52Under2: Week 2 Shortlist

Week 2 of my 52Under2 book reviews.

These are the Top 5 books that caught my eye on Smashwords this week and I’ll be reviewing one of them in depth later in the week.

This was a strong week for vampires and vampire series on Smashwords. The number of YA vampire books released this week is well into the double figures. While I’m a little vampired-out I thought that I should include at least one vampire book on the shortlist and that book is:

Vampire Kissed by Timothy Knox
The punchy first line of the description made me chuckle and did a good job of putting the book straight onto the shortlist. Bonus points for the use of the word ‘abounds’.
The excerpt I read was good and had quite a few original and interesting turns of phrase in it. The author has also taken quite a bit of time and effort to polish and proof and format his novel.

Revealed by Heather A. Hendrix
From vampires to fallen angels (though with some vampires in the mix). Revealed has my favourite cover of all the books in the shortlist. Simple and with an interesting font, the only drawback is how small the author name appears.
The extended description shows that there’s a lot going on in this novel: fallen angels, immortals, vampires, clandestine agencies.
There are a few grammatical mistakes in the excerpt and this dissuaded me from reading the whole novel.

Death’s Promise by Cheryl Twaddle
Death’s Promise promises a story centred around time travel – a category I’ve found to be under-represented in the YA fiction that I’ve been exposed to.
This book lost me at the excerpt, which just felt like a slow start with too much scene setting and protagonist description right up front.
However, this is another book where the author has taken time to make sure that the text is polished and professional before releasing it.

Dimensia by Steven Thornton
This one made the shortlist because it seemed just so different to a lot of the other books out this week.
The cover is bright and riotous. The description gave me very little idea of story and characters but got me interested enough to read an excerpt.
However, it was not to be. The part of the excerpt that I scanned through dripped with exclamation marks. Frankly, the idea of reading almost 100,000 words with that density of excitement exhausted me.
This author has a lot of ideas and the enthusiasm to explore them.

The Between by LJ Cohen
Faeries are my favourite subgenre of fantasy (after all, my own novel is a Faerie tale) and that is what drew me initially to this book.
The plot description reminded me a bit of Holly Black’s Tithe: a girl discovers she’s a faerie, there’s a struggle between light and dark courts.
The excerpt was good enough to keep me reading and gets straight into the plot. So this is the book that I’ll be reviewing later in the week.
The clinching factor: the author is a fan of Doctor Who.

 

52Under2: UnEnchanted by Chanda Hahn

The book I am reviewing this week for 52Under2 is UnEnchanted by Chanda Hahn. It is about 62000 words long and available on Smashwords for $0.99. (Correct at time of this review. The author’s blog indicates that the price might go up later.)

Congratulations to Ms Hahn on the release of her novel.

While there were stronger covers and better excerpts in my shortlist, I picked UnEnchanted to read this week mainly because of the premise: fairy tales coming to life and victimising the young descendent of the Brothers Grimm. I’m not deeply familiar with Grimm stories other than the main/popular ones, but I knew enough about them to know that there was a great deal of material for the author to mine, and I looked forward to seeing how she would do it.

Initially, I struggled with this book. There are quite a few distracting elements: POV switching on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis, tense switching, a character depiction that I found a little offensive, and a multitude of the kind of spelling and grammar mistakes that a spellcheck program won’t catch.
(I noticed my own favourite mistake among them – ending a verb in ‘es’ instead of ‘ed’ (e.g. ‘she raises’ instead of ‘she raised’. With the keys ‘S’ and ‘D’ right next to each other I do that all the time and spellcheck won’t spot it. I found so many of these when proofing my own novel that I lost count.)
All of these elements only really felt distracting to me in the first part of the book. The reason for this is that I found UnEnchanted quite slow-paced to begin with. While dramatic events do occur in the first half of the book, a lot of it is taken up with establishing the romantic relationship between Mina and her crush.

