NEW RELEASE Ciara Ballintyne’s Epic Fantasy ‘In the Company of the Dead’

Only a fool crosses a god, but Ellaeva and Lyram will do anything to get what they want.

InTheCompanyOfTheDead_300dpi_1842x2763 FINAL

Title: In the Company of the Dead
Author: Ciara Ballintyne
Series: The Sundered Oath #1
Genre: Epic Fantasy/Fantasy Romance


Chosen as a five-year-old orphan to be the Left Hand of Death, Ellaeva has nothing to call her own—nothing except a desire to avenge her murdered parents. Her duties leave her no time to pursue the man responsible, until both her work and revenge lead to the same place—the lonely castle where Lyram Aharris is serving out his exile for striking his prince.

Lyram is third in line for the throne, and when the castle is unexpectedly besieged, he fears his prince means to remove him from contention for the crown permanently. Ellaeva’s arrival brings hope, until she reveals she has not come for the siege, but instead she hunts the castle for a hidden necromancer dedicated to the dark god of decay.

Within their stone prison, Ellaeva and Lyram must fight to save themselves from political machinations and clashing gods. But as the siege lengthens, the greatest threat comes from an unexpected quarter.


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Chapter 1
Premonition
Only a fool would split hairs with a god, least of all the goddess of death, but Ellaeva would count herself such a fool and consider it worth it—if she could get away with it.

She leaned across the knife-scarred timber of the tavern table.

“Are you sure?” she asked, her tone even and barely loud enough to be audible over the noise of the flute and the zither. Her work on behalf of the goddess Ahura, adjudicating the small war here in Dayhl, could only be abandoned in favour of a greater threat. If she was going to chase off after the man who killed her parents, she needed to be sure her arguments stacked up. The pursuit of personal justice wouldn’t be enough.

Is it justice or revenge?

No time to worry about that now. She tugged her black hood farther down over her infamous face, even though deep shadows blanketed the common room corner. She’d chosen a table far from the tallow candles mounted in their stag-horn chandeliers. There was no point taking chances; the black hair and porcelain skin of a Tembran would be remarked here among the platinum-haired Dayhlish. Besides, someone might recognise her.

“In Ahlleyn, sure as the spring comes after winter, Holiness.” The narrow-faced man across from her grinned, baring teeth more brown than yellow. The acrid smoke from the candles didn’t cover his pungent breath.

She half-stood, making an urgent, negating gesture as she glanced around, but the hubbub of chatter from the patrons and the music covered his slip. No one even glanced their way. On the far side of the room, away from the two blazing hearths, tables were pushed aside for dancing. She dropped back into her seat, her black robes fluttering around her booted feet.

Ahlleyn lay on the other side of the continent, months of travel by horse. If her informant was right and a Rahmyrrim priest had been dispatched there, he would likely be gone long before she arrived—unless she begged a favour, but she’d not do that for a lark of her own. However, if it meant catching the man who killed her parents, well then maybe she could come up with an argument that would hold water for a god. Old grief and anger, stale from a decade or more, stirred in her gut, and her fingers curled around the edge of the table.

Releasing her grip, she reached to the inner pocket in her robes where rested the smudged charcoal drawing of a man. Hard work and luck had helped her obtain that picture of the man she believed killed her parents—a man she knew to be a priest of Rahmyr. If she decided to act against her standing orders, then she needed to be sure it was the man she was after, and that he was involved in some act heinous enough to attract her goddess’s attention.

“Did you get the name of this priest? Or his description?” An unknown number of priests served Rahmyr, but she knew six by sight—six still alive anyway.

The thin man shook his head. “Nobody mentioned. I got the impression he’s already there, or on his way leastways.”

She scowled. No way to be sure then that this was the man she wanted. Begging favours of Ahura for her personal satisfaction was a risky business, especially if she neglected her duties, and perhaps it would all be for nothing.

With one hand, she flattened the map that curled on the table between them. The patrons behind them exploded with laughter at something unheard. Ignoring the noise, she stabbed her finger at an unmarked portion of the map in the foothills of the Ahlleyn mountains. If he didn’t know who, maybe he knew the what. “There, you say? What possible interest could Rahmyr have there? There’s nothing of interest at all.”

She lowered her voice even further as she uttered the name of the goddess of decay, and glanced around again. That name spoken too loudly would bring unwanted attention. But nearly all the tavern patrons were busy whirling on the impromptu dance floor or lined up to watch the dancers, their backs to her.

The nameless man leaned forward, treating her to another stomach-clenching blast of foul breath, and touched a spot perhaps half an inch away from her finger. A tiny, unlabelled picture marked something there.

“Here, Holiness.”

She squinted at the picture, letting his lapse slide. The image represented a holy place. There was an old shrine to Ahura somewhere in the Ahlleyn Borders, wasn’t there? And a castle built over it. “Caisteal Aingeal an Bhais.”

“That sounds like the name,” he agreed. “Never could get my mouth around them Ahlleyn words. Pink castle, I heard.”

She grunted. That was the one. “There’s still nothing there.”

Nothing of interest to Rahmyr anyway. The shrine wasn’t particularly important, and the castle held no political significance.

“What’s there,” the man said, “is Lyram Aharris.”

The premonition went through her like a blast of icy wind, stiffening her in her chair as the hand of the goddess brushed against her mind. A light caress, but from a giant, and so it sent her mind reeling. She clutched the table for support. Lyram Aharris’s reputation preceded him the length of the continent: eight years ago, at the age of twenty-seven, he’d brought an end to the centuries-long conflict between Ahlleyn and Velena through a series of brilliant military manoeuvres. He’d survived the Siege of Invergahr against near-impossible odds, brought the crown prince safely clear of the conflict, and fought the Velenese to a standstill using their own guerrilla warfare tactics against them. As a novice, she’d covered the tactics thoroughly as part of her studies. The man was a military genius. That he was third in line for the throne of Ahlleyn was the least there was to know about him—at least it was, until his king dismissed him from court. The rumours on everyone’s lips said he murdered his wife, even if no one could prove it.

