seregil says that the story “flows effortlessly and becomes increasingly intriguing” as it “immerses readers into the story right alongside the protagonists and takes them on a fascinating journey” that is “filled with intrigue, politics and magic”. The characterisation is “interesting and realistic” because Juliet “pays attention to their lives, feelings, flaws and problems, making them as real as possible”. The worldbuilding is “effortless” presenting a vibrant vision of the citystate of Marek that is “believable”, paying attention to “cultural differences and … how the Houses maintain control”. The magic is “interesting”, the politics “intriguing” and “LGBTQ elements handled fluently”.

Seregil says that he is looking forward to reading the instalment in this series, because this is a “promising and strong start” that he enjoyed. He recommends The Deep and Shining Dark as “captivating and well-crafted” fantasy.

You can read Seregil’s full review on Risingshadow here.