If you like creepy country roads, abandoned farmhouses, and things that go bump in the night, check out
available for free now on Inkitt!!
If you like creepy country roads, abandoned farmhouses, and things that go bump in the night, check out
available for free now on Inkitt!!
Click here for Chapter One
Lush green fields raced by in a blur as the dappled gray mare pounded down the path. Thick purple clouds, pregnant with rain, blanketed the sky, stretching beyond the verdant farmland all the way to the sea and its endless horizon. Thunder growled low in the distance.
The gray mare veered around a bend in the muddy country road, flinging clods of wet earth behind her. Her sides heaved with exertion, and her flanks were flecked with white lather. Seated on the mare’s bare back was a figure in a blue woolen cloak.
Ahead of the horse and cloaked rider, the lane ended in a stone wall nearly five feet high. The rider pressed soft leather boots into the mare’s sides, urging the animal on to greater speeds. The horse responded eagerly, surging into a full gallop as they barreled towards the border wall at the edge of Dunnhawke Castle.
A flock of sparrows took flight in agitation as the mare pounded towards the fence. Her rider leaned forward, digging thin fingers into the animal’s silvery-dark mane. A breathless gasp was lost to the wind and all her muscles clenched in unison as the horse gathered powerful muscles and launched over the wall.
She came down easily on the other side, barely breaking stride. The rider in the blue cloak came to a seated position, and the horse gradually slowed to a stop. For a moment, all was still except for the pair’s heavy breathing. Then a fierce cry of victory pierced the stillness of the countryside.
The hood of the blue cloak was thrown back to reveal a young woman with a wild mop of curly auburn hair. Her blue-gray eyes were alight with excitement and triumph.
Princess Gwendolyn Setterwind of Dunnhawke leaned forward, patting the mare’s sweaty neck. “We did it, Aoife! You were incredible!” Beads of perspiration gathered on her brow, and the woman wiped them away with a careless hand.
She sat straighter on the horse’s back, taking in the rich, loamy smell of rain and freshly turned earth. Thunder rumbled again, closer this time, and the wind swirled her hair about her waist and shoulders. Triumph still glittered in moss-green eyes as she looked back at the crumbling stone wall they had cleared.
Let’s see Ronan take that jump, she thought with a smile.
A brilliant streak of lightning flashed across the sky, illuminating the swollen purple thunderheads that were rapidly gathering in the distance. The crash of thunder was immediate, booming overhead with a force that reverberated through her skull.
The horse shied, whinnying with fright. Tremors of fear rippled under the dark gray skin, and the woman leaned forward to lay a calming hand on her neck. “Shhh Aoife. You’re right. Let’s get home. This storm is coming in fast.”
With another gentle nudge of her knees, the horse started off at an uneasy trot that soon melted into a smooth canter. Raindrops began to fall, darkening Gwen’s bright red hair until it lay soaked and almost black against her head. Within minutes, the pair rode through the open gates of Dunnhawke Castle and into the stables.
A tall, broad-shouldered youth of about sixteen was standing near the entrance, his arms crossed and one leg propped against a thick wooden pillar. He looked up and gave the woman a devilish grin when she trotted in.
“Ha! Gwen, there you are! Mother thinks you are at your music lessons but I saw you sneak away,” the boy said, his brown eyes twinkling with mischief.
The woman dismounted, handing her reins to a nearby stableboy. “I jumped the fence at the border of the Varne’s farm.” she replied, her grin a mirror of his.
“You did not! Not in this mud,” he challenged, looking past her to the pouring rain.
“Truly Ronan, I did. Aoife is as light-footed as a deer, no matter the weather.” Gwen patted the mare’s sleek neck approving, and the horse shook her head as if in affirmation.
The boy looked skeptical, but he cast an approving glance at Aoife. Only a year Gwen’s junior, her brother was quickly growing into a fierce warrior and there was a never-ending competition between them to see who could best the other.
“I still don’t see why Father gave her to you. I am the eldest son,” Ronan said with a mock sigh.
Gwen shook her head, casting droplets of water over both Aoife and Ronan. “But I am the eldest child. So for now, I get the first choice of the yearly foals.”
Her smile turned wry. “Who knows, perhaps the king will give Aoife to you once I am gone. I doubt that horses are welcome in the lands of the Fae.”
Her brother’s face twisted. He ran a hand through his cropped brown hair. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
Gwen sighed. “I know, Ronan. I’m sorry. It’s just all this waiting has me unnerved.” She saw a groom hurrying with a hot bran mash for Aoife and nodded in satisfaction. Certain that the horse was well attended, she turned and began heading towards the castle itself.
“How are preparations coming for the party?” Ronan said, his long limbs easily catching up with her.
Gwen rolled her eyes. “What party? It’s more like a wake.”
They passed through the heavy oaken doors that stood nearly twenty feet tall at the main entrance to the central keep. As always, Gwen’s eyes went to the many chips and splinters that had been gouged into the wood.
My father’s war to reclaim the throne of Dunnhawke left many scars upon the land, even so many years later.
I would know better than most.
Gwen remembered clearly the day her father, King Cormac, had come into the nursery with a grave face. It had been a week before her fifth birthday. She was playing with her baby sister, Kaleigh, then only a few months old.
“Gwendolyn, come and talk with me for a moment,” her father said, extending a roughened hand towards her.
Her red curls bouncing, four-year old Gwen ran to her father and placed her tiny palm in his. His presence was a rare occasion in the nursery and she drank in every ounce of his weathered face.
Despite his relatively young age, King Cormac’s gingery beard was streaked with gray, and there were deep shadows under his eyes. His nose was hooked, making a silhouette not unlike the hawk that flew on the flags above the castle. But his blue eyes were kindly, and if today they were tinged with sadness Gwen was too young to see.
She had never been alone with her father, and a shiver of apprehension went down her spine as he led her by the hand. They went into one of the many small courtyards that were spaced evenly inside the castle keep.
The afternoon sun streamed through the open space, and wildflowers blossomed in the sunnier patches, filling her nose with their sweet fragrance.
