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God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert – 3/5 Stars

God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert

The Worm tyrant

The son of Paul Atreides, Leto, had a legacy but little did we know after Children of Dune that Leto would embody a gigantic worm as part of the Golden Path for humanity. It’s a visage that alienates everyone he comes into contact with. He can’t love properly and even the beloved, loyal Duncan Idaho reviles him for being a monster.

‘Sand crunched beneath him as he rolled, flexing his body in pure animal enjoyment. He could feel his worm-self being restored, an electric sensation which sent messages of health all through him.’

The fourth Dune book is a funny one, standing out as it does in memory as being a book about the tyrant God Emperor Leto Atreides who claims to have godly powers and yet refutes them at the same time with proclamations about the miracle of the individual. In fact much of what Leto says doesn’t make sense, and he says a lot during the book. Leto meets with his dull advisor Moneo, who is Atreides with subservience that doesn’t resemble it one iota. Leto and Moneo talk about the meaning of prophecy, conspiracy, and some of the main characters, for example, this Reverend Mother Anteac and this ‘rebel’ Siona whose plans are housed within the greater machinations of Leto’s – Siona’s own father is the ever loyal Moneo.

Leto will then meet with Reverend Mother Anteac, for almost no reason at all. Or he’ll summon Duncan Idaho, his newly resurrected ghola, to his chamber. Perhaps he’ll have a few words with one or more of his conspirators about tricking Siona … The point is, when does it end? When will something happen? Well, three things happen in the whole book: three points where there is action, and all are short lived. This includes the prelude, which I felt didn’t have much significance to the emotions of the characters. The story of a legacy only took this story so far.

The Duncan Idaho gholas

The only character that brings any real interest to the table is Duncan Idaho as he’s in similar, though slightly different, circumstances to previous books. Yes, he’s been resurrected as a ghola again but the problem is the last dozen Duncans have been killed and he learns he’s only really the replacement to serve as another loyal subject of Leto. It’s this Duncan brain of the past with an idealized view of male soldiery and Atreides loyalty that is now face to face with an empire defended by the female soldier Fish Speakers.

‘You choose male companions for their ability to fight and die on the side of right as you see it. You choose females who can complement this masculine view of yourself. You allow for no differences which can come from good will.’

And the Fish Speakers pose problems for Duncan. They want to mate with him in a carefree way – they even mate with themselves in a way he finds objectionable, highlighting a change towards homosexual acceptance in Leto’s new Dune (Dune or is it Arrakis or Rakis now?). You can’t blame the Fish Speakers as Leto has propounded the myth that Duncan is holy, and he’s the only man other than Leto who has this status (well, remember, Leto’s a worm now.) Leto wants Duncan to mate with Siona. Whereas Duncan appears to be a one-woman man, and to make things complicated the one he’s taken a fancy to is Leto’s bride to be, Hwi Noree.

“‘My Uncle Malky used to say that love was a bad bargain because you get no guarantees.’

‘Your Uncle Malky was a wise man.’

‘He was stupid! Love needs no guarantees.’

A smile twitched at the corners of Idaho’s mouth.

She grinned up at him. ‘You know it’s love when you want to give joy and damn the consequences.’”

‘You choose male companions for their ability to fight and die on the side of right as you see it. You

Praise and criticism

I remember the story being difficult to understand with nonsensical monologues, and there were more than a few on this read. That being said, there is a richness to the description and awareness of the Dune universe that makes even this book irresistible, a bit like the melange sand.

Not much exciting happened. By this stage the reader must be wondering, are the real events of Dune over and are we to make do with nostalgia?

Conclusion

I suppose it can’t be helped. If you make your main character a gigantic worm that can’t move around much, maybe the story is going to do the same. I enjoyed reading nonetheless, being a Dune universe addict, but I can’t help but think that the first three books were a lot better.

Official Dune Website

 

 

Cranberry Blood by Elizabeth Morgan – 4/5 Stars

Cranberry Blood by Elizabeth Morgan - Front Cover

Heather is an infected Slayer

We’re not sure what this means at first for Heather, being an infected Slayer. Later we learn there is actually a whole three steps necessary to become a vampire, with temptation acting as motivation. Even so, many perish before becoming one. I really did enjoy the lore in Cranberry Blood (CB) – check out the author’s glossary.

I must say I was engrossed in the first few chapters with the action, both physical, and, ahem, sexual. There … yes, well, Heather wakes up in her home and there is this annoying guy called Brendan who’s being Brendan, and then he’s being Brendan some more, saying how he saved her and it was her clairvoyant Gran, Sofia, who told him to and that’s why he’s in Heather’s home making use of the facilities. (Hey, there’s a good story if there is a woman you want!) Heather doesn’t want to call the police though: she wants to kill him with her sword!

‘You’re not doing very well with the whole convincing me not to kill you just because you say you knew my Gran routine.’

‘Aware that I had not been stabbing and kicking his arse out of my house like I’d planned to when I first walked into the kitchen.’

I felt the dynamic between Heather and Brendan was the most important strength of CB and it made it interesting throughout. Heather kept reaching for those cranberry blood bottles, which I felt was a useful reminder of her ‘thirst’. Her and Brendan’s interactions just become funnier and funnier as they’re forced to work together:

‘Can you stop calling me kid?’ I snapped. ‘It may have escaped your attention, but I am not actually a child.’

‘He’s a walking buffet, and he doesn’t even realize it.’

Authentic character voices and personalities

I dare say I imagined Heather’s voice as the author’s own, having seen author Elizabeth Morgan’s Tiktok and Instagram videos. However, with Brendan’s point of view, it became clear the voice I imagined was only my imagination as the author can write different authentic voices. Some readers may not appreciate all the back story covering the same events from two different perspectives, but I rather liked the bigger picture.

Brendan came across as more mature and understanding than you’d expect, and Heather as less mature than you’d expect, what with her vengeful ‘slaying’. But then we know at the beginning of the story that Heather is infected with vampire blood, which perhaps has hormonal implications. Maybe Brendan’s experiences have matured him while Heather has revenge at the front of her mind? The only thing that Brendan gets riled about is being away from Heather, away from his duty to protect her, but then there were times during the story I wondered if they were getting sick of each other and it was only the ‘thirst’ and duty that kept them attached; and it was a duty Heather didn’t feel she agreed with.

