Monday, September 22, 2014

Second Son (The Prequel to Shattered Throne) by Cate Dean


Subgenre: Coming of Age, High Fantasy
Release Date: August 23, 2014

ABOUT Second Son:

*The prequel to an exciting new fantasy series, coming December 2014.*

As the second son, Micah Brachon is happy to leave the responsibilities of running their small coastal kingdom to his brother. It allows more time for his inventions and experiments.

When one of those experiments is sabotaged, his ordinary life is turned upside down - and he finally learns about the deadly faction that seeks to rip apart the foundations of their government.

As the stakes escalate, it will take all of Micah's skills to defend against a faceless, desperate enemy. An enemy bent on destroying his brother, and anyone who stands in their path.

*Includes a sneak preview of Shattered Throne, Book 1 of the Shattered Throne series, coming in December 2014.

Excerpt

“Micah Aron Brachon!”

Micah flinched as his mother’s voice echoed through the family wing of the castle, nearly dropping the glass ball it took him a week to fashion. He ran through the last few days in his mind, trying to pinpoint something he might have done to ignite her temper.

“I don’t think I—”

“She found your new pet.” Liam Brachon, his older brother and soon-to-be Duke of Palamar, strode into his workshop. “You didn’t actually think you could keep that creature in your room?”

“It’s just a small fire drake.” But, of course, he completely forgot to mention the acquisition. He meant to, at the family supper last night. But Mother started arguing with the court advisor, Joseph Kerrow, and Micah snuck out. “They don’t spit fire; that’s a myth. The small ones make fine pets. They are intelligent, friendly—”

“Territorial, and ugly when provoked. You can’t really blame Mother for her concern.” Liam smiled, leaning against the pillar next to Micah’s long worktable. “I think he’ll make an excellent pet. Maybe give you something to focus on besides this—tinkering.”

He might as well have said “waste of time” out loud. Micah knew what he thought—what they all thought of his tinkering. But he swallowed the argument, again, and carefully cradled the glass ball in a fabric-lined basket.

Movement caught his eye, but he didn’t have time to do more than glance over at the window as he pushed off the stool—just as his mother, Elena Brachon, Duchess of Palamar, stormed in.

“Where in the name of the throne did you find that creature?”

“He found me, Mother.” Micah refused to be cowed by her temper. He would be sixteen next month, just a year away from the responsibilities he would take on as the younger brother to Palamar’s Duke. “The drake flew in my bedroom window, hungry and injured. I couldn’t just throw him back out.”

“Of course not.” She moved forward and brushed her hand over the back of Micah’s head, not subtle as she removed the leather tie that kept the shoulder length hair out of his way. Micah held back a sigh. “I would have liked to learn about it from you, instead of walking in and being hissed at.”

“Mother.” He gripped her hand. “I’m so sorry. He didn’t—”

“I threw the books in my hand at it before it could do anything else. It flew out your window, so there is a good chance we will not see the creature again.” Micah fought a smile at the hopeful tone in her voice. “You may be replacing several of the books, I’m afraid.” She leaned in and kissed his cheek, surprise flashing in her dark blue eyes. “You’ve grown, Micah. When did you sprout up to my eye level?”

“Call out the pages!” Liam said. “The tiny lordling has finally begun to—”

He ducked, laughing, as Micah snatched up a water soaked rag and threw it at him. The rag caught Liam’s shoulder, water dripping down the sleeve of his blue velvet tunic.

“Oops,” Micah said.

Liam pulled the rag off his shoulder. “Nice shot, baby brother.”

“Liam, go change. The advisors will be expecting you free of water stains.” Mother turned to him as Liam ran out the door. With a sigh, she scanned him, shaking her head. “Please find some clothes that don’t have burn marks or ink on them, and join us for luncheon.”

“Yes, Mother.” Micah watched her leave, then strode over and closed the tall wood door before he moved back to the table.

He had time to finish this, before he needed to change. He sat on the stool and dug another piece of leather out of his pocket, tying his hair back.

“It’s safe to come out now.” A snort answered him, and he smiled as the red and green fire drake crawled out from under the worktable, shaking himself. “ You’re lucky Liam didn’t see you sneak in through the window. Too busy teasing me,” he muttered, and shook it off. Liam would always tease, because he didn’t understand Micah’s need to know, to learn. “Thank you for your discretion. Mother would have—well, I don’t like to think about what she might have done if she found you here. You shouldn’t have scared her like that.”

