Edited by Stephen Jones Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome – Review

Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome (Hardback)

Reading fairy tales can be more thrilling than visiting haunted houses and dungeon attractions. So how scary are fairy tales?

Fairy tales and legends had a very long oral history before they began appearing in print. Although all countries have their own tales and legends, reflecting their beliefs and character, many of them have a similar plot and an almost identical goal. The goal is to teach, warn and scare into obedience. Many fairy tales have plots surrounding children who disobeyed their parents and what consequences they met. Anyone who was told or read any of them knows what elements of horror they contain. The Brothers Grimm compiled many stories and published them together. In this way, as Stephen Jones says in his introduction to Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome, they became the first horror stories anthologists.

Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome is an anthology inspired by fairy tales and folklore legends. They are not only re-imagined tales but are all brilliant horror stories, bringing a faster heart beat, fear of shadows and good old-fashioned nightmares. All the stories are intertwined by the original Brothers Grimm tales – some are re-written tales and some are just their subtle echoes.

The anthology includes traditional themes of changelings and child kidnapping. They are re-imagined stories of “Rumpelstiltskin” and elfin changelings. Two stories based on “Rumpelstiltskin”, book-end the anthology. “Find My Name” by Ramsey Campbell is the first story in the book – just after the lesser known Brothers Grimm’s “The Wilful Child”. Ramsey Campbell’s writing is delightfully creepy. So is “Come Unto Me” by John Ajvide Lindqvist (translated by Marlaine Delargy). Both of the stories show how unconditional love for a child can make you fearless. In a similar theme, “Crossing the Line” by Garth Nix took me to the scorching Wild West. The main character of the story, Rose Jackson, crosses many boundaries on the way to save her daughter and let her be who she is. I found this story bittersweet and touching. Neil Gaiman’s “Down to a Sunless Sea”, which was based on “The Singing Bone” also tackles the loss of a child. It’s very short and sorrowful, but beautifully written.

I love stories about changelings and how they merge the supernatural with reality. “The Changeling” by Brian Lumley is a nostalgic tale of old sea gods and nautical shape shifters. The descriptions are great – the reader can find themselves pretty much alongside the main character listening to the melancholic story told by a stranger on a remote beach. Whereas “The Artemis Line” by Peter Crowther brought me nightmares full of trolls and evil faeries. Reading it also made me fall in love with scarecrows. This is one of my favourite stories in this anthology. It’s a brilliant horror written in the style of Edgar Allan Poe which is perfectly set in the modern world. It contains the supernatural elements which despite their intangible fear factors, blend dreams and shadows in such a way that you will want to keep your lights on after reading it.

The counter balance to the traditional horror stories is “Fräulein Fearnot” by Markus Heitz (translated by Sheelagh Alabaster). This one is based on “The Story of a Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was”. Even though it’s loaded with spooky stuff from beginning to end, it has a kind of a dark humour approach to the original story of a boy unable to understand fear. The main character Asa, who is totally fearless, unintentionally ends up in trouble and from there it’s like a ‘domino effect: horror edition’ game of outsmarting ghosts, murderers, monsters and the devil himself. One thing leads to another and there’s no way of stopping. Though, what is it like not to be able to be scared?

“The Silken People” by Joanne Harris is another gem in this anthology. The story is about the elusive Lacewing King (People who follow Joanne Harris on Twitter are familiar with her #storytime which very often features the Lacewing King) and a girl who is determined to find him despite the danger it entails. This story is truly awesome – it is a horror story, fairy tale and a love story in one. It is written with this unique storytelling gift which all her books contain – although it broke my heart into lots of little pieces, it made me want to read it again and again. This is not the only compelling love story in this anthology, “The Silken Drum” by Reggie Oliver is also full of obsession and longing. It has elements of Japanese folklore which put this story in between enchanted fairy tale and the mundane reality of a small town.

