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Book Review: The Ghost Line

The Ghost Line Andrew Neil Gray & J.S. Herbison

Title:

The Ghost Line

Author:

Andrew Neil Gray, J.S. Herbison

Genre:

Sci-Fi

Book procurement:

Received a copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor.com.

Synopsis:

The luxury cruise ship the Martian Queen was decommissioned years ago, set to drift back and forth between Earth and Mars on the off-chance that reclaiming it ever became profitable for the owners. For Saga and her husband Michel the cruise ship represents a massive payday. Hacking and stealing the ship could earn them enough to settle down, have children, and pay for the treatments to save Saga’s mother’s life.

But the Martian Queen is much more than their employer has told them. In the twenty years since it was abandoned, something strange and dangerous has come to reside in the decadent vessel. Saga feels herself being drawn into a spider’s web, and must navigate the traps and lures of an awakening intelligence if she wants to go home again.

Book Review:

First Thoughts

The synopsis paints quite a fascinating picture doesn’t it. I remember describing it as a “what if” Titanic story intermingled with the sentient aura of the Overlook Hotel from Stephen King’s The Shining. It’s nothing like that at all. From the get go, you get a sense of character focus, where it’s more about the crew than it is about the ship itself. The ship becoming a means to an end, leading to character growth.

The Story

The story follows Saga and Michel, a husband and wife hacker team. With them is Gregor, the pilot of their ship the Sigurd. The crew is hired by the mysterious Wei to recapture a luxury cruise spaceship named the Martian Queen. Once a prosperous liner travelling between Mars and Earth, the ship has been decommissioned for twenty years and floats through space between the two planets. The ship is still in tact and seems the perfect score, perhaps too perfect. But the pay will set Saga and Michel for life, and allow Saga to pay for her mother’s medical fees.

However, once inside the ship they realize they may have bitten off more than they can chew. The ships A.I. appears to be defunct, but unexplained phenomena begin to occur. Lights coming on. The casino abuzz with figures who once roamed the ship. It becomes clear to the crew, especially Saga, that not all is as it seems.

Writing

The story is told from Saga’s perspective, written in third-person. It is much more a story about Saga than it is about the Martian Queen or the crew. The writing takes a very emotive approach, where we see all the things that Saga and Michel have to deal with, Gregor’s own dismantled life, and Wei’s suspicious behaviour once they are aboard the cruise ship. These, however, appear as side notes to Saga’s own thought processes and poignant introspection.

From within the ship, the writing flows into more of a mystery. There’s hardly any technical jargon or sci-fi heavy concepts, although they are definitely present. Instead the writing focuses on how Saga feels about the job, Wei, her mother, and the curious happenings that they attribute to the ship. Of course there are some ominous moments that creep through the story but nothing really scary.

Apart from Saga,who is very well written, the other characters fall to the wayside. We get a glimpse of their personalities yet not enough to truly set them apart. They are only noticeable because there are so few characters to focus on anyway.

The writing is not flowery or filled with prose, but the nostalgia is undeniable.

Final Thoughts

The ending was not predictable at all, although in hindsight I should have seen it coming. Especially considering that the focus was barely on the ship, but the crew inside the ship. In the end I enjoyed this novella. Not in the ghost story kind of way, but the emotional investment kind of way. Much like the Stephen King books I love so much.

Rating: An unexpected 4 out of 5


The Ghost Line was published on July 10, 2017.

 

Are you an author who wants your book reviewed? Contact me on my site: NthatoMorakabi.com

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Genre Writing: Horror – What is your fear?

We all have fears. They can be legitimate fears like losing a parent or child, losing a job, a ligament and more. Some fears appear in the form of phobias – fear of spiders, clowns, germs, heights etc. Common fears that are almost universal are the fears of anticipated pain, approach of death, of not being in control, and next to them, the fear of the unknown.

Movies like Scream/Friday the 13th, Halloween etc are scary because you don’t know who the killer is, you don’t know where they are or where they will come from. All you can expect is a knife plunging down.

Movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, Candyman, The Grudge, etc are scary because there’s a supernatural element to the “killer.” You can’t necessarily escape them once they have their sights on you.

Final Destination means you’re definitely going to die soon, unexpectedly and quite possibly, in a horrifying manner. You don’t know where and how death will approach and you can’t beat it.

They are combinations of the unknown, trying to gain control and failing, and the anticipated pain/death. And that’s scary.

The Role of the Author

As much as we all have fears, we do not all have the same fears. Someone could watch the new IT movie and scream the entire time and someone else could watch it unfazed. This is what makes horror such a fickle genre. It is mostly subjective.

