Book review: Brothers of the Knife, Dan Rabarts

Review of Dan Rabarts’ Brothers of the Knife, a rollicking fantasy with an unlikely hero.

Akmenos is the disappointment of his hatching, with no sorcery or battle skills to make his parents proud. The son of Bane, head of the Emperor’s sorcerous Hornung Coven, is a cook in the castle kitchens, a role suiting his aptitudes and interests.

Dropped suddenly into deep political machinations and named as a Prince’s murderer, Akmenos flees, with only the tools of his trade, and few supplies. What follows in Dan Rabarts’ Brothers of the Knife is unstoppable adventure for this unlikely hero, who really just wants a good cup of tea and for life to return to normal.

While the novel on the whole is light-hearted, there’s a few pointed looks at privilege, and the unseen benefits of being part of a ruling class. Akmenos is always quipping, but gets on with trying to do good on his journey. It has the punny heart of a Pratchett book, and misses no steps in a rollicking good adventure.

There is some detailed world building, which is the hardest part of writing novels in a fantasy world. Dan has kept this to a minimum but the narrative calls for multiple explorations of the realm. The pace kept the reader from exploring too deeply, and I wonder if those parts of the world will feature more heavily in later books.

It’s a refreshing change in fantasy to have a character who just is, not black and white, not a soldier or a savant, and not predestined for greatness. Akmenos is an any man, with a nose for the finer flavours of life.

Brothers of the Knife is Dan Rabart’s first solo novel in the Children of Bane series, and recommended for adult to mature young adult readers. Dan also has an impressive back catalogue of fiction if you’re intrigued, which you can find out more about at

Book review: The Stonor Eagles, William Horwood

William Horwood was already a favourite, but this novel has elevated him once more in my eyes.

James MacAskill Stonor, the baby of his family, is the straw that broke the camel’s back in his parent’s unusual marriage. The Stonor Eagles follows Jim as he navigates life from an idyllic but unhappy childhood in Deal, Devon, to a complex adult life, explored through his work as an artist. His greatest achievement is the Eagle series, built on mythological stories of the endangered sea eagle, first told to him by his broken father, who carries guilt for the destruction of the last breeding pair on his home of Skye, and embellished on by the artist.

The three arcs–of the artist, the art, and the eagles–are tied tightly in an elegantly interwoven narrative. There are many places where you don’t see the parallels coming in each arc until they are upon you.

Horwood manages an exquisite damning of man and progress, of broken families and dreams, but leaves the reader on a note of hope. A gentle reminder that you can come home again.

The Stonor Eagles is literary in feel and scope, but the plight of the eagles strikes a deeply fantastic tone to the story. I would highly recommend this to anyone who cares about what we do to the planet, or enjoys a good redemption story. William Horwood was already a favourite, but this novel has elevated him once more in my eyes.

Deep Magic Fall Issue

Deep Magic, Fall 2018 Issue. Ed: Jeff Wheeler

If you follow my social media pages, you’ll know that I have a story out in the Fall 2018 issue of US-based ezine, Deep Magic. Look at this stunning cover; don’t you want to fly away to these adventures?

If you bought the mag and read, please head over to Amazon or Goodreads and leave a short review. It really helps metrics and authors like me!

I very much appreciate the selections Jeff Wheeler made with this issue. Each story has women at its beating heart, and drive the outcomes to embrace their own stories. Put alongside, it creates a

I’m sharing the TOC with 4 other fine authors. Without further ado…

Charity West, Love in the time of holodecks

Charity is clearly my writer sister. Love in a time of holodecks follows Katyn through treacherous mines into immersive entertainment (she slipped a little reference in to Star Trek – that’s my kind of writer!). Katyn’s desperately needed time out is interrupted by an intruder from the upper echelons of her world and he’s ruining the fantasy. Without ruining the story, there’s the Wild West, chase scenes, betrayal and romance. Our stories are each other’s natural companions, and I’m thrilled to share a TOC with Charity.

Cameron Johnston, The Dying Glass

A young girl’s mother is to be dedicated to the Temple of Mirrors in search of her god. The people in the mirrors live and she communicates with her deaf daughter in their own sign to tell her that it is all very wrong. An intriguing premise with excellent world building and one fierce protagonist whose disability is an asset. My first reading of Cameron’s work and I will definitely search out some others.

