Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The weaker sex

From the Economist:

IT’S all to do with their brains and bodies and chemicals,” says Sir Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington College, a posh English boarding school. “There’s a mentality that it’s not cool for them to perform, that it’s not cool to be smart,” suggests Ivan Yip, principal of the Bronx Leadership Academy in New York. One school charges £25,000 ($38,000) a year and has a scuba-diving club; the other serves subsidised lunches to most of its pupils, a quarter of whom have special needs. Yet both are grappling with the same problem: teenage boys are being left behind by girls.

It is a problem that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago. Until the 1960s boys spent longer and went further in school than girls, and were more likely to graduate from university. Now, across the rich world and in a growing number of poor countries, the balance has tilted the other way. Policymakers who once fretted about girls’ lack of confidence in science now spend their time dangling copies of “Harry Potter” before surly boys. Sweden has commissioned research into its “boy crisis”. Australia has devised a reading programme called “Boys, Blokes, Books & Bytes”. In just a couple of generations, one gender gap has closed, only for another to open up.

The reversal is laid out in a report published on March 5th by the OECD, a Paris-based rich-country think-tank. Boys’ dominance just about endures in maths: at age 15 they are, on average, the equivalent of three months’ schooling ahead of girls. In science the results are fairly even. But in reading, where girls have been ahead for some time, a gulf has appeared. In all 64 countries and economies in the study, girls outperform boys. The average gap is equivalent to an extra year of schooling.

(Read the full article here)

Sunday, 15 March 2015

RIP Terry Pratchett

The first Terry Pratchett book I ever read was Mort. I'd received it in a box full of other unwanted books and it was the only one I kept. I had heard of Terry Pratchett before, but had been rather dubious about reading his work because the people who had recommended him to me were people whose tastes did not usually coincide with mine. But the cover was interesting and the blurb intriguing so I read it. 

And I loved it.

During year 12 when I was working and actually had money I bought the entire Discworld series over several months. Each week I would go and buy three or four during my free periods.

Eventually, I had the whole collection and several check-out assistants who seemed to think it a little odd that I brought Pratchett books so regularly.

I read and re-read everything.

Granny Weatherwax, Sam Vimes, Tiffany Aching and Death were a few of my favourites. 

Terry Pratchett impacted so many lives in not only his books, but also his advocacy for Alzheimer's research. And he impacted mine. And I want to thank him for that.

"It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it's called Life."
~ Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett at home near Salisbury in 2008: the Discworld cats were an infamous set of characters in their own right

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Gender segregated visits to schools is a thing

From Publising Perspectives:
At School Library Journal, Lauren Barack looked at the way that some public schools exclude boys from school visits by female authors.
Shannon HaleTake the case of Shannon Hale, author of the “Princess Academy” series (Bloomsbury). On a recent book tour for her latest title,Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters (2015), while speaking at a K-8 school, “she discovered that boys and girls were in the audience from the younger grades – but boys from upper grades were not invited.”
Hale, who has written about this on her blog and on Twitter, told Barack that this is the fourth time while on a book tour that boys were excluded from her readings.
“My books are gendered as being for girls,” she told the SLJ. “This is what happens to writers [of books] with girls on the cover, especially princesses. It’s so normal for me.”
Other authors have reported experiencing the same thing. But lest you think it’s just princess-type books that are involved, think again. Urban also went on tour for her novel A Crooked Kind of Perfect (Harcourt, 2007), which tells the story of an aspiring pianist, a 10-year old girl, who plays an old organ her father buys her instead.
At one school visit, there were 30 middle school girls in the audience, but not one boy.
Later, Urban learned that the Illinois school librarian who hosted the visit had decided not to invite boys. The librarian “proudly told me that mine was not the first book that he knew wouldn’t be for boys, and he had done a similar small-group thing the year before for another female author,” she told Barack in an email.
She added that the librarian told her about an “upcoming visit by a male author who would “appeal to everyone.”
“Admittedly, this male author is dynamite – a great presenter and terrific writer and very popular with young readers,” she said. “I’d have been excited to attend his event, too. But the assumption that his book, with its male protagonist, would be for everyone” – while hers wasn’t – “made me crazy.”
Understandably so. Author Kate Messner told Barack that while she has never had a gender-segregated audience, she is concerned that “segregating boys from so-called girl books does more than just keep them from titles they may enjoy. It teaches boys that women speakers and female characters have nothing to offer them.”
Urban also asks why educators should “choose to make decisions for boys and girls based on gender – and nothing else.”
(Read the full article here)
Splitting books by gender and telling boys that 'girl' books are not for them is how boys grow up not reading female authors. There is nothing 'natural' or 'normal' about boys not reading female authors. It is societal conditioning.
There is a long-standing myth that girls will read anything, while boys will only read books about boys - if they read at all. The market is over saturated with books about boys, so is it any wonder that if girls want to read and be a part of any cultural conversation they will have to read books about both boys and girls. Whereas boys (and girls) are raised seeing girls as 'less than' ('You kick like a girl', 'don't cry like a little girl' etc.). In a culture where being a girl is an insult, changing the current dynamic into a more equable one could help young children understand this by say, having female authors talk to both girls and boys. What a missed opportunity.

