Friday, April 17, 2015

Excerpt and Giveaway: ICEFALL by Gillian Philip

Icefall -Gillian Philip

We have an excerpt and giveaway for ICEFALL by Gillian Philip. It’s the 4th and final book of the Rebel Angels urban fantasy series and there are 3 copies for US and Canadian addresses.

Below is the excerpt and below that is the Google form to enter the contest.

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ICEFALL by Gillian Philip

Hannah

The sound was so soft, I’d never have heard it if a breeze had stirred. The faintest whisper, like leaf against leaf, or steel against leather.

I hesitated, glancing behind me, hitching my backpack higher on my shoulder. I was probably imagining it. I had things to do, books to read, prospectuses to study. This was my final school year and I was impatient to know where my life was going. I didn’t have time for getting spooked by shadows.

All the same.

Turning, I scanned the street. Broad autumn daylight. Cool and overcast, it was true, but weak shafts of sun filtered through onto cracked concrete and corrugated iron. This was the dingy end of town, the deserted end. No reason that alley between the warehouses should look so dark. No reason, except my imagination.

Except I was fairly sure that was a footstep.

Nothing moved. Shadow leaked out of the alleyway, pooled between a parked car and a lorry: so very dark, when there wasn’t much sun. I couldn’t even hear a gull. Late afternoon and even the shabby corner pubs were quiet. Weird. Like being sealed in a capsule of stillness and fear.

I shrugged. Sniffed. Walked on. Stopped again.

The silence wasn’t empty. There was something inside it, something that could think and hate, something that could move. Something that would move, when it chose to.

I stood quite still. I could feel the cold fear in my spine, now, trying to make me run. I mustn’t run.

Too late to call Rory. And anyway, did I want to? If this was anything more sinister than some suicidally ill-judged piss-take from cousin Lauren and her pals, I might only draw him into a trap. He was the one they mustn’t have. I was dispensable. In the long run.

Not that I thought much of that idea. In the short run.

I showed my teeth. There was still the chance this was only Lauren, and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. Didn’t want to overreact or anything.

I didn’t think it was Lauren.

‘Come on, then.’

My words echoed off blank walls.

‘I said come on. If you’re hard enough.’

That was fine. That was fine, my voice had come out steady. It wouldn’t do that again, not now that a figure had stepped out of the alleyway. A woman, I guessed from the silhouette moving forward: tall, and kind of elegant. Yes, a woman: pale hair twisted into a braid, mouth curved in an apologetic smile. Sword held lightly, almost casually, and now she flipped its hilt so that the blade was held high, and drew it to her face in salute.

Lovely, I thought. Honestly, very graceful. With luck she’d do the whole thing as beautifully as that. Fast and painless.

Of course, I’d rather she didn’t do it at all. Letting my backpack slip from my shoulder, I swung it in a threatening arc.

‘Hannah Falconer McConnell.’ It wasn’t a question.

‘Yeah? And?’

‘Come along, now,’ said the pale-haired woman. ‘Don’t make a fuss.’

‘I will, though.’

‘Please don’t make this any harder.’

‘Uh-huh. Right.’ I lashed the backpack at her.

Pathetic. The bag was heavy, the movement clumsy. Stepping neatly back, the woman swung her sword, severing the strap. Lunging, I snatched it as it fell and raised it like a shield. Even more pathetic, but I’d like to have heard a better suggestion.

‘You’re being very silly,’ the woman told me.

I didn’t dignify that with a reply. Anyway, I only had time to thrust the bag forward to catch the swinging blade. It thunked through canvas and into textbooks and notepads and glossy university brochures.

Homework has always had its uses.

Sucking her teeth in exasperation, the woman tugged her sword loose as she grabbed the backpack with her free hand and wrenched it from my grip.

‘Now, shush. Let’s get it done. Quickly, I promise.’

I stumbled back as my bag was flung to the ground. I don’t know what was stronger, the disbelief or the terror. This had happened so fast. I’d been walking home, pissed off at the thought of having to study at the local redbrick next year because you can’t leave here, not on your own, you’re not going out of our sight. And now I was never going to take a degree anywhere, because I was going to die.

This was not how I’d planned my life or my evening. I’d have liked to run, but there didn’t seem any point.

‘Shush,’ soothed the woman again, and drew back her blade on a line with my neck.

At the furthest point of her lazy backswing, she hesitated, and frowned, and glanced down.

My breathing was high-pitched, and my whole body was shaking, but I looked too. A sharp point of steel had appeared between the woman’s ribs, just to the left of her sternum, and as she growled in astonishment, a sinewy arm went round her neck and jolted her backwards. The blade tip poked further out of her chest; I watched it, mesmerised.

Her shock had turned to rage, too late. As she tried to turn, the silver light in her eyes faded. She dropped to her knees, her sword scraped and then clanged on the pavement. With a last irritated look at me, she pitched forward onto her face and died.

The man who stood over the corpse tugged at his sword. It wouldn’t come loose, and he had to put his foot on the woman’s back and jerk it hard out of her ribs. It came out with a horrible sucking thwick that made me want to be sick. Nothing altruistic. I was thinking it would have made the same noise coming out of me.

My saviour raised an eyebrow.

~ That’ll teach her to keep an open mind.

Someone was breathing hard and very fast. It wasn’t the newcomer, the man with the neat goatee, the unruly black hair and the brutal facial scars. Presumably it wasn’t the dead tart. Must be me, then.

Taking a deep breath, I smiled.

‘Sionnach,’ I said. ‘Have you got nothing better to do than be my bodyguard?’

He shrugged, glanced down at the corpse. ~ No.

He frowned again.

~ You okay?

No, I’m about to fall over and I think I want to cry. ‘I’m fine. Fine.’ I let out a shuddering breath.

‘You shouldn’t walk home alone,’ he said aloud. ‘Where’s Rory?’

‘In the library. He’s still got loads of catching up to do.’

‘Well, we need him. Call him.’

Seeing as I’d been dying to, I did what I was told. Of course, Sionnach didn’t give me time to catch my breath or rearrange my hair. When the love of my life appeared, running to my rescue, I was grunting and sweating from the effort of helping drag a corpse into a handy doorway. Sionnach let go of the woman’s limp arm and straightened, eyeing Rory accusingly as he skidded to a halt.

‘Sionnach.’ He was out of breath.

Sionnach shook his head. ‘Hannah was alone. Not again, hear?’

‘No. Right. I know. God, Hannah, I’m sorry.’

I pushed a damp rat-tail of hair behind my ear and smiled, trying to look cool, so glad to see him the fear of death was already slipping off me like snakeskin. I liked that tight knot of love in my gut. It let me know I was still a human being, and being hunted down in an alleyway wasn’t all there was to it.

Rory’s face split in a grin. It was pretty funny that he still got bossed around by Sionnach, now that he was an inch taller than him. Tall, feral, and full of mischief: an overgrown Lost Boy. His bright hair had darkened in the last couple of years, his face had grown thinner and harder, and his grey eyes had the shadowy glint of his father’s. But he still had the elfish beauty I’d fallen for on the most chaotic day of my life. Best of all, he still loved me. I hoped he always would. My Rory Bhan. My one-time lover. My cousin.

Sionnach coughed. ‘When you’re quite ready.’

