Review: Goblins, Book 1 by Melanie Tushmore

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Goblins, Book 1In the 17th Century, the ancient sprawl of Epping forest is bursting with magic and those who go unseen by human eyes: the elves who rule the summer court, and the goblins who rule the winter court. It is said that if a human catches the eye of one of the fey, they are either doomed or blessed.

The Goblin King has seven sons, a number said to be unlucky.  For most of them, home and duties is not enough and when they go exploring chance encounters with humans change their lives forever.

Book 1 contains the stories of Wulfren and  Quiller, goblin princes and the humans that changed their lives.

Goblins is a magical book on so many levels.  From that cover that pulls you in with its haunting and haunted young beings to the lyrical and imaginative descriptions of Epping forest and its dwellers, this book kept me awake thinking about the scenes and settings I found within.

Honestly this is a book who needs more than one rating because of all its standout elements, including that miraculous cover.  But the characters and plots for each brother varied enough for me to rate each story individually.  So let’s start with my least favorite and the first in the book, Wulfren and the Warlock:

1. Wulfren and the Warlock.  Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Wulfren is the seventh son of the Goblin King and the youngest.  Wulfren also has the least amount of magic as the magic increases with age.  A very young spirit, Wulfren is half elf and half goblin. His mother is an elf banished for her passion and love for the Goblin King, she remains the favorite of his consorts and the mother of two of his sons.   His curiosity and youth get the better of him when Wulfren and his brother Garnet spy a warlock in their woods and play pranks on him.    When the warlock turns the tables on Wulfren and captures him, both of their lives change forever.

I loved so much of this story.  The plot is wonderful, the settings other worldly and the descriptions of everything within so unbelievably magical that I never wanted to leave.  So where is the problem?  With one character, that of Wulfrin.  Wulfrin is a very young spirit, so young in fact that his dialog and antics place him in the realm of a 12 to 14 year old.  He himself says at one point to the warlock after being captured:

“I… I have over seven hundred seasons, now. Seven hundred and twenty,” I added.

“Seasons? The seasons … But that would make you …” He sounded surprised, his eyes widening. “Age aside, you must be a young spirit.”

“I’m not young!” I said, indignant. “I do everything the adults do.”

Yes, Wulfren is young, adorably so.  He acts on impulse, doesn’t like doing his chores and feels shuffled aside at his father’s court because no one let’s him do anything.  Any one who has had a child or is familiar with children has heard this plaintive voice a hundred times or more.  It’s the voice of a child and Tushmore has captured it perfectly.  So why do I have issues with this?  Because immediately the Warlock binds him with silver chains and drags him off to bed, introducing elements of bdsm and non con sexual activities to basically what is a immature goblin.  No matter how I tried looking at this aspect of the story, the squick factor was just too big to overlook.  Time and again, I picture Wulfren as Max from Where the Wild Things Are roaring his terrible roar., claws included.  Not an image Tushmore would want to evoke. Even after both admit they have feelings for each other, it still feels like a barely pubescent boy who wants to please an older man, doing small chores around the house and pleading for his attention.  When they are parted, Wulfren writes a letter to his warlock and its contents are those that any tween writing to Tiger Beat would recognize.   Even if you accept that these two characters have a loving relationship, it never feels real or believable, just terribly one sided.

And that is the fault of Ash, the warlock.  We really never get a firm grip on his character.  Who is he?  Why is he by himself on the edge of the woods?  He remains an enigma for the entire story, and that makes it hard for us to believe and connect with his relationship to Wulfren.  Everyone else comes alive in this story with the exception of Ash.  Had his character been more fleshed out and Wulfren made an older soul, then this story would have a completely different tone.