Monday, 9 March 2015

<b>It's been a while! </b> Well, a lot has happened since I last posted! There was Christmas for a start and the New Year. And my partner and I have also moved not only house, but city! It's very exciting.
It also means I am no longer Caravan Girl. Instead, I am one-bedroom flat girl (catchy, eh?). The good thing about living in a caravan for so long is that our new flat seems downright enormous. I mean, there are actually cupboards that can fit more than two things! And there is a BATHROOM! And running water! And did I mention the BATHROOM??? It's fantastic.
So that is why I have been extraordinarily anti-social of late. I've just been far too busy. Still, it's a new year and I have so many book reviews to catch up on and general bookish subjects to talk about. I'm very excited!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Looking for Lala, By Ellie Campbell

17787904Published: 2013

Genre: Chick Lit

My Rating: 3 Stars

In a recent survey 65% of mothers admitted feeling undervalued, over-criticised and constantly tired.

Cathy is no exception. Her dull, uneventful days as a stay at home, mother of two, are radically transformed however with the arrival of a heavily lipsticked postcard addressed to husband, Declan. Who is the mysterious La La? Could Declan really be having an affair? And is Cathy actually being stalked?

Whatever – it will definitely prove riveting gossip for the Tuesday Twice Monthlies, Cathy’s 'Mothers Restaurant Research’ group where scandal flows as recklessly as the wine. But what starts as a light-hearted investigation with best friend Raz, soon turns into something much more sinister.

With a possible murderer on the scene, a sexy admirer igniting long-forgotten sparks, and all her friends hiding secrets, it’s not only Cathy’s marriage that’s in jeopardy. Add in the scheming antics of Declan’s new assistant, the stress of organising the school Save The Toilet’s dance and the stage is set for a dangerous showdown and some very unsettling, possibly deadly, revelations.

My Review:Whilst this book got off to a slow start, the ultimate ending and all the twists and turns made it - for me - a satisfying read.

Cathy and Declan's relationship is an interesting one as is the premise of the lipstick marked postcard. This very much drew me into the story. As the story itself developed, I really grew to care for Cathy and I just wanted for her to be happy!
Finally, the book had a great sense of humour and the twist was excellent.
On the whole, this was a fun, clever read with a great cast of characters. Certainly a good way to spend a couple of hours.

Her Unwelcome Inheritance, By J. Alexsander Wootton

18241308Published: 2013

Available: Amazon

Genre: Young Adult

My Rating: 4 Stars


Petra Godfellow is ready – a little nervous, but ready – to grow up and leave home. She doesn't know the family secret - about the man who loved her mother, who never could accept that it was over between them...

Who's crazy enough to believe that he's the rightful king of Faerie.

As she begins her first semester at Lightfoot College, and Faerie begins to intrude upon her little college town, Petra will be forced to navigate her own doubts when members of her family - people she respects - reveal their belief in the absurd and impossible. She'll be stalked by the supernatural, asked to bargain with unfriendly powers for the fate of another world.

And it's not just her future that's at stake - it's her mother, her aunt, her best friend... and thousands of refugees from a centuries-old civil war in Faerie who are tired of staying in hiding...

