The last Iberian sultan’s mapmaker Hassan and Circassian concubine Fatima share a love for a poem by Al Attar in which they only have the opening lines. They continue the tale together, alternating and combining their own stories of the birds looking for their king. Hassan draws maps that reshape reality, coming under the scrutiny of the Spanish Inquisition when Fatima is too open with Luz, Queen Isabella’s advisor, emissary, and secret inquisitor. Fatima must find a way to save her best friend, embarking on a journey—guided by a jinn in animal form—where she finds her true self on the hidden island of the bird king. Friendship is tested, credibility is stretched to the limit, and redemption is found. Magical realism blends historical events and mythology well, thought there are a few too many cliffhangers in the latter half of the tale. It’s a beautiful story of desire to escape a horrid time in Spain’s past. I was given a digital copy of this fantastic story from Grove Press through NetGalley.
Pixie Forest Publishing loves the idea of spreading awareness of indie books and anthologies by offering book boxes! Almost all of the books are signed by the authors, who provide swag like bookmarks, candles, pens, necklaces, and more. PFP adds in their own unique swag that’s centered around that month’s theme as well!
They offer up to five boxes of each theme every month. Some past themes include fantasy, horror, romance, kid’s, and young adult. To date they’ve sold nine different boxes! Upcoming themes include another fantasy box, a Mother’s Day box, vacation themed, sci-fi, and dystopian.
Boxes range from $30-$40 depending on the contents. Every box includes a $5 off coupon for a future box and a collectible snap-charm keyring.
You can read the book blurbs every month and decide for yourself at https://pixieforestpublishing.com/book-boxes/
Miss a month? Don’t worry! All the individual books are linked to Amazon on their website for a month following the box it appeared in, along with the author’s information.
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Edward surprises Kara with the bicycling-around-the-world trip she’s been planning for years, failing to inform her that it’s a flight response from being let go from his position and blacklisted in the financial sector. On the US leg of the tour, Edward is offered a job by a host, who insists on an earlier starting time than Kara’s expected two years, forcing Edward to speed up their trip without explanation. In alternate chapters, Italian Alessio and Japanese Hirosama have traveled to the present from earlier centuries and are connected to Kara, as are the Native American and French-Canadian Edward and Kara came across in the American Midwest. Alessio works for Hirosama in Florence as Edward rushes Kara through Europe. In Florence, things reach a breaking point when Kara’s life is endangered and Edward must make a life-changing decision. Walsh portrays well a marriage unraveling from Edward’s hidden agenda, and the confusion wrought by a supernatural experience. While the paranormal aspect brings intriguing elements, it’s superfluous, as Edward’s subterfuge provides a sufficient story arc, and those elements are not explored. However, they could make for an interesting series, with sequels going deeper into the stories of Allessio, Hirosama, the French-Canadian, and the Native American. Dear reader could then find out what happened to the Native American, who was but a footnote in this tale. I received a digital copy of this fascinating story by the publisher Snoke Valley Books through a Goodreads giveaway.
A time travel criminal shot Kin’s Temporal Corruption Bureau retrieval beacon, stranding him in 1996. In the two decades it took his colleagues from 2142 to find him, he built a life with a wife and daughter. Regulations force him back to the future, where he’s been missing for only weeks from his work and his fiancee. His inexplicable disappearance, and her mother’s death, sends his daughter spiraling downward. He breaches protocol, reaching out to her digitally, endangering both. Chen brilliantly maintains time travel integrity, with its possibilities and limitations, placing his main character in an organization enforcing law throughout time, with strict safety policies for agents preventing him from aiding his daughter. This is a family drama that just happens to have a time travel element—a well-written, speculative suspense novel. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher Mira Books through NetGalley.
I’ve been working on a fantasy collaboration with my friend, Shawn Michael Vogt, and I would love to share the introduction with you. It’s set in a fantasy world I created called Akasha, and it features Shawn’s character Kitsune no Akuma, a swordsman who dons a living fox mask, and a bounty hunter character I created who is named Jacquin. The story is called Overkill in the Chaos Cathedral.
