Freebie Friday: Giveaway Bonanza!

Need help filling up your shelf? You’ve come to the right place! I think it was last month I started somewhat of a flurry of reviews that came one after the other, many of which have giveaways attached. Typically I hold drawings one to two weeks out, but this time Thanksgiving and upcoming Christmas kind of darted in and out of my schedule and plans, and dates became sort of wonky.

So, for your ease and mine, I decided to post a blog with links to all the drawings in one spot. Simply click on the link (book title) to the review for any book you like the look of and comment there – fancy schmancy not necessary – to get your name in the drawing. (And be sure to leave current contact info in the event you are our winner!) Since some peeps have difficulty commenting at WordPress, I’ve also linked to respective Facebook threads where you can comment instead. You do not need to comment at both; one works perfectly well. Unless otherwise indicated, blurbs are from Amazon and author names link to their websites and/or blog.

There is no limit of books you can enter the drawings for – enter them all if you like!

Drawing to be held December 16 

So without further ado, here are the prizes up for grabs:

Half Sick of Shadows: A Historical Fantasy by Richard Abbott (One paperback copy available, and this author also has December Deals from December 10 – 17)

Who is The Lady?

In ancient Britain, a Lady is living in a stone-walled house on an island in the middle of a river. So far as the people know, she has always been there. They sense her power, they hear her singing, but they never meet her.

At first her life is idyllic. She wakes, she watches, she wanders in her garden, she weaves a complex web of what she sees, and she sleeps again. But as she grows, this pattern becomes narrow and frustrating. She longs to meet those who cherish her, but she cannot. The scenes beyond the walls of her home are different every time she wakes, and everyone she encounters is lost, swallowed up by the past.

But when she finds the courage to break the cycle, there is no going back. Can she bear the cost of finding freedom? And what will her people do, when they finally come face to face with a lady of legend who is not at all what they have imagined?

A retelling – and metamorphosis – of Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott.”


Lars D. H. Hedbor is offering our winner a choice of any one of his books in paperback. In this case, review links are below and blurbs at author website; click author name to access. (He also has a promotion for free e-copy of The Declaration; click book title to get yours straight away.)

The Light (Tales From a Revolution: New-Jersey)

The Smoke (Tales From a Revolution: New York)

The Break (Tales From a Revolution: Nova-Scotia) 

Excerpt from The Break

The Wind (Tales From a Revolution: West-Florida)

The Darkness (Tales From a Revolution: Maine)

The Path (Tales From a Revolution: Rhode-Island)

The Prize (Tales From a Revolution: Vermont)

 

 

 

 


Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley (Blogger is gifting one paperback/hardback copy direct from online retailer)

Among the first to look at the story of Camelot through Guinevere’s eyes, Woolley sets the traditional tale in the time of its origin, after Britain has shattered into warring fiefdoms. Hampered by neither fantasy nor medieval romance, this young Guinevere is a feisty Celtic tomboy who sees no reason why she must learn to speak Latin, wear dresses, and go south to marry that king. But legends being what they are, the story of Arthur’s rise to power soon intrigues her, and when they finally meet, Guinevere and Arthur form a partnership that has lasted for 1500 years.

This is Arthurian epic at its best-filled with romance, adventure, authentic Dark Ages detail, and wonderfully human people.


Insurrectio and Retalio by Alison Morton (Two prizes: one e-copy of each book)

In Insurrectio

‘The second fall of Rome?’ Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and imperial councillor in Roma Nova, scoffs at her intelligence chief when he throws a red file on her desk. But 1980s Roma Nova, the last province of the Roman Empire that has survived into the twentieth century, has problems – a ruler frightened of governing, a centuries-old bureaucracy creaking for reform and, worst of all, a rising nationalist movement with a charismatic leader. Horrified when her daughter is brutally attacked in a demonstration turned riot, Aurelia tries to rally resistance to the growing fear and instability. But it may already be too late to save Roma Nova from meltdown and herself from entrapment and destruction by her lifelong enemy…

And Retalio

Early 1980s Vienna. Recovering from a near fatal shooting, Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and former foreign minister of Roma Nova, chafes at her enforced exile. She barely escaped from her nemesis, the charming and amoral Caius Tellus who grabbed power in Roma Nova, the only part of the Roman Empire to survive into the twentieth century. Aurelia’s duty and passion fire her determination to take back her homeland and liberate its people. But Caius’s manipulations have isolated her from her fellow exiles, leaving her ostracised, powerless and vulnerable. But without their trust and support Aurelia knows she will never see Roma Nova again.


There is Always A Tomorrow by Anna Belfrage (One e-book available)

It is 1692 and the Colony of Maryland is still adapting to the consequences of Coode’s Rebellion some years previously. Religious tolerance in the colony is now a thing of the past, but safe in their home, Alex and Matthew Graham have no reason to suspect they will become embroiled in the ongoing religious conflicts—until one of their sons betrays their friend Carlos Muñoz to the authorities.

Matthew Graham does not leave his friends to rot—not even if they’re papist priests—so soon enough most of the Graham family is involved in a rescue attempt, desperate to save Carlos from a sentence that may well kill him. Meanwhile, in London little Rachel is going through hell. In a matter of months she loses everything, even her surname, as apparently her father is not Master Cooke but one Jacob Graham. Not that her paternity matters when her entire life implodes.

