#WEP/IWSG June 2019 Challenge – Caged Bird

Originally, I had planned to write a Sparkle Anwyl case for the 2019 WEP + IWSG Challenge starting in April and ending in December. I wrote the first episode in April, but then posted the next episode of Kindled Casket, last month. There is a ‘caged bird’ in the episode but not as planned – that follows in the next episode. That case will unfold over the next few months.

Hence, the attached standalone short – Fettered Air. A departure from my Welsh police procedural, so your responses will interest me.

Fettered Air

I slide ski-swift across the winter’s blanket under the Blood Wolf’s Moon. Beside me the chicken-legged hut creak-crashes through the forest.

We’re alone in the taiga.

No sign of Baba Yaga. She’s vanished as have the denizens. No howling wolves. Nor snow leopard scents. No eagle-owl hoots. Nor honking swans. No ice-crawlers corpse feeding.

For nothing breathes in the wailing wind.

Yet, Nature writhes in pain, dragon’s bile dripping on her from mortal fangs.

I am Skaði. Goddess, giantess, huntress and snow-stealth specialist. Size is not the issue. Speed is.

The house is noisier, but we make a team. This hut can track her mistress better than even I, its feet scratching up clues, windows watching for signs.

Our mission came from Svetovid, seer and guardian god – and we had no choice.

“Find Baba Yaga before this world rebels.”

Why me, a giantess from Jötunheimr? Because neither Odin nor Thor will ask me ever since the marital strife with my spouse, Njörðr.

“Nobody else volunteered,” added Svetovid. “Besides those deities I posted on separate operations.”

He’s as secretive as my Vanir and Aesir brethren. Not just Loki plays with intelligence. Our trickster-thief and clown has too many imitators.

“Others are missing?” I asked, expecting evasion.

“Find Baba Yaga. That’s all.”

So, a need-to-know answer means Skaði is disposable. Nothing has changed.

Am I that terrible?

I had my reasons for smashing my husband’s sand sculptures. The whale-way was a prison with seabirds flaunting freedom.

But he called my majestic mountain retreat a dreary cell. “I’m trapped here. I can’t ski or snowboard like you.” He ranted and ripped down my hunting trophies.

“Skadi Hunting in the Mountains” (1901) by H. L. M – Foster, Mary H. 1901. Asgard Stories: Tales from Norse Mythology. Silver, Burdett and Company

Marriage dissolved.

Thus, I get the menial tasks. Unless Odin sends his ravens or wolves with heart-baits.

Not this occasion. A telepathic eagle with four heads.  

“Find Baba Yaga.” Svetovid’s orders resound in my brain.

The wilderness wrestles promethium chains. That is enough reason to pursue the quarry.

So we scour Siberia.

The creak-crashing hut spins above the earth-coat. We have the crone’s spoor. 

Calls and cries clamour on the snow-breath.

Ahead a green clearing by a lake glows bright. Invisible to vicious human eyes, but I see the torches, tents and throng bridging the veils.

Baba has parked her mortar by a host of other vehicles, one that is familiar – my stepdaughter’s pantherine-drawn chariot.

With groans and creaks, the chicken-legs spin the hut to a halt by the pestle-guarded mortar. Shutters slam shut. A fence of human bones topped with skulls encircles them.

My gaze shoots arrows at the polytheistic conclave nobody invited me to.

Goddesses gathered from the Nine Realms. They have abandoned their posts to feast. Brews flow, dice roll and deities chatter. Everyone distracted as Midgard clamours for release.

Baba knocks back vodka, cackling to another crone – Hecate, clutching a goatskin of wine. Their dice are corpse-stones, and Hel’s are soul-vessels. 

Are they oblivious to the desolation? Among the feasting, denizen envoys are airing their anxiety.  

My pounding heart settles. Mind muses past irritable white-out.

Not all the deities are wizen and wild in their attire and behaviour. Some goddesses appear serious.

Freyja, stepdaughter and party animal rises – statuesque and sober, despite her goblet of mead.

Her eyes seize mine as she silences the symposium.

“Sisters, the snow-dancer is here. The world cries, and we have battle-sweat to spill. But when shall we three score meet again?”

“When the chaos is banished, when the spear-din is won,” Hel replies.

I add my voice, realising their design. “Ere midnight. After the sleep of the blade claims those flouting our laws.” Faces flash in my head. I smile. “Nature’s justice must wield the icicle of blood against false leaders poisoning life.”

My sisters nod. Creatures yowl.

Freyja smiles and summons her champions. “I come, Durga and Adrastea. We have fangs to extract.”
Her pantherines roar in response.

We will shatter the fetters on Nature. No more will humans build cages entrapping our laughter and song.

Yes, this is my #WEP/IWSG post for June so part of the 2019 WEP/IWSG ChallengeThis a standalone short, although Skaði appears in my novel Eagle Passage, which I wrote the first draft of for NaNoWriMo 2016.

Word Count 660: FCA

Comments are welcome as usual and the following applies:

Ten Minutes Past Teatime – a review


This is the first post written with my new ‘one-handed’ keyboard – well, smaller than my UK-bought one so easier to use when my left-hand cramps and claws. Just need to adapt to its idiosyncrasies.

On to my review of a short story that a writer I follow sent her subscribers.

Ten Minutes Past Teatime

by

Elizabeth Chatsworth (Goodreads Author)

Please note, this is a short story/novelette.

A Victorian spinster-scientist and a Viking shield-maiden find passion and danger in dark-age Ireland.

1896: Forty-three-year-old scientist Miss Minerva Minett is determined to become the first female member of an exclusive inventor’s club. To win their annual membership competition, she invents a time-traveling submersible, and launches her vessel into the Irish sea for a quick trip to the dark ages. But when she sinks a Viking longship, accidentally joins a monastery raid, and falls into the arms of a grizzled shield-maiden, she discovers that time may not be on her side.

Review 4.3 stars

This entertaining steampunk short story had me amused and entertained as forty-three-year-old Victorian scientist Miss Minerva Minett attempted to become the first female member of an exclusive inventor’s club, by launching her time-traveling submersible into the Irish sea for a quick trip to the dark ages.

From the amusing opening through her encounter with the grizzled shield-maiden, Alfhild to the twist at the end, I chuckled at the inventive mind of Minerva and her creator.

The experiments and inventions were as memorable as the characters, including the one that delivered the twist at the end. Being steampunk, I expected alternative history, so I won’t over-judge the authenticity beyond wondering about some oddities such as a misplaced dragon-head.   

The romance between Alfhild and Minerva is a bonus with neat contrasts across cultures and time. And with a name like Minerva, there had to be goddess references.

Alfhild was the true goddess, not she. Or maybe they both were?

It was a thesis she would have to explore in more detail. For the sake of science.

But the humour is always there.

Minerva cocked her head. Surely, she didn’t hear the word goldfish in the chorus? “ . . . Minerva’s Magic Goldfish. Answers every sailor’s wish . . .” Oh, dear.

A fun read, although short.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – three stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – four stars

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey – a review


As a reader and a gamer, this was inevitable – a second game related book. Although the first was a book that led to a game – Witcher – while this arose from a game. But both related to games that absorb/distract me.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

by 

Gordon Doherty (Goodreads Author) 

THE OFFICIAL NOVELIZATION BASED ON THE POPULAR VIDEO GAME FRANCHISE.THE OFFICIAL NOVELIZATION BASED ON THE POPULAR VIDEO GAME FRANCHISE.

They call her misthios–mercenary–and she will take what she is owed.


Kassandra was raised by her parents to be fierce and uncaring, the ideal Spartan child, destined for greatness. But when a terrible tragedy leaves her stranded on the isle of Kephallonia, near Greece, she decides to find work as a mercenary, away from the constraints of Sparta. 

Many years later, Kassandra is plagued by debt and living under the shadow of a tyrant when a mysterious stranger offers her a deal: assassinate the Wolf, a renowned Spartan general, and he will wipe her debt clean. The offer is simple, but the task is not, as she will need to infiltrate the war between Athens and Sparta to succeed.

Kassandra’s odyssey takes her behind enemy lines and among uncertain allies. A web of conspiracy threatens her life, and she must cut down the enemies that surround her to get to the truth. Luckily, a Spartan’s blade is always sharp.

            Review 4.4 stars

As a fan of historical fiction and a gamer, this was an enjoyable book throughout. I admit that I finished the main questline of the game, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey before reading this novelisation. And I played Kassandra preferring the performance of the voice actress, Melissanthi Mahut.

Kassandra is a mercenary who is caught up in a conspiracy that threatens her life – and the future of Greece. Here past is entwined with Sparta’s past and one she can’t avoid.

This novel was as immersive as the game but building on what I already knew of the ancient Greek world and from the game world. Not surprising from Gordon Doherty, a writer of ancient historical fiction who clearly knows how to make a historical period come alive – in this case, the Second Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta at the head of their respective Leagues.

Once finished, I was interested to see how far the historical detail departed from reality, knowing that some have called the Assassin’s Creed universe ‘alternative history’. In this storyline, there are elements and a few characters that are fictional and perhaps ‘alternative’. But the background, the world and many of the principal players are historical – like my favourite, Brasidas. The characters come alive – helped I admit by meeting them in game – although they may not have the complexities that some readers might expect.

The game is visually stunning – as Greece is – but this novel adds the smells of the world from the flowers and sea breezes to the unwashed bodies and corpses. There are moments that are darker, more visceral and realistic. That’s the power of crafted words.

I’ve idolised Sparta – sometimes – but I’m convinced now that Sparta is not the place for me. Athens is more suited to my artistic and democratic temperament – but under Perikles.

This novelisation adds more to the plot – even alternative motives and actions that embellish a storyline that must work in a game setting where it’s hard to have multiple endings. For me, there were few surprises, but I enjoyed the development of characters and situations that fleshed out events and structure. Time was more akin to what one would expect – journeys take days and weeks; scouting out a target can take weeks, if not months; events occur over months, even years. We mustn’t forget that the Second Peloponnesian War lasted almost thirty years, from 431 to 404 BCE.

This novelisation ended with a clever scene that worked for the Assassin’s Creed universe and was perhaps better although different from my ending. A fun and recommended read if you enjoy this genre of book.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – four stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

**

I’m still exploring the game of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, although I am now on side-quests and exploring places unfound – and I have yet to slay the Minotaur. At some point in the future, I will review the game – if there is the demand. For now, the focus will be on books – albeit the current one is non-fiction.

Edge of a Knife – a review

 

As both a reader and writer, I am fascinated by alternative histories so when Robert Edward mentioned his book on Goodreads, I was game for a read.

EdgeOfAKnife

Edge of a Knife (The American Mage War #1)

by Robert Edward (Goodreads Author)

It has been thirteen years since southern war wizards decisively defeated the Union Army and gained independence for the Confederate States of America. In 1876, the United States is a shattered nation. It stands alone, beset by enemies in a world torn apart by the terrible power of magic. Across the globe, kings and presidents, emperors and generals command sorcerers who harness the four elements of earth, air, water, and fire to wreak havoc on their enemies.
A magical fault line divides North America, where the hydromancers of the United States and pyromancers of the Confederate States maintain an uneasy truce. Both nations race to acquire new and more powerful magic to ensure victory when the next war inevitably comes.
In a Pittsburg tavern, Jared Gilsom, son of a wealthy shipping magnate, smuggler, and part-time thief, meets a strange woman. She has ties to an enigmatic group working both inside and outside the Union government to develop the North’s magical arsenal. A chance battle with southern agents in the city streets draws Jared into their mission. After retrieving a vital treasure from a renegade hydromancer, Jared joins a clandestine raid into the heart of the Confederacy. There, he finds a nation on the brink of its own collapse, where ambitious opportunists wait only for the right moment to seize power.
As Jared and his companions fight their way out of the South, the world continues to spiral into chaos. And magic will either save America or ensure its destruction.

Review 3.8*

My passion for Alternative history began with the American Civil War when I read Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee. So, I was drawn to this alternative when again the South was victorious. However, in Robert Edward’s well-crafted world in ‘Edge of a Knife’ magic has somehow emerged although why is a key theme of this novel.

In the opening pages, I was pulled into the story, and this alternative world worked, and the setting of post-alternate American Civil War felt right. At first, the magic was not overt or an all-conquering force. Later in the tale, we discover what has happened to reawaken magic, although Edwards doesn’t reveal all even as the novel concludes. Roll on Book 2 or maybe even in 3.

Anyway, the story was intriguing as it developed, with neat political parallels as well as the central plot. Jared as the main POV character evolved steadily, and a vivid picture emerged, although the others were less vivid – but then we were never inside their heads and nor was Jared. Action in other settings meant that the POV changed, more often to Confederate characters adding another perspective that generated events that crossed with the main character’s quest.

A few scenes from a political perspective felt like exposition, although those scenes added to the world-building and in one case foreshadowed a concluding scene.

At the midpoint, the stakes are raised, and the unexpected twists work. Beyond that key point, there was a sense that the story was building to a climax – a climax that hinted at possible events in Book 2. The events kept racing and twisting as the satisfying ending unfolded. One of the concluding scenes from the perspective of another nation – no spoilers on offer – was unexpected even though subtly foreshadowed. These scenes set up Book 2 and revealed a clever twist that I didn’t see coming.

I recommend the read for those that enjoy alternative history. I can’t say if the American Civil War period is correct, but to me, that felt right. As for stars, I was wavering as I finished the novel between three and four. The inconsistency of some spellings – Pittsburgh with an extra ‘h’ – and some sloppy sentence constructions pointed to a lack of final editing. However, these didn’t ruin the read.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – three stars

#IWSG – Confessions about quitting

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

Time for the monthly post as it’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day – well tomorrow is. I’m writing this a day early as I have the energy and my eyes aren’t as bad they have been – more of that below.

The starting point is what is this month’s optional question?

June 7 Question: Did you ever say “I quit”? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

That’s a tough one. The simple answer is that when I had a non-writing job then it was simply workload that made me quit and the urge to write down an idea that brought me back. So, in some cases that was months later and in too many cases it was years before I listened to my muse.

Then came multiple sclerosis and by then I was an equestrian journalist. Eventually, the disease forced me to quit. But there was a novel that needed writing and even though I retired as a journalist, I struggled on with the novel. Thirteen years after I was diagnosed with MS, “Spiral of Hooves” was published in December 2013. Sadly, the book is out of print but plans are afoot to re-publish and there is even a cover design by the brilliant Jonathan Temples, as the old one was designed for the original publishers.

What do you think? Does it make you want to read the novel? (Apologies that it’s a PDF link at the moment)

Rolandbook1_5x8BW290V4

The re-release of “Spiral of Hooves” was to be the re-launch of my writing career, but the damn disease disagreed. Followers on Facebook might know that I get tired and my eyes are troubling me so I’m cutting back on what I do. I’ve struggled to expand my A to Z posts into “A Brief History of Kanata” and that is ready for some beta volunteers. Anyone want an alternative history lesson?

Apologies if I hardly visit or comment anymore because that has become one solution. But am I about to quit for good or will the muse that has inspired other draft novels to help me stumble on? I must remember how to touch type as my voice is too glitched to use voice recognition software. Or is there another way not to quit?

*

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

The awesome co-hosts for the June 7 posting of the IWSG are JH Moncrieff, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Jen Chandler, Megan Morgan, and Heather Gardner!

Reflections of 2017 #AtoZChallenge

survivor-atoz [2017] v1

 

The 2017 Blogging from A to Z Challenge didn’t go as planned for me so apologies to my followers and to my fellow bloggers. In previous years, I have written and scheduled all or at least most of my posts by the end of March. That allows me time to write the few missing ones during the early part of April as well as time to visit the A to Z bloggers that I follow and any new ones that catch my attention.

This time things went awry. I chose my theme okay – The History of Kanata – and even got some of the posts done. But I was already a bit behind come April 1st so there was no way that I was taking Sunday, April 2nd off. Then overnight my health took a nose-dive and on Monday April 3rd I collapsed shortly after posting on Facebook, “After a terrible night when Juanita Clarke was luckily tere for me, psting is very hard as mystyping everything. So apologies for siaslence.”

My belated post, “Insecure and Invalid”, explains how I was rushed to hospital and my nights there. Suffice to say that the rest of April was a struggle just to stay on top of my own posts while still feeling poorly. At least, the 500+ emails that I came back to have been reduced to nearer 350 but they keep sneaking back into my Inbox somehow.

I also managed to reply to those people that took the trouble to comment on the posts – you know who you are so my grateful thanks.

When I did the post-event survey I said that I hadn’t visited or commented on any other posts and that answer was inaccurate – I visited two or three that dropped by my site. However, I have a lot of A to Z sites to visit as I get on top of things – if that is possible.

As far as the absence of the Linky links page was concerned I didn’t have a chance to miss it. But I did manage to post most of my daily posts on the Facebook page. That worked brilliantly, just like the Insecure Writers Facebook page does, and on a random visit, I found a fellow MS warrior which made April worthwhile.

I don’t feel my experience was a fair reflection on the team, but I would still like to give the hard-working bunch a shout out, especially founder Arlee Bird.

Time now to point you to the It’s Time to Reflect! page where you can find other A to Z Reflections.

And visit:         Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/atozchallenge/

Twitter handle: @AprilAtoZ

Twitter hashtag: #atozchallenge