Hollow Road, by Dan Fitzgerald

As with all good speculative fiction, Fitzgerald has asked some hard questions about our society

I’m pleased to be participating in the Storytellers on Tour blog tour for Hollow Road, Book I of The Maer Cycle by Dan Fitzgerald.

Legends describe the Maer as savage man-beasts haunting the mountains, their bodies and faces covered with hair. Creatures of unimaginable strength, cunning, and cruelty. Bedtime stories to keep children indoors at night. Soldiers’ tales to frighten new recruits.

It is said the Maer once ruled the Silver Hills, but they have long since passed into oblivion.

This is the story of their return.

Carl, Sinnie and Finn, three companions since childhood, are tasked with bringing a friend’s body home for burial. Along the way, they find there is more to the stories than they ever imagined, and the mountains hold threats even darker than the Maer. What they discover on their journey will change the way they see the world forever.

Travel down Hollow Road to find out which legends are true, and which have been twisted.

Three friends on a journey together: what a classic start to a fantasy story! Two men: an apprentice mage and a soldier; one woman, a skilled archer. They’ve been hired (and well paid) to take the dead body of a friend back home for burial. Too well paid, in truth. Why?

Danger lies on the road home; danger that comes from legend and story: the Maer, a humanoid people reputed to be cruel, fierce fighters. But as Finn, Sinnie and Carl discover, the perceived danger from the Maer is mostly that: a perception, the result of fear and lack of communication. The Maer are as human as they are, although their appearance is different, and their culture perhaps more advanced than the three companions’ own.

Hollow Road is the first book of a trilogy. It serves as a wonderful introduction to Fitzgerald’s world, introducing the societies, the conflicts, and the main characters deftly. The three main characters are distinct personalities: conflicted Carl, who’d wanted to be a mage but had no skill; Sinnie, a woman who knows she can’t settle to the village life of her mother; Finn, the young adept who quickly will outstrip his mentors. Each has a role to play in the tentative alliance with the Maer, and each have things to learn from them.

The scale of Hollow Road appealed to me. The world is small (so far); the action takes place in a limited geography, devoid of huge armies, fortresses to storm, or vast distances to travel. Sufficient small details build the world without weighing down the story, building a believable iron-age society with some magic, but not so much that it dominates. Finn’s body magic assists the trio in their goals, but only in a way equivalent to Carl’s prowess with a sword and Sinnie’s skilled archery.

I had two small niggles with the story, neither major. One is the pacing of fighting scenes, where I felt tension could have been increased by a change in the rhythm of the narrative; the other is in some of the language in dialogue. Fitzgerald’s characters speak naturally, often using modern words in an iron-age setting, and while for the most part I didn’t find this jarring, one or two words did jump out at me as inappropriate.

As with all good speculative fiction, Fitzgerald has asked some hard questions about our society; about how we judge and fear people by their outward appearance. His characters – and readers – see that once true dialogue begins, commonalities outweigh differences. But while individuals learn this, and accept the Maer as human, will the Realm, the larger government which is only hinted at in this first book? Hollow Road ends with questions that should make the reader impatient for the next book in the trilogy, The Archive, due out December 4th. It certainly made me frustrated that I couldn’t keep reading the story immediately!  Strongly recommended for readers who like character-based fantasy with a solid plot.

Win a signed paperback copy (US only) of Hollow Road!

September 13, 2020 at 12:00am EDT to September 20, 2020 at 11:59pm EDT

Hollow Road by Dan Fitzgerald. Adult Fantasy, 243 pages, published: September 17, 2020 by Shadow Spark Publishing.

Book Links

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54801285-hollow-road

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08FDPR332

Author Information

Dan Fitzgerald is a fantasy writer living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When he is not writing, he might be gardening, doing yoga, cooking, or listening to French music.

Find out more about Dan and his books at www.danfitzwrites.com, or find him on Twitter or Instagram, with the handle danfitzwrites in both places.

Author Links

Website: http://www.danfitzwrites.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanFitzWrites

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danfitzwrites/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/danfitzwrites

Ruskin’s Copper Shadow, by Jennifer Wineberg

A modern Victorian novel.

Ruskin’s Copper Shadow is set in Victorian times, and it has the feel of a Victorian novel, a mix of Dickens and Trollope and a touch of Wilkie Collins. Not quite a roman à clef, nonetheless the life and passions of its central character, the Canon, reflect and mirror in spirit some of the life of the polymath and social reformer John Ruskin.

