Book Review – Blood Song

Blood Song – Raven’s Shadow Book 1

5 Stars out of 5 – Bloody Awesome

 

Bleak. Foreboding. Breathless.BS.JPG

I’ve read, listened to, read again, and re-listened to this book. It is excellent. I could just end my review there, and hells, you should read it, but I’ll go on…

When I started to read Blood Song for the first time, I was initially a little put off by the introduction. It features the initial sequence of an exchange between the lead, Vaelin and the Imperial Chronicler, Vernier. I think, perhaps, I was just not prepared to emotionally invest in a historian as the principle lead. “Hissboo”, you say, “what of Indiana Jones?” Technically, he was an archaeologist.

I’ve been reading fantasy for the best part of twenty-five years, and so, I’ve read a lot of good, bad, and ugly. What really defines a quality book, in my opinion, is how much do I care for the characters.

In Blood Song, we are treated to outstanding cast of well realised characters, and some fantastic, original plot work to boot. After an initial way-laying by Vernier (he is well worth his place), we are introduced to a sullen young boy, ‘abandoned’ as he sees it, to a militaristic institution by his famous warlord Father. Amidst the cold, cruel and frankly brutal college-for-killers, our lead gradually finds his fortitude, friends, ferocity, and female interest. It is in this journey to manhood that Ryan fantastically weaves a story rich in characters and mystic (and threat, oh so importantly, threat) that readers cannot help but become deeply invested in the characters. And I mean all of them. There are poor bedraggled souls amongst his tight-knit group of comrades that may (or may not – no spoilers here) make it back from the various tests of The Order. It is testament to great writing that we end up caring for these bit part players.

The landscape of the world is vivid: the description of ghostly woodlands, cold, briny rivers, and isolated mountainous lands is superb, and they really help to bring the dark and foreboding plot to life. You can almost smell the mossy, rotting woodland of the Urlish as young Vaelin struggles through his Test of the Wild.

The threats arising from the manipulations of the King, Janus, and the Void, as well as the fractious relationships between the six orders, keep the tension and unease bubbling along nicely. All the while you are wondering, “why is Vaelin sat on a ship, in chains, with a historian? And who or what is ‘The Hope’?”

I have not, for a long time, felt so connected to characters. Not since in David Eddings’ awesome The Elenium Trilogy, have I been so worried about the well-being of the cast! Anthony Ryan manages to weave a fantastic, rip-roaring story amidst the growth of characters who’s moral and physical constitution you will be breathlessly concerned for.

Absolutely worthy of 5 stars.

And if you haven’t already, check out the Audio Book version – Steven Brand’s narration is moody, gritty, and brings the bleak excellence of the book to life.

Book Review – Night Falls on Ardnamurchan

Goodreads review

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“Night Falls on Ardnamurchan: The Twilight of a Crofting Family”
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is truly a hidden gem of Scottish writing. The poet, Alasdair Maclean, writes with such emotion and description that it almost feels like music rather than a deep, personal story. Ardnamurchan is the most Westerly point in mainland Britain. Located in Scotland, about halfway up and all the way West, it is a stunningly beautiful, remote, and wild place. I picked up this book at the Ardnamurchan lighthouse shop when spending a week near the little township of Portuairk, near Sanna Bay. It was early June, and the weather was stunning. I read this little book on Sanna Bay, in the dunes, along the cliffs and whilst bobbing in the sea on my packraft.

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Maclean describes the history of Ardnamurchan, the people, and the way of life as a crofter living in such a remote and isolated place. As an accomplished (though little known) poet, Maclean delivers writing that will make you laugh out loud, and even in places, bring a tear to your eye.

Ardnamurchan is a part of the world everyone should visit, and they should read this book when they are there! You will be intoxicated by them both, and afterwards, as you walk the streets in whatever urban landscape you occupy, you will not help but smell the summer honeysuckle, hear the crash of the Sanna waves, or smell the briny air.

A truly beautiful, personal, and educating read.

Author Interview

Well, this is awkward…

So, I’ve just published Red Season Rising through Smashwords, making it available through iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. As part of the process, there is an ‘interview’ process designed to allow readers to get to know the author. So, without further preamble, here is the result of the awkward self ‘interview’ from Smashwords!