Comparisons

CB strongly reminds me of The Twilight Saga, which I didn’t read: I only opened the books so many times 😉. There is that furry fondness feeling of being around a group of friends who all have your back. It felt a bit like Blade in the sense vampires, for all their sinister plans, were pitiful fodder for Heather’s sword. I’d have liked the vampires to have been more worthy opponents. I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Heather’s slaying and her investigations into conspiracy and the Underworld series.

Criticism

Heather had already drunk human blood in the apartment block as part of her act, so her adamant avoidance of it later on in the experimental facility didn’t make sense to me, but maybe I misunderstood the point.

I wish more of the lore in the glossary had made an impact on the story itself: examples of mating rites, weddings, shifters, and the different vampire generations. Maybe I have to wait for the next books for them?

Heather and Brendan were the most interesting characters, though Sofia was important. The sub-characters didn’t interest me much and I found their names hard to remember.

Conclusion

CB is an exciting read front to back. I personally enjoyed the beginning more than the rest as I found the haunting background fascinating with the circumstances surrounding clairvoyant Sofia, and Heather’s bonding, and not bonding, with Brendan. After the initial sexual scenes, there wasn’t much that fazed me. I felt the author had much to offer readers in the urban fantasy genre and for anyone who generally likes vampire and werewolf books, including a sense of humour!

Author Website

Creepy Sheen by Rebecca Gransden – 5/5 Stars

Creepy Sheen by Rebecca Gransden - Front Cover

What’s it about?

From the blurb, and not necessarily from the collection of stories itself, Creepy Sheen (CS) describes that we are living in an alternative history in the 1980s, the Third World War, which has had an impact on the broadcast transmissions making their way through space, as we’re led to believe is usual, and now there is a response aptly described in the blurb: ‘At the head of Earth’s messages to the cosmos travelled the collective broadcasts from one atomic day in history … That transmission is Creepy Sheen.’

First impressions

I believed I was picking up a retro science fiction collection of stories based in the 1980s, possibly with bizarre or horror themes – just check out the cover. I assumed I knew what to expect of the time period, if only from books and media, and to some degree I was correct. Social and cultural attitudes among friends were different, and one may say more expressive or adventurous if we’re using CS as the template.

‘A perfect hiss erupts as Barney opens the drink with a shiny bottle opener. In one motion, he moves his head back, raising the bottle to take a cooling swig, an idealised silhouette against the shining white of the sign behind him.’

‘In outline they ingest the dark liquid and the brightness of the world glows, until gold turns to white and the heat of every particle lights them up in a burst of phosphorescence, the whiteness at the heart of existence tearing into their souls and remaking them anew.’

‘A distant and melodious bing bong echoed along the dusted walkways above. Starved ferns rusted, threatening to tumble and splinter under their own weight. The flatness of the mock marble seating attached to it in a warped triangle partially covered with drooping ornamental grasses, themselves in a process of steady decay.’

When a character checks her watch in the story Arcady, and not her phone, you feel an odd sense of displacement, a leaping back in time to when we had simpler gadgets, and when the desperation of life looked us in the face.

Just have a taster of the author’s choice of words: ‘And sighted a black truck … as it floated the roadway.’

There was a memorable scene in the same story mentioned above, in the arcade where the reader sees life how it is, with blinking lights and repeated tunes, but there is this disconnection and unreachable part of it that draws the character in and makes you question it. Do we live in these times? Why do we take our friends for granted? Why am I stood here in this arcade now? These questions almost make you feel that the strange circumstances that happen afterwards are the more normal ones.

Praise, criticism, and evaluation

With some stories I didn’t grasp the conclusion or the hidden meaning, if there was one in these ones beyond an alien-invading creepy sheen. This was the case in the stories Broken Wings, Tranquilizers at the Mall, Breakdown on a Synthesizer, and Liquid Crystal. We know something went wrong in the stories, but we’re not sure what. Despite this, the author has managed to make us easily imagine what it would be like when a crisis or two did happen in the 1980s and how the characters would respond to it.

With some stories, it took me a bit to see the link between the premise of the book and the culmination of the short story itself, such as in The Future is White and Infomercial for a Dying World. In retrospect, the way the premise was shown was excellent, saying no more than was necessary.

One of my favourite stories was Night Drive Drifter in a Bad Dream. The way this story starts! I found this story illustrated the creepy sheen premise in the most visual way, propelling the character into action and taking none of the creepiness out of the sheen, so to speak. You must read Hell Alley, also, in a story akin to Ghostbusters but with more violence, ugliness, and conspiracy than you’d imagine. I would be interested to learn what happened to the character Myra also, after her ordeal.

Overall, I’d say CS is a story that will take any expectations you had of it and slice it into pieces, leaving you with the uneasy feeling of past reminiscence, perhaps, of stepping into a world you’d thought you’d left but you’re forced to return to when on the run. It’s a collection destroyed by the realities of its … reliance on broadcast transmission, or social or cultural attitudes? I don’t say the last sentence with any certainty, but I do intend to compliment the collection as a whole in this paragraph. There is a sense of adventure or the surreal in some stories you may be familiar with from other works by Rebecca Gransden, and increasingly, there is the theme of disconnection, as we have in this collection: reaching out only to be transported to violence or a warped version of a distinctive time that advertised its rosiness but maybe hid uglier things.

As with all of Rebecca Gransden’s fiction, it’s worth your time to read!

Author Website

Alex James – New Website Focus

What is alexjamesnovels.com?

Alexjamesnovels.com has been in operation since 2012 – barring any website downtime – starting as an outlet for writer and author with autism, Alex James, to showcase his published books and to spread awareness of his experience of autism through the science fiction and fantasy genres.

From 2013, Alex started posting book reviews on this website, along with an assortment of writing blog posts as he sought enlightenment about how to ‘market’ – reach new readers for – his books. Occasionally, he’d post photos of stalls he’d booked where he sold his books at events. He even had book review slots available, but he thought he overdid it at the time!