The drake sat next to him, tilted his head up. Micah swore he saw amusement in the dark eyes.

“I have to finish this, but you can stay, if you like.” Micah reached down, carefully rubbed the spot just above his eyes. The creature hummed, his eyelids drooping. “Like that, do you? I read up on you, once you appeared in my window. I would like to name you, if that’s all right.”

The drake’s eyes opened, focused intently on him. Micah knew from his hurried research that offering to name a drake meant taking it in. Permanently.

“Yes, I understand. Do you want to stay, with me?” The spined head lifted, then rested on his thigh. “All right. I’ll take that to mean you approve. How does Kres strike you?”

Mother would be supremely unhappy, but the name, and the reputation behind the name, suited him. With a softer snort, the drake nuzzled his leg. Micah laughed, and leaned down to meet the dark eyes.

“Kres it is, then. Welcome to your new home, my friend.” He ran his fingers over the velvet soft scales, surprised again by the warmth radiating from the drake. “Now, I need to finish this. Mother is going to be angry enough without me being late for luncheon on top of everything else.”

He straightened, and watched Kres pad across the workshop. The drake stretched out in front of the small woodstove, the end of his long tail flicking. Micah made a mental note to add some kind of bed for him, then turned his attention back to his experiment.

Carefully, he used tongs to lift the glass ball, and held it in the flame of a small but hot burner he created out of a confiscated oil lamp. He just needed to heat the glass ball for a few seconds, but it had to be heated as evenly as possible. Once he plunged it into the cold water, he would know if his theory had any merit.

If he could toughen the glass, like the blacksmiths toughened steel for swords, the uses for it could be—

He carefully turned the ball, and froze when he saw the crack. Liquid glistened on the clear surface, heat sending its scent up to him. Micah recognized it, and knew he had only a few seconds. He used one of those precious seconds to lower the ball to the table. Then he pushed off the table as hard as he could. He had barely enough time to cover his face with his hand before the ball exploded.

Now Free!
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Cate Dean has been writing since she could hold a pen in her hand and put more than two words together on paper.

She grew up losing herself in the wilds of fantasy worlds, and has had some of her own adventures while tromping through the UK, and a few other parts of the world.

A lover of all things supernatural, she infuses that love into her stories, giving them a unique edge.

When she's not writing, she loves cooking, scaring herself silly in the local cemeteries, and reading pretty much anything she can get her hands on.

There - I got the official biography out of the way. I love to write, and yes, I have been doing it most of my life. I've made up stories in my head for as long as I can remember, and I am thrilled to be able to write them down and share them with you.

I love writing different types of stories, and jump from fantasy, to paranormal, and over to romance. So many genres, so little time...

If you want to be the first to know when the next book is released, or be in on some fun, exclusive contests and giveaways, join my list here: http://catedeanwrites.com/join-my-list.

I look forward to meeting you. :)


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Author Interview - Jamie Maltman



Apple or PC?
If you had asked me last week, I would have said PC. But Windows 8 finally turned me off, and my wife just bought me a MacBook for my 10th anniversary gift. So I have an awesome wife, and am making the switch. Still use my PC for a lot of things though.

Do you use Scrivener or Word?
Related to the Mac question, Scrivener for over a year and I’m excited to have the better version now.

Do you have any pets? Do they influence your writing?
We had a cat named Aslan when I was a teenager, but my wife is allergic to cats. We tried, and Suki and Keiko were beautiful little cats, but it would have been very bad for my wife’s health.

Would you rather see your stories on the big screen or the little screen?
With more fantasy coming to both formats, either could work, but you’re able to get more good character work into the little screen these days so I’d probably tend that way.


Are you hooked on any of the shows on the sci-fi channel? If so, which one(s)?
We call it Space here in Canada, and along with it being the current home of Doctor Who (which I’ve watched since I was little), I’m a big fan of Orphan Black.