Jacquin the Jackal cut through the final bandit’s throat at the bottom of the steps, then ascended towards the Chaos Cathedral.
Overhead, blood rain fell in scarlet summer tears, thunder cracked, and lightning crashed from the fuschia skies as the ancient constellations sparkled in their fabric. The storm added to the Chaos Cathedral’s already intimidating structure, strange and mystifying in sight with its ancient vermilion stone composition and obsidian spires. The Cathedral’s bell tower sung, as if announcing the bounty hunter’s arrival. Those stairs leading towards the Chaos Cathedral were archaic, decked with cracks and broken ends, shaky under Jacquin’s boots of gold.
As Jacquin placed his sword into its golden sheath, his brown eyes gazed from the gaping holes of his gold-plated half-skull mask, the cathedral proud on that hill. Jacquin the Jackal knew the chaote warlock, Lucius of Kane, was waiting for him there.
Lucius would know Jacquin as soon as the men met, Jacquin was sure, for the bounty hunter’s reputation preceded him just as much as the dark warlock he’d been hired to hunt. The Jackal was recognizable with that well-known skull mask that covered his shaved scalp, forehead, cheeks, and nose, with golden fangs hanging over his upper lip. He was also known from that blood-red cape that flowed behind his 6’1” frame, decked in golden armor, and the sharp spikes that lined his golden gauntlets and boots.
Jacquan the Jackal was known, and feared, as the greatest bounty hunter on the entire globe of Akasha. He liked to think that in Heaven and Hell he would be a frightening force as well.
Behind Jacquin were the corpses of the bandits he slain, littering the cathedral’s courtyard of sand and stone. They were great fighters, but not worthy, well-trained for robbery but lacking in strategic swordplay. Lucius of Kane, the necromantic mage, was an idiot for hiring them as sentinels to serve vigil at the cathedral’s gates. He should have stuck with more undead swordsmen like the skeletal bastards he sicced on Jacquin ten miles down the road, or the vicious hellhounds and violent winds he summoned to slow down the bounty hunter in his trek five nights before.
No worries. Jacquin didn’t need to think about those failed opponents now, not anymore. He was done with them. Lucius was all that was left. If the chaote was smart, he conserved enough of his magic power for Jacquin’s arrival.
Now that mighty cathedral waited, with its iron gates open, calling to Jacquin, the ringing bell in its highest tower mocking him. The skulls resting atop spikes were the only sentinels to serve vigil now, with the remainder of rotting meat cursing the air with a putrid stench. They grinned as skies of violet stretched overhead, clouds spinning in circular rings above the unholy place.
Jacquin stepped past the threshold of the ebony, scale-patterned double doors, which were already open for him.
In the darkness of that evil place, with its stained windows and empty hues, Jacquin could make the outline of Lucius at the alter. There was his man, his target, his coin, the warlock who committed the sin of dream murder. Lucius of Kane had entered Coral Deinera’s dream with the aid of his puissant chaos magic, depleting her essence to oblivion while she slept—Coral Deinera, the princess of Thorinia.
A death mage hiding under the protection of roughians, Lucius needed to die.
Jacquin was from the Micante islands, black as obsidian, wild as fire within his very being. He’d been raised in the ways of slaying sinners, those who felt above the law of the Joint Kingdoms. He answered to both the Kings of Thorinia and Drakia, on call whenever they needed a scoundrel to be punished, even to the point of disposal. Jacquin had no problem with getting his golden gloves bloody.
The man in the fox mask cocked his head, listening to the sounds of battle echoing up the stairwell. He looked down at the lifeless body laying at his feet, stabbed hundreds of times. There was no blood, but then, there never was.
His friends were always hungry, and he liked to keep them happy.