When I’m ink-deep in my horror story, there are a number of thoughts that swing through. The main thought is: am I portraying a true reflection of the horror. Here are some factors to consider.

Realism:

How close to real is the story and characters. Are they believable. What are the possibilities that the story could happen, supernatural or not. Do the fantastical elements make the story ridiculous or a little too close to home.

With that I try and add as many facts as possible. Perhaps reference real things that the reader might come across or may have heard about in real life. Things like:

  • It is more effective to sew a human mouth or eyes shut than to use superglue.
  • A medical practitioner has the tools/knowledge/skills required to be a proficient serial killer. (Charles Cullen – a former nurse who is the most prolific serial killer in New Jersey history and is suspected to be the most prolific serial killer in American history.) ~ Charles Cullen
  • Nurses and paramedics have more paranormal “experiences” than most due to being present when someone is about to die. (Apparently the ghost has even been seen down in the ER, ducking in and out of patient rooms and peeking around curtains.) ~ 49 Real Nurses Share The Terrifying Hospital Ghost Stories
  • Most people don’t have foresight before someone close to them dies. Not even twins. (They may be very close, very similar in manner, habits and health, but this doesn’t mean they share some otherworldly connection that the rest of us don’t have.) ~ Can Twins Sense Each Other
  • Sleep apnoea may cause people to have waking nightmares where their bodies are paralysed and they feel a presence in the room, or someone sitting on them. Usually an unidentifiable face or shadow is present. Most attribute it to a supernatural presence. It’s not. ~ Is Sleep Paralysis Linked To Sleep Apnoea?

Sleep Paralysis gif

Logic:

How logical is the story. Do the characters react in a realistic way. Are the events in the story making sense and as close to real as possible. Sure some supernatural elements do not have complete scientific evidence, or anything we can truly attribute them to beyond an unknown force. However, there are physical manifestations that may occur preceding the supernatural, and those can be used to add the “logic” to the story.

13 Famous Curses

As Thomas Busby was being led to his execution, he reportedly shouted that anyone who sat on his favorite chair would die.

Tony Earnshaw was not a superstitious man; he initially dismissed the Busby curse as nonsense and the previous deaths associated with it as coincidences. But then people started dying on his watch. Earnshaw overheard two RAF airmen daring each other to sit on the chair. Both did, and both died in a car crash later that day…

ThinnerCurseStephenKing

Pain (Emotional/Physical):

Pain may be in a physical or emotional level. The actual knife plunging into the victim, or the emotional trauma of waiting for the inevitable knife to plunge into the victim. The emotional side of horror is just as effective as the physical. Perhaps more so. Horror is about the terror than it is about the death after all.

Stephen King’s horror focuses on the characters. Invests the reader in their lives, habits, thoughts and feelings until we are almost seeing the world through their eyes. So when the horror hits, our emotions become entangled with the character and we feel it with them.

Clive Barker on the other hand focuses on the sheer physical manifestation of that horror, both in its visual representation (description) and the brutality of it.He takes great pains in cataloging the look of his creations and the horrors they have to endure.

For me it is a combination of the two. There must be some investment into the character. Enough to make you relate to them in some way. Let you feel empathetic to their situation. The emotional trauma they experience combined with the physical torture they must endure.

“Mommy?” Evie turned from the couch, a questioning look spreading across her face and disheveled hair. Her eyes fell on the axe flashing distorted images of the TV screen.

“Mommy!” Fear laced into the voice as her body attempted to crawl into the safety of the leather. Squeaking with her movement.

Rebecca grimaced,

“I’m not your mommy.” And with all the force she could muster, swung the handle hard and fast towards the girl’s face

~ Faux – A Wattpad Horror

Horror is not Gore – It’s… Paranoia

Many people think horror equals gore. For me it’s not about gore all the time. It is about the characters and the situation leading towards the gore. By the time you as the reader get to that part, where the axe meets the face, you’ve understood the situation.

The horror of relating to the killer.

The horror of being in the victim’s shoes.

Where the dark no longer feels safe and the light can only ease your fears so much. Where every sound makes you shiver. Where fiction crosses over the thin line into reality.


Have you read a book or watched a movie that really scared you enough to be paranoid? What was it? Why do you think it caused those feelings in you? Let’s chat!

 

Book Recommendation – A Wrinkle In Time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Wrinkle In Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract”.

Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?


Author_MadeleineLEngle

Madeleine L’Engle was an American writer best known for her Young Adult fiction, particularly the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters. Her works reflect her strong interest in modern science: tesseracts, for example, are featured prominently in A Wrinkle in Time, mitochondrial DNA in A Wind in the Door, organ regeneration in The Arm of the Starfish, and so forth.

