Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Review - Evil is a Matter of Perspective

The title says it all. In this anthology, evil really is a matter of perspective. And damn, it's fucking fantastic! Featuring some of the sharpest stories I've read in many years, this anthology delivers on so many different levels. Enjoy morally demented characters? This tome has you covered. Like cracking action sequences and bloody mayhem? You'll find it in spades. I was enthralled from start to finish as I waded through familiar universes and some that weren't so familiar. In fact, one of the coolest things about this anthology was that it introduced me to some new writers whose work I am now dying to check out more. 

Did I have any favourites? Well I thought Michael R. Fletcher's 'The Broken Dead' reinforced my view that he's the best up and coming talent in dark fantasy right now. I adored Alex Marshall's 'The Divine Death of Jirella Martigore', and Teresa Frohock and Shaun Speakman impressed with 'Every Hair Casts a Shadow' and 'The Darkness Within the Light'. My favourite story, however, was 'Blood Penny' by Deborah A. Wolf. Telling the tale of a demon-tainted waif, Wolf weaved a dark and suspenseful story of revenge and black magic that left me stunned and overjoyed at the same time.

All in all I loved this book. I can't really top that. Evil is a Matter of Perspective is, hands down, one of the best dark fantasy tomes I've ever read. If you like grimdark or fantasy fiction you'll find a lot to love here. 

Five out of five stars. A must read for speculative fiction fans. 

Buy a copy today. 


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

I'm Alive!

Hey Everyone! 

My deepest apologies for the lack of posts and reviews lately. Things have been incredibly hectic at the lair as of late, and I have had lot of other things going on as well that have had a major impact on my blogging. 

So, what have I been up to the past two months? 

Well, I've been through a big health scare, I've had family come to visit over Easter, and I've been flat out working for Cohesion Press (be sure to check us out here). 

The last one is particularly important, because it means I have to change things up a little in order to maintain a healthy work/life balance. As the stay-at-home parent (well technically, work from home) for my beautiful daughter I also need to prioritise caring for her alongside work. 

So what does that mean for Smash Dragons?   

Well, it means that I won't be posting large reviews in the future. Don't worry, you'll still get reviews,  but they'll just be shorter and sharper. As much as I enjoy going into depth with my reviews it just isn't feasible anymore given my commitments. It also means that I'll probably only post a review once a week. As an editor, proofreader, and slush pile assassin for Cohesion Press I literally have a stack of stories and books on my desk to check out and work on over the coming months. Cohesion is also gearing up for something massive later this year, but that's top secret right now! So yeah, I'm incredibly busy. 

But fear not... my vision for Smash Dragons in the future is for it to still be very active (albeit in a learning and meaner form). 

Next week I'll be posting a review of Robin Hobb's latest book Assassin's Fate

Spoiler Alert. It's awesome! 

Oh oh... I almost forgot. Smash Dragons will be getting a much needed makeover in a few months. A new coat of paint, some tinkering etc. More on that in a few weeks. 

Be good to each other peeps, and keep on reading! 

Matt  

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Art!

It's no great secret that I love genre art. I tend to share heaps of it on my social media feeds, and I fanatically follow (or stalk) artists whose work I adore. 

In my opinion there's nothing better than a beautiful piece of artwork (except an amazing book). It's one of the reasons that I grew up loving things like Dungeons and Dragons and Warhammer 40k. The dynamic and colourful depictions of Wizards and Space Marines were what drew me in in the first place. Art has power like that, and since those early days I endeavoured to support and promote artists as much as I possibly could. 

And that brings me to recent times. I'd long been thinking about investing some cash into bringing some of my favourite speculative fiction characters to life, and a few weeks ago I decided to finally take the plunge. Once I made that decision I had to pick a character, and then I had to pick an artist to bring them to life. 

The first part was easy. I settled on Elric of Melnibone because he holds a special place in my heart. My dad loved Michael Moorcock and his work, and I was raised from a young age on a heady mix of the albino prince and his dark brand of sword and sorcery. He's also one of the most iconic characters in all of fantasy fiction, so my decision there was a relatively simple one. 

The next part in the process was more difficult. I wanted to find a talented artist to do him justice, but I also didn't want to pay thousands of dollars for it (I'm not loaded, and I have a family to care for). Another stipulation early on was that I wanted to give a relatively new artist a crack at depicting Elric in all of his dark glory. After a few days searching around I eventually settled on artist John Anthony Di Giovanni. He came highly recommended to me by author and friend Michael R. Fletcher, and I was absolutely blown away by the cover work that he'd done for Michael's books prior to that. 

So I dropped him a line. We spoke for a couple of days about ideas and costs and I was very impressed by his professional yet incredibly friendly approach. We settled on a deal, and he got to work. Just like that. No hassles, no delays, nothing. Five days later he sent me this rough image so we could establish which pose I preferred.