Rory looked abruptly away, and I forced a pout to stop myself laughing too. I liked to hear Sionnach being sarcastic. There hadn’t been much of the old Sionnach in the last three years. Not since he lost the other half of himself, not since Alasdair Kilrevin put a sword blade through his twin.

He went still, raising his head. ‘Someone’s coming. Do it now.’

Shocked, Rory said, ‘What?’

~ Do it.

Obediently Rory reached for thin air and the fragile thing that was hidden in it. Sionnach’s nerves were contagious. My own heart, which I reckoned had stopped five minutes ago when it got stuck in my throat, crashed back into my chest and into overdrive. Delayed shock, maybe, but it made my head spin. The fear was becoming panic, because I knew Sionnach was right—he always was—but Rory was struggling with the Veil. Beyond the defences of a Sithe fortress, that was unheard of.

‘Rory. What’s wrong?’

Rory’s fingertips scrabbled, like he was trying to grab glass. He swore. I could feel his panic growing.

‘I thought it was thinning,’ I hissed.

‘It is. It was!’

‘Come on. Veil or no Veil, somebody’s going to notice a corpse.’

‘Yeah, no kidding.’

Sionnach said nothing, only stared into the shadows.

This was stupid. It was meant to be withering, but the Veil had picked a fine time to get its strength back. Rory was getting no grip on it at all. For an instant he looked completely bewildered, but he clenched his fists, and his face darkened.

He had that cold look of his father’s now. Flattening his fingers he thrust them forward like a blade, snatching hold of something I couldn’t see.

Sionnach took a step towards the alleyway. ~ Whoever it is, they’re close.

With a growl, Rory hauled on his handful of Veil, and it began to give: like tearing oilcloth. He put his other hand to the rip, dragged it remorselessly wider. The sinews stood out on his wrist with the effort.

He grunted as the gash widened at last. Let go, and stood up. He froze.

Then he stumbled back, and would have fallen on his backside if he hadn’t crashed into me.

‘Rory…’ I began.

A tremor ran through his skin, and he’d gone very cold. I looked up and past him, towards the tear in the Veil. Something oozed from the gash, all chill and black fear. Instinctively I shuffled backwards away from it, dragging Rory.

For a moment he let himself be tugged away, then his muscles hardened and he wriggled out of my grip. On all fours he crawled back towards the hole, then clambered to his feet and seized the Veil’s torn edges in both hands. Even Sionnach was staring at Rory now, the intruder forgotten.

‘What’s that?’ he said. There was fear in his hoarse voice.

Rory couldn’t spare him an answer. The gap in the Veil couldn’t be more than a metre long, but I could just make out its distorted shadow where the weak sunlight caught it. It sagged inwards, bulging, like it was going to rip further.

I’d never felt anything like it, not in all the many times it had given way to Rory. It always obeyed him, but now I had a feeling the Veil had rebelled for the first time. You’d almost think that at its heart, caught in the membrane, there was a trapped darkness that wanted out.

I’d never been afraid of the Veil between the worlds, never. Even the first time Rory tore it for me, four summers ago that felt like decades, I’d been only gobsmacked, and mistrustful, and rationally angry. I’d never felt this lump of fear in my belly. Whatever the darkness was, it didn’t fascinate me. I only wanted it gone, but I was terribly afraid it wouldn’t go. The gap yawed, sagged further, stretched like a living thing.

We’d taken it by surprise. The Veil, I mean. The thought struck me, unexpected and bizarre. We’d woken something that hadn’t expected to wake; it had been disturbed unawares, but it wasn’t ready to explode from its restraining membrane.

And just as well, was my instinctive thought.

Rory dragged the edges together and stood rigid, clutching the gap shut. I couldn’t so much see that it was closed as sense it, because the strange coldness was gone like a sigh.

It seemed an age before Rory loosened his fingers and stepped back.

I took a breath to say And what are we going to do with the dead tart now, but I never got the chance. Rory reached out, almost thoughtlessly, and tore the Veil again.

It ripped like gossamer. He used a light forefinger and he didn’t even have to take a breath.

I gaped at him, but Sionnach wasn’t struck dumb. He grabbed the dead woman’s arm and hauled her to the new rip in the Veil, bundling and shoving her through. Getting a hold of myself, I helped him, pushing the woman’s dangling foot through the gap as Sionnach threw her sword after her. With no fuss at all, Rory clasped the Veil’s edges and sealed it, and she was gone.

*   *   *

The three of us were panting for breath, staring at the space she’d filled, when the air was shattered by a tinny blast of unidentifiable R&B.

Sionnach turned. The music died abruptly; a phone clattered to the paving stones. As we gaped, a manicured hand shot round the corner to grab for it.

Nonchalantly Sionnach took a pace closer and trod hard on the hand. There was a yelp of angry pain as he bent to pick up the phone, turning it in his hand, thumbing the touchscreen with interest.

‘Come out,’ he said. ‘Lauren.’ He tilted an eyebrow at me.

‘Aw, hell,’ muttered Rory. I swore more creatively.

She stumbled to her feet, clutching her bruised hand, glaring at all three of us. Not a muscle of Sionnach’s face moved now, and I thought: Uh-oh. When his hand went to the hilt of the short sword hidden inside his leather jacket, Rory put a hand on the man’s arm. Sionnach scowled.

I forced a smile. ‘Hi, Lauren.’

Rory’s breath sighed out of him. ‘Sionnach, watch where you’re putting your feet. Y’okay, Lauren?’

‘Fine,’ she spat.

‘What did you just see, Lauren?’ asked Sionnach.

‘Nothing. Like I’d be interested. I wasn’t even looking.’

‘Really?’

‘You broke my best nail.’ She folded her arms aggressively. ‘Although that’s nothing compared to you dragging that wom—’

This time Rory had to shove in front of Sionnach, seize his jacket, and pull it back across the emerging blade. He gave Lauren a tight smile. ‘The drunk one?’

‘The—’

‘Drunk one,’ I said.

‘She didn’t look drunk to—’

Sidestepping Rory, Sionnach offered Lauren her phone back, his lips tightening in an almost-smile. The girl just stood there, glowering nervously.

Sionnach’s unconvincing smirk stayed in place as he thrust the phone forward again. I knew he was still wondering if he ought to kill Lauren, so this time I shouldered him sideways. Now Rory and I together were blocking him quite efficiently, but I knew the man could snake past us fast enough if he felt like it.

‘In the middle of the afternoon and all,’ said Rory. ‘Dead. Drunk.’

Lauren eyed us, mistrust fairly oozing out of her. ‘Where did she go?’

‘I dunno.’ Rory shrugged and pointed hopefully at the grubby stained-glass window of the nearest pub. ‘In there? Gosh, I hope she doesn’t come back!’

Oh, very convincing. Not. I gave Lauren my sweetest smile. ‘I’m sure she won’t be back.’

I knew fine Lauren wasn’t even half-convinced, but Sionnach hadn’t taken his eyes off her. Working on the girl’s brain, just like Rory. Between the pair of them, Lauren didn’t stand a chance. At last she rolled her eyes and blew out a sigh.

‘Stupid drunk.’ She nibbled crossly at her ragged nail. ‘She made me break my best—’

‘Well,’ said Rory. ‘All over. Want to come back with us? Have a go on my Xbox?’

~ Rory. Sionnach had stiffened, and he was giving him the kind of glower that used to be reserved for when Rory was a young brat and had a habit of running away.