My Review:
I very much enjoyed this book. The integration of fantasy, fairy tale and reality was beautifully portrayed, and I particularly liked the integration of Puck. It also seemed to draw on many other fictional inspirations besides A Midsummer Nights Dream such as Dracula and the Narnia books.

I also enjoyed the character of Petra who was inspiring and brave and really made me care about her. I love it when female characters are the focus of the story and Petra was a great heroine to be around, as were her mother and aunt.

Finally, I thought the cover was great!

On the whole, a very satisfying read and a great addition to the fantasy genre.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Guest Post by John Matthews

Writing my first full length novel – the good, the bad, and the challenging.

If you are thinking about becoming an author or just want to know how a writer creates a full length fiction novel, then keep reading. With a background in creative writing, web content writing, and a passion for suspense movies and macabre books, I had known for a while that I could create a compelling story. I was juggling several ideas in my head and started by writing movie ideas with the thought that I could craft a screen play. I sent movie pitches to several movie production companies and in late 2012 I had one of my ideas accepted for submission. But rather than start celebrating with this positive response, I had to accept one big stumbling block: I had yet to actually write the screen play.

After careful consideration, I decided to turn my ideas into full length mystery drama novels. I liked the idea of crafting each scene and character through words that could captivate the reader. I did not have a really organized plan for writing, and kind of “winged it” in the beginning. I had a good idea of the entire plot from beginning to end as I had developed it in my mind, and wrote this story down on paper. I made a character list and wrote down traits and attributes that each one should have to be relevant to the story.

I know that most authors recommend the “snowflake method” for creating a story. This is a slow, detailed process to craft the novel one small step at a time. I was not as rigid in my organization and more or less just dove into it. After I had the general story planned out and characters listed and described, I just started writing. One scene at a time, I was putting the story together as I went along. I tried to pay close attention to character development from the beginning but not give away too much too quickly.

The good aspect of doing things this way was the story more or less created itself. By going one scene at a time, you let the plot develop itself more naturally, and get better ideas for what you want to include later on. I brainstormed, a lot, usually before bed, to come up with more scenes and ideas for the novel. I had to think about what kind of interactions the characters should have and what smaller scenes would develop the plot better before some of the major twists and revelations happened. I kept a notebook with every scene listed in order. If I had a great idea to add a scene, even inserted into a previous point in the novel, I could do so easily.

The bad aspect of creating the story as you go along is that you will have to re-write, tweak, and edit over and over again. Every small change that you make somewhere could affect the storyline at places further along. I had to re-read the story scene by scene many, many times to be sure that everything still fit together in the way that I wanted it to.

After finishing the entire story for the first time, I wanted to get feedback from friends and have it edited. I sent the book to several people whom I trust personally to let them read it and give me constructive criticism. I specifically asked them: If you were to change something in the plot, add or delete a scene, what would it be? Do you understand the thoughts, actions, and emotions of each character? Is the story suspenseful, tense, and keeping you guessing as a good thriller mystery drama should? I wrote down any feedback that I received, thanked them, and gave their suggestions careful consideration. I took several weeks just thinking about new ideas and if any changes could improve the book. I decided on implementing a few of them and went back to re-write, tweak, and improve the story.

For editing purposes, I had a colleague who has a Master’s degree in English and was nice enough to offer her time to go through my manuscript. I sent just a few chapters at a time so that she wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and made the editing changes where necessary. After the entire book was finished, with the latest changes added, I had her read the entire thing once more, making any editing changes that she felt necessary.

It took me around nine months to finish my novel from initial idea to the final product. My method is somewhat haphazard, and required a lot of going back over things that I’d already written, but I feel that this also allowed me to keep reading the story and getting more ideas for improvements. I probably re-read every scene at least fifty times, and made a lot of tweaks to the dialogue, character interactions, and imagery. All in all I found this as an effective way to create my first book. As I am working on my second novel now, I find that I am a bit more organized from having gained experience, and can write the scenes more effectively from the start. No matter what your method is, if you are an aspiring author, just start writing – the rest will work itself out.