“Madeleine was born on November 29th, 1918, and spent her formative years in New York City. Instead of her school work, she found that she would much rather be writing stories, poems and journals for herself, which was reflected in her grades (not the best). However, she was not discouraged.


Yeah so I had never heard of this book series until I saw the trailer for it recently. So I’m keen on reading the books then watching the movie so I can hate it and rant to people that it’s nothing like the books. Or be surprised and say it was really close. Either way, both look really great!

Did you know:

The first A Wrinkle in Time book was published in 1973


Have you read the Wrinkle in Time series? What are you thoughts on it? Will you be watching the movie?

Friday Fiction: The Faithful in Fairland

Cliche #1:

A priest who has lost his faith and now must face a supernatural evil that will lead him back to his faith.


He walks with a slight lilt. His black vestments usually hide the limp but today he wears a plain black shirt and jeans. The clerical collar makes its usual appearance and so does his dazzling white teeth smile. The congregation has gathered outside his house as a silent mob. They hold no torches or pitchforks, but their eyes are daggers and their pursed lips contain venom waiting to be unleashed.

Nonetheless he spreads his arms out in a welcome gesture, a token to his past life as pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

“Well this is a warm welcome.” He says to the sea of faces. The community of Fairland were always a close-knit family, and today the family is more united than ever.

“Have you truly abandoned your faith, father?” A woman says, stepping forward from the parting crowd like a biblical figure. In her hands she clutches a bible to her flowery dress.

“I have no idea what you mean?”

“Oh you know exactly what you mean.” Her knuckles turn white as she clutches the book tighter. “We know about Claire. Father.”

If the priest shows any concern it does not break on his lined face. Not even a twitch of his white-whiskered mouth.

“Claire? Claire is dead my good people. Did you come disturb me over my dead wife?”

“Oh she’s most definitely not dead.” Emily says. The crowd murmurs in agreement but keep their voices to themselves. Only the appointed speaks now.

“Emily, you were at her funeral as many of you were too.” His eyes flit to familiar faces. They do not look away but keep a steady, silent watch over him. They do not notice the tremble in his hands as he moves them behind him.

“We buried her body, you’re right pastor, but not her spirit.”

The priest’s smile widens before he barks a loud laugh. The crowd stirs uneasily.

“My, that is unexpected. As the Word of God states, absent from the body present with the Lord.” he says. Emily raises the bible like a weapon, the leather bending between her fingers.

“You dare mock the word of God!” She takes a step forward. The crowd simultaneously follow.

“You who once did the work of the Lord until drink took over your soul and tainted your words!” Emily takes a step. The crowd takes a step. The priest steps back twice until he’s in the gloom of the house.

“You who baptised our children in the holy water while you yourself baptised your soul with the blood of Satan!” By now Emily is on the porch step. The crowd funnels in behind her. As she takes a step forward, the priest shuts the door quickly. But it is too late as Emily’s foot works to jam the door. Only the door does shut with a resounding bang. He looks down at the severed foot as blood begins to gush onto his shoes.

“Oh dear Lord.” He mutters, shuffling back with his hand clutching his heart. As he whirls about he finds Emily standing before him, a stump of a foot dragging blood with it as she steps forward.

“Where has your faith gone!” She screeches. The priests quickly widening eyes now shut completely. He shuffles back, almost slipping on the blood before the door holds him up.

“Where is your faith!”

Behind him, through the door he hears the crowd chant.

“Faith. Faith. Faith.” It is monotonous. Buzzing against his ears. “Faith. Faith. Faith.”

He opens his eyes and sees Emily in her true form. The same one he buried so many years ago. Scalp caved in at the left temple where blood oozes with the wriggling form of thick white maggots. Her skin bloats against her bones, garish green over portions of porcelain white skin. She shuffles forward, the bible still clutched between the bones of her decayed hands.

When she throws the book at him, he realises it is not a bible at all. It bangs against the door beside his head and flops onto the floor open. A picture slides from the pages and lands at the man’s feet. He looks up and Emily nods her head to it. Her face no longer pulls taught but slacks downward as though forlorn. The priest bends down and lifts the image,

“Oh lord no.” He says, the image shaking between his fingers. In it is the community of Fairland, familiar faces he’d nodded to outside. He stands in front of an altar before their bodies, all of them lying haphazardly across the pews of the church. A dark shadow stands behind him, hands on his shoulder like a proud father.

“How… when…” he falls to the ground.