Another poignant story is “The Ash-Boy” by Christopher Fowler. It is a wonderfully re-imagined story of “Cinderella” with a twist. It uses a lot of original fairy tale elements and I love the writing style. “Open Your Window, Golden Hair” by Tanith Lee is a very interesting re-written tale of “Rapunzel”. This works perfectly as a chilling story. Open Your Window, Golden Hair is not what you think it might be. The writing is engaging and it brings goose bumps when you least expect it. “Look Inside” by Michael Marshall Smith gave me an uneasy feeling caused by what one can’t see, such as strange things happening without any reasonable explanation. I have to check if my door is locked twice before I can go to bed now. The story also gives a quirky little idea about ‘welcoming’ thieves and intruders.

The anthology also has three stories which I love because they are eerie and very dark. “By the Weeping Gate” by Angela Slatter is a murky ghost story set in a small harbour town. Her writing is very atmospheric – darkness at the core of the story is skilfully touched-up by vibrant characters and magic. It’s very different to other stories of this type and this makes it so interesting. The most harrowing story in this anthology is “Anything to Me is Sweeter, Than to Cross Shock-Headed Peter” by Brian Hodge. The bleak surrounding and forlorn characters create an unforgettable story. It seems to have an element of dark satire in it, but its set is terrifying – a house occupied by misbehaving children which is a visitors’ attraction and a house of horrors in one. The story, despite being gruesome, is a whimsical tale of friendship and finding one’s place in the world. It was moving and horrifying – just as much as “Peckish” by Robert Shearman. “Hansel and Gretel” is somewhat a fairy tale horror, but this re-imagined tale is much darker. Gingerbread Men will never taste the same to me.

Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome, edited by Stephen Jones, is a marvellous horror anthology of fairy tales. Each story is great in its own way and together they just work remarkably well to bring thrills and nightmares. All of them are terrifying and mesmerizing at the same time. The illustrations by Alan Lee are incredible and perfectly compliment the stories. Read it if you dare and see if you can keep your lights off during the night.

Author: Edited by Stephen Jones

Title: Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books (UK)

Format: Paperback

Published: October 24, 2013 (UK)

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.

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Sebastien de Castell Traitor’s Blade – Review

Traitor's Blade - The Greatcoats 1 (Paperback)

The world isn’t a romantic stage play; it’s not all love and glory. And a swordfight isn’t always about skill or strength; sometimes – maybe even most times – it’s about who’s willing to take a blow just to make sure he delivers a worse one to his opponent.

Traitor’s Blade was one of the books published this year to which I was really looking forward to. I was excited that the book would be filled with swordfights, unusual characters and something unique that drags you right into the new world written just for readers like me. Readers thirsty for infuriating villains, those who loyally fight against them and all those things that happen on purpose or brought on by the capricious characters who know how they want the story to be told.

Jo Fletcher Books added to the excitement prior to the book’s publication with their intriguing pre-book-launch campaign. Anyone could become one of the Greatcoats! So I did, and when I was reading Traitor’s Blade I really wanted to be one of them with my double-edged Bastard sword, gauntlets with hidden blades (my own personal preference of weapons) and the Greatcoat. The Greatcoat itself reminded me of a coat worn by Van Helsing who had lots of curious items hidden in its numerous pockets – just in case something came in handy when on the road.

When Tristia was being torn apart by the self-righteous and greedy Dukes and ruled by Kings who didn’t see anything wrong with depriving people of everything, the legend of Greatcoats lived in many hearts. As much as some people loved the idea, not many of them believed that they actually existed. Bal Armidor, the travelling storyteller, tried his best to keep the legend alive, until one day a young King Paelis decided to stop the injustice and assembled his Greatcoats. They travelled everywhere to hear cases of those who sought justice and passed their judgement as King’s Magistrates.

Falcio Val Mond lost everything and all he had left was his want of revenge on those who brought sorrow into the lives of people of Tristia. People like him, who did everything they could to abide by the rules to live their lives in peace. Falcio became one of the Greatcoats – about whom he heard so many stories that fuelled his imagination when he was a boy. Nevertheless, the reign of King Paelis was short-lived and with his death ended the time of justice. Yet again Greatcoats became a legend.