Will Alex and Matthew be able to help their unknown grandchild? More importantly, will Rachel want their help?


Hearts Never Change by Joanne R. Larner (One paperback copy available)

Richard III as you have never seen him before! Richard has been King of England and France and Lord of Ireland for over twenty years and he is beginning to question his life. He misses his secret wife, Rose, who had to return to the twenty-first century when she found she was expecting twins, both for her own and the babies’ safety. Everyone around the king seems to be happily in a relationship. The realm is at peace and his son and heir, Richard junior, is of an age to take over the reins of government, so Richard makes a decision…


Good luck to all!!!

Update: Some of the older reviews for the Tales From a Revolution series are unlinked as they were done before the drawing was planned.

Feel free to comment there anyway OR at any other review from that series OR below on this post OR at this post’s Facebook thread, located here

Whichever is easiest for you; we’ll be checking them all. 🙂

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Book Review: Child of the Northern Spring (Plus Giveaway)

Update: Drawing referenced below will be held December 16

(see link here)

I no longer recall how it was I came into contact with Persia Woolley, though I do remember it was on Facebook we first spoke. Perhaps I messaged her with the same words of adoration she’d heard a thousand times before, something like, “I read your books when I was in school and loved them ….”

No matter; she was always gracious and friendly. In our case she had a connection to the isolated place I live in and frequently asked about my child by name. It was as if he was her own relative, and her recall of his antics gifted me with fits of laughter all over again. Knowing of my love for Richard III, she sent me a booklet and we chatted online about word etymology, reading and writing, snow, teenagers and pizza–all sorts of fun stuff, and when looking back I was surprised at how extensive our little snippets of chatter were. 

One day I picked up the phone and dialed her number, expecting that she might be too busy or politely end the call after a decently lengthy enough courtesy exchange. Instead, when she heard my name she launched straight into conversation and we talked for at least two hours. It was like a birthday present, and I marveled later not at how much smaller the world has become (or so it is said; I’m not sure I believe it), but rather that some of the people within it are just as pleased to interact as we are. Persia, though, was more than just great at making people feel special; what you said mattered. I could always see that in her responses, and I valued it greatly. I still do.

On October 4 I was surprised and saddened to receive a message early in the morning, via comment subscription at her website, that Persia had passed away. I knew she was older and she had always spoken openly of aging, for the better and worse. I guess, though, when some people are so full of life, we forget that they are subject to the same rules of eternity as everyone else. It was a harsh lesson for the day, because I loved and cherished her presence in my life, online though it mostly was, and I already missed it sorely. 

I have long wanted to write a review of Persia’s words, and so today I present this one, hoping that on this day, this wonderful lady’s birthday, it can be like a gift for her, shared with many others who perhaps will see her works for the first time and join Guinevere’s world, or those who, like me, were earlier acquainted and fall in love all over again. I’ll be re-reading the next two in the series and hope you will as well. 

In memory of Persia Woolley and as a special thank you, I would like to gift a copy of Child of the Northern Spring

Please see below for more information 

Godspeed, Persia, and until we meet again!

Child of the Northern Spring
Book I of The Guinevere Trilogy

by Persia Woolley

I first read Persia Woolley’s Guinevere trilogy when I was in high school, loved it and was sure I would again. What I didn’t realize, when I recently began re-reading Child of the Northern Spring, was exactly how much I would enjoy this book, how much more, this time around. First in a series depicting the Arthurian age from the eyes of Guinevere, Child of the Northern Spring is packed with detail: expert observations of human behavior, particulars of the natural world and idiosyncrasies of various relationships—for starters. The narrative is written as if by the hand of someone who has actually experienced life in these times, ridden the trails and watched the world of the day, then with magnificent recall tells us of the era we long to know.

Updated cover for Child of the Northern Spring. I love the visual of Guinevere!

Readers join the story as Guinevere, Celtic princess and daughter of King Leodegrance, recalls the previous night when a bit of panic had set in and she scrambled to make a getaway from the next morning, now arrived, when she would begin her journey to become High Queen, wife of the legendary King Arthur. Reminded of the strength of Celtic womanhood, Guinevere determines to make the transition and her recall opens up as she remembers the road leading to this moment.

As the measured progress of her wedding journey slowly makes its way south, readers and protagonist are taken along the pathway of the princess’s childhood, and in alternating chapters, Guinevere tells her story as she describes the drive to her new home, the two roads ultimately meeting as her destination draws near. Woolley so expertly fuses the two times while simultaneously distinguishing which events are happening when, bringing to bear on a life story the understanding that in some manner everything is linked, as far apart or disparate as it all seems to be. Guinevere, too, her sense of history—personal as well as social—merging with contemplations of those yet to come, envisages a future in which “our lives shall run together. Like a tapestry of human endeavor, woven on a god-held warp, dyed with the glories of each individual’s action[.]”

