Wednesday, 5 January 2022
Prologue: Marius (A Century Ago)
“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”
― Norman Vincent Peale
There is definitely something magical about this time of year because even my unsociable cat (that’s her on the left) joins in the fun! Under the Christmas tree is her favourite place to be 🎄.
I haven’t had much time for either reading or writing lately, but I’m hoping to escape into some fictional realities over the festive season. I took this photo of Winchester Cathedral last weekend, and the purple lighting made me think of Xytovian magic and xyleander trees! I guess it’s a sign of how much I miss the characters. I’ll be able to focus on Averine and Kellan as soon as the final Light Mage story is released, and I can’t wait.
Today’s post contains three seasonal books that I’ve added to my TBR list in anticipation of the upcoming holiday. I wanted something a little different to the traditional Christmas romances this year, and I looked for snowy/icy/winter content instead of mistletoe and kisses ❄. I wish I could press the pause button on my life and keep reading them all the way to the end! So many books, so little time…
In 2017 and 2019, I wrote a couple of Christmas stories featuring the characters from the Legacy of Androva series. The first one takes place at the end of Seeking Magic, and you can find it here. The second one is an epilogue to the final book, and I posted it here.
If all goes well, I’ll be back before the end of the year with an update on Spell Master’s release. I hope you find my reading choices interesting, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today 💕. Happy Holidays and happy reading!
Wicked As You Wish, by
What if every story you'd ever heard was true? Jack killed the giants. Red slayed the wolf. Rapunzel fled the tower. But the greatest one of all, had yet to be told.
Once upon a time, the magical Kingdom of Avalon was left to wither and die after the Snow Queen encased it in ice. Its former citizens are now refugees. Which is why crown prince Alex and his protectors are stuck in... Arizona.
Tala Makiling has lived her life as an outsider. Her family curse, the one that's doomed her to be a spellbreaker, someone who destroys magic, hasn't won her too many friends. Except Alex, who trusts her and her family to keep his royal identity a secret.
And then one night, a famous creature of legend, the Firebird, appears in their tiny town, reigniting hope for their abandoned homeland. Alex and Tala team up with a ragtag group of new friends to journey back to Avalon. Their path is filled with danger—from deadly prophecies, to terrifying ice wolves, a traitor among them, and the Snow Queen herself. But if they succeed... their story would be legendary.
Magic—hurl-a-fireball-like-you’re-a-wizard-from-the-Middle-Ages magic anyway—was banned in the Royal States of America. Anyone caught using it could face steep fines, imprisonment, and even deportation. The effects of magic had been devastating during the last war, and the fear still lingered.
Spelltech, on the other hand, was legal. Spelltech was the loop-hole—a spell that was cast on an item instead of on a person was all fine and dandy. Spelltech magic had more restrictions and less variety.
But even sanctioned spells like spelltech never seemed to work in Invierno, like magic didn’t want to be caught dead here either.
“I’m Alex…” A significant pause. “Smith. I live down the street.” The boy looked down. “Probably not the first meeting you envisioned,” he added, a little miserably.
He was still trying to keep up the pretense, though Tala knew who he was. Lola Urduja and her parents had been planning Alex’s arrival for weeks. Tala had been instructed to treat the prince like she would a normal person. As if she had friendships with other nobles to compare to.
But even then, no one had told her that Alexei Tsarevich, the last remaining king of Avalon, could turn people into frogs.
Five Total Strangers, by
Natalie D. Richards
She thought being stranded was the worst thing that could happen. She was wrong.
Mira needs to get home for the holidays. Badly. But when an incoming blizzard results in a canceled connecting flight, it looks like she might get stuck at the airport indefinitely.
And then Harper, Mira's glamorous seatmate from her initial flight, offers her a ride. Harper and her three friends can drop Mira off on their way home. But as they set off, Mira realizes fellow travelers are all total strangers. And every one of them is hiding something.
Soon, roads go from slippery to terrifying. People's belongings are mysteriously disappearing. Someone in the car is clearly lying, and may even be sabotaging the trip—but why? And can Mira make it home alive, or will this nightmare drive turn fatal?
“Dammit,” Harper says, her voice high and tight. “I can barely see for all that ice.”
“I can drive if you want,” Brecken says. “I learned to drive in upstate New York, so this is nothing.”
“I’ve got it,” Harper says. “I just wish I had clean glass.”