~ Sionnach, said Rory, glaring back. ~ It’s not a problem.

~ Yes. It is.

I’d have backed Sionnach up, but I was unnerved. ~ Sionnach, she saw something. We can’t just let her—

~ Live?

~ Sionnach!

But Lauren heard none of that. She was still watching Rory with narrowed eyes. ‘Have you got Grand Theft Auto?’

‘No, but he’s got the latest Call of Duty.’ I back-kicked Sionnach’s ankle. ‘Yeah, come on back with us.’

‘Well, that’s a first.’ Lauren almost grinned at me. ‘Thanks.’

Sionnach’s anger was coming off him in radioactive waves, but it was an offer Lauren couldn’t refuse and I wasn’t about to withdraw it. She was my cousin, even if not the one I was in love and lust with, and it was undeniably odd that I’d never invited her back to my new place. After all, I hadn’t bitten her face for at least three years, and she hadn’t gouged my eyeballs. Maybe we were both older and wiser; maybe it was just that we didn’t have to share a bathroom any more, or indeed a house.

I lived with my real family now, with my uncle and the exiled clann he captained, and I was happy. Probably happier than any of them, since I was the only one who wasn’t dislocated and homesick. My life would be pretty much perfect, in fact, if it wasn’t for college applications, and the high chance of being hunted down and murdered.

~ Get rid of Lauren as soon as you can, Sionnach told me. ~ This is a mistake.

~ It’ll be fine.

~ We’re all going to regret it.

Within about ten seconds, I already did. At school Lauren was inclined to eye Rory a little too closely and too long, and now, as we headed home through the deserted streets, she might have been surgically attached to his flank. Rory was way too polite and naive to tell her where to go, and Sionnach dropped back about fifty metres.

It pissed me off, and funnily enough it wasn’t jealousy. It was just that Sionnach belonged with us more than Lauren ever would. Nobody had the right to take his place.

I glanced over my shoulder, and Sionnach gave me one of his most beautiful grins.

~ It’s okay.

Well. He might not mind, but I did.

Nobody could say we lived in the best part of the city, but it was certainly the oldest. Half the old warren called Fishertown—‘town’ must have been a bit of stretch from day one—had been flattened to make way for warehouses and factory units and offices. What was left, when the heritage charities finally got their act together, was huddled on the far side of the industrial estate, cut off from the rest of the city: a few cobbled streets and low terraced cottages with quaint streetlights that I suspected weren’t the originals. Some Victorian shipowner had built a big house to the south, right up on the cliffs, overlooking his fiefdom. It was ramshackle now, dilapidated and unloved and unsold because the sea was eating at its foundations. Frankly I didn’t like to walk out on the headland and look back at the cliffs, riddled with tunnels and caves. At two in the morning, waking with a start, I could imagine the whole house collapsing into one of those holes.

Rory’s stepmother had found the house, or it had found her: love and real-estate lust at first sight. It had no name and they didn’t give it one; my friend Orach once told me that if you named something, you tied it to you, and it would tie you right back. Old and huge, unrenovated so that its rooms and halls were a warren of secret places, the house was set at the end of a dark winding drive in more than two acres of wild rhododendron-haunted garden. And there we all lived, and when I say all, I mean all. The place was treated as an open house by what seemed like an entire exiled race. I never knew who I’d find when I got home from school.

As Rory trudged up the drive with Lauren, I hung back under the untrimmed laurels and waited for Sionnach. He gave a soundless laugh as he caught up and put an arm round my shoulder, and together we negotiated the stuff piled in the hall. Motorbike helmets, mountain bikes, two pairs of muddy hillwalking boots, a sack of dry dog food. A case of empty wine bottles put out for recycling. Snowboards, waiting to be cleaned and waxed for the oncoming winter. I swore as I tripped on someone’s laptop bag. Minus laptop, and just as well, since I kicked it hard.

I’d never altogether get my head round the Sithe’s gregarious ways. They just didn’t seem capable of living in nice little nuclear units. Always had to be in great sprawling anthills of humanity, and the more the merrier, but somehow, if you wanted space and solitude, you could find it. You could even find peace and quiet.

At least, you could find a moment’s peace when Rory’s father and stepmother weren’t tearing verbal strips off each other. As we caught up with Rory and Lauren, waiting in the hall, my heart sank. The kitchen door was shut but we could hear every word.

‘You conceited ARROGANT stubborn UP-YOURSELF FAERY! What makes you think you know better than me?

‘Yeah, it’s not like I’ve had more experience of life. It’s not like I would know better because I’ve seen about a thousand percent more and know ten thousand times more than you do because I’ve been around a bit longer.

Rory had his hand on the kitchen door but he paused. If he walked in now, Seth and Finn might shut up, but then again they might not, and that would be even more embarrassing. He raised an eyebrow at me, and I shook my head. Sionnach sighed—half exasperated, half sorrowful—then edged past me and out towards the back garden and his workshop.

Smiling brightly, Rory and I looked at Lauren, and Rory said. ‘Sorry about this. Let’s go upstairs.’

Lauren stared at the kitchen door. ‘For God’s sake. Is he violent?’

‘Hoo!’ I laughed. ‘In his dreams. Take no notice.’

‘Wait till they make it up.’ Rory rolled his eyes. ‘That’s when it gets really embarrassing.’

‘I’ll prove it to you! I’ll show you what I saw, if you’ve got the guts to look!’

‘Don’t bother. You were hallucinating. I don’t want to share your hallucinations.’

‘Sometimes I could just SLAP YOU, SETH MACGREGOR!’

‘Well, why don’t you? It’s NOT LIKE YOU USUALLY HOLD BACK.’

The total hideous silence was broken after a few seconds by a snort of laughter. A clatter of crockery falling to the floor, the scrape of a table. A growl and more laughter.

‘If I didn’t love you so much I’d have to kill you.’

‘Yeah, yeah. I’d like to see you try. Shut up and kiss me, woman.’

‘Oh, for crying out loud,’ I said. ‘Let’s get out of here.’

‘If my mum called my dad a fairy, he’d kill her,’ said Lauren as we climbed the stairs. ‘I’m amazed Doctor Evil puts up with it.’

Rory stiffened, one foot on the top step and a dangerous look in his eye. ‘What did you call my father?’

‘Sorry.’ Lauren shrugged. ‘Thought everybody did.’

I felt a surge of violent resentment go through Rory. ‘Not in front of me they don’t. All right?’

I gave him a mental nudge. ~ Calm down, there, Laochan.

~ Like hell I will. Like any of them have been through what he’s been through. You don’t get scars if you spend your whole life on your fat backside, do you?

~ Your dad thinks it’s funny, you know. I glanced at Lauren, who was watching us both as if we were mad. ~ He doesn’t mind.

~ Well, I do. But he shrugged. ‘Come on, Lauren, forget it. My room’s up here.’

Actually I wasn’t telling the truth, there. Seth did mind. He was still self-conscious, and he was never going to have a perfect face again, but I reckoned he looked more beautiful now, as if life had given him a good slapping and he’d bounced back stronger and a whole lot wiser. The beatings he’d taken from the Wolf of Kilrevin had knocked his features slightly out of symmetry, and his right eyelid didn’t open as far as the left one since a deep vertical scar had been drawn down his face with a knife, but his eyes got a sort of mournful beauty from the aching homesickness. Ironic. Or maybe his non-existent gods just had a terrible sense of humour.