One of the elements I liked best in this Arthurian novel is likely what many others have as well—the representation of a strong female character. It is important to remember, however, that such individuals, while they surely existed in real long-ago times, are not simply more ancient versions of today’s feminism. Respecting historical women as the individuals they are entails understanding what is important to them, in their context and from their perspectives, and Woolley portrays this magnificently as her Guinevere shares seeds of success, dreams, and toil that benefit all of her people without prejudice, aware that the true test of a leader’s success is how well all of her subjects fare, not only a focus group.

Two major conflicts disturb Guinevere’s progress: loyalty to her homeland, Rheged, where she was groomed to be queen, and the new Christian church, looming large before her, raised as she was in the old ways. As we learn more of her background, she too begins to see with new eyes the childhood that led to these moments. Woolley breathes new life into the tales of this character, often depicted elsewhere as passive and perhaps a bit spoiled, and succinctly portrays why—apart from leaving the only home she has every known—Guinevere is apprehensive about departing Rheged. The links of political allegiances, relationships and past events are expertly fused and the author avoids the common trap of getting lost in the wants of various warlords. The characters’ motives are believable, and how Guinevere embraces change well-balanced: she neither acquiesces easily nor exhibits stubborn refusals.

Cover for Child of the Northern Spring’s original 1987 edition

The book has a rather wide cast of characters, and Woolley manages their appearances proficiently, often naming chapters for the focus of that moment in Guinevere’s journey, with occasional re-appearances. Many, like Morgan le Fay, are familiar, and Woolley’s realistic treatment of them adds to the refreshing nature of this book, originally published in 1987, while remaining true to their mythologies.

Morgan was on her feet and pacing by then, moving with Arthur’s sure stride from one end of the room to the other. One hand nervously twisted the black curl that hung down by her ear, and she was such a contrast to her mother’s fair composure, it seemed likely the title “le Fay” hinted at her being a changeling child. I remembered our first meeting and half-expected her to vanish in a fit of rage, with or without the magic of a Druid’s Mist.

Observing these events and all the layers within them from this different perspective enables readers to contemplate characters in a new way as well, perhaps deconstruct a bit so we might question our understanding of who they are, see their humanity. As Guinevere herself seeks to answer questions pertaining to identity, she must utilize the diplomacy lessons she was reared on to see her through, and find her place as queen to a king attempting to unite a nation.

Looking at the story in acts, readers would see that there is no true arc within, as tension bubbles throughout the story while various events unfold. Moreover, knowing this to be the first part of a trilogy, I tend to see this installment as Act I in and of itself, as most who know the legends are aware of the troubles to come, and readers will be hungry for more of Guinevere as only Persia Woolley could present her.

 

To be in on your chance to win a free copy of Persia Woolley’s Child of the Northern Spring,

please comment below OR at this blog’s Facebook thread, which can be found here.

Drawing will be held in mid-December.

The Guinevere Trilogy:
(click links)

Child of the Northern Spring (Book I)

Queen of the Summer Stars (Book II)

Guinevere, The Legend in Autumn (Book III)

Book Excerpt: Half Sick of Shadows, Audio/Text (Richard Abbott) (Plus Giveaway)

Half Sick of Shadows – Audio Excerpt
by Richard Abbott 

Like Audio Excerpts A and  B & C, for author Richard Abbott’s second sci-fi novel, Timing,  the excerpt below, from his historical fantasy, Half Sick of Shadows, is powered by Amazon’s Polly software, which is enabled for text-to-speech in multiple accents and intonations. There sometimes are limitations on the range of speech and accents Alexa can produce, but technology is advancing and can be utilized in a number of ways, such as to help produce speech for those on the autism spectrum.

Below you’ll find the next audio excerpt offering, this time from Half Sick of Shadows, Richard Abbott’s historical fantasy based on Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s inimitable poem, “The Lady of Shalott.” Take a peek at our review, which pairs well with this particular extract, for its background pertaining to the scene here.  And don’t forget to join in for a chance to win a free copy of the novel!

See below for details about winning a free paperback copy of Half Sick of Shadows

Addendum: Contest extended and drawing will occur on December 2

 

 

Exactly a month after she had first seen the baby, they brought it out to the cairn opposite and held it up to her in the evening. The woman placed an offering on the cairn, and the man threw something metal into the flowing stream. The little one did nothing, unable even to hold up its head, but her heart melted at the scene.

She sang again, breaking her self-imposed fast, and saw their faces light up with awe as they heard her.

Just a few nights later she found herself ravenously hungry, and gorged herself on the food all around. Only at the end of her feasting, when she lay exhausted in her chamber and looked around, did she realise what was happening. Soon she would sleep, and while she slept her body would go through another change.

She gasped with anguish. How many racing years would slip away between sleep and waking?

“But if I sleep, I shall never know what happens to my sister, nor my brother, nor the child I helped them make. I cannot bear this, Mirror. It is cruelty. You must let me be awake for longer. I want to see what happens to them.”

There was no answer, but unquenchable hunger seized her again. She tried not to eat, but the desire was stronger than gravity, irresistible as wind, and she could not deny it. Great helpless tears rolled down her face even as she tore at great strips of leaf and swallowed brimming bowls of sap.