I stare out the window, pondering a lazy stream of internal questions. Is this really a blizzard? How fast are we going? Is Mom doing okay? Is someone in this car watching me?
I straighten, because it’s a strange question to pop into my mind. Stranger still is the chill that rolls up my spine, the prickle of the hairs on my arms standing on end. I look around, because it’s exactly the kind of feeling I’d get if someone was watching me.
But they aren’t. No one is paying me the least bit of attention.
The Snow-Walker's Son, by
From the swirling mists and the icy realms beyond the edge of the world came the Snow-Walker Gudrun, her sorcery bringing tyranny and fear to the Jarl's people. All hope of restoring the true Jarl to his throne seems lost.
In the first part of a trilogy of enchantment, a terrifying journey into exile takes Jessa and Thorkil to the ruined fortress of Thrasirshall. Inside, say the rumours, is a dark menace kept hidden from the world; the Snow-Walker's own son.
After an endless journey, Thorkil and Jessa arrive and, at last meet Kari. He is not as they feared but is a slight winsome young man. His only terror is that he, too, has the power. But he is determined to use the magic wisely.
The hall was empty. Jessa edged inside and began to wander idly about, pulling the thick furred collar of her coat up around her face. She was early.
It had been a bitter night. The snow had blown in under the door and spread across the floor. A pool of wine that someone had spilt under the table was frozen to a red slab. She nudged it with her foot; solid as glass. Even the spiders were dead on their webs; the thin nets shook in the draught.
She walked to the great pillar of oak that grew up through the middle of the Hall. It was heavily carved with old runes and magic signs, but over them all, obliterating them, was a newer cutting: a contorted snake that twisted itself down in white spirals. She brushed the frost off it with her gloved fingers. The snake was Gudrun’s sign. A witch’s sign.
She waited, grinding the ice to white powder under her heel.
Light gathered, slowly. Corners of tables and tapestries loomed out of the shadows; a cart rumbled by outside, and the carter’s shout echoed in the roof. Jessa kicked the frozen fire. Why hadn’t she come late—sauntered in sweetly when the Jarl was waiting, just to show him that she didn’t care, that he couldn’t order her as he wanted?
“A place is only as good as the people in it.”
― Pittacus Lore
One of the things I love about writing fantasy is the world building, and location inspiration can be really helpful, especially when you find somewhere that resembles one of your imaginary settings. After I finished the Legacy of Androva with Connecting Magic (more than three years ago―time flies!), I wrote a blog post to say goodbye to three of the most memorable locations in the series. I thought I’d do the same for the Light Mage trilogy now that the third and final book is almost finished.
Most of the Androva series locations were entirely fictional, aside from the notable exceptions of Pompeii and Verulamium. In the Light Mage stories, it’s more of a blend, with key scenes in each book happening in real-life places (albeit from an imaginary perspective!). These places also feature on the books’ covers, and I’m going to focus on them for today’s post.
Have you ever visited a particular location just because it was in one of your favourite books? And if you could buy a ticket to absolutely anywhere, real or fictional, where would you go? I hope you enjoy the Light Mage extracts, and thank you very much for visiting my blog 💕.
Luca, the protagonist of Spell Tracker, is a seventeen-year-old gladiator when his final earthbound life comes to an end. He sacrifices himself to save the boy he loves, dying on the dusty floor of the arena with a sword in his chest and the cheers of the Roman mob ringing in his ears. That sacrifice marks the beginning of Luca’s life as a guardian, and it’s the catalyst for everything that follows. I visited the Colosseum in Rome ten years ago, and I was overwhelmed by the size and scale of its history. It was great to be able to use those memories as part of Luca’s story.
Here’s a short extract from the moment Luca goes back in time with Devin to the Colosseum.
***The roar of fifty thousand voices, the heat, and the smell were overwhelming. There was a sense of anticipation similar to the one created by the spectators at tryouts, but it was mixed with a thirst for blood and death, adding a disturbing undercurrent that even a non-guardian could feel. I experienced a few seconds of disorientation even though I knew what to expect. Get a grip, Luca. If you lose yourself, we’ll both be stuck here.
Devin held my hand so tightly I winced. I leaned into him as we sat down. “Give yourself a minute to adjust. I gave you a layer of protection from the worst of it.”
With his other hand he smoothed the toga he was now wearing and stared at his knees. After a couple of breaths his grip relaxed a little. “So,” he said in a low voice, “we’re in Rome, right? This is where you come from. It’s like a…” He raised his head. “Like a stadium. What happens here? Chariot racing or something? I can see some horses.”