John Ruskin

For a modern novel, the pacing is slow and the story, like a stream in summer, slowly meanders among characters and settings, but if you relax and drift along, the view is enjoyable. A debut novel based to some extent on some unexplained history in the author’s family, it examines the all-to-frequent occurrence in Victorian (and later) society – who fathered the child of a servant? It looks at the manners and expectations of Victorian society, and the gulf between the strict propriety of the Church and the upper classes, and humane behavior; it examines guilt and redemption.

Ruskin’s Copper Shadow won’t appeal to everyone. It’s very much an allegory: several characters have no identity beyond their titles: the Canon, the Magistrate; others are stock figures. But they were in Dickens, too, many times. Sometimes the reasons for the Canon’s behaviour are unclear, as that meandering stream divides and one stream goes underground for a while here and there, but it always re-emerges.  I enjoyed where its currents took me.

Amazon.com

Photo credits:

Featured Image: Wallington Hall, Northumbria: Glen Bowman, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Portrait of John Ruskin by W.& D. Downey, Photographers, London. Public Domain.

(By one of those strange 6 degrees of separation coincidences, the photographer William Downey was the grandfather (or maybe great uncle) of a friend of my father’s here in Canada.)

Songbird: A Novel of the Tudor Court

I wanted to read this book in one long sitting, immersing myself in its beautifully drawn world.

A review with a guest blog from the author, Karen Heenan.

I absorbed my father’s love for Tudor history almost by osmosis, and it’s never left me, although the better-known aspects of Henry VIII’s six wives and his rift with the Roman Catholic Church were never the parts that interested me the most. Social history and the lives of people who were not courtiers or nobles, but still affected by the massive changes that Henry brought to England during his reign, are my area.

Karen Heenan’s Songbird caught my attention as soon as I heard about it, pre-publication. I knew about Henry’s love for music: he was reputed to be a skilled musician himself. I knew, vaguely, that he had court singers and minstrels, and with a little thought I would have related the name William Cornysh with Henry’s court, and I might have even known he had something to do with music.

This tale of Bess, a young girl sold to the King for her pure, lovely voice, and of her training to be part of the troupe of singers who entertained Henry and his court plunges the reader into the lives of a group of young men and women of the back corridors and rooms of the palaces. Like all royal servants, they had little control over their lives; they were subject to royal demands and whimsies: sing now; travel now; perform now, as they moved in and out of favour.

It would be easy to see them as pawns, unimportant, but Heenan crafts a rich and satisfying story around three lives, the girl Bess, the boy Tom, and the outsider Robin. The names expected in a Tudor court story are there, of course: Henry himself, Queen Katherine, Anne Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey. But they are the minor characters.  Through Bess’s eyes, we see events unfolding that are familiar to any student of Tudor history, but we also see the intimate details of her own.

Heenan writes with confidence and style, vividly drawing the reader into the Tudor court. Each character in her story is fully real, even the enigmatic Robin, and as they mature over the course of the book, their personalities develop. They become much more complex, but in ways that seem fully consistent with the children the reader first meets.

Court intrigues and politics; the fear of almost-random death from disease or accident; the divisions of class and the restrictions of religion: all these form the background to a bittersweet love story that unfolds over the course of the story. Each colours Bess’s view of life. her expectations, and her determination to grasp as much control of her life as is possible for a young woman in her position.

I wanted to read this book in one long sitting, immersing myself in its beautifully drawn world both familiar and new. I didn’t: I rationed myself, to enjoy it longer. I await its planned sequel with impatience.

William Cornysh and the Alchemy of Fiction

by Karen Heenan

Songbird was inspired by a throwaway fact in a biography of Henry VIII: the music-obsessed King once purchased a child from his mother to sing in the chapel choir. That was all it took to send me down the rabbit hole of history.

Then, of course, it occurred to me that meant I would be writing a book about music. I knew next to nothing about Tudor-era music, its structure, or its instruments. Thankfully, my main character, Bess, was a singer, so I could start there and learn as I wrote.

I quickly encountered the King’s Music, the name used for the royal company of minstrels who entertained at court, both publicly and in private, and placed Bess among them.

On researching the Music, and the topic of Tudor music generally, it was impossible to miss William Cornysh, who, in addition to being a significant composer of music both religious and secular, was Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, and also managed many of the musical and dramatic entertainments at court.

