tangled-rapunzel-tower‘The key to unlocking the heart of a princess and opening her lips to a true love’s kiss lies in slaying her evil foe in a moment of her greatest despair’, advised old Gregor, the court magician.

Prince Robert thought of his words as he started to relax his clean-shaven, carefully balmed face into an easy smile and took off his helm. The promise of the most powerful magic money could buy was duly delivered as the glimmering light ball soared into the air, meeting the approaching dragon high above, forcing it into a heavy sleep as the distance was rapidly eaten away by its hungry flight. It couldn’t have been as hungry as those peasants were who paid the price, though. Those idiots met their death a lot quicker.

The prince glanced back at the tower trying to glimpse his lady, screaming for help in the window just a minute ago, lifted his sword and advanced on the unconsciously lying magnificent beast. Every step took him closer to the dream he’d been cradling for this past year or so and he fancied he could already taste the victory in his mouth. Thus when the arrowhead punched through his throat, mixing the flavour with the salty tang of mortality, his eyes widened in disbelief.

He slowly fell to his knees, as the princess ran past him.

‘Gregor, you liar!’ he thought bitterly, watching the fair maiden throwing the crossbow aside and lovingly cradling the monster’s neck, covering the rough scales in gentle kisses. He hated all of them in that moment, as his life and dreams slipped away in ragged breaths from him, but most of all he despised the conspiring magician and his false words. The words whose truth remained constant even as their meaning changed in his eyes.


Originally written for the Liar’s Key writing competition in April, 2015

half-the-world-uk-hbI recently read Half the World by Joe Abercrombie, which is the second book of his Young Adult series, Shattered Sea – out now!  I felt this book deserved a few words from me for a number of reasons. For one, it doesn’t happen to me every day that I’m unexpectedly presented with an advanced copy at a book signing, and by none other than the editor. We have to be realistic about these things. I still remember queueing up with it to the author and taking him by surprise. Once he signed it, however, there was something else he said to me. He said he was pleased with this one. That he thought it was good. But, you know, it wasn’t even what he said that caught me off-guard, it was the way he said it. It wasn’t his loud, charismatic, self-confident Lord Grimdark-self. This was a quiet, honest and almost shy assessment of someone, who is continuously giving himself a mighty hard time while striving for perfection and who finally managed to win a little victory over his cruellest critic, himself. And I knew this book was going to be seriously good. And it makes me wonder if this is what it means to be a writer. That there and then I just take one look at him and somehow I understand. And somehow I just know.

Alas the book did not disappoint. Among many things I was of course impressed by how well the main characters and their relationships were captured, the twists and turns of the dark plot he span, but what’s more, I was impressed by what the book delivered. Because how do you set out writing something that your own children might read one day? How do you tell them, how can yojoeabercrombie-c1-1600x2400u make them listen and understand that the world is not like they might think it is, that it’s not like they have it in the tales? Why, of course: with a tale of your own. A tale that makes you re-consider what’s right and what’s wrong, reminds you that every act comes with its own consequences and teaches you about acceptance and the power of not just the steel, the physical strength, but also of the words.

So last Sunday I once again turned up at his signing to tell him that the book was indeed good. Just like every single time I’m about to meet him I nervously tried to think of a few words to say about myself, convinced he’ll have no idea who I was. What to say though, I puzzle, which part of me was worth mentioning that could possibly tell him who I might be. But to my surprise somehow he always already seems to know. And it makes me wonder if this is what it means to be a writer. That he just takes one look at me and somehow he understands. And somehow he just knows.

Photo by Lou Abercrombie

46079_10151699153077156_1767105433_nNameless nothings dance around to the rhythm of the night, closer and closer still to the moment they unite and the spark of an idea is born. An idea, newborn, exciting, bursting with promise and life, keeping you up all night.

And thus the journey begins, planning and building, not sleeping but dreaming, just one more pillar, just one more brick, turning every corner around until all the pieces click.

But every time your brain finally finds some peace and quiet, you notice those pages from the corner of your eye, longing to be read. So you reach for the manuscript and let it fill you with an idea born to someone else, full of darkness and light, keeping you up all night.

And thus your making begins, growing you and building, enchanting and healing, just one more pillar, just one more brick, turning every corner around until all the pieces click.

nightsky3You would think us fools, rushing into our graves like this. And yet, and yet… once you see our smiling faces in death, you’ll never feel afraid to follow.