Of note, he attended the Lighthouse School for children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorders on two occasions in 2016 and 2018 to help them with their writing and/or act as a source of inspiration.

2014–2021

Alex started working on friends’ manuscripts in the hope of pursuing proofreading as a career, and so publishing his books and updating his website was on pause as he moved his activities to alexjameseditor(dot)co(dot)uk. Read more on his Experience and Qualifications  and Portfolio pages.

In 2021, to combine the fun apparent in his own books and his interest in fellow authors with the professional elements of his proofreading/editing career – and to save costs – he decided he’d move back to alexjamesnovels.com to serve:

  • Readers and reviewers looking for a new book to read by Alex James and authors in general
  • Writers and authors, new and experienced, looking for professional editorial services

Aerol MegaFortress Teaser – 2

Aerol crouched and picked at what he saw as the northern edge of the bridges he’d traversed more often than any others, placing his fingers in their grooves and aware that he was away from the bustle and weight of his own soldiery further south on the bridges. The bridges here widened until they expanded out, or thinned, on the way north. The air was silent and the mist was thin, leaving the open black chasm visible, embracing him from below on all sides as a black curtain, inviting in its gaps between the bridges.

He felt he was at a point in life where things had to change. Gone were the times of barbarism, and gone were the difficulties posed by Nemea. He wanted something else, hope even, for the future, and not just for himself. If there was something that could get him away from the noise and distraction from everyday life, then maybe he ought to pursue it. He’d tried to read the future before from within his warlordship, using his shifter abilities, and it told him he was to move to a different location. He put his head up, still picking at the ground, and wondered if this was the time.

Some commotion was happening from behind, and the soldiers were insecure, making angry movements in response to the presence of a new company heralded by a white flag with the black Nemean stalk black. Aerol turned, and Cress appeared from between his soldiers to announce Warlord Grin’s presence.

They held daggers with arrowhead-shaped protrusions beneath the sharp blades as hand-guard protection – only good for stabbing – and they did not sheathe them as the company of two dozen stopped, with Warlord Grin at its head: a short diminished figure with vigorous movements. Grin was well known for arriving to the north-east of Nemea, attempting to establish his own dominion, illegally, but he’d been defeated far north of Nemea and had given in to Nemea with uncharacteristic fatalism, at the mercy of self-appointed Nemean Hemis’ harsh policies.

Grin’s sewn mouth, made bloody being held together as it was with metal needles to prevent a gaping comical inability to talk. He’d taken an axe to his mouth in the past, and a shard had also embedded into his nose. But he was presentable now, encumbered by shiny armour and golden gauntlets over a breastplate with the same Nemean stalk. Two headdress flaps flowed beside his face underneath his open helmet with a nasal piece. The helmet was decorated with serpentine monsters that rose and fell.

Aerol felt uncomfortable about the presence of Warlord Grin. Their friendship had parted on unfortunate grounds, with Grin a victim of Nemean economic policies, and they’d not had opportunity to repair it. Aerol suspected Grin had lost his marbles, which didn’t help. The sight of the soldiers with arms, bearing Nemean standards, only made Aerol more distrustful. Some said the Age of Warlords had gone, but if somebody with Grin’s experience could still attain leadership over a city then maybe it still was alive, and it put Aerol on edge as he stepped back and put his foot at an angle.

‘You summon me, Warlord Aerol?’ Warlord Grin said.

Not ‘old friend’ as he used to call him.

Aerol stood to his full height to address him.

‘You’ve been north, Grin, and I’d like information on your travels.’

Aerol glanced away and tried to keep his tone neutral. The situation was awkward. Where was his social intermediary and mentor Galouch at a time like this? He should be here.

‘Now … not over a tankard? Where is the respect between warlords, between friends even?’ Grin said.

The soldiers behind Grin nodded fiercely.

‘I see you’ve claimed Nemea as your own, Grin. I had no idea. I’m concerned at the absence of enemies around these bridges, and you once tried to tell me—‘

‘Tried to tell you and you wouldn’t listen,’ Grin said. ‘You only wanted to know what would help you survive, as you still do. That day I was afraid of the north, and I was trying to help. But no … Your dominion, your warlordship, and your Tekromun are all you care about. Well, the surface isn’t just about your plans. There are thousands who would back me in Nemea, Aerol, thousands!’

Aerol didn’t want to fight his old friend, invade Nemea again, or even grab him by the throat and coerce him. He’d hoped he was past those days.

‘What do you want, Grin?’ Aerol said.

Grin straightened his back and put his arms behind his waist.

‘You think a trade can solve this, Aerol? There are problems between us—‘

‘Problems that I do not know how to resolve, Grin. I’m a warlord, not a diplomat. Get to the point, and quickly!’ Aerol said.

Grin’s face fell. Did he look hurt?

‘I don’t want you to leave, old friend. Not north. I can’t rule Nemea by myself.’

Oh … that changed things. The crux of the matter was that Grin couldn’t do it by himself. He didn’t realise he was in good company.

‘What’s wrong up north, Grin? The cities will still be here, but if we’re to defend them we need to know what’s there, and my soldiers don’t know,’ Aerol said.

Grin shook his head.

‘Only pain, Aerol. North has always been the realm of the past and the fantastical. I wasn’t the same when I returned from there. There are enemies you’ve not defeated, shifters, and there are mutant monsters that would confuse you. I’ve told you this before.’

‘What else? Where do they all reside? Do you have a map in your mind?’ Aerol said.

‘No, I wasn’t that far north. I went south-east and then to the centre where the mega-fortress …’

News of the mega-fortress: what was this?

Grin paused.

A circle of Aerol’s soldiers gathered closer to listen and with relief Aerol noticed members of his council: Galouch, Cress, Denan, Inde, and Heyt.

‘Don’t go there, Aerol. We were entranced, but something guards it.’

‘How can you be so sure? Attacks by soldiers and warriors in nearby locations doesn’t necessarily mean …’ Aerol said.

Aerol was quite taken with the idea now. Perhaps the mega-fortress was the salvation he sought for himself and his Tekromun; that something new he’d been looking for to expand his horizons and better rule these cities. He’d not thought to enter it before and examine its contents, though there were rumours it had never been entered. But what dense bandits couldn’t achieve, surely the organised soldiers he trained could.