Tim Boiteau, The Ropemaker

A sing-song fairytale piece, this follows the Ropemaker and the hunt for her king. Dark and more than a little weird, it’s a little slice of darkness in the Fall Issue that adds nuance to the whole collection. The gender-flip in this piece reflects how troubling the treatment of the ever-after ending is.

Noel Wallace, Dream of Glass, Walk on Thorns

A fairytale in the best traditions of dark curses and magic, but coloured with sweet sisterhood and loyalty. Byrony, cursed with bones of glass, sets out to face the witch who condemned her. Her unlikely companion, loyal but aged knight, Sir Vermont, accompanies her or faces dismissal. The bravery of the princess resonated–she goes to face down a being of great power with the only defence being her love, mind and compassion.

Recent reading, October 2018

It’s been an age since I blogged regularly, and I have half a dozen reviews I should have done, so I will write short reviews and post them up in other places later this week.

Angela Slatter, Verity Fassbinder trilogy, Vigil & Corpselight

Vigil, Verity Fassbinder series, Angela Slatter. Jo Fletcher Books.A little late to the Verity party, I whittled down by TBR pile to finally pick these up. Verity Fassbinder is a detective for the weyrd (read magical and fantastic creatures of fable and yore) of Brisbane, who you meet in Vigil, at the murders of sirens. Verity haunts familiar parts of the city – which I treasure seeing lovingly sketched in fiction – to hunt down the culprit. In Corpselight, she hunts angels and a missing baby, all while pregnant herself. Verity faces literal hell to get answers.Corpse Light, Verity Fassbinder series, Angela Slatter. Jo Fletcher Books.

Verity is a snarky bad ass, tromping all over. She’s an entertaining headspace to inhabit and I like the transposition of old-world creatures in current-day Australia. These works are quite different to Angela’s Bitterwood Bible and others, which I think are still my favourites, but these books don’t stop long enough to let you linger. The last in the trilogy, Restoration, is out now, so if you love seeing Australia in your fiction and a good detective story completed, this trilogy is for you. It’s definitely skipping to the top of my list.

Cat Sparks, Lotus Blue

lotus-blue-sparksTalk about desert settings and we immediately leap to thoughts of Frank Herbert’s Dune, but Cat turns that trope around to comment on environmental destruction, climate change, survival and war.

We follow Star and her sister on caravans winding through deserts, brimming with fatal storms, man-eating lizards and relics of an ancient war. While buried and mostly forgotten, the technical monstrosities built by ancient civilisations wait only to be reactivated.

I loved the worlds of this book: the land ships, lizards, sentinels. Still with clueless kids landing themselves and possibly the whole world in trouble. Lotus Blue is one of my favourite reads of this year.

Nnedi Okorafor, Binti: The Night Masquerade

Binti: The Night Masquerade, Nnedi Okorafor. Tor pubIn the last of a trilogy of novellas, Binti has returned home from intergalactic university with her friend, Okwu. Inalterably changed, she faces rejection from her own conservative society for the changes she’s undergone. Her father’s people, Enyi Zinariya, have called on her to keep changing and broadening her understanding. And there’s a war brewing between her planet and Okwu’s people, the Meduse. She’s far from home when the hostilities start and it may take all her skills as a harmonizer to put it right.

A fine conclusion for this trilogy which I have reviewed before (Binti). A journey of coming to accept yourself and others for who they are. I’d highly recommend embarking on the whole set.

The Everlasting Sunday, Robert Lukins

Robert Lukins, The Everlasting Sunday. University of Queensland Press.The Everlasting Sunday magnificently captures the atmosphere of a post-WWII English home for wayward boys. There’s rambling adventures, clandestine meetings with jazz and alcohol, cemented together with a flawed yet interesting cast, and rounded out with the sort of friendships made only during the tough times.

Once he hits full stride in the novel, Robert’s work is an evocative exploration of the setting and characters. His voice in the novel retains the very best type of story-telling from classic English literature, in keeping with the period. We keep our protagonist at arm’s length throughout the narrative and the ending leaves the reader with many questions still unanswered. Events of the climax felt at odds with the rest of the narrative in its brutality.