At about the 60% mark I realised that this was probably going to be a series of novels rather than a one off, at which point the slow pace made a little more sense. And as Mina is told there are almost 200 Grimm tales for her to survive, so this series has the potential to continue into many more novels.

Once I passed the 70% mark things began to heat up. Events started to come together more. A time and place for the final showdown emerged – a fairy tale ball, of course – and the tension mounts as Mina gets closer to this event. There’s even a teaser for love triangle potential in future books of the series.

Because of the spelling, punctuation and grammar problems in the book I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving it more than 2/5 stars. But the series has potential and, judging from the author’s Upcoming Projects page, if you like this book you shouldn’t have too long to wait for that sequel.

Heartweed: Final Chapter

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading. 

 

Chapter 36

Artie ducked from the tourist-crammed street into the alley. She pulled the broken lock from the iron gate and slipped through it, replacing the lock to keep up appearances. A glance around told her that she was safe from curious eyes. Eyes that would doubt themselves if they saw her disappear through the glamoured door.
Artie clattered down the stairs into the cellar where it had all begun. Her footsteps echoed in the empty stone chamber. Gorth and come back at some point after Matthew and Blue’s attack and removed his mysterious boxes.
He had come back for his merchandise, but he hadn’t responded to any of her emails. And why should he? Their deal was concluded. His interest in her had been only business. But every day when she checked her inbox at the cafe a lump of hope formed in her chest, right above the place where her heart should be.
He had left the camp bed. Artie crossed the room to sit on the edge of it. She had turned the mattress over before sleeping on it. The side that was brown and stiff with her blood faced the floor. Artie tossed a handful of change – the last of her cash – on the floor next to the empty brown bottle.
Out of magic potion. Out of defenses. Out of time.
She fished a heavy, green plastic bottle from a carrier bag and stared at it. The dry-dust voice of Lord Threat echoed through her head.
Cutting the parasite from her chest  and burning it or administering certain poisons. These are the only sure ways to destroy one.
Weedkiller would probably do the trick. At that thought the parasite squirmed; Artie slapped it down reflexively. Slowly she unscrewed the safety cap from teh bottle. Her eyes lingering on the dark branching shapes growing under the bare skin of her arms and hands.
The harsh smell of the chemical made her stomach clench. The parasite squealed, but the sound was distant and tinny – coming in over a bad connection. She raised the bottle to her lips. One quick motion would send the murderous liquid burning its way to her stomach.
Her hand began to shake. Tears of frustration formed in the corners of her eyes. She could do this. She had to. She woke screaming from dreams of what it had been like when the parasite had completely taken her over. She wouldn’t go back to that again.