Thoughts raced.

The mega-fortress was a landmark he could use as a temporary fortress. From inside it was likely defensible. Aerol brandished his fist in victory.

But Grin shook his head.

‘There is a horror there, Aerol, and sorrow. The elements have taken over it. Some power of the past.’

‘You’re not making any sense, Grin. Galouch?’ Aerol said.

Galouch shook his wide head slowly, wagging his appendages. He didn’t know about it either, of what Grin spoke.

Grin walked towards Aerol and Aerol’s soldiers shuffled forward in alarm, but Grin had dropped his arrow-headed blade, which clattered and then went still as if stuck on the ground. It reminded Aerol of a dream, for some reason, when he’d been stabbed in the back, and he belatedly realised it was his alter ego Gunder, claiming subliminally as he usually did with these visions, to Aerol that what Aerol was seeing was in fact a real memory of Gunder’s past life.

In the vision, a realm separate from reality and only in his mind, Aerol saw himself crouch and pick up the arrowhead, brushing his fingers on the shiny blade, and echoes of screams blasted into Aerol’s ears, of atrocities committed with the blade.

The heart stabber.

Aerol turned and ran up the yellow path, shoving the infirm out of the way to catch up with the leading armed figures at the front, on the path that rose from wooden structures, away from the hundreds of stretched tubular hissing monsters, snakes he somehow knew, which connected the edges of the path to a featureless base that passed for a surface.

A blink later and he was back among his council, Grin, and the soldiers.

Grin didn’t even notice anything, and neither had anybody else. It was as if time had frozen over, with some events running parallel to these ones and yet could only be discerned in a heartbeat that represented a longer stretch of time.

Grin came closer, and was now six feet away from Aerol, benefiting from a lot of space on the bridge. He held out his bare hands, palms down. What was this? Then, Aerol saw that Grin’s hands shook, and then with more vigour. Aerol took a step back in wariness. No, this must be an excuse or a joke.

‘A cheap parlour trick of veterans, Grin, and I’d hoped—‘

Aerol’s shifter abilities exploded outward in sensory awareness, stopping him mid-sentence as he perceived something encircling him, some presence that slid in the air like a viscous black liquid that had lived so long it had begun to eat itself from within, making him sickly. He gulped. He’d not had experience of late combating shifters, and what else could this be.

The air itself was shaking, threatening to tear Aerol’s heart out of his body, tugging at the mighty vessels that held it safely central. He glanced at Inde, who was as apprehensive as he was, and yet she must have been the source of the demonstration. There was nobody else this frighteningly powerful. Certainly not Grin.

Quiet, from all around Aerol. Whether everybody else was transfixed by Grin’s wobbling hands, time passed more slowly for them, or they could at some subliminal level feel that something was amiss, Aerol didn’t know.

And then the chasm spoke, first with a deep thrumming and then with an angry vengeful roaring rising up. Aerol panicked and gazed around his space, and then bent to assess the chasm. Breathing rapidly, Aerol wondered what foul invisible predator surrounded them.

‘Rrrooaarrhhaa!’

‘Hisssssssss!

It passed close by Aerol’s ear, but then he could see them: hundreds of black snakes slithering in straight lines up walls that were not there, towards the edges of the bridge, eagerly shifting their black underbellies to reach him, tongues darting out in forked anticipation. Before Aerol thought to break himself free of his paralysis, they were around him, coiling and stretching around his feet.

They leaked a reflective puddle of some semi-luminescent water, and Aerol knelt to probe his finger into the mysterious pool, until two mini snakes hissed loudly, breaking their necks and upper bodies above the pool to warn his fingers away. Aerol recoiled and looked back toward Grin and everybody else. Grin had transformed, holding a staff with a cobra snake head dominating it: a fearsome monster Gunder told him in his mind.

Shielding his eyes from Grin, he realised he couldn’t look at him because he now wore a pointed hat and grey or dark blue robes akin to some mana civilian. And he could not be seen distinctly when Aerol tried to, or was it fear that prevented him from looking at him. Behind the figure that had been Grin was a cave blocking out his view of everybody else, and a faint mist oozed from the bottom. Inside there was only darkness.

The figure regarded him and Aerol dared not move. In fact, he was inclined to run away from this dreadful threat. The snakes continued towards the entrance to the black cave. For some reason, Aerol did not know, they had to be stopped. But first, he had to address the unknown character before him, whose hooded staff gazed toward him with threat. Still, Aerol shielded his eyes while talking to him.

‘Grin, what is this? What happened to you?’

‘More than what, Aerol is who.’

The voice was deep, unlike Grin’s at all, as if it came from the darkest reaches of the chasm.

‘The monster you see everywhere around you has entered the collective unconscious of the world you live on. And it rules.’

‘There are no monsters,’ Aerol said.

‘It calls itself a “sorcerer”,’ Grin said.

‘There are no sorcerers or supernatural oddities. They were even less than monsters back at the time. There are only shifters. This isn’t the Age of Heroes, Grin.’

‘I’m not Grin. I’m the Shadow, your enemy, and these snakes are my essence. I’m the unknown and all fear the unknown.’

The laughter boomed.

Aerol crouched, dug his hand into the bridge and pulled out a stick, which he fashioned into a sharp bladed weapon with a thought. He held it aloft, now a spear, and charged towards the figure. Snakes all around him sealed off his escape, bunching together and stretching and squirming in tandem to stop him from reaching any of his allies. He held the spear in raised fist, and then aimed at the figure, the Shadow. He missed.

The illusion vanished, if it had been, and Grin collapsed, to everybody’s horror. There was no Shadow, no cave, and only an ordinary and weak Grin, riddled with snakes of blood that slithered behind the skin of his face as he moaned and writhed on the ground.

Cress ran up to Aerol’s side.

‘What happened, Aerol? There was some optical illusion. We couldn’t see behind this screen.’

‘Sorcery, from the sorcerer,’ Grin said.

Aerol shook his head.

‘No, it was just a shifter. Somebody turned Warlord Grin into a shifter, and I don’t know how,’ Aerol said.