Overall though, a highly engaging and well executed debut – congratulations Robert! (I know Robert through work so it’s a special thrill to read his work.)

Review: Greg Chapman’s Hollow House

30968911Greg Chapman’s shorts, and his collection Vaudeville and Other Nightmares, have been part of my reading spectrum for the last few years. Before Hollow House, I mostly would have described his work as gothic, though his collection (reviewed here) demonstrated his abilities within the whole gamut of the horror genre.

Hollow House is Chapman’s first published novel, and it was nominated for the Bram Stoker Awards (highly-regarded international awards for horror fiction). I admit to some trepidation, seeing all the glowing reviews from the horror community, as I’ve not been much of a horror reader for the last decade.

The fears were well founded. Chapman takes the veneer of civility and decency of cookie-cutter suburbs and upends it to shake out all the secrets and deviance. While the story has gothic overtones, he seamlessly embroiders in cosmic horror to the fabric of setting and character.

Most of characters tend toward unlikeable to downright despicable, the perfect garden in which the Kemper House sows its deadly crop. While it would likely have been impossible with such a large cast of characters, some further character development could have given the piece a little more nuance.

Much more gory than my previous experience of Chapman’s work, Hollow House kept to (what I suspect is) Greg’s love of the gothic with a blood-spattered, existential horror. An excellent first novel that creeped and grossed me out; so a solid offering to the genre.

Summer reads 2016 / 2017

Over the summer, when the demands of all my jobs are diminished, it’s usually a time where I cram in as much reading as possible, usually loaned books, pre-lived by others. As summer seems to have returned to Melbourne, it only seems fair to share my brief reviews of the books I devoured whole.

The Guilty, Sean SlaterThe Guilty: Jacob Striker #3, Sean Slater (Simon Schuster)

A Vancouver-based cop thriller, written by a Vancouver cop, investigating a series of inner city bombings. It took me far too long to recognise the Lionsgate bridge on the moody, atmospheric cover.

While it was delightful for me to wander in my head through the locations mentioned, I don’t think they were described well enough for the average reader who hasn’t been to Vancouver to imagine, sacrificed to the hectic pacing. Plot and motivations were twisted enough not to be immediately discernible and full of interesting tidbits about Vancouver police districts and relationship with the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police.


Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League, Jonathan Odell

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League, Jonathan Odell (Bantam Australia)

This book came with a sticker that said: “If you liked The Help“. Granted, it is a story of black women of Mississippi struggling at their independence with a flawed white saviour woman. Unfortunately it missed the mark in terms of what made The Help so great, in that it was women’s stories, driven by and about women who were significantly more than sketchy outlines. Men, and one little boy, played too great a role in this narrative to be comparable.

I liked the history notes in the back of the book, and in reading the author’s notes, he explained the novel started as an exorcism of his own demons regarding his neglectful mother. The novel made a lot more sense after that, and I hope he felt lighter for writing it.

A Hundred Secret Senses
, Amy Tan (Ivy Books)The Hundred Secret Senses, Amy Tan

Olivia is Chinese American, and has a deeply troubled and divisive relationship with her fully Chinese half-sister Kwan. Kwan also claims to see ghosts and her past lives with “yin eyes”. Olivia is never quite sure whether to believe her or mock her.

Olivia is quite selfish and entitled in her role as narrator, and awful to Kwan, who just wants to love her and be loved. It’s hard to engage with her. Otherwise, the troubling everyday beauty of the past lives, the intricate descriptions of the locales and the exploration of deeply dysfunctional familial and romantic relationships makes this a worthwhile read; though I admit the ending left me disappointed.

Chaos, Patricia Cornwall (Harper Collins) Chaos, Patricia Cornwell

I’ve been a Scarpetta reader since I was an early teen, enjoying both the science and the intricately twisting plots of Cornwall’s books that lead you on, one post-mortem or investigative clue at a time.

Both Chaos and the previous novel I read in the series both inflate the mundane details, so that by the time you get to the third act of the book, the actual plot is only just getting started. Also, the ending involving one of the series’ most devious, long-game playing villains is almost inconsequential, and thereby an enormous let-down. It’s feeling like time for this reader to give up reading the Scarpetta novels.