What did Rahmyr want with him?

Ciara Ballintyne grew up on a steady diet of adult epic fantasy from the age of nine, leaving her with a rather confused outlook on life – she believes the good guys should always win, but knows they often don’t. She is an oxymoron; an idealistic cynic.

She began her first attempts at the craft of writing in 1992, culminating in the publication of her debut work, Confronting the Demon, in 2013. Her first book to be published with Evolved Publishing is In the Company of the Dead. She holds degrees in law and accounting, and is a practising financial services lawyer. In her spare time, she speculates about taking over the world – how hard can it really be?

If she could be anything, she’d choose a dragon, but if she is honest she shares more in common with Dr. Gregory House of House M.D. – both the good and the bad. She is a browncoat, a saltgunner, a Whedonite, a Sherlockian, a Ringer and a Whovian… OK, most major geek fandoms. Her alignment is chaotic good. She is an INTJ.

Ciara lives in Sydney, Australia, with her husband, her two daughters, and a growing menagerie of animals that unfortunately includes no dragons.

My New Dark Epic Fantasy is Almost Here!

Yes, I’m slack. My new dark epic fantasy is coming out soon, and I haven’t even done a cover reveal on my blog. Well, here it is, cover reveal, blurb, links, sample, all the juicy stuff. Drumroll … may I introduce, Tempering the Rose. I will first thank the incredibly talented Robert Baird for my cover. I told him what I wanted, and he delivered with style (lucky me).

tempering-the-rose_ebook copy

I normally write YA fantasy, but I decided to test the waters of fantasy for older readers. I’ve enjoyed writing grittier scenes and language (okay, so that’s me politely saying my characters use the F word). At its core, it’s a story of revenge, love, and redemption, oh and saving the world (hence the epicness). There aren’t any dragons in this one, as far as I can tell (you never know what book 2 holds). I hope you give this one a go if you like fast-paced epic fantasy. And that’s Addy on the cover — my kick-ass main character hell-bent on revenge, and when you hear what was done to her, you’ll totally understand. Will she get her man? There’s only one way to find out ;). The book comes out April 19 on iBooks and the 2nd of May on Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. Buy before 19 April and get it for the special pre-release price of 99 cents. On 19th of April, the price will rise to $3.99.

BLURB

A dark epic fantasy series, where one woman’s thirst for revenge will put the entire world in jeopardy.

The only thing twenty-one year old Adrastine wants is revenge against her depraved father—but when she tries to kill him, she is caught and thrown into a holy war for a god she doesn’t believe in. But disaster is coming, and all Adrastine’s problems will seem minor by comparison. Someone, or something, is draining the planet’s lifeblood, killing the land and everything on it at an alarming rate.

Jacob is a shelon, a man who can wield magic, and a spy dispatched by Queen Valtice to find The Rose of Nerine – the only one who can stop the rape of the land and save the people. But when Jacob finds Adrastine, he can’t convince her that she is The Rose, let alone to leave her home and journey with him across the tempestuous sea to Nerine.

Adrastine is drawn to Jacob, despite their differences. But that is a dangerous path, as he is an unwelcome distraction to her quest for revenge. And if she learns his secrets, it will cement her hatred of men forever, weakening powers she is only just learning she has, powers needed to save their world.

CHAPTER 1

Addy crouched on the roof and stared over the parapet to the cobbled street below. A royal seeker stood watchful at the whorehouse door across the street, dim light from a wall lantern throwing his angular features into shadow. The threat of the sword hanging from his hip and his scowl would be enough to keep most people away. But not Addy. Not tonight.

The crisp air burned in her throat. Her thumb caressed the smooth timber of her bow. Back and forth. Back and forth. The rhythm did little to soothe her nerves, and she bit her bottom lip, the sting of it occupying her mind, keeping negative thoughts from sending her into retreat. In her other hand she gripped a cold arrow shaft so hard her nails dug deep half-moon indentations into her palm.

She had dreamed of this moment for the past seven years. Once her arrow pierced her father’s heart, she could get on with her life. At twenty-one, she was young enough to have a future — one far from Pyren, no doubt — but it was more than she had been brave enough to believe in before escaping her mother’s indifference and father’s abuse five years earlier.

What if the murder goes wrong? The searing image of a long-suppressed memory ignited, like a flash of lighting. Her thumb ceased stroking. She missed a breath. Nervous energy spread from her chest into her throat. Addy inhaled slowly to calm herself. She blinked, trying to clear her mind, then refocused on the door, which was still closed.

She would never go back. The nothingness of death was preferable to ending up where she had started — under the care and control of High Seeker Radnok and her addict mother.

Addy tilted her head to one side then the other, stretching her neck. Her gaze never left the whorehouse door. If she missed this opportunity, there would be no other. She would be on the run or dead.

The seeker stepped quickly to the side as the door opened. Harp notes cascaded out with the haze of smoke and two more seekers; the men beckoned to a horse and carriage waiting nearby. The horses moved forward, the strike of hooves on stone breaking through Addy’s focus, making her start.

She stood.

Relaxing one hand took great effort. Addy swiftly nocked an arrow. String taut, she rested her icy hand against her face, the comforting pressure of the bowstring against her cheek helping her focus. Any moment now. You can do this, Addy.

High Seeker Radnok stepped through the gloom. His footfalls matched the clack of hoof on stone as he moved into the light, into range. He was as she remembered him — tall, broad-shouldered, arrogance in the tilt of his head, dark beard framing a sneering mouth.

Addy inhaled deeply then held her breath, trying to temper her racing heart. The carriage moved closer. It would soon block her shot.

No more time.

Radnok lifted his gaze from the approaching carriage and looked right at her, his eyes widening.

Her hands shook. Another flash of memory. Blinded again.

Never going back.

The clop of hooves.

Shouts.

Never going back.

Radnok’s surprise swiftly dissipated.

She reached deep inside for the burning fire in her belly. The cocooning molasses of calm the fire brought slowed the world. Harp notes vibrated longer, became deeper. Her vision intensified — things far away seemed closer. Radnok’s hateful face was so clear, she could even see the smirk line next to his mouth.