Still, the vivid descriptions and magical air that Tushmore imparts to her tale make this story a lush visit to hidden kingdoms.  Here is a look as the goblins get ready for a celebration when Wulfren is brought home:

They led me downstairs. Random bursts of song filled the air as musicians tuned their instruments, and quarrelled over who played what. Outside in the dark, the court gathered amongst the inner ring, with the toadstools towering above us. Sprites had lit the dew drops that covered the toadstool heads, and they sparkled. Fires lit on twig ends were jabbed into the ground for torches. Brownies rushed about with acorn shells full of wine in their arms, sloshing liquid as they hurried.

“Father has even broken out the mead,” Garnet whispered to me. “Hurry, before it’s all gone.”

I dream of lit dew drops and fire flies tucked into cobwebs to light the great hall.  Just so magical.   Scenes like this elevated this story above the main relationship.

2. Quiller and the Runaway Prince:  Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King.  He is half goblin and half bird spirit like his mother, another one of the King’s consorts.  When winter is finished and spring comes to the woods once more, Quiller and the rest of the goblins are free of their duties for two seasons and its time to play.  Flying through the woods, Quiller sees a fallen man and his injured horse deep in the forest.  The horse snorts and tells Quiller he doesn’t think much of the young man but Quiller sees and feels something for the human right from the start.  When Quiller tells the young man that “all runaway princes are mine”, a journey begins that neither is quite prepared for.

This story has it all, great characters, believable relationship between beings of basically the same age (emotionally and intellectually), and the vivid, imaginative descriptions that make this book a must read on every level.  This is how the story begins:

The start of spring, 1648.

Winter was over, at long last. Tonight we were all in our larger forms— as tall as elves— and dressed in vein-thin leaves. It was the celebration to welcome Eostre, goddess of spring. Our home, the rotten ring, had been decorated in her honour. Dewdrops were lit, and fireflies were hung in cobwebs. The musicians piped up and played as the first glimmer of Eostre appeared through the trees. Pale light played on her shapely edges, like it shone from within. The form she took to visit us was more elf-like than anything; tall and graceful, with long, sleek hair of many colours.

Hair that moved. As Eostre stepped inside our ring of rotten tree trunks, I could see her hair crawled with insect larvae. She paid it no mind, as she cast an amused eye over the ring, then addressed Father. “Goblin king. Your line was missing one pair of claws this winter.”

Father’s face twitched ever so slightly before he replied. “Yes, Goddess, we … We managed without.”

We know from the previous story that the missing set of claws belongs to Wulfren, the youngest son of the Goblin King.  The King and his subjects are responsible for Fall and Winter.  And during those seasons, the King holds Court but the scepter passes to the elves in the spring and there the Goddess will hold court through the summer months.  I loved the image of the Goddess, Eostre, her hair full of larvae that writhe as she walks. Its mesmerizing, opulent and yet somewhat repulsive. Yet, Tushmore is not finished with Eostre.  Here is the scene as the Goddess leaves the company of goblins:

The ceremony was almost over; Eostre bid our ring farewell. In each footprint she left, fresh shoots and flowers grew, yet without her touch they soon wilted. All flowers died in the rotten ring.

Eostre inclined her head to Father. “Raedren, goblin king of the southern realm, thank you for the winter.”

“Goddess. Peace be.” Father bowed deeply to her in return, his cloak of cobwebs fluttering around him.

“Peace be.” Eostre smiled, then turned with a swish of hair and flowers. Her hair’s colour was ever changing, like the leaves in the trees. Butterflies and mayflies now crawled from her hair, spread their wings, and took flight. She left in a trail of flying insects and wilting flowers, on her way to the summer court, and the elves.

How wondrous, how enchanting!  And the spell is set for the rest of the story.  I loved the characters here, each a small treasure to be held and marveled at again and again.  Quiller is just the start of a cast we will connect with and remember.  Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King and therefore a prince himself.  But his mother is a bird spirit, a crow and his personality bears the hallmarks of a bird.  He is flighty, scattered in his thoughts and attentions and he recognizes that.  Just his actions as he flies through the forest gives ample example of this character and light hearted nature. Cashel is also a prince, a human one.  But magic aside, these two are each other’s equal in courage, in outlook, and finally in love.  They are everything that is missing from the first story.