The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, Deborah RodriguezThe Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, Deborah Rodriguez (Random House)

Sunny, an ex-pat American settled in the heart of Kabul, runs a coffee shop open to the public but largely frequented an assortment of Westerners. She is supported by her staff of locals, dealing with their own reminiscences about their previous lives.

While the prose was easy reading, and the Western characters a little more fleshed out, to me a lot of the characters, particularly the Afghani characters, deserved more work. Their motivations and story arcs seemed unrealistic to me. Ms Rodriguez did work in Kabul as a hairdresser with a UN contingent, and her memoir on her time there might be of more interest, as her depictions of the city and day-to-day life were quite vivid.


SQ Mag also featured my review of A Little Knowledge, the fourth of the Split Worlds series of novels,  by Emma Newman, so head over to read our great new quarterly edition (and my review).

We Will Rock You: 2016 Australian tour 

Awaiting the show

In the comfort and opulence of Melbourne’s Regent Theatre, the last flames of rock burn on the iplanet. The dreamer remembers the music long forgotten, suppressed by Globalsoft. With the music catalogue of Queen all ready for rock opera, all it took was Ben Elton to update the in-jokes.

Sunday’s performance was my first experience of this musical, in its 2016 Australian tour. Costumes were glorious, sets a little utilitarian but they lit up with spotlights, little galaxies swirling beneath the cast’s feet (I absolutely loved this). One annoyance was the atrocious capitalisation and punctuation in the first screens that appeared. Argh! Scripting obviously has been updated by Ben Elton since it was initially written, and there’s some on-point music in-jokes and lyric insertions.

Unfortunately for the gents, they can’t avoid an inherent internal comparison to Freddy, and those are some sizeable shoes to walk briefly in. George Michael, in my opinion, is the only one I’ve heard who even comes close. Some strong voices in the cast, but none quite so rich as the “star”. On the night we saw it, the women’s sound balancing was unfortunately deficient, so little lyrical twists may have been missed.

Scaramouche (performed by Erin Clare), without exception, had the strongest performance of all the cast. Excellent voice and pitch that melded well with Queen’s sound, with consistency of character and stage presence that was not matched in her counterpoint, Figeuro (Gareth Keen). Casey Donovan however, turned on a surprisingly good performance as Killer Queen–her voice not in doubt, only her experience on the stage–and her costumes and movements fit the actress-related interpretation of the character well.

Oz and Brit matched each other perfectly for chemistry and energy, bouncing off one another like electrons. Khashoggi as Killer Queen’s foil was superbly smarmy. Supporting cast did a bang-up job between dozens of significant costume changes and dance routines.

I got most of my favourite songs but find it utterly perplexing that, despite being so heavily referenced throughout, the whole of Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t appear within the musical itself. I know it is a bit of an enigma of a song but as Queen’s most identifiable, industry shattering song, to not have worked it in smacks of a job half-done.

For a fun time and some excellent music to sing-a-longto, I can say you’ll get your money’s worth with this production. Performances currently scheduled until end of October and tickets can be purchased from TicketMaster.

From Queen's announcement of the tour


Hunt for the Wilderpeople: NZ indie film fun

New Zealand comedy: romping the field


New Zealand is definitely making her mark upon the world with funny, whimsical, tongue-in-cheek film. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is no exception.

I saw this a few months ago at Palace Cinemas with my brother who loves this exact type of film. You can still find it playing across Australia.

Ricky, characterised wonderfully by Julian Dennison, is an at-risk foster kid with a penchant for trouble. He is relocated to the bush to live with motherly Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and reticent Hec (Sam Neill).

Several times Ricky runs away until he comes to accept his new situation. But Bella dies and Ricky is going to be taken from his new home, so he takes up his old ways and runs. Into the bush.

Queue a romp of ridiculousness as Hec follows Ricky, and the police and social services get involved in a nationwide man-hunt.

Scripted wonderfully and run with, Julian is hilarious as ne’er-do-well Ricky, and is ably supported by Sam Neill.

However standout performances came from Rima Te Wiata as the quirky and practical Bella in her cat jumper. My major disappointment was that Bella ended up as the woman in the fridge trope, as her performance was so delightful it was a travesty for her to disappear so early from the film.

Rachel House cracked the whole audience up as dogged social services officer; consistently funny, finding the mark in every scene as the government officer who goes way over the top. Also, great banter with Andy, played ably by Oscar Kightley.