King Cormac led Gwen to a low stone bench. For a moment they sat there in silence, watching the colorful blooms of late spring bursting to life around them.
“Your mother does not wish for me to share the tale I am about to tell you,” he began.
“Is it a scary story, Papa?” Even then, Gwen had been fascinated rather than frightened by the grisly legends that the nursemaids often told to scare the children into staying in their beds.
Her father had grimaced. “Yes, daughter. I’m afraid it is quite a scary story.”
With that King Cormac had told his young daughter the events that had transpired on the night of her birth.
How he had saved her mother, secured the realm, and brought peace and prosperity to the people.
But at a terrible price.
How one day, a member of the Fae court would arrive to take her to their realm beyond the winds. What awaited her there, no one knew. None who had ventured into their lands had ever returned.
When Gwen first heard her fate she’d crumpled inwards, tears of fear and childish woe welling into her eyes, but her father gave her a sharp look and she immediately straightened her back, blinking away her tears.
From the time she could walk and talk, Gwendolyn was taught the proper decorum for a Princess of Dunnhawke. Even at the tender age of four she had learned to master her emotions.
She swallowed back the sob, her small hands pressed into the cold stone of the bench. “When will they come?” she finally managed to ask.
He sighed deeply, and she felt a strong arm hug her around the shoulders and pull her close. Despite her efforts, a tear slid down Gwen’s nose and onto her dress.
She did not dare to glance at her father as he began to speak.
“We do not know. This is why I have defied your mother’s wishes by telling you of the Fae and what they intend. So that you will know what is coming, and can look it in the eye.”
“Why?” her voice quavered as she spoke.
“So that you might survive.” had come his quiet response.
“And so that you might forgive me.”
Ten years later, Gwen had learned to view everything from a practical standpoint.
Her days had been numbered from the moment she was born. There was nothing anyone could do to change this. Everyone knew that they would die someday, but her fate lie down a far different path.
She might as well accept life as it was.
In the early years, her nurses had kept a constant vigil in the nursery, fearing that at any unguarded moment the Fae might whisk away their infant charge and replace her with a changeling, a vile doppelganger from the fairy realm.
But no emissary from the Fae had come to claim her as a child.
By the time Gwen grew older and learned what fate had in store for her, the story of King Cormac’s bargain had already spread beyond the walls of the castle and into the village of Dunnhawke. Whispers began circulating of the cursed princess and the king who bargained his firstborn daughter for the sake of his realm.
The villagers were initially been outraged at the idea of their king sacrificing his own flesh and blood, but as the rains fell and the crops grew rich and prosperous in their fields, any cries for justice died to a low murmur.
It was hard to be indignant when your children’s bellies were full after months of starvation.
When Gwen’s brother Ronan was born only eleven months after herself, the people had rejoiced at the healthy heir to the throne of Dunnhawke. Barely a year later, Queen Bronnagh gave birth to twin sons, Seamus and Sean, thus providing plenty of sons to provide a secure lineage.
Season after season, the rains arrived on time and lasted well into summer. The autumns were mild and dry, perfect for the farmers who reaped bountiful harvests of grain and wheat, more than enough to sustain the kingdom through the winter months. Under King Cormac’s rule, the village grew and thrived.
The royal nursery grew as well. Queen Bronnagh proved as fertile as the Fae had predicted, and Gwen’s brothers and sisters tumbled from every corner of the castle, forever followed by their despairing nursemaids.
By the time Gwen was ten, any whispers against the King’s bargain had died down, and instead the villagers eyes merely followed her whenever she rode her horse down the dusty road. The people of this land were a pragmatic folk, and they were willing to turn a blind eye to one doomed girl in return for the safety and security of their families.
But that is not to say that they felt grateful, or even comfortable around Gwen. Quite the opposite, her presence reminded them up the price they were willing to pay for prosperity. Over time, this evolved into a kind of superstition against the young princess. As a girl, whenever she had tried to play with the farmer’s children they had run from her, many of them hissing, or clutching their thumbs between their first two fingers in the age-old ward against magic.
They all feared to get to close, lest her doomed fate infect them all.
At around twelve-years old, when her figure had begun to ripen, there had been a sudden burst of activity around the court. Rumours pervaded that the Fae intended to claim her on the night of her first bleeding, and the court of Dunnhawke held its breath for Princess Gwendolyn to flower into womanhood. Her chambermaids would hold their breath when they changed the sheets each morning, finally annoying Gwen so much that she had asked the castle’s cook for some duck’s blood and sprinkled it on the white linens to shock them.
Her mother had not enjoyed the joke. But when Gwen began her monthly courses two weeks later, no emissary from the Fae had come to take her away. Life had gone on as before.
Indeed, by that time, Gwen had decided that she simply didn’t care when the Fae would come for her. She couldn’t care, or it would consume her entire life. From her earliest memories she had been known as the fated princess, the doomed princess, the one whose destiny lay in a land that none had ever witnessed and spoke of only in whispers.
Fighting against it would do no good, nor would consulting the various fortune-tellers and soothsayers that occasionally traveled through the kingdom.
Her mother had tried that once, inviting a woman renowned for seeing the future to the castle. The wizened old hag took her coin and—after slaughtering a chicken and studying its entrails—gave the date of Gwen’s fourteenth birthday. The three months that followed were a nightmarish haze of anxiety, anticipation, fear, and excitement. Gwen had stopped eating, stopped playing with her siblings, stopped sleeping as she restlessly paced the echoing stone halls of the castle.
The eve of her fourteenth birthday arrived, and Gwen spent the entire day vomiting her panic into a chamberpot. That evening in the common room with her family, her mother clutched her hand so tightly Gwen thought her bones might crack beneath the heavy rings. Queen Bronnagh had been heavily pregnant at the time with her third set of twins, and Gwen feared that her departure for the land of the Fae might cause her mother to go into early labor.
The late summer evening was still and hot, the air lying thick and heavy around them. Dusk came early at that time of year, and watching the sun finally sink beneath the horizon of the cobalt sea seemed to take an eternity.