Because here is the thing: Our kind never dies. We live on in the promise of every dawn, the sigh of every sunset. We watch you like hawks when you think you’re alone and will test you to your limits when you think you’re already done. We are the prince of your dreams, the muse of your lust. We kiss your first scar and steal your last kiss. You may have no name for us and yet you know there is more to your world than this hesitant hiding you call a life.

You know. Because all this time you have been searching for me. And now you have found that I’m with you already. Here. Inside. And now you understand. This is how we never die.


Originally written for the Prince of Fools writing competition in March, 2014

10414642_397561130402379_5213731756111745218_nOn the tables, the candles flickered fiery and flirtatious, sparkles stolen from the mighty forges of the upper world. In the corner, her face coloured golden by the flames of the fireplace, a bard was singing skilfully to an ungrateful crowd. In The Heartfelt Curse to the Three Steps Down business was as usual. Blunt creatures of sly dark nights filled the rooms – thieves, smugglers, adventurers, brothel girls, all thirsty for cheap wine and rich gossip, just the way we liked it.

The herald cut through the crowd like a deftly thrown knife. He couldn’t have been more than twenty, yet he already carried himself with a stern self-confidence that would have made you guess him older.

‘Hello, Conor,’ he greeted me once he reached us, ‘one can always trust you to sit with the prettiest girls in town’ his sharp eyes flickering towards my companions with an appreciative nod.

‘As one can always trust you to ruin my recreations.’ I grinned. I knew him well. Ever since four years ago I found him half-dead in the private cellars of a Dewaran warlord. A smart kid even then, bargaining for his life with the right information, but the year he spent there prior to my arrival left him with a chill that would make anyone permanently frosty. ‘Sit down and have a beer with us, Gered!’ I ordered, signalling to the barkeep.

He squeezed in between the dolls obediently, seductive lips cooing over his dark curls that ended in bright blue tips, but his face remained grim even when his jug was tossed in front of him with a cheerful thump. I sighed.

‘Let me guess. He wants to see me.’ I offered. Gered was happily cursed with one of the world’s richest bastards as an employer now, thoroughly obsessed with magic artefacts at that. He had the money to buy them, too and had even more to buy my talents to get the ones he couldn’t. ‘What is it this time? He found out he couldn’t fit into Anthoro’s Enchanted Slimming Wear?’ I laughed, catching the eyes of the ladies as I mused.

‘He wants to see you about something else.’ He replied in a tone that finally snuffed out my good humour entirely.

‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Why don’t we take a little walk outside?’ I stood, lifting my jug as I went. There was no need to waste the ale.

Once we were out of earshot, he turned to me. ‘It’s the urn he wants.’ A few curt words that caught me mid-sip and saw to the beer spraying right out of my mouth.


‘He wants you to steal the urn.’ He repeated, the noise of the tavern still strongly audible in the background.

‘There is no one who could steal that for him. He must know that.’ I said, wiping the excess beer off my face with the back of my hand. ‘The mechanical and magical defences are challenging as they are, but there is not much you can do with death himself guarding the premises. Zerillys might be bound to the crypt by a powerful enchantment, but stealing the urn would set him loose. And it’s a little difficult to outflank a monster that never sleeps. Besides,’ I added, ‘the theft would bring destruction and bloodshed on the town. And I like it here.’

‘Damien knows you always find a way, no matter the odds.’ Gered stated, expertly playing for my ego and pride. ‘You are famous for it.’ The little shit knew me too well. I spent a long minute silently considering the matter, but eventually resisted the lure.

‘No.’ I said slowly turning back towards the tavern. ‘Tell Damien he doesn’t have enough gold to have me turn this place into a graveyard.’ I declared with an eagerness to return to my cosy table, out of the way of the bitter wind that was now picking up.

‘But you see, Conor’, Gered put a hand on my shoulder, turning me back to look at him once more, eyes piercing me with a sad certainty, ‘the thing is, that you are going to do it. Everyone has a price.’





Art by Maciej Kuciara

Peace is an illusion. People always fight, people always suffer. There is always pain, always hurt, always violence. Maybe not the same kind, for rather than taking your life all at once, it steals away years without you even noticing. Worries over loved ones, jealousy over despised ones, too much hard work earning your copper, too much idleness enjoying your gold. It makes you ignore how rapidly your days are running out. It makes you think there’s later. It makes you forget the reaper is whetting his blade just around the corner. And without you even realising, you’ve been tricked out of it all. So I always maintained the view, it’s best to keep ahead: no matter how much life is trying to snatch from you, as long as you already have more stolen.