Do you own copies of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings DVDs? The extended version? Do you ever watch them?
Yes and yes. I'm in the process of the first watch through with my older son. We’re part-way through Return of the King. I was there with my sister at a theatre the day Return of the King was released, watching the marathon of Fellowship & Two Towers extended, then premiere of Return of the King. Which was the most awesome movie day of my life. I'm a big fan of Peter Jackson’s interpretation and execution, Howard Shore’s phenomenal soundtrack (which is always in my writing music playlist), and the incredible casting, locations and effects. 

Have you seen the first two parts of the The Hobbit? Are you planning to see the final installment?
In theatre. I’ll be taking my son soon after it comes out. I like them a lot, including the changes.

Are you a Luddite? Or do you prefer to be on the bleeding edge of technology?
I don’t enjoy keeping up with the bleeding edge, so I'm just a step behind the early adopters, where I can get value and stability, but still take advantage of what’s new.

Are you--or have you ever been--a gamer?
Absolutely. My console life went from playing other friends’ Intellivision/Colecovision/Atari to my own Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Sega Dreamcast, PS2, Wii (for the kids now). But my all time favorite game franchise is Sid Meier’s Civilization on computer.

What kind of foods do you eat? Are you a health-food-nut or is it strictly junk?
Moderately but not fanatically healthy. Lots of fruit and vegetables, but not averse to dessert or fast food. Moderation.

Do you cook? What is your best/favorite/most popular recipe?
I do a good job with just about any of The 4-hr Cookbook’s recipes, including the spicy crab cakes, his version of Osso Buko (his spelling).

Have you ever heard of or had a green smoothie? If you’ve ever had one, what did you think about it?
My mother’s favorite hobby is nutrition, so I’ve heard of a lot of things. I’ve had wheatgrass/fruit juice mixes, which I’m fine with. I’m not against them but I generally wouldn’t make them myself.

Do you have a garden? Have you ever grown your own food?
Not right now, but I’ve helped my mother in the past and she still has a garden.

Have you ever been to Starbucks?
Yes, though I generally feel abused by the prices and get a tea or hot apple cider.




Coffee or Tea or Water? Espresso, Drip, Instant, or French Press? Bag or Looseleaf? Bottled, Filtered, Tap or Rainwater?
Lots of green or black tea, generally Chinese or Japanese. We have both loose leaf and bagged. Japanese if I’m not tired, Chinese if I am.
Or filtered tap water.

Do you wear socks?
Sometimes. I have a pair of barefoot shoes and right now I’m wearing sandals, and when the weather is warm I generally go without socks in the house. But in winter, socks except to sleep.

What are you wearing right now?
Shorts and a red Toronto Raptors t-shirt.

How often do you wash your hair? 
At least every second day.

Do you do your own laundry?
Probably half or more of the time. I tend to be the one who carries it downstairs to put it in, and my wife tends to fold and put away, but not 100% of the time.

Does life fascinate you?
Absolutely. So much to learn, see, do and read.

What would your animal totem be?
Eagle.

Do you recycle?
Everything I can in our blue bin and green bin. Moderately fanatically.  

Do you do Yoga? Meditation? or Deep Breathing? Does it help you cope?
Daily yoga and I’ve recently picked up meditation too. The yoga was for my back as much as anything, but I do feel calmer and more balanced. 

On a scale of 1-10, how eccentric are you?
7

What’s your astrological sign?
Gemini

Do you consider yourself a slave to the muse?
I’m not a slave to anything. The muse and I have a great working relationship, and it’s a lot of fun.




Bio:
Jamie Maltman writes historically-inspired fantasy, and as an avid reader is a new co-host on the To Be Read Podcast.
He recently released book II of his Arts Reborn seriesBlood of the Water, which follows the return of opposing forces of artistic creation and elemental destruction to a world where echoes of ancient Greece and Rome mix with the fantastical, with book III expected late 2014. 
His work will also be featured in the upcoming anthology Beyond The Gate: Stories in the World of The Dream Engine, by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant.
When Jamie isn't reading or writing, he's probably enjoying time at his home in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada with his wife and two young sons, playing some kind of board or computer game, or watching basketball or Doctor Who. 