The evening passed in tense silence, her younger siblings escorted to bed by their nurses until it was just Gwen, her parents, and Prince Ronan, who at thirteen years of age was deemed old enough to keep vigil with them. Gwen drew comfort from her brother’s presence; they had been close since their earliest days and Ronan was the closest thing she had to a confidante.
The minutes and hours passed by endlessly, one bleeding into the other until the moon was bright against the velvety black sky. King Cormac spent the evening grinding his teeth, barely able to look at his teenage daughter. Ronan sat quietly on the floor by Gwen’s feet, staring into space.
Gwen had spent her time gazing into the fireplace, her gaze unfocused. She watched for so long that the flickering flames turned into dancing hearth sprites that whirled and twirled around one another in an endless waltz.
Eventually, dawn had broken across the land. The fortune-teller had been wrong. Fortunately for her sake, no trace of the woman was ever found. And fortunately for Gwen’s peace of mind, this was her mother’s last foray into the unsteady world of prophecy and predictions.
In the three years between that day and this, Gwen had been left very much to her own devices. The strict rules of formality that guarded the words and actions of her royal sisters simply did not apply to her, it was not as if she were being prepared for marriage to a foreign prince, or a high-born duke.
From that moment the sun had crested the horizon on her fourteenth birthday, Gwen had an opportunity to do something that few women in the kingdom of Dunnhawke experienced.
She was allowed to become her own person. While her sisters were bound to their dancing classes and music lessons, Gwen rode wild across the springtime meadows, thick with heather and honeysuckle.
She began showing up to the daily lessons between Prince Ronan and Lorcan, the king’s master swordsman.
Lorcan Wolfsbane had gotten his nickname at the age of twelve, when he had been attacked by a pack of four starving wolves in the forests outside his native Andorral. He had slaughtered them all with only a small dagger and dragged their pelts back into his village.
Perhaps it is because he knew what it meant to face great odds, but Lorcan did not object to Gwen’s desire to fight. Knowing that King Cormac’s guilt-riddled leniency might not extend to the sight of his eldest daughter sparring with grown knights twice her size, Lorcan arranged for she and Ronan to practice outside of the castle grounds, in a wide meadow surrounded by a thick copse of trees.
Here they could wail on one another until they were both drenched with sweat, Ronan’s natural competitiveness quickly winning out over his reluctance to strike a girl. They would battle for hours, at first with clunky wooden swords and later, once Gwen had improved, with blunt-edged practice swords.
As Gwen grew older, her curves blossomed and bloomed into those of a woman while her muscles grew lean and toned behind the skirts she was still forced to wear. Her untameable red curls had lengthened until they reached her waist. But her blue-gray eyes took on a flinty, unapproachable look.
Last year, as Gwen neared her seventeenth birthday, a new rumor had come to her ears. She had been bringing Aoife—then just a yearling—into the stables when she passed by a group of three washerwomen who were so involved in their scrubbing and their gossip that they didn’t notice their hooded princess holding the reins of the dappled mare.
Gwen always strained her ears when she heard the castle staff speaking.
More often than not, it was the grooms and the gardeners who knew the true secrets of the realm.
Her instincts pricked when she heard her own name.
“Princess Gwen is out riding again. I swear that girl must be completely wild at this point, like a feral cat.” said one of the laundresses under her breath.
“Till the Fae come to claim what’s theirs.” said a second, a plump woman with a rosy face.
“Shhh Dara. They’ll have your head for whispering such things.” the first responded.
Gwen’s heart pounded. It was rare to overhear anyone discussing her at all, let alone in the same breath as the Fae. The first woman was entirely correct, King Cormac’s wrath would be truly fearsome if he found out that members of his staff were chattering openly about his daughter.
“All I’m saying is that the girl should enjoy the pleasures of the world before she is taken.” the plump woman replied, chafed knuckles submerged in a basin of soapy water.
“I do wonder how much pleasure of the world she has enjoyed, if you take my meaning.” the third woman, this one tall and thin as a broom handle, chimed in.
Gwen’s face heated. She twined her fingers into Aoife’s pewter-gray mane. At sixteen, she had some idea of what the washerwoman was referring to. Enough to know that her father would have all three of these women whipped if he learned they had dared question her chastity.
“If she has any sense at all, the princess will keep her virtue until the end of her days. Everyone knows the Fae cannot harm a virgin.”
At the old woman’s words, Gwen dug her fingers so hard into Aoife’s mane that the skittish young horse had stamped a foot, throwing up her head in objection.
All three of the laundresses looked up at the sound. In unison, the blood drained from their faces. They bounded to their feet, though only one still had enough presence of mind to curtsy.
A dark, bitter corner of Gwen’s mind told her to summon the castle guards and have them all thrown into a dungeon for a few days.
But she had no quarrel with these women. It wasn’t their fault that they lived in a castle with an accursed princess. Plus they had unwittingly given her a valuable piece of information.
The Fae could not harm a virgin. At least, that was the rumor.
She merely nodded politely at the washerwomen, and led her horse away. They collapsed, pale and stricken, back onto their low stools.
She handed Aoife over to Andlan, one of the castle grooms. As he took the reins, Gwen looked Andlan over from head to toe. He was perhaps a year or two older than her, with straw-blonde hair and a spray of freckles across his nose.
The Fae could not harm a virgin. Were they waiting to come for her until after she had surrendered her virtue? If she remained a virgin forever, might they never come?
That night, Gwen had tossed and turned, burning with her newfound knowledge. The tower room in the southern corner of the castle was tiny, but it was her own. She had been given it as a gift after the Fae neglected to show up on her fourteenth birthday. Another symbol of King Cormac’s guilty conscience.
Finally, when the stars were bright against the night sky and the rest of the castle was asleep, she crept out of bed and down the castle stairs. Long ago, she had borrowed a simple muslin gown from one of the chambermaids. She’d actually stolen the garment–but left behind a purse of silver heavy enough that she felt assured the maid would not weep overlong. She donned the scratchy gown and padded on silent feet into the stables.
Years of useless waiting, of neverending anticipation, made her impulsive, heedless of risk.
If the Fae would not take her as a virgin, perhaps she could speed fate along through her own devices.