I got bored fast with Rory’s new game, since I couldn’t get near it. It was no great thrill watching him and Lauren sprawl on the bed and hog the controllers, so when I stood up and stretched, I was easily distracted by a black scrap in the sky. Opening the window I leaned on the sill and watched the raven soar and dive and loop impossible loops. That’d be Faramach. For all the mob of birds that hung around the cliffs, there wasn’t another one that took quite such delight in showing off.

Finn was with him. She stood right on the edge of the cliff, arms folded, watching him fly. Either the squabble with Seth was over or she’d stormed out: wouldn’t be the first time. But I reckoned they’d made it up, because she looked perfectly happy. Her hair whipped crazily in the breeze, but even out there on the bleak cliff-top she didn’t look cold.

She spent a lot of time out there—especially when Seth was working away from home—though it was barely more than wind-scoured grass and whin, and any fence must have crumbled away as the rock face did. All that was left of a formal garden was the mass of laurel and rhododendron that hugged the house and blocked the light from the downstairs rooms. I used to wonder why the clann didn’t cut the bushes back to get the view, but I’d worked it out now. It was the wrong sea, that was all. They loved it but they didn’t want the permanent aching reminder of the right one. No islands at the horizon here, just a fusion of sky and water.

Finn liked the cliffs, though. Sooner her than me. As I watched, she sat down on the cliff-edge, dangling her legs over, then leaned forward to follow Faramach’s aerobatics as he spiralled lower. My stomach lurched just watching her.

Faramach wheeled upwards again, but Finn went on staring down. There must be something else at the foot of those insane cliffs that fascinated her.

The sea had turned silver-blue, glittering and popping like a million flashbulbs, so brilliant it hurt my eyes. I didn’t want to spend any more of an afternoon like this with a couple of Xbox bores, and they hadn’t even started the game proper: they were still choosing weapons from a ridiculously massive arsenal. Boys would be boys and some girls would be boys too, and Finn would be much better company.

Unfortunately, though I stalked off unnoticed, I didn’t get far. To the left of the staircase the door of the TV room stood open, and Grian was leaning on the newel post glaring up at me, blocking my way through the hall. I glanced past him at the darkened space within. The volume on the TV was so high I could follow every word of the dialogue.

I eyed Grian again. Big and blond and a trueborn healer, and I didn’t know which of those gave him his permanent air of superiority.

‘Get in here,’ he said. ‘We want a word.’

With a very bad grace I stomped down the remaining stairs and barged past him into the room. We didn’t seem to want a word at all. The rest of them, about a dozen or so, were slouched across sofas and armchairs, feet on the upholstery, drinking beer out of bottles and watching Blackadder on DVD.

Boys, I thought for the second time in a minute, would be boys.

‘You bunch of slobs,’ I said. ‘It’s a gorgeous day. At least open the curtains.’

‘Hi Hannah.’

‘Hey, Hannah.’

‘Shut the door, girl.’ Sprawled across Iolaire’s lap, Jed waggled his fingers by way of greeting.

‘Somebody better pick up those peanuts,’ I told them, nudging the spilt bowl with my foot, ‘before Finn gets here.’

‘She’s busy.’ Fearna sniggered.

‘They’re not still fighting?’ Iolaire glanced across.

‘Nah,’ I said, and ate a peanut.

A suggestive sigh drifted round the room.

‘Leave them alone.’ Braon appeared from behind me with a platter of chicken wings and a bottle of hot sauce. Not like her to do the cooking for this lot; she must have been really peckish. ‘Seth has to go back to work tomorrow. Course they’re fighting.’

‘Aye,’ said Iolaire. ‘It’s an excuse to make up.’

‘He shouldn’t go away,’ snapped Grian, flicking his hand across my scalp. ‘His place is here. It should be Seth keeping the lid on you and Rory, not me.’

‘He has to work, Gri,’ said Braon mildly. ‘We all have to eat.’

‘He can live off us.’

Braon gave him a you-can-tell-that-to-Seth look.

Grian clicked the mute on the remote. ‘Can I get some backup here?’

Iolaire helped himself to two wings, feeding one to the flat-out Jed and wagging the other at the huge flatscreen TV. ‘Leave her alone, Gri. There’s no harm in it.’

‘There could be.’ Grian wouldn’t let it go. ‘Would you slobs focus? You know what the little cat’s dragged in.’

‘Cheers, mate,’ I growled.

‘What was Sionnach thinking, letting you do that? And where is he anyway? I want a word.’

I sighed, and nodded towards the garden and Sionnach’s joinery workshop.

Braon hesitated, took her teeth out of a wing. ‘Is he okay?’

‘Okay as ever,’ I said. ‘We had a … bit of an incident. On the way home. That’s why we had to bring home the only witness, as it happens.’

Grian stiffened, folding his arms as if his point was made. His lazy grin fading, Jed pushed Iolaire’s chicken wing away and levered himself up.

‘What kind of an incident?’ he said.

I bit my nails. ‘Oh, a woman. Darach, Sionnach said she was. He, um … he dealt with her. It’s okay.’

‘Darach,’ spat Iolaire. ‘I know her.’

‘You knew her,’ I said dryly.

There was a silence.

‘Did anyone get hurt?’ asked Jed sharply.

I shook my head. As an embarrassed afterthought, I added, ‘Except Darach.’

‘Gods,’ said Iolaire.

‘Sionnach should have killed the girl,’ said Grian.

The girl is seventeen years old.’ I felt my cheekbones redden with anger.

The girl is a nosy cow. We could feel it as soon as she walked in. You and Rory are idiots.’

‘You can take that and stick it—’

Suicidal fecking idiots.’ Grian was yelling now. ‘Have you ever heard of keeping your heads down?’

‘Anybody for Big Bang Theory?’ Iolaire interrupted brightly. ‘I don’t think the Witchsmeller’s that funny.’

‘That’s ’cause it isn’t comedy, it’s history,’ muttered Diorras. ‘Christ, I should know.’

‘Less of the funny, more of the news,’ snapped Grian. He fired the remote at the TV as if he wanted it to shatter, and yanked his phone from his pocket. ‘I checked the BBC website a minute ago. Want to see?’

‘No,’ said Sorcha, lifting a beer bottle to her lips.

‘I do.’ Iolaire sat forward, dislodging Jed’s head and provoking a grunt of protest.

‘Watch,’ said Grian, and everybody did.

‘They kept themselves to themselves,’ a woman was telling a fuzzy microphone. Her hair blustered in the breeze across her pale face, and she combed it away then re-folded her arms. Behind her stood the shell of a council house, the neighbouring walls smeared with black smoke. ‘Very quiet and reserved. They seemed a nice couple. It’s a nice area.’

The recording cut back to the balding reporter, swaddled in a dark overcoat, his face solemn. ‘The bodies were found in an upstairs room, and reports indicate the room may have been barricaded from the inside,’ his brow furrowed, ‘and that items of weaponry were found with the couple. The police are not commenting at this stage. For Reporting Scotland, this is…’

Grian clicked the mute button. The silence, for a moment, was so oppressive I thought it would smother the lot of us.

‘Sgarrag and Fraoch, in case you were wondering. Because they buggered off to live by themselves.’ Grian rapped the back of my skull with the remote. ‘Still fancy Durham University, do you, Hannah?’

‘Shit,’ breathed Sorcha.