Tushmore also uses Quiller’s journey to bring a dark realistic look at the times and ways of humanity.  Along the way, Quiller talks to a group of crows to see if they know where his mother resides.  They reply to look near the gibbet:

“Gibbet?” I asked, puzzled.

“Wood the humans hang other humans on,” he explained. “We peck their bones clean. Nice when it’s dried in the sun.”

“How strange,” I said. “Where is this gibbet?”

“Find the human path,” the crow said. “East of here. Before you get to the human place.”

“Oh, fear not, I shan’t be visiting any humans!” I cawed.

But of course, he does, flying past human remains, evidence of the cruel nature of the times.  Tushmore blends together the magical and the human worlds with a smooth, gifted touch.  When Quiller meets Cashel, a human of royal blood, Cromwell and the Parliament are laying waste to the people and lands all around.  None of that really matters to Quiller but Cashel is mired deep in the midst of political intrigue and fears for his life.  So into the castle goes Quiller (in bird form of course) where Cashel is living with his cousins.  Black deeds abound inside, threatening Cashel’s life and those of his relatives.  With a magical being in the middle, all sorts of things start to happen, and the reader will love every single minute.   I mean, Melanie Tushmore gives us everything we could want and more.  There’s poison, nefarious goings on, villains, a witch and of course, love.  And it’s all believable, and layered and complete.  Well mostly.

These are just the first two books and there are seven sons, five more to go.  So I expect to see Quiller and Cashel appear in the books to come.  Quiller still has his duties to attend to in the fall and winter.  Plus I don’t expect the Goblin King to willingly lose another son to the humans and that is not addressed here.   Still this story is quite marvelous, worthy of the price of this book alone.

After reading Goblins, I can’t wait to see what the author does for the rest of the sons.  I want more of her extraordinary descriptions and spellbinding imagination.  I highly recommend this to you all even with my reservations concerning the first story.

Cover design by Ria Chantler.  This cover is exquisite, one of the best of 2013.  The more closely I look at it, the better it gets.  just remarkable.

Book Details:

Expected publication: September 25th 2013 by Less Than Three Press LLC (first published September 25th 2012)
original title Goblins, Book One
ISBN13 9781620042373
edition language English

Review: When Dachshunds Ruled the Serengeti by Michael Murphy

Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

When Wiener Dogs Rule coverIt is the first day of Jose’s collegiate life and he’s terrified.  The older of nine children, Jose Lopez is the son of migrant workers, born in California and familiar only with the states his family worked through and the transitory life that comes with being part of a large migrant farm workers.  Jose has dreamed of escaping the drudgery and poverty of his parents and being able to provide a path to a better life for his brothers and sisters.  Brown University is his ticket to a education and better life but brown skinned Jose feels as out of place among the white upper echelon as a burrito at a black tie dinner.  Then his roommate arrives, and the comparison between them enlarges the cultural divide already apparent.

Phillip comes from a wealthy New York family and is entering Brown just as his father and his father’s father before him.  A child of privilege, Phillip can’t begin to understand the true depth of how Jose’s upbringing and background have affected him.  All Phillip sees is an attractive boy, shy, and welcoming.  True, their first meeting is awkward as Phillip’s mother mistakes Jose for a porter for Phillip’s bags but Jose is used to people’s perceptions of him as the help instead of a possible equal.

Soon the boys discover common ground between them, and Phillip helps Jose with all things new to him , including tv, electronics and cultural passages of youth.  Slowly a friendship builds and then turns into love despite the many differences between them.  But obstacles made of their divergent backgrounds rise up when Jose’s siblings are left to his care when his parents are stuck in Mexico with visa issues.  Can Jose and Phillip overcome the barriers raised by a clash of cultures or will the cultural divide keep them forever apart?