Despite the world moving slower for her, Addy’s heart galloped with fear. She saw the triumph in Radnok’s eyes, saw it turn into something worse. He thought he had won.

Between one heartbeat and the next, she released.

 

Come See Me at RWDU16

RWDU

In just under two weeks is an event I’ve been looking forward to — Readers & Writers Down Under 2016, in one of the nicest spots in Oz. On Saturday 5th of March, I’ll be selling and signing books at the QT Hotel Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. And I won’t be the only author there. Sixty-nine authors will be in attendance – hmm, kind of a magic number ;). If you love reading romance, erotic fiction, paranormal, chick lit and fantasy, there’s sure to be something you’ll love.

Come have some fun with us. There’s the book signing on Saturday and the masquerade ball on Saturday night. Can’t wait to get dressed up and don a mask.

To make sure you don’t miss out on partying with 69 lovely ladies, go grab your tickets now!

Hope to see you there!

Writers’ Unleashed is Here! – Shire Writers’ Festival

Hey! Long time no post; I know. I’ve had things cooking in the background – namely the new comedy web series (not fantasy related) that I’ve written and am producing. But that’s not the reason for this post — that’s just my excuse for not posting for AGES. So, onto the reason for this post.

This coming Saturday — the 14th of November from 9 am – 4 pm, I’ll be attending the Writers’ Unleashed Festival in Gymea, Sydney (Australia, not Canada). There are going to be lots of great author talks and panels, so if you love books, meeting authors, or you are an author/writer who wants to hear about all things publishing/writing related, you can grab your tickets HERE.

I’ll be on a panel discussing self publishing, with Elizabeth Storrs and Helen Armstrong from 3 – 4 pm. We’ll all be selling/signing books afterwards. I’d love to see you there. You never know what awesome writers you’ll meet, not to mention the great information that could help you on your publishing journey.

Looking Through Sad

Poetry isn’t my best ‘thing’ but it’s a wonderful way of exorcising intense feelings. I wrote this because someone I love is dying of cancer, a scenario all too common these days. I’m also sending hugs to everyone out there who has lost someone they love to the hateful thing called death.

Looking Through Sad

I’m looking through sad
My heavy gaze
Barely touched by my smile.
Weighed down by sorrow
The press of recollection
Of a truth better not known
That lies at the end
Of everything

Rejected in a Flash

We writers are a sensitive bunch; okay, what I’m really saying is I’m sensitive. I work hard at writing the best prose I can. It’s an obsession and a passion, and there’s nothing I love more, outside the actual the process of writing, than when a reader tells me they’ve connected with my story — whether they were entertained or moved — that’s my goal. But even so, validation from readers in the industry is something that writers seek—it gives us credibility and helps us believe in ourselves. To this end, I’ve entered a few competitions and generally never gotten anywhere.

Recently, I entered two flash fictions in competitions, and my stories failed to even make the long lists. It leaves me wondering what I’m doing wrong. Why aren’t the judges connecting with my stories? What the hell am I doing thinking I can write? There’s lots of writers much better than me, so why should I keep trying? Because I love it; that’s why. So, rather than spend more than one day moping about it (the time I give myself to deal with rejection), I’ve decided that I’d rather post my stories here for free than pay to get rejected (what other crazy bunch of people does that, right?).

I know some of my readers will enjoy these flash fiction pieces, and that means I haven’t failed. And, to be honest, I could never give up writing, as I love putting words down, one after the other, and see meaning and emotion fill the once empty space. Please enjoy these two flash fiction pieces, ’cause I’ll have to cheer myself up by eating a whole tub of ice cream if you don’t.

Just in Time

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. Elsie looks down at the small clock on the plastic tablecloth. Her eyes, even with glasses, can’t make out the numbers anymore, but the bright-red cherry motif decorating the tablecloth catches her attention, as do her wrinkled hands. Skin so thin, blue veins ghost through—a shadow of life glimpsed behind rippled glass. When did that happen? Her hands rest on the table, each one cupped around either side of the clock. She runs one thumb over the smooth plastic face.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. “Bill, do you remember when we bought it?” she asks of the empty room. Her faded lips — more the pink of a dried petal than the lively pink of sunsets, lipstick and baby clothes, the pink of then — curl up. She lifts her head and looks away from the clock, her gaze slipping beyond.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. The chair across from her is pushed in, vacated long ago. Alone is lonely. Waiting is hard. So slow . . . time, it passes so slowly. Will she keep fading until she’s invisible, like Bill? The clock, curved and lacquered black, its white face as pale as death, calls to her.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. What is it like, in that space between the clear glass and the clock face? Even if she squints and leans closer, the time eludes her. Time eludes her. Blurry hands, blurry numbers. Always counting down to something, yet counting up.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. So long. She’s waited so long. Her insides feel as hazy as the numbers she can’t make out on the clock face. As hazy as Bill, who now sits across from her. The clock is forgotten as Bill’s silhouette grows stronger.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. She smiles—his face, it’s good to see his face. She reaches her hand toward him. Instead of cool plastic, she feels….

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. For the first time in so long, she can’t hear it. Silence. The ticking has finally stopped.

 

Stolen

“Goodbye, mum,” Ellen whispers as the first thud of earth strikes the coffin. It feels like there is too much space in her mind, where reality escapes her desperate attempts to contain it.

She is a little girl again, snuggled in her mother’s arms, inhaling the scent of her perfume. Waiting for the bus, icy wind swirls around them. The little girl smiles, knowing the chill can’t break through and take her mother’s warmth. But now, standing at the edge looking down, past her sensible black shoes into despair, her tears join the clods beating a slow rhythm in the crisp July afternoon.

Another bitter wind blows at her back, and she knows it was all a lie — the cold has stolen her warmth. She shivers. Staring beyond the coffin, imagining the confines beyond, loneliness spreads endlessly in front of her, like an arctic landscape. She wraps tired arms around herself.

