Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Spellbound Book Tour and Giveaway


Joe Mack Shadow Council Files Book 4

by Gail Z. Martin & Larry N. Martin

Genre: Dark Urban Fantasy

Werewolves, Vamps, and Thieves!

Joe Mack and his friends head to Pittsburgh to deal with a surge of disappearances, all people with psychic abilities going missing under highly questionable supernatural circumstances. That’s enough to keep anyone hopping, but Joe can’t ignore the feeling that there’s something even bigger going on behind the scenes.

Joe, West, and Sarah Grace team up with new allies to fight a whole new level of danger—and uncover the secrets behind why people with special abilities are vanishing and who’s taking them. What they learn could change the paranormal balance of power—permanently. It’s their job to keep the worst from happening, whatever it takes.

From the steel mills to the coal mines, Joe Magarac is the man to call for supernatural problems. After all, he does have a little help from Krukis, the god of blacksmiths, but immortality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Magarac left his old life behind him and now lives as Joe Mack, a literal man of steel and magic.

Spellbound is full of paranormal adventure, murdering mediums, creepy circuses, a theater full of vampires, malicious mesmerists, found family, secret supernatural agencies, dark magic, and loyal friends.

It’s the fourth in the Joe Mack series of Shadow Council Archives from Gail Z. Martin & Larry N. Martin, the duo that brought you Spells, Salt, & Steel. The Shadow Council Archives are urban fantasy novellas set in the universe of Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter and featuring folk heroes throughout history.


Joe Mack Shadow Council Files Book 3

Haunted hotels, old gods, mobsters, molls, and monsters are abroad in Chicago, and it’s up to Joe Magarac to protect the innocents from them. But how can he protect the city when he might not be able to keep himself alive? The mad ramblings of Alastair Crowley and the tales of horror imagined by HP Lovecraft have nothing on the magic etched into the walls of a secret room below Chicago’s Lexington Hotel.

Deep in the coal and ash tunnels beneath the city, workers are being murdered, their bodies left in shreds, and with Al Capone out of the picture, the criminal underbelly in Prohibition-Era Chicago is teetering on the edge of all-out chaos. Now it falls on Joe Mack, the steelworker-turned-nigh-immortal man of steel, to bring Chicago back from the brink before all is lost for good.

Can Joe Mack, along with his companions West and Sarah, determine what mysterious creature is causing the deaths? But more importantly, will Krikus’s magic be enough to keep Joe alive when the chips are down and they go toe-to-toe with their foe?

Chicagoland is the third book in the Joe Mack Shadow Council Files by award-winning author team Gail Z. & Larry N. Martin, authors of the Spells, Salt, & Steel series and the Wasteland Marshals novellas. The Shadow Council Case Files are historical fantasy novellas set in the world of Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter that tell the true stories behind the tall tales surrounding some of the world’s most famous (and infamous) folk heroes.

Black Sun

Joe Mack Shadow Council Files Book 2

From the steel mills to the coal mines, Joe Magarac is the man to call for supernatural problems. After all, he does have a little help from Krukis, the god of blacksmiths, but immortality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially as the anniversary of his “death” looms near. Magarac left his old life behind him and now lives as Joe Mack, a literal man of steel and magic.

Now Joe teams up once again with Jack West and Sarah McAllen to fix a problem, this time leaving Cleveland behind for Reading, Pennsylvania. Witches are being murdered, secret societies are brewing more than illegal bathtub gin, and someone is trying to summon creatures from Lovecraftian lore from deep within the mines. Again.

Black Sun is the second in the Joe Mack series of Shadow Council Archives from Gail Z. Martin & Larry N. Martin, the duo that brought you Spells, Salt, & Steel. The Shadow Council Archives are urban fantasy novellas set in the universe of Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter and featuring folk heroes throughout history.


Joe Mack Shadow Council Files Book 1

When you ask a god for favors, be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

Josef Magarac was a brave man, a strong man, a hard-working immigrant who only wanted a better life for his family.