‘I hope,’ said Braon, and cleared her throat. ‘I hope they were dead before the house was fired.’

‘They wouldn’t burn them to death,’ said Iolaire, not very convincingly. ‘They wouldn’t.’

Nobody said anything. I guess nobody wanted to think about it too hard.

Sgarrag and Fraoch didn’t account for many on-screen seconds. The newsreader was doing the final-item funny now. I didn’t have to hear it to get the story: yet another sighting of the Beast of Ben Vreckan. The Beast itself featured in a uselessly blurry mobile-phone photo above the presenter’s right shoulder. Aye, sure said her cynically tilted eyebrow.

‘Hannah,’ said Iolaire, a pleading look in his eye. ‘Try not to bring strangers home, ’kay?’

His thumb was caressing Jed’s close-shaved hair, and my anger melted away. Jed had shut his eyes, but I could tell from the tight set of his mouth that he wasn’t asleep. He was unhappy, that was all, possibly unhappier than anyone, and Rory’s reckless invitation to Lauren had put the already-distant prospect of home just that little bit further away.

‘Okay,’ I grunted. ‘But it’s only my cousin Lauren.’

‘I’m sure it is.’ Grian’s attempt at conciliation came out through gritted teeth. ‘This time.’

I turned to leave. ‘And next time,’ I said, ‘you can take it up with Rory. He’s the one that invited her.’

‘Or maybe Seth can do some parenting instead of me, for a change.’

‘You’ve got a lot to tell him to his face,’ I said spitefully. ‘Good luck with that.’

Copyright © 2013 by Gillian Philip

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Here’s more about the series:

The story began with Firebrand in the 16th century on the far side of the Veil that protected the Sithe’s peaceful world from our own troubled one. But Sithe Queen Kate NicNiven had her eyes set on more than her own kingdom and determined to tear down anything in the way of her ambitions. Seth and Conal MacGregor are two brothers with a complicated relationship who end up on the wrong side of both the Veil and Queen Kate. Firebrand followed the two as they fought to survive in a foreign land embroiled in religious wars, as well as protect the Veil and reclaim their birthright from the Queen.

Bloodstone found the brothers in modern day England after spending centuries hunting for a mysterious gem demanded by Queen Kate. But in those years they also managed to slip through the Veil on a few occasions—and cause no small amount of violent havoc. Meanwhile, a young thief named Jed Cameron gets swept up in the struggle between worlds and is thrust into the fray of intrigue and betrayal. In the collision of two worlds, war and tragedy are inevitable, especially when treachery comes from the most shocking of quarters.

In Wolfsbane, the drama reached a shocking fervor. Rory, the son of Seth MacGregor, was angered by his house arrest and the looming death threat from Queen Kate—so the prophesied savior of the Sithe followed the footsteps of his father and crossed the Veil. On the other side he met Hannah Falconer, who would do anything to escape her worldly woes, even if it meant taking up with the strange and wild Rory. Meanwhile, Seth struggled ever more against the wicked Queen and when years of stalemate were shattered by a surprise attack, he was devastated to learn just who had betrayed him.

Now, in ICEFALL, the final installment in the Rebel Angels series, death stalks Seth MacGregor’s clan in their otherworld exile. Kate NicNiven is close to ultimate victory, and she is determined that nothing will keep her from it. Not even the thing that took her soul: the horror that lurks in the sea caves. But Kate still needs Seth’s son Rory, and his power over the Veil. And she’ll go to any lengths to get him. Seth’s own soul is rotting from the wound inflicted by Kate, and survival for his loved ones seems all he can hope for. But might a mortal threat to his brother’s daughter force him to return to his own world to challenge Kate? And will Rory go with him? Because Rory suspects there’s a darkness trapped in the Veil, a darkness that wants to get out. But only one Sithe knows how near it is to getting its way: Seth’s bound lover, the witch Finn. Nobody gets forever. But some are willing to try...

Rendered with complex characters full of life and a world fraught with intrigue, Philip has exquisitely brought the Rebel Angels urban fantasy series to a thrilling end.

Tor Books | March 2015 | Hardcover | 448 pages

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Interview: Peter Orullian author of THE UNREMEMBERED

The Unremembered - Peter Orullian

We have an interview with Peter Orullian regarding his series The Vault of Heaven. Below he answers some questions about himself, on how he built the fantasy world contained in THE UNREMEMBERED, and more.

What’s interesting about Peter Orullian is that he’s a musician and a marketing professional as well as a fantasy writer. Below he fills us in regarding this interesting amalgam. Let’s welcome Peter!

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How much of your writing is influenced by your musical abilities?

It’s an interesting question. On the one hand, my fantasy series—The Vault of Heaven—has a magic system based on music. And music is woven into the fabric of entire cultures. And even speech. Beyond all that, music and song matter in the everyday lives of many of my characters.

On another level, I care a lot about the musicality of language. Lyricism. And I try to infuse my writing with my sense of those things. Others will judge if I’m successful, but I’ve had readers and reviewers comment on that, so maybe I’m on the right track.

So, whether explicit or implicit, I think music in fiction matters to me.

Tell us your top three favorite fantasy books and/or authors?

Before I answer, let me set a little context. I’m of the opinion that Fantasy is an umbrella genre under which you have all the “traditional” fantasy subgenres, e.g. epic, sword and sorcery, etc., but also horror and science fiction. Some call it “spec fiction”—short for speculative fiction. It’s related to what Clive Barker calls “the fantastical.”

And while there are certainly writers of epic fantasy and other closely-related subgenres that I like quite well, if you ask me my favorites, then I probably say:

Dan Simmons. Everything he writes. But in particular, Summer of Night is just a beautiful, amazing book. It helped me realize that ten and eleven-year-old protagonists are among my favorite. They still believe in the magic, even as they fight passing into the world of what’s “real.”

Stephen King. King takes a bad rap sometimes because he’s so damn successful. And it’s not that I love every book of his. But students of fiction note his level of craft is startlingly high. And his collection Night Shift changed my life.

Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson was the Stephen King of his day, so to speak. And Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde both chilled me, kept me up late reading, and introduced me to the “duality of man” theme, which fascinates me to no end.

When writing, what is your favorite part of the process? Creating the fantasy world? Or do you have any favorite characters that you particularly enjoyed developing?

I think the creation process is most fun. There’s a certain satisfaction in polishing a story into something better than where it started. But those raw ideas that make you have to write them are what get me out of bed at 3:30 a.m. to write each day.

On characters, I love each one for a different reason. That’s hardly an original answer. What I can say, though, is that I think characters are defined more by the difficulties in their lives than their triumphs. To that end, the tortured backstories of my characters, and the painful scenes of their current lives in the books, give me the most satisfaction. Sounds twisted, doesn’t it? But if they outlive these things, whether physical danger or emotional wounds, they become stronger and more sympathetic. I kinda dig that.

What are you trying to show readers when you write your fantasy?

Well, I don’t write “cause” fiction. I’ve no agenda, really. I do happen upon theme, though, but only in hindsight. When I’m done with a story, I can often stare at it and say, “Oh, so that’s interesting. There’s an undercurrent there.” In THE UNREMEMBERED it has a lot to do with choice and consequence. In TRIAL  OF INTENTIONS it has a lot to with intentions.