Author Bio:
John Mathews is a tenured University Professor of English and living in Rome, Italy. As he moves toward retirement after a long and somewhat stressful career, he feels the desire to break out of the mold and delve into thriller fiction novels which focus on the dark side of human nature, both that which is unfeeling and indifferent to the fate of others and that which derives pleasure and a feeling of power from pain inflicted on them.

With experience in dealing with all kinds of people and personal growth and development, he also writes non-fiction books that will inspire, aid, and promote happiness, success, and prosperity for everyone in their life. He believes that every human being has the potential for greatness.

Synopsis of A Game of Greed and Deception:Tammy, a young and beautiful Southern Belle, has married Stephen, an older and very wealthy business man. Accompanied by his beloved ten-year old daughter, the three of them head into the snow-covered Colorado mountains for a January getaway at a renovated hunting cabin to celebrate their one-year together as a family. The first night they arrive, Stephen goes out in the car to run a quick errand and never returns. Tammy secretly celebrates despite reporting him as a missing person to the police since she believes her plan to kill him for his money has worked perfectly.

But the next morning when the car is found totaled down the mountainside, there is no sign of Stephen's body. More or less trapped inside the cabin in the midst of a terrible snow storm, Tammy and her step-daughter, Maria, start having strange things happen to them. It appears that someone is sneaking into the cabin while they sleep and trying to injure or kill Tammy, perhaps to make her death look like an accident. Tammy quickly becomes convinced that Stephen knew about her plan all along and has planned a sinister revenge plot. But Maria finds evidence to suggest that Tammy has gone mad and fabricated the dangerous things going on inside the cabin as part of her entire scheme. Tensions mounts between the two of them in a real test for survival, while someone else with more evil intentions lurks outside. But could it be possible that both of them are wrong?

Find out more:http://www.amazon.com/Game-Greed-Deception-Mystery-Drama-ebook/dp/B00OHQA4HW/


Sunday, 9 November 2014

Excerpt: 'King of Dreams' By Greg McLeod

Part I – Icebound

Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?
Alfred Lord Tennyson 


After fifteen endless days the storm let up, but not the sense of foreboding that had begun to haunt Anuun already long before the massive front rolled in from the west, the air thrumming with violence, the light diseased, the sky heavy and roiling with menace like nothing he’d ever seen before, not once in all his many years.
            This far north, blizzards could strike in any season, even at the height of the short Arctic summer, and this one was only slightly early for a first serious blow heralding the onset of winter. What set it apart was that it raged for two weeks straight without a break, howling with a cutting, rending ferocity that for the middle of September was unusual even in these high latitudes – which was why Anuun didn’t notice the disruption in the pattern until it was too late.
            When the high winds finally did relent and he became aware of the intrusion, he immediately set off, deeply disquieted, taking the shortest route to the place where his finely attuned Iceling senses had detected the disturbance. Traveling underice, he flowed swiftly through the blue-green depths, now a fleeting shadow, now a streak of livelier color, now a whitish string of icebound bubbles freed by elemental magic to move with ease through compact matter.
            Only when the offshore ice became too fragmented to allow him smooth passage did he surface. His essence pouring into form like water into a sturdy-sided jug, he assumed his bodily aspect: a head shorter than an average human, stocky, broad-shouldered and immensely powerful, his curly hair and beard the silvered grey of finely spun frost, his eyes the profound ultramarine of deep-core ice.