A warm hand grasps her fingers. Through blurred vision, she looks into her daughter’s blue eyes, so like her mother’s.

“I’m cold,” the little girl says.

Ellen crouches and gathers Ava into her arms, hugs her tight. Breathing deep to steady her voice, she says, “I’ll keep you warm.”

Hope — A Suspenseful Short Story

I haven’t posted in way too long. Sorry about that. This is a short story I wrote a couple of years ago, and it was supposed to find its way into a friend’s magazine, but the magazine is on hold, so I decided to post it here. It’s not my best work, but it will make you think, I hope.

HOPE

Hope stared at her son. It was hard not to panic. She wanted to run around screaming, “They’re coming! They’re coming! Save yourselves.” She stood, legs twitching in denial of her instincts. Her son looked lovingly into her eyes. He trusted her and was happy, and she was grateful for that.

Her gaze nervously flicked between the only way out and her child. What time would they come? She looked around at the other mothers with their children and wondered how they felt, knowing what was coming? Every year they took the children that were not too young, but not old either. They took them away, never to be seen again. The mothers weren’t supposed to know what happened, but Hope had been wandering where she shouldn’t and had seen the children’s lifeless bodies being thrown into a truck.

How could they be so cruel? Didn’t they know how much suffering they caused? Hope knew they were emotionless, heartless; they had to be. What if she could save her son this time? They had taken her two other children, and she never forgot. Never. Her dreams were filled with their faces, their beautiful brown eyes radiating innocent love that had been cruelly disregarded with one slash of a knife.

She moved closer to her son and nuzzled his soft cheek, and he smiled. She lifted her head again and looked at all the children that would be dead by tomorrow. It was too many. Not again. No, she couldn’t let it happen again. She thought about how she could stop it and formulated a plan. Help was needed, and the smartest mother she knew was April. It was time to act.

April wasn’t sure it would work, and she didn’t like the violence Hope was suggesting, but if she wanted to save her son, she had no choice. They risked their own lives in this, but it was worth it. April remembered, just as well as Hope, how she had felt last time her child was murdered. The pain of losing a child cannot be forgotten or diminished; it smothered her life and suffocated her joy, permeating her waking hours and her sleep.

Hope and April waited, staying close to their boys. Between them, they had managed to organise at least fifty other mothers to help. Everyone was arranged around the huge enclosure: another way they had been mistreated—locked up, not allowed freedom to go where they chose. Hope wanted to survive, but the way her life was, she was not afraid to die if she couldn’t force change. No one deserved to live like this.

The silent mothers feigned calm, often looking at each other for support. They were in this together; no one else could save them. They had to do it themselves. Hope looked beyond her comrades, to the open sky, which taunted them, it’s offer of limitless possibilities closed to them, for now. She heard its message in the fresh breeze that puffed up the dirt around her legs, swirling the grainy soil in ghostly whirlpools, which danced among the waiting prisoners.

She watched one wisp of dust sweep towards the locked gate, and that’s when she saw them. They were here already. Her heartbeat raced. Her gaze met April’s. They exchanged small nods; the time was upon them. Hope waited for the gates to be unlocked, for the four humans and their dogs to enter. The humans wore those things they called ‘hats’, which shadowed their evil faces, but Hope could see the hardness and intent seeping from behind their eyes, like the sickly light which oozed through those Halloween pumpkins the humans put around the farm every year.

She knew it was coming, but jumped when April screamed. Hope screamed too, and soon the enclosure was filled with the bellowing of every mother. The humans had just moments to be surprised before the herd stampeded them.

Hope and April led the charge, hooves kicking and stomping, teeth that had never tasted meat bit into murdering flesh. Murderer became victim.

“Oh my god! Ron what’s happening? They’ve gone mad!”

Hope heard them scream, and she didn’t care, just like they didn’t care every time they came to steal their children, snatching them away only to end their precious lives.

Ron didn’t answer; he was on the ground, trampled limbs bent at unnatural angles like broken branches after a storm. Hope pushed her son out of the gate, and they ran as fast as his short legs allowed them. She risked a look behind, but the humans were down. Her friends and their children were cascading out of the enclosure, experiencing their first taste of freedom. Hope smiled at their triumph and pushed on—they had many farms to visit. Watch out world; we will be docile no more.

If you enjoyed this story, I have more suspenseful, much darker stories in Dark Spaces, which you can grab from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks and Smashwords.

 

 

Review Cheats—Shameful Author Behaviour

Hey, peeps. I haven’t done a ranty post in a while, but ranty Dionne is back! I find getting this stuff out of my system by writing it down helps, and why not educate readers and other authors while I’m at it. Today’s post is all about the wonderful world of authors scamming the Amazon system to trick unwary readers into buying their books.

I must state right out that I may be 43, but I’m naive, to a degree. Whatever I do, I do it honestly, with passion, and to the best of my ability, so it really comes as a shock to me when I discover people scamming the system. Writing has been my biggest passion of all (aside from my family). Ever since I was maybe nine or ten, I knew I wanted to be an author, and I’ve spent a good part of my 30s up until now trying to improve. There are many writers out there who have that passion to write and know that once the fire is ignited, not even a flood will extinguish it. I can admit that what I discovered hurts all the more because of this, and, hell, I know the people I’m about to talk about haven’t given a second thought to me, or any of the other authors out there who truly care about writing. I should not take this personally, but I do, and I feel ripped off on behalf of my author friends who I know put their heart, soul, time and money into each book they publish. The honest, talented, hardworking authors are missing out on sales because some other authors are getting visibility and sales based on dishonest practices.