The Urn of Ahalan was perhaps somewhat of a challenge, even for me. Keeping it safe in Aleanna’s Cathedral ensured the peace between the Wolgs and the Ragels, two lands with the most blood smeared pages in anyone’s history book. There were many who preferred things this way, but then again there are always a few who could see the bigger picture and had the means to paint it across the world.

The head of the Ragel Sapphire Merchants, Damien Ramnolf, was such a man. He was short in build, high in ideals. He had this clammy way of speaking that soaked you to the bone with all kinds of visions about how to make it stop. Made you wish you were an assassin looking down at him, rather than a thief just um… looking down at him. Not that me being a head taller seemed to unsettle him much. He knew well his strengths and was pretty much used to getting anything he wanted. Almost as much as me.

‘… and of course there is the magical barrier as you would know’ he was dribbling on, testing my patience to its last limits, taking me dangerously close to reaching out to my right where his red parrot was sitting on a perch and demonstrate my exceptional grasp on how to do my job. Instead, by way of interjecting, I pulled a silver watch out of my pocket and raised it purposefully, flipping its cover open with my thumb as I cut him off. ‘Time is a precious commodity, let’s not waste it longer.’

At that moment several things happened at once. Out of nowhere a door appeared in the wall to our left. Damien’s breeches disappeared from view, exposing two rather hairy legs poking out of silken pantaloons. And the parrot fell off the perch with some exaggerated theatricality. That almost took me by surprise, but then again I always praised myself on being able reaching the same conclusion one way or the other.

‘Clever, eh?’ I flashed my winning smile. ‘It unbinds all magic in a twenty meter radius for exactly five minutes.’ I could see his piggy eyes staring at it in disbelief as he was trying to reach for it, but I snatched my hand away. ‘It was specially made for me, however and only works in my hand.’ I grinned as I tried not to look him up and down. ‘But, no doubt, it will be of great assistance in seeing through our … um plans.”

Damien Ramnolf seemingly composed himself, walked behind his tremendous desk and sat down. He got out a parchment, ink and scribbled down something.

‘Here is half of the payment we agreed on. The name and the whereabouts of the person you’re looking to question. The coin you’ll receive once you return with the urn.’

I’m not going to lie, my mouth went dry at that. My heart started to beat in a drunken fashion, as if not quite sure whether to soar or collapse. The Supreme Key. The very thing I have been looking for half my life. A quest. A dream. An obsession. Just the pure thought of it flooded my veins with an unbearable desire to find it. My confident smile faltered, but I dragged it back on. I approached the desk expertly faking a dignified manner, which would have been undoubtedly reduced to the composure of a little girl at a cake stall if not for the trade master sitting right in front of me.

“Is that right? And just how can I know how reliable this information is?’ The tease was unneeded. Damien Ramnolf was renowned for his spy network and his ability to acquire the most guarded secrets across the Nineteen Kingdoms. In addition common sense told me not to push him any further. But it was just too much fun.

He raised an eyebrow and slightly tilted his head to the side as he looked up at me. ‘The trainee priestess you’ve been sleeping with these last three nights to acquire information about the Urn was wearing a silver breast band last night dotted with little moon symbols, for that short time at least you let her do so. She was not completely satisfied with your performance the third time around. Time is a precious commodity, Conor, let’s not waste it any longer, shall we?’ For once I couldn’t agree more.

I took the parchment from him. ‘Selpheros Bora Castaunos, Merdillion High Library, Andastos’ it read. Too damn far to just pop around before completing the work, even if I was considering making a run for it. But I wasn’t. I wanted the gold, craved the challenge and needed to keep Damien in my good books. So I turned, walked past the disappearing side door, glancing at the parrot flying back to its perch.

“You have three days, Conor, three days!’ I heard Damien’s voice behind me. I flicked the bird’s head from behind with one hand, held up the parchment at the same time in front of it with the other, giving it a wide berth all the while as I responded casually. ‘Don’t worry, Damien,‘ I said as the flames burst from its beak lighting the vellum in my hand. I watched it burn. ‘The Urn will be delivered well in time. I can’t wait to go to Andastos and see this Selphi for myself.” I stepped away from the displeased animal and exited the room with a considerable amount of determination, leaving a swirl of burnt parchment petals slowly descending in my wake.