At the site of the disturbance he found an Orrian ship, completely imprisoned by the pack ice.
Albatross, she was called, but her days of flying before the wind over sun-sparkled waves were forever over. Massive floes piled up three and four deep all around her creaking, groaning hull had already begun their slow, relentless work of destruction, crushing, grinding, splintering until, come spring, nothing would be left of the once-proud vessel but a handful of flotsam, free to drift off into the vastness of the northern sea once the strengthening sun beat back the ice.
            Inspecting the ship and its cargo, Anuun reckoned that the purpose of her voyage had been to trade with the Nordsmen, probably for pelts and the odd bit of gold. Blown hundreds of miles off course by the storm, she’d never reached Nordsmen shores, that much was clear from her hold still filled with Orrian trade goods – and with nineteen seamen huddled together under decks in a clump of frozen bodies, their faces blued and rimed with hoarfrost. Snow had drifted in through a broken hatch, and the deck was scorched and charred where they’d tried to start a fire, so desperately cold they’d risked burning down the whole ice-bound ship around them for a bit of warmth. For whatever reason, they’d failed to keep the fire going, and died a little faster for it.
            Anuun couldn’t help a breath of relief. Tragic as the death of these men had been, it had likely served to prevent an incomparably greater catastrophe. For their ship had come to rest worryingly close to the Forbidden, a place no man must ever be allowed to set foot in, a locus inhabited by something far beyond any mortal’s, and even an Iceling’s, grasp, something buried under the ice thousands of years ago for a very good reason.
            Ages past, Icelings had been assigned to guard against any living being intruding on this place, deliberately or otherwise, and they’d faithfully fulfilled the task to this day – though the passing of so many eventless centuries had perhaps begun to dull their vigilance a mite. Maybe earlier times would have seen one of Anuun’s predecessors brave a storm similar to the one just past, doing the rounds regardless of the inferno outside instead of sheltering underice until the weather cleared. And maybe not.
            At this point, the question was already entirely moot.

What Anuun had no way of knowing was that the ship’s crew had originally numbered twenty-four.
Four had been taken by the storm, swept overboard by waves that towered higher than the masthead before they came crashing down and cleared the deck of anything that wasn’t twice and threefold battened down. Maybe the four went in silence, or maybe screaming for help – with the howling wind and thundering waves it would have made no difference. And whether it was the water or the cold that claimed them first was anybody’s guess. The deep took them either way, with a swiftness that was close to mercy.
            Twenty-four. Four drowned, nineteen in the hold.
            One was missing from the count.
            That one had come through the storm alive. Owing perhaps to an exceptional constitution or to one of those twists of fate that border on the bizarre, he’d survived the cold as well, at least long enough to leave the stranded ship and head off across the pack ice to where he hoped to find land, the storm erasing his tracks almost as soon as he’d made them.
            But Anuun was nothing if not thorough, and he was warned. Near impossible as it seemed, his questing Iceling senses found the feeble traces of the human’s passage. When they did and when he realized where the man had gone, his heart went colder than the deepest ice cave.
            This should never have been allowed to happen. Not on his watch. Storm or no, he’d neglected his duty, broken the trust placed in his kind, risked bringing shame on the whole Iceling nation. Only one thing he could do: find the man before it was too late and untold horrors were loosed on the world.
            Desperate, he plunged back into the ice, a streak of white lightning ripping landward.

*          *          *

Now skidding over patches of wind-swept ice, now laboring through waist-high drifts of fine, powdery snow that crept into his boots and melted down his shins in icy trickles, Nudd Wiggin repeatedly cursed fate, the gods, and anyone else who’d ever done him an injustice.
            Since that list included practically everyone he’d ever met, it made for an impressive litany, with the captain of the Albatross currently ranking second only to the filthy, whoring slut who’d given birth to Nudd between turning tricks, followed by his drunkard, layabout father and then by a long string of masters Nudd had been apprenticed to, a bunch of narrow-minded, nitpicking fools none of whom had owned the sense to recognize his true potential.
            Looking back, he felt nothing but contempt for the lot of them… and, hell yes, a level measure of hatred as well.

The last of these masters, a furrier named Brychan, was the reason Nudd had started keeping the list in earnest, and the reason he’d begun to hate with a dedication he otherwise seldom saw the need to muster: Brychan, and his daughter Dilys – Amut take the vicious slag.
            For months, she led him on, acting the bitch in heat when neither her old man nor the journeyman she was bespoken to were looking, until Nudd finally decided to give her what she so clearly wanted. But the moment he tried to jump her the stupid cow started screaming down the house, and suddenly he found himself cast in the role of the faithless fiend who’d tried to rape his master’s precious daughter.
            Brychan, the craven arsehole, let his other three apprentices beat Nudd to a bloody pulp before calling in the city watch and having him arrested for a deed Nudd told himself he’d never intended to commit and hadn’t gotten round to in any case. Choosing between the noose and three years on an Orrian war galley was the easy part. Serving his time and getting through it in one piece was another matter. As an alleged rapist, he was scum to the scum that manned the huge ship’s one hundred and twenty oars, and he was treated accordingly, as likely to accidentally run into a fellow oarsman’s fist as catch a couple of – entirely unwarranted – lashes from the overseer’s cat o’ nine tails. He consoled himself with vivid fantasies of the terrible, painful things he’d do to every single one of them, once he was good and ready to strike back.