Connect with Jamie:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Speculative Fiction Links of the Week for September 19, 2014




Here is our weekly round-up of interesting links about indie speculative fiction from around the web:

Speculative fiction in general:

Writing and marketing:

Interviews:

Book and movie reviews:

Con reports:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Debts to Pay (Shattered Empire Book 4) by Cora Buhlert

Subgenre: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Adventure
Release Date: September 5, 2014

ABOUT Debts to Pay:

Once Carlotta Valdez was a mercenary, working for the highest bidder. No job was too dirty or too dangerous as long as she got paid.

But then Carlotta had a change of heart. She joined the Rebellion against the Galactic Empire and met rebel leader Arthur Madden, perhaps the only man in the universe she genuinely admires.

However, the past has a nasty habit of catching up with you when you least expect it. And so, while on a mission for the Rebellion, Carlotta runs into Darius Gilroy, crime lord, all around scumball and her former boss. Gilroy had a job for Carlotta and he won’t take no for an answer. And to emphasise his point, he threatens to hand her over to the Empire, if she doesn’t accept.

So Carlotta finds herself en route to the rimworld of Rothea III to take out a drug lord who has been encroaching on Gilroy’s territory. The drug lord certainly won’t be missed, but how can Carlotta reconcile an assassination job with her newfound rebel convictions? And how can she get Gilroy off her back, lest he threaten her and her comrades again?

Excerpt:

Carlotta strolled into the lab, as if she had every right in the world to be there, though she drew her blaster just in case.

The lab complex was pretty much standard, as labs went. Lots of tubes and vats and tanks and mysterious bubbling liquids. Though Bianco’s lab was a lot cleaner and shinier than the norm. Or maybe Carlotta had simply spent too much time with the Rebellion and their battered hardware that everything else seemed shiny by comparison.

She found the lab tech lounging in front of a computer console, keeping half an eye eye on the automated manufacturing process, while focusing the lion’s share of his attention upon a particularly bad piece of alien tentacle porn that was almost certainly illegal in most civilised star systems.

He didn’t become aware of Carlotta until she was almost behind him. Once he did, he hastily attempted to shut down the tentacle porn right in the middle of a scene of an orgasmically moaning woman being ravished by two multi-tentacled aliens at the same time.

The lab tech spun his swivel chair around and almost managed to knock it over in the process. “I… I… I’m sorry, I… — Who the fuck are you?”

In response, Carlotta thrust her blaster into his face, nearly ramming the barrel up his nostrils. “I’m the last thing you’ll ever see in your misbegotten life, unless you cooperate.”

Maybe she should have shot the guy right away. But the truth was that she still needed him to retrieve the formula for the drug from the computer banks. Or maybe she was just getting soft in her not quite so old age.

“But help me and I might just let you live. Do you understand?”

The lab tech nodded. He was skinny and pale and blonde and judging by the wet spot forming on his swivel chair and the floor underneath, he had just pissed himself. Carlotta was grateful that she’d used the scent blocker earlier or this whole job would have gotten even more unpleasant than it already was.

“And now call up the formula for the shit you’re cooking up here,” Carlotta ordered. For emphasis, she rammed her blaster a bit further up the lab tech’s nostrils, careful not to step into the puddle of piss on the floor.

The lab tech got to work, tapping commands into his computer terminal with trembling fingers. He seemed to be taking uncommonly long for what should be a two second operation.

“Don’t try any funny stuff or I might get very annoyed,” Carlotta warned him, “And trust me, you won’t like it when I get annoyed.”

“Yes, Ma… ma’am,” the lab tech stammered, “I just need to… to… bypass the access protocols, so that M… Mr. Bianco won’t know that it was me who helped you.”

“Don’t worry yourself about Mr. Bianco,” Carlotta countered, “Just in case you forgot, I’m the one with the gun here.” For emphasis, she pushed the barrel into the guy’s face again, giving him a ridiculously upturned nose in the process.

“No offense, lady…” the lab tech said, once he managed to stop his teeth from chattering long enough to talk, “…but you’ll only shoot me. But Mr. Bianco, he’ll have me flayed alive and then he’ll sent my head to my family in a box. And unless he’s in a really good mood, he’ll put a bomb in the box as well.”

The statement did much to dispel Carlotta’s lingering doubts about this job. Cause if even half of what the lab tech had said was true, the galaxy would be a much nicer place with Bryan Bianco gone.