“After Claire died, you changed. You let it in.” Emily says. He looks to her to find her jaw hanging agape. Black liquid pours down her chin.

“Restore us before we are taken into the bowels of Sheol.” Emily whispers. Then her rotting body falls to the floor face first. As it hits with a wet smack, a rosary rolls across the floor to his feet.

“Where is my faith…” he whispers to the now empty house.


Okay it sure could use a little more work, first draft after all, but you get the gist of it yeah? And what about that silent mob? Reminds me of a scene in R.L. Stine where the kids move in to a new neighbourhood only to find all their neighbours are ghosts. *Shivers

Did I do the cliché justice? Have you read/watched anything familiar? I would love to know.

 

The Fortress at the end of Time – Review

Title: The Fortress at the End of Time

Author: Joe M. McDermott

Genre: Sci-Fi

Book procurement: Received a copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor.com.

Synopsis:

In The Fortress at the End of Time, humanity has expanded across the galaxy by use of ansible and clone technology, but an enemy stands in their way—an enemy alien in concept as much as physiology. Ronaldo Aldo is a clone stationed in the back-end of nowhere—a watch station with a glorious military past, but no future. He’s desperate to prove himself worthy of ascension—of having his consciousness broadcast to a newer clone, far away from his current post at the Citadel.

Review:

First Thoughts

Sci-fi and I are good friends. Not the best, but good. Like that friend you talk to occasionally and have a great time with but won’t talk to for months until you meet again. Yeah. That’s sci-fi to me alright.

The Fortress at the End of Time was very vague in its synopsis. I guess they were trying to keep the whole story a mystery, so I couldn’t get a sense of what I should expect. From the get go I was thrust into this technologically advanced world where humans get cloned, and it is the clone that get’s shipped off to where the original is needed. And they have with them, all the originals memories. And this is the story of one clone of many – Ronaldo Aldo.

Ronaldo Aldo is my name. There are as many of me as there are colonies.

~Ronaldo Aldo

The Story

Ronaldo Aldo is a clone sent off to a remote watch station, the Citadel, with a glorious military past. It was there that humanity made an impressive stand against an unknown, apparently alien, enemy. Now they stand watch for a possible, inevitable counter attack although none think it will come. Yet someone must watch just in case. In truth the Citadel is nothing more than a decaying way-station where clones spend the rest of their lives in routine boredom. There is every level of bureaucracy as one can expect and the corruption that comes with it.

The novel plays out from Ronaldo Aldo’s first person perspective. It is a written confession of a grievous crime he’s committed, but to get to it, he explains how it all began. From his last night as his original self – a graduate at the War College – to his clone self assigned to the Citadel, and the life there. It is a story of self-discovery and budding existential crises. A story of a clone who realises the monotony of his existence and hopes to one day change it.

Knowing the self is vital to clones, psychologically, and more so at a posting like the Citadel. If we perceive no origin, and there is no place but the Citadel, and all else is just a story, then I would prefer not to uncover the truth.

~Ronaldo Aldo

There is also a religious context to the story. A way, I think, J.M McDermott addresses the idea that no matter how much we progress as a species technologically and scientifically, there are things that even those cannot answer. Later in the book, Ronaldo gets to visit one of the colonies off Citadel. One of his few joys. There he goes to a monastery with a unique number of characters who question the military life and its absolutes. One of which asks whether people reborn through the ansible as clones, have their souls transported too.

Writing

The writing is truly captivating. I did not get a sense of the author (in the writing itself) at all but the view of the main protagonist. As though I were truly reading his confession here on my own Earth substation. It is authentic and real. No unnecessary flowery talk but a near-narcissistic, emotional wreck expunging of life. He just does his duty regardless of the obvious, unspoken occurrences by those who realise that they are stuck forever on the Citadel, and nothing will ever change that.

I was pushed to this great act by the station, the military protocols, and the lies I was told about transcendence. I sinned against the devil and beat his game. By grace of God, my sin against the devil is the triumph of my life.

~Ronaldo Aldo

Final Thoughts

 

I was rooting for Ronaldo, while at the same time wanting to punch him in the face. The decisions he made sometimes were infuriating. Then again, imagine knowing you’re a clone, sent off to some random corner of the galaxy where a corrupted bureaucracy rules and everyone knows and exploits it. A place where suicides are common. Where you have no hope of ever leaving the dreary, indifferent world you’ve been throw in to.

What would you do?

I do not deny my guilt, and will never deny it.

~Ronaldo Aldo

Rating: An entangled 3 out of 5


The Fortress at the End of Time was published on January 17 2017.