1780795_380069805484845_6176190907324948255_nThe late afternoon sun forged suggestive dark images onto the cobblestone while I walked to the Temple of the Light. As I was approaching I looked at its glistening walls, the masterfully engraved symbols, the graceful towers. I inhaled the sweet-smelling scents, listened to the enchanting harmonies luring me inside and understood why people see it as a vision of heaven. But we are gullible creatures and see what we want to see. Give us illusions bright enough to mist our eyes a little, give us dreams sweet enough to hope, give us a heart big enough to care and we’ll see heaven where there’s only hell.

I entered the temple and soon enough caught sight of my little angel, wrapped in an eye-pleasing white robe, long brown hair lusciously tumbling down in unpredictable waves to her waist as she knelt in front of Sarianna’s likeness. I looked at the Goddess with an apologetic smile. I’ll keep her devotee’s heart for now, she can have her soul later – seemed like a fair deal to me.

I kneeled beside Esten, imitating prayer and whispered: ‘Did you know that your constant throaty murmuring is disrupting the deep spiritual work I’m attempting to undertake in the other end of the hall?’

‘You didn’t seem that bothered about it last night,’ she whispered back haughtily.

‘Oh, it was fine for me, of course!’ I enthused, ‘but here… the lack of appropriate murmuring tone is a very serious business! I strongly advise, Lady, that you immediately accompany me to a most pressing practice session!’

She smiled and gracefully rose with a coy side-glance at me, before turning and walking out to the light. I caught up with her quick enough and gently steered her towards a street leading down to the river. ‘We are going someplace else tonight. It will be fine.’ I added hastily, seeing the appearing creases on her forehead. She didn’t look convinced.

‘Have my things been taken over there already? My combs? My favourite bath-oil?’ she demanded.

Spend enough time with women and you’ll know a tantrum when you see one. Spend a lot of time with women and you’ll know the cure for each and every one of them. Of course, it also helps if they generally consider you better looking than any human man has the right to be. I pulled her close with practised moves.

‘I have something special prepared for us. You’re going to love it.’ That worked, as it always does, and she let me provide a taste of what I had in plan. The dream-root I soaked in the sweet cherry wine will still allow me a little time with her before I set off and attend to other business, I thought as I was kissing her, stroking her back with one hand, carefully pulling out a little red feather of the hair tangle and discarding it with the other.




cat_new2The following evening the world turned on a sigh. The shift rattled through the bones, twisting hearts along a different melody the wind was now humming, twirling all the pieces around into a skeleton of unborn truths. It was the sigh of a prisoner waiting in the shadow of my tomorrows, wishing upon every star. Somewhere, in a far-away land, a key was singing to me, its sweet melody growing more enchanting by my every night.

I told Esten I had some things to do that evening and just to be sure, I made a few unnecessary circles in town before climbing over the city wall in a half-lit spot, grabbing a torch for the road as I went. Outside I cut through the quiet forest to the abandoned well, which sheltered a secret tunnel to the cathedral basement in its belly and in no time I was opening the locks of a hidden door on the other side. Gaining ingress, just like with women, was always the part I enjoyed most. It’s staying too long that steals away the fun, not to mention your freedom.

The door gave with a soft squeak and I entered into a small passage leading to the crypt. I walked through resolutely, knowing well what was coming, still when the sharp pain hit me I stopped and obediently crouched. The revenant was closer than I hoped, waiting for me patiently, willing me to approach him humbly on my knees as most men would, begging for mercy. I clenched my teeth and pushed myself up. The power of any pain lies in your perception. Get your little toe stubbed on your way to the privy at night and you’ll be in agony in a second. Get your leg stabbed in a deadly fight and in comparison you won’t feel a thing. At least until the fight has finished – supposing you’re lucky. Otherwise, even then, you won’t feel a thing.

I closed my eyes and focused. The pain was wrapping me inside into a violent blizzard, thundering through every nerve, using my spine as the lightning rod. I deeply inhaled the cold, musty air, commanding it against the crushing clouds within, with all the force of seven harsh years I spent practicing in the mountains of Minar Desh. Ten more breaths and I was able to edge forward again, enjoying the taste of triumph in my mouth, ignoring the tang of blood as it started trickling from my nose. Still I smiled. Nothing makes you more alive than a touch of death.

Zerillys was hovering above the grave of Honras, the Merciful, whether by chance or irony I never did find out. He didn’t look happy about my small victory, but of course his kind never truly looks happy, as a generally recognised guideline in the Book of the Undead.

‘Have you come to finish what you started?’ he asked in a frosty voice, menacing black eyes screaming into mines.

‘That’s the plan.’ I nodded. ‘And I’m hoping to push it through without stumbling into any dead-ends.’