“No. Not chariot racing. This isn’t the Circus Maximus. It’s the Colosseum. You’re about to watch a fight to the death.”***
Hampton Court Palace
At the beginning of Spell Mason, Devin and Luca are on the run, and Devin chooses Hampton Court Palace in the early sixteenth century as a hiding place. Tudor England is one of my favourite time periods, so I was happy to have an excuse to research it in more detail! Hampton Court isn’t too far from where I live, and although the palace is much bigger today than it was five hundred years ago, I was still able to get a sense of what it must have been like. Devin makes an unlikely friend at Hampton Court who turns out to be very important near the end of the story.
Here’s a short extract from the scene when Luca gives Devin a sword fighting lesson in the main courtyard.
***We followed the corridor, until we found a door to the courtyard. It was square shaped, the surrounding brickwork creating a geometric pattern. Decorative emblems appeared at regular intervals. “It would look better with a basketball hoop,” I said.
“You played yesterday,” said Luca.
“Yeah, and Sherbourne High lost. My reflexes need the practice.”
“Not basketball. But we could do something else.”
I looked around the empty courtyard. “Like what?”
“Gladii,” he said, then frowned. “Non. Gladii sextus decimus seculum.”
A weight settled against my left hip, and I looked down to see that Luca had given us both swords. “Cool,” I said, grabbing the hilt with my right hand. The blade was thin and silver-colored, reflecting the sunlight in flashes as I took a few experimental swings.
“Do you have any idea what you’re doing?” asked Luca.
“No. Why? Do I look like I do?”
“Stupid question, then.”
“It’s not,” he protested. “I haven’t studied sword fighting since the Colosseum. Techniques might be different now.”
“Oh. Of course.” I stopped waving the sword and looked at him. He was standing with his weight perfectly balanced, sword arm in front, the other arm lowered against his side as if it were holding a shield. His muscles were tense. Ready.
“You were a gladiator,” I said.
“You’re probably going to kick my ass.”
“Yes.” He grinned.***
The Pyramids of Giza
The final book in the trilogy, Spell Master, reveals the origins of the earthbound dimension, and I decided to include a reference to the Seven Wonders of the World. Each of the seven High Council members was responsible for one of the Seven Wonders, and although it’s only a small part of the story, it really helped me to figure out the characters and their motivation. In this book, the magical dimensions are fighting an ancient curse, and a chamber beneath the Pyramids of Giza might hold the clue to beating it. I haven’t visited Egypt, so I had to rely on research and my imagination for this one!
Here’s a short extract from the scene when Luca and Devin discover the chamber.
***“I also want to visit the Pyramids of Giza. Now would be a good time because all the tourists will be watching the light show.”
“I hope you’re not suggesting we split up,” said Devin.
“No, of course I’m not. Besides, I might need your help. Remember what happened last time.”
He looped his arm through mine. “If you faint at my feet, Luca, I’ll try to catch you. But I’ll warn you now, you’re heavier than you look.”
“Nice to know that chivalry is alive and well,” I replied.
Devin laughed. “Pyramids of Giza,” he said, and the Greek island spun out of focus. When my vision cleared, we were standing on the north side of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. It rose above us, a massive wall of pale stone, well over four hundred feet tall, narrowing at its apex as if it were reaching to pull a star from the night sky. My magical core tightened with something like recognition. I felt a little lightheaded, but it was nowhere near as severe as what I’d experienced as Carrie Bennett.
“OK?” said Devin.
“Yeah, I’m good. You can let go,” I said. I put a hand to my chest. “We need to be underground. I can feel… It’s weird. Like magical gravity or something.”***
― Carolyn MacCullough
As I look out of my window, the trees are turning red and gold, and the breeze has lost its summer warmth. The transition to autumn is magical, but there’s an undercurrent of darkness foreshadowing the winter to come. It makes sense that Hallowe’en celebrations are a blend of light and shadow.
In fact, Hallowe’en is more of a blend than I realised. This year, while I was figuring out my Hallowe’en reading choices, I researched a little of the history too, and I was surprised by what I discovered. I always thought Samhain and Hallowe’en were pretty much the same thing, but I was wrong. Samhain came first, and by a long way.