Did you know:

An ansible is a category of fictional device or technology capable of instantaneous or faster-than-light communication. It can send and receive messages to and from a corresponding device over any distance or obstacle whatsoever with no delay. The term ansible is broadly shared across works of several science fiction authors, settings and continuities.

In The Fortress at the End of Time, the McDermott uses the ansible as an instantaneous cloning tool.

Are you an author who wants your book reviewed? Contact me on my site: NthatoMorakabi.com

Genre Writing: Horror – Do’s and Don’ts

That task of writing is never easy. Enjoyable but not easy. Sure one can have a great session and put down five thousand amazing words with little effort. Others have written novels like this (looking at you Anne Rice/Chuck Wending/Stephen King/R.L. Stine). However, the rest of us struggle through each word and sentence and paragraph to get that completed novel. When writing, there are some general do’s and don’ts we must consider regardless of genre, to help us through the task of writing. I tackle some of these below:

First Things First

I am not Stephen King or Clive Barker or any of the amazing horror writers out there. I am me. I have a completely different persona, history, life and ability as myself. So the first thing that I never do is compare myself to the greats. I refer to them and reference them, nothing wrong with that, but when I write I do not write to become King, Lovecraft or Straub. So don’t do it either!

Don’t think cliches are overrated:

This is where people immediately falter when it comes to writing a genre. They hear other writers, published and unpublished, tell them not to write cliches. I personally think they are wrong on a fundamental level. The genre’s work because of these cliches. Look at the Orphan/Chosen One cliche in Percy Jackson, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars, King Arthur, Wheel of Time, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Giver and so on and so on. Imagine they told these authors “Chosen one’s are so overrated. Don’t do it.”  and how many of these great books (and movies) we would have lost.

Do it different:

Yes there are a lot of them, but there are many ways that you can write the cliche to make it different. Unique. Start with the cliche (if that’s what you have) and build on it until it’s yours.

“The merit of originality is not novelty, it is sincerity.”

~ Thomas Carlyle

Don’t assume “It’s been done before.”:

Very similar to the cliche but different on one aspect: it may not be a cliche. Think of the Marvel/DC comic book universe and the idea of mutants or humans with super powers. Now think of I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore, Jumper by Steven Gould, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and many others (My Hero Academia!?). Each of them talk about super-powered humans but each of them tackle the story in a unique way.

Do it unique:

Very much the same advice as cliches. Find a new way to write the idea but in a unique way. Use the same perspective or character types but different from the norm. Now I’m not saying steal ideas and just re-write the characters or story, that’s a no-no. Nonetheless you can take elements you enjoyed in those and craft your own story.

Everything has already been done. Eevery story has been told, every scene has been shot. It’s our job to do it one better.

~ Stanley Kubrick

The Hellbound Heart – Recommendation

Clive Barker is widely acknowledged as the master of nerve-shattering horror. The Hellbound Heart is one of his best, one of the most dead-frightening stories you are likely to ever read, a story of the human heart and all the great terrors and ecstasies within. It was also the book behind the cult horror film, Hellraiser.

In a quiet house on a quiet street Frank and Julia are having an affair. Not your ordinary affair. For Frank it began with his own insatiable sexual appetite, a mysterious lacquered box- and then an unhinged voyage through a netherworld of imaginable pleasures and unimaginable horror… Now Frank- or what is left of Frank -waits in an empty room. All he wants is to live as he was before. All Julia can do is bring him her unfulfilled passions…and a little flesh and blood…


First of all, not for the faint-hearted. Second of all, not for the squeamish, easily disgusted, or those with an overactive imagination. Lastly, it’s definitely not Stephen King so don’t even use that as a gauge for your own propensity for horror fiction. This is other level horror.

Also, I took the time to finally watch the (in)famous Hellraiser movie and man is Clive Barker sick. Like wow haha. It’s a completely different kind of horror compared to Scream (I’ve watched all of them, and I just finished the Netflix series), Wrong Turn (meh), Silent Hill or a number of other’s that I watched. I’m planning on watching every “Hellraiser” movie and also Books of Blood. Can’t be a Barker fanatic if I haven’t even seen/read all his works right?

 

Friday Fiction: The Playground


The four fundamental elements I spoke about in Genre Writing: Horror Fundamentals are: Atmosphere. Fear Factor. Character Flaw. Plot Twist.

The sunlit jungle gyms and slides were half obscured by uniformed, screaming children. They scampered about like mice, eyes alive, front teeth missing, dirt and dust over their shorts and skirts and shirts and knee length socks. One of them, on his way down the scorching, silver pole leading to the graveled floor, looked across the playground. Three of the fourth graders were leading a second grader towards Big School. They weren’t allowed there during school hours. Not at all.