He reached down, pulling the last of his soul-daggers from the body, tapping it absently against the fox mask that covered his face. “Well, this is rather awkward,” the man in the fox mask said, seemingly to no one. And yet… “The bounty hunter made better time than I had expected. What to do, what to do?” He paced back and forth, only stopping to kick the body of the death mage.
“I have no wish to kill the fool,” the man in the fox mask continued. “He’s only doing his job. But I’ve slaughtered his target, and he won’t be at all happy about that, nor about the bounty that I’ve robbed him of. Perhaps, it’s best to just leave and let him sort things out.” His mind made up, he turned to leave, pressing the soul-dagger against his chest, the flesh yielding as the blade slid through, disappearing back into his body.
As his fingers began to trace through the air, carving a door out of the aether, his mask writhed into life, baring its teeth. Whispers filled his head, and he slowly dropped his hands, listening intently.
He chuckled, shaking his head in amusement. “I like it, my love. But will it work?” The mask, his audience, mewled and the man nodded. “Fine, we’ll try it. I can always kill him if things don’t work out, I suppose…”
A growl from the fox mask was the only response its wearer received. The man stroked his fingers along the mask, and stepped back into the shadows, patiently waiting for Jacquin’s arrival.
Be on the lookout for the second book of my Carolina Daemonic series, Rebel Hell. It should be out this year.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Arizona, and Maryland, Brian Barr resides in South Carolina and is the author of the Carolina Daemonic series, the 3 H’s Trilogy, the Nihon Cyberpunk collection (read my reviews of #2, #3, and #4), and the Brutal Bazaar collection. His stories meld fantasy, horror, and science fiction, with themes that range from the occult to the exploration of the human condition, art, music, societal issues and political concerns. As a small press and independent author, he is heavily influenced by DIY and punk culture when it comes to formatting and releasing his work. Brian has written novels, short stories, and comics. He co-created and co-writes the comic book Empress with Chuck Amadori, which features art by Sullivan Suad and Zilson Costa, colored by Geraldo Filho. Sullivan Suad and Zilson Costa have also collaborated with Brian to provide many of the art for his covers.
Follow Brian on his Amazon Author Page and purchase his works…
Carolina Daemonic: Confederate Shadows: The first novel of Brian Barr’s Carolina Daemonic series released in 2015, Confederate Shadows is an occult urban horror fantasy with steampunk elements set in an alternative dystopian world where the Confederacy rules America. Uncompromising and raw, Confederate Shadows takes us into a world of grotesque monsters, dark magic, and chaos.
Carolina Daemonomaniac I: The First Carolina Daemonic Short Stories Collection: This is the first collection of Carolina Daemonic short stories. Along with the steampunk war comic The Tamed Tiger, Carolina Daemonomaniac includes various tales of Voodoo/Vudon spirituality, necromancy, weird science and the undead.
The 3 H’s Trilogy: A mix of comedic bizzaro romance horror, cosmic horror, and occult dark fantasy, The 3 H’s Trilogy begins when a gardener discovers a disembodied head in her mother’s garden. What starts as an absurd love story turns into a gruesome inter-dimensional nightmare. Consists of The Head, The House, and The Hell.
Brutal Bazaar: A horror collection of short stories, Brutal Bazaar includes The 3 H’s Trilogy, The Bloody Writer’s Trilogy, Badlam Betty, and various other bloodcurdling tales penned by Brian Barr. From slashers to occult horror, these tales include gruesome scenes mixed with dark humor and existential dread.
Nihon Cyberpunk: Nihon Cyberpunk is a collection of science fiction stories set in Japan. Inspired by Black Mirror, The Twilight Zone,Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and various other sources, Nihon Cyberpunk explores the human condition and probes philosophical questions in a dark and dystopian Japan ruled by technology. Includes The Kage Majitsu Trilogy and An American Otaku in Neo-Nihon’s Underbelly as bonus stories.