Grin’s breastplate cracked apart, to reveal an open heart, mutated and with discoloured patches of pulsing purple that had been basted on. It looked like a double heart.

‘Some strange shifter,’ Cress said.

‘Monster power,’ Grin said.

‘Don’t listen to him, Cress. Whatever has happened to him has altered his perception.’

Aerol felt rather than saw Galouch hovering by his right shoulder, peering down.

‘He’ll have to be treated, you know, Aerol,’ Galouch said.

‘Only the mega-fortress … my only salvation,’ Grin said.

Aerol narrowed his eyes.

 

 

 

Aerol MegaFortress Teaser – 1

They were heading north, and Aerol was among them in the group, spearheading the many relaxed lines of his soldiers as they hastily went to work on the bridges, for a reason that he’d not asked about, but he assumed it was the occasion. That was until he saw his soldiers were hastily folding or sliding the bloodied and battered enemy soldiers away, revealing puddles of smeared blood that could not be hidden.

The fallen scarcely had bodies left, crushed as they had been by brutal warfare, caked with blood; bruises having burst to leak with congealing blood spots. The bodies were dotted all over the place, lying in wait. No pattern to the conflict and attack, but whether they’d been cleared away or whether it was the reason for their demise, was to be seen. Their armour, weapons, and possessions had mostly been stripped, and flimsy tunics and the odd weak segment of mail their only protection from nakedness. Their eyes stared upward in shock, the whites of them chilling to behold.

Did soldiers, or any Tekromun, ever really die? There was something ‘present’ about their stillness. A few shifting noises and grunts preceded his soldiers hurling the bodies off the edge of the bridge, falling to the silent all-encompassing black abyss that they called the chasm that was a spectator in this event. Aerol walked to the edge of the twelve-foot wide bridge, and watched the bodies engulfed by the immensity of the blackness, returning to the womb of the world, until a mist flowed over the chasm to hide it from view. He could hear no roaring or see no magical emanations from the chasm at this time. All was dull.

Aerol shook his head, and then noticed General Cress close by.

‘They looked like soldiers, but with cheap armour. Care to enlighten me, General?’ Aerol said.

General Cress who had been issuing orders calmly close by, turned to answer. His squat body still had heavy armour plates on with gaps to allow for movement and skill – important for Aerol’s soldiers. His helmet rose with a peak, and sat on his head like a squat creature, with its narrow nose-shaped protrusion at the top looking down as if to see Cress’ chubby face with emerald eyes below.

‘It was ridiculous, Aerol. There were soldiers, bandits, warriors, and all manner of odd creatures we’d never seen before. We hacked them and hewed them for years but they kept coming. Then, they stopped early this month. We sent scouts in all directions, and the way was safe. Perhaps we finally beat their numbers. We were gaining ground year on year, after all.’

Aerol crouched on the edge and squinted below, looking into the mist where the enemy soldiers had been swallowed.

‘Yes, Cress, but where did they come from?’

‘Our territories are not so great to know that, Warlord Aerol. I assumed they came from the dilapidated structures that are north-west, which are the usual hideouts for warriors, and there are a few theories from the apprentices they came from the under-surface at specific locations. Even the apprentices don’t know why there was a rise in the population of enemies. Now they’ve been culled, it may not matter until we’ve conquered further.’

Aerol stood and looked back the way they’d come.

Behind him were the onlookers outside the West Dominion: soldiers and lines of civilian spectators forming a semi-circle of expectant faces, or the judgemental faces standing above them on higher ledges from the white-robed apprentices with their arms folded and faces held high above to appraise this event. Where they were now, the expressions had become indistinct, and the impressive West Dominion, encircled by rising white-grey walls that curved to conceal rising turrets and structures that belonged to his fortress and the curious habitations of the city that had grown within his dominion.

‘Apprentices … I rely on them too much and they’re overstretched working on demand for the thriving city that my dominion has become. I can’t rely on them much longer,’ Aerol said.

He rubbed his chin with thumb and index finger.

‘Warlord Grin is a Tekromun who has been north, and has seen horrors, perhaps not too dissimilar from those you describe Cress. Could he shed light on this?’ Aerol said.

Cress turned and gave Aerol a bizarre look.

‘You told me his theories were crackpot ones and that he was crazed. We’d give credit to his ravings now?’ Cress said.

‘What choice do we have?’ Aerol said.

‘Inde has travelled further also. Should I bring her on the trip to see what she says?’ Cress said.

Aerol glared at Cress.

Cress shifted back and hesitated.

‘She is, after all, still a member of the War Council. Her contributions may help.’

Aerol let silence be his answer.

On opposite bridges were soldiers going back and forth in lines, idle, and Aerol looked away in distaste at the lack of discipline and orderliness. Their purple forms bobbed up and down, and they passed among themselves trinkets they’d forgotten on previous searches of the bodies, while casting the bodies away, and some of them passed things down the line all the way back to the dominion where eager Tekromun awaited for them. It still seemed strange to Aerol that the soldiers had wives – it had never been commonplace in the past.

‘I’ll bring them both, then,’ Cress said.

Aerol tensed the fingers of his right hand and then clenched them, but didn’t reply.

He gazed north at the mists that hid from view the great spaces that would lead to yet more bridges, destroyed structures of battlefields and even surface platforms, and he wondered how far up he’d continue before reaching the limits of what could one day form part of his new dominion. For now, he brushed away from the soldiers who had surrounded him and were perhaps waiting for new orders in Cress’ absence.

 

What does Great Barbarism mean to me?

I chose to prioritise writing and developing Great Barbarism above editing past published novels, writing sequels, and even other new works that I shared 2 years ago. There are a few main reasons. In a sense, it’s the story I’ve been working towards writing from 2012. It can trace its lineage from Marcellus stories written in 2012, 2013, and 2016, including the published novel Marcellus: The Mantle. I think the reason behind this is that writing about a real believable hero has not been an easy feat. Though I’ve a great passion for the fantastical, a hero’s roots should be genuine and solid, rather than lost and desperate, even if we’re discussing an anti-hero.