Andlan had been dozing in a bed of hay when she pressed a finger to his lips. With her vibrant red hair tucked under a linen cap and her maid’s disguise, he did not recognize her as a princess of the realm. He’d never asked, too surprised and thrilled of his brilliant good luck to do more than whisper his affirmation to her insistent urgings.
A few kisses, a few pumps of the boy’s hips, and a stab of pain was all it took to make Gwen a woman.
Afterwards, she’d taken the scraps of bloody muslin from the stolen dress and thrown them into the fire.
“Well!” she’d screamed into the flames, watching the scarlet-stained fabric curl into cinders. “What are you waiting for!”
She fell to her knees in front of the carved fireplace. There was a deep, tearing ache within her center. Tears finally came to her eyes.
“I am a virgin no longer. You are free to do as you will. What are you waiting for!” she hissed to the fire, knowing that there was no one listening.
No one had come that night. Or the nights that followed. It had all been for nought.
If Andlan ever realized that he had actually bedded a princess, he gave no sign of it. Perhaps he understood the necessity of silence on the matter.
Castle life went on around her. She rode her horse. She sparred with her brother. Every day that passed, she felt a little less, became a little less involved in the world around her.
Eventually, the rumors began circulating that they would come for her on the eighteenth birthday. Like clockwork, the court had sprung into action, and a flurry of whispering preceded her every entrance and followed every exit.
Now, three days before that date, Gwen bid farewell to her brother and climbed the narrow stairs to her tower room.
A celebration had been ordered, not a quiet, fear-filled evening like that of four years ago, but a true party that included the entire court.
Surely, this would be it.
Surely they would come.
And her life could begin. Or be snuffed out, if the immortal Fae chose.
At least the waiting would finally be at an end.
Gwen strode up the stairs to her tower room and looked out over the kingdom of Dunnhawke. She both loved and loathed every inch of those fertile green fields.
For her entire life, Gwen’s fate had been out of her hands. As she looked out on the crops of wheat and barley for which she had been traded, she laid another brick around the wall she had slowly built around her heart.
The land was dying.
From the narrow windows of Dunnhawke Castle, King Cormac could see the fields of wheat that were withering before his eyes on their usually fertile fields.
You’d never think we’d be so desperate for rain, not here.
Not in Ireland.
The usual misty showers of spring had never come, nor had the heavy summer storms that were so necessary to ripen the crops before harvest.
Now, weeks later, the late afternoon sun still shone a merciless blue, with not a cloud in the sky.
A distant scream echoed down the stone corridor, and Cormac turned suddenly, his stomach wrenched with fear.
His wife, Queen Bronnagh, was in labor with their first child.
It had been a hard pregnancy, and the delivery was taking longer than expected.
The royal midwives were in attendance. He had seen them exiting Bronnagh’s bedchamber with bowl filled with bloody cloth.
The screams persisted all day, until Cormac thought he would tear his own heart from his chest to make it cease.
He had fought many battles in the war to reclaim his kingdom. The cries of dying men were still echoed through his dreams.
None would haunt him like the cries of his beautiful new wife.
Never before had he felt so utterly helpless.
Cormac took a deep, wavering breath and deliberately turned back towards the unpaned window.
His kingdom, so newly won, was crumbling to pieces around him.
How could he expect the people to support his rule when their livelihood stood dying in the fields? In the one hundred days since his official coronation, it had not rained a drop.
All over the peasants were whispering.
They were displeased.
The people of the mounds.
Whatever name people chose to call them, they did so in hushed undertones and subtle gestures.
Cormac shook his head. He had ridden himself of such foolish fancies the moment he had been exiled at twelve-years of age to the lonely isle of Innismoor.
The brutal coup that had usurped his father, Ronan, had resulted in the death of the King had ended with the rule of Ronan’s younger brother, Odhran.
He had only just managed to reclaim the throne of Dunnhawke, having solidified his claim to the throne with a marriage to the youngest daughter of _____.
In the year they had been married, Cormac had come to love his wife deeply, though his stoic reserve made it difficult for him to demonstrate his affection.
Another wrenching scream came from the open door of Queen Bronnagh’s bedchamber, making Cormac feel half-mad with worry and grief.
A few short months ago, everything he ever wanted had been in the palm of his hand.
Now, his kingdom was plagued by drought, there were rumors of plague in the nearby villages, and it seemed likely that his hard-won alliance with the kingdom of ____ would die alongside his wife and newborn child.
Maybe he was cursed.
Perhaps one of the Fae had put an evil curse upon his reign.
He had never paid much mind to the old-wives tales before, but desperation was high and tight in his chest.
A voice from behind caused King Cormac to start, and he turned to see the midwife, her face bone white in the failing light of the sun.
She looks like a omen of death. Cormac thought as a shudder ran up his back.
The plump older woman shook her hand, “I’m afraid there’s nothing to be done, sire. The babe is turned in the womb, and the cord is wrapped about it’s poor little neck.”
Cormac Setterwind had not cried since the death of his father eighteen years ago, but now he felt a sob rising to his throat.
“And…and the Queen?” he choked, dreading the answer.
Again the midwife shook her head, and now Cormac’s knees threatened to buckle. He raised one hand to steady himself against the stone wall of the castle.
“I understand,” was all he was able to reply.
Everything. His beautiful, young wife.
His long fight to reclaim his rightful throne.
All of it gone.
The peasants were already on the brink of revolt given the lack of food in the region. The whispers of curses reached his ears even here in the castle.
Odhran, who had escaped across the narrow channel to the Britannic Isles, would be ready and waiting to see upon any weakness.
Something had to be done.
Cormac slammed a futile fist against the wall, resting his head for a moment against the cool stones.
“My son, something must be done,” his mother said from his shoulder, having crept up his shoulder in that silent way that she had. She echoed his own thoughts, as she so often did.
Grainne Setterwind was a tiny, wizened woman with a face full of sagging wrinkles, but her posture was kept rigidly erect by the sturdy oaken cane she carried.
She had been old since Cormac could remember, having borne him late in life after the deaths of her two elder sons, both of whom had died in battle before he was ever born.
