Call Me Star Girl – Louise Beech

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech
Published by Orenda Books, April 2019
Source: review copy

Tonight is the night for secrets…
Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.
Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.
Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after twelve years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …
What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.
Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

Welcome, dear listener. It’s five after midnight and have I got a tale for you to take us through the small hours. Are you sitting comfortably? Got your hot chocolate? You might want something a little stronger this time.

You see this is a story of love and loss, of secrets and lies, of families that once were and might have been. Of obsession. And murder.

Are you still with me, out there in the dark? It feels strange, sat here with just the glow of the mixing desk, talking into the ether. There’s no-one here but you and me. It’s almost like a confessional. A final show, our last chance to share.

So this is a story about a girl and her mother. And what happened when her mother disappeared. As all such stories go, the girl grew up and met a boy and fell in love. Stella and Tom forever and ever.

And then, twelve years later, Stella’s mother came back. And long-held secrets started coming to light. And the world changed. For everyone.

There’s another girl in this story, Victoria Valbon. Poor Victoria is brutally murdered not far from the station where Stella works. And one of Stella’s callers says that he knows who did it…

Secrets and lies. Twists and turns. Where will it all lead, dear listener? Dare you find out?

I read a lot of crime books. Some are good, some are great. This one falls firmly into the latter category. Call Me Star Girl is tautly written, cunningly plotted and twistier than a curly wurly.

Louise Beech has crafted a beautifully dark little tale in Call Me Star Girl, with a creeping sense of menace that leaves you wondering if you locked the doors. You might want to go and check. You never know who might be lurking outside.

Highly recommended.

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech is published by Orenda Books in April 2019. You can find Louise on twitter @LouiseWriter.

Deep Dirty Truth – Steph Broadribb

A price on her head, and just 48 hours to expose the truth, and save her family…

Single-mother bounty hunter Lori Anderson has finally got her family back together, but her new-found happiness is shattered when she’s snatched by the Miami Mob, who they want her dead. But rather than a bullet, they offer her a job: find the Mob’s ‘numbers man’ – Carlton North – who’s in protective custody after being forced to turn federal witness against them. If Lori succeeds, they’ll wipe the slate clean and the price on her head – and those of her family – will be removed. If she fails, they die.

With only 48 hours before North is due to appear in court, Lori sets across Florida, racing against the clock to find him, and save her family…

Deep Dirty Truth is the third book in Steph Broadribb’s Lori Anderson series. Now, I loved the first two books, Deep Down Dead and Deep Blue Trouble, so it was with some sense of anticipation that I started book 3.

Never really in any doubt. Steph has delivered yet another fantastic instalment in the ongoing adventures of Lori Anderson, bounty hunter. This time the stakes are higher, with Lori sent off on an almost impossible mission – recover mob “numbers man” Carlton North from the FBI. In 48 hours, before he testifies against his former employer. Oh, and his location is secret. And if she fails, JT and her daughter Dakota will be killed.

Nothing like a bit of motivation, eh?

The action comes thick and fast, on a rattly rollercoaster of an adventure, throwing us hither and yon and back again, hanging on by our fingernails. JT and Dakota get their own adventure on the sidelines, though the focus is firmly on Lori, kicking ass and taking names (then kicking ass again to make sure it’s well and truly kicked). She’s a brilliant character though I think Steph Broadribb rather enjoys putting her through the wringer. Just when you think there’s a moment to draw breath, we’re off again.

Steph proved in the first two books that she can do Americana so very well, and the same deft skill with place is on show here. Hugely entertaining, fast-paced adventure that will leave you wanting just one more chapter until you look up and it’s 1.30am and it’s finished and how on earth are you supposed to get to sleep now?

Highly recommended, though you need to read Deep Down Dead and Deep Blue Trouble first!

Deep Dirty Truth by Step Broadribb is published by Orenda Books and is out now.

You can find Steph Broadribb on twitter @crimethrillgirl.

Many thanks to @OrendaBooks and @AnneCater for organising the blog tour.

Steph Broadribb was born in Birmingham and grew up in Buckinghamshire. Most of her working life has been spent between the UK and USA. As her alter ego – Crime Thriller Girl – she indulges her love of all things crime fiction by blogging at crimethrillergirl.com, where she interviews authors and reviews the latest releases. She is also a member of the crime-themed girl band The Splice Girls. Steph is an alumni of the MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University London, and she trained as a bounty hunter in California, which inspired her Lori Anderson thrillers. She lives in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses, cows and chickens. Her debut thriller, Deep Down Dead, was shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader Awards in two categories, and hit number one on the UK and AU kindle charts. My Little Eye, her first novel under her pseudonym Stephanie Marland was published by Trapeze Books in April 2018.

Books of the year 2018: science fiction

2018 is drawing to a close, and a bookblogger’s thoughts inevitably turn to the books that have made the biggest impact of the year.

I therefore give you my favourite ten science fiction books of 2018

In no particular order (don’t make me choose…), I give you:

84k, by Claire North (Orbit Books, May 2018)

Claire North’s books are always startlingly original, and 84K is no exception to that rule. She takes language and format and plays with them, twisting and shaping the very forms of lines and sentences, leaving you with such imagery that the words in and of themselves couldn’t provide, leaving you with the sense of a sculptor playing with marble, or plasticine, or both. It’s astonishing to see it happen in front of you on the page and wonder how on earth she made it work.

Adrift, by Rob Boffard (Orbit Books, June 2018)

Enormous fun. I’ve been a huge fan of Rob Boffard’s books since Tracer first landed on my doorstep, and Adrift does not disappoint. It’s a standalone adventure following the (mis)fortunes of a group of tourists aboard a tour ship out by the Horsehead Nebula. Things go awry, and no-one does awry better than Mr Boffard. Cracking read.

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells (TOR, May 2017)

All Systems Red won a *lot* of stuff (Hugo Award for Best Novella, Nebula Award for Best Novella, Alