Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book review: The Left Hand

Title: The Left Hand
Author: Serenity J Banks
Publisher: Dark Continents Publishing, 2011

Blurb: Meet Eddie Kane: ex-cokehead and current, clueless sidekick to the enigmatic Calif Cryste, badass vampire hunter extraordinaire—and unforthcoming warrior of God. In the midst of a two-man crusade to put a kibosh on the vampire populations currently besieging the tribal lands of the Midwest, Eddie can’t help but notice that the string of death and destruction in their wake has begun to draw a certain, uncomfortable amount of attention from the local media. Enter obsessed FBI Special Agent Doug Degulchi, suspended from the agency over his proofless conviction that these two are “the guys,” and Eddie finds himself an unwilling player in an over-arching drama as Calif’s own misguided sort of apostles begin to fall into place. Meanwhile, the vampire hordes race to multiply their ranks in anticipation of a coming battle even Calif cannot (or will not) predict, and Eddie hasn’t even had a chance to face his own demons yet. Whether or not Eddie’s prepared to accept the truth, though, the second-born is here to wage war… on his own, if he has to.

Review: This novel is so much more than just a badass vampire hunter with a clueless sidekick playing Robin to his Batman. Serenity J Banks plunges readers into a dystopian vision of the American Midwest that left me feeling scratchy behind the eyes by the time I’d finished reading.

Eddie starts out as a weak character who chain-smokes his way through the story. Not only does he have an addictive personality, but he has demons from his dysfunctional upbringing he needs to process before he can take on the undead demons he and his partner hunt. While he may seem passive at first, he slowly grows into himself as he makes sense, in his own way, of the horror that surrounds him and Calif. He is very much an unreliable narrator, and therein lies the beauty of following the tale from his perspective.

Calif is the mystery man, the hero with a purpose who shows rather than tells Eddie what their quest is all about. All I can say, without revealing spoilers, is that all will be revealed, and there is a very poignant raison d’etre for Calif. Though his silence is maddening, readers will later come to and see why exactly. All I can say is that the story is so much stronger for Banks having resisted the temptation of making the man a viewpoint character.

Delgulchi, the hapless FBI agent, follows in the wake of the vampire-busting pair, whose very existence spell the end of his career. His obsession with discovering the truth drives him to the brink of madness.

But Banks returns the undead to the realm of horror, which is a refreshing change in perspective after all the glitter we've experienced in the media. There's nothing sexy about the vampires readers encounter in this story. They're mean, hungry and are more apt to rip your throat out than pause to share pleasantries. Her vampires are frightening and overwhelming.

Threaded through this tale is an alternative viewpoint on the Christian mythos that is not mired in the tired Hollywood ideals of light and dark. Our heroes are tattered, tired and face overwhelming odds.. Mankind is doomed, and its savior is not here at the behest of their redemption. From a broader perspective this appears to be a development of the vampire mythos, but I sense it’s far more than that. Eddie, as the narrator, tries to explain but the only terminology he has available, is based on a Western viewpoint. We view this tale through his subjectivity and I gain the idea that a different character would have applied a totally different explanation to the tale.

In closing, I'll say this much. The Left Hand is not an easy read. But it's definitely one of the most thought-provoking stories I've read all year and I recommend it to readers who like substance, grit and despair in their reading matter. Serenity J Banks is a masterful storyteller and I'll be keeping my eye on her from here on in.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Short story: Scarlet Night by Ashley M Christman

Ashley M Christman is an urban fantasy writer whose book, The Witching Hour, is available from Lyrical Press. To contact her, visit her website
Today Toad shares Ashley's short story, Scarlet Night.

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The decadence of the 1920s and its jazz scene had always appealed to me more than the bleak and dreary Victorian or Edwardian ages. The booze, the jazz bands, the brightly lit nightclubs—oh, how I adored them. And no matter how many times I had seen the dabber men in their pressed tuxedos, I never got enough of them. I devoured them, consumed them and sometimes women, but it was the men I adored most of all. The alcohol that filled their blood and the way their hearts seem to beat faster in their chest, pumping more of their elixir throughout their bodies as they grew aroused; that was what I loved.
Tonight was no different. As I made my way across the room, drinking a very expensive champagne, I was on the prowl. Observing every nuance, every subtle twitch of the lips, the gestures of the hands—I knew what I was looking for. And I found him, standing in a corner near the black lacquered piano with a glass of scotch in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

Even from across the room, I was able to lock on to his scent; the smell of sweat just starting to surface from his pores in the heat of the summer night. As my body slid from the bar stool and slinked through the crowd towards my target, a sense of silent satisfaction washed over me, warming me from the inside. My hand instinctively reached towards him, extending itself, giving him a clear glimpse of crimson painted nails that matched my lipstick. “Do you have a spare?” I asked coolly, with a glint of mischief in my eyes. Everything about this singular moment oozed seduction and sex.
Cole Porters’ “Let’s Misbehave”, began to play as the orchestra leader took his place in front of the gold plated microphone. The parquet flooring of the dance floor was filled with young inebriated couples dancing the Black Bottom to the upbeat melody.