Falcio, the First Cantor of the Greatcoats, together with his two friends, Kest and Brasti, stayed together after all the other Greatcoats scattered. Taking odd caravan security jobs kept them busy, however, they kept trying to fulfil the final wishes of their King. Finding King’s Charoites was like looking for a needle in a haystack or even worse, as they didn’t even know what they were, but they knew they were important to their late King. Events of one night, when they ended up being accused of the murder of one of the Lords Caravaner, triggered in motion something big. The events brought them together with unlikely allies and face-to-face with brutal adversaries.

Reading Traitor’s Blade left me breathless with the amazing swordfights, unscrupulous machinations, unexpected turns of events and the velocity of the actions. The first thing I really liked about the Greatcoats is their unbiased attitude to justice. Even though they were responsible for upholding the King’s Laws, they were not sworn to the King in a way that would make them unable to judge fairly.

The characters are very compelling. Although the Greatcoats are highly skilled fighters, who endured a lot in their service to the King and as disgraced Trattari (or Tatter-cloaks as people called them with disgust), they were very human and down to earth. The book is also full of villains whose thirst for power is overwhelming. Their canny machinations to obtain total dominance over Tristia were full of the blood of those who could pose even the slightest threat.

Duke Jillard brought Ganath Kalila, the Blood Week tradition, which once a year seized the people of Rijou with uncontrollable fear for their lives. Ganath Kalila simply meant kill or be killed. Whereas, power seeking Patriana was ready to sacrifice everyone and everything to help her cause with her very sophisticated torture methods. Also, there are lethal assassins, The Dashini, who I hope will appear in the subsequent books as I found them really intriguing.

I was utterly fascinated by the female characters in the book. The mysterious Tailor was very interesting – almost like an oracle of sorts. She knows a lot but instead of imposing her way, she lets others follow their own path. One of my other favourite characters was a remarkable little girl Aline, whose story in the book is very poignant but also uplifting.

The Greatcoats have their goals to fulfil but being tangled in the political intrigues and wars brought them to the edge where they could either withdraw or actively take part and change the world. And maybe now the Greatcoats will come together again.

Besides complex characters, the book has a gripping plot. Flashbacks do not always work well in books like Traitor’s Blade, but Sebastien de Castell made the story more engrossing this way. His writing is terrific – the book is written with vivid narration and humour. It made me laugh out loud and it made me shed an occasional tear. It dragged me right in to the world of Tristia. Traitor’s Blade is a great book and I’m already looking forward to reading the next in the series.

Author: Sebastien de Castell

Title: Traitor’s Blade

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Format: Kindle Edition

Published: March 6, 2014 (UK)

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.

Snorri Kristjansson Swords of Good Men – Review

Swords of Good Men - The Valhalla Saga 1 (Paperback)

Death was never as glorious in real life as in the songs, he mused. There was nothing heroic about it, really. You were just alive, and then you were blood and meat and bones in a slightly different order.

Ulfar Thormodsson is ready to go back home after two years in exile with his cousin Geiri. The last stage of their journey takes them to Stenvik, which is where their adventure really begins, contrary to their plans. Stenvik might be just a small place, but it is inhabited by a few legendary warriors. As life goes on in Stenvik, a storm is brewing not so far away, but no one in the settlement realises that soon, Stenvik is going to be the stage of the tug-of-war between the old gods and the new one.

There are three parts in this power game – King Olav and his ever growing army of misfits on the way to spread Christianity and the teachings of White Jesus, an assembly of legendary chieftains with their small armies, and Stenvik. Even though there are a lot of characters, and it might seem that there are no leading ones, all of them are very well written. They have their place in the story and none of them seems flat or as if they were written just for the body count. Just because the characterisation is so vivid, the story is very dynamic.

Apart from Ulfar, Audun Arinbjarnarson is one of the most intriguing characters – there’s so much more to him than his role of the blacksmith of Stenvik. It turns out even the most powerful warriors have their secrets. I need to mention a group of Berserkers – warriors with very fierce tempers for whom fighting is like anger management. They were utterly fascinating. Unfortunately, there are not many female characters. There are a couple of them which are vital to the story, but maybe because of the way the book is written they do not take much part in it. Thora is a really cool, badass warrior and Skuld, an enigmatic leader behind the force of one of the powers.