It all started a few weeks ago when a certain book—which I won’t name because I’m not here to ‘out’ people, but open people’s eyes so they can be aware when they’re choosing a book to read—appeared on my book’s page as a number one bestseller (those orange tags are hard to miss). Being curious, and always on the lookout for fantasy books to read, I clicked on the book. It was sitting just under #200 overall on Amazon and had quite a few 5 star reviews. Naturally, I read a sample. I. Almost. Died. The prose was basic, and punctuation was non-existent; the poor comma was totally neglected and didn’t appear until paragraph eight. Sentence fragments made an appearance, but not the type that add tension or emphasise something, but ones that didn’t make sense. I couldn’t read on; my editor-type brain was bashing itself against the inside of my skull. Crying seemed like a good option. How could so many people LOVE this book—70+ reviews, 28 five star, 21 four star for a book that was released three weeks ago—when my book was languishing at #200,000 and has received 58 reviews since April 2012. Maybe I didn’t have what it took to write an engaging book; maybe readers really don’t give two craps about good writing, punctuation and error-free books. (I must say that I get not everyone will love your book, but when it comes too easy for some when it’s clear they shouldn’t have hit publish, it can get to a writer who has spent $1000 on their cover and hundreds on editing, until they realise it’s all bullshit).

Reading the legitimate reviews—the one star reviews—I could see their gripe was the same as mine, plus the brave, stubborn readers who had pushed on, despite the horror, pointed out that many words were incorrect, names for the same character had changed throughout the book, basically anything you could do wrong, this book did. It left me scratching my head, so I thought I’d do some research. Where did it lead?

To the conclusion that the five-star reviews were mostly either friends or paid reviews. I went to Fiverr to see what I could see after having heard it’s a place to go when you want to score (a good review). Oh, my, I felt like my rose-coloured glasses hadn’t just been removed, but they’d been ripped off, stomped on, then the broken glass stabbed into my eyeball. It’s like a red-light district on a Saturday night (ahem, not that I would know what one looked like except for what I’ve seen on TV). Dealers are everywhere, money is changing hands out in the open, and the dodgy people thanking the dealers for reviews are just as brazen. Here are some quotes from the dealers on what they can score for you:

Have your book on Amazon or Kindle? I’ll read it and write a detailed, thoughtful, and positive five star review quickly! I’ve written dozens of product and book reviews and would love to make yours stand out from the crowd. —kbroder9

I will write review on Amazon US, UK, FR, etc.. I can write it on my own or you can provide me and i will post it from my account(s). From different location and device. The more reviews, the greater the chance it will be found and used by potential users. Contact me for Bulk Order ! —reviewergal

I will write a 100-word verified review, highlighting the best aspects of your book. I have extensive professional experience in writing, editing, and beta reading. Your review will be thoughtful and well written. Please see my gig extras if you need me to do any of the following: -buy an ebook up to 3.99 for a verified review -repost your review to another site -add 100 words to your review -deliver in 48 hours (I no longer offer a 24 hour option–reviewing too fast increases the chances that Amazon will remove the review) —beccalovesbooks. (Some reviewers ignore this small issue yet Amazon hasn’t removed their reviews).

Anyway, you get the picture. After chasing up some of the authors on Amazon and going from one link to the next, from ebooks, to reviews, to reviewers, and back to other books they’ve reviewed, I’ve learnt how to spot some of the dodgy reviews. Because Amazon clearly either doesn’t care, or maybe their toilet is clogged and the disposal of such a huge amount of shit is beyond them, I wanted to give you your own BS detector. When you’re trying to find a book to read, please read the sample to make sure it’s at least been edited, then check the validity of the review by clicking on the reviewer. *Please keep in mind that one or two reviews with the following characteristics may not mean the review is fake (some of the reviews on my book are one or two sentences of just “I enjoyed this”), but if you come across review after review for the one book that meet most of these criteria, you can probably assume the author has garnered fake reviews.

This is what I noticed:

1. The reviewer only posts 5 star reviews

2. The reviewer posts more than one review on any given day

3. Reviewers who have been doing it for a few weeks have a shitload of reviews within a short space of time. Note this reviewer who does multiple reviews in one day, day after day. They must be the fastest reader ever.

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4. Look for generic reviews that don’t really say anything about the book, except for gush about how bloody awesome it was and how they can’t wait for the next one (yes, some reviews like this are legitimate, but if there are several within a short amount of time, you can bet your cutest, warmest pussy cat on them that they are fake). Here are a couple of doozies I had to share because hey, you gotta laugh, right? (I was led to this book from one of the fake reviewers when I clicked on their reviews to see what other books they’d been so kind as to comment on for money).

Wow, this alarming book has utterly riddled my mind. I’m stunned at the brilliance of the author has she waves this intriguing tale. It twists and turns with action-packed events. The distinctive characters were well fashioned owing to the vivid descriptions. I refused to put this book down. Indeed it moved so fast I could barely keep up. Here goes a book with a riveting tale that will leave you completely astounded as each character’s role is unleashed in a very surprising way. You have got to check this out!—Nita

How’s that for gushing without actually saying anything?

And this from a reviewer who posted three reviews on the same day, all five stars: XXX (book title left out for obvious reasons) is really a book that you should only read if you are prepared to have a few very late night sleeps. Because yes you are right, it is one of THOSE books that keeps you to the edge of your seat from first to last. And No, you will NOT want to put it down until sleep finally overcomes your eyes. I am sure you are looking forward to the next book in the series if you have read this one. You are lucky to find such an author among all the crowd. Its not every author who can take your sleep away (wink)—Yong C. Hudson.

5. If there is only one 5 star review from the reviewer, they may be legitimate, or they are could be a friend, family member, or the author with a fake account. Again, use discretion. I think it’s prudent to look at the complete picture before you judge on this particular type of review, but if things about the other reviews look suss, this review probably is too.

6. When you’re looking at the reviews for a single book that has only come out in the last few weeks, unless it’s a freak success story (which does happen) or you can see the author has a high profile on social media and has prepared well for their launch with legitimate reviewer copies, multiple 4 and 5 star reviews on the same day, day after day, are suspect. Even bestselling books take a while to gather reviews.