 

I was blown away. Speechless. Not only had he nailed my brief, but he had taken it places I never imagined it could go. I spent then next day or so just staring at the image and thinking to myself just how happy my old man would have been with all of them. Alas, decisions had to be made. I had to pick one so Anthony could move forward, and to be honest I struggled. I loved all of them so much for different reasons. After much deliberation though I made another leap and picked two! I had confidence and faith in the ability of John Anthony Di Giovanni to deliver, so I figured why the hell not? And fuck me... deliver he did.

I got these 'roughs' a few days later... 


Then, after some suggested tweaks and brainstorming, he sent me the final products a few days after that.

Behold, Elric in all of his dark and wonderful glory... 



Brilliant right? I still am blown away every time I look at them. And as I type the high resolution images are with a specialist printer waiting to be printed and framed up!

Honestly I just can't wait to see them on my wall in the near future. John Anthony Di Giovanni did an amazing job, and was ultimate professional throughout the whole process. He listened when I had ideas, and made suggestions when he needed to. I was so happy with him and the finished results that I immediately booked him in for another two pieces!

And hey, you're all in luck. He's taking bookings at the moment, so be sure to stop by his website here to view his portfolio and contact details.

Well... what are you waiting for? GO! 

Until next time people... be nice to each other and keep on reading (and making art!). 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Interview - Philip Fracassi

Greetings everyone!

I'm delighted to bring you yet another instalment in our ongoing interview series here at Smash Dragons. This week I had the opportunity to sit down with Philip Fracassi. Philip is one of a new wave of writers who are emerging within speculative fiction and blowing everyone's minds. We chatted about a large range of things, including his bizarre (and cool!) experience digging a grave whilst Christopher Walken read script lines to him. 

Enjoy! 

Philip Fracassi, welcome to Smash Dragons. 

First up, tell me a little about yourself and your writing journey so far.

It has been a journey, that’s a great word. Like most writers, I started very early, writing about monsters and aliens and killers in the night and heartbreak, at least what heartbreak was to a kid. I use to love writing poetry and still do, but that’s more for me than anything I’d ever consider for public consumption.

When I was older I wrote a few literary novels and hundreds of pieces about everything from relationships to madmen to philosophical essays. But I never really felt any of it was precisely what I wanted to be doing, and I didn’t feel any of it was good enough, again, to release into the wild. 

Then, about five or six years ago, I got a gig writing screenplays. Kid movies. And  that took off and I ended up making a semi-living as a screenwriter-for-hire kinda thing. Since I’ve always been a horror nut, and loved horror movies, I decided to try my hand at writing horror scripts. One of those was bought and made in 2015, which was a little indie thriller called GIRL MISSING. 

Anyway, right around the time I sold that movie, I had this insane epiphany: Why not write horror fiction? Combine all my experience and labors of love from the literary stuff I’d been writing with my life-long love of horror.

Once that decision was made – and this was an incredibly exciting decision for me – blammo! The floodgates opened and everything sort of took off from there. And I haven’t looked back.

What led you into screenwriting? Has your exposure to the world of Hollywood had any influence on your creative path? 

I fell into screenwriting. What happened was I’d self-published a novel (The Egotist), and was the owner of a bookstore in Venice Beach at the time and was meeting all sorts of great, creative people. One of these folks read my novel and we became friends, and it so happened she produced these movies for Disney and offered to let me have a crack at writing a draft of their next movie, which was called Spooky Buddies. I did it and they loved it and I really loved doing it so I just kept doing it. And as I mentioned, it became a semi-career from that point on. I’ve done many, many scripts as a work-for-hire (no credit), but have also sold a couple.
I have a movie going into production soon called VINTAGE (although that title may change), that I’m pretty excited about, and I have some other projects in the works, as well, that I can’t talk about. But it’s a lot of fun and can be okay money if you can get something made.

I don’t really think my exposure to Hollywood or production (my day job is working as a Location Manager for studio films and television) has had any direct effect on my fiction, but I do think screenwriting has. It definitely forces me to put “story” first, and a story’s “concept” second. Unlike a lot of modern Weird fiction, my stories tend to read like movies – they are structured and they have a beginning, middle and end. Not a ton of ambiguity in my stuff. And I think my work is very visual and visceral, mainly due to the fact that in screenwriting you need to really put the reader into the scene visually, and emotionally, so when the producer or director or actor is reading the script, they really feel like they’re “inside” the story.

My first experience of your work was Mother, and to be honest it freaked me out a little. Take me through the creative genesis of that particular story.  

Mother was my first serious salvo into genre fiction. The story came from a very simple idea: What if the person lying next to you in your bed at night wasn’t the person you thought they were? What if there were secrets beneath the skin that you didn’t – or didn’t want to – see? 

From that core idea came the characters of Julie and Howard, and all the nasty things that happen to both of them. The interesting thing about that story is that there really is no hero, no real antagonist or protagonist, no one to really root for. And it’s hard to pinpoint who exactly the monster of the story is… because they both have their faults and, as it turns out, their secrets.

That story was originally called something different, and it wasn’t until I was fortunate enough to get feedback on an early draft from Laird Barron that it really came together. I love that story because it’s the one that started my new career, and it was the one that really taught me how to write genre fiction. But mostly I love it because it scares people, upsets people, and makes readers squirm a bit. All the good stuff you want a story to do. 