Great Barbarism represents main character anti-hero Warlord Aerol’s early success adapting his skills for survival on a surface where the peril of soldiers, warlords, and rogues are ever-present. Unlike my earlier models of heroes, he’s not setting himself against the world, galaxy, society, or organisation in an attempt to retain his independence and his values. Warlord Aerol knows that working within the system or changing it is his best chance of survival and success.

The story represents my cynicism with fitting in, and that’s why the sorcerer Arch Banuk exists and he’s difficult to fathom for Aerol, and impossible to reach and understand as an equal. Arch Banuk’s roots also go deep, historically, and the consequences of his outlook are evident in his superior manner.

I often feel trapped, and so does Aerol. This feeling manifests itself in frustration and aggression with his soldiers, everybody else who gets in the way, and those who he cannot understand or empathise with. Aerol’s fortress is really a last stand against a world that has betrayed his trust and is more group-centric – though he sees himself as an individual. His ‘warlordship’ is an example of a system he had created to respond to group warfare and because it was a novelty when he founded it, it gave him early victories against rivals.  However, it presents its own leadership challenges and he is burdened by rules and routines.

Ultimately, I wanted to write about a character that had strengths: to know what they were and why. It wasn’t enough for me to say he was a ‘fantastic hero just because!’

Great Barbarism – Ch1 and 2 – Beta Version 1

Please let me know your feedback on my chapters by sending me an email at contact@alexjamesnovels.com.

Lighthouse School Visit

Thank you for your welcome!

Lighthouse School Photo 1


Lighthouse School Photo 2 Lighthouse School Photo 3

(Some of my books photographed in the Lighthouse School library, as well as a display.)

On 4th November 2016 I had the pleasure of visiting the Lighthouse School, which is a school in Cookridge, Leeds, for young people with an autistic spectrum condition or related communication disorder.

I was kindly invited and welcomed by teachers Caroline and Lisa. I was there to speak about my experiences as a writer in the hope that I could help encourage the students. I had an informal talk with several of the students, who asked well considered questions, such as how long it takes me to write a story, how I keep my writing going, and what advice I would give to young authors. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the school and meeting the teachers and students; there was a nice atmosphere and I would be happy to visit again.

I hope the students continue with their interest in writing, and I’m sure they have a lot to write about 🙂

Is Inkitt the right platform for writers?


Kroll Magnificence Image1 (2)Are you a writer looking for reviews or thinking about getting published? Actively approaching reader communities is a good way to get feedback on your complete story, or for a sample or excerpt. Engaging reader community websites might be your next step towards adding those finishing touches, reaching new readers, or getting published. The following blog post will cover my experience of data-driven publisher and reader community Inkitt, and their recent Story Peak Contest, where three writers can win a publishing offer from them. I’ll address the positive and the negative aspects of the contest and what my thoughts are on Inkitt as a publishing company, which will hopefully give you some insights into how to make the most of the contest in achieving your writing aims or book marketing aims.

Should I enter the Story Peak Contest? That was the first question on my mind. A little research on Google on what other sites say about Inkitt leads to quite mixed results, and there wasn’t enough convincing information on either side to encourage me to fully decide one way or the other. The sites that were positive cited how amazing the platform was for connecting with readers and getting their stories noticed, and that some writers were going to eagerly upload their latest story to future contests. However, I spent more time looking at the negative points on sites, to see if there were any valid concerns before I entered their latest contest. Some cynical sites will tell you they are notorious spammers, that you’re giving away first English language rights by uploading your content to their site, or that it’s silly to ‘publish’ your story on Inkitt for them to maybe offer you a ‘publishing’ deal afterward. Some of us have become so suspicious of new start-up publishing companies that our attitude is to dismiss them out of hand, and based on what I’ve experienced or seen I can understand.

Before I entered their contest, I asked a few questions to see if they could clear up some of my concerns about the above points. The responses I got were prompt and friendly, though perhaps a little vague. Sometimes different people would answer my questions, which was confusing, but at least they had names and job descriptions. I was soon wondering if I was asking stupid questions. The reason for this is because the instructions on their website are short and simple, Spartan one might say and we writers like to ask questions and worry about the details. A few things came back to my mind to reassure me: All Rights Reserved was posted beside the writer’s name on every story uploaded to the Inkitt website; and on the few occasions in the past when they have contacted my writer website, they have been friendly and reasonable. I haven’t been spammed by Inkitt on Twitter.

I entered the Story Peak Contest early August 2016, with my title Kroll: Magnificence, in the hopes of getting feedback from prospective readers. In the contest, only 100 readers can reserve copies of your story, so if you’re concerned that the entire reading community out there are going to read your latest creation, then don’t be. Those who don’t reserve a copy can only see a short sample. Your job is to build your readership from the ground up, persuading your already existing fans or maybe new fans to reserve their copy, read your story, and leave feedback on the Inkitt site, in the space of about a month. No, you don’t have much time, and if you haven’t got many friends and family who are willing to read your story, you’re going to really have to put in the legwork if you’re going to get anywhere. Indeed, my experience in this contest taught me the same lesson again about reaching readers: the onus is on you. Readers aren’t going to magically gravitate to your story, and then go out of their way to read your story and leave feedback; they need a reason and you need to give them that reason. As a result, getting through the ‘first round’ is not the cakewalk you’d expect it to be. 15 copies of my title disappeared like hot cakes, and I had a real belief I was overtaking the other titles and would get through with ease, but I was wrong. After my preliminary efforts, only 3 more copies were reserved for the remaining three weeks, and I only had myself to blame for my lack of effort. I don’t see it as a failure because it gave me an excuse to ask for feedback on Kroll. More on that below…

Okay, so the positive

Inkitt do take on board writer feedback. Their contest rules, including prior and existing contests, have changed in response to writer feedback, which shows they are prepared to listen and adapt accordingly. Despite their supposed reliance on an objective algorithm, they aren’t uncompromising with writers.

During the contest, I was emailed to be informed I was given a second chance to build my readership when a ‘second round’ to the Story Peak Contest was going to be added, extending the contest. Inkitt also gave writers more control over who was allowed to reserve a copy, encouraging a system whereby only those who submit feedback/reviews would keep their copy. I welcomed this change because it meant writers could control their involvement in the contest and build reader loyalty. After all, 100 readers is the official aim of the contest, but reviews are the main goal of every writer and could well determine success if you manage to get your 100 readers and move to the second round.

Inkitt does provide a handy dashboard for analysing your analytics, and a promotion to-do list that points writers in the right direction to build a readership. It encourages you to succeed, and doesn’t discriminate (at least until the second round).

Whenever I asked Inkitt questions, the people responding would reply in a friendly and efficient manner, and were happy to address my issues. I was under the impression Inkitt were a writer-friendly company determined to adapt to succeed. Though some have doubted their publishing experience and background online, they have a drive to succeed by interacting with a multitude to writers and they seem to be catching on how to we think and responding positively to our needs by changing contest models.

Entering the contest was a worry for me at first. Do I upload my whole unpublished story? Is it wise to do that on a website I know so little about? However, it gave me the motivation to ask friends and family for feedback, and some were more than happy to be asked, for which I was thankful. In a publishing industry where there are no guarantees with book marketing, the simple goals of the contest gave me the push I needed to make an effort on my own behalf to get some reviews. Thanks Inkitt! I went into the contest with nobody having read more than a chapter of Kroll, and came out of the contest with over five people having read at least five chapters, if not the whole thing. It doesn’t sound vastly impressive for a writer, but considering Kroll: Magnificence is an unpublished story that I haven’t shared, I did feel I made reader connections with friends and that I came out of the contest with a sack (of reviews).

The negative parts

When you have your 100 readers, and hopefully, some well earnt good reviews, you advance to the next round where Inkitt will decide who gets published based on their algorithm/system for measuring reader engagement. ‘Algorithm’ can be off-putting for writers, who many mistrust exactly how Inkitt will perceive your story’s success to make it more of a success… Furthermore, it is a source of anxiety what will become of your story if you make it to the next round. Do you just sit tight and wait, and how long do you wait for? How will the second round be carried out? These questions are not answered on the Inkitt website.

Personally, I like to see a publishing company that specialises in certain types of books because it gives me the confidence that my story, and me as a writer, would fit with what the publisher stands for or publishes. Inkitt’s positive every-writer-is-welcome was nice, but if I was offered a publishing deal would I be convinced I was with the right people and company? In their contest description, they do imply they can act as a bridge between A-list publishers and writers, but there are no guarantees here. I’m sure the arrangement would work very well if your story has an exploding readership. Coupled with Inkitt’s promotion, it could work to your advantage. But if readers and reader engagement ebbs then you’re going to see the contest, or your efforts in promoting the contest, as being the main reasons you built a decent readership. I suppose in some ways it depends on the publishing contract and what they can do for you.

Some readers I was in communication with felt it was inconvenient to read from the Inkitt website, which is a problem that may be somewhat rectified once the Inkitt app has been released. Some also were put off by the idea of reading a whole story in approximately one month, but for the sake of a contest I don’t see how this feature could be improved.

On the Inkitt website, I had overlooked the fact that they imply that in a publishing contract you would give your rights to Inkitt, presumably instead of licensing them, and you would get them back if Inkitt didn’t sell 1000 books in twelve months. Some writers might be uncomfortable with this arrangement, but this is only if you are offered a publishing deal. To reiterate, you don’t surrender any rights by uploading your excerpt or your entire story onto the Inkitt website.

Overall verdict

The people who work at Inkitt are writer-friendly in that they listen to writers’ needs, change their contest models, and are happy to explain any issues with prompt replies. This gives me confidence and trust in their company. Their contests are amazing concepts for bringing readers towards their website, and therefore for fostering a future reading community, like Wattpad perhaps. Not only are the contests improving, but they keep targeting different types of readers, which is smart of them.

The people I reached out to were curious about Inkitt, and wanted to learn more. Writers end up being advocates for Inkitt in the hope they can translate this into advancement in the contest, and crucially, more feedback for their complete story.

If you’re looking for a fast way to gain new readers automatically, forget it! You must put in the time to promote your story and reach out to existing or new readers, even if you’re using Inkitt’s handy dashboard. Though it doesn’t state that the reader must read the entire story to write a review, I would recommend asking them to read the first five chapters, especially if they have to read on the Inkitt website.

What happens if you have 100 readers and some decent and positive feedback, after all your efforts? You might get a publishing deal with Inkitt, which might be a good thing, once you’ve seen what it entails and how they can help you reach even more readers. They do the editing, design, and even run the marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, more details or at least an FAQ section isn’t available to view, so I’d recommend to Inkitt that they write something to that effect. Their new website design states that they are a revolutionary literary agent, which is a well-considered angle, if they hope to pitch your story to A-list/traditional publishers, where your story would be published a second time and Inkitt would be the middle-man. If you trust Inkitt, they could work well as literary agents, but you need to be sure they can deliver as literary agents, who usually have a lot of connections and past experience in publishing or are members of an association. They also need to write why they are best placed to become your literary agent. At the moment, there is no guarantee that an A-list publisher would make an agreement with Inkitt, though they have done for past titles published by Inkitt (Bright Star by Erin Swan for example) as is currently visible in a slideshow on their website. As a writer I assumed popularity would interest A-list publishers, but exactly how much popularity is necessary? No, I’m sorry but we writers need more than just a “maybe” made clear to all of us. We need to know in detail what’s great about being published by Inkitt, what’s great about Inkitt as our literary agent, and what’s great about our chances of being published by an A-list publisher in terms of what they can do for us. It might give us writers more motivation to succeed in the contests.

http://www.inkitt.com

Kroll: Magnificence five-chapter excerpt on Inkitt

(If you liked this article, please consider reading my five-chapter excerpt of Kroll: Magnificence on Inkitt and providing me with feedback.)

“How to Get Published” at Bradford Literature Festival 2016

On Saturday 21st May, I went to the Bradford Literature Festival to attend a panel about How to Get Published. I got the impression that the idea of the festival was to reach out and encourage new voices in under-represented groups. Indeed, there appeared to be a diverse mix of people in the audience, and I gathered from the questions asked that many seemed to be unpublished writers. Overall the event was 1h15 minutes long and went smoothly.

On the panel were two authors: Nikesh Shukla and Michael Stewart, who was also moderating. There were two publishers: Lisa Milton, executive of HarperCollins Harlequin Division, and Kevin Duffy, founder of independent publisher Bluemoose Books.

Upon the commencement of the panel’s talk, it was difficult to hear some of the speakers at first, but after somebody complained this was no longer a noticeable issue. As can be expected there was a lot of advice about dealing with rejection. If I recall correctly, Michael Stewart said something on the lines of rejection being a good thing because it can strengthen your submission. I agree with this to an extent, but let’s face it most literary agents do not provide feedback on your submission. You’re left in the dark wondering why you were rejected; indeed there might not have been anything particularly wrong or unappealing about your submission; perhaps your idea was not right for the literary agent’s subjective tastes or they were looking for something else. It would have been interesting to hear scheduled speaker Nelle Andrew’s (literary agent from PetersFraserDunlop) opinion on this, but she was missing from the panel for some reason.

There was a bit of good-natured back and forth between independent publisher Kevin Duffy and traditional publisher Lisa Milton. It was not unexpected, and some of the exchanges did remind me a bit of Labour and Conservative at Question Time, but thankfully it wasn’t that annoying. Kevin Duffy asked Lisa Milton about whether money influenced which books she selected for publication, but she cleared this up quite well by insisting that publishers always have to make a case for every book they choose before approaching sales/marketing teams.

A female writer demanded to know why she had been rejected by Kevin Duffy, to which he supposedly replied, “It wasn’t my cup of tea”. There was good advice given to her about the importance of getting people you trust to give you honest and constructive criticism/feedback. It must have been tough to hear this from the panel, and the panel maybe jumped to conclusions about the type of writer the lady was because she had written her manuscript in such a short time, which might have been unfair (even if what they said were things a lot of writers need to hear). However, in the defence of new writers, what the panel didn’t state was how difficult it is because not every writer has a network of trusted friends who are prepared to read through an entire novel for them and give them honest feedback. Finding “trusted, reliable, and honest” people who are willing to go out of their way to spend time to help isn’t easy. Perhaps some more profound advice on this could have been given, other than directing us to the latest Writers and Artists Yearbook. Furthermore, once new writers have written a story, they are told repeatedly to look back through it, but to know how to do this you need to understand or research about writing craft. Just telling new writers to look at it again with fresh eyes might not be enough. They might need to read about revision, take courses, or begin similar professions.

This sparked a debate on making sure your writing is ready for submission. Nikesh Shukla was very vocal here, and much of what he said made a lot of sense and chimed well with my experience of writing: you’ve got to develop your idea and message, and understand your work to make sure that you know what you’ve written. I agreed with his points. It’s no good having nearly one-hundred thousand words on a page if you don’t understand the significance of what you have written, why it’s unique, or if your planning and research might not be expressed the way you intend it to be. At this point, Lisa Milton concurred with, “You’ve got to know your whole story, even before you write it”.

Part of the point of the event was intended to encourage new writers, and break the cycle of mainstream publishing where ethnic minorities and women are often excluded. One lady spoke up about whether an agent or publisher needs to know the gender of the writer, which just goes to show the fear that if you are a female writer then you might have less chance of being represented by an agent or published. I don’t think you need to explicitly state your gender in submissions, and if you have a name that is neutral it might help, even though sometimes literary agents and publishers insist on you using your real name. However, I believe you have more chance of securing an agent if you are able to convince them that you know your subject well, and for this you might have to include who you are, background expertise, or achievements. Understandably this means you don’t have to mention your gender, but the recipient of your submission will likely have enough information to know who you are. Yet this doesn’t mean I think you should go out of your way to hide your gender if the need arises! I’m not knowledgeable about the submission process for Bluemoose Books, but all of this is contrary to what Kevin Duffy said about his only having the information about the book upon which to judge submissions. Regarding ethnic minority under-representation, somebody in the audience complained that successful books from African, Asian, or Indian writers typically have to have a strong current of magic, mysticism, or an overly strong protagonist to be taken on board by publishers rather than if they would submit a story being from the point-of-view of an ordinary person.

Nikesh Shukla was strong on these arguments as well, insisting that unless people from the aforementioned groups submit to agents and become a part of the industry, rather than distancing themselves from it by seeing the books currently on shelves as unrepresentative of their writing and perspectives, then the cycle will continue with similar authors being published. Lisa Milton said she encourages writers from different backgrounds, which is nice to hear, but unless Lisa Milton is starting initiatives to help encourage unrepresented groups or unless HarperCollins has open submission periods, then I’m afraid little will change. That being said, it was still nice of her and the panel to make time to come to Bradford and for an appearance, which does enable transparency between what could be seen as the bottom and top of writing and publishing.

At the end of the event, most stragglers wanted to speak to Lisa Milton, which I wasn’t surprised at, being the executive of a traditional publisher. I didn’t have any pressing questions to ask the panel, but a few ladies approached me and handed out leaflets about a new publishing company (Dandylion Publishing) they have launched, for which they are looking for new writers. What I liked about them was the motivation and drive they had, competing for the writers, some of whom only had eyes for the panel.

I happily took a leaflet, and looked up the Dandylion Publishing website. It just goes to show that despite new perspectives on the traditional route to publication; Writers and Artists’ Yearbook, submitting to an agent, rejections; there are other ways to publish and get maybe get feedback if we are open-minded to book publishing as a whole. It would have been very interesting if the ladies of Dandylion Publishing had been on the panel, and to hear what they would have to say about improving writing and preparing material “good enough” for publication. I say this as well because, though Nikesh Shukla had experimented with crowdfunding, presumably his non-traditional route, most of the panel seemed to channel the conversation in the traditional submitting to an agent route, as if all writers had been thinking about that exact route.

There can be opportunities at such events for aspiring and existing authors.

(@s are on Twitter.com)

Bradford Literary Festival – @BradfordLitFest and bradfordliteraturefestival.co.uk

Dandylion Publishing – @DandylionReads – dandylionpublishing.co.uk

Kevin Duffy – @Ofmooseandmen

Bluemoosebooks.com

Lisa Milton – @Lmrhjb

Nikesh Shukla – @nikeshshukla

Michael Stewart – @headspam