All the battles are epic and really bloody. Some brawls and battles are very graphic, but we are talking here about Vikings, so it can be expected. Snorri’s language flawlessly moves from small battles to the big ones without it all becoming just one book of carnage. He has a flair for killing off the characters and what I like in his writing is his matter-of-factly way of moving on.

What I loved about the book, apart from the total Viking havoc, was the way the author portrayed life in Stenvik. He was able to write such an engrossing account of the life in the settlement. Stenvik is full of warriors where over-ambitious testosterone levels of locals and visitors alike are kept in check by Harald – the village fist mercenary. Besides battle business, there is a more pragmatic view of Stenvik – the view of what it’s like to live in a community of raiders. With the gradual introduction to Christianity, some people are torn between the new god and those, like Odin, Freya, Thor and Loki, whom they used to worship – perhaps even debating what their role in life might be and how it relates to their belief system. Where most unusual friendships, awkward alliances and grave enemies are formed, Swords of Good Men has both puppets and their masters – some are mere zealous humans, others are more sinister and even supernatural. There are not many elements of fantasy in the book and those few that are, are subtly woven into the story.

Swords of Good Men is written in a very riveting way – there are a lot of points of view. Some readers might find it disjointed and distracting, especially that there are a lot of characters introduced from the very beginning. However, I found it surprisingly refreshing. It definitely suits the plot where sudden changes of perspective are like bursts of chaotic energy which I found invigorating. It almost works like sudden changes of scenes in the films where there’s a lot of action happening and the story cannot be presented only from one angle. I think Swords of Good Men could be a great film.

Snorri’s writing is very engaging – very vibrant and realistic. It is an action filled book with a heart stopping plot and adrenaline fuelled battle scenes. Swords of Good Men is Snorri Kristjansson’s debut, but it’s so well written that it is hard to believe. I’m ready to read the next book in the Valhalla Saga: Blood Will Follow. All readers that love this kind of action packed books go and get your copy – you won’t regret it. Happy reading!

Author: Snorri Kristjansson

Title: Swords of Good Men

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Format: Hardback

Published: August 1, 2013 (UK)

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.

Sarah Pinborough Murder – Review

Murder (Paperback)

Years after the horrors of Jack the Ripper and the Torso Killer which terrorised London, not everyone has forgotten about the Upir. Doctor Thomas Bond might have found some peace after Upir stopped lurking in the shadows and started enjoying life in the company of Juliana Harrington, but he is aware that Upir’s terrors are not completely gone. The comfort of friendship with Juliana doesn’t let him forget about what happened. The young son of Juliana and her late husband James reminds Dr. Bond of the blood, dread and the peculiar alliances forged to fight the evil that Harrington brought back from his travels. The sudden arrival of Edward Kane, the late Harrington’s friend from America, changes almost everything for Dr. Bond and brings out the darkness he tried to escape from.

Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough is the first book in the Mayhem series and it tells the story of Jack the Ripper and the Torso Killer. Murder continues with the darkness of all the blood and terror that the Upirlegacy left behind, but on a much bleaker level. Dr. Bond used to struggle with his demons but what he is about to face might be more powerful than even he can fight.

When I was reading Mayhem, I thought it was awesome. As I turned the pages, faster and faster, it terrified me and kept me reading to see what more evil can hide in the shadows of the opium clouded London. That changed a little bit when I started reading Murder. The sinister became the wicked. The plot revolves around the issue of new murders which somewhat resemble the Ripper’s ones and a shocking case of dead babies being found in the Thames. Murder is deeply dark, intelligent and exquisitely gruesome.

I really like the characters in Murder – as the plot evolves and the points of view change, it’s great to see the different aspects of it from behind the shoulders of those who in turn show us what they experience. Dr. Thomas Bond might be a professional and respected doctor, but he is also human. His humanity takes him on a journey of jealously, fear, love and madness, and tests his will power to the very limits. Seeing such a strong person struggling made me feel a heart breaking sympathy towards his utmost efforts to find a solution and solve the mystery of the wicked crimes. As much as he wants to hide it, the evil creeps closer and closer to his doorstep. Would the comeback of his past vices help? He is being taken apart by insanity, and as Dr. Bond mentions Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the comparison is strikingly uncanny. What does the Upir really represent and want? The very image of it, which so nonchalantly pops out from the pages of Murder, was enough to make me want to sleep with the light on for at least two days.