One of the things I love about your work is that it takes what are average situations (swimming in a pool for example) and flips them on their head, transforming the mundane into something more monstrous. What is it about every day activity that fuels your writing? 

Yes, this is an excellent point. I do like to find horror in the everyday. But unlike some authors who did this with serial killers or the evil of humankind, so to speak, I like to mash it up with something completely supernatural or left field. Something that hopefully shocks you and makes you think both, “This is horrible and impossible,” but also, “Oh man, this could totally happen.”

As an example, my current novella, Fragile Dreams, which is about an earthquake. Again, average guy on a job interview. What could go wrong? That’s where I like to step in and shake things up.

I think that’s what makes a story sticky. If you feel like it could happen to you, but that it’s also so fantastic that you’re madly entertained by it. I have a new story I’m working on called “The Wheel” that plays into this philosophy, and I’m very excited about it. The story literally takes place on a Ferris Wheel, and the idea is to make the reader think, “C’mon, what could possibly go wrong?” And then reveal the horror, hopefully surprising them and scaring them all at once. Stephen Graham Jones said something to the effect of horror writers needing to one-up the wildest expectation of the reader, because that’s what they’re paying us for, right? So I try to do that as best I’m able.

You write from a number of fascinating perspectives in your work, ranging from children through to sociopathic adults. I’m curious, is it hard to get your head around these different mindsets when you’re writing? 

Again, I think my screenwriting experience has served me well here. I’m used to having to write dialogue for different characters, who all have different backgrounds, different philosophies, different characteristics. Men, women, young, old, kind, nasty… whatever the story calls for. I think this has allowed me to get into a lot of different heads and I’ve parlayed that skill into my fiction. 

Plus it helps to hear voices and have psychopathic tendencies. 

Are you a plotter or a pantser? What works for you when writing? 

Plotter. I definitely know where I’m going before I write Word One. That doesn’t mean I don’t change my mind, but I absolutely have the beats laid out in my head before I write. I don’t want to be worrying about what happens next when writing the prose, I want to be able to concentrate solely on the prose itself and make it the best it can be. It also helps to know where you are going so you can drop hints, foreshadow, etc. I like to do that kind of stuff. 

That said, as I mentioned, I might change my mind and go a different direction that I think is better, or scarier, or stronger. Then I’m a pantser for a little while, I suppose. But overall, yeah, I know where I’m headed.

What’s your take on the horror genre at the moment? What do we, as an industry, need to do better in your opinion in the years to come? 

Here’s my take. I think it’s generational. I think the resurgence of horror now has a lot to do with the fact that folks who grew up in the 80’s are now hitting their 30’s and 40’s, which is when your combined life experience and creative skillset really culminate to allow you to be the best writer you can be. Folks my age grew up in the renaissance of horror – King, Barker, Koontz, Freddy, Micheal and Jason. I think there’s a very solid reason why you’re seeing a surge of great writing right now. The kids have grown up and they’ve got some warped childhood shit in their heads, ready to spill.

It’s one theory, anyway.

In regards to what the industry needs to do better? Heck, I don’t know. I just got here. I’ll have a better answer for you in ten years or so.

Tell me about your upcoming collection Behold the Void. What stories will it include? Does it have any new work in it? 

Behold the Void includes nine stories and a wonderful, humbling introduction by Laird Barron. Most of the stories are longer pieces, novelette-length, and the final story, Mandala, is a full novella. Of the nine, Mother, Altar, Coffin, and The Baby Farmer are reprints. Soft Construction of a Sunset, Fail-Safe, Surfer Girl, The Horse Thief and Mandala are original to the collection. So half-and-half, I guess.

You’re a big admirer of Laird Barron, and I can see his influence on your work. Who else has had an impact on your storytelling?

Laird has definitely impacted my work, both as a writer and as a friend. I would likely not be doing this at all if it weren’t for him. 

Regarding influences, I think many of the writers that have influenced my prose, if not the plots, are the more literary giants like Faulkner, Hemingway and poets like Charles Simic and Frank Stanford. On the modern horror side, King is the biggest influence as far as how to write with flair, and keep folks engaged. Ralph Robert Moore and Jack Ketchum’s work taught me a lot about using brutality, violence, physicality and sex to create texture within a story. The rest of my influences are buried deep in the subconscious, I’m sure, because I’m constantly reading a wide swath of work in order to fine-tune my prose. 

The story ideas themselves I take full credit for, and I’d prefer not to think too much on where they originate.

What’s the one trope that you wish horror writers would move past and abandon? 

Oh, gosh, I don’t know. Folks can write whatever makes them happy. I don’t really care. More power to anyone willing to put pen to paper, so to speak.

I suppose if I had one pet peeve it’s ambiguity. I’m not a fan. I don’t mind a little bit of letting the reader fill in the blanks, but you still got to tell a story, in my opinion. I read too many stories where I finish the thing and couldn’t for the life of me tell you what the hell happened or why. But that’s just me. I like a story that tells you something that you could tell somebody else over a beer or a cup of coffee (without giving away any spoilers, of course!).