He was upon me in the blink of an eye – my eye that is, since he never blinked.

‘My existence here might have its limits, but don’t think you can play games with me! You take one step out of line and I’m free to leave these walls and feast on your flesh.’

I was considering pointing out that once I was upstairs, one step out of line would in fact kill me before he even reached the dining room, but I thought better of it. His stench close up was so overpowering, I decided it was more beneficial for me to hold my breath.

He finally let it go and floated out of my way. I briskly took the chance and advanced towards the stairs at the far end of the hall, momentarily stopping at a half-open sarcophagus to peer inside. Suddenly there was a kind of scattered hissing noise. I turned shocked. Zerillys was not far off, emitting the sound and shaking slightly with it. It was the creepiest laugh I’ve ever seen.

‘Conor, I promise you,’ he said after a while, ‘no one would be mad enough to take anything from here. Not if they intended to leave alive.’

‘Good to hear!’ I called back and sprinted up the stairs.

When the decision to keep the relic in the cathedral was made, a smaller army of architects, inventors, blacksmiths, engineers and bowers were summoned to create one of the most effective defence systems the world has ever seen and boy, have they succeeded. It was specifically designed to keep out guys like me, which is precisely why I loved it so much. Not that I didn’t have a name for myself already, but conquering this mechanism, or Aleanna’s Wrath, as the locals called it, was certainly something I wished to list under my more significant achievements.

The system was turned on every night by the High Priest by flipping a number of adjustable nails on a small metal board next to one of the side entrances, arranging them into a certain combination that he changed daily. Had I known the combination of the day, my evening would have been a lot easier, alas more boring, too.

Upon activation it opened a number of hidden cases built into the walls that held poisoned arrows, ready to be shot at unwanted trespassers. It also set several other devices in motion which main purposes included splitting intruders into two, spearing them, flattening them to the ground and burning them alive. Obviously trapping and questioning unwelcomed guests never occurred to any of the masterminds.

I emerged from the basement and looked around. The building slumbered peacefully under a light purple glow that was radiating from the magic barrier shielding the Urn. It was placed on the top of a single column near the High Altar. I set the torch down, no longer needing it in the eerie light, and cautiously started stepping forward along a straight line. The arrows were designed to be released upon stepping on certain stones or touching particular spots on walls and arches. As far as the floor was concerned, following a specific pattern was required to stay alive. A pattern that Esten taught me, by drawing it on my bare chest a hundred times and making me do the same on her with a rose scented massage oil. A pleasant class, all in all, though some might have considered it learning it the hard way.

I must have been about half way through when I heard noises. As I looked to see where it was coming from I discovered a pair of amber eyes curiously measuring me up and down. It was Doorkins, the church cat, sitting on one of the benches. The stupid animal must have hid somehow when the doors were closing and was now lurking inside, showing strong inclination towards coming and inspecting me from closer.

‘No, no, no! Shoo! Shoo!’ I hissed urgently to no avail, as the cat gracefully jumped down and slowly started heading in my direction. I pulled the first thing out of my pocket, a lockpick, aimed and hit the cat, although my attention was promptly demanded by an arrow, missing me by an inch. Next I took out a throwing knife, but by the time I turned, the cat was gone. I hesitated for a minute. This was not a good time to play hide and seek and I reluctantly decided to advance on with some added urgency.

I soon reached the column that was about five times my height. I slid on a set of climbing claws on my hands, flipped on my watch and started to climb. The Urn of Ahalan was a surprisingly simple piece of pottery. Humble white clay with understated floral pattern around its neck. You really wouldn’t have thought much of it, if not for the elaborate defences.

I was almost down once again, when a side door opened and someone stepping inside de-activated the cathedral’s defence mechanism. Damien Ramnolf sneered up at me, with a handful of his armed men following in his wake. I was promptly surrounded and with the blades pointing at my neck I passed him the urn with a grimace.

‘Very good, Conor’ he stated condescendingly and let it go. ‘Although it’s a shame you were so clumsy in the end!’ The urn hit the floor and smashed into pieces. ‘Search him!’ he ordered. ‘Most importantly, look for a silver watch!’

‘I knew you could do it’ he continued his tiresome monologue, while my possessions were being confiscated ‘Though I wonder how you were planning to sidestep Zerillys. Taking the urn out of the cathedral would have set him loose, you know.’ He stepped towards me holding the business end of a knife to my face – as an indication that my response, in fact, was not required.