Heavy, and feeling full to bursting, she wallowed on her couch, desperate for nightfall to come. Would she be given even one more day, before the unstoppable urge to sleep overwhelmed her?

They came that evening, and held up the infant so she could see it. She sang again for them, and her song was full of both the beauty and the sorrow of the passing world. She watched the glow of wonder on their faces as they heard her. She knew what they could not, that this would be the last time she would see them, and she sang to bless them as the shortening day eased into night.

Long after they had gone, she lay looking at the riverbank where they had stood. The world was made up of shadows now. When her brother and sister next came, when they held up the infant for her to see, she would no longer be there. She would be lost in her own world of slumber and transformation, and the quick years of the world would roll unseen around her.

How long would they continue to come, she wondered, once the sound of her singing was gone? Would they think that she was lost to them, lost somewhere in the gloaming? She watched herself stuffing food into her body, slithering awkwardly, heavily, into her chamber, and she felt that her heart was breaking.

The Lady of Shalott, by John William Waterhouse via Wikimedia Commons

Would you like to win a free paperback copy of Half Sick of Shadows? Simply comment below – even a quickie hello works! – and you are automatically entered into the drawing, which will occur in mid November.

(This would also make a great gift!!!)

 Alternately, you may comment at the pinned post in the blog’s Facebook page, located here

Please make sure we have a way to contact you!

Click titles to read our reviews for Richard Abbott’s Far from the Spaceports or Timing.

For more on “The Lady of Shalott,” please click here.

About the author…

Richard Abbott writes fiction of several varieties, including both historical and speculative fiction. His historical is set in the Middle East at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200 BC. It explores events in the Egyptian province of Canaan, following events in the life of a priest in the small hill town of Kephrath during a time of considerable change throughout the region.

His heretofore speculative writing is set in a near-future solar system exploring issues of high-tech crime and human-machine relationships.

Far from the Spaceports introduces Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate as they investigate financial crime in the asteroid belt. Its sequel, Timing, was released in the second half of 2016.

His latest publication, Half Sick of Shadows, a retelling and metamorphosis of Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot,” is now available for purchase, along with his other works, on Amazon and Amazon UK.

Richard lives in London, England and works professionally in IT quality assurance.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District.

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You can follow and learn more about Richard Abbott and his books at Facebook and Google–and be sure to check out his brilliant collection of images! The author also has some amazing content at his blog, In a Milk and Honeyed Land, including Polly and Alexa, with space-related and not, his own reviews and reading list, information about his other books, and much more.

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Book Review: Half Sick of Shadows (With Giveaway)

Half Sick of Shadows: A Historical Fantasy
by Richard Abbott

See below for details about winning a free paperback copy of Half Sick of Shadows

Update: Drawing will be held December 16 (see link here)

In the first half of the twentieth century, Victorian poetry began to be marginalized by the developing field of scholarly literary criticism, which focused on works fitting complex parameters requiring a rather esoteric body of knowledge for successful interpretation. Earlier poets such as Tennyson, whose works were written for and appealed to a broader readership, fell out of favor.

Perhaps post-war audiences “re-discovered” Victorian poetry once it was realized that it often actually integrated and entailed some of the elements it had been criticized for lacking. Given its enduring Arthurian theme, it is no surprise then, that amongst Tennyson’s work, “The Lady of Shalott” should be one of the first rising to resurgence in popularity: countlessly anthologized and appearing in numerous cultural contexts (video, music, theater, art, literature and more) even into our own time nearly 200 years after publication, it provokes wider analysis and re-interpretation than much modernist poetry, whose seemingly impenetrable nature often contributes to its own dismissal, despite its aim of getting people to culture up. While this is a worthy goal and there certainly is no shortage of study for early twentieth-century poetry, it disregards the lesson Tennyson already understood: holding something out of people’s reach won’t allow them to grasp it any easier.

Contemporary author Richard Abbott takes this one step further by incorporating his own already popular literary bents—historical and science fiction—into a highly accessible re-interpretation of Tennyson’s masterpiece, itself based on the life of Elaine of Astolat, a tragic figure within the Arthurian catalogue. Written in prose and sectioned off a few more times than “The Lady of Shalott,” Abbott’s Half Sick of Shadows takes us into a world of beauty and cruelty, loving and longing, a world of isolation in which the Lady yearns for her own voice and must choose which sacrifice to perform.

Significantly, Abbott opens Half Sick of Shadows with an awakening, though it is veiled by a “kindly darkness” and marked as the Lady’s birth. It is as smooth and relaxed as Tennyson’s own lead-in, “On either side of the river lie/Long fields of barley and rye,” as it initiates the creation and, later, upbringing, so to speak, of an infant and then adolescent who will be the Lady villagers come to know by way of her song. She, in turn, learns about them via her second-hand observations of the people in a mirror housed with her, and to which she eventually begins to talk and, later, question. Their communication is of the telepathic sort, at least the expressive language is on the part of the mirror, which the Lady silently receives.