Artie closed her eyes. “Three… Two… One… Go.”
She couldn’t make her hand move. Artie howled in anger. Part of her wanted to blame her inability to drink the poison on the parasite’s influence. The rest of her knew the truth: she was a coward.
She just didn’t want to die.
Artie rocked backwards and forwards, her eyes fixed on the wall opposite, trying to work up the mental momentum to go through with it. Something moved on the wall. She blinked, frowning. Her rocking stopped.
“I can see you, you arsehole.”
Artie flung the bottle at the wall. It turned end over end, painting viscous streaks of green over the stone floor, before striking the wall next to Blue’s head. He didn’t flinch.
“How long have you been there?”
Blue stepped out of his glamour of invisibility. “I have been popping in and out over the past couple of weeks – to keep an eye on you.”
Artie made a face. “That’s creepy.”
“I thought you might see me and speak to me.”
“I don’t see magic stuff very well any more.” Artie shook her head. “It helps keep the parasite down if I don’t use any of its abilities. So no visuals unless I concentrate.”
“And no strength unless you need to break a lock. And no speed unless you need to steal something.”Artie could swear she saw a smile on the tall faerie’s face, if only for a moment. “Also even if you had seen me you would not have asked for help, because you are stubborn to the point of idiocy.”
Artie gaped. His words roused so much anger in her that it choked her, preventing her from retorting.
“You knew we had more of this.” Blue’s voice took a softer tone. He crouched in front of her and picked up the empty brown bottle. “In fact, Birtta has been working on an improved formula. Why did you not come to us for help?”
His peculiar face was close to hers. his eyes were deep wells, but, unlike before, the water at the bottom seemed warm. Artie found herself unable to meet those eyes. She shrugged.
“Come back with me now.”
“So you can look after me? Make it all OK? Isn’t it Matthew’s job to make that offer?”
Blue’s face broke into a real smile. “Maybe Matthew is tired of you throwing him across the room every time he tries to talk to you. But he will be there. He has agreed to work with Birtta and me towards our mutual goal.”
“What’s that?” Artie chuffed. “Faerie crime-fighting?”
“Yes. I would like you to join us.”
Artie’s head snapped up; Blue’s face was utterly serious.
“Me?”
“Are you not, in the parlance of your culture, a superhero?”
“Me?” Artie’s laugh was strong and bitter. “I’m… I’m terrified. I’m broken. I’m going insane or dying or both.”
Blue stood. “As I said, Birtta has an improved drug to keep the heartweed subdued. She is eager to work on a cure for you. Until that comes we can keep you stable”
“And if you can’t?”
“Then I will do for you what you are afraid to do for yourself.” Blue stretched out his hand. “Or are you too in love with the idea of being a martyr to your brother? It is easier than living with your choices.”
Artie glared up at Blue with slitted eyes. He looked calmly back.
“Are you at the end of your story or the beginning?”
Artie reached up and gripped the offered hand. She pulled herself upright and squared her jaw at Blue.
“OK. Count me in.”