Instead he got a bloodbath.

From the bloody steel mill strikes of Pennsylvania rose a true man of steel, a steelworker transformed into something more by the power of the Old Gods. Now Joe Mack is in Cleveland, and he’s working to protect those who can’t protect themselves. When a friend asks him to look into disappearances in a largely immigrant neighborhood, Joe takes an interest. When his interest leads him to a vampire stalking the streets of his adopted home, he takes more than an interest. He takes on a mission.

Cauldron is the first in the Joe Mack series of Shadow Council Archives from Gail Z. Martin & Larry N. Martin, the duo that brought you Spells, Salt, & Steel. The Shadow Council Archives are urban fantasy novellas set in the universe of Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter and featuring folk heroes throughout history.

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Gail Z. Martin discovered her passion for science fiction, fantasy and ghost stories in elementary school. The first story she wrote at age five was about a vampire. Her favorite TV show as a preschooler was Dark Shadows. At age 14, she decided to become a writer. She enjoys attending science fiction/fantasy conventions, Renaissance fairs and living history sites.

Larry N. Martin is the author of the new sci-fi adventure novel Salvage Rat. He is the co-author (with Gail Z. Martin) of the Spells, Salt, and Steel/New Templars series; the Steampunk series Iron & Blood; and a collection of short stories and novellas: The Storm & Fury Adventures set in the Iron & Blood universe. He is also the co-author of the upcoming Wasteland Marshals series and the Joe Mack Cauldron/Secret Council series.
The Martins have three children, a Maltese, and a Golden Retriever.

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Sunday, February 26, 2023

Wrecked Book Tour and Giveaway



Merciless Few MC Book 1

by S Courtney

Genre: MC Motorcycle Club Romance


Crashed and burned
My relationship, my life, my bike
All turned upside down
But I needed to get my bike back in gear
She's the only one I need
No woman was going to ever change that
No woman was going to make me crash and burn again

My club is my sole focus
Until her...and that cute little tater tot daughter
I'm going to protect them from whatever, including family
Now I wonder...
If I open up, will she wreck my life?

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My first official task was to pay off some slovenly group of dirty bikers. Of course, Frankie kept company with the bottom feeders.

We made it to this large two-story, fraternity-style home in the backwoods somewhere. It definitely could use a new coat of paint. It was decent for the type of people that live here. I open the door to see Diesel ready to help me down. It was a lousy attempt at a cheap feel and I was already in a bad mood. I hop down on my own and I hear him close the door.

I walk up and knock; Diesel is right behind me. I can feel his breath on my neck. I snarl, "Why are you so close?! Back up, or I'll twist your balls off and feed them to the dogs." 

He chuckles, "I like a chase, sweetheart. Your brother said you were fair game, and I can't wait to feel that tight little pussy around my dick."

Frankie said, what?!

He's offering me up to his lackeys like a fresh prostitute and I am livid. I'd slit Frankie’s throat in his sleep if I didn't need him. He doesn't give a shit about me and right now, the feeling's fucking mutual. The way I'm feeling, his flunky here is about to have a very agonizing sex change. 

"I don't give a damn what he told you! Don't fucking touch me, you mongrel." In my anger, I slam my fist against the door three times. I probably sounded like the police, but I didn’t give a shit. Somebody better answer before I commit murder on their doorstep.

"Alright, wait a damn minute!" A voice on the other side yells out. The door swings open and I'm staring at a nearly naked beast of a man, but I’m really ogling his bare chest, a nice one at that, except my eye is drawn to fresh scars on his arm that look like they wrap around his back. They are a pinkish against his warm skin. I was so fascinated I failed to see the irritation on his face until I looked up and he sneered, "What?!" He stares down at me.

"What?! Don't they teach you basic manners to address people when answering the damn door, or is it true what they say about bikers? Nothing but a bunch of brainless Neanderthals." 

Everyone was pissing me off tonight.