The metamorphosis of this re-telling gifts readers the feeling that they are receiving the Lady’s story for the very first time. For those familiar with Abbott’s previous work, the historical may be an expected element, but the speculative angle is a definitive bonus, and done with a subtly that enhances rather than reduces the Arthurian and historical within Tennyson’s version. There is a machination about the mirror, in its gathering of data as the Lady sleeps between instars, or growth states, and during her acquisition of knowledge, and periodically we hear a word or phrase (e.g. gibbous) that injects the story with a small flavor of the author’s previous forays into a galactical colony. Indeed, the Lady travels through time and space as “[s]he ate, and she slept, and she changed[,]” as “[t]he world outside, with its fleeting years, took no notice of her sleep, and changed even more rapidly than she did.” These centuries of growth bring her from a time before people existed and “[n]obody was watching” through the eras until settling into the Arthurian, widening the form of science fiction the book engages.

For me, this speaks volumes about Abbott’s ability to transition from genre to genre: he clearly is comfortable writing in a variety, and with Half Sick of Shadows we see this taken to another level as he combines it into one: history, mythology, fantasy and speculative. Perhaps some might even add mystery and/or romance, for the Lady catches a glimpse of Lancelot in her mirror, and from then on everything she acts upon, whether in pragmatic caution or foolish abandon, is in response to the spell she knows she is under, a magic that will destroy her should she try to look directly at the world outside. The manner in which Abbott expands upon the Lady’s life and events within, simultaneously breaking ground while remaining true to Tennyson as he retains the spiritual within the legends of Camelot, is inspiring and captivating. The imagery and descriptive language is economic yet rich.

As she grows, so too do the Lady’s awareness, needs, questions, demands and reaching out to the larger world. She observes and bonds, solitary as the association is, with a prehistoric family whose habits she admires and thrills to. It is this family whose actions first lend her an unarticulated awareness of herself as a shadow, only half existing, a theme that permeates the novella along with the idea of voice in its physical form and as metaphor. Upon re-awakening from one of her sleep phases, she comes to realize that the nature of the world’s growth and movement forward necessitates forfeiture, though awareness make it no less difficult. She laments her loss and fate within her existence, and one of Abbott’s most poignant passages gives new voice, as it were, to the idea of futility of life within isolation. Having already questioned the purpose of knowing how to speak if there was no one to listen,

[s]he noticed the Mirror’s stream of information falter and then, almost immediately, restart when she spoke of her beginnings. This, then, was the source of the deception. A little tingle of anxiety pattered inside her … Outside of these walls neither person, nor bird, nor animal could properly see her. Perhaps in truth she was no more than a fiction, an incorporeal figment, no more than someone else’s projection. Her fretful feet rattled on the floor, until she seized on a memory of song, a memory of the last time around.

 Surely I am like them? Surely I am as real as they are? I am not just a shadow. I am not.

 She felt a tentative acceptance from the Mirror, but knew that it was still holding something back. The truth she was given was always partial, always qualified. She flung herself full-length on the couch and … screamed at the unresponsive face in front of her.

 “I’m half sick of shadows.”

It is significant that the author utilizes this most famous of all “Lady of Shalott” lines to so masterfully illustrate the power of powerlessness, which might at times contain a wealth of talented, gorgeous magnificence waiting for the freedom to flourish, or the explosive consequences of destruction felt by some in history forced into idleness as a way of life (women), or blocked from society (poets), a lifetime of being thwarted by doubt and questioning by individuals of how real they actually are. The inscrutable, vexing shadows may eventually drive the Lady to one rupture or the other—determined productivity or her own end—and the growth of Abbott’s protagonist as well as the narrative itself as it progresses, contains an additional message within as to the value of any given circumstance and whose purpose it serves.

One easily noticeable trait about Half Sick of Shadows is that there is very little dialogue. It is only recently that this reviewer  discovered how much stronger this can render a well-told tale, and in this case such a possibility rings absolutely true. Abbott’s technique of utilizing the omnipotent observer—in some stories a gamble that may not always pay—works perfectly, and contains a silence and mystery to the feel of the tale as we move through, lending substance and support to the Lady’s feelings of loneliness and anguish following her efforts to oblige the mirror to answer her and later, access others to interact with her.

“I am Half Sick of Shadows,” Said the Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse via Wikimedia Commons (Click image)

While quite different to such a work as The Metamorphosis, which also experiences very little dialogue and involves a character cut off from others but remaining cognizant of life and events around him, Abbott throughout expertly utilizes allusion in form and narrative, including when the Lady “become[s] desperate with the need to speak and be spoken to.” As in Kafka’s great classic, the theme of voice is part of how the author explores the meaning of being alive and aware as psychological and physical change occurs.

She knew that her voice was high, reed-like compared to any of his own people, and that she could not form the words properly. The parts of her mouth and throat would not allow anything closer. But it was better than nothing[.]

One needn’t be familiar at all with Tennyson or Kafka to appreciate, understand and thoroughly enjoy Half Sick of Shadows, an amazing study as much as it is pleasing story. Whether re-visiting or new to the legend, readers will cherish Abbott’s novella, an original and enthralling re-telling suitable to current sensibilities, with a blend of Victorian sensory and critical, and the Modernist aim to further pique cultural curiosity. It is a merger in which Abbott splendidly succeeds.