Heartweed: Chapter 35

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every week. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading. 

 

Chapter 35

Artie met Lady March’s soft eyes. The faerie woman dropped the glamour and walked forwards, her slippered feet tip-tapping against the stone. The parasite’s feeder roots groped at her, unable to get a purchase and feed without the addition of Artie’s touch.
They had time. This was easy prey. Lady March looked down at the body of her husband. There was no change to her large, luminous eyes, but a slow smile spread across her face.
“Thank you.” Her voice had the sweet clarity of a violin. “I am sorry about Alex.” She put her hands flat on her belly. “I loved him too.”
Alex? They frowned at the word. Alex. There were memories in the sea of their consciousness that fit that word. They did not care to sift them out.
They hungered. They needed to feed. Only a little more and they would be complete. They would become purely physical. They would put down roots. Bloom. Blossom. Fruit.
This life would be enough to tip the balance. These lives. Lives. There was another life beneath the hands. New. Barely there. A life. A seed.
I loved him too.
Fragments of Artie surfaced in their joint consciousness. A child? Alex’s child? They reached their hand towards Lady March, to take her magic and her life. The pieces of Artie rebelled. She stopped their hand – her hand! – and curled it back in to her side. Their other hand began to reach; Artie curbed it. The parasite’s frustration was deafening.
Artie used the last of her mind to turn away from a Lady March and run from the room. The parasite that had infiltrated almost every fibre of her being fought each step.
They fell to their knees – her knees – their knees in the main hall of March’s manor. They tore at the flagstones. The stones shredded like paper under their strong hands. In its frustration the parasite lashed out too.
In a frenzy they were destroying everything. They stood in the epicentre of the destruction and drank in the magic that permeated every molecule around them. The stones of the manor walls crumbled to dust. Chunks of the ceiling fell around them. The parasite dodged their body out of the way of the falling masonry and they ran to the exit.
As Artie and the parasite passed through the arched door into the chill night air the remainders of the walls groaned and, with a grating roar, collapsed. The earth heaved in shock; they fell forward. The earth beneath their face smelled clean and potent.
The parasite fed ravenously on the magic in the air and the ground and the ruins. With the last bit of will that remained to her, Artie forced feelers out into the fabric of Faerie. She tore at it; it was already weakened by their sapping the magic and they rent a great hole through into the shadows. Beyond that Artie could almost sense the shape of the human realm.
The parasite revolted. It reached its tentacles up out of the roiling sea of their shared consciousness and pulled the last of Artemisia Jacobs under.
They were one. They were hungry. Dozens more feeder roots erupted from their body and delved into the space around them, seeking magic on which to feed. The roots throbbed on the very edge of being corporeal.
Here they would root. Here they would grow. They pushed their fingers deep into the soil. Rich. Heavy. Coarse. They could feel the physical roots itching to burst from the finger ends.
Remnants of the human’s mind turned their eyes with longing to the tear in reality and the ill-defined shapes of houses and cars beyond; their lowered their face to the dirt and pressed a handful into their mouth.
They chewed and chewed at the earth, grinding away tooth enamel with the stray grains of sand in the soil. They rubbed the crumbs between their tongue and the top of their mouth before swallowing, greedily, needily.
The heartweed smiled.