He looks behind me and recognizes Diesel, "Hey, Frankie letting his whores deliver payment now?" He taunted as he snatched the envelope. He was about to slam the door in my face, but I wasn’t going to tolerate disrespect. 

I stuck my foot in the way and put my arms up against the door frame, "Despite your ignorant statement, you seem like a decent guy, quite out of place to be a mangy, trashy biker, but what do I know, huh? You might be as bad as my brother Frankie. I’m not some vagabundo (tramp) like that cadela (bitch) he's dragging around like a fucking trophy. I don’t know why, she looks like any other $10 whore, but whatever. IF there is a next time, I suggest you show me some respect, seu idiota covarde!” (you spineless prick)

He raised his brow and shifted his weight while rubbing his chin, the muscles automatically flexing in his chest and arms. He was also in his boxers; I wonder if I interrupted his sleep or a good time? I could hear female voices from behind the door. 

"Did you call me a prick?"

Oh shit. I didn't expect him to understand me!

S Courtney is new to the published writing community but has been a lifelong writer and began creatively writing in junior high.

She is the author of the paranormal romance, the Bound Series, which includes Bound to You, Bound by Destiny, and Unapologetically Nessa which are available on paperback and kindle.

She is also the author of her contemporary romance, the Black Aces MC, a motorcycle club romance and the Sandman, a dark, slow burn paranormal romance.

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Saturday, February 25, 2023

Wild Horse Peaks Book Tour and Giveaway


The Art of Love and Murder

A Wild Horse Peak Novel #1

by Brenda Whiteside

Genre: Romantic Suspense, Mystery  

A woman searching for her past. A sheriff hiding in his present. Their future together threatened by murder.

Forty-three years after the airplane crash she survived killed her parents, Lacy Dahl is looking for answers. When her research uncovers secrets about the mother she never knew and disputes the identity of her father, someone is willing to murder to keep her discoveries hidden.

Sheriff Chance Meadowlark is still haunted by the death of his wife and the revenge he unleashed in the name of justice. When he meets Lacy, he is determined not to become involved, but their pasts make that impossible saving Lacy may be his only redemption.

Just as she begins to believe the present is more important than her past, Chance's connection and a murder spin her deeper into danger and further from love. When the truth is revealed, will the revelations free Lacy and Chance…or destroy them?

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Lacy quickened her pace.

The footsteps behind her did the same.

As fast as her feet touched the bricks, her heart beat twice that speed. If only she could clear the narrow alley, step onto the lit sidewalk...

Like a magnet, the street light pulled her forward, and she lunged out of the darkness.

Her hand slammed to her chest. After a hard intake of breath and a fast exhale, she cast a furtive glance over her shoulder. With her head down and the strap of her purse in a tight fist against her breast, she whirled around to cover the last block at a trot—

And jarred with the collision as if she’d hit a cement wall. She careened off balance, but hands grabbed her shoulders keeping her upright.

She gasped and reared back out of the tight hold. Using her fisted purse as a weapon, she hurled a defensive blow to a broad chest. The hulk didn’t flinch. She lifted her knee, landing a jab short of her target and into the tree-sized thigh. “Ehhh,” she cried out as her knee jammed into unmovable muscle.

“Lady, I’m not going to hurt you.” The man held his ground and loomed over her, his hands at his chest fending off the swing of her fist.

Her vision filled with the imposing figure, and a chill shivered her body. Run screamed in her head. This time the swing of her purse missed the target as she whirled to escape.

His hand caught her arm and pulled her close.

“Help, help me!” Her voice came high and hysterical.

“I am trying to help.”

Both hands gripped her shoulders now, and her feet came partly off the ground, forcing her to look into his face.

“What’s wrong? Are you in trouble?”

Her head swung side to side, but the empty street and sidewalks could have been a ghost town. In the distance, a jazzy tune drifted through the air with voices too far away to help.

She gulped. He waited.

Southwest of Love and Murder

A Wild Horse Peak Novel #2

Writing murder mysteries is all in a day's work until an obsessed fan brings Phoebe’s stories to life.