Just thinking about the bloody cocksuckers made him fricking mad all over again.
Their fault, all of it. Their fault that he was stranded in this freezing shithole. Their fault that he had to wade through all this godsdamned, bleeding white shit. Seething with anger, he came to a sudden halt. Sucked a gob of brownish-pink spit from rotting teeth and bleeding gums and used it to mess up the godsdamned snow that was so fricking pristine it made him want to puke. Wished he had a load of piss to add to it, but the bloody cold seemed to have sucked all the moisture out of him and left him drier than a hag’s cunt. Satisfied that he’d done what he could, he screwed up his muddy, close-set eyes against the overwhelming brightness and trudged on, still far from finished with the past.
            When his three years were up, for want of a better plan he took hire on a merchant ship, the Dauntless.
His list went with him, grown by over a hundred names but with room for plenty more, and a good thing, too. It took him less than a day aboard the Dauntless to figure out that her captain and crew were dead set on making his life as miserable as they could, giving him all the lowliest, dirtiest jobs and no doubt acting at the behest of the fricking gods, who’d had it in for him since the day he was born, or maybe even longer.
            Let them, he thought to himself. Let them go on digging their own graves. Though it’s still too early to say when exactly it’ll happen, they’ve got a big surprise coming. Nobody messes with Nudd Wiggin and gets away with it – not in the long run, they don’t, that’s for bloody sure.
            At the Dauntless’ first port of call he jumped ship, and so began a series of hires that ended with the ill-fated voyage on the Albatross.
            And to think that, this very fall, he’d actually considered hanging up his oilskins and trying his hand at something less strenuous than seafaring. But then he’d heard that the captain of the Albatross was offering double pay to any man willing to sail north a good three weeks later in the season than conventional wisdom deemed prudent.
            There was some talk about a fashion war having broken out between the two leading houses of the Orrian Dressmaker’s Guild, Orid and Lechan; something to do with a battle over fur of the arctic fox and prices having gone through the roof, which in turn prompted the Albatross’ owners to send the ship on a late voyage north to trade for the stuff.
            Nudd gave a rat’s ass for the reasons. The only part that interested him was collecting double wages, and then taking the winter off to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life – aside from paying back his enemies with interest, that was.
            And then the fool captain steered them straight into the worst fricking storm in history, and everything went to hell in a fricking handcart.

Now everyone was dead except Nudd.
No big surprise there. The idiots he’d sailed with had gotten exactly what they’d asked for, answering to the death god’s call like they did: limp-dicked, spineless chickens lining up at the chopping block even before the axe was sharpened, instead of fighting it like men.
            But then, he had a righteous anger burning in his gut to keep him warm. He had his list, had accounts to settle, and he’d be damned if he let a bloody storm get in the way of the revenge that was his rightful due.
            At least the godsdamned blow had finally died down, though his eyes were still half blind and stinging from the whipping snow, and his face felt cut to bloody ribbons. But he was alive, no thanks to anyone but himself.
            And so he plodded on, his imagination hard at work torturing, maiming and slowly killing his enemies one by one, until suddenly a fricking crevasse had the bloody cheek to open up right in front of him. Too late, he tried to stop, his skidding feet finding no purchase on the mirror-smooth ice. Inexorably, his forward momentum delivered him straight into the arms of gravity, reaching out to him from bluegreen depths that looked as beautiful as they were deadly.
            Fricking gods again, he thought angrily. Bugger the lot of you. I’m not ready to die.
            Then he was falling.