Nonetheless, she still needed the guy to cooperate, so she said, “Well, I don’t believe in bothering people’s families, but believe me, I have ways of making your life really miserable, if you don’t cooperate. And now get a move on or I’ll start thinking of some.”

The lab tech got back to work, tapping something into his terminal. Carlotta watched him, when a low, pained moan distracted her.

“What?” she growled, ramming the barrel of her blaster into the guy’s back for emphasis.

“It… it’s not me,” the lab tech said. He looked up, at something behind the terminal. “It’s them. They do that sometimes.”

Carlotta followed his gaze and then she saw it. Cages. Lots of cages. Rows upon rows of cages. And none were empty. So this was the source of the non-human thought patterns she’d picked up earlier.

Tubes full of pulsating liquid ran into the cages, connecting them to the machinery. A creature pressed its face against the cage and looked straight at Carlotta, a silent plea in its eyes, its expression full of pain.

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Cora Buhlert was born and bred in North Germany, where she still lives today – after time spent in London, Singapore, Rotterdam and Mississippi. Cora holds an MA degree in English from the University of Bremen and is currently working towards her PhD. Cora has been writing since she was a teenager, and has published stories, articles and poetry in various international magazines. When she is not writing, she works as a translator and teacher. Visit her on the web at www.corabuhlert.com or follow her on Twitter under @CoraBuhlert. You can buy her books at AmazonBarnes & NobleApple iTunesKoboAllRomance e-booksDriveThruFiction and XinXii or borrow them at Scribd.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Guest post by Ahmad Ardalan, author of 'The Clout of Gen'



Today's guest post is from Ahmad Ardalan, author of The Clout of Gen, a Science Fiction and Mystery novel, and the recently published The Gardener of Baghdad.

1.    What inspired you to write The Clout of Gen?

I have always been fascinated with Time Travel, I remember it all started when I was just six, and I saw a rerun of a show from the Sixties The Time Tunnel, where two scientists travel through time. From that point I was hooked, I just loved the idea, the suspense of having a chance in altering events in life, be it in the past or its domino effect on the future.

 2.  What is the significance of the title?

It represents the theme of the novel, a Mystery! I could have easily used “The Influence of Information” as a title but the core of my novel is too complicated, and the title had to follow the same.

 3.  Are there any writers who have inspired you?

For The Clout of Gen I wouldn’t say so, but in general of course (John Grisham, Roald Dahl, Stephen King and Paulo Coelho).

 4. Why did you choose to write Science Fiction? Or is that only part of the theme?

It is part of the theme, I would say my novel is Mystery fiction with a Sci-fi touch.

 5. Have you any plans to write a sequel?

It is a stand out book, but you never know, time will tell (Oh, how much I love this word TIME!)

Author Bio:

Ahmad Ardalan was born in Baghdad in 1979. At the age of two, he moved with his parents to Vienna, Austria, where he spent most of his childhood and underwent his primary studies. After his father’s diplomatic mission finished at the end of 1989, he returned to Iraq, where he continued his studies and graduated from the University of Dentistry. As a result of the unstable political, military, social, and economic conditions in his home country, Ahmad decided to leave Iraq and move to the UAE. After facing difficulties to pursue his career in dentistry, he opted to pursue employment in the business world. Since then, Ardalan has held several senior roles within the pharmaceutical and FMCG industries, throughout much of the Middle East. His early childhood in a mixed cultural environment, as well as his world travels, increased his passion for learning about cultures of the world and inspired him to pen The Clout of Gen, his first novel. After eleven years of being away, Ahmad returned to Baghdad in January 2013 on a visit that was full of mixed emotions. Inspired by his trip to Iraq, he wrote his second novel, The Gardener of Baghdad.

Buy the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008J0BSZO

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Glass Mountain (Mir: Shamanworld Book 2) by Jessica Rydill

Subgenre: Fantasy/Historical Fantasy
Release Date: August 9, 2014

ABOUT Glass Mountain:


Now aged sixteen, Annat is living in the city of Masalyar and training as an apprentice shaman. Struggling with the pangs of first love and a wish for freedom, she is horrified to see the crows flying over her city. Something she thought destroyed for ever has risen again: a spectre from the past.

When her brother disappears, she and her aunt set out to find out what has become of him. But Annat is caught and imprisoned in the Glass Mountain, a place from legend.