‘And the watch that only works in your hands?’ he carried on gaining momentum now. ‘Well, I’m sure I can make a favourable deal with the High Priest in order to acquire both of them. You won’t need them anymore, after all, and I know a few highly accomplished embalming experts!’

‘Nice little plan there, Damien,’ I hissed. ‘You have your war, my watch and you don’t even have to pay me anymore. And you almost pulled it off!’

I could see his confusion at that, but our conversation was cut short by the main gate opening and the High Priest marching in with about a hundred city guards.

‘Conor Drew, I arrest you for high treason in the name of Ronar the Third, King of Ragellan and Nersia, Lord of Thedos. Surrender yourself in this instant!’ he commanded in a booming voice, undoubtedly trained to a perfection during countless majestic performances within the very same walls.

To be fair, I did not see how I could have surrendered any more than I already was, standing there encircled by swordsmen, Damien smugly holding my watch in his right hand in front of me.

‘With all due respect, Your Excellency, I am by no means at fault in these proceedings.’ I said. ‘I was hired to steal the Urn by this man, Damien Ramnolf, Master of the Sapphire Merchants in Regal. It is he, in fact, who has been conspiring against the King, hoping to destroy the Urn and start a war with Wolgland,’

‘That is an interesting claim to make, thief! But even if I accepted what you’ve just said, that would still not make you innocent. You are a known culprit, caught in the act! It would still not change the fact that the Urn has been destroyed and Ahalan’s ashes spoilt! You have brought shame and peril on us, for which you deserve nothing but death!’

‘I will have to strongly disagree with those harsh words, I’m afraid,’ I objected, mock hurt playing on my face. ‘For it is me, who uncovered a traitor’s plan, helped you catch him and saved the Urn. For which services, being a humble servant of the kingdom, I only accept a small payment of a hundred gold, to cover some of my expenses,’ I added modestly.

‘What are you talking about?’ he demanded. ‘The ashes are right in front of you, spilled onto the floor!’

‘Oh, but these are not the ashes.’ I responded calmly. ‘This is just silt I collected on the riverside a few days ago. And if you look at the clay pieces carefully, you may find that the pattern is not quite the same as it is on the Urn.’

‘What?’ He thundered in astonishment and made his way closer to inspect the broken vase. ‘You exchanged it? When?’

‘Last night I dropped by. My evening entertainment proved a little shorter than expected, so I had quite some time on my hands and thought…’ I flashed an angelic smile.’ that this might be important.’

‘Conor!’ he pressed on, a touch of relief now perceptible on his wrinkled features. ‘Where is the Urn?’

‘I left it with Zerillys in the crypt, in a sarcophagus. He can also testify to everything I have just said.’

‘Guards, release him!’ he ordered instantly and turned. ‘Damien Ramnolf. I arrest you for high treason in the name of Ronar the Third, King of Ragellan and Nersia, Lord of Thedos. You and your men are now in Captain Logan’s custody and will await your trial in the city dungeons.’

And with that I snatched my watch back from Damien’s open hand. Time is a precious commodity and I had none of it to waste, if I was to find Selpheros Bora Castaunos still alive. For I had no doubts that the trade master’s influence reached through the prison bars and far beyond. Far and fast, like wildfire across the land, which I was now racing up to the north.



Submitted comments:


Really, very good. Atmospheric and characterful. A charming hero about whom I would like to hear/read more and with a good twist at the end. Enchanting prose and a light feathery touch where it matters, hinting and alluding at matters unseen, so that images pass from the mind of the author to that of the reader without ever needing to be drawn in detail on the page between them.

Also the images you’ve selected complement the story beautifully.

Now I’m off to either finish my review of Daniel Polansky’s Low Town trilogy, or resume my reading of Teresa Frohock’s Misere, and this little piece is not at all out of place in their company



Phew! You are very brave to submit yourself to “trial by peers” but I find myself almost unaccountably pleased & relieved to report that I loved your story!
For such a short tale it managed to display interesting protagonists, a pleasing plot and an intriguing setting, all wrapped around some delightfully resonant philosophical musings and peppered with a fair sprinkling of humour. Colour me demanding, but I want more…
Seriously, I’m delighted for you. At the risk of over-doing it, I do believe you really have got that indefinable “something”, whatever that may be.



Beautifully written prose drives an incredibly fun plot. Well timed aphorisms and humor season your tale perfectly. I too would love to read more of the debonair Conor and his adventures and conquests.