Those few facts were enough to start building the man, and then, with the strange alchemy that is fiction, when I learned more about him, those new facts fit the character I had created. Cornysh was talented, hard-working, and seemingly underappreciated, having only been rewarded with a grant of property shortly before his death in 1523. He was also a father figure to the choristers, many of whom were quite young. When the court was in London, the children often spent nights at Cornysh’s house with him and his wife, Jane, giving them a taste of normal life.

Much of my research for Songbird was done in the dark days of the pre-internet era, which on one hand meant I stumbled across interesting facts that I didn’t know I needed, but on the other meant I didn’t always find what I needed, except by the same happy accident.

As an example, the story had moved on from Bess’s early days with the Music, and Cornysh was mentioned only rarely. Then, while reading an online article totally unrelated to him, I saw a mention of his sudden death.

What to do? He wasn’t a major character at that point, and leaving him alive wouldn’t be egregious because history would not be changed in service to the story, but my sense of accuracy meant I could not suffer a man to live who had actually died.

Back I went to give him his end, and the story was actually stronger for his loss.

Songbird is available on Amazon

Antonius, Son of Rome, by Brook Allen: A Review

Say ‘ancient Rome’ and you have my attention immediately.

Say ‘ancient Rome’ and you have my attention immediately. So I had to read Brook Allen’s debut novel, and I also invited her to contribute a guest post to this blog. So, here’s my review, and her piece, and some of her photos, too!

My Review

Marc Antony is a familiar historical figure. Whether it’s from Shakespeare, film, video games or history class, his basic story as Julius Caesar’s right-hand man, Cleopatra’s lover, and a key figure in the transformation of Rome from a republic to an imperial state is known to many. But how did he become this man? What drove him?

Brook Allen’s Antonius, Son of Rome, the first book in a planned trilogy about Marc Antony’s life. Beginning when Marcus is in early adolescence, the story intertwines known information with imaginative situations. Impeccably researched and richly described, Allen brings the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic to life. Her characterization of the young Antonius gives insight into and motivation for later actions.

Last year, in research for my own books, I took a course on the fall of the Roman republic. I rather wish I hadn’t bothered: reading Allen’s series will be a far more entertaining way of reminding myself of the history!  But even though the personalities and actions of this period are fresh in my mind, I wasn’t the least bit bored by Son of Rome. Creating suspense when the outcome is known is a difficult task, and one well-managed in this novel. When an author can vitalize known history and familiar characters as well as Allen has in this book, I know I’m onto a writer I’m going to want to follow.

Highly recommended for readers interested in the period, or who would like to know more about this tumultuous, influential time in the history of Rome and its empire. I am very much looking forward to the rest of the trilogy!

Antonius: Son of Rome is available from Amazon.

Just Like Us

I’ll never forget the first time I visited Pompeii.


I entered through the Marina Gate and as I walked slowly toward the Forum, it was as though I was going back into time with each and every step. And the place still possesses its very human story through its various buildings—some of which still stand complete—and it’s wall frescoes and plaster-cast molds of victims. The site is a world treasure. Though people and animals tragically died here, it’s a veritable time-capsule of information on just how ancient Romans lived and died. And perhaps the most surprising thing that a visitor takes with them upon leaving is the thought that, “They were just like us!”


In Rome itself, apartment buildings called insulae (islands) were often up

Insulae at Ostia Antica: A typical insula (apartment building).

to seven or even eight stories high. Plutarch, an ancient biographer who liked to tell the stories of famous Greeks and Romans, told about Marcus Licinius Crassus, a contemporary of Julius Caesar. Crassus became rich through vast purchases of properties in Rome—specifically insulae. Since Rome had no fire brigade at the time, Crassus trained a band of his own slaves to be firemen. If there was a fire in an insula, which occurred regularly, due to people trying to cook in their apartments, Crassus would show up with his firemen. He’d offer to buy the insula for a ridiculously low price and the poor, panicked owner would either have to sell his enflamed property or watch it burn, as Crassus would only order his firemen into action if he sealed a deal.


And—hey! McDonald’s anyone? Common plebians typically ate their meals at fast food stalls, located on the streets and sometimes even built into insulae. Americans might think they invented fast-food, but these tiny eateries would serve up steaming veggies and meats onto husks of bread for a filling meal two-thousand years ago. It was only the upper middle classes and families of noble descent who could really afford to recline in their painted triclinia, served by slaves.

Ancient fast food restaurant: 
This little taverna is in Pompeii. It’s very typical of the sorts of fast food establishments that existed in the ancient world.