A powerful Magus needs their souls and their father's heart to cast his greatest spell, to bring a dead man to life. Unless he can be stopped, Annat, her brother and their father will die; and the country will be overthrown.

But there is something hidden in the Mountain that will change their lives. They must fight to protect their own world, and to save another: one so small it can be hidden in a suitcase.

Excerpt:

Still half in a sleep, Semyon stumbled out of bed, clawing his shirt from the chair beneath the window. As he struggled with the latch to the shutters, he glimpsed Sarl’s form rising fully clad from the mattress where he had not slept, like a corpse rising stark out of a coffin. Grimacing, the Magus flung open the shutters and squinnied out into the street beyond. That cursed innkeeper had given them a room high up, almost under the eaves, but not so high that he could sneak to the girl’s room unnoticed.

He had not been dreaming. The scream echoed again, fresh and sharp as a vixen’s bark in the night. Swearing to himself, Semyon rubbed his eyes and saw the two figures in the street below before Sarl pushed him aside. The shock of the third shaman’s power was like a salt-water drenching; he saw Sarl flinch, and took secret satisfaction in knowing that even his imperturbable enemy was startled. How could it be that someone so strong had shared the same city with them undetected? They should have begun the search last night, instead of yielding to the blandishments of sleep and food. He forced himself into the gap between Sarl and the window-frame, however much he hated to touch the dead man.

‘Jean Sorel,’ cried the girl, more weakly this time. She was lying sprawled on the cobbles, bleeding from her nose, a sight that gave Semyon unexpected pleasure; someone else had taught her not to be so haughty! Standing over her was a figure in a black gabardine coat, his long hair uncovered in the morning cold. Semyon searched the street for a glimpse of the shaman whose power had startled him awake, but there was no one else to be seen; only the girl lying on the ground, and the small man. Sarl was gripping the window ledge, his knuckles white.

‘Yes, come out, Jean Sorel,’ called the man from the street below. ‘Come and see what I’ve brought you,’ and he gave the girl’s prone body a kick. Sarl took a pace back from the window, shading his eyes as if he had seen a blinding light.
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Jessica Rydill writes fantasy and collects Asian ball-jointed dolls. This makes her living room an unnerving place to visit. Many of the dolls are based on characters from her books, and the bad guys stay locked in the cabinet. In the shamanworld series, she has written a crossover between alternate history with mediaeval knights, and steampunk adventure with lightning-wielding shamans. Plus Golems, Dybbuks, Kabbalistic demons and other nasties from Jewish folklore. Jessica’s first novel, Children of the Shaman, was published in paperback in 2001, and short-listed for Locus Best First Novel. A sequel, The Glass Mountain, appeared in 2002, and the third book in the series, Malarat, came out in May 2013. All three novels are now available as eBooks, having been revised and reissued, and Jessica is working on a fourth, titled ‘Winterbloom’. Jessica has also published some short stories.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Little Gou and The Crocodile Princess by Robyn Paterson

Subgenre: Alternative History/Fantasy
Release Date: August 27, 2014

ABOUT Little Gou and The Crocodile Princess:

“Every last member of the Mao family will die by the Hour of the Rat a fortnight from now."

With these words begins a race against time, as the roguish martial artist called Little Gou hunts across the back roads and waterways of Old China to find a young bride-to-be who has become a pawn of the mysterious Lady Moonlight. He must outwit friends and foes alike, all of whom are dancing to the Lady’s song, and unravel a scheme that could see thousands dead or enslaved and the Middle Kingdom aflame with rebellion if he fails. But, worst of all, he has to face the woman who abandoned him in the name of family duty- the love he can never be with, or forget.

Influenced by Legendary Wuxia novel writers Gu Long and Jin Yong, and in the spirit of movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Little Gou and the Crocodile Princess is a martial arts action & adventure thriller set in the Jianghu martial underworld of Old China. Through a combination of wits, swordplay and kung fu, the martial artist Little Gou, and his companion the warrior nun Sister Cat, must uncover the truth behind a deadly plot to bring the martial underworld to its knees, or die trying.