Murder is written with brilliant skill. Not only the nerve wrecking story keeps you reading but also the amazing and vibrant portrayal of Victorian London with the tangible gaps in the layers of society and between the innocent and the evil. Sarah Pinborough has written another superb book which from the beginning to the end keeps the reader on the proverbial edge of their seat.

It was so engrossing for me that when I closed the book after hours of reading, I realised that I was thirsty, stiff from sitting in one position and utterly stunned. I didn’t realise so much time had passed and all I did that day was just read Murder. It was totally worth it and I’d recommend it to everyone; fans of horror or not, this book is so multilayered and complex that the blood spilled on the pages just naturally flows from chapter to chapter and the adrenaline urges you to read on. Murder is a poignant and unputdownable novel of the darkness of humanity and haunting malevolence with an exquisite dose of horror and supernatural.

Author: Sarah Pinborough

Title: Murder

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Format: Hardback

Published: April 30, 2014 (UK)

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.

Charlaine Harris & Christopher Golden Cemetery Girl Book One: The Pretenders – Review

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I need to, guiltily, admit I sometimes judge books by their covers. When I saw the cover of this one on the Jo Fletcher Books website I knew I had to read it. Then it dawned on me who wrote it and I was already impatient to read it. I am a fan of Charlaine Harris and I know Christopher Golden’s work too – a brilliant duo to create a new graphic novel. Just to add a cherry on top, Don Kramer is the illustrator. I was lucky to win one of the Christmas goodie bags from Jo Fletcher Books and when I received it and saw that it was in the bag, I was over the moon.

Book One in the Cemetery Girl trilogy, titled The Pretenders, is dark and compelling. A young girl is dumped and left for dead on the grounds of Dunhill Cemetery. When she comes round, she has no recollection of who she is and who wanted her dead and why. In the process of trying to survive, as that is the only thing she can do at the moment, she assumes a name taken from the names on the tomb headstones. This way a new heroine is born – Calexa Rose Dunhill. Not knowing what she can do with her life, she just lives from day to day. Until one day something horrifying happens on the grounds of her new ‘home’ and this way she starts realising what purpose her new life might serve. Calexa can see spirits of the dead. But she is not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. In Book One: The Pretenders she helps to serve justice in the case of a missing girl who was murdered and finds friends and allies in unlikely circumstances.

Cemetery Girl is a poignant story of a young girl who is left completely alone and afraid of her own voice. Other characters in the book are also very fascinating – like Mr Kelner and Lucinda whose empathy and unbiased kindness towards Calexa are captivating. I was really taken by the story. It is only a short graphic novel, but the story is well written and the illustrations are stunning.

Apart from the story itself and the wonderful illustrations, I love the transformation of the main character. It’s as if Calexa is reborn as a heroine with a new role to fulfil to guide her on the way to find out what really happened to her. Her fear of not knowing who she is is gradually overshadowed by her embracing the new identity. She makes a perfect heroine with a mysterious past and abilities she still has to explore and develop. There are little bits of quirky humour in it too. Calexa gate crashes all possible funerals. It might be that it’s the only human contact, in the open, she is ready to allow at the moment or it’s a part of her new role as a protector of the cemetery.

I think Book One: The Pretenders of this new trilogy is great and I look forward to following the story of the Cemetery Girl. The trilogy has a brilliant start and I am really curious what Calexa is going to learn about her own past and why she was left to die like that. Both Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden have written a lot of intriguing supernatural characters – for example I can see little bits of Charlaine Harris’s Harper Connelly in it and Christopher Golden’s Buffy.

I like it a lot and anyone who likes a good story and amazing illustrations, then Cemetery Girl Book One: The Pretenders is for you. Read it and enjoy the peculiar atmosphere in it.

A big thank you to Jo Fletcher Books for sending me this book:-)

 

Author: Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden

Illustrations: Don Kramer

Title: Cemetery Girl Book One: The Pretenders

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Format: Hardback, 120 pages

Published: 02/01/2014

ISBN: 9780857389084

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