 Mystery writer, Phoebe Anderson, owes her success to killing her first husband on paper seventeen years earlier. Now, someone has actually done it. Taking a few days to re-group on an isolated ranch, she doesn’t expect romance…or murder…to find her.

 Mason Meadowlark is happy with his wild cowboy ways, avoiding love since the death of his baby and the end of his marriage twenty years before. When Phoebe shakes up his routine, he fights to control his emotions, fearing the pain of opening his heart again.

 With an obsessed fan close on her heels, Phoebe is thrown into her own murder mystery…and the next target on the psychopath’s list is Mason.

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The Power of Love and Murder

A Wild Horse Peak Novel #3

Penny’s secrets can ruin the presidential contender who ordered her family’s murder…and mark her as the next hit.

Penny Spark’s desire to reconnect with family this Christmas exposes her true identity—a secret she’s hidden for thirteen years from the political powers that murdered her family.

Jake Winters is out of rehab and coming to grips with his demons. When he meets Penny, he believes this holiday season could be the start of life after rock star status…until her secrets blow up his world.

With a government agent turned hit man closing in on her, Penny and Jake race to expose the presidential contender who targeted her family. Even if they win the race with death, the murder that stands between them could end their hopes for a new life…and love.

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The Deep Well of Love and Murder

A Wild Horse Peak Novel #4

A vengeful ex-husband and bloody fight for land threaten a love-struck couple’s happiness.

 After an abusive childhood and bad marriage, Laura Katz has finally found a home, stability…and possibly love. But her blissful refuge as nanny on the Meadowlark Ranch, miles from Flagstaff, shatters when her ex is released from prison, determined to reclaim her.

Randy Silva, the Argentine foreman, has plans for his own ranch, but a brutal land grab is underway. As the battle escalates, Laura steals his heart, but there are outsiders who stand in their way. He’s in a vicious battle for his land—and the woman he wants by his side.

Stakes are high, as the attacks on Randy and his ranch draw blood. While the vengeful ex-husband stalks Laura, a mob-backed land developer teams with a desperate gambler. Uncertain where the next attack will come from—will their love be caught in the crossfire.

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A Legacy of Love and Murder

A Wild Horse Peak Novel #1.5

Inheriting an Austrian Castle is an Alpine fairytale for August, until someone begins targeting the heirs.

August Myer arrives in Austria to meet her great-grandfather and explore his castle estate filled with priceless art, only to find he’s died under suspicious circumstances. As one of his heirs, her life is in danger, turning her Alpine adventure into a nightmare of veiled threats, unexplained accidents, and murder.

Inspector Tobias Wolf splits his time between catching criminals and fighting the spread of neo-Nazism. But when the beautiful, intriguing American crosses his path during a murder investigation, ensuring her safety challenges his priorities…and his heart.

When August learns the handsome inspector is concealing secrets, and the death of her great-grandfather is somehow connected, she takes the investigation into her own hands. Can Wolf save her before the killer strikes again?

**Get it FREE when you subscribe to Brenda's newsletter! **



Today, I’d like to introduce you to the hero in The Art of Love and Murder, Wild Horse Peaks Book 1. Sheriff Chance Meadowlark is the man who holds it all together in this suspenseful tale of secrets and lies. He’s not one to be in the spotlight, but let’s try to get to know him better.

Q: Thanks for sitting down with us today, Sheriff Meadowlark. You’re a sheriff by profession. Did you always want to go into law enforcement?

A: My father expected me to work on the ranch with him, but I was more inclined to follow the creed of my Hopi grandmother. I’m a peacekeeper, the county sheriff in Timberline, Arizona.

Q: You’re single. Widowed or divorced and any children?

A: Widowed. I have a daughter in college.

Q: I’m sorry. Anything more you’d like to add?

A: No. My wife’s murder isn’t something I like to discuss.

Q: Anyone special in your life right now?