Many things got me excited about this book.  One, the title.  When Dachshunds Ruled the Serengeti.  So serendipitous and  playful, then you add in that adorable cover by Paul Richmond, and I would have said that it was a slam dunk.  I fully expected a light hearted tale of two cultures colliding in college and living HEA.  And I sort of got that, minus the light hearted aspect as that is completely lacking. And that’s a shame because  given the title and cover art there is such a disconnect between the reader’s expectations and the actual story that I am not sure the story itself recovers the good will the reader starts out with.

Paul Richmond’s cover comes from one of the more delightful sections of this story. Lacking the chance to attend school, the migrant farmers children are left to the adults around them for education.  Another worker had appointed herself teacher and was trying to get across a lesson on geography and Africa.  When the children were unable to grasp what a wildebeest was, Jose invented a story using a local farm dog migrating on the Serengeti.  The charm and whimsy of the section of the book only serves to highlight what went wrong with the rest of the story.  As I read about Jose and the children, I was completely drawn into the story.  I felt I was sitting beside the youngest, so enthralled in the vision of thousands of dachshunds roaming the Serengeti, charmed by the characters, the setting, and so aware of the joy that even poverty and deprivation can’t keep down.  It’s amazing and so beautifully written.

In fact, Jose is the best and most realistic thing about this story.  Michael Murphy really gets into the head of Jose and the disparity between his background and the privileged young men and women he finds himself among.  Jose is really the most likable of the two main characters.  Murphy does a good job in giving both young men realistic and well rounded personalities.  We truly understand just how frightening a new world Brown University represents and how ill prepared Jose is to enter it.  He lacks not only the material belongings necessary but the cultural  markers that all the other students take for granted.  The author seems to understand how lonely it must be not to see another person of the same color and history reflected back at him.  Over and over, we see through Jose’s eyes how society looks at the fastest growing population in the US, hispanics of Mexican, South American, and Puerto Rican backgrounds.  Here is Jose looking at the precious few belongings on his bed on his first day in the dorm:

His entire life José had always been on the move with his parents and his many, many brothers and sisters. His family moved constantly, not to evade something, but to find something. His family moved with the crop cycles. They were migrant workers who might be in South Carolina one day picking peaches only to leave to move to Florida to plant strawberries. From there they might go farther south in Dade County to plant tomatoes. Then they might move back north by a few hours to weed some other field of some other crop before heading to Texas to pick pecans or Arizona to pick oranges.

In the course of a single year, the family van could clock an untold number of miles in the constant move from one location to another. The number was untold simply because the odometer in the old van they used had broken many years ago, so no one had any idea how many miles they had actually covered. Living on the move was their life, so none of them gave it much thought. It was all José and his siblings had ever known.

And then he meets Phillip and his family for the first time, and cultural reality sets in:

When he glanced toward the doorway in response to the knock, José saw a blond guy about his age, taller than him, who looked tentatively into the room.

“Is this 201?” he asked hesitantly.

“Sure is,” José answered with a smile.

The guy smiled back. “Home sweet home,” he said as he gave the place an appraising look. José, as a student of people, of humanity, watched the play of emotions on the guy’s face. It didn’t take an expert to know that the guy did not like what he was seeing. His brow was furrowed, and his face took on the appearance of displeasure.

“Kind of small,” the guy said. “And old. My dad warned me that the dorms here were like tenements, but I thought he was joking. I guess he wasn’t.”

“I set my bag over here,” José said, gesturing to his left, “but if you want that side, that’s fine with me. I’m not particular.”

“No. That’s no problem. I’m just trying to figure where I’m supposed to put everything.” Before they could continue their conversation, José saw an older version of his roommate come into view outside the door. “You found it!” he said. “I guess,” the guy responded to the man José assumed was his father. For a man of his age, the guy was in pretty good shape. He didn’t have that middle-aged spread in his center that happened to so many men. He had a full head of hair. He was attractive. And he was dressed in clothes that cost more than José’s dad had paid for the van they lived out of most of the year. Beside the man stopped a smiling woman, also well dressed in what were obviously expensive clothes, even if they were casual in appearance. “Our baby’s new home,” she said with a smile.