All that said, with this series—The Vault of Heaven—I did have this notion of using some of what readers might find familiar in fantasy to ease them into my world, but with the deliberate plan to move them toward what I think is unique about my series. As an example, Tahn, one of my main characters, seems at first like an orphan farm boy. (You’ve heard that story, right?) But by the end of THE UNREMEMBERED, you start to realize that’s not the case at all. And in TRIAL OF INTENTIONS you realize nothing could be further from the truth.

The same holds true for the rest of my storylines in the series. I suppose I’m guilty of wanting more people to read fantasy, because I think the genre is a rich one. And I hope my work might just hook a few into giving fantasy a go.

Sell us - why should someone read THE UNREMEMBERED and your soon-to-be-released book 2 of the series, TRIAL OF INTENTIONS?

Hmmm. Well, I’m probably not a great salesman. But I can tell you about some of what I really like about the books.

The music. Music has been done before, of course. Even music magic has been done. But I’ve never seen it done the way I’m doing it, and I’ve had reviewers tell me the same. My music magic system is something I’m rather proud of. And I get a fair amount of email from readers saying how much they like what I’m doing there. So, if you like music, or if you like unique magic systems, you might dig it.

The science. There’s not much of it in THE UNREMEMBERED. But in TRIAL OF INTENTIONS, there’s this whole science thing. I can’t say much without doing spoilers, so I’ll restrain myself. But if you like things like astronomy and physics and math and philosophy and cosmology . . . well, you get the idea.

The war. And not for the reasons you might think. Yes, I have war. And there’s even an entire kingdom who excels at something I call gearworks, creating siege engines and the like—a war nation, if you will. But one of my main characters also spends time (and this is where some of the science comes in) trying to avert war. It was an interesting challenge to write simultaneous plotlines where some are unifying and escalating to war while others are using rational means to try and prevent it from happening in the first place. The discovery process in each of these was a blast to write.

The magic. I’ve mentioned there’s a music magic system. But at a higher level, I spent time devising what I call a “governing dynamic” for my world and magic systems. In other words, you’ll find more than five discreet magic systems in my world (that’s just what I’ve built so far), but they all ladder-up to a unifying set of principles. And primarily it’s what I call: Resonance. It just stood to reason, to me, that a world would have governing laws, akin to celestial mechanics, that indicate how things will work. But also that cultures would tap into those governing laws in their own ways. They might not even all call those governing dynamics the same thing. But readers would be able to look across them all and say, “Yeah, I get it. It’s all operating on the same set of principles.” I dig that idea, too.

The self-slaughter. This is intimated in THE UNREMEMBERED. And in TRIAL OF INTENTIONS it steps into the glare of the spotlight. I deal with suicide somewhat. Not constantly, of course. But there’s a very salient reason for it. And it’s at the emotional heart of one plot thread. It was tough, because I had a friend do this not long ago. Those scenes are raw. But I think they’re honest.

So, that’s a bit about what I think is interesting in the series.

Beyond being a musician, writer and marketing professional - what do you like to do for fun?

Oh, plenty. I love sports. Most of my writer friends don’t. And I even take flack from them for it, but whatever.

I love the mountains. I have a Jeep, and I love going off-roading. Getting up to places other folks can’t. Remote places.

I love astronomy. I’d rather spend time staring at the stars than most other things. That’s just how much I love the night sky.

More than all this, though, I love spending time with my family. Kids are the awesome!

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PETER ORULLIAN has worked in marketing at Xbox for nearly a decade, most recently leading the Music and Entertainment marketing strategy for Xbox LIVE, and has toured as a featured vocalist internationally at major music festivals. He has published several short stories. The Unremembered is his first novel. He lives in Seattle. www.orullian.com.

About the book:

Powerful storytelling. Epic characters. THE UNREMEMBERED has been critically acclaimed, earning starred reviews and glowing praise. But in working on the second book in the series, Peter Orullian realized that some core truth was missing. He found that truth and further realized that to tell the story correctly, he needed to go back. To the very beginning.  For one of the few times in our publishing history, Tor is choosing to relaunch a title in order to honor the author’s vision of a compelling recasting of this epic fantasy series.

The gods who created this world have abandoned it. In their mercy, however, they chained the rogue god—and the monstrous creatures he created to plague mortal kind—in the vast and inhospitable wasteland of the Bourne. The magical Veil that protected humankind for millennia has become weak and creatures of Nightmare have now come through. Those who stand against evil know that only drastic measures will prevent a devastating invasion. Tahn Junell is a hunter blissfully unaware of the dark forces that imperil his world. Then two strangers—an imperious man who wears the sigil of the feared Order of Sheason and a beautiful woman of the legendary Far—come to the Hollows, urging Tahn, his sister and his two best friends to leave. They will not say why, but the journey upon which they embark will change Tahn’s life…and the world…forever.

First released in 2012 THE UNREMEMBERED is now available in Trade Paperback.

Tor Books | April 2015 | Trade Paperback | 480 pages

Friday, April 3, 2015

Giveaway: Something Red series by Douglas Nicholas

Throne of Darkness - Douglas Nicholas

We have a generous giveaway for all three books of the Something Red series by Douglas Nicholas. It includes the books SOMETHING RED, THE WICKED and THRONE OF DARKNESS. And what’s even better is we have another copy of the just-released THRONE OF DARKNESS (which can be read independently of the series) on offer for one other winner. Both giveaways are for US addresses only.

The books are dark fantasy set in a medieval Britain. And for a bit more information on the series, take a look at Douglas Nicholas’s guest post where he compares and contrasts his series to George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series here on Layers of Thought. Or take a look below.

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Here’s what the publisher says about SOMETHING RED (book 1):

In an intoxicating blend of fantasy and horror, acclaimed debut novel Something Red transports you to the harsh, unforgiving world of thirteenth-century England. An evil and age-old force stalks the countryside—who dares confront it?

Atria/Emily Bestler Books |  336 pages |  Trade Paperback | June 2013

The Wicked - Douglas Nicholas

THE WICKED (book 2):

A thrilling and intoxicating journey to a land of legend, where nothing is quite as it seems. . . .

Something evil has come to reside in a castle by the chill waters of the North Sea: men disappear and are found as horribly wizened corpses, knights ride out and return under an enchantment that dulls their minds. Both the townspeople and the court under Sir Odinell’s protection live in fear, terrorized by forces beyond human understanding. But rumors of a wise woman blessed with mysterious powers also swirl about the land. The call goes forth, and so it comes to be that young apprentice Hob and his adopted family—exiled Irish queen Molly, her granddaughter Nemain, and warrior Jack Brown—are pitted against a malevolent nobleman and his beautiful, wicked wife.

Richly set in the inns, courts, and countryside of thirteenth-century northwest England, The Wicked is a darkly spun masterpiece that will leave fans of epic fantasy thirsty for more.

Atria/Emily Bestler Books |  368 pages | Trade Paperback | March 2014

Something Red - Douglas Nicholas

and THRONE OF DARKNESS (book 3):

Perfect for fans of Game of Thrones, this novel from acclaimed author Douglas Nicholas continues the gripping dark fantasy series that Kirkus Reviews describes as “a more profound Harry Potter for adults.”

It’s 1215 in northwest England—the eve of the signing of the Magna Carta—and mystical Irish queen Maeve and her unlikely band of warriors must protect the region from a chilling fate. Word of a threat reaches the Northern barons: King John has plotted to import an African sorcerer and his sinister clan of blacksmiths, whose unearthly powers may spell destruction for the entire kingdom. Along with her lover, Jack, her gifted niece, Nemain, and Nemain’s newlywed husband, Hob (whose hidden talents will soon be revealed), Maeve must overcome a supernatural threat unlike any she’s seen before.