I hope I’ve helped people see when authors are gaming the system. Readers, when you’re looking for a book to read, please check out the sample, and try and buy a book from an author who is doing the right thing, and if you like their book, leave an honest review. Discovering this scummy behaviour has made me sceptical of every good review. It’s not fair that as a reader I can’t trust reviews, and it’s not fair that I, or any other honest writer, should feel they are failing because they are not getting 70 great reviews within two weeks of releasing their book—you’re not failing; I’m not failing. I have to believe that good writing, while it may not sell to millions, will sell better than shit writing, and will lead to a loyal fan base of readers who will buy your books and will truly appreciate your work.

Many of my friends have told me, and I think/hope they’re right, that the crap books will still lose in the end, that readers won’t come back and buy anymore from these authors once they realise the writing, despite the glowing reviews, sucks. And yes, there are some great books out there with fake reviews, which is still dishonest, but at least you won’t be buying a substandard product (although, I don’t condone this underhanded levelling of the playing field).

Anyway, I’ve decided to brush it off and run my own race, sans performing-enhancing reviews. I’ll keep doing what I love—writing—and take comfort that when that one review every few weeks comes in, it’s from a reader who really did love my book. After all, the drug high only lasts so long, and coming down can be a bitch. To all the honest writers, I’m glad and proud to call you my colleagues, and to all the dishonest ones, I wonder how it feels to have to pay people to love your book? I wonder what else you have to pay for…?

Author Kelly Stone Gamble Has a Question for You

bio shot Kelly Gamble

One of my awesome author friends, Kelly Stone Gamble, has just had her debut fiction, They Call Me Crazy, published by Red Adept Publishing. In honour of the release, and because she’s running around doing the promo thing all of us authors must do, she’s visiting to ask you all an interesting question:

Journaling-Yes or No?

Dear Diary,

Mark is the cutest boy ever! I want to marry him someday.

Kelly + Mark=forever!

These are the words I was taunted with for several months in the fifth grade. Of course, writing them in my diary should have made them private, but when you have an older brother, especially a nosy one that knows exactly where to find your private diary, you aren’t always guaranteed that your inner most thoughts will remain private.

As an adult, I don’t keep a diary, nor do I journal. I tried, but I found myself too worried about what someone might learn about me if they found it, so I held back, or just lied. Lying to your journal kind of defeats the purpose. But I do see the value in writing things down: thoughts, ideas, dreams. But is there a point where you limit yourself? And am I being foolish for caring what others would think?

One of my favorite aspects of writing is the research process, and when I was working on a historical fiction novel set in the 1930’s, I spent a lot of time going through the writings of those that lived during the period. It’s amazing what you can learn about people by reading their thoughts, especially those from a time long ago. So another side of me thinks that if I started journaling, my words may be valuable to a writer in the future, and what a wonderful gift I could share with them.

But every time I try to start again, Mark, (the cutest boy ever) pops into my head, and I can’t write a word. Not. One. Word.

So maybe I should just stick to fiction.

Do you keep a journal? Why or why not?

Thanks for the post Kelly! I hope we get some answers. I don’t keep one, but I used to — it always helped when I was going through ‘stuff’. And if anyone wants to check out her new release, which looks amusing and suspenseful, click on the book cover below and you will be magically whisked away to Amazon. If you like Kelly’s style, you can visit her website too.

They Call me Crazy

Sneak Peak at WIP Little Dove—Book 1 of My New Fantasy Series

Sorry it’s been so long between posts. With work, kids, and running Booktastik, life has been hectic. I’ve also, finally (after much angst because I wasn’t writing) started working on the first book in my next fantasy series. I’m hoping the first draft will be finished by February with a release date at the end of March. So please cross your fingers for me :). I hope you enjoy this little teaser first chapter.

Laney is a princess dispossessed. Sworn to protect her world as a caretaker for the long-disappeared dragons, she lives a relatively idyllic life with her royal parents. But darkness is closer than they realize. After Tyrk the Destroyer kills her family, she is forced to flee to a neighbouring kingdom, revenge in her heart. But there are secrets even she isn’t privy to, and she is likely to learn about them the hard way.  Because now that Tyrk has taken her kingdom, he is preparing to destroy her world.

Little Dove

Chapter 1

Laney ran across the field, her breath burning in her throat. Billowing behind, her green dress left her ankles bare, allowing stiff stalks of yellow grass to whip and scratch her skin. Not far now. The leaden granite walls of the keep beckoned. She hoped she wasn’t too late.

In her mind, Frederick’s urgent parting words sounded. I have taught you all I can. The time has come. You must do everything in your power so that all is not lost. I fear the blood of the Varians has already been spilled. He had pushed her out of the door before he finished speaking, only to yell after her as she sprinted away. “Do not lose the bird, whatever you do!” She had hardly heard the last but knew the dove was her only salvation.

Glancing down, her eyes met those of the silver-colored bird at her waist. Its wings were secured with thick woollen twine, which wrapped around its body; its body secured in a netted pouch fastened to her dress. Warmth from the small bird radiated against her stomach. “It’s okay, bird. I won’t hurt you. You can trust me.” She panted, looking up. Almost upon her home, her feet slowed. What would she find? Was there a chance her family was still alive?

The guards standing tense at the spiked iron gates—black breastplates gleaming, hands resting on the pommels of swords hanging at their sides—were strangers. Frederick was right, she thought, they are dead. Laney swallowed the sorrow threatening to undo her. If only her brother hadn’t listened to their parents, the king and queen, when they forbade him and Laney from visiting Frederick, the strongest sorcerer in the small kingdom of Arbalion. Rumours had persisted for weeks about the foreign king’s march upon her father’s throne, and though King Bastian had sent a force he deemed sufficient to annul the threat, and word had reached them of their success at pushing Tyrk the Destroyer back, Frederick was one of the only people who had smelled falsity in such reports.

Laney had learned much, over warm deelvine tea, in her many illicit visits to the wise man’s cottage with her guard, Hazine. But had she learnt enough?

One of the dark-bearded guards, a soldier of Tyrk the Destroyer, turned his head toward Laney and spat. The shaggy-furred black dog at his feet looked at her, slowly stood and growled. Laney stopped, wishing she were invisible.