The drop was short.
Not six feet down, the seat of Nudd’s pants made contact with the ice, his free fall abruptly turning into a high-speed toboggan ride along a bumpy, madly twisting tunnel. Thankfully, what began as a frighteningly steep incline gradually flattened out until he was spit out onto the floor of a spacious gallery deep under the ice. Sliding down the entire length of it on his butt, he finally came to a stop at the foot of a wall that looked suspiciously like it was man-made, its dull, black stone seeming to swallow the little light that filtered down through what had to be at least thirty feet of ice.
            Nursing his bruised backside, he climbed to his feet, unsteady in the blue gloom, the slippery floor nearly throwing him right back on his face again. Looking back the way he’d come, he wondered how the bloody hell he was ever going to get out of this place. His only chance, he decided after a moment’s thought, was to somehow climb back up the tunnel. But for that, he needed something he could use to hack foot and handholds out of the sheer ice. Reaching for his knife, he cursed. The sheath was empty – how else could it be? Just his fricking luck again. What else…
            The wall. Maybe he could find a loose stone, work it free and use it as a tool. Bloody crude, but better than nothing.
            Taking a closer look at the wall, Nudd realized two things: one, the damned thing was made of a single piece, most likely hacked out of the bedrock, seeing as it was far too smooth and straight to be natural; and two, he was going to die down here.

Torn between wanting to collapse on the floor in a blubbering heap and the urge to scream out his rage over this totally unfair turn of events, he chose the latter, raising his face skyward and directing a stream of the vilest invective he could muster at the whole buggering lot of rotten, spiteful, scheming men and gods, all of whom kept on stubbornly refusing him even the smallest of breaks. For good measure, he gave the bloody wall a kick as well, hitting it full on with the flat of his boot.
            With a groan like a ship’s hull scraping against dockside pilings, where he could have sworn that moments ago there had been nothing but seamless rock an eight-by-three-foot slab of stone detached itself from the rest of the wall, sinking into some sort of recess in the floor and revealing a dark, narrow passage.
            Briefly, he wondered whether going in there was a good idea. Who knew but the stone might rise back up behind him, trapping him forever in a light-less prison deep underground. Then another thought struck him: what lay at the other end of that tunnel might well be some long-forgotten king’s tomb, brimful with gold and gems. Riches beyond imagining. The more he thought about it, the more sense it seemed to make. On the other hand…
            In the end, curiosity and greed got the better of him. Pushing aside any lingering doubts, he stepped over the sunken stone and into the passage.

The tunnel zigged and zagged through the rock for a stretch, as if whoever had made it hadn’t been able to make up their minds which way they wanted to go. Or maybe they’d been falling-down drunk throughout the many weeks it must have taken to hack the bloody hole out of the bedrock.
            When he reached the other end, Nudd found himself staring out into a large, six-sided chamber walled in the same, dull-black stone. There was no ceiling as such, only a natural, high-domed roof of ice. In the dusky, blue-tinted light that trickled down from above, he saw openings like the one he was standing in cut into each of the other five walls. Five chances of finding another way out – though he was almost a bit hesitant to set foot on the chamber’s spotless floor. Blacker even than the walls, it was polished to a high gloss, slicker than the finest marble, the kind of floor Nudd associated with the whispering, slippered feet of priests and highborn ladies – not that he’d ever seen one of the uppity cows except floating by in a curtained litter or gazing down on the common folk from some palace’s safe, high window.
            There was nothing in the chamber, though. No dead king, and no treasure. But then, the good stuff might well be waiting down one of the other five passages.
            His confidence renewed, he stepped out into the chamber – and found that the floor wasn’t polished stone at all but some kind of thick, oily liquid that sucked at his boots and shivered in slow, wavy ringlets around his feet. It was hardly half an inch deep, though, so nothing to worry about, unless the floor underneath sloped downward farther out.
            Just take it slow, feel your way as you go.

Three steps out, overcome by a sudden, unaccountable fear, he stopped.
Realized that he didn’t care anymore what lay behind those other doors. Tried to turn back. And found that, in the two short heartbeats he’d stood still, his feet had somehow gotten stuck to the floor.
            Suddenly he was sweating despite the violent cold, his hands clammy, his pulse hammering so loud he thought he could hear it echoing off the walls.
            All right, then. So I’ll just slip out of my boots and make a run for it. It’s only three bloody steps. Piece of cake, as long as I don’t stop.
            But, try as he might, he couldn’t seem to pull his feet free of the boots. Couldn’t even feel his feet, actually, only a cold, tingling sensation somewhere upwards of his ankles. Looking down, he saw that he’d sunk into the gods-cursed stuff up to his shins.
            Which was impossible, seeing as it was only half an inch deep and there was solid stone underneath. Could the nasty black shit be rising? But no – the sill of the doorway he’d come through was still free of it, clearly visible. So maybe some sneaky, hidden mechanism was cranking down the floor under him? No matter, he had to find a way out of this mess, and fast. Even while he’d been standing there wasting time on useless thoughts, he’d dropped another six inches, the stuff rising up to his knees, all feeling gone from his lower legs.