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Would you like to win a free paperback copy of Half Sick of Shadows? Simply comment below – even a quickie hello works! – and you are automatically entered into the drawing, which will occur in mid November. (This would also make a great gift!!!)

 Alternately, you may comment at the pinned post in the blog’s Facebook page, located here

Please make sure we have a way to contact you!

Click titles to read our reviews for Richard Abbott’s Far from the Spaceports or Timing

For more on “The Lady of Shalott,” please click here.

About the author…

Richard Abbott writes fiction of several varieties, including both historical and speculative fiction. His historical is set in the Middle East at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200 BC. It explores events in the Egyptian province of Canaan, following events in the life of a priest in the small hill town of Kephrath during a time of considerable change throughout the region.

His heretofore speculative writing is set in a near-future solar system exploring issues of high-tech crime and human-machine relationships.

Far from the Spaceports introduces Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate as they investigate financial crime in the asteroid belt. Its sequel, Timing, was released in the second half of 2016.

His latest publication, Half Sick of Shadows, a retelling and metamorphosis of Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot,” is now available for purchase, along with his other works, on Amazon and Amazon UK.

Richard lives in London, England and works professionally in IT quality assurance.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District.

*********

You can follow and learn more about Richard Abbott and his books at Facebook and Google–and be sure to check out his brilliant collection of images! The author also has some amazing content at his blog, In a Milk and Honeyed Land, including Polly and Alexa, with space-related and not, his own reviews and reading list, information about his other books, and much more.

*********

A copy of Half Sick of Shadows: A Historical Fantasy was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

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Author photo courtesy Richard Abbott

Poetry in Bloom: “The Lady of Shalott”

Today we start our New Year’s resolution a mite early with a series-in-development, one that gives us a space here at Before the Second Sleep to advance more deeply into the realm of poetry, territory we’ve not had much previous occasion to explore. Given our love of poetry and the enormous opportunities one has as poet as well as reader, we have decided it is high time to move forward.

The Lady of Shalott Looking at Lancelot, one of three interpretations of the character by John William Waterhouse via Wikimedia Commons

It is fitting to open with Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott,” partly owing to our considerable affection for all things Arthurian, going back to childhood. This new direction has also been inspired in part by a review upcoming, for a “retelling and metamorphosis” of the ballad.

The works of Tennyson, Poet Laureate for over 40 years, reflect a reality about poetry, in that while in his lifetime his words were exceedingly popular (even when savaged by critics), following his death they receded a bit into the shadows. Dr. Stephanie Forward notes that “with such adulation [as the poet received in his lifetime] a subsequent decline in his reputation was probably inevitable.”

Following two world wars and re-examination of Tennyson’s place within Victorian society, his work began once more to be recognized as amongst the greatest in English literature. As literary tastes change and peoples re-discover the values within what came before, perhaps his poetry again shall wilt and bloom in a representation of the ongoing and also inevitable death and re-birth of the artistic design of our world.

“The Lady of Shalott” is loosely based on the life of Elaine, who appears in Le Morte d’Arthur as a noblewoman enamored of Sir Lancelot, later dying from a broken heart following this unrequited love. Tennyson writes of a Lady confined to a castle and subject to a curse that bars her seeing outside save for what is reflected in her looking glass. “Shadows of the world appear” describes how she witnesses life outside via those images, weaving her portrayal of them onto a loom, though becoming weary of the poor substitute the glass provides. “I am half sick of shadows,” she cries, determining that she shall leave her tower, even if it means facing the consequences within the curse.

Below are stanzas excerpted from “The Lady of Shalott,” first published in 1833 in Tennyson’s collection entitled Poems. For the ballad in its entirety, click here, and be sure to have a quick glance at Schmoop’s “Why Should I Care?” section—a brief and easy-to-read segment that may pleasantly surprise you.

Excerpt: “The Lady of Shalott”

[from] Part I

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road runs by
To many-towered Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

Part II

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-haired page in crimson clad,
Goes by to towered Camelot;
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
“I am half sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott.

[from] Part III

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

[from] Part IV

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over towered Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

 

The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, via Wikimedia Commons

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For our review of Richard Abbott’s Half Sick of Shadows, click here.

Image of the Week: The Hollow Hills (Book Cover)

This week’s “Image of the Week” entails a mixture of sorts: between a “Cover Crush” and look back in time, as well as my own experience of how an image can lead to something that touches one much more deeply. For it is the cover of Mary Stewart’s The Hollow Hills that initially beckoned to a teen me, transporting me deeper into the world of Merlin, surrounding me even more with the magic of his time.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my mother told me stories of Arthur and Merlin as I grew up, and was delighted to see The Crystal Cave on the booklist we received the summer before I began high school. We were meant to choose three works and be able to discuss and write about them during the school year—I rejected The Crystal Cave in favor of The Turn of the Screw. Disappointed, she purchased the books I listed, but also, unbeknownst to me, the entire Merlin Trilogy: the aforementioned initial installment as well as The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment. I rolled my eyes when I saw them, but allowed her to line them up on my night table bookshelf anyway.

As it happens, I was a compulsively clean child and habitually performed such chores as pull my bed away from the wall to wipe down the floorboard or ensure there was no developing mark from the mattress. So it was that one day I pulled the table away from the wall to get at the dust behind it, when the books on the lower level attracted my attention—the shifting probably upset them—and I crouched to pick them off the floor.

(Click page for larger view)
(Click image for larger view)

It was a moment that lasted a couple of hours, for I glanced at the cover of The Hollow Hills—was it providence that I happened to pick that one up first?—and began to look deeply into the image as it motioned, called to me, pulled me toward the dusky swirl of a time I could easily melt into, felt I could become part of.

The figure on the cover was not difficult to take in. Handsome, with tousled red hair and rosy cheeks, he gripped a sword and held himself in a defiant stance, as if he were perceiving enemies in the distance and taking measure of his next actions. He seemed to me immensely strong, somewhat daunting, but still someone I wanted to be in the presence of. As a rather quiet child, my mind instinctively flew to the query of what birthed such potency, and I drew open the leaves.

It was Arthur, of course, and the second book in the series, but I do recall flipping through and reading passages here and there, wondering which one of them might tell me more about the world of such a man and how he came to be.

[B]elow me the grass, grey with rime, was barely distinguishable in the thick mist that held the whole place shrouded, from the invisible sea below the invisible cliffs to the pale blur where the winter sun fought to clear the sky. Below the blanket of mist the sea was quiet, as quiet as it ever was on that raging coast.

 Then, on the third night, the wind came. A small wind from the west, that crept across the battlements and in under the doors and set the flames fluttering blue round the birch logs.

As a reader, I had always been able to close my eyes and envision what the words communicated, as if I were watching a big screen behind my lids—at least most of the time—and the images in my mind on this day, brought forth by words more beloved than ever, were enchanting. The castle Tintagel I had dreamt of, the furious wind on a night portending the greatest event for the future of an empire. Something passed through my very soul on that afternoon, and I felt—in words as close as possible to the experience I lived—as if I had made a discovery of utmost importance, that I had uncovered something from my past and simply could not stop now. I must, I felt then, continue on this path and retrieve what it is I knew I had lost.

As I gazed once more upon the cover, the storm raging behind King Arthur seemed not unlike the one I had just witnessed, with a red sky over the castle, beckoning him to his destiny, the same he was directed to that squally night that the baby he, the one for whom the storm summoned, is carried away from his birthplace to his very purpose, to his future.

Why had I never been this mystified by the tales my mother told me? She was an able storyteller, and a gifted reader: her out-loud recitations of Poe were absolutely ghostly and filled with mysterious meaning. Well, she liked King Arthur—King Arthur—but she absolutely adored Poe, who I never took to quite as she did. Perhaps there was a connection between the darkness of his images and the ghosts she regularly told me about and I shrunk from. Her stories were delicious but frightening, and despite her assurances that the manifestations I frequently encountered couldn’t hurt me, I resented their invasion of my space (though I may not have had those words at the time) and how their almost-constant presence assaulted my very being. Only my room—the smaller one I had longed for years to move into, away from the large one I shared with my sister—offered a haven from them, and perhaps, in addition to natural inclination, was why I took such meticulous care of it.

I invited Merlin to my room. Merlin, protector of the future high king, magical, mysterious, occupant of memories that returned in a flood, present in a dissipating mist and the once invisible internal landscape existing amongst a raging sea.

The mist was lifting, drawing back from a sparkling sky. Faintly, high over the castle promontory, grew a hazy moon of light. Then the last cloud blew clear, billowing before the west wind like a sail blowing towards Brittany, and in its wake, blazing through the sparkle of the lesser stars, grew the great star that had lit the night of Ambrosius’ death, and now burned steady in the east for the birth of the Christmas King.

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An earlier edition of The Hollow Hills, with a smaller, but more complete, view to the castle behind Arthur.
An earlier edition of The Hollow Hills, with a smaller but more complete view to the castle behind Arthur.

“Month of Mary Stewart” concludes next weekend with a review for The Prince and the Pilgrim and a bit more from my own story of meeting with Merlin. 

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This post has been updated to include links to related entries.

Month of Mary Stewart: The Crystal Cave

September 17, 1916

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mary Stewart, beloved author of such blockbusters as Madam, Will You Talk? and Nine Coaches Waiting. With the “Month of Mary Stewart” series we honor the novelist and mark her fantastic presence in our lives, noting some of the special gifts she has presented to us over the years.

Today I take a look at what is my absolute favorite of all her works, possibly not fully articulating how it has translated into a lifelong gift for me, one whose rewards have been immeasurable. My effort is small, though I hope this month’s presentations are worthy of being but a small token, or gift, back to this wonderful storyteller whose tales live on.

Lady Mary Stewart, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

The Crystal Cave (Book I in The Arthurian Saga)

by Mary Stewart

It’s a little strange to imagine that The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart’s mega-bestselling Arthurian novel, made her publishers nervous. She’d been on a best-selling run with her romance-mysteries and they didn’t want to fix what wasn’t broken. But she took her cue from Geoffrey of Monmouth (admitting in her afterward that his name is mud), re-positioned the Arthurian tales within the fifth century and zoomed the focus in on Merlin, as opposed to Arthur.

merlin-as-a-boyAs the novel opens we meet Merlin, an old man, then, not long after, return via first-person narrative to his sixth year when his uncle returns to court. His grandfather, the king, has for years been trying to learn who Merlin’s father is but Niniane, his mother,  isn’t telling. The boy’s small stature and uncanny ability to know too much, along with the circumstances of his birth, mark him as a “devil’s whelp,” and his name, Myrddin Emrys, is a source of wry amusement, as Emrys means “child of light.”

Much of Merlin’s information comes from overhearing conversation while crawling under the floors of what was once a Roman country house, the heating system not being used by the palace’s current inhabitants. But he also is in the habit of visiting the cave of an old hermit, Galapas, whose education of the boy includes helping him develop his psychic gifts, some of which are demonstrated when we encounter the aged Merlin in the first pages, performing “one of the simplest of magics, the most easily learned, the last forgotten.” Galapas also teaches him to more clearly see events within the crystal cave that lies just beyond his own.

The king’s accidental death leads to a series of chaotic events that set Merlin on his path away from his native Maridunum and eventually to the court of Ambrosius Aurealianus, whom he assists in his preparation to defeat the Saxon Vortigern and unite Britain. In the course of these events he is captured by Vortigern and readers encounter what is perhaps one of the best-known episodes in Arthurian legend, that of the warlord’s collapsing fortress.

Every day, Vortigern’s builders and engineers construct their citadel, but each night it collapses. His priests tell him the only way to end the cycle is to sprinkle across it the blood of a boy with no father. The legends have various settings and circumstance of Merlin’s capture, though all involve the Saxon soldiers overhearing a companion of Merlin commenting on his fatherless status and swiftly taking custody. Stewart’s version, too, involves such a scenario, and it is worked into the narrative so seamlessly it comes as much of a surprise to readers as to Merlin himself; the idea of a writer working it into the storyline seems like another author’s task, because here it seems to simply happen.

Merlin is quick to understand that the caves below Vortigern’s fortress upset its foundation, but pretends to use the Sight to see two battling dragons and, utilizing “no power beyond his human wits,” advises as to the solution.

I pointed downwards. Below the surface something—a rock, perhaps—glimmered faintly, shaped like a dragon. I began to speak slowly, as if testing the air between us.

Merlin transitions into a frenzy even he doesn’t quite understand at the moment, and awakens to Cadal, his servant, who reiterates events.

“It was all dressed up, like poets’ stuff, red dragons and white dragons fighting and laying the place waste, showers of blood, all that kind of thing. But it seems you gave them chapter and verse for everything that’s going to happen: the white dragon of the Saxons and the red dragon of Ambrosius fighting it out, the red dragon looking not so clever to begin with, but winning in the end. Yes. Then a bear coming out of Cornwall to sweep the field clear….Artos…Arthur…some name like that.”

This passage demonstrates one of Stewart’s most skilled approaches to writing her Merlin, and a major reason why hers is the favorite interpretation of millions. Her Merlin is self-effacing, scoffs at the idea that he uses magic, even claiming at times that what men believe to be magic is mere disguise. We don’t necessarily believe him, and he seems to understand this, and accept it, if somewhat begrudgingly.

Later Merlin uses his same engineering skills, savvy understanding—and a bit of magic—to rebuild Stonehenge and bring Uther Pendragon to assignation with the Lady Ygraine, subject of the monarch’s obsession.

Merlin tells Vortigern of the two dragons fighting beneath his fortress, causing them to collapse after being built (Wikimedia Commons) (Click image)
Merlin reveals to Vortigern the two dragons fighting beneath his fortress, causing them to collapse after being built (Wikimedia Commons) (Click image)

Remaining events of the legend are left yet to be told because there are two more books in the series, The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment. I can recall approaching the end of The Crystal Cave the first time I read it, without a care about a fabulous book about to end, because I had two more still ahead of me, and I’ve heard told time and again of similar experience of others having read this novel.

Even today, reading years after I first dipped into it, Stewart’s descriptive powers remain as potent as ever and the legend fresh and captivating. Unlike so many other portraits of the wizard, this one depicts a Merlin who reaches out from the ages to put paid to the talk questioning his actual existence. His narrative recounts historical events and his part of them as if we are reading actual history (minus the dry parts), and Stewart welcomes us in, as we become one with events and the people who played their roles within them.

Especially for those keen on filling in some of the blanks in their knowledge of Arthurian legend pertaining to Merlin, The Crystal Cave offers a fantastically well laid out plot that also brings life to Merlin’s origins and how he came to be. Stewart’s choice of first-person is perfect as well, as we are able to really get into the heart of who Merlin is, how his perceptions and talents were shaped and what drives him. Though I’d been told stories of Merlin my whole life until I first read The Crystal Cave, and indeed had great regard for him already, Mary Stewart gave much more of Merlin, and I have dearly loved him ever since.

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“Month of Mary Stewart” continues next week with a review for A Walk in Wolf Wood.

Click title to see the series intro, “The World of Mary Stewart.”

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A lovely blog in honor of the late Mary Stewart.

10 Reasons To Love: Mary Stewart

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This post has been updated to include links to related entries.