If you could spend the day with one other writer, dead or alive, in order to pick their brain who would it be and why? 

Oh, that’s an easy one. Stephen King. I’d love to just listen to him talk about writing for a few hours – his approach, his method, his philosophies on story development, characters, prose… that would be something where at the end of the day I know, without a doubt, I’d walk away ten times the writer I was at the get-go.

There’s been a surge in horror novellas the past few years, and big industry names such as Ellen Datlow and Stephen Graham Jones have come out in support of this format as the perfect medium for telling a horror story. What’s your take on it?

I love novellas as a format. I think they’re a near-perfect page-count for horror. Sometimes you’ll read a horror novel (Cujo is an example I like to use) and be like, why the heck do I care about half the stuff going on here? It’s pointless side-story, filler anecdotes, unneeded character background, etc. 

I think the novel format is great for world-building, and if a story has a lot to say then there’s nothing wrong with a novel. But novellas are convenient because horror tends to be situational. Meaning, this happened, then this super-crazy thing happened, it ended poorly, and now these folks are dead. The End. 

Cujo should have been a novella. That book is 50 pages of horror and 250 pages of cereal marketing jargon and a bad marriage. I would have preferred just the horror.

But The Shining needed to be a novel, right? There was some major world-building there. That’s my take, anyway.

What’s your favourite book? Why?

The Fountainhead is a perfect novel. The Sound and the Fury is the most well-written novel I’ve ever read. The Shining is the scariest. But I think my favorite novel is A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley. It’s the most perfect blend of madness and comedy I’ve ever read. The man was a genius.

You’re a regular guest on the Lovecraft Ezine Podcast (in fact that’s how I discovered you as a writer). How cool is it to sit down with that amazing bunch of people to talk about the industry at large? 

It’s incredibly cool. But I’ll let you in on a secret – I’m not a very smart guy. Borderline dumb, in fact. The only time I’m smart is when I write – it’s like a channel opens up inside my head and all these words and ideas pour out – but when I’m talking or trying to remember facts or ideas or rationalize or discuss something of a scholastic nature, my brain just sort of sputters and spits and I lose the words. 

So when I get to sit in on the eZine it’s sort of like being in a classroom with a handful of these really smart, really advanced students who talk circles around me. It’s a lot of fun to listen, and I try to chime in when I can, but mainly I’m just there to play the role of lowest common denominator, and it’s a role I cherish, believe me. 

What new writers have impressed you recently?

Truth be told I’m a fairly new writer to the scene, so I’m not sure any of the folks I’d mention would be any newer than I am. That said, I love the work of Michael Wehunt, Christopher Slatsky, and Ted Grau, all of whom have had a debut collection come out the last year or so. You could do worse than starting there.

Tell me something random about yourself? 

Geez… something random… well, I’m on record as having produced the first ever live streaming concert over the internet. Blind Boys of Alabama live from the House of Blues. Early 90’s. Wall Street Journal interviewed me and everything. Oh, I also once dug a grave while Christopher Walken delivered his lines to me during filming of the movie The Prophecy.

I’ve had a few different lives

What scares Philip Fracassi?

Honestly? And I mean this sincerely, the thing that scares me the most is the frailty of life. I feel like I have so much I want to do, so many stories I want to write and share with the world, and something inside me is constantly ticking, a clock that reminds me every minute of every day that this could be the last day, the last hour, of my life, and that drives me to create, to write, to push everything else aside and Get It Down. That’s what pushes me to write as much as I can, whenever I can. I do it out of fear. 

When you’re not writing or reading what do you do to ‘chill out’? 

Read. Sorry, but yeah, read. Honestly, I’d love to say it’s something else, but it’s not. I read every possible moment I can squeeze in between work, writing and my family. I play the occasional video game with my son, or see the occasional movie, but mainly my life revolves around books. Fishing would be a more interesting answer but the truth is I hate worms.

What work is in the pipeline for you after the release of Behold the Void? 

Next up is a novella called “Sacculina,” coming from JournalStone in May 2017. It’s a really fun story about a small group of guys who charter an ocean fishing boat in order to relax, bond, all that good stuff. I won’t say what happens once they’re out in that water, or what kind of bad they run into, but I can tell you with pretty firm conviction that it’s not what you think.

I also have stories coming in the next Dark Discoveries magazine, a bug alien story called “Ateuchus,” plus stories coming in future issues of Ravenwood Quarterly and the Lovecraft eZine. I’ve been commissioned for a few other things that’ll keep me very busy, but nothing I can announce as of yet.

Otherwise I have a new movie going into production, and, as I mentioned before, a couple other script projects. I’m also working very hard on a novel that is going through that all-so-annoying revision process with my wonderful agent. 

I’d like to line up another collection of stories for 2018 or early 2019, so we’ll see if that happens.

Philip Fracassi, thanks for stopping by Smash Dragons. 

You can buy all of Philip's work online and at all good book retailers. Behold The Void, his upcoming collection, is available to pre-order here. You can also stay up to date with Philip by checking out his website. Finally, be sure to check out The Lovecraft Ezine. They do a regular podcast every week or two that features special guests and fascinating discussion about genre fiction. 