The soldier regarded the large animal before following its gaze. He would see her in three, two, one…. Now only yards away, Laney’s blue eyes connected with his. Desire and cruelty lit up his eyes — a look she had seen before — and twisted the corners of his mouth into a greedy smile. The bravado with which she had left Frederick’s fled, leaving her empty and frozen. She had envisaged herself striding into the keep, meeting her family’s bitterest foe on her own terms, but now all she could do was stand and wait as the enemy made confident strides toward her. Thankfully, he had bade the dog heel before he approached. I am a coward, she thought.

Resting her hand protectively over the bird, she trembled but met the man’s gaze. No words separated his upturned lips as he closed a rough hand around her slender arm. As he dragged her past the other milling guards, all fell silent. Laney heard gravel crunching beneath their feet and horses whinnying in the distance. They passed through the main gates into the outer courtyard then Laney felt firm stone underfoot, signalling their entry through secondary gates.

Felches, the bright blue beetles whose sustenance was the flesh of the dead, scurried across the inner courtyard, leading the way to the formal entry. When Laney looked down to negotiate the two steps to the main doors, she saw a dark stain of dried blood, the road the scavengers followed into the main hall.

Mamma. Pappa. Her legs lost strength, and she fell. The guard’s fingers dug painfully into her arm, jerking her upright before she hit the ground. She stumbled forward. Her shoes trod upon the recently warm vestiges of people she had known, and, as the soldier hauled her onward, half-digested food exploded from her mouth, covering the soldier’s black boots with barely recognizable splatters of milk, carrots and cheese. He stopped, dead. Turning swiftly, he dealt a backhand blow to her cheek, the force cracking her head to the side. Again, his grip prevented her from falling, and she cried as quietly as she could as the brute pulled her down the hall, towards the throne room. Reaching her free arm up to wipe her mouth, she remembered the bird and quickly lowered her hand to cover it.

The oak double doors to the throne room stood open. The man stopped at the entrance, shoving Laney down. Her knees slammed into the flagstone floor, and a cry escaped her. “Do not move.” The guard growled before approaching the throne and bowing. Muffled voices reached Laney, but she couldn’t make out what was said.

Breathing in a metallic tang, Laney sat back, bottom resting on her heels. Looking around, she hoped to see her parents, but also hoped not to. Her heart pounded. She gazed to her left, where a stone dragon deity stood — Avindar — wings outstretched, head almost touching the twenty-five foot ceiling, light gleaming off its polished black surface. Laney and her parents were sworn to the old ways, and Avindar represented their custodianship of the land and their promise to protect peace and fertility until the long-disappeared dragon race could return and claim their home. More of the black-breasted guards ringed the statue, mallets in hand. Oh, no. They’re going to destroy it!

Laney swallowed, and after hesitating, looked to her right, the vein in her neck beating so hard, she could feel it. Her sight rested on a pile of limp bodies thrown into the corner, clothes bloodstained, limbs tangled in a lifeless embrace. She blinked, her breath coming in short bursts. None of the corpses appeared to be wearing clothes she recognised as her parents’, but lying on the top of the macabre mound, she saw the long, black, plaited beard of her father’s chief guard, Lucas. His once stern, battle-scarred face was hidden by his burgonet, but Laney could see the fatal wound; a slice rent from his side: red, gaping, final. The fiercest of her father’s soldiers, he had always had a smile for the princess. Laney held back a sob.

The bird at her waist squirmed as a shadow fell across them. So engrossed in the horror of what she saw, she hadn’t heard the man approach. She looked up at the dark shape of her captor. He grabbed her arm once again and hauled her to her feet. Staying behind her this time, he jabbed his fingers into her back, prodding her forward until she stood at the foot of her father’s throne. She had never seen anyone sit there but her father, except when she was a child and her older brother, Marcus, pretended to be king as they played. Laney blinked back tears, squared her shoulders and looked Tyrk the Destroyer in the eyes.

Tyrk rose, his wide-chest and black cloak blocking Laney’s view of the Arbalian throne. Stepping down, he stood within touching distance of the young princess. Tyrk placed a hand on Laney’s shoulder, gripping harder and harder until he saw her wince. He relaxed his grip, but left his hand to rest on her slender frame. When Tyrk smiled, wrinkles fanned out from the corners of his dark eyes, like cracks shearing the surface of a frozen pond. “So, the little bird flies home. But, as you can see,” he gestured extravagantly with one arm until his hand waved towards the carnage Laney had seen piled in the corner, “you have arrived too late. Imagine; one day you are rejecting the marriage proposal of a prince, and the next, you are dead. Life’s funny like that.” He raised one arm, and Laney couldn’t help but flinch. Instead of the blow she expected, Tyrk waved to the men at the statue. “Darnil, attend me.”

A young man, Laney estimated his age at maybe twenty-five, approached, his face too stern for a young person, two short, deep lines marking the space between his brows. The thick beard that was cut in a straight line under his chin mirrored the color and style of the king’s. When he reached them and looked into her eyes, she could see the family resemblance—his dark eyes were as intense as his father’s, intense to the point of madness. The princess tried to hold his gaze, but discomfort won, and she looked to the ground.

“So, father, this is the bitch.” Darnil prodded Laney’s leg with his boot. “Not so smug now, are you, princess?” He raised his voice. “Look at me when I talk to you.”

Laney cringed, but brought her head up and looked at him. He would have been handsome, she thought, with his high cheekbones and thick hair, except for the unsettling twist of his mouth and dangerous glint in his eyes. Even though she knew she would soon die, she would rather that than marry him. Her father had agreed, thank Avindar, refusing Tyrk’s proposal on behalf of his son. Not four months later and Laney and her family were paying the price.

Tyrk watched his captive’s face. Laney blinked, but the usurper saw no tears in the wake of her lids. She stared at him without expression, although it took great self-control. Trained to keep her feelings hidden, she tucked her sorrow behind her heart, keeping it warm for later. She let it flow through her veins; the blood feeding her body with oxygen, the misery feeding her determination, determination she would surely need to accomplish what she was about to attempt.