A: I’ve been dating Kitty Katz, but it isn’t special. There’s a new woman in town, actually just a visitor I bumped into as she was running out of a dark alley. Thought she was being pursued.

Q: Now, that sounds intriguing. Tell me more.

A: Our second meeting was less eventful, but certainly more interesting. Turns out Lacy is researching her birth parents and the murder of my wife is tangled up with the true identity of her biological mother.

Q: Let’s try some flash questions to get to know you more personally.

A: Hmmm…be careful.

Q: Night or Day?

A: Day. A motorcycle ride in the pines with the sun on my back and Lacy cuddled behind me makes for a good day.

Q: Love or lust?

A: I wouldn’t short-change lust, but I’ve missed having love in my life since my wife’s death.

Q: Boxers, briefs, or commando.

A: You do like it personal, don’t you? Commando when it’s comfortable, but always boxers under my jeans.

A Legacy of Love and Murder, a sequel, is free to members of Brenda’s Newletter Group.

You’ll enjoy this novel even if you haven’t read book 1, The Art of Love and Murder yet. Become a member of Brenda’s Newsletter Group (BNG) today to receive this exciting romantic suspense free. BNG members receive benefits that will excite and keep you reading all year long.


Brenda Whiteside is the award-winning author of romantic suspense, cozy mystery, and romance. After living in six states and two countries—so far—she and her husband have settled in Central Arizona. They admit to being gypsies at heart so won't discount the possibility of another move. They share their home with a rescue dog named Amigo. While FDW fishes, Brenda writes.

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Friday, February 24, 2023

Shadow Wolf Release Tour and Giveaway


Shadow Wolf

Protector Wolf Shifter Series Book 1

by Lilliana Rose

Genre: Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy 

Kodiak must protect Tamaska against vampires who want her dead.

The leader of the vampires wants to capture Tamaska. She needs someone to protector her against a world she has no idea about. That someone is Kodiak, but she doesn’t trust him.

If Kodiak fails at protecting Tamaska and the vampires kill her, they will cause death and destruction on earth. His alpha disagrees, and forbids him from protecting Tamaska. The pack must be committed to each other against the vampires and not be distracted by a human.

There's a bond forming between Kodiak and Tamaska and he is compelled to protect her.

Who will he choose, his pack or Tamaska? Or will Tamaska break his heart and risk everything he is trying to protect?

Fans of Twilight, Shadow Hunters, and The Winx Saga will devour Lilliana Rose’s world of unexpected adventure and dark imagination.

Scroll up and click to begin the journey in this opposites attract series set in a dark, urban fantasy world.

**On Sale for Only .99cents Feb 25th-28th!!**

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She froze. There was a flash of darkness, as if someone stood to her left, and she turned her head. For a second, there was nothing. Then a huge, sleek dog came bounding out of the bushes.

She screamed, her fear of dogs taking over her entire being.

It was a giant of a beast, so much bigger than any dog she’d ever seen before, with clean patches of ochre fur. And it was beautiful. It didn’t seem like a feral dog.

She froze, staring at it.

She couldn’t move as it bounded onto the path coming right at her. Then it paused, stopping short, standing in front of her as its yellow and golden-flecked eyes stared straight into hers, sending heat spiraling through her.

The dog panted. The sight of the rapid flutter of its ribs that came with the breaths it took, almost like it was in total control, chilled her. Its mouth opened and the lips drew back, exposing long, sharp teeth. But in those eyes, intelligence glittered. The dog looked like it was on the hunt.

Tamaska waited for it to come and sink its white teeth into her flesh. Terror ricocheted through her, along with the horrible memories. Bracing herself at the thought of more pain, she couldn’t move as fear gripped her.

A dog had attacked her when she’d been a small child, a savage thing with hate and bloodlust in its eyes, the jaws strong and hungry for meat.

She’d fought and screamed and cried. She’d been too young to fight it off, and it had left scars on her arms and legs. She’d been lucky it hadn’t sunk its teeth into her face. Fortunately, neighbors came to help her, saving her life.