“There is nothing to be done, Mother. The Queen is near death, and the child with her,” Cormac said grimly, fighting to maintain control over his emotions.
“There is always something to be done, if one knows who to ask,” his mother replied. Her blue woolen gown was closed high at the throat, but it did not hide the tremor that shook her frail bones.
Cormac’s own blood chilled at the thought. “We cannot go to them. They are not trustworthy. Mother you know this.”
“I know that if you do not ask for help from the Fae, you will lose your kingdom within the fortnight, and all your long years of struggle will have been for naught,” Grainne said in her measured voice.
Bronnagh cried out again in pain, and Cormac could tell from the increased panic in her voice that they were both running out of time.
He had no choice. He would go to the Fae.
The winter sun had already set as King Cormac made his careful way out of the castle and through the grounds.
He took none of his usual guards and personal servants with him.
No one must know of this night.
He entered a copse of birch trees and continued, certain of his route due to his mother’s constant folk tales and his own youthful wanderings.
The stone circles of Dunnhawke were well known to everyone in the area as a place to be generally avoided for fear of disrespecting them.
The Fae did not take kindly to any perceived slight.
Even as he approached, Cormac could see thick gray clouds gathering on the darkened horizon.
An example of nature finally taking its course, or a portent that his steps led towards his destiny?
The dark, rough-hewn stones of the fairy circle loomed through the withered leaves of the forest. What was usually a lush undergrowth crackled drily beneath his leather boots.
The stones were arranged in three concentric rings, each smaller than the other. Despite the dry heat of the evening, an icy trickle shivered down Cormac’s spine.
He had no authority between those rings of stone.
This was the dominion of the Sidhe. The immortal Fae would had inhabited this land long before the rise of Man.
Now, controlled by the ancient power of the stones, the Sidhe were held within their ancient realm, only able to enter the human world through specific sites of offering and worship.
It was a peace that had lasted for more than ten generations. He must do nothing to alter the balance of that truce tonight.
With a shiver of misgiving, Cormac loosened the leather belt that held his sword in place, and let the steel blade fall with a dull thud onto the dry grass.
He hated to enter this place unarmed, but to bring a weapon was to court death.
As Cormac passed within the outermost ring he withdrew a hammered-silver bracelet from a pocket of his cloak.
As he crossed the threshold of the furthermost stone, the King felt his heart began to thunder within his chest.
Make no bargain you cannot bear to keep.
His mother’s parting words, said just as he mounted his black war horse and charged off into Dunnhawke Forest.
The Fae delighted in making contracts and agreements with mortals, then standing back and watching their hapless victims fall prey to one unforeseen problem or another.
It was their speciality.
Cormac felt the air grow still around him as he entered the innermost circle of stones. All the late night hooting of owls and chirping of cicadas had died off, leaving an almost palpable silence in their place.
The very atmosphere around him quivered with magic.
Before his courage could fail him, Cormac went to the center of the fairy circle, where a low stone table sat, its surface worn smooth from the weight of centuries of offerings.
He laid the silver bracelet upon it, then turned to face the silently watching eyes of the forest.
“I am Cormac Setterwind, King of DunnHawke. I offer precious goods in exchange for the peaceful continuation of my reign.”
He swallowed hard, then continued. “I beg of thee, O’ Mighty Sidhe, end the drought that has plagued my kingdom. Spare my–” here he stopped, swallowing back his desperation, “spare my wife and unborn child from certain death.”
Cormac dropped to his knees before the stone tablet, burying his head in his sandy-blonde hair.
“Please. Accept my valuable offering.”
“A far more priceless offering is required, my good King Cormac.”
A silky voice sounded, making Cormac startle.
“At least, if you seek to achieve all that you desire.” the voice continued. The king looked up to see a figure silhouetted by the light of a torch that had not been there a moment ago.
Cormac’s pulse jumped as he beheld a member of the Fae for the first time in his life.
It was a youthful male with jet-black hair that glinted softly under the rising moonlight.
“We were wondering when you would come, King Cormac,” the young man said. He was dressed in hunting clothes, a green leather tunic and brown pants. Like the king, he was unarmed.
The laws had to be obeyed if the uneasy peace was to continue.
“I — I have come with an offering,” the King stammered, gesturing towards the valuable bracelet that still lay upon the stone table. “Please accept it in exchange for sparing the life of my Queen, and for bringing the rains back to the Kingdom of Dunnhawke.
“You ask for much, King Cormac, but bring little with which to bargain,” the Fae male said, raising a quizzical brow. His voice was light, almost comical given the dire circumstances.
Despite his youthful appearance, the Fae’s amethyst eyes were filled with a centuries-old cynicism.
“What more could you ask for? I have already lost my wife…my child…” The heaviness his grief began to sink upon Cormac, and he felt his back bend beneath its weight.
“Your wife yet lives, as does your child. They are still between the world of the living and the dead.”
Cormac raised his head at the Fae’s words.
“I can save them both, and bring prosperity to this land.”
The flesh on the king’s arms raised as he anticipated the man’s next words.
“For a price.”
Cormac’s shoulders sagged. A deep weariness settled over him. “What is your price?” he asked.
“The rains will be restored to your kingdom, and your wife restored to health,” the fairy said. “But the baby–”
“Damn you to hell! You will not harm my child!” Cormac’s rage washed away his former despair.
The Fae quirked a dark eyebrow. “We have no intention of harming the girl.”
Cormac went weak at the knees. “A girl? You know this? I am to have a daughter?
The man nodded. “She will be the first of twelve children born to you and your wife. Eight of them boys.”
Cormac’s mouth went dry. Twelve children. Eight sons. A dynasty to carry on his name. An iron vise clamped around his heart and twisted violently. “What would happen to the girl?” he asked, casting a glance towards the Fae.
The male picked idly at a fingernail, seemingly bored with the proceedings. “She would spend her youth in the mortal world, until we came for her. Then, we would come to spend her days with us in the lands beyond the mist.”
~There is no other choice left to me.~ “What fate would await her in the fairy lands?” Cormac said, his heart pounding dully in his skull.