Heartweed: Chapter 34

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every week. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading. 

Chapter 34

Artie ran on silent feet to the door and kicked it open. March jumped at the sound of the door slamming into the wall. He looked up at Artie with horror in his eyes. She felt a flicker of gratification at his fear. Then she leaped, her outstretched hands shaped to lock around his throat. Too late she saw the shifting pattern of magic through the parasite’s senses. As the image of March disintegrated in front of her, a stripe of white hot pain blazed across her back.
Her momentum carried her through the vanished glamour and to the floor. She half-rolled, half-slid across the stones. her injured back slammed into the thick, wooden leg of the bed. A shriek of pain burst from her lips.
She heard the sound of a blade parting the air and pushed herself to the side. March’s sword struck the stone floor beside her face. He raised the blade again. He was close, almost above her. Artie kicked out at March’s shin. She heard a wet crack and he lurched his weight onto the other leg. The descending sword came down into her shoulder instead of her skull. Metal grated on bone.
Ignoring the agony in her shoulder, Artie reared up and grabbed March by the wrist before he could withdraw his sword. The parasite plunged its spectral roots into him. March’s jaw went slack as the parasite began to drink. His fingers loosed around the grip of his sword and it dropped, riving Artie’s shoulder further as it fell from her flesh.
Keeping her grip on March’s wrist, Artie stood. Warm blood gushed down her front. The whole left side of Matthew’s once-white shirt was now red. A throb of pain sent a grey mist across her vision and she thought she would pass out. But that gush of blood had been the last. Artie’s vision cleared as March’s magic flowed into the parasite and the parasite poured it into repairing its host. She was dimly aware of the itchy, chilli-pepper heat of the healing, but more than that she was aware of power. So much power.
If Threat was a gourmet meal, March was a three-day banquet. The old faerie had been full to the brim of magic, but he had been old and the years had diluted him. March was in his prime.
They had already taken so much from him – enough for her to fully heal, enough that she felt stretched by it – and he still had more for them to drink. March stood frozen. His face was ashen and Artie wondered what it must feel like to be drained dry. The pain of the wound and the discomfort of the healing had abated. Now Artie was alone in her body with the torrent of sensations from the parasite. Glee. Gluttony. Ecstasy. She swayed into them. It was so easy to give herself up to it. As she once again joined with the parasite they felt the stream of magic from March swell into a flood.
It fed their bodies. The parasite’s core, nestled deep in place of Artie’s heart, pulled in more and more magic, concentrating as dense as a neutron star. Just a little more, they thought. They were so very close. Soon they would have enough power to break free of this flesh. The ethereal feeder roots, now swollen, teetered on the brink of becoming corporeal.
The parasite’s intention permeated the small pocket of consciousness that was still distinctly Artemisia Jacobs. An image. Her body, so small inside a tangle of vines and branches that pushed out through her skin. The feeder roots, manifest on the physical plane and no longer restricted to taking magic from the air or using her as their conduit, delved down through the earth, seeking to tap the wellspring of all magic.
The horror of this vision split Artie’s thoughts from the parasite’s and gave her the strength to thrust it from her mind. The last few drops of magic dribble from March and the parasite writhed in anticipation of consuming that elixir.
No. Not like this.
Artie remembered the taste of Threat’s life rolling on her tongue. She didn’t want to experience that of March. If she drank him in, he would be part of her. She would be soiled by him.
Not like this, Artie thought. I’ll kill him, but it will be me killing him, not you. She addressed the gnarled knot of wood and magic in her chest. She peeled her hand away from March’s skin. His arm dropped to his side.
March stood a head and shoulders taller than her, but he looked small and fragile to her eyes now. Without the magic, without the power and the arrogance of invincibility, he was just a fleshy bag of bones and blood. Just like Artie had once been.
She stepped close to March and he made no move to stop her, just shook his head slowly from side to side, his eyes clouded in bemusement. His lips moved, making not-quite-words. Artie put her palms flat on his chest and shoved him backwards. His injured leg gave way beneath him and he sprawled on the floor, the unearthly faerie grace entirely gone.
Artie bent down to retrieve March’s sword from the floor. Gleams of reflected candlelight played across the blade, picking out the intricate etchings in the metal. The hilt was a satisfying weight in her hand. She rested the end of the blade against March’s throat. He stared up at her: lips parted, eyes lost.
“No. Not like this,” he whispered, his words echoing Artie’s earlier thought. “This is not how it ends for me. Not here. Not you.”
Artie licked her lips and smiled. She imagined March’s head rolling across the floor and with both hands lifted the sword.
In the depths of her mind she heard the parasite howl in disappointment. It forced its way into her thoughts, bombarding her with images of Alex’s death. All of the moments that it had learned from her it poured back in. Artie quavered, he body wracked with sorrow as she experienced her horror and grief at the instant of Alex’s death again and again.
Artie howled.
She flung the sword away from her and dropped to her knees astride March’s body. She seized March’s face. The parasite pierced him. Together they sucked the life from him, drop by exquisite drop. The parasite’s joy and Artie’s vengeful satisfaction blended and merged and enhanced each other in a neverending feedback loop. There was no disgust this time. Artie stared into March’s eyes as the mist of death crept across them.
The very last drop was the sweetest.