“Mom,” the guy said, obviously embarrassed at being called her “baby.”

“Oh, good,” the woman said, “you’ve found the porter to help us move things.” The woman seemed to assume that someone who appeared Mexican and was dressed poorly was obviously not a student but was only there to lift and carry for others. The guy standing beside José looked sharply at his mother and then turned back to José. “I’m Phillip,” he said, introducing himself and sticking out his hand in the universal greeting.

“José,” he said with a smile, “your new roomie.”

And that is just the beginning of the embarrassments and offending statements that lie in wait for Jose on the college campus.  I think Michael Murphy is a great job with Jose and his experiences on the campus so alien to his upbringing and background.  Then there is Phillip and family.

Sigh.  I think that Phillip is where most of the problems with this story originate.  I found him to be a self centered, culturally isolated young man.  And in some instances, I am sure that there are plenty of real Phillips out there.  He is quick to accept Jose, quick to come to his aid, and just as quick to judge and remove himself from Jose when cultural issues rise up between them.  Yes, they are both extremely young but somehow, the manner in which Murphy has created Phillip leaves him lacking in ways that would connect the reader to his character.  We understand Jose and his actions absolutely.  We also understand Phillip’s given his wealthy, insulated background but the author never really makes the reader sympathize with Phillip in the same way we do Jose.

When the rest of Jose’s siblings arrive on scene, then the best and the worst of this story reveal themselves.  Jose and his interactions with his brothers and sisters are not only believable, but they capture all of the charm and love this story has to give.  It makes Phillip’s mother an endearing character and does the same thing for his father.  We experience the close bond that only siblings who have spent their entire lives in one room, one car, depending only upon each other can have.  This is where the storytelling comes in, as well as the power of familial love.  It is also where the reader will start to pull away from Phillip.  The rest of the book unfortunately removes Jose almost completely from the story to its detriment.   And once they reconnect, it is almost too late to recapture the feelings brought about by the first section of the story.

The author adds a character called Steven in the second half of the book who furthers the separation between reader and Phillip.  I just don’t understand the necessity of his inclusion.  If you take the strange turn of events in the second half, the addition of an unnecessary character, and an abrupt ending, you can see why the reader will walk away from this book, rueing the lost promise of When Dachsunds Ruled the Serengeti while remembering with fondness Jose and his siblings,  thinking of thousands of dachshunds migrating through Africa.  Really it is Jose and family that raise this story up towards a 4 star rating and Phillip that pulls it down.  But oh that cover, and that title…….

Cover art by Paul Richmond.  Entrancing and whimsical.  I loved it.  One of my favorite’s of his to be sure.

Book Details:

ebook, 226 pages
Published May 24th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1623805821 (ISBN13: 9781623805821)
edition languageEnglish

Review: Aria of the Eclipse by Vivien Dean

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Aria of the Eclipse coverFor over 20 years Dek has lived in captivity, caged like the songbird he is presumed to be.  Captured and sold to various buyers since the age of 13, Dek has long given up trying to speak and now the only sounds he makes are songs, music that he is prized for.  His owners call him an “it”, and treat him as a highly expensive and desired pet.  His current owner, the Regent, houses him in a gilded cage, brought out to sing to his guests or for his own amusement.  Now the planet Ymoro and its ruler, the Regent prepare for a momentous occasion, one that has not happened in their lifetime, a total solar eclipse.  And Dek’s life is about to change forever.

Tylen Merodine and his older brother Dourack have been invited by the Regent to observe the solar eclipse in the special solarium built for this incredible event.  Tylen has just come to age and unlike his more conservative and stolid older brother, is excited by all the sights and sounds around him.  Then he hears music so painfully beautiful it moves him to tears. Its source astonishes him.  A slender alien singing from a golden cage in the Regent’s quarters, intelligent dark eyes that watch his every movement, pulling Tylen forward towards him.  The Regent tells him it is an Astinian songbird, but Tylen looks at Dek and knows that is wrong, Dek is sentient and wrongfully caged.  When Tylen breaks all the rules and sneaks into the room that holds Dek’s cage at night, and Dek speaks to him , Tylen knows he has to do something but what?