With his characteristic blend of historical adventure and intoxicating mythological elements, Nicholas once again “goes for the throat…with brilliant writing and whip-smart plotting” (New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry). This is a richly woven tale that will leave you hungry for more.

Atria/Emily Bestler Books | 320 pages | Trade Paperback | March 2015

Two winners will be chosen via Random.org. To enter this giveaway please fill out the Google form:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Guest Post: Douglas Nicholas author of THRONE OF DARKNESS

Douglas NicholasWe have a guest post from Douglas Nicholas regarding his Something Red fantasy series and its similarities to and differences with George R. R. Martin’s series. The latest book in the series, THRONE OF DARKNESS, has just been published, following on from the first and second books - SOMETHING RED and THE WICKED.

And for more fun we will be hosting a giveaway for the Something Red trilogy and a separate giveaway for just the third book in the series THRONE OF DARKNESS - which I am told can be read independently. So stay tuned.

Let’s welcome Douglas!

photo credit - Kelly Merchant

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I’ve been asked to write a comparison of my books to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. After thinking about it a bit, I find some similarities, and a fair amount of difference.

Martin is a wonderfully prolific writer, and if he were a painter, he’d be a muralist—he needs a big canvas, peopled as his books are with so many characters and subsidiary characters—at last count, there were thirty-one point-of-view characters and a thousand named characters. Despite the familiar trappings of Western medieval kingdoms and Eastern desert nomads, the milieu of Ice and Fire is set on a world where there are nonhumans capable of controlling the seasons, dragons—wyverns really, and a form of zombie as well. Something Red - Douglas Nicholas

By contrast, I am more comfortable working with a close and intimate focus on a few people as they journey through a hostile but recognizable medieval Britain. Of course I’m introducing a supernatural element too, with shapeshifters and Celtic magic, but I do try to ground the story in a universe that’s as close to the real European Middle Ages as possible. Here is what bestselling author Christopher Buehlman (The Necromancer’s House and The Lesser Dead) said of Something Red:

Although Something Red is a handsome, graceful fable with compelling echoes of Beowulf, its strongest suit is not the fantastical, but the mundane. Without sacrificing pace, the author vividly presents Saxon food, Norman manners, the flora of Northern England, the primacy of weather and the complex relationship between medieval man and the beasts he depends on. With its smoky campfires, greased cart-axles and bees-waxed bowstrings, Something Red grounds us in the high Middle Ages so credibly that we are willing to believe in whatever monsters Douglas Nicholas asks us to.     

Something Red, The Wicked, and now Throne of Darkness are adventures: hero tales focusing on the formidable Irish queen-in-exile Maeve—who calls herself Molly while she travels incognito through England—as the leader of a small group consisting of her granddaughter, Nemain, Molly’s lover Jack Brown, and the apprentice Hob. Hob, a boy in Something Red, becomes Nemain’s fiancĂ© and then her husband as the books progress. Although Molly is in many ways the chief protagonist, Hob is our point of view, Nemain is both student and inheritor of many of Molly’s powers, and Jack—well, on the surface Jack is a powerful man-at-arms, injured while on Crusade, devoted to Molly, but he harbors a dark secret. The series—it will be a tetralogy—is very much an ensemble piece for these four, but it also has strong secondary characters: Sir Balthasar, for example—an Italian papal legate calls him “the so-frightening Sir Balthasar”—and his diminutive, merry wife Aline, who teases him unmercifully and whom he adores. (Sir Balthasar is the protagonist in the short story The Demon, which takes place before Something Red opens; it’s available as a free ebook on Amazon.) The book blog Books, Bones, & Buffy said of Something Red: “an irresistible mix of wonderful characters and carefully constructed moments that add up to an amazing reading experience. . . . I had goosebumps as I read the final page.”

There are also colorful and terrifying villains—different in each book—a hidden shapeshifter in Something Red, a sinister knight who may have been alive since ancient Rome in The Wicked, a Berber sorcerer and his band of were-hyenas in Throne of Darkness. Molly must find a way to overcome these evildoers as she seeks to build support and wealth for a return to Ireland and the overthrow of the usurpers who scattered her clan and left Nemain an orphan.

George Martin has said that he embraces the moral ambiguity of his characters—people are a mixture of good and evil, and they change for the better, or for the worse. With Molly’s little family I’ve tried to show how essentially good people might support one another in their struggle against evil, and so eventually prevail. Throne of Darkness is now available.

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Douglas Nicholas is an award-winning poet, whose work has appeared in numerous poetry journals, and the author of four previous books including Something Red and Iron Rose, a collection of poems inspired by New York City. He lives in New York Hudson Valley with his wife Theresa and Yorkshire terrier Tristan.

Here’s more about Something Red, the first in his series:

In an intoxicating blend of fantasy and horror, acclaimed debut novel Something Red transports you to the harsh, unforgiving world of thirteenth-century England. An evil and age-old force stalks the countryside—who dares confront it?

During the thirteenth century in northwest England, in one of the coldest winters in living memory, a formidable yet charming Irish healer, Molly, and the troupe she leads are driving their three wagons, hoping to cross the Pennine Mountains before the heavy snows set in. Molly, her lover Jack, granddaughter Nemain, and young apprentice Hob become aware that they are being stalked by something terrible. The refuge they seek in a monastery, then an inn, and finally a Norman castle proves to be an illusion. As danger continues to rise, it becomes clear that the creature must be faced and defeated—or else they will all surely die. It is then that Hob discovers how much more there is to his adopted family than he had realized.

An intoxicating blend of fantasy and mythology, Something Red presents an enchanting world full of mysterious and fascinating characters— shapeshifters, sorceresses, warrior monks, and knights—where no one is safe from the terrible being that lurks in the darkness. In this extraordinary, fantastical world, nothing is as it seems, and the journey for survival is as magical as it is perilous.

Atria/Emily Bestler Books |  336 pages |  June 2013 | Trade Paperback

Friday, March 20, 2015

Q & A: Jay Richards author of SILHOUETTE OF VIRTUE

Henry J. Richards, Seattle, 2014

Interview with Jay Richards, a forensic psychologist and author of SILHOUETTE OF VIRTUE.

This interview is courtesy of the publicist.


What made you want to write a book after decades working as a forensic psychologist?

Actually, I tinkered around with writing fiction for decades. I say tinker, but I was deadly serious about it. Sometimes too serious to open up and create without perpetual, harsh self-criticism. At some point, I decided to act on the old injunction “Physician, heal thyself.” I stepped away from my perfectionism and got down to work.

What does a forensic psychologist do?

Forensic psychologists practice psychology in legal contexts. They perform evaluations to answer psycho-legal questions, like: Is a defendant psychologically fit (competent) to participate in a trial? Was their crime a result of the person’s mental illness impairing their ability to know what they were doing or that the act was wrong or illegal? How likely is it that a sexual offender or domestic violence perpetrator will repeat these kinds of crimes? Forensic psychologists also provide forensic treatment. This is similar to clinical treatment for mental disorders or problem behaviors, but the focus is on preventing the recurrence of dangerous behavior.