Special mention for movie daughter-father duo, Tioreore Ngati-Melbourne and Troy Kingi, who did much to elevate the comedic value at the end of the movie.

Only, be warned animal lovers: these characters are hunters, so there’s several (largely not gory) animal deaths.

If you like to laugh though, Hunt for the Wilderpeople will leave you with a smile on your face and the pleasant after-effects of a good time.

Edit: I originally incorrectly identified Kahu’s father as Stan Walker. Thanks to Jacqui Brookes for pointing it out to me.

Book review: Eyrie, Tim Winton

Tim Winton, Eyrie (Pan McMillan)
It is easy to sum up Tim Winton’s Eyrie: impossible heights.

Tom Keely starts out as an unsympathetic protagonist; an impoverished addict after his life came crashing down (ugly divorce, end of his high-faluting environmental advocate career), seemingly without a care for anyone but himself.

If you can get past Winton’s first bloated chapters dwelling in Tom’s misery in Freemantle, it becomes a more interesting story.

Tom begins a touching relationship with Kai, autism-spectrum grandson of a woman known in his childhood. The Keelys, most specifically Tom’s father, have been Gemma’s safe haven since she was small and it doesn’t look like that pattern is going to change now.

Kai dreams of his death, Tom relives his failures and the broad-spectrum abuse Gemma suffered haunts the edges of the story. And over it all is cast the shadow of Neville Keely, the only person that ever protected Gemma and whose shoes Tom could never fill.

Eyrie evokes the gentrified coastal areas of Perth and the ramshackle suburbs. It shines a light on poverty and the cycles of abuse that are manifest in misery. The longing for safety, comfort.

For being all about birds, this novel should have flown but it crawled. The path to redemption and recovery is a long, slow crawl but Winton waited too long to bring the likeable parts of Tom out and so the abrupt ending fell flat.

Despite this, Eyrie is another excellent character exploration, Tim Winton’s hallmark, but I could have done more with the exploration of the Keely family, of the broken relationships surrounding Tom.

Eyrie had possibility that seemed to go unrealised. Engaging as you get toward the end, readable, but if new to Winton’s writings don’t start here (Dirt Music remains my favourite). If you’re a fan of Winton, you’ll enjoy his usual strengths but it won’t stack up favourably to his other works. Tim Winton has written better books.

Review: Hoffman’s Creeper and other disturbing tales, by Cameron Trost

Hoffman’s Creeper and other disturbing tales is a collection of short horror stories from writer and editor/head of Black Beacon Books, Cameron Trost.Hoffman's Creeper

Trost’s picks for this collection cover a gamut of locations and horror subgenres. Some of the settings leap out in recognition for the familiar. There’s a very human element in many of these stories, which makes for strong fiction, especially when suspecting there might be an element of Trost exploring some of his own fears through his writing.

Hoffman’s Creeper, the title story for this collection was a delightfully dark picture of a man who preferred plants to people, including a creeper from the Australian bush, stolen from our First Peoples. Kangaroo Point is the internalised horrific imaginings of any good Samaritan.

Trost has left many of these stories open-ended. Some certainly felt like they could have been explored further to become truly terrifying. It may be that this was a lot of what he was writing previously, and outside my personal preference. That doesn’t mean that this isn’t a thrilling collection of stories to read, however.

The strength of Trost’s writing is in dialogue you can almost hear, and settings you can smell, see and feel. There’s variety in the types of horror on display, and more of the slow creeping tingle of fear up your neck.

Reading these stories, I feel that Trost’s work has evolved since he wrote them. Like any writer worth their salt, his work gets better and better.

Hoffman’s Creeper and other disturbing tales is perfect for bite-sized fiction sittings–I read mine on my train journey to work–and if you liked these stories, Cameron Trost has many more thrills to offer you.

You can find purchasing details of Hoffman’s Creeper and other disturbing tales at his blog.

Disclaimer: Cameron Trost and I have published each other’s stories. I appear in Black Beacon Books’ Subtropical Suspense with my story Downpour, and he in SQ Mag with The Church of Asag.  Read The Church of Asag here. However, I sought a copy of this for myself and my review has been in no way compelled.