As the eclipse draws closer, all becomes chaos around Dek and Tylen. As events threaten to pull them forever apart, can Dek and Tylen find a way to break Dek out of his cage into a future where they can be together?

I loved Aria of the Eclipse.  Vivien Dean’s incredible imagination and vivid descriptions brings to life an alien unlike any I have met before.  Dek and his race of Astinians captured my heart and mind immediately from the opening paragraphs:

As much as I crave my freedom, I’ve lived so much of my life in a cage that I’m not sure what I’d do with it once it was mine. I have fantasies of mocking those men who think me some stupid animal, but sometimes, when the night is deep and I’m curtained away from any glimmer of civilization, I wonder if I’m becoming what I fear most, if the lack of true companionship is molding me into the creature they profess me to be.

These are my nightmares. These are what force my hand when my cage is on display and I’m instructed to sing. I will not succumb to complacency, no matter how impossible my circumstances seem.

I cannot.

The powerful emotions that ring out from Dek imprisoned in his cage bring the reader intimately into his mindset and we are ensnared along with him.  Dean has created a magical, shadowy world as Dek’s birthplace.  As Dek starts to relay his history to Tylen, we get glimpses of Astinia, filled with his species that migrate, and sing and fly across the waters.  A sentence here and there, they only serve to stimulate our own imaginations to fill in the blanks she has so artfully left for us.  Instead of missing a backstory, Dean has given the reader a wealth of clues from which we can extrapolate a world far more extraordinary than might have been created by words.  Dek is as beautifully crafted, and as imaginative an alien as I have come across.  Just the manner in which Dek creates his music is spellbinding, just as his history is heartbreaking.

This story is told from two points of view in alternating sections, that of Dek and Tylen,an endearing exuberant young man.  While the transition between povs is not always smooth as it should be, the power of the narrative and the reader’s desire to know Dek’s future drives the story forward, along with the author’s lovely way with the language and descriptions of the events unfolding.  Here we listen to Dek as he “sings” his music:

I was lost in the music when the doors swung open and Johaf, the porter, announced the Regent’s first guests. Their approaching footsteps added an unwanted bass to the music, so I closed my eyes and concentrated inward, on the way I tipped and tilted my hands to stir the webbing into the proper notes, on the vibrations in my vocal folds as I sang the lower line. Like most of my songs, this had no words, nothing to distract from the purity of the music. Everyone could understand. Everyone could appreciate.

Everyone listened.

From that passage, we start to get an understanding of some of Dek’s physiology but we don’t really see him until Tylen does, then it all comes together.  This method both stirs our  imagination, and leaves us satisfied with substance.  I won’t spoil the surprise of Dek but leave that to this marvelous story.

Everything works here, from the settings to the characterizations.  But even more amazing is the “aha” moment at the end with the eclipse and Dek as its stars.  I was not prepared for the inspired idea that culminates the story, almost visionary.  It delights me each time I think about it. So too is the ending.  There are two issues for me where I had to suspend that part of me that asks down to earth questions.  One would be how does someone so humanoid be mistaken for a non-sentient being for over 20 years.  The other cannot be asked without giving away a major spoiler for the story.  But my love for Vivien Dean’s tale outweigh such pragmatic issues.

If you love science fiction, this story is for you.  If you love music, all aspects of music, real and imagined, Aria of the Eclipse is for you.  It is magical, conceptually stirring and still full of romance.  And all of that is accomplished in 120 pages.  I wanted more, so much more but am happy with those that I got.  You will be too.  Grab this one up as it is highly recommended to all.

Cover Art © 2013 Trace Edward Zaber.  Just absolutely gorgeous.  One of the best I have seen.

Book Details:

ebook, 120 pages
Published 2013 by Amber Allure
edition language