Very nice! The main character is smart, debonair and I liked the first person narration. His thoughts are also very interesting and the story fast-paced. If I can make a little critic, the end is a bit too rushed, there’s no real explanation as to how Damien and his guards gain entry so freely in the cathedral and deactivate the alarm (was he in accord with the High Priest, then why did they enter separately?) and the High Priest changes his mind about who to arrest too easily, and it’s a bit too trusting to come forward alone and when he orders the guards to release Conor, does he address Damien’s guards? Also, I think Conor has too much time to explain while Damien just stays idle. Thank you, looking forward to the next episode!




golden_thoughts_by_northernmonkeyz-d2jiie6On Monday morning I let my feet chase their whims and I find myself on the longer route again, the one that leads by the bench. Every step beats the rhythm of a song borrowed from a dream, drawing me closer and closer, back in time. My heart pounds loud as I enter the park, following the path that takes me along the old trees, guardians standing on the borderland of my yesterdays. I turn my head slightly to the left as I reach the bench and see another woman sitting there, laughing into her phone. I steal a quick glance at her, smiling as I turn my head away.

And I remember the joy, telling and coy.

On Tuesday morning the sun smiles as I walk and winks at me from behind frisky clouds, when I look up and find a man sitting on the bench. He’s wearing a suit and a frown, lines of great importance transforming into letters as he scribbles into a notebook.

And I remember the words you couldn’t say, fading away.

On Wednesday morning a cold wind is teasing me for tears and I see a couple huddled together, their knowing smiles filled with the happiness of their tomorrows.

And I remember how close you felt as my heart melt.

On Thursday morning I see an old woman resting there, eternal wisdom in those eyes.

And I remember how time stopped, when a new perception changed the laws of reflection.

On Friday the kids scream, reminding me how crazy I’ve been. In the rain the umbrellas cry how safe I felt with you back at that time. In the fog I recall how blind I felt with that silly happiness I could no longer control.

Like the sun’s reflection in a million teardrops after rain, like an endless echo of that single morning I retain, when I sat on that bench and felt more certainly than ever before, that it was one of those few mornings my life was truly worth living for.

Image by northernmonkeyz

GANDALFI never used to write reviews, I never used to care. I mean there are billions of the thing online already everywhere, written obviously by people who are more qualified to do so, who know this stuff better, who know what to say and how. Who would care what little me thought of a book, anyhow? What if it’s not even right, right? I might have misread something, after all or forgotten half of it already? So to save time, energy and some very likely embarrassment why not just leave this to those who can do it…

And I was very comfortable with this worldview of mine, until one day I came across this strange, eccentric fellow, who happened to be the first author I met online, and who really did want to know what people thought of his books. Even me!

Well, hell. Technically I haven’t even read them, I listened to them as audiobooks. But I did love his first two so much, felt so grateful to him for writing them, was crazy excited about the third one coming out in a few months’ time and since he seemed to care so much I penned up my first ever review for him on Goodreads which simply said:


A review of King of Thorns

“Brother Mark. Many thanks for writing the book – which technically I have never actually read. As you know. As a non-reader of your book please allow me a letter of complaint.

In the many written commentary of yours I did not come across one single warning about the consequences of opening a door to the Broken Empire. The tube stops I would miss as temporarily lost in some awful dead-end marshland somewhere far far away, the sleepless nights spent witnessing violent deeds of blood and fire, subsequently running late for work the next morning (and still helplessly missing the stop while reminiscing about events that took place four years earlier), the extra slice of cake and coffee I had to order in my lunch break even if I was full already just so I could spend ten more anxious minutes finding out how a cruel murderer would escape a difficult encounter and all the funny looks I was given on the street when grinning like an idiot once he solved the situation (in a way I would in no circumstances call honourable) and loving him for it.

Brother Mark. Perhaps you would care to offer a considered opinion as to how one is to go on with everyday life once all this disruption pauses and all you find yourself wishing in the silence is that it would sweep you away again.”


Is this a traditional-looking review? Perhaps not. But does it suggest that I liked the book and thought it was good? I think so. And a few people even liked it! He, himself liked it and even responded to it, recommending some kind of stasis chamber for me I only emerge from when he has a new book out. So I decided that this was not that hard, after all and it felt so rewarding, that it was definitely worth the effort.

hatsune_miku-998586I started reading reviews, trying to decide what I liked about them and what I didn’t. In fact, I even did a little research on reddit, asking folks what in their opinion made a good book review. I was lucky enough to receive some very good answers. Fantasy author Sam Sykes emphasised the importance of honesty, Michael J. Sullivan finding a reviewer who is in tune with your taste one way or the other, while Mark Lawrence was hoping to find that his books have moved you, explaining that he would expect pointers or useful criticism be made by a critique, rather than a reviewer. These were but a few of the answers, and you might find it interesting to see the rest here.