~ Excerpt ~

"Honored hosts," the young woman said in a sweet voice so at odds with the laughter they had heard from the palanquin. "I have come to deliver my message to you. So please, hear my words and carry them close to your hearts. Begin."

The last word she said was not directed at Lord Mao and his family, but at the two palanquin carriers who had let down their charge and now walked to the far edge of the ring. One carried with him a flute, and the other a liuqin that he began to play, the one with the flute joining in after a few beats to produce a gentle melody.

As they played, Lady Moonlight began to hum to herself and from the folds of her robes she produced a long slender jian sword of obvious high quality. Swaying in time with the rhythm she began an incredibly graceful sword dance that had her moving in sweeping motions around the empty circle. It was like a fairy had come down from the mountains to entertain them, and the party guests all watched in rapt fascination as she moved across the floor. It wouldn't be right to say she stepped or danced, it was more like she floated across the ground- her motions so elegant, so refined, that as she moved anyone who disturbed her would have felt they had committed a crime. She danced in front of each of the lieutenants as they gazed at her in wonder, and even paused to smile at the guards and some members of the crowd.

If she had asked them to, there was little doubt most of the men in the crowd would have let her cut off their arms and legs with that sword just to be able to gaze at her a little longer. Even a thrust to the heart might not have seemed too high a price for a kiss from her plum colored lips.

Finally, she swept back into the middle of the circle where she had started and touched the tip of her sword to the ground in a gentle motion to indicate her dance was done.

The music stopped.

There was silence for a moment, and then old Master Mao began to clap.

"A fine dance! A fine dance indeed! I don't think I've ever seen better!"

The Lady smiled, and bowed her head in a sweet and humble manner.

"The Old Master's words are kind, and I thank him for them." She answered with grace. "But, I'm afraid there is a price to the dance I just gave."

Still smiling, Master Mao nodded. "You want a chance to speak with me? Do you wish to do it in private?"

Lady Moonlight gently responded that she did not. "I will deliver it here, old sir."

"Well then," snapped Lord Bai, who wasn't as taken in by any of this as his friend. "What is it? Be quick about it!"

"You have in your possession a box. It was delivered to Lord Bai's two weeks ago, and since hidden away. Will you not give it to me?"

Lord Bai laughed. "So, you're the one who sent those ruffians to attack my men."

"I am." Replied the Lady.

Old Master Mao's face lost all its shine in an instant. "You dare!" He thundered. "You dare come into my house after what you did? Who do you think you are?"

"I am your superior, old man." Lady Moonlight answered, a haughtiness slipping back into her tone. "I am your superior in every way, and I will have that box or every last member of the Mao family will die by my will before the Hour of the Rat a fortnight from now."

"You think so, do you?" Mao said in a disbelieving tone. "Well then, I thank you for delivering yourself to us before such a thing could happen. I don't think your men will be so quick to harm my family with their leader in my care. Guards! Take her!"

The old master had barked that last command to his men, who indeed had Lady Moonlight surrounded, outnumbered and at a disadvantage in every way possible. It seemed like there was no chance for her to escape this fate, all the Mao family's ten best fighters had to do was take a step in and she was theirs.

But they didn't. Not an inch.

Crocodile Mao's voice was like thunder and echoed throughout the hall loud enough to wake even the most drunken sleeper. But it was still not enough to make his men move, for they remained standing still like statues.

Mao paused, looking around, uncertain.

"I'm sorry, Master Mao." Lady Moonlight said, raising a hand to cover her mouth. "But your men have all lost their spirit to fight. In fact, they've lost all their spirits."

As she laughed some of the people in the crowd crept forward to check the fighters, and a cry of horror went through the room. They were dead! All of them! Every last one of the fighters, every guard, and not a few of the audience had been dead for over a minute now and not a single person in the room had seen it happen! As she'd danced, without spilling a single drop of blood she'd struck down each of them with her sword, not only killing them but using their pressure points to paralyze their bodies so they hadn't moved or been able to cry out!

This petite fairy who looked like a goddess from the mountains was in fact a devil from the depths of the darkest hells.
Rob is a teacher, writer and blogger based in London, Ontario, Canada. He is a teacher at Fanshawe College, and the founder/producer of the Kung Fu Action Theatre audio drama group. He is married to his beautiful wife Connie, and owned by his beagles Winston and Penny.