Interview with Dominick Murray

When did you first start writing?
I first started writing in Primary school. I guess I would have been about six or seven years old. I used to try and replicate little story books my Father would make for my older brother involving tanks in World War II. The first time I really ‘got the bug’ of creative writing would have been when I was about nine years old, when I entered story competitions under various obscure themes such as: ‘If stones could speak’; and, ‘The right to hope.’ I would normally write about some medieval occasion, such as Vikings raiding monasteries in Ireland, or, character studies set during the troubles in Northern Ireland.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
The necessity to write and be read. I have always dreamed of being a writer, and have been working to become a better writer for many years. Initially, I would always have felt that I could only feel validation by seeing my work published via traditional means, however, the market growth for Indies in recent years has been phenomenal and very exciting. I love the idea of having creative control, and although there is much more work to do in self-promotion, etc., it is still very rewarding to be published. I’m getting feedback from readers every day now, and it is a lovely feeling. Much of my understanding of the Indie publishing scene can be attributed to the excellent podcasts and books out at the moment! If anyone is thinking about it, check out The Creative Penn and Self Publishing Podcast!
What’s the story behind your latest book?

The story behind my latest book, on a meta level, is about revenge and redemption.

The element of revenge is at a high level, between nations, and between Gods. The element of redemption deals largely with the principle POV character, Kalfinar, and his journey towards undoing all the wrongs of his recent life on a personal and spiritual level.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy of writing must be the feeling when a plot problem is finally solved (normally when I’m in the shower, or driving). I also love the moments when I’m in the flow to such an extent that time just slips by and the word count grows and grows. Also, amongst the greatest joy for me is battle scenes, or other heavily emotional scenes. I tend to turn off (most of) the lights, put on some suitably themed music (Last of the Mohicans soundtrack for battles) and tap away at the keyboard!
Who are your favorite authors?
As a child I loved Rosemary Sutcliff, and as a young teenager I found my way toward Tolkien. Following the entire consumption of J.R.R.’s work, I moved on to David Eddings and Raymond E.Feist, all of which I loved, and still love. In more recent years I have read a lot of other fantastic novels, but for me the stand out work of late has to belong to Joe Abercrombie and Anthony Ryan.
What are you working on next?

I’m currently working on the second instalment of the Red Season Series. I intend to plot this out by the start of October, after which I will be targeting approximately 5,000 words a week until April. Following the achievement of the target word count (on time), there will be approximately 2 month of ‘post-production’ and then finally publishing in June 2017.

This is obviously my principle project, however I will also be working on a shorter piece, of a more literary nature. It’s not one to hold the breath over!

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
When I’m not writing I am more than likely working in my ‘day job’ (in the Renewable Energy sector). Outside of writing and work, I enjoy spending time with my wife and dog, ideally in the remote West Coast of Scotland. I love sea kayaking and canoeing, hill walking and wood work. Keeping fit is a passion, but largely restricted by a) persistent and niggling injuries, and b) lacking the motivation to get up from the laptop to haul my creaking carcass out for a run.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
This is going to sound terrible, but a good cover helps! The saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is a nonsense! It helps to have a good set of reviews and of course, the chance to sample the first few chapters helps.
What is your writing process?

I try and write from 19:00-21:00 most nights, normally aiming for a minimum target of 1,000 words.

I find that I am much more productive if I have at least an outline scene structure to work from, and so it is important to do some work at this before starting a story. I have done plenty of ‘pantsing’ before, and it can be a slow, painful process. Sometimes it is incredible, but you always run the risk of killing a character you didn’t mean to…

How do you approach cover design?
I think I’ve got a reasonable eye for design, however, I do not have the tools to realise the vision I may have. I tend to prepare and outline of what I’m looking for, generally showing covers I like to the designer I’m working with and discussing the mood and themes of the book.
Describe your desk

An absolute abomination.