“ I neither know nor care. All I can promise is that she will live out her days unharmed in the realm of King Ronan. The king has expressed a certain…interest in her destiny. Now, mortal, the time comes to make your choice. I fear your wife will not last much longer.” the man stepped forward, his unnatural purple eyes gleaming in the moonlight.
“How long will she be permitted to stay with her family?” Cormac said, knowing his decision had already been made.
The Fae knew it as well. A wide grin came to his lips. “Who can say, King Cormac? We fairy folk have long lives, and long memories. Perhaps we will come for her in a year. Perhaps twenty. Perhaps she will be allowed to live out her entire life without anyone even remembering our bargain.”
His shark-like smile broadened. “Though, that is unlikely.”
“Why my daughter? Why would a ruler of the Fae be interested in my child?” Cormac, asked, still unwilling to resign himself to what he was about to do.
“That is not your concern, mortal. Now, do you we have a deal?”
The Fae male spit into the palm of his silvery-white hand and extended it towards the king.
No. Tell this demon to crawl back into his hole.
Instead, King Cormac of Dunnhawke spat into his calloused palm, and shook hands with the Fae.
**contains mild spoilers**
Being the second novel in a trilogy is a thankless task. The freshness and originality of the first installment has worn off, and the author needs to lay groundwork and build exposition before the final chapter can answer all the open questions. This is why for so many trilogies, both in literature and film, the second chapter is the weakest of the three.
China Rich Girlfriend sadly falls into this “middle child” sinkhole; it gets bogged down trying to resolve all of the plotlines from the first novel while introducing all the people that will become more important in the finale. That isn’t to say that Kevin Kwan’s second novel isn’t fun; it definitely is. But there’s something missing.
For one thing, there are a lot of new characters to acquaint ourselves with. Having just managed to gain a general understanding of the complicated Shang/Leong/Young/ family tree, now the reader must also get to know Rachel’s newly-found extended family (this is not a spoiler, it’s revealed in the prologue) as well as an absolute entourage of new supporting characters.
Perhaps it is that the “label-dropping” reaches a saturation point in China Rich Girlfriend, though it’s possible that someone who actually knew something about fashion would heartily disagree*. The numerous descriptions of luxurious locations gets a bit ridiculous as well; at one point the male protagonist Nicholas Young notices that a yacht’s barstools were upholstered in “genuine whale foreskin” and I actually burst out laughing. Also, turns out that’s a real thing that actually exists in the world.
China Rich Girlfriend also does an incredibly efficient job of tidying up all of the unresolved plotlines from Crazy Rich Asians. The enmity between Rachel and Eleanor Young is swept away in the first fifty pages as if it never really mattered and is never again mentioned in any real capacity. Considering that I just spent four hundred pages watching Eleanor systematically destroy Rachel’s life, this easy resolution was unsatisfying.
Things aren’t all bad, and Kwan’s delight at bringing this secretive and showy world to life is both obvious and infectious. At the very least, I think we can all agree that no matter what happens to Nick and Rachel (who remain almost painfully milquetoast) it is Astrid who truly deserves her happy ending.
My rating: 4/5
Happy reading everyone!
*full disclosure-my annual clothing budget is somewhere in the range of seventy-five dollars
I’ve been putting off writing this review for ages, because I can’t think of the best way to describe Kevin Kwan’s debut bestseller, Crazy Rich Asians. There’s been a ton of hype around this book since it was released in 2013, and it’s already been adapted into a film starring Constance Wu and Henry Golding.
So what can I say that hasn’t been said by a thousand readers and reviewers before me? Not much really. But I can say it again, and in slightly different words. What fun!
Speaking of fun, Crazy Rich Asians was a runaway bestseller for a reason; it’s pure unadulterated escapist fun. Instead of trying to avoid all of the cliches associated with the “chick-lit”* genre, it revels in them. At one point, a character literally pulls out an unlimited AmEx card and utters the words, “This is a fashion emergency!” (or some paraphrase thereof).
Crazy Rich Asians is shamelessly capitalist, and I spent the entire novel in a weird swirl of awe and envy that was nonetheless highly enjoyable. The name-dropping and label-obsession went completely over my head most of the time, but it was certainly an education For example, I had no idea that “Hermes-orange” was its own color.
The thing that really sets this book apart from the myriads of forgettable chick-lit is that it is also opened my eyes to a culture I previously didn’t know much about and will, in all likelihood, never experience. I imagine this novel will do wonders for the Singaporean tourist industry, already a huge part of their economy. Personally, the numerous descriptions of delicious Hokkien street food were enough to have me poking into flights.
The central plot of Crazy Rich Asians is breathless, exciting, silly, and self-indulgent. The central character, Rachel Wu, isn’t terribly interesting at all and serves mainly as our introduction to this world of extravagant wealth. The bustling, busying, nosying, prying members of the Young family are the highlight of the book, and rarely have I enjoyed soap-opera-esque plot developments so much.
I loved spending time in Kevin Kwan’s world of extreme opulence and backstabbing family members. I also feel like I learned a lot about a culture completely different from my own, which is always a good time.
My rating: 5/5
** Personally, I find this term odious but it is a highly-effective description of the genre.
It had to happen eventually. Over the past sixteen months, I’ve published reviews on more than one hundred and twenty novels. There’s been good books and bad books and occasionally a book that is truly great.
But The Witches: Salem, 1692, by Stacy Schiff, is the first book that I am giving up on.
I don’t have a car, so I mostly walk or use public transit to get around Toronto. While commuting to various locations, I like to use Audible because my earbuds are easy to stash in my pocket once I reach my destination.
I prefer nonfiction because if I have to tune out for a few minutes in order to cross the street or dodge the ever-present construction in the city, I can quickly pick up the thread of the narrative once more.
For more than nine hours I listened to The Witches, and today I could not tell you anything about the Salem Witch Trials that I didn’t know beforehand. This is because the book is all brain and no heart. It’s filled with facts and quoted and diary excerpts, but it fails entirely to make the historical figures into living, breathing people with motivations.
I always like to know the why of things. For example, I knew the basic facts about Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt before I read Kara Cooney’s The Woman Who Would Be King. What her book provided was the historical context of the period. Using educated guesswork and a dash of wild speculation, Cooney was able to paint a portrait of Egyptian life that allowed me to better understand Hatshepsut’s reign as a whole.
That’s what is sorely missing from Schiff’s book. She spends countless pages describing what the teenage girls of Salem were doing when they were supposedly bewitched. They tore out their hair, contorted their bodies, and screamed the invisible “spirits” tormenting them. These are facts. What I wanted to know was why. If it wasn’t witches, which it clearly wasn’t, then what on Earth would possess an entire community of teenage girls to behave as if they were, in fact, possessed?
If this book had been a little shorter, I probably would have been able to stay the course. But The Witches is more than five hundred pages. Like I said, I listened for nearly ten hours. Then I looked, and saw there were still eight hours to go. And I just couldn’t spend another eight hours in that particular version of Salem, no matter how technically accurate.
My rating: N/A
Normally I leave links here for anyone who would like to purchase the book, but given what you’ve just read, why would you?
Happy reading everyone!
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries. [Source]
If you’ve ever seen AMC’s The Walking Dead, you’ll have noticed that episodes of the show tend to follow a very predictable pattern. Something really interesting and surprising happens in the first ten minutes, which grabs your interest and makes you excited to keep watching. This is followed by roughly thirty minutes of aimless wandering, idle chatter, and speeches about the unfairness of life, during which time you zone out and mostly stare at your phone. Then, in the last three minutes there is another interesting and surprising event which leaves you hungrily awaiting the next episode.
The Fifth Season is the high fantasy novel equivalent of an episode of The Walking Dead.
The set-up is narrated in the second-person and introduces you to the main cast of characters. A woman is mourning the death of her son at the hands of her husband. A mysterious figure in a shining city causes untold destruction. An ambitious acolyte takes on an undesired task. It is written in a way that reminded me of death’s narration in The Book Thief, distant but personal at the same time. Things were off to a good start.
The problem comes when Author N. K. Jemisin continues to employ that second-person narrative style in every chapter focused on Essun, the main female protagonist. Rather than adding an extra layer to the story, switching back and forth from the second to the third voice was incredibly jarring. It pulled me out of the story time and time again.
After its promising beginning, The Fifth Season spends the bulk of it’s 350+ pages moving various characters from one place to another. This offers multiple opportunities to explore the land and peoples inhabited in this world, but also becomes increasingly tedious as time goes on. At some point my curiosity dwindled, and I no longer cared very much about the fate of the broken Earth or its residents.
My rating: 3/5
Happy reading everyone!
Greg Mortenson has built a global reputation as a selfless humanitarian and children’s crusader, and he’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is also not what he appears to be. As acclaimed author Jon Krakauer discovered, Mortenson has not only fabricated substantial parts of his bestselling books Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, but has also misused millions of dollars donated by unsuspecting admirers like Krakauer himself. [Source]
Here’s the twist. I’ve never read Three Cups of Tea, the 2007 mega-bestseller coauthored by David Relin Oliver and Greg Mortenson. I saw it for years in various airport bookstores; I even picked it up once or twice and glanced at the book jacket. I never felt the urge to read the book despite the glowing praise it had received, because something about the whole premise rang false. I’ve never trusted people who feel the need to strike million dollar book deals before imparting the “wisdom” they’ve supposedly learned while traveling. Similar to the odious Eat Pray Love, I assumed Three Cups would be full of self-aggrandizing humble-bragging, complete with pithy statements about how “the children of Afghanistan taught me more than I ever taught them”.
I tend to be a bit cynical.
So when I stumbled across short e-book entitled Three Cups of Deceit, I was immediately intrigued. Written by Jon Krakauer, an author who is quickly becoming of my favorite nonfiction writers. And when the subtitle read How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way, I felt the sweet, sweet confirmation bias wash over me.
Three Cups of Deceit is a seventy-page arrow aimed directly at the heart of Greg Mortenson, coauthor of Three Cups of Tea and founder of the Central Asia Institute, a charity that ostensibly exists to build schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. By educating the children of these war-stricken regions, Mortenson claims, they are less likely to become radicalized by Islamic extremist groups.
Unfortunately, Krakauer claims, Mortenson has fabricated nearly every aspect of the narrative that surrounds his personality and his supposed charitable works. The “origin” story in Three Cups of Tea, in which Mortenson stumbles upon a remote village in the mountains of Pakistan never happened, or at least not in the village Mortenson claims. Mortenson’s eight-day kidnapping and abduction by terrorist groups was a complete lie. Many of the schools built by CAI have been abandoned due to lack of materials, funds, and teachers. Many more of the schools were simply never built at all. All the time, Mortenson was using donations from the non-profit to fund a never-ending book tour, complete with five star hotels and private planes.
Three Cups of Deceit is my third book by Krakauer, and I have never been given a reason to doubt his journalistic integrity. I was surprised then, to see how closely he toes the line here. Krakauer is clearly angry, his words nearly simmer off the page with his fury at having been duped by Mortenson (Krakauer was a financial supporter of CAI). While his anger is certainly understandable, it is obvious that he was too close to this issue to maintain a professional demeanor. This is as much personal take-down as it is journalistic expose.
My rating: 3.5/5
Happy reading everyone!
Here we are again! The stockings are hung. The hot chocolate has been poured. Christmas movies are playing on the T.V. and I am definitely in the mood for a long winter’s nap. As the year draws to a close, it’s time for us to take a look back and remember all the many fond and perhaps not-so-fond memories we’ve made this year. Here at oneyearonehundredbooks, this means it’s time for our 2nd annual best and worst lists! This year we are starting with the “worst”. It is important to clarify that I do not mean that any of these books are terribly written or that the author shouldn’t take pride in what they have achieved. This list is more for those books that just didn’t quite live up to the hype or the ones that simply weren’t my cup of tea. So without further ado, I present to you the ten most disappointing books that I read in 2018, beginning with the honorable mentions.
Honorable Mention: Penpal by Dathan Auerbach
Reddit contributor turned published author Dathan Auerbach has some delightfully creepy moments in this short horror novel. Some of the chapters were better than others though, and overall this book was disjointed and uneven.