Friday, 10 February 2017

Review - The Blood of Whisperers by Devin Madson

I'm rarely surprised by fantasy fiction lately. After twenty five years of reading it I've noticed a lot of the books are the same. Male protagonists (usually), medieval European settings, and an ancient and powerful evil that will need destroying. Throw in a wise old wizard or two and you get my drift. So when I read something different I'm usually very surprised and delighted. And when that something draws you into a world so immersive and wonderful then it becomes an experience for the ages.

The Blood of Whisperers is, to put it simply, one of the best fantasy books I've ever read. Madson has managed to combine the wonder and depth of epic fantasy with the grit and emotional power of modern day grimdark, and in doing so forged a book that is, in my opinion, the complete package. Following three main protagonists, The Blood of Whisperers depicts a bloody and chaotic world where the Empire is on it's knees following a coup and the subsequent societal upheaval that usually follows such an event. Navigating the deadly politics of the new regime, the protagonists must each try and survive long enough in order to gain revenge. 

I loved everything about this book. For starters the world building is sublime. Madson wields an efficient, yet beautiful voice, when she describes things and crafts her universe page after page. As a reader you can really tell just how much thought and love she has put into designing the world of the Crimson Throne. Drawing heavily from places like Feudal Japan, Madson carefully peels back layer after layer as you read, and you are slowly drawn into an intricate web of cultures, magical systems, politics and socio-economic groups. And it works! It works so well that you find yourself thinking about it for weeks afterwards. It was also incredibly refreshing to read a book not set in a world based on Medieval Europe. 

Another wonderful feature of this book is it's characters. Characters are the beating heart of every good story, and this rings especially true for The Blood of Whisperers. Madson has created a cast of enthralling and deeply layered characters whose words and actions have power and meaning on every single page. And when bad things happen to those characters, you feel real and sincere emotional loss. Sometimes you even cry (yes... I shed a tear or two whilst reading this book). She has also taken it further with individuals like Endymion, who ability as an Empath allows him to 'feel' other peoples emotions and know their deepest and darkest secrets. I adored the psi-like powers of Endymion (and others), as they gave me a unique and incredibly deep insight into the minds of those around him. Madson's characterisation is so formidable that there are also so many other memorable characters in this story. Hana Otako is a favourite with her strong will and complex nature, as is Darius Laroth, the right hand man to Emperor Kin. 

The action and pacing of The Blood of Whisperers is also superb. Madson finds that balance between action and reaction and drives the story forward at a formidable pace. The Blood of Whisperers is primarily about vengeance, and there is plenty of that occurring as the world fractures and everyone is caught up in the political machinations of players both seen and unseen. And when battles do occur they are choreographed nicely and have far reaching consequences that a reader will not always notice. This sort of thing takes real skill, after reading this book I know Madson has that in spades. In fact, I don't really have anything critical to say about The Blood of Whisperers. I loved everything about it that much. 

The Blood of Whisperers is a superb read filled with emotional power, riveting characters, and mesmerising storytelling. If you have any interest in speculative fiction you'll find something to love in this book. Madson is, in my opinion, a star on the rise. 

Highly recommended. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, 6 February 2017

Review - The Final Reconciliation by Todd Keisling

I've been on a bit of a novella kick the past six months. I've consumed titles by authors such as Laird Barron and Stephen Graham Jones, and for the most part loved every single one of them. So I was delighted to see author Todd Keisling continue this trend of excellence with The Final Reconciliation, a creepy and enthralling take on Chambers' Yellow King mythos. 

Told in an interview narrative, The Final Reconciliation tells the story of the Yellow Kings, a progressive metal band whose members, along with a couple of hundred other people, were horrifically killed at a private performance of their first and only album. The lone survivor, band member and guitarist Aidan Cross, recounts in this interview the terrifying events that led up to that fateful night. 

I loved this novella. I loved it so much that I actually went back and read it all over again after finishing. The Final Reconciliation is a wonderful example of a story that builds slowly yet surely and culminates in an ending that will blow your skill sideways. The pacing is superb, and Keisling slowly draws you in deeper and deeper until you realise that it's too late to escape. The characterisation is on point, with the depictions of band members and the dynamics of the music industry authentic and fascinating. I genuinely felt like I was watching a biopic of the Yellow Kings as I read, and that they were a real band whose demise was a great mystery wrapped up with conspiracy theories (like the death of Tupac, or Elvis).  The inclusion of Camilla, a gypsy and groupie who drives wedges between the band members (like a modern day Yoko Ono or Courtney Love) was also brilliant, and I was terrified watching her manipulate the band members into performing a concert that would open a celestial gate and allow her entry into Carcosa. 

Speaking of Carcosa, I adored how Keisling weaved Hastur and the Yellow King mythos into this story. A creation of author Robert W. Chambers, the Yellow King has seen a resurgence in recents years (True Detective touched on a lot of this mythos in its first season) after living in the dark shadow of Lovecraft's Cthulhu for so long. And thank fuck it has, because Hastur is arguably more terrifying and confronting than Cthulhu. The imagery and horror that Keisling throws down before you in this novella will blow you away. There's plenty of sex, buckets of blood, and loads of unearthly tunes that transcend reality and take you to another place. Carcosa itself is terrifying, and Hastur and his minions will stay at the forefront of your mind long after finishing this story. The final performance of the Yellow Kings, where they unleash all of this hell, is both stunning and jaw dropping. In fact, Keisling does an amazing job conveying the idea that music transforms you and takes you on journeys both physical and spiritual. In the case of the Yellow Kings, this isn't always a good thing. 

The Final Reconciliation is a brilliant tale of metal and mythos fiction told with a wonderful voice. Keisling has nailed it, and I personally can't wait to read more from him. If you like music (especially metal or rock) and mythos fiction, then you'll love this story. 

4.5 stars out of 5. 

You can buy The Final Reconciliation here. Trust me, you won't regret it. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Review - The Mirror's Truth by Michael R. Fletcher

They're baaacck..... 

And this time... it's personal! 

Yes, that enthralling trio of characters who blew me away in Beyond Redemption have returned, and this time around they've brought with them an even bigger sack of mayhem, insanity, and destruction. 

I must admit I was a little hesitant going into this book. Follow-ups tend to either be flat, or downright disappointing. I also had some reservations about the fact that it was going to be self published, with images of bad covers and poor layout from other self published titles fresh in my minds eye. So I was delighted when Fletcher blew my brain right out of the water with this incredible sequel to his cult hit. The Mirror's Truth incorporates everything that was brilliant about Beyond Redemption, and then injects it with a concoction of steroids and uppers before releasing back upon the world.  

The world building is truly wonderful in The Mirror's Truth. The darkness is there again in spades, and the insanity and madness that reigned supreme in Beyond Redemption have been significantly increased for this book. Fletcher also has done a magnificent job capturing the tone and mood of this horrible world, a world that has been pushed even deeper in the abyss by the looming threat of total war. This book is not for the faint of heart. You really need to gird yourself whilst reading it at times. It can be uncompromising and truly bleak, but it is in those sorts of moments that Fletcher's razor sharp wit and black sense of humour truly shines. Paired with formidable moments of violence, this fucked up formula of darkness is truly breathtaking to read.  

What takes The Mirror's Truth to an even greater level of achievement is it's intense characterisation. Fletcher switches things up a little by shining a light inside the minds of characters like Stehlen, and fuck me it's terrifying what the reader finds in there. This insight into the protagonists and antagonists of the story make's The Mirror's Truth feel more relatable to a reader, and it really deepened my bond with the mad hatters that are Bedeckt, Stehlen, and Wichtig. This emotional investment in turn meant that when shit hit the fan (a Fletcher speciality) I was on the edge of my seat fearful and enthralled by what was unfolding before my eyes. The Mirror's Truth rockets along at a frenetic pace, and before you know it you've reached the epic conclusion and been dumped unceremoniously back into the real world yearning for more. 

For a self published book the cover is also truly outstanding. Artist John Anthony Di Giovanni has captured Bedeckt and the mood of the world perfectly, and the type and layout by designer Shawn King is both wonderful and incredibly professional. All of this elevates The Mirror's Truth to the point where it becomes the complete package for a reader and book lover.

Just when you think things can't get any darker, they do. And just when you think it can't get any more fucked up, it does. Darkness incarnate, and fucking enjoyable beyond words, The Mirror's Truth is one of the most outstanding grimdark novels that I've ever read. 

Buy it. Buy it now. 

5 out of 5 stars.

You can find out more information and purchase details for The Mirror's Truth here. Also, be sure to follow Michael and his Doppels over at his website.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Interview - James A. Moore

Sup Peeps! 

I'm delighted to bring you the first instalment of our ongoing interview series for 2017. This week, I had the pleasure of talking to one of the true gentlemen of speculative fiction, James A. Moore. I hope you all enjoy it! 

James A. Moore, welcome to Smash Dragons! First up, tell us a little about yourself and your career so far. 

Well, to say it’s been convoluted would be an understatement. I started off in comic books, working here and there for Marvel Comics on a few projects. Some were published, like the story “Of Love, Cats & Curiosity,” in issue 15 of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, and several were not. I was just taking over on a couple of titles when they got cancelled and then Marvel had a purge that ended with every contact I had there unemployed. 

I did a lot of work with roleplaying games, mostly with White Wolf Games for Vampire: the Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, and the rest of the World of Darkness. 

Then one day I decided to write a novel and I sat down and started working on the first of those at the same time I was working with White Wolf. 


Did you always envisage yourself writing stories when you were younger? Can you remember the first story you wrote? What was it about?


Nope. I had every intention of being a comic book artist. Turns out my ability to draw was nowhere near my levels of ambition and one of the editors at marvel was nice enough to be direct and point that out to me while he also suggested I try my hand at writing. 

I was writing my first novel when a friend of mine told me I should write a short story first. So I set the novel aside and wrote a story called “Simon’s Muse,” about a writer who meets his idol and find out over the span of time that his idol’s muse is actually the bogeyman. 

You mentioned that you started off in comic books. I'm curious, Batman vs Superman... where do you sit in this long running debate?

Superman. Batman's one hope is Kryptonite and he'd never get close enough to him if Superman was even a little bit alert that day.

Every writer has a process. I'm curious, what's yours? Are you a plotter or a panther? What do you think are the positives and negatives to your particular approach?

Oh, I’m definitely a pantser. I don’t know if there are advantages, but I know that whenever I plot something out properly I feel like it loses all spontaneity and that hurts my head. I like the surprises and the way that, sometimes, characters do things I did not expect from them. I think it makes for a better book, at least for me. 

I’m a massive fan of your Crowley stories. How did the genesis of Crowley come about? Was it a light bulb moment, or the culmination of many different thoughts and creative threads? 

Thank you very kindly! I’m rather fond of the bastard myself. I sort of had plans for Crowley in comic books, but they never came to fruition. Instead of losing him, I made a few adjustments and plopped him into my first novel, UNDER THE OVERTREE, when I needed a character like him. Believe me, he has evolved a lot over the years. 

Will we see more Crowley stories in the future?

Oh yes. I’m just finishing a collaboration with Charles R. Rutledge and we have another planned. I also have a stand alone story set for him in Victorian England, and I’m about three quarters of the way through a weird western called BOOMTOWN, which actually precedes several of his adventures in the old west. 

I couldn’t get away from Crowley if I wanted to. He wants to be talked about.


I’ve recently started to read Seven Forges, the first book in your epic fantasy series. I have been struck by just how different (in a good way) it feels to a lot of the fantasy that is being published today. Was this a conscious decision on your part? To write something that stands out from the crowd? 


Absolutely. When I was younger, before I started writing, I read almost nothing but fantasy. A friend of mine introduced me to horror when I told him I was sick to death of reading the same story again and again (Orphan boy finds Item of Power, uses Item of Power to save the Land from Evil Menace coming back for Round Two.) It was a fun story the first hundred times, but it got stale. So I decided no dragons, no elves, no ancient menace coming back to threaten the Land. They had to be new and different or I didn’t want to deal with them. 

What’s your take on publishing right now? What do we, as an industry and community, need to do better in your opinion? 

Buy books and read them. Seriously. Make sure you post your reviews online, on Amazon, on Goodreads, the whole nine yards. On the publishing side? Harder to say. I know several very successful self-pubbed authors. I am more and more impressed by the successful ones every day. I’m likely going to be publishing a lot of my backstock on my own in the hear future, rather than giving up half of everything, including control of how the books are done. Time will tell. 

I will say this: Publishing is constantly changing these days and I’m interested in  seeing what it becomes. 

Tell me a random fact about yourself.

I’m seven years a widow this year. I still love and miss my wife, but life moves forward and so have I. 

What’s the most cherished book in your library? Why?

Stephen King’s THE STAND, the original version, not the unabridged volume that is far too thick and unwieldy. I think it’s one of the best books ever written and it drew me into reading again when I was seriously thinking of stopping. 

Favourite movie? Why?

That's waaaaay to hard to answer. So I'll say Captain America: The Winter Solider, because it's a phenomenal example of practical special effects and one hell of a fun story. My answer would be entirely different tomorrow or the day after.

If you could shoot the breeze for a day with any other writer (dead or alive) who would it be and why?


Too many choices. I’ve met several of my favorites. These days? I’d love to pick the brain of Ray Bradbury, who has always been a favorite of mine 

You write about horrifying things in a lot of your stories. I’m curious, what scares James A. Moore?

What used to scare the hell out of me was losing my loved ones. I couldn’t imagine what my world would be like without them. These days, having lost my wife and several family members I’m not as afraid of that as I once was. If I’m being honest, I’m not exactly happy with the results of the latest election and I think we’ll see dark times ahead. That scares me a lot. 

What do you do when you’re not writing? 

I read books, I work at a Starbucks not far from my house because I truly love being able to cover my medical expenses, get out of the house and have a 401K, along with Christopher Golden I’m teaching a few writing courses, and I am an avid movie buff. 

You mentioned that you work at Starbucks. What's the weirdest order you've ever received? 

Short coffee (8 ounces) with ten pumps of white mocha and 8 raw sugars and extra caramel drizzle. Basically about two ounces of actual coffee and enough sugar to jack an elephant's blood sugar into the stratosphere. 

One of the things I admire about your work is its scope and breadth. You happily dance across genres, pushing yourself from horror through to military horror and even epic fantasy. What is the reasoning behind this? Is it to stay fresh creatively? 

I hate the idea of being forced into one model of writing. I like to write about whatever strikes my fancy and that means looking outside of the horror genre from time to time. Horror is my first love, and likely always will be, but I want to do different things. 

You’ve collaborated with Charles R. Rutledge (another author whose work I deeply admire) on a number of writing projects. Just how hard is it to work alongside another author? What are the benefits and negatives of collaborations in your opinion?

The first rule of writing with someone else is to find someone you like and admire. The two are not always the same thing. I’ve written with Kevin Andrew Murphy, Jeff Strand, Christopher Golden and Charles. R. Rutledge. I enjoyed each process for different reasons. Mostly I like the idea of playing in a shared sandbox of ideas. I like reading a story that I’m a part of. In the case of working with Charles, we like to throw curveballs at each other and watch what comes of it. 

If you had to pick three other writers to be on your zombie apocalypse team who would they be? Why?

Brian Keene, because he owns lots of guns and has done his research. Jonathan Maberry becasue he's done the research and has mad martial arts skills. Charles R. Rutledge for both of the aforementioned reasons. 

What's the best piece of advice that you could give to people wanting to break into the industry?

Work at it every day. Finish one project at a time. Develop a thick hide. Don't quit the day job. Read outside of your genre, read inside of your genre. Write what you want to read, not what you think someone else might like to read. 

What book are you most looking forward to reading in 2017? 

Grim Death and Bill the electrocuted criminal by Mike Mignola and Thomas E. Sneigoski. The two of them working together on a novel is a notion that absolutely delights me. You can check out a link here.

Finally, what's on the horizon for James A. Moore this year? 

I'm working on the sequel to The Last Sacrifice right now. That's called Fallen Gods. Indigo, a mosaic novel with Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden, Kelley Armstrong, Jonathan Maberry, Kat Richardson, Seanan McGuire, Tim Lebbon, Cherie Priest,  and Mark Morris and yours truly comes out in June.  And, with Christopher Golden, the novella ten years in the making, Bloodstained Wonderland is coming out this year as a limited edition from Earthling Publications. Also, Charles R. Rutlede and I have our third Griffin & Price novel, A Hell Within, coming out from Cohesion Press later this year. I like staying busy. People can check out my Amazon page for more information and pre-order details. 

James A. Moore, thanks for dropping by! 

You can find James's work at all good book retailers. Be sure to check out his Seven Forges series (I'm reading through it now and it's fucking amazing!) and his latest book, The Last Sacrifice. His work with Cohesion Press is also top notch military horror (Crowley for the win!). 

Until next time good people, be nice to each other and keep on reading! 

Review - Bound by Alan Baxter

Smash Dragons is back baby! After a lay off over the holiday period I'm delighted to get back into the swing of things with you all. Up first, I decided to revisit my review of Alan Baxter's Bound. It has just recently been released by Ragnarok Publications in the US and UK (with a blurb from me on the cover), and is an amazing read. 

Buy it, buy it now. 

I picked up Bound, by Alan Baxter, on the recommendation of a friend. I owe that friend a few drinks now. 

Bound is about cage fighter Alex Caine, a man who can see his opponents moves before they make them. Following a successful fight Alex is approached by an Englishman called Welby, who knows his secret and wants Alex to help him unlock the key to an ancient and powerful grimoire. Drawn into a world filled with magic, violence, and a chaotic Fey godling called Uthentia, Alex must harness his innate magical ability and fighting skills to prevent the end of the world as we know it.

Upon finishing Bound my first thought was 'damn.'

My second thought was that if Stephen King and Jim Butcher ever had a love child then it would be Alan Baxter.

Finally, my third thought was that Bound is a seriously entertaining read.

Full of dark, gritty and bloody goodness, Bound is possibly one of the best urban fantasy novels I've read in many years. Cracking action and dialogue propel the story along at a fast pace as the reader journeys from the cages of the underground fighting scene in Sydney to the icy wastes of Iceland. I loved the fight scenes, and I could tell they were written by someone who has trained extensively in hand to hand combat and martial arts. I almost felt the bones being broken and smashed at times throughout the book, and it was this gruesome realism that kept me enthralled page after page. The world in which Bound is set was also gloriously gritty and full of things that go bump in the night. Dark horrors exist everywhere (the Three Sisters for example) in this universe, and the world is full of mythical and supernatural creatures such as gargoyles and the Fey.

Alex Caine was also a fascinating protagonist, flawed in many ways but still very noble and honest. He was a believable hero whom I couldn't help but cheer for as the odds kept stacking up against him. His rages, lust, frustration, and mistakes throughout the story only added depth to his character and made him more human. His dialogue and interplay with the other characters (like Silhouette) throughout the novel were also loaded with wit and humour that had me chuckling well into the night. 

The other characters and creatures in Bound were also interesting. I loved the idea of the Kin, and the dark horrors like the Three Sisters and the Subcontractor. However, the two characters I absolutely adored were the evil duo of Mr. Hood and Miss Sparks and their Black Diamond Inc. They are the perfect narrative foil for Alex and Silhouette, and their dark and twisted relationship and actions brought a real nefarious essence to the story that was both creepy and strangely thrilling as well. 

All in all Bound was a bloody excellent read. I cannot recommend this book enough to fans of Butcher and Wendig.

4 out of 5 stars!

For more information, and purchase details, go here. Also, be sure to check out Alan's other work on Amazon or at his website. He is a wonderful writer with incredible talent.