Ever since, she’d had a huge fear of dogs of any size.

Now, here she was, face to face with one that wasn’t on any leash. It looked down into her, almost like it knew her.

She swallowed over the hot, hard lump in her throat. The dog didn’t know her. It was just a huge dog, one that was too close, too big. She was scared shitless. She’d recognized the glint in its eye, the need to attack, the same look she’d seen in the dog who’d attacked her when she was a child.

The dog turned and ran off into the bushes, back towards the place where she'd first felt like someone had watched her.

Tamaska exhaled in relief and confusion. The dog could have bitten her, even attacked her, but it hadn’t.

The thing had looked at her almost like it had been checking up on her.

She raised a shaking hand, the heel of her palm scraped raw but, ignoring the bite of pain, she pushed her hand over her hair.

How had her life suddenly become so strange and complicated?

Lilliana Rose is an Amazon Bestselling author, who writes romance in the subgenres of contemporary and paranormal romance. She enjoys helping characters overcome problems or issues, and the misunderstandings that often plague relationships, to help them fall in love. Whether it’s city heels being replaced with country work boots, or some magic beyond this world, each story shows how love can prevail. She has poetry, middle grade, picture book, novellas, and novels published under various pen names.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Season of the Dragon Guest Post


Season of the Dragon

Dragos Primeri Book 1

by Natalie Wright

Genre: Epic Fantasy 

This dazzling epic fantasy series kickoff rewards and upends reader expectations.”—BOOKLIFE REVIEWS, Editor’s Pick
[Readers] looking for fantasy series titles that open with a bang of psychological and political allure will find that few can equal the force of Season of the Dragon.”—D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW

A real epic in the making!” ~Dario Ciriello, Editor

When dragons rise from a thousand-year slumber, to save her loved ones, a young changeling woman must unite her warring souls.

Quen Santu wasn’t born to save the world. She was created to destroy it.

Quen was born cursed with a second, shadow soul and is a misfit in her nomadic herding culture. Quen yearns to belong and for a love to call her own. But she is detested by animals, and no herdclan will have her. On the cusp of her twentieth year, Quen is at risk of becoming pesha—no one. Quen’s only hope for an honorable life is to take vows at one of the Pillars, schools dedicated to the magical and martial arts.

On the day a mysterious stranger reveals a dark prophecy, a dragon kills Quen’s father. The murder turns her life upside down, and dashes hope for an honorable life. Anger fuels Quen’s quest for vengeance, and she joins a vigilante group hunting the murderous dragon. The new found family provides comfort amid her profound loss and holds the promise of new love. But to preserve the belonging and love she craves, Quen struggles to hide her true identity.

Quen’s journey spans the continent, from the nomadic herding lands of the Sulmére sands to the opulent largesse of the capital—and reveals terrible truths. That a power-hungry Dynasty can ruin a life with a quill stroke. That a shadowy dragon cult has laid claim to her. And that even the leader of a revered institution aims to control Quen's growing power.

Yet the question persists: Why?

The truth awaits at the end of her journey, but can love survive the truth? As Quen battles the beast within, time is running out. Will Quen finally overcome her curse and unite her warring souls? Or will her phantom soul consume her—and everyone she loves?

The fate of her homeland—and all she loves—hangs in the balance.

[Wright’s] powers of description are first-class, and her worldbuilding impressive. She presents her world with great clarity… The scenes in Qülla are especially sumptuous and vivid, and it’s impossible to not believe in such a place: a fabulous work.” ~Dario Ciriello, Editor

Wright’s Season of the Dragon world is unique, sumptuous, and highly engaging. I want to feast at the Palace di Solis and witness the incredible Volenex! SotD is filled with dragons, new magical creatures, sorcerers and mages, and intriguing new mythology. But SotD is more than great worldbuilding. Wright deftly weaves worldbuilding into a story that about the power of love. The love of a father for his child and how that love survives even death. Of the complex love between siblings and the bonds of friendship. And of the blossoming love of two young people trying to find their place in the world and discovering that love can be a life raft in the darkest of times. I highly recommend Season of the Dragon, and look forward to the next book in the series.” ~Jim Farley, Beta Reader