He slid down quickly and started to follow,

“Where you going Ted?” Leena asked. Ted shot her a dark look, index finger rising to his lips,

“I’m coming now.” Ted whispered, turning to see the other kids slip through the side gate.

Ted ran as quickly and quietly as he could. Were they trying to get the second grader in trouble, his mind asked. Was the kid in trouble? Why was he following them at all?

As he peeked around the corner, he felt the hairs on the nape of his neck rise. They weren’t going to the Big School after all. They were heading to the disused toilets in the back corner of the old classrooms. A bricked wall separated the two halves of the school, which had cut off the toilets from being seen. Since no one used it, there were no lights inside, and to enter you had to walk through a small corridor. All in total darkness.

Ted shivered.

Sometimes, he and his friends would dare each other to run past. Once he’d dared his friend Johnny to knock on the door. Johnny did. A moment later he’d ran out crying, claiming he’d seen massive red eyes staring at him. They never did go back.

Ted wouldn’t have followed these kids today. Not since that day with Johnny. In fact, not ever. But what if the kid was going to get fed to that red-eyed thing Johnny saw. What if the fourth graders didn’t know? What if they did know?

He thought about calling a teacher but it was already too late. They were approaching the corridor and he could hear the older boy’s snicker. The other kid was crying. But what could he really do? He didn’t know but when all the kids stepped into the corridor, Ted hurried after them.

The entrance was dark. Just a rectangular wall of black. Ted had never seen the sun shine on this side of the building. From inside he could hear whispers, and the younger boy’s sobbing. Someone told him to shut up or they’d leave him inside. Then it went eerily quiet. As though all sound had been cut off from inside.

Ted waited at edge of the corridor, leaning in to hear better. He thought he could hear shuffling. Or maybe mumbling. He wasn’t sure.

Then someone screamed and all the blood drained from his veins and filled up with liquid ice. He stood frozen. Another scream jerked him backwards against the wall. He couldn’t see or feel the shivers that took over his body. He stared at the darkness and he felt it stare back at him.

Then two red eyes blinked open. Ted screamed. His body came back to life and he pushed away from the wall to run. A warm hand gripped his calf. He screamed again.

“Ted! Ted!” He turned around and it was the second grader. He was okay. Ted fought to calm down but then he saw the streaks of red on the kid’s arm.

“What… what happened?”

The kid smiled, revealing more of the red on his teeth.

“Well… we won’t be having a bullying problem anymore.”

Did you pick up the four elements inside the story? What basics do you use to craft your story?

The Five Daughters of the Moon

Title: The Five Daughters of the Moon

Author: Leena Likitalo

Genre: Historical Science Fantasy

Book procurement: Received a copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor.com.

Synopsis:

Inspired by the 1917 Russian revolution and the last months of the Romanov sisters, The Five Daughters of the Moon by Leena Likitalo is a beautifully crafted historical fantasy with elements of technology fueled by evil magic.

The Crescent Empire teeters on the edge of a revolution, and the Five Daughters of the Moon are the ones to determine its future.

Alina, six, fears Gagargi Prataslav and his Great Thinking Machine. The gagargi claims that the machine can predict the future, but at a cost that no one seems to want to know.

Merile, eleven, cares only for her dogs, but she smells that something is afoul with the gagargi. By chance, she learns that the machine devours human souls for fuel, and yet no one believes her claim.

Sibilia, fifteen, has fallen in love for the first time in her life. She couldn’t care less about the unrests spreading through the countryside. Or the rumors about the gagargi and his machine.

Elise, sixteen, follows the captain of her heart to orphanages and workhouses. But soon she realizes that the unhappiness amongst her people runs much deeper that anyone could have ever predicted.

And Celestia, twenty-two, who will be the empress one day. Lately, she’s been drawn to the gagargi. But which one of them was the first to mention the idea of a coup?

Inspired by the 1917 Russian revolution and the last months of the Romanov sisters, The Five Daughters of the Moon is a beautifully crafted historical fantasy with elements of technology fuelled by evil magic.

Review:

First Thoughts

Writing book reviews for Gamecca has been an interesting journey. I’ve been introduced to some amazing books and authors, and some really drab books. I don’t really have a choice, just a list of books to read (which I am very grateful for, I mean free books!) so not all of them are “up my alley.”

The Five Daughters of the Moon didn’t start off as “up my alley” although I was definitely intrigued. By the end of it I was drawn right into the world, characters, and story. Sometimes you just got to give a book a chance.

The Story

The book is based on the Romanov sisters. As the book “The Romanov Sisters” says about them,

“The four captivating Russian Grand Duchesses—Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov—were much admired for their happy dispositions, their looks, the clothes they wore and their privileged lifestyle.”

In that regard, Leena Likitalo did an amazing job of showing this prestige. Even keeping the fact that the sisters used to sew gems into their garments, among many other historical facts. While the novel is based on the sisters, Leena did take a lot of creative freedom. There were originally only four sisters and their youngest brother Alexei, in the novel it’s five sisters. She also changed their names and a little bit of their stories. However reading this novel and the history of the sisters, you can see a lot of correlation. Also, the setting of this story takes place in a science-fantasy world.

We follow each of the sisters lives and experiences, seeing varying situations from each sister’s perspective. The focus is mainly around Gagargi Prataslav, a Sorcerer-Scientist, who has built a contraption known as the Great Thinking Machine. Only this machine is more than what it seems, and each of the sisters begin to slowly realise what the machine will mean to the Crescent Empire.

It is a story of intrigue, drama, betrayal and family. Of a broken society and how each sister tries to live with their life, especially when everything comes crashing down.

That is the role of the younger daughters. To be ignored and forgotten.

~ Merile, Five Daughters of the Moon.

Writing

 

Each chapter is from the perspective of the different sisters, usually starting with the youngest and ending with the oldest. This provides interesting insights into each of the sisters, building up a sense of foreshadowing which is then explained in the next sister’s view. This was done really well, where each sister had a particular way that they provided their view. Sibilia wrote in a diary and that’s how she “spoke”, while Merile focused on her pets, and so on.

Each sister was also unique in personality and there was no doubt who was who (even with the name at the beginning of the chapter). We see how the youngest look up at their older sisters and the persuasions of a young child in a royal family. The oldest sisters were all about finding love and being responsible. The contrasting personalities made for a good read.

The writing style was also flowery. From the world building, to character descriptions and how scenes played out. I liked this style and I felt like I was in the particular room being described. Like I could see each of the sisters, their mother, the Gagargi, etc.

Gagargi Prataslav strides toward us. The heels of his boots clack loudly against the floor. His black robes billow behind him as if he were riding the wind. His dark eyes gleam with pure malice.

~Alina, Five Daughters of the Moon.

Final Thoughts

I realised I couldn’t write female characters as well as Leena because I’m a guy. There are intuitive observations that a female writer has that I have yet to see in many male authors. It was a refreshing take. Also, the little details taken from the actual historical account that were included in the novel added ingenuity to the novel. Great work.

“I have looked into the past and present. But neither of them hold the solution for the problem we face.”

~ Gagargi Prataslav, Five Daughters of the Moon.

Rating: An interesting 4 out of 5


The Sisters of the Crescent Empress (The Waning Moon #2) will be published on the 7th of November 2017.

Did you know:

The Romanov family were executed in Yekaterinburg on the night of 16th-17th, July 1918. – Romanov Family Execution. Don’t worry, the novel doesn’t end with an execution.


Are you an author who wants your book reviewed? Contact me on my site: NthatoMorakabi.com

Genre Writing: Horror Fundamentals

It was a dark and stormy night. The monster under the bed reached for my dangling arm. Little did it know, I was waiting for it instead.

And that’s how you write a horror story. Well not really, but the little piece of micro fiction above uses basic elements I include into all my horror stories. In today’s segment, I will be breaking down the story to show you how I write horror.

Remember, this isn’t the only way or the best way to write horror, it’s my method for building the foundation of a horror. Right, let’s get into it.

It’s All About Atmosphere – It was a dark and stormy night.

Atmosphere is such an important aspect of horror. It creates the mood of the story and helps put the reader’s frame of mind into the right state. Subconsciously, the reader knows the story is going to be dark. You see it on TV and in movies. The Blacklist is my favourite TV series. It has a dark grungy tinge to it compared to NCIS Los Angeles where everything looks hued in gold (ugh). If you watch horror films, you’ll notice that there’s a dark tinge to everything, even during the day.

Which is why the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night.” became so popular in writing. People knew immediately that what was to follow wouldn’t be good. Because good things never happen during stormy nights.

Vocabulary Is Important: I am a descriptive writer. I want you to have a strong image of the world, characters, mood, and world as you read. Each word I use must convey something. Whether it is unease, foreboding, anxiety, apprehension, or tension. From describing the world to describing the character. Atmosphere is my scary soundtrack playing in the background, building you up for the scare.