More.
More. Please.
Artie rose slowly to her feet. She felt heavy, sated – but the parasite was still hungry. It’s feeder roots wormed their way towards the corner of the room.
More.
Artie looked. She could see the concentrated swirls of magic that were the signs of a glamour. Her stare penetrated them. Lady March stood against the wall. Her hands rested neatly in front of her, one inside the other. Still and quiet, yet she thrummed with life and magic. Food.

Heartweed: Chapter 33

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.  

 

Chapter 33

They rose effortlessly to standing. Threat still scrabbled with his sword. A step brought Artie and the parasite to within reach of him. One hand gripped his wrist and twisted. The other took him by the throat. The sword clattered to the floor.
Artie met March’s eyes over his father-in-law’s shoulder. The parasite stretched out to him hungrily. March backed away up the stairs. They turned their attentions back to Threat.
The old faerie’s skin was as papery and translucent as an insect’s wing. His pulse fluttered against her fingers like a butterfly. The parasite flexed and their grip tightened. Threat’s eyes bulged.
The tendrils of the parasite stretched out beyond the limits of Artie’s body. They curled around behind Threat. Artie couldn’t just feel them, she could almost see them, encasing them in a cage of vines. The parasite’s glee pushed a smile onto her face.
They thrust out more feeder roots – directly into Threat’s chest. He gasped. What little colour his skin had held drained away. The parasite’s vision overlaid Artie’s and they could see the bright magic beneath Threat’s skin swirling into them through their roots.
They heard the clatter of March’s feet as he fled up the stairs. Threat’s magic diminished as it was sucked out of him and into them. Filling them to Artie’s skin. They rejoiced in the feeling and the taste of what they were taking. Then it was all gone. Threat was empty of power. He blinked his eyes slowly; he was still alive.
The flavour changed. It took on a richer, more complex vintage. Threat’s magic was used up – they began to drink his life. It soaked out of him and into Artie and into the parasite, and on into Artie. The sense of it made Artie lick her teeth. The taste of Threat’s life was all his. The sharpness of cruelty, the heavy sweetness of hedonism, the robust strength of ambition.
Every life would taste different.
The thought shocked Artie. It shook her loose from the parasite’s gluttony. Every life. How many was she planning to take? How many would the parasite take through her.
Artie pulled herself back from the feeding. Separated her thoughts from the parasite’s. She watched from a distance as the light began to fade from Threat’s eyes.Every throb of ecstasy from the parasite filled her with disgust.
Artie felt the moment when the last drop of life was consumed. Bile rose in the back of her throat. She dropped the husk that had been Lord Threat to the floor.
Never again. Artie pinched her eyes shut and shook her head. Never again. She’d kill March, but not that way. Not with that thirst and lust for it. To delight in bringing death would make her no better than him.
Footfalls rang out on the stairs. Three of March’s guards, weapons ready, hurried into the cellar. The parasite reached out hungrily towards them.
Come. Touch.
The thoughts nagged at her. Artie took an involuntary step forwards. Her hand lifted towards the leading grey-shirt – a tall faerie woman with two short sword. She slashed at Artie’s hand with a blade. It wasn’t there. The parasite’s near instantaneous reflexes had pulled it back.
Come. Touch.
Artie realised that she had begun to reach again. The parasite needed her to make skin to skin contact to feed on the faeries. Artie hardened her jaw. She wouldn’t let it have that.
The faeries spread out. The leftmost sidestepped, circling to try and get behind her. Artie lashed out with her foot. Her heel snapped past his guard and struck him on the solar plexus. She heard a crunch and the faerie flew backwards. His body struck the earthen wall and crumpled to the ground in a shower of dirt and stones.
A sword sliced through the point where Artie had just been stood, but she was already moving, ducking and twisting. Sliding through the spaces between the guards and their whirling blades, she came up behind the tall woman. Artie grabbed the faerie’s skull, a palm pressed to each cheek. The parasite pounced, thrusting its feeder roots into the woman. Artie wrenched the woman’s head to one side. Her neck snapped and the body went limp.
The parasite snarled in irritation as the life was extinguished before it could draw any into itself. Artie felt the magic and life that had been contained in the faerie guard’s body dissipate into the background.
The last of the grey-clad fae kept a wary distance from Artie his sword point low and intent. One of the female faerie’s short swords lay by Artie’s foot where it had dropped from its owner’s hand. Artie hooked her foot under the  cross guard and kicked upwards. The hilt leaped into her hand. The tip of the faerie’s sword wavered.
Artie raised her blade. A flick of her wrist and it knocked the guard’s sword flying from his hand. She tossed the short sword into a reverse grip and hurled it. The blade buried itself to the hilt in the faerie’s chest.
Maybe fifteen seconds had passed since that first kick. In those seconds Artie had taken three lives. She had done it, not the parasite. A shudder rippled under her skin. In response the parasite squirmed, radiating discontent and disappointment at the waste.
Artie distanced herself quite deliberately from the sensations. She focussed her mind. Eye on the prize, and the prize was March’s head. Once she killed him, she could let it all be over.
Her eyes averted from the corpses that she had made, Artie strode to the stairs and ran up them. The parasite thrust its feelers ahead of her, no doubt seeking its next meal – March. Artie chased after the prehensile feelers out into a long, stone corridor. She recognised it from the night of the party. At one end a curtained archway opened onto the main hall. At the other end the door to March’s bedroom stood ajar. Artie could hear noises from within and see the shadows of movement across the gap.