The king squeezed on her collarbone again, so hard she expected to hear the crack of bone. He leaned down, his face inches from hers, his menacing voice so quiet that none but she could hear. “I know your little secret.” His breath smelled of wine. Laney coughed, disgusted to be breathing his recently expelled air. “You thought your alliance with Carthain would save you, but I’m coming for them, too. All they’ve worked so hard to protect will be mine. I know about Avindar’s Blessing, and I will have the Dragon Throne.” Taking his hand off the girl, Tyrk turned to the soldier who had dragged Laney in. “Let’s do this in the courtyard; I don’t want any more blood on the floor in here — I’d hate for it to stain. Bring her.” His stride was long and powerful, the set of his head arrogant.

What was this secret—Avindar’s Blessing? Laney had studied the Book of Avindar, and there had been no reference to any blessing in the nine-hundred pages. Her musings were interrupted by another bruising grip on her arm. She winced as the soldier jerked her to her feet.

As Laney was dragged to her death, she sent her thoughts to the wind. I’m not ready for this, Frederick. I don’t want to say good-bye. Nausea born of fear rolled through her stomach. A memory from two weeks ago came to her, and she saw her reflection in her bedroom mirror. She would never look into her own azure eyes again. Now, saying a final farewell to herself, she touched the smooth rise of her cheek, slipped a finger to trace her full lips, lips that had only kissed a boy once, and finished by reaching into the hidden pocket at the hip of her skirts.

Her unsteady fingers touched steel.

Reaching the courtyard, the red wetness upon the ground drew Laney’s attention. Thinking of her parents — her dead parents — the anticipation of revenge gave her the strength to close her fingers around the hilt of the dagger. When the guard stopped her in the middle of the courtyard by yanking her hair until her head snapped back painfully, she grunted and gripped the dagger even harder. What she wouldn’t give to slit his throat with it, but she wasn’t here for that. Don’t mess it up now, she chided herself.

He held her in that position for the scrutiny of a circle of sneering, road-stained soldiers. Laney stared at the sky and imagined what it would be like to escape into its cerulean heights.

Tyrk’s chin was tipped upwards as he took casual steps around the courtyard. Passing the soldiers, he looked each in the eyes before halting in front of Laney. Darnil stood by his side, a smirk on his face, hands clasped behind his back.

The king spoke louder than he had in the throne room, and his voice echoed off the courtyard walls, carrying a short way into the fields beyond. “You are about to witness the end to the royal Varian line. Standing before us is the youngest, and only, living child of the recently deceased King of Arbalian.” Tyrk paused to allow the audience’s laughter to subside. “Remember this day well, for this is what happens to those who refuse me. We will send you to the heavens, Little Dove. It will be quick — let no person say I am a king without mercy.”

Laney’s eyes widened momentarily. How does he know my father’s name for me? Her free-spirited ways as a child, following her brother and his friends climbing trees, participating in mock battles and championing injured animals had earned her the pet name of Little Dove.

The guard holding Laney’s hair released his grip. He put his mouth so close to her ear that the touch of his foul breath caused her to shiver. “King Tyrk likes to. . .” his tongue slid along her ear, “. . . to watch the life drain from the eyes.” Laney shivered involuntarily and gripped the dagger hard enough that her fingers ached.

The guard stepped away. Tyrk drew his sword from its sheath. The hiss as it left its scabbard seemed to Laney to be the loudest thing she had ever heard. Had Pappa thought the same thing before he was murdered?

Laney ignored her shaking fingers as she slid her hand from her pocket, adrenaline drying her mouth. One of the soldiers shouted, “She has a weapon!”

Laney rushed, almost dropping the dagger—she would only get one chance. She saw Tyrk’s eyes widen before he lunged his sword toward her stomach. She sliced the dagger across the bird’s bonds before dropping the blade to grab the dove, Frederick’s words in her mind: You must be touching the bird when your soul leaves your body. So much could go wrong, and the few seconds she had to consider it seemed an eternity.

Tyrk’s sword nicked the tip of the bird’s wing before splitting the fabric of Laney’s dress and piercing the porcelain skin of her stomach. Laney grunted. The bird fluttered in her hands as she tried to hold it, the pain of her injury almost too great to ignore.

The king held the princess’ shoulder, forcing her to stand while he stared into her eyes. Feeling cold and light-headed, yet strengthened by a blossoming flame of hatred as heady as the scent of one of her mother’s vermillion roses, she smiled and whispered, “You are wrong, usurper, the Varian line lives on.”

***

Tyrk’s grin as the verve in Laney’s eyes glazed to stillness was for the benefit of his soldiers—the truth in the girl’s words reaching his ears. What did she mean? Was there a relative they knew naught about?

Laney’s limp fingers fell to dangle at her sides. Scarlet bloomed, seeping into her dress, staining the green fabric black. The silver-colored bird, a red blemish upon its wing, was free. With frenzied flapping of desperate strokes, it sent a scatter of feathers to land softly upon the bloody ground.

Tyrk released his grip on Laney, dropped his sword and leapt for the bird, his hands catching the air beneath its swiftly rising form.

 

The bird flew—Laney’s awareness gazing out of its eyes, to look upon her home and the lifeless body of the young princess slumped in the courtyard. Deep sadness welled within her, the lack of avian tears a confirmation she no longer resided in human form. The castle’s towers and turrets receded as she soared west, to a different land. She cawed a final goodbye to her family.

 

Tyrk watched his men drag the girl’s body away. They would throw her on the substantial pile of dead already in the field beyond the castle, to be burned in two days. Wind, newly risen from the south, gusted into the yard, sending goose bumps slithering along his arms. Ignoring the chill that settled in his belly, he cast superstition aside. Omens are for the weak, he thought, before shivering. Striding into the cold embrace of his ill-gotten keep, he hadn’t noticed his youngest son watching, gray eyes peering from a second-floor window.

Erendol, tears grazing his face, whispered a promise so quiet it was barely the caress of breath over his lips. In that moment, in the smothering iron-laden seconds between one fate and the next, a traitor was born.