After all this big work however, by the time I finished the third Broken Empire book, being a slow reader and all, it was almost December and there were again hundreds of reviews already everywhere; on Goodreads, on many various blogs, on Audible, Amazon, written by readers, written by authors, written by professional reviewers, you name it!

Was there anything left for me to say, that hasn’t been already said? I very much doubted it. But I felt so inspired by the book I just read, my heart so full of beauty and wonder, that I have decided to write one anyway.

1150289_10151771412442156_356148559_nAgain, some people liked it, including the author, which was reward enough for me as it was and so you might imagine my utter astonishment when I learned about six weeks later that my review was circulated by the editor within the book’s publishing company, Harper Voyager, and that I was to be sent an advance reading copy of the next book, allowing me to read it three months before it was even out! I tell you now, I didn’t feel a thing about my review being so glamorously received. I just couldn’t take it in. Because upon hearing about getting the next book of my favourite author early, my first ever ARC, I was way too busy laughing, crying, singing and riverdancing in the middle of the living room, all at once.

Time passed and since then I reviewed some more books, always feeling good about it afterwards. My posts might have only been appreciated by just a handful of people, but even that felt rewarding enough. One of my favourite moments was actually spotting the dad of the author, whose book I was reviewing, liking it on Facebook. It was just such a wonderful thing to see that I believe, right then, we felt proud together half the world apart.

Another one was, just this week, being mentioned by Nimue Brown in her blogpost titled ‘Reviewing as an art form’, in which she wrote ‘I’ve been blessed with two reviews recently that are pieces of art in their own right and should be honoured as such. There’s a profound emotional response in Mitriel’s review of Hopeless Maine. It makes the story into something personal, suggesting the room for other people to do that, too. It touched me greatly.”

What more is to say? Such is of the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them¹. If you spread the word about good books you enjoyed and support their authors, it will be a better place. Stories are part of the glue that binds us together². This holiday season please spare a thought for all that they gave you and do something for them in return.

1. Quoting J.R,R. Tolkien from the Fellowship of the Ring

2. Quoting Mark Lawrence from ‘Why do we need stories?’ a blogpost by FantasyFaction

“I have learnt to spin words like dervishes, to bewitch and blur reality.”

The Salt Road by Jane Johnson


15458_10152817438097156_3507375195802798929_nI still remember that moment a few weeks back, my train approaching London King’s Cross Station, me closing the book around a hundred pages in and exiting the train carriage onto the platform. That was the moment, when out of nowhere a short dialogue from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings occurred to me, Frodo Baggins asking Sam Gamgee after his first encounter with the elves:

“’Do you like them still, now you have had a closer view?’

They seem a bit above my likes and dislikes, so to speak,’ answered Sam slowly.”

And there and then I realised, this is exactly how I felt about The Salt Road.


1519650_10152184893304793_1296972552_oJane Johnson, as a writer, is well above my likes and dislikes. But then again, what was I expecting?

She’s been writing since childhood, is a publishing director at HarperCollins, published the works of J. R. R. Tolkien during the 1980s and 1990s and works together with authors, such as George RR Martin, Sam Bourne, Raymond E Feist, Robin Hobb, Tom Knox, Dean Koontz, Mark Lawrence, Stuart MacBride, and Joe Abercrombie. And by no accident.


1519650_10152184893309793_622830324_oI found The Salt Road not just very well written, the language skilfully bringing to life the Sahara desert and Morocco, where this historical novel is set, but also thoroughly researched, the author’s personal experiences giving the descriptions a depth that firmly transports the reader into another world.

The harsh scenery she paints hooks you not just with its many perils, but it also captures the awe that make so many people fall in love with it.

 It is a tale of two women, from two different worlds and times, effortlessly and masterfully woven together around a mysterious amulet. Just like all important things in life, its story starts from the heart and moves wider and wider still, introducing us to flavours of exotic cultures, the life and history of its peoples, twirling their enchanting and colourful world around us, only to eventually bring us back to where it has all started, the heart.

Jane Johnson’s website: www.janejohnsonbooks.com1506290_10152207479134793_2139280069_o

where you can also read an excerpt from The Salt Road

and you might also enjoy an interview I did with her earlier this year, where she talks about three authors she works with as an editor, George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb and Mark Lawrence

Photos by Abdel Bakrim

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