Honorable Mention: The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin
This is one of those novels that was not bad at all, just disappointing. It failed to live up to the example set by the first installment in the series, and lacked any major character development.
10) The Troop by Nick Cutter
I’m a huge fan of the horror genre, and was really excited to read this book while I was on a camping trip this summer. Sadly, The Troop lacks any kind of exposition and never takes the time to flesh out its characters, relying instead on graphic and gruesome descriptions of bones and bodies.
9) See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
The story of Lizzie Borden is known all around the world, and this historical fiction novel set out to tell her story as well as her sisters. None of the characters are terribly interesting, however; and this novel ended up a yawn instead of a scream.
8) A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
I often find that I am not terribly impressed by Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning novel. Similar to the Academy Awards, I think the judging is very biased towards only specific types of stories. A Thousand Acres was yet another example of a Pulitzer-winning novel that offered nothing particularly new or imaginative.
7) Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Set in post-apocalyptic Africa, this novel never adequately explains the world it inhabits. I often felt confused as characters seemed to gain new abilities at random, and there was more than one instance of deus ex machina. This is a book in need of a prequel.
6) The Gods of Howl Mountain by Taylor Brown
The Appalachian Mountains are shrouded in mist and mystery, as are the people who live up in the hills. This historical fiction novel about a war amputee turned bootlegger should have been more exciting than it was. As it stands, I can barely remember the plot.
5) Friend Request by Laura Marshall
The book that caused me to temporarily back away from the thriller genre, I think Friend Request suffered from a cascade effect. I had read several disappointing and forgettable thrillers lately, and this novel, about a women who is contacted on Facebook by a deceased schoolmate, was just the cherry on the sundae.
4) The Traitors Wife by Allison Pataki
Way back at the beginning of the year, The Traitor’s Wife was the first book that really just failed to impress. The main character is a selfish, spoiled bitch with absolutely no character arc, and the supporting cast is either entirely moronic or simply unnecessary to the plot.
3) Gone by Michael Grant
This book earned its spot high on this list because it made me look bad in front of my book club. I chose this YA science fiction novel, about a town where all the adults suddenly vanish, as my very first “pick” and, needless to say, it was not well received. Potentially because it was written by someone who had only the most passing knowledge of teenagers and how they behave.
2) A Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
I remember writing the review for this novel, and thinking that it was good on paper. The novel dealt with the sensitive issue of Native Americans and the United States government with delicacy and tact. However, the cringe-inducing dialects and italics used in the dialogue of the different woman ruined this novel for me entirely. I have never worst-listed a book based solely on formatting, so this was a first.
1) The Devil’s Banker by Christopher Reich
Another book club pick (not mine), The Devil’s Banker is what happens when American white nationalism gains sentience and writes a novel. It is a collection of loosely gathered racial biases held together with the glue of fear-mongering and lacquered over with a shiny coat of ignorance.
And there you have it! I am so interested to see what you all think. Are there any books that deserve a second chance? Do you have any of your own suggestions for most disappointing book of the year?
Coming up soon: My Favorite Books of 2018
Happy reading everyone!
Last month I completed my goal of reading and reviewing one hundred new books over the course of a year! The feeling of setting and reaching a goal has been incredible satisfaction mixed with mild exhaustion.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed creating and writing this website for the past year. I have tried blogging many times in the past, and it’s never stuck until now. Setting a goal and working hard to achieve it has helped me through some rough patches in the past twelve months, and I’m surprised by how much I learned about myself. In no specific order, here are a few observations from my first year of blogging.
1. ) Looking back, it is startlingly obvious that I was not in a good state of mind last year. My immigration process was taking forever, I had no friends in the city, and I spent the majority of my time binge-watching television shows. In the twelve months since, it’s as if nothing has changed but everything has changed. I am much happier and healthier both mentally and physically than I was last year. I’ve spent hours scavenging the city looking to books to complete my Goosebumps collection (only five to go!). I joined a book club, which has forced me to confront my social anxiety and join in on group conversations. I began volunteering for an amazing charity which allows me to spend time with rescue cats. And my permanent residency was finally approved! Now I am entering the terrifyingly exciting world of job hunting and trying to launch a new career in writing. Reading some of my earlier posts, it’s as if at some point over the past year I emerged from a darkness that I hadn’t even realized I was drowning in. There are still struggles of course, and there are times when I feel like I’m spinning out of control, but overall the general feeling is one of hopefulness.
2. ) Running this website helped me a lot this year. I’ve never been able to truly commit to writing a blog, mainly because I’ve never felt that my thoughts and ideas were terribly interesting or important. I have tried to stay away from tracking hits and likes, but it has still given me a boost of confidence to know that people visit my site and enjoy the things I’ve written. I don’t get crazy traffic, but it’s rare for me to go a day without at least one visitor. I am so proud and so grateful to all of the people who have journeyed with me through this year and more than one hundred books.
3.) I started this blog out of boredom, but it’s become surprisingly useful. As I said, last year was not the best time for me. I remember how homesick I was at the prospect of yet another holiday season away from my family. When I came up with the idea to start writing book reviews, I knew I needed to set myself a challenge. I never really expected anyone to actually read the reviews I was writing, but I was desperate for something, anything to occupy my attention. Fast forward a year later, and I am attempting to begin a career based around writing. I’ve applied for jobs for content writers, proofreaders, copy writers, and other related fields. One thing that I noticed was many of these companies ask for writing samples to be included with a resume and cover letter. So this website has had the unexpected benefit of doubling as a portfolio!
4.) I fully intend to challenge myself to read another hundred books next year, and I want to expand oneyearonehundredbooks as well. Starting next year, I will be welcoming guest bloggers to post their own reviews on this site. I am hoping to bring more variety and opinions to the table, and I’m always looking for contributors! If you’d like to write a book review or a book vs film comparison, please leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep an eye out in the next few days; I’ll be publishing lists for the best and worst reads of the year! Until then, check out 2017’s My Ten Favorite Books of 2017 and Ten Most Disappointing Books I Read in 2017
Happy reading everyone!