A writer needs a tidy desk to work at. Currently, I’m writing at the kitchen table…

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Northern Ireland. I spent a lot of time around ancient monuments and areas in Ireland associated with Myths and Legends. I feel this childhood left me no option but to get into Mythology and Fantasy!
What do your fans mean to you?
I’m only really starting out as an author, with Red Season Rising being my first published work. At this point, I would think I don’t have too many fans! The readers who have contacted me to date, however, have been so encouraging and full of excellent feedback. It is always nice to get feedback, and the single greatest fuel to keep on writing is the encouragement of those who have read and enjoyed what nonsense has tumbled from my mind onto the page.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The dog nudging me to take him for a walk is all the inspiration I need!

 

 

 

 

Red Season Rising – Chapter 1 excerpt

RSR_SEPT FINAL_SMALL.jpgHe drew a breath through his nostrils, and smelled the storm on the chill, earthy air. Kalfinar opened his eyes and peered beyond the torch-lit rampart of the battlements, and into the twilight-draped shadow of the woods.

“Think we’re getting some wild weather tonight. What do you think, Captain?” a young soldier asked.

Kalfinar didn’t need to look at the man to know he felt cold more keenly than those seasoned to the Hardalen peaks. “First of the North Storms will hit tonight. We’ll miss it. Night Command will relieve us shortly.” Kalfinar’s gaze remained fixed at the dark fringe of the forest that slid down the side of the mountain towards the garrison. “Something watches from the tree line.”

“Sir?”

“I can feel eyes on me.” Kalfinar turned and looked at the soldier.

The man tried to hide the shiver that convulsed up his body, despite wearing a coat of oiled leather and fleece on top of his chainmail.

“Can’t you feel it?” A humourless grin stretched crookedly between the stubble of Kalfinar’s beard. He grunted and turned back to the woods. “Don’t fret it, boy. You’ll get the sense of it like the rest of us sorry old bastards.”

Eighteen years and a day since I took my commission. Longer than this lad’s been off the tit.

Kalfinar could smell the pungent oil from Sergeant Subath’s chainmail before he heard the veteran’s footsteps. He turned to greet his former mentor and his platoon of Night Command troops as they began the nightly ritual of relieving the watch.

“Major Kalfinar, sir. In welcoming the moon, let me relieve you of your duty. Anything to report?”

“It’s captain, Sergeant. Must we do this every night?”

“But, Major, these words have been our tradition for centuries.”

“Not the words, Sergeant. My rank.”

“Still a major to me, sir.” Subath winked in distracting fashion. His battle-damaged eyelid twitched lazily.

“Thought I was still a cadet to you.”

“Aye, you’re still that, too. You can be both.”

“I’m gratified, Sergeant.” Kalfinar leaned in closer to Subath and lowered his voice. “But in front of the lads, let’s just stick to captain. You know as well as anyone it was deserved.”

“Perhaps so, sir.”

Kalfinar sighed. “There is the correct order of things, Sergeant. Let’s not corrupt the judgement of our young officers too much, too soon.”

“As you say, Captain,” said Subath, wearing an ill-suited mask of reverential innocence.

“Better.” Kalfinar turned to face the woods as the first of the snowflakes began to float downwards. The small snowflakes sizzled as they drifted into the oil torches. “Quiet so far. Nothing to report. The first storm will hit tonight.”

“Aye. Could feel that in my knees these last few days,” Subath grumbled.

“One other thing. Probably nothing. I think there’s something in the tree line. A wolf, perhaps. I could feel eyes on me.”

“We’ll keep a watch. If we see it, we’ll drop it. The lads could do with some target practice.”

“Good.” Kalfinar fidgeted with the pommel of his sword.

“I’ve got it from here,” Subath said in hushed tones. “Get back in there and get yourself some sleep. You look like shit.”

Kalfinar smiled and clasped hands with Subath. “Thanks for your kind words. Good watch to you, Sergeant.” He strode off along the battlement and towards the stairs that led to the courtyard. Kalfinar ignored the huddled troops. He knew they watched and whispered as he made his way across and the mud-clogged courtyard towards the large stone keep. He had learned to stop caring what words were issued in dark corners.

 

 

*

 

He made his way towards the accommodation wing and lit an oil lamp before he entered his chamber. He shivered as he entered.

Window’s open again.