The ancient Celts celebrated the changing of the seasons with four festivals. Of these, Samhain was the most important, marking the end of the harvest before the new year officially began on 1st November. And because the division between worlds was believed to be at its thinnest, Samhain was also a time to remember the dead. Extra places were set at the dinner table to welcome home visiting ancestors. People dressed in costumes and masks to discourage unfriendly spirits, while offerings of food and drink were left out in the hopes of persuading those spirits not to make mischief. Huge bonfires were meant to mimic the sun and protect against the long winter.
Evidence that people honoured their ancestors at Samhain goes back thousands of years. The Mound of the Hostages, a passage tomb in Ireland, is even older than the Egyptian pyramids, and the passage inside is illuminated by the sun every year on the morning of Samhain. Can you imagine what it would be like to experience that particular sunrise? I created a fictional passage tomb for my ghostly villain in Connecting Magic, and I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to visit a real tomb on October 31st…
Hallowe’en, or All Hallow’s Eve, didn’t line up with Samhain until the tenth century. It was Pope Gregory IV who moved All Hallow’s Day (also known as All Saints’ Day) to 1st November. Inevitably, elements of the pagan and Christian festivals were combined over time—a process that apparently accelerated in the nineteenth century, when many Irish families made new lives for themselves in North America.
Here in the UK, the popularity of Hallowe’en insofar as it relates to trick-or-treating, decorations, and pumpkins has grown a lot in the last decade. Of course, we have Bonfire Night on 5th November too, so there’s a lot going on at this time of year! Perhaps I should write a blog post about the infamous Guy Fawkes in the future…
In the meantime, I’ve added three new (to me) books to my TBR list in recognition of Hallowe’en and Samhain. I should mention that I have a really low tolerance for horror, but I still wanted to choose something with a darker theme. I settled on poison. I hope you find the books interesting, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today 🎃🧡🖤.
The Confectioner's Guild, by Claire Luana
Tagline: A magic cupcake. A culinary killer. The perfect recipe for murder.
Description: Wren knew her sweet treats could work wonders, but she never knew they could work magic. She barely has time to wrap her head around the stunning revelation when the head of the prestigious Confectioner’s Guild falls down dead before her. Poisoned by her cupcake. Now facing murder charges in a magical world she doesn’t understand, Wren must discover the true killer or face the headsman’s axe…
Extract: A laugh escaped from him, surprisingly warm against the chill of the dark room. “Like I said, I’m here to take your confession.”
She felt hollow as the weight of her predicament settled upon her. There was no way out. No hope of convincing this man of the truth, no proving herself innocent. He knew the truth. And he was here to ensure it died with her.
Poison Study, by Maria V. Snyder
Tagline: How much is your life worth?
Description: In the territory of Ixia the government maintains control through the Code of Behaviour, forbidding the practice of magic, but danger lurks in mysterious places…
Imprisoned for murder, Yelena Zaltana’s punishment is death, until she is reprieved—for a price. As the Commander of Ixia’s food taster she will risk assassination from poison daily, a position she would be a fool to refuse…
Extract: Valek picked up the vial of antidote and twirled it in the sunlight. “You need a daily dose of this to stay alive. The antidote keeps the poison from killing you. As long as you show up each morning in my office, I will give you the antidote. Miss one morning, and you’ll be dead by the next. Commit a crime or an act of treason and you’ll be sent back to the dungeon until the poison takes you. I would avoid that fate, if I were you.”
Lies Like Poison, by Chelsea Pitcher
Tagline: The recipe for the perfect murder…
Description: Poppy, Lily, and Belladonna would do anything to protect their best friend, Raven. So when they discovered he was suffering abuse at the hands of his stepmother, they came up with a lethal plan to stop her from ever hurting Raven again. But someone got cold feet, the plot faded to a secret of the past, and the group fell apart.
Three years later, on the eve of Raven’s seventeenth birthday, his stepmother turns up dead and Belladonna is carted off to jail. Desperate to prove her innocence, Belle reaches out to her estranged friends, but who can she trust?
Extract: “I’ve already spoken with Lily,” Detective Medina said, as Jack touched the doorknob. She turned, slowly, to see him holding the Recipe for the Perfect Murder in his hand. “When I showed her the recipe, she started stammering about Belle’s innocence. I didn’t know the two were friends. What was their relationship like before Lily went to stay at the facility?”
Jack swallowed, a pang of fear shooting through her stomach. A pang of warning. “They hated each other.”