Silhouette of Virtue

How have your experiences shaped you as a writer?

My work as a forensic psychologist involves evaluating and treating dangerous people with mental disorders. This work has given me license to be nosy about people at a very deep level, a level of deep wonder about how people experience life. I am always aware that the stakes are high in this work. A risk assessment that is off target or a serious misstep in therapy can obstruct the patient’s progress, expose others to unnecessary risk of violence, or lead to my being assaulted.

Doing intensive forensic assessment and forensic therapy with dangerous people required me to spend long periods of silence across the table from my patients. At times these extended silences were filled with an empty void. But at other times, they were pregnant with something (terrible or fragile) that had a momentum, something that wanted to emerge and take its chances in the external world of speech and action.

This is great writing practice, learning how to sit with powerful emotion—those of your own, those of your patient (or character)—while you work to open up a space for something new. Of course, the exotic, often perplexing personalities I have encountered in this work have contributed to some of my characters, but the experience of sitting with them has informed everything else.

Another experience that shapes my writing is a persistent sense of justice that I’ve had my whole life. Ever since I was a child, I’ve sometimes felt an intense sense that something unfair or unjust was happening to me or to others and that no one would listen. This often led me to writing letters to my parents, teachers, and romantic interests that I was usually wise enough not to send. Writing those letters was cathartic, but they would sometimes become more than self-solace and take off on wings of their own. I would then see my personal complaint as experiential ore for poetry and fiction, stuff that I could refine into something valuable to others through character, story and self-reflective language.

The themes and character development of my fiction parallel this personal process. Key characters often have a poignant awareness of injustice that sparked them to action. Many characters—including some of the criminals—long for completion through a performance or exchange, but the experience continually eludes them until an injustice is addressed.

What made you decide to write fiction in particular?

I decided to write fiction largely because I believed I had an aptitude for it and that this capacity, or talent, came with a responsibility. It’s similar to how the responsibility to stand witness comes from having been present for a significant event and having some degree of unique knowledge about it.

I believe that fiction, like all the arts, is a mode of knowledge. It is valuable because it allows us to feel and perceive in new ways. Those new points of view are often introduced to us by characters who are unlike the people we know in our own lives. And if the characters are familiar to us, we get a more intimate look at them. Fiction brings us “inside” these characters and shows us what the world looks like from their perspective.

Fiction is the one creative art that gives us this inside perspective through language. It is not exact knowledge. It’s more like the kind of knowledge you acquire by intensely playing a game until you dissolve into the flow of it. There is no substitute for fiction, although you don’t need it to live. It doesn’t bake bread, it opens hearts and minds.

What inspired the plot for Silhouette of Virtue?

The plot is loosely based on a series of sexual assaults that actually occurred on the campus of a Midwestern university that I attended in the mid-70s. In the real case, a popular African-American graduate student was accused of being involved in the crimes. Early on, I viewed these happenings as having cultural significance, especially in regard to how it forced students into two camps: one that viewed the charges as racially motivated, and the other that insisted that race had nothing to do with his being a suspect. I observed these events from the fringes, and after I left the university town I got only fragmented glimpses as the chain of events played out over several years. There was no internet and the local papers buried the story, so I had no way to follow it closely. As a result, my imagination was given considerable rein. I bumped up the ante by accelerating the pace of events and by making the both the accused man and the amateur sleuth who tries to find the truth African Americans on the university faculty.

How did people you’ve met in your years of work shape the characters for the book?

In his poem “Little Gidding,” T.S. Eliot writes of a poet who meets “a familiar compound ghost, both intimate and unidentifiable.” I consider the characters in my book combinations of real and imagined people. One of the criminals in the novel is a combination of a close childhood friend, a sadistic patient I had in a therapy group in a forensic hospital, and a black Trickster-figure character (Skeeter) from John Updike’s Rabbit Redux. There’s also a character (with a nod to Superman’s Lex Luther) that is based on an eminent scientist who tries to hide his mean streak and use his authority to mastermind crimes. The protagonist and sleuth, Dr. Nathan Rivers, is the admixture of a perpetual grad student in philosophy who had a noble and compassionate soul, and my impressions of several African-American poets, whom I’ve never met in person. And, oh yes, I shouldn’t forget, a good pinch of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in the 1939 film Hound of the Baskervilles.

Do you have plans to write another book soon?

I’m playing with the elements of what may become a sequel to Silhouette of Virtue. It would feature the philosophical sleuth from the first novel, Dr. Nathan Rivers, but in a totally different setting, and perhaps even a different era. I would like that book to have some of the adventure, suspense, detective themes, and investigation of racial and sexual identity (as well as wry humor and parody) that are in Silhouette.

I also have a book in progress. It’s a Bildungsroman along the lines of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. It portrays a kind of coming of age story over the course of a decade and captures the tone of culture and society during that passage. The story is set in both America and Africa, and is inspired by my travels in Nigeria during my own coming of age (mid 20s) and my brief friendship with novelist Leon Forrest. Forrest was a writer who was deeply African-American and also somehow African in his sensibility, which was more like that of a lyrical epic poet or African praise singer. Remembering and thinking about him gives me hope that I can pull together something that covers all this territory in an interesting way.

What’s one thing you want people to take away as a message from your book?

A suspense novel tells the story of a mystery about the identity and whereabouts of evildoers. The most important clues are in the aberrant or flawed personalities of the criminals, which are always partially revealed and partially concealed in the crimes they commit. The big message of the Silhouette of Virtue, like many detective mystery stories, is that by trying to untangle a mystery like this, we readers learn more about the mystery that is all around us and within us and others. In other words, the take-home message is that the real world around us is a terrifying, beautiful, and mysterious place and we are part and parcel of that world.

In Silhouette, does your protagonist, Dr. Nathan Rivers, reflect your own view of the world and how it operates?

Yes, I think so, but he acts on that worldview more consistently and courageously than I can. He’s a lot less worried about making big mistakes. Like Rivers, I’ve always been drawn to people of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and complexities of all kinds. Also, I’ve always wanted to understand what it means to lead a well-lived life, which is a central motive that drives Rivers in the book. Finally, as a black man myself, I share with Rivers the “double-consciousness” that African Americans often develop as being in the American society, but not of it in many ways. This dual identity frees me, like Rivers, to look at America from “the outside” and propose something that I believe is ultimately more American.


JAY RICHARDS, Ph.D. is a forensic psychologist whose specialty is the evaluation and treatment of violent offenders, such as homicide perpetrators, mentally ill killers, and sexually violent predators. In the field of criminal psychology, he is known for ground-breaking research, innovative and provocative theoretical papers, and evocative and insightful case studies of psychopaths and other mentally disordered offenders. With more than three decades of experience diagnosing and studying psychopaths and sex offenders, Richards offers an authentic portrayal of complex characters. His exploration of moral dilemmas, choices, and character motivations results in a psychological thriller that weaves together the culture and politics of the era with racial tension, mystery, and suspense.

About SILOUETTE OF VIRTUE:  It is 1973. A small college town in Southern Illinois is terrorized by a spree of sadistic assaults. The rapist tells the victims, all Asian women, that he is making them pay for Americas betrayal in Vietnam. When the only other Black faculty member is accused of the crimes, African American philosophy professor Nathan Ribs Rivers struggles to suspend his doubts about his colleagues innocence.

Face Rock Press | 344 pages | May 27th 2014 | Paperback

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