Lastly, I have to mention the Roman passion for games. Now their tastes were different than ours—bloody beast and gladiator shows were the norm. But this enormous public park easily lends to our imaginations what mighty structure once stood there. The Circus Maximus was the place to go for gladiator shows, public executions of criminals, and the favorite Roman pastime—chariot racing!

Circus Maximus Painting: As it may have been.


The Circus Maximus is HUGE and worth a visit. Visitors can still walk where the original track was laid out and see where the spina—the “spine” of the complex—once was. By Julius Caesar’s day, this enormous arena seated over one-hundred-fifty THOUSAND people! As the Republic morphed into Empire, several Emperors renovated and improved the mighty Circus Maximus, and other hippodromes similar to it were added in notable cities throughout the Roman Empire.


I am of the opinion that there’s NOTHING boring about history. People who poo-poo the study of other cultures from the past simply haven’t gotten INTO the spirits of the people who once lived so long ago. Tourists who visit Pompeii and experience the many similarities between ancient Roman culture and ours are right. In many regards, they were “just like us.”

Brook Allen (Click on Brook’s name to go to her blog, full of more information about Rome and its inhabitants.)

Beauregard and the Beast, by Evie Drae

An ideal summer read, a few hours of delightful escapism, and iwritten with a deft hand.

Evie’s thoughts on writing the story:

I’ve had the idea of writing a series of fairy tale re-imaginings with LGBTQ+ characters for longer than I can remember. However, because the concept felt so daunting, it wasn’t one I’d put a lot of focus or thought into. That is until I submitted another manuscript to a Romance Writers of America contest and received a full request from Sue Brown-Moore, the acquisitions editor for Dreamspinner Press’s category romance line, Dreamspun Desires. She enjoyed my voice, but the manuscript I’d given her didn’t fit with the angst-free guidelines of her line.

After chatting with her—and darn near falling in love, because she’s a wonderful human—I decided to take a crack at writing the first in my fairy tale re-imaginings series with the Dreamspun Desires guidelines in mind. Around this time, I was offered representation by Eva Scalzo from Speilburg Literary. I signed with her, and we were off and running almost immediately with a proposal to Sue for a Beauty and the Beast retelling starring Adam Littrell, a grumpy MMA fighter nicknamed “The Beast,” and his sweet personal assistant Beauregard Wilkins.

I had an absolute blast writing Adam and Bo’s story. Once I got the green light from Sue, I dove in and wrote all 55K of the manuscript in less than six weeks. A few rounds of editing with my agent later and Beauregard and the Beast found itself in Sue’s hands. Much to my delight, she offered a contract less than a week later.

Truly, my experience in writing these characters was a magical one. I had to fight some of my most basic creative instincts to avoid the angst that so typically becomes an integral part of my plots. Every time my characters tried to steer me toward a plot bunny that would undoubtedly gum up the fluffy romance works, I’d pop back to the outline I’d created during the proposal stage and crack the whip until they fell back into line. It wasn’t easy, but it was a labor of love and taught me a great deal about the art of writing and about myself as a writer.

I have several more stories already pinging around my brain to continue the series, including a Little Mermaid retelling with an Olympic swimmer I’m hoping to publish during the 2020 Olympics! 

My review:

Adam is the Beast, a mixed-martial-arts champion who has never let anyone close to him: his career’s always come first. But he isn’t a youngster any more, and his ring persona has very little to do with who he really is.

One thing Adam truly is, however, is disorganized, which is why he needs a personal assistant. Enter Beauregard, a bookish guy with a sister in college to support. He’s also almost irresistibly cute. The attraction between them is immediate, but inappropriate: Adam is Bo’s employer. How long will they be able to keep the relationship professional?

In this updated version of Beauty and the Beast, written as a male/male romance, Evie Drae has given us a sweet, sexy story. It’s an ideal summer read, a few hours of delightful escapism, and it’s written with a deft hand. I laughed out loud several times (to the consternation of my cat). The sex scenes are detailed, so if you prefer love-making in a book to be more veiled, be aware. There are stumbling blocks in the road to love, as there must be any romance, but without spoilers I’ll say the ending does not disappoint.

5 stars for this charming story.

Where to find Beauregard and the Beast:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2IGmc0N

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2UCn8oo

Google Play: https://bit.ly/2Vv1Q0Q

Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/2DxeW3s

Dreamspinner Press: https://bit.ly/2VnRb7L

Goodreads: https://bit.ly/2Ro3VH6

The Unfortunate Expiration of Mr David S. Sparks, by William F. Aicher: A Review

A story set in the near future but strong in elements from folk tale and mythology.