By the time he finally understood what was really happening to him, the black crap and the cold tingling were already up to his arse. It was then he started screaming – screaming, and wildly thrashing about, suddenly caught in the grip of utter madness, trying to claw his way out of a nightmare that cruelly refused to be anything other than real.
            The moment his uselessly scrabbling hands touched the black liquid’s surface it started eating them away as well, just like it had done with his legs, dissolving skin, flesh, and bones like some impossibly concentrated acid and consuming what was left of him with unearthly speed.
            The last part to go was his head, his mouth stretched wide in a continuously rising scream that only broke off when the stuff reached his vocal cords, his face staring up from the floor in a frozen rictus of horror, distorted far beyond anything that might have still been called human.

*          *          *

Some time later, a shudder went through the liquid covering the floor.
Here and there, puckers and dimples appeared, multiplying and spreading out as if a wind were rippling the shiny black surface. Whorls and eddies formed, gradually joining into a single, purposeful current. Then, with a sudden quickening, the viscous stuff drew back from the chamber’s edges, baring a rapidly widening margin of the underlying stone as it coalesced into a large, amoebic blob centered over the very spot where Nudd had been consumed.
            For a while the accreted liquid simply hung there, wobbling, heaving, collapsing and reconsolidating, an amorphous mass obviously striving towards organized form, oozing its way through a painstakingly slow series of failed attempts as it sought to mold itself after some as yet indecipherable pattern.
            Finally, contracting once more and further than its mass would seem to allow, it reached the shape it had been seeking. There, feet planted wide, stood a perfect copy of Nudd Wiggin, resurrected from the sludge, faithfully reproduced in every detail and black as the devil’s arsehole on a moonless night.

Almost hesitantly, the Wiggin-thing looked around, moving slowly as if it feared that any rapid movement might cause it to dissolve in a large puddle on the floor. And indeed it was still far from stable, the stuff inside it not yet settled, its outline warped, buckling and bulging like a sack full of angry weasels as it strained to hold itself together.
            For the longest time the Wiggin-thing stood still, waiting with seemingly inexhaustible patience for the inner turmoil to subside until only the odd, wandering bump or hollow still occasionally distorted its outer skin. When even those had ceased to appear, it raised a foot and took a slow, careful step forward. And another. And a third. Heading back the way the original Wiggin had come. It wanted out, that much was clear, and it no longer looked as if anything could keep it from getting there. Gradually, color began to seep into the black, skin and hair and clothes beginning to look like they had before.
            Once, just before it reached the tunnel entrance, one leg gave a sudden wobble and shed a large gob of black goo on the floor. Stopping to reclaim it, the Wiggin-thing scraped it up with a booted foot. Then it went on, single-minded, unswerving in its purpose.

*          *          *


Everybody’s on the run: Laurin the dwarf, sent on an improbable errand by a dead king, ends up with an assassin on his tail. Bryn of Bailon, heir to a dark and troubling secret, discovers there’s no escaping the impossible burden that’s about to be placed on his shoulders. And Rhea Redbreast, apprentice Headhunter, makes it onto her own guild’s hit-list when she seeks justice for her parents’ killers. But the real trouble is just beginning: shipwrecked on the frozen shores of the Ice Wastes, eternal victim Nudd Wiggin stumbles onto an ancient weapon and is turned into something more – and less – than human. As the cruel and devious King of Dunmark unleashes a war that quickly spreads to the neighboring kingdoms, a weaponized Nudd raises terror after terror, driving wave upon wave of desperate, battle-hardened Nordsmen south towards the war-torn kingdoms’ borders.