At night however, the park was a void surrounded by dark, silent husks, watching over the emptiness.

~Current WIP

Fear Factor: The monster under the bed.

Everyone has a fear. It could be spiders, heights, enclosed spaces, clowns, snakes and various other things. There are movies and books for each of those fears I’ve listed. The greatest fear however, is the fear of the unknown. You may not be afraid of spiders because you’ve had a pet spider and you think they are adorable. But what if the spider started acting in a way you’re not used to. Uncharacteristically. Malicious. Vicious. Dangerous. Would you be afraid then?

Then of course you have the occult and that’s a whole different set of unknown variables.

 

Create the Fear: When I write horror, I do not know what everyone’s fear is. In that case, I will either use my own fears, or find a situation that could induce fear with the right elements. Things like:

  • I’m home alone… but there’s a noise in the house.
  • I find an old journal… but it starts filling itself out.
  • I wake up… it’s the middle of the night and there’s a shadow at the foot of my bed.

Occasionally I will use real-life experiences (sleep apnea – sleep paralysis) or really creepy facts, for the basis of my horror.

Did you know that when you wake up at around 2-3AM without reason, there’s an 80% chance that someone is staring at you?

The Characters Are Flawed – …reached for my dangling arm.

Some horror writers use subtle descriptions to show a character flaw, something as mundane as hair, nails, a smile, eyes etc. These specific details become the medium to show how characters digress during the course of the story. We are shown that they are “real” people. At the same time they begin to fall into a character type. Things like artificial features create a character trope. The flawless cheerleader equals killer fodder. The grungy outcast equals the hero. The religious zealot equals crazy misunderstood sub-antagonist.

Also, when someone is in a stressful situation they may lose their sense of self, letting themselves go, lack sleep etc which may cause them to make bad decisions. Actions may also show a break in their character, like leaving an arm dangling over the edge of a bed (bad mistake) when they would have snuggled into their blankets. When someone is put into an unknown situation, they may react differently to their usual self. Fear does that. The teen getting chased who goes upstairs. The kid who tries to get over their fear by going to the basement. The character who stands to fight instead of running.

Describe Their Digression: Characters barely start off insane (unless you’re writing from the “killer’s” perspective.) I’ll start off with the character being “normal”, doing the right things and being a productive member of society. Then slowly I let the paranoia sink in. Something as routine as opening the wardrobe becomes an anxiety inducing experience. The sense of “safety” vanishes and the characters have nervous breakdowns during regular everyday occurrences. The fear becomes irrationally real. When done right, you too as the reader will feel their apprehension.

It was a door. Just a door. Wood. Golden handle. Keyhole. A door. Nothing seemed to exist past the door; not the voices from the television set in the lounge, not the incessant banging from the brat in the adjacent apartment, and not the beep of the microwave stating its completed cycle. Only the door.

~ Current WIP

The Twist – Little did it know, I was waiting for it instead.

Horror is a delve into the darker, perhaps more realistic side of humanity. The side where bad things happen to good people. Adding a twist to the story can create strong tension between the reader and the unfolding story.

Foreshadowing works wonders when creating clever, unexpected twists. For instance, there might be a monster that appears under a bed. You show a new character buying a new bed and bringing it home. At night they go to bed and they hear scratching below. The reader anticipates the monster but when the character checks under the bed, there’s nothing. As they rise back to get into bed… BOOM monster is under the sheets.

Make or Break The Cliche: Cliche’s are great because they work. The monster under/in the bed/wardrobe/basement/attic is a common component in horror. Much like the dilapidated haunted house. They work because there are a lot of unknown variables attached to them. And its dark in there.

I use cliche’s often. What I do, however, is add a twist to them just to mix things up. I direct the reader through the usual expected path, then throw in hints that imply one thing, only to reveal it to be something else. For instance, writing about a haunted house, but making the monsters inside be the victims instead. Here’s one story playing on this idea: Friday Fiction – Random Prompt

Stephen King is an example of an author who varies the stories he writes. For instance, he writes the cliched haunted house story in The Shining. On the other hand, he takes a mundane object like a car, and turns it into Christine, the car with a mind of its own.

The Beauty of Horror

While horror freaks me out, it is that very fact that makes it such a beautiful thing. That words on paper could induce as much fear and paranoia as a movie. How words can impact the mind and emotions. It’s just great.


In my next segment I’ll talk about my research. It’s quite interesting if I do say so myself and the first rule of research is… don’t get freaked out haha.

Have these points helped you out in anyway? Are there any fundamentals that you use in your writing, horror or otherwise? You got any tips of your own? I would love to know.

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