“Spare,” the youth replied with a lithe in his voice, making his statement an obvious question. I pointed to the cigarette hanging from betwixt his fingers. He nodded and stammered, “Oh, terribly sorry. I didn’t realize. I have another, yes.” He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and produced a gold cigarette case. He flipped the clasp open on it and selected a neatly rolled white cigarette.

Reaching into the decadent sparkling clutch that matched my white dress, I produced a fourteen inch cabriole cigarette holder with a rhinestone tip. The young man placed the cigarette in the end of my cabriole and lit it with a match. I took a long drag of it and then exhaled the smoke, making little o’s.
He watched me as I did this, slowly licking his lips. “I’m Edward,” he said in a distinctly British accent. He sounded well educated and upper crust. It was an accent that one would associate with the royal family. He was obviously either very rich or a blue blood, possibly both.
“Do you have a last name Edward?” I questioned with a smirk.
“Cromwell,” he answered returning my smirk with one of his own. It was in that single look from him, that I knew that he was nowhere near as innocent as he appeared. He was a cad, a delicious cad. “What’s your name?”
“Do you have a last name, Lucy?”
“Just Lucy for now,” my smirk turned into a grin.
He finished the last of his scotch and set the crystal glass on the tray of a passing waiter. I continued to smoke my cigarette, enjoying the atmosphere and the music. “Do you happen to like long moonlit walks just Lucy?” He grinned at his joke and then took the a puff from his cigarette.
I let out a small chuckle and put out my cigarette in a nearby ashtray. Wrapping my arm around his, I let him escort me out of the club and onto the balmy Parisian streets. Every so often a car would pass or a couple speaking French would walk by. “So tell me something about yourself,” he asked as we stopped in front of the Tiffany’s shop window. The display was a series lamps on one side and signature Tiffany diamonds and silver on the other.
“What do you want to know.” I turned to him, my eyes catching his. Both of ours smoldering like embers fresh from the fire.
“How about your last name to begin with?”
“What is the incessant wish to know my full name?” I replied.
He shrugged, “I’d like to know the name of the woman who has bewitched me.”
Of one thing I was absolutely sure, he was charming. He had managed to successfully combine the naivety of youth and the charming subtle seductions of a man with more worldly knowledge into one complete persona. If he were good in bed, I wouldn’t kill him.
“It’s Kincaid,” I answered stealing the name from a tag that I had managed to glimpse on the inside of his jacket. “Miss Kincaid.” I emphasized the fact that I was single.
He smiled once more and then leaned in to kiss my lips. I kissed him back with a fervent passion that was inappropriate for a sidewalk on the Champs-Elysee. Breaking away from the kiss, I whispered, “My flat is not far from here.”
He smiled and nodded as I pulled him further down the boulevard to a large apartment building with a doorman on the outside. I winked at the doorman as he held the door open and led Edward through the empty lavish lobby to the elevator. The poor guy was either about to meet his maker or be given the opportunity to play for a very long time.
There was a flurry of hands and a sense of urgency as we disrobed. Our clothes were flung here and there, pale flesh touching and caressing as we hit the silk sheets of my palatial bed. I climbed atop of him, mounting his pelvis, but not yet allowing him to enter. My skin began to glow in the darkness as my inner demon took hold. He entered me and I took him. The cantankerous sounds of our love-making, my feeding, filled the room and carried themselves out of the open doors to the balcony and the night. Edward hung above me, kissing me gently. “What are you,” he whispered. I grinned and knew that he wouldn’t die.
Not yet at least.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tea with Pamela Turner

Today Toad welcomes the delightful Pam Turner to her corner, author of Death Sword, an urban fantasy featuring angelic conflict, with a difference.

Where did your interest in angels start?

Hard to say. I’ve had a fascination with angels since childhood but Publish Postmy perceptions then were influenced by the Church. It wasn’t until a friend told me about Gustav Davidson’s A Dictionary of Angels that my interest in them intensified. The book blew away almost every preconceived notion I had about angelic beings, holy or fallen.

Your writing suggests you know the area where Death Sword takes place quite well. Care to elaborate?

I’ve lived in Louisville, the setting for Death Sword, since the early 1990s. The Highlands and Old Louisville are areas I often visit. Old Louisville is famous for its Victorian and Italianate houses as well as St James Court, which is where Xariel lives. The Highlands caters to an eclectic crowd and Bardstown Road is a popular area for window shopping and people watching with its specialty boutiques and galleries as well as coffee houses, restaurants, and pubs.
My goal is to write more stories using Louisville as a back drop. For one, when I’m out taking photos, I can say it’s for research.