** Releases March 1st!!**

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Quen’s two hearts drummed an uneven rhythm, matching the thunder of the approaching herd. The people of Solia crowded the wide dirt boulevard, whooping and ringing bells to welcome the first returning herdclan of the season. Quen wanted to join the excitement, but she dared get no closer than Fano’s smithing tent set a row back from the main road. I don’t want a repeat of last year. The galloping herd entered Solia’s gates, and the ground quaked. Quen’s shadow heartbeat, normally a phantom quiver, thrummed.

A head taller than most people from Sulmére Province, Quen easily peered over others and spotted the first riders through the gate. To her surprise, her brother, Rhoji, led Pijwar herdclan into town. I wondered where he’d gotten off to this morning. Rhoji’s kopek, Gambol, trotted proudly, his freshly oiled, leathery skin glistening in the mid-day light of the two suns. Rising winds fluttered Rhoji’s blue feather earring and rippled Pijwar Clan’s orange banners.

Despite his morning ride into the Sulmére’s shifting sands, Rhoji’s bone-white linen tunic and riding pants remained pristine. How does he manage that? Ubiquitous Sulmére dust caked Quen’s sand-colored linen tunic and wide-legged pants.

Hika, Rhoji!” Quen called.

The crowd’s cheers swelled, welcoming their favorite local son as if he’d been gone on a year-long quest. Rhoji was merely the second son of a clanless Solia merchant, but neither Rhoji nor his adoring fans seemed to know that.

He’d look like a Sulmére prince if he wasn’t riding a damned kopek.” Fano, Quen’s friend and a traveling blacksmith originally from the capital province, thrust a wheel loop into the quench, steam rising and quickly dissipating in the dry air. “Kopeks look like something dead, buried, and brought back to life.” Fano wiped copious sweat from his broad forehead with a dusty, oil-stained cloth.

He’s not wrong. Gambol’s hairless skin, taut across his keg-shaped skeletal ribcage, gleamed like aged leather, his long legs spindly but agile. Quen called again and waved to Rhoji. He gave her a head bob and veered toward her just as the lead riders of Pijwar clan galloped, their thukna herd now barreling into the gates behind them.

Gambol got within a few feet of Fano’s smithing tent and jerked away, his eyes showing the whites. Rhoji pulled at the lead, trying to get close enough to talk without shouting. Like all animals Quen encountered, Gambol didn’t want to get near Quen. My damned curse. Not even Dini, the town Bruxia—healer and wise woman—could explain Quen’s curse with animals. But whatever the reason, Quen’s oddity meant she was unfit for binding with a herdclan. In the Sulmére, a person without a herdclan or honorable profession was pesha—no one.

Quen sighed and wrapped a strand of her keffla around her nose and mouth to keep out the dust. She tried to console herself. At nearly twenty, Quen was the last of her peers without a herdclan. I probably wouldn’t enjoy being a herdwife, anyway. Studying at a Pillar was her only hope for an honorable future. Or at least one her father, Pahpi, considered proper. They impatiently awaited an emissary from the Pillar of the Way of Water, Val’Enara, to advise whether the Archon would admit Quen. She had no magical ability—no innate understanding of Menaris. But they train in the Orrokan arts of war. Maybe that will be my path.

The pungent odor of thukna musk filled the air, and Quen wrinkled her nose. The ground rumbled as the herd sprinted through Solia, intent on the life-giving waters of the Lakmi River at the eastern edge of town. I didn’t scare them this time. It was reason enough for celebration after the debacle the prior spring. Quen twirled, the ends of her keffla catching the breeze, her tunic’s billowy sleeves like wings.

Rhoji stared down at her and said, “You look like a lopsided cart without a driver.”