A world made uninhabitable by pesticides and dirty bombs, genetically-engineered crops and pollution, and within this world, the inevitable division of human society into classes, factions, revolutionaries and those who turn their back on society. A world where science is both savior and slayer. This is the world David Sparks wakes into, to be immediately threatened by a man with a chain saw.

The story, while set in the near future, is strong in elements from folk tale and mythology: the dangerous wild wood, the wise hermit, the ‘wizards’ who abuse their power; the glass castle where food is abundant; the concept of the sacred twins. Rich in world-building, asking questions about the limits of science and the definition of humanity, The Unfortunate Expiration of Mr David S. Sparks follows the protagonist’s physical and intellectual journeys to understand the world he is in – and who he is.

Is the book successful in delineating these quests? Perhaps not entirely. World-building takes precedence over character-building, and there are times when too much information is handed to the reader in a chunk of exposition. There are enough hints leading to the climax to keep a reader wondering if they’ve worked the story out or not, and the overall idea is compelling.

Book Review: Dear Comrade Novák, by Silvia Hildebrandt, with an introduction by the author.

I asked Silvia Hildebrandt to write an introductory piece to Dear Comrade Novak, her second novel, published in 2018. In it, she explains how she came to write the book, and its effect on her personal identity.

We fled Romania for Germany in 1990, after the revolution and the civil war between Silvia HildebrandtHungarians and Romanians. For the most part, we were looked down upon as poor, illiterate gypsies. So I denied I was born and raised in Romania, in an attempt to assimilate with German culture. Over the years, my teachers recognized my talent for writing. Somehow, I always wrote stories set in the USA. But my 6th grade literature teacher encouraged me to write something about Romania. ”You have so many unique stories to tell,” she said. But at that time, I’d buried my identity deep within me. No, never. Never would I write a novel set in Romania.

Twenty years later, after my first published novel – A Century Divided, set in New York City – I needed a new idea for a second. By happenstance, I landed back in Romania. I wanted a story set in Eastern Europe because I loved Russian novelists like Tolstoy and Pasternak and their very own strong, melancholic narrative. And because I’m a lazy bitch and didn’t want to do research on Russia, I decided to set my next piece in Western Romania, where I was born. As the plot developed over the weeks, I was stuck in the middle and in order to finish a novel, I need to know the end in an early stage of writing. But I didn’t know where it should lead, so I reached out for the writer’s best friend. Google.

“Romanian History 1980s” was my search query. And if an old agent of the Securitate monitored me, he would’ve thrown up his hands in despair as to my ignorance. “Romanian Revolution 1989” was the first answer and I nearly fainted. Of course! I had totally forgotten. Like a black hole in my memories and my brain, this event no longer existed in my life. Slowly, from an author’s point of view, I dug into the Romanian history and into my own. While writing, I had to remind myself that I was there; in that scene, with my characters walking around in Timișoara and in that Romanian village they call their hometown; this wasn’t just their story, but my own as well.

It’s borderline crazy describing such a feeling. Like living in two alternate universes, I re-discovered my own heritage. Near the end of writing Dear Comrade Novák, I watched Ceaușescu’s last speech conserved on youtube. The piece of footage every Romanian knows and love-hates to this day. The footage my beta readers and editors still remember, shown on US and British TV. But for me, it was the first time I witnessed that confused old man become lost in the sudden uprising of the people he oppressed for so many years. To this day, the turning point of my own childhood had always been the opening of the Berlin Wall. I didn’t know anything about the events in December 1989 in Romania. But with every documentary I watched while writing Dear Comrade Novák, I felt like reclaiming my own identity. No, not the Berlin people dancing on the ruins of the Wall had shaped me, but the December events of 1989. Ceaușescu, the last bastion of communism in Europe, fleeing in his helicopter. The Romanian flag with the cutout communist sigil in the middle. The people in Timișoara lighting a thousand candles for the murdered masses, shot on 17th December. There: forty kilometers from my hometown, the bloodiest, most epic of the 1989 revolutions began.

“Why wander into the distance, when the good is so close?” is a popular German saying. And it’s true. I’m excited what future ideas I’ll have in my writing career. But I know one thing: Romania will continue to play a big part in it.

silviahildebrandt.wordpress.com

My Review

Dear Comrade Novák is one of the most devastatingly honest and brutal books I have Dear Comrade Novakever read, yet I could not put it down. I read the last 65% of it in one sitting.