Was there a specific "a-ha" moment when you came up with the premise for Death Sword or was it a slow, pot-boiler of an idea?

Wish I could remember. I wrote Death Sword for National Novel Writing Month in 2008. I don’t know as there was a specific “a ha!” moment. At some point I wanted it to be a story about a complicated relationship. But I made several changes after the first NaNo draft. Xariel was originally the antagonist and Samael was a minor character. Eventually I wondered what would happen if Samael became so obsessed over Xariel that it pushed him to kill. I guess it’s a story about obsession and a need for vengeance, real or imagined. Anyway, I tore down the original structure, leaving only the framework, and proceeded to rewrite the story. Characters’ names and motivations changed until the book became what it is now.

Who will enjoy this story, and why?

I hope people who enjoy reading urban fantasy (as well as dark fantasy) and paranormals will like it. Also, since Karla is in her early 20s, it might appeal to college students. Those who are drawn to occult stories about demons and angels also might enjoy it. (Crosses fingers.)

Can your readers expect a follow-up to Death Sword?

I’m currently revising the second book, Serpent Fire, which takes place in Louisville shortly after the events of Death Sword. There are four books planned, each one focusing on an angel of death introduced in Death Sword. The first draft of the third book, tentatively titled The Devil Inside is almost finished.

What are the three books you'll always have on your bookshelves and why?

The Stranger (Albert Camus): Camus had a profound impact on my writing, not only with this book but also his short story The Guest.

A Dictionary of Angels, Including the Fallen Angels (Gustav Davidson): This has become my go-to book for angel research. There’s enough information between the covers to write several angel-centric stories.

Dragons and Fantasy Beasts (Finlay Cowan): This is an artist’s reference book but it’s indispensable for anyone who writes fantasy. Not only does Finlay give background information but also references for further study. Even better, creatures from various mythos are profiled, from the familiar (Nosferatu and Medusa) to the more unknown (Zilant and Alkonost). His companion book, Incredible Characters, is another must-have for my bookshelf.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Introducing J Damask

Today Toad welcomes an urban fantasy author, J Damask, who offers readers a glimpse into the very different world of Singapore, one that I do not believe we see painted with such magic and beauty, and with an obvious love for the supernatural.

Wolf at the Door is set in Singapore, which is a world away from most urban fantasy novels out there. What do you offer your readers?

A different world/landscape. An unique perspective, that there are also shifter types in places like Southeast Asia, a region itself rich in myths and legends.

Why wolves? And what makes your wolves-who-are-also-people different from those encountered in fiction?

Wolves are my favorite animals. ;)

What makes them different? They are wolves *and* humans. The wolf is inseparable to the human and vice versa. To me, the stereotype of the half-man, half-wolf never really appeals to me. To me, a wolf should be a wolf, four-legged. They are also a people, a race steeped in tradition and culture (in this case, Chinese). They honor the Chinese lunar festivals as much as they honor the hunt and chasing prey.

Tell us more about Jan and some of the conflict she faces.

Jan Xu is the daughter of the leaders of the Xu pack/clan. She is also married with two girls. She faces the dichotomy of being wife, mother, daughter and sister - she struggles and tries to balance all these roles while knowing that she is wolf.

Jan also has a younger sister, Marianne, whom she has a stormy relationship with. This stormy relationship is explored in the novel. She wants the rift to heal, yet Marianne has her own ideas...

Do you have any favourite legends you can share?

have many. *chuckle*

One is the legend/story of Madam White Snake. Madam White Snake is a snake spirit/jin who falls in love with a human scholar. With her maid-in-waiting Green Snake, Lady White Snake wants to live a comfortable married life. Yet, as stories go, things are not smooth. A Buddhist monk is determined to separate White Snake with her human husband, because snake spirits are evil and should be destroyed. He concocts a plan to unmask her for what she is, putting a magical potion in her wine (or tea). As a result, she reverts back to her snake form. Her husband is shocked (of course). A long battle ensues with White Snake imprisoned in the end.

Who are some of your favourite authors and why?

Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Octavia Butler, Frank Herbert - They showed me different worlds where I happily explored. ;) At the same time, I was inspired to write!

I was also inspired by the strong female characters too. [That's why I tend to write strong female characters in my stories... Hehe!]

* * * *

J. Damask is the pen-name of Joyce Chng who writes speculative fiction and has published her fiction in online magazines and small presses like Semaphore Magazine and Crossed Genres. She likes werewolves, steampunk and all things speculative fiction. When she's not writing, Joyce is busy wrangling kids (two girls!), cat-herding and container-gardening. She sometimes wishes she has more time to write. Her website is found at