Empress: Co-created and co-written by Chuck Amadori and Brian Barr, Empress is a comic book series that centers around Zia, a famous Hollywood actress who goes missing in the early 20th century. She returns to America as the embodiment of the chthonic goddess Hekate and ushers in a new age for the same world that oppressed her spirit and legacy.
Life hasn’t gone as planned for Kim and Matthew—Matty—Savage, and their marriage comes to a screeching halt in their cabin in the woods, a world away from Kim’s vamp movie career and Matty’s screenwriting failures in LA. Matty shoving Kim into a glass cabinet with their daughter Rebecca—Bex—a witness demarcates the before and after. A decade later, Kim calls her ex-husband and estranged daughter to the cabin, where they are attacked by supernatural creatures they must fight metaphysically to survive.
The story opens with a sad, but realistic, portrayal of an unhealthy family dynamic. After the divorce, the couple and their daughter are ensconced in their own ugly realities. Enter speculative elements attacking dad and daughter at the family cabin, scary fairies from a book mom gave daughter, who relegated the horrifying Hungarian tome to the annual vacation cabin. All the characters are forced into their worst memories, opening up old wounds and creating opportunities to reconnect. This novel, despite its horror genre, is really about how family goes awry on a foundation of secrets and miscommunications. It turned out to be more substantial than expected, and the writing flows well.
I was fortunate to receive a copy of this delightful story through a Goodreads giveaway.
Starting over, Xanthe and her mother Flora purchase an antique store in a small town, where Xanthe’s extra-sensory connections to antiques impel her into a time travel mystery to rescue a young woman in the 17th century to save her mother’s life. Details of time travel are cleverly meted out through Xanthe’s discoveries and conclusions, increasing tension by placing credible limitations on Xanthe’s experiences. Urged on (and threatened) by the ghost of the young woman’s mother, Xanthe makes difficult decisions with every move, resolving impossible conflicts with verve and panache, even sacrificing romance for her mother, which is as it should be. Repeated references to the injustice in her own history could have been more subtle. The ghost mother could have been developed a bit more. The damsel in distress was a lovely vision of mystery even after the reader meets her in person. That she was rescued by a woman is a brilliant move on the author’s part. Readers who love time travel and / or female antagonists who save the day will appreciate this story. I received this wonderful story from the publisher through #NetGalley.
Famous artist Masuto grows weary of digital painting in the mental institution where he lives only in his mind with his AI guide TOKI. Salvation appears in the form of Endo Ichiro hacking into his system and offering to free him and create a cyborg body for him to paint again in real life. Ichiro shares astonishing revelations to encourage cooperation, but salvation does not live up to expectations, and Masuto must seek release from his savior.
Barr creates a swirling, complex world of technology-enhanced living, developing memorable characters in a credible digital environment. Emotions bleed from this tale of harsh reality, deception, and eventual “homecoming.” Brian Barr is an exceptional storyteller; this is the fourth novella in the Nihon Cyberpunk series. Look for all of them on his website http://www.brianbarrbooks.com/, Goodreads, and Amazon.
In the not too distant future, at a Japanese high school, teenage android Shinobu purchases the trending drug Spacix. It’s news to the principal that androids can take drugs, downloading a program that simulates the drugs’s effects, including the side effects, which can be devastating for Shinobu and other adolescent androids, as the real life drug has been for human teens.
Barr creates a credible world of humans and androids co-existing, with all the messiness of human emotions and scientists with god complexes. Third in the Nihon cyberpunk series, this tale continues with the concept of programming robots with emotions, going a step further in the creation of realistic humanoids with upgrades to mimic growth to fulfill the dream of parenthood for infertile couples. Characters are complex and situations challenging as a teen does the stupid things that teens do, only in a—brilliantly created—world with constantly shifting lines determining what is digital and what is human.
Keep an eye out on laelbraday.com for a review of the next story in the Nihon cyberpunk series.