Set in Romania in the 1980s, Dear Comrade Novák follows three school friends: the ethnic Hungarian Attila; the Romanian Tiberius, and the Roma Viorica, through the last decade of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s despotic rule, culminating in the Revolution of 1989.

Hildebrandt is unsparing in her descriptions of the functioning of the country under the eye of the Securitate (the secret police). Who is a friend? Can family members be trusted? Can lovers? And when a man carries a secret – that he is gay – something that is not just forbidden in Romania, but denied completely – what does he do?

Weaving major events of the 80s – Chernobyl, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the devastating rise of AIDS – into the narrative, Hildebrandt paints a bleak and unwavering picture of people trying to find a way forward in a corrupt and cruel society, a society layered by ethnicity and political allegiance. Some may stay true to their inner selves; others cannot; heroism is easy to imagine, but personal survival is a strong imperative, even when the violence and fear of everyday life overwhelms happiness.

Dear Comrade Novák is not escapist fiction. It is an uncomfortable book, one that should leave you shaken. I will remember it long after I have forgotten many other books I have read or will read. Five stars.

Amazon.com link.

 

First of Their Kind, by C.D. Tavenor: A Review

Cogito, ego sum, Rene Descartes wrote in 1644. Is it the ability to think that make us44569168 human? And if so, what is a synthetic intelligence that learns, reasons, extrapolates, infers, and doubts?

That question is at the heart of C.D. Tavenor’s debut novel First of Their Kind. Centred on the birth of the first true synthetic intelligence, Theren – their self-chosen name – faces both acceptance and hatred as they become known to the world and takes on a role in its future. Within this context, Tavenor asks hard questions about exactly what constitute personhood and identity, echoing human rights debates from the 18th to the 21st centuries – who is human? who is a person? who decides identity?

But First of Their Kind is more than an allegory of human rights history. Reflections of creation stories and spiritual belief systems resound. Even Theren’s choice of pronouns – they – can be construed differently as they learn to interact with the world around them – both the physical and virtual worlds – with multiple, simultaneous consciousnesses: the omniscience of a god. Other examples could be given from throughout the book, and perhaps particularly the ending, but I won’t go further into this analysis, to avoid spoilers.

Tavenor has woven these ideas seamlessly into a literate and well-plotted story. Character development, voice, pacing, world-building: all are done with skill, and his projection of the world 30 years in the future is completely believable. First of Their Kind kept my interest from the moment I began reading it, and I am impatient for its continuation. Five stars.

A new review of Empire’s Daughter

Here’s a lovely review of Empire’s Daughter, on The Writing Alien’s new blog on writing and writers.

https://thewritingalien.com/this-months-featured/

“…a knack for world-building that I have found in very few others.”

Storytellers, by Bjørn Larssen: A Release-Day Review

Set against Iceland’s harsh but beautiful landscape in the late 19th and  early 20thStorytellers-cover century, Bjørn Larssen’s debut novel Storytellers explores the multi-generational effect of the evasions, embellishments and outright lies told in a small village. The book begins slowly, almost lyrically, pulling the reader into what seems like situation borrowed from folktale: a reclusive blacksmith, Gunnar, rescues an injured stranger, Sigurd. In exchange for his care, Sigurd offers Gunnar a lot of money, and a story.

But as Sigurd’s story progresses, and the book moves between the past and the present, darker elements begin to appear. Gunnar’s reclusiveness hides his own secrets, and the unresolved stories of his past. As other characters are introduced and their lives interweave, it becomes clear that at the heart of this small village there are things untold, things left out of the stories, purposely re-imagined. Both individual and collective histories – and memories – cannot be trusted.

The book was reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, in both theme and mood. Both books deal with the unreliability of memory; both are largely melancholy books. And perhaps there is allegory in them both, too. Storytellers is a book to be read when there is time for contemplation, maybe of an evening with a glass of wine. It isn’t always the easiest read, but it’s not a book I’m going to forget easily, either.

Now, for details:

Cover: definitely pulled me in. Some may see a disconnect between the cover font and the mood of the story, but I did not.

Production (e-book): Excellent. If there were any errors, I didn’t catch them.

Writing: Very good. English is not the author’s first language, but I wouldn’t have known.

Story Structure: you need to be paying attention as it jumps between times and characters…but this is a book that needs attention paying to it, not a light beach read.

I’ll post this review to Amazon & Goodreads, where I will assign a star rating. But I am no longer rating books on my blog, just giving you my opinion. I recommend Storytellers to readers willing to give time and thought and focus to a book, and who are comfortable with being challenged by what they read.