He strode to the window and shut it as best he could, in spite of the faulty latch. The room was the standard accommodation for officers. It comprised a square with unadorned stone walls, and a floor of age-smoothed wooden boards. A thin bed lined the wall nearest the door. Across from the bed were a writing desk and chair. Beside this stood a wardrobe and a large wooden chest, upon which sat a single worn book. He unbuckled his sword belt and hung it beside the bedside table. Kalfinar kicked off his boots and rubbed his hands to get the blood moving, not that it did any good. He walked the short distance across the room and hunkered down by the stone fireplace. He built a small pyre of birch bark and kindling, then picked up the alloy spark-rod and scraped his knife down its length. The shower of sparks caused a timid flame to grow upon the curling edges of bark. Kalfinar carefully placed a trio of logs atop the flame, and gradually brought the fire to life.

Bloody winter again, and so soon.

He heaved a sigh and removed his belt and chainmail shirt. He hung the mail and the rust-splotched under-jacket over the back of the chair, and pulled on a simple shirt. Kalfinar walked to the chest and picked up the book. His nightly ritual.

“The word of Dajda,” he read aloud from the cover, and then opened to where a page had been earmarked.

The printed ink had been stained and distorted by liquid at some point in the past, but that didn’t matter. Kalfinar knew every word within. He smiled bitterly at the marks of his tears. “For Dajda will welcome her children to her bosom, when their souls do rejoin. Rejoice, and let thy sorrow fly, for all are reborn in the mighty hall of Dajda.” Kalfinar hawked phlegm and spat into the tear-streaked text. “Fucking shit on you. No more.” He tossed the book into the fire.

 

 

*

 

The little girl running towards Kalfinar could not have been more than three years old. Her hair, curly and brown, was like her mother’s, but her eyes were deep green like those of her father. Kalfinar knelt and embraced his small, smiling daughter. As he held her, she laughed, and what a rich little sound it was. It was so familiar to him, as though he had heard it a thousand times before. But he knew he had never heard his daughter’s laugh, nor felt the warmth of her embrace. The image began to run and wash away like ink in the rain. She was gone again, as always.

 

 

*

 

Kalfinar woke slowly. The craving gnawed at him, as it always did when he awoke. He shivered and hot tears welled in his eyes. His hands fumbled as they searched the small bedside table for his jalsinum pipe, or anything that could relieve the hurt. There was nothing but the pommel of his sword. There hadn’t been any relief for over two years now. He offered a curse to the night and pulled his wool blanket tight about him. It was hopeless. The blanket provided little comfort against the gale that howled through the tall trees outside, or the chill within. It was a cruel night, and the weak fire that smouldered in the small fireplace put up little fight. He rested his head once more upon his bed and closed his eyes.

When sleep came, it was fitful and nervous. It was the sleep of one afraid to dream.

But Kalfinar did dream.

An oily blackness welled around him. A pervasive sense of malice stalked him as though he were quarry. Out of the uneasy darkness burst flame, broken by guttural and alien whispers. As the flames grew more violent and hot, the dread in his mind swelled, and flooded with panic.

Wake up!

 

 

*

 

He opened his eyes and saw a figure in the corner of his room. A blacker form in the shadows. It moved quickly in the murky dark. The gusts outside rose to a scream and lightning crashed as the being shot towards him. Kalfinar lurched from his bed and grabbed his attacker’s wrists. He held firm, struggling against his assailant’s strength, before directing a short punch to its throat. The attacker gurgled, strength wavering for just an instant.

It was all the time Kalfinar needed.

He pushed out and sent a kick into the figure’s midriff. It grunted and crumpled into the fireplace, raising a cloud of sparks and embers. Kalfinar turned and pulled his sword from its scabbard. As he spun back to face his risen foe, he brought the blade down with an overhead blow. With a wet thump, the sword cleaved into the body between neck and shoulder. Kalfinar tried to free his weapon, but it had become fixed in bone. From his assailant, there was no cry of pain. It took no notice of the wound, and slid the point of its knife into Kalfinar’s body beneath the shoulder.

Unable to free his sword, Kalfinar cried out and released his grip. He pushed at the attacker with one hand and grabbed at the knife in his shoulder. The blade made a faint sucking noise as he pulled it free. He then thrust the knife into the black figure’s chest. As Kalfinar released his grip, the would-be killer fell to the floor. Kalfinar’s head swam.

He fell into darkness.