Her rare moment of joy repelled his brotherly barb the way her presence repelled even the most docile, woolly drey. Allow me some peace, Rhoji.

The bony protrusion on the back of her neck tingled, and she rubbed it and then chastised herself. You can’t will it away. Stop, or you’ll only draw attention. Quen removed her hand from the prominence that had grown under her skin a few weeks ago. It was a sign that she was losing her lifelong battle to suppress the shadow soul within—the soul of a changeling known as a Nixan. Quen was determined not to let the Nixan have its first Promena—metamorphosis. Though most Nixan morphed from human to beast form and back again with ease, some Nixan remained in animal form after their first Promena. I’ll be keeping my skin, Nixan.

But even Still Waters, the relaxation technique Pahpi had taught her, barely worked any longer to calm the wild second spirit within. Quen breathed deeply and repeated her Still Waters mantra. I won’t let you win, Nixan. The pounding of the shadow heart calmed, and Quen sighed with gratitude that she’d regained control. For now.

Inventing Food for Fantasy Worlds

“Cream Cake” in Season of the Dragon

By Natalie Wright

When writing fantasy, great world-building is a must. Building an entire world from the ground up is a lot of work, but one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing fantasy. And when world-building, pondering the culture’s food is one of my favorite aspects.

As a reader, I love reading about food in stories. Even years after reading The Hunger Games, I can still envision Katniss’s encounter with the sumptuous feast in the dining car of the train on the way to the capital. The banquet was such a stark contrast to her meager meals in the District. Through the food, we learned so much about Katniss and her world.

Any author that includes the characters eating food wins points from me!

When creating the world of Season of the Dragon, I gave considerable thought to food. After all, food is a major part of culture, socializing, and ritual.

Despite planning much about the story, there is one food item that just popped into the story. In an early scene, Quen thinks her father is angrier with her in that moment than he’d been when she and her brother had fought over the last piece of cream cake.

Cream cake?!

What the heck is that? And how could it possibly fit in the medieval desert nomad sort of world of Quen’s home?

I could have removed it and come up with something else, but I listen when my subconscious throws something into a story. Instead of losing the cream cake, I performed some tasty experiments. How could I make this delicacy work within the world I was building?

When you want to research food, there’s no better—or more fun—place than Pinterest!

There are modern bakery treats known as cream cake, but none felt authentic to the Quen’s desert culture. As I searched further, I found recipes for medieval cheesecakes. Eureka! I was onto something. I learned Romans invented cheesecake long ago. Before graham cracker crust and tons of white sugar, it had little sugar or was sweetened with honey.

Of course, I had to make one! To be more authentic to Quen’s culture, besides cream cheese, I added goat cheese (to simulate what a drey’s milk cheese would taste like), and cut back on the sugar. I used the Basque-style “burnt” cheesecake method (no crust).

The result was super yummy! Honey and pistachios add a touch that feels authentic to Quen’s world. Now this is a cake worth fighting over the last piece!

What are your favorite “food moments” from stories?

Epic Fantasy & Sci-Fi Author and Podcaster. Mother, wife, and cat-wrangler. World traveler and lifelong nerd. Insatiably curious.

A member of SFWA, Natalie is the author of six published Sci-Fi & Fantasy novels and co-host of the Tipsy Nerds Book Club podcast. When not writing or podcasting, you can find Natalie participating on panels at SFF cons, book festivals, and comic-cons throughout the western U.S. She’s also a short story judge in the NYC Midnight international writing challenge, and a freelance content development editor. Her debut teen novel, Emily’s House, has been read over 2.2 million times on Wattpad. Now focusing on epic fantasy for adults, stay in touch via social media to learn more about her forthcoming epic fantasy series, tentatively titled Season of the Dragon.

Favorite book quote — “One more dance along the razor’s edge finished. Almost dead yesterday, maybe dead tomorrow, but alive, gloriously alive, today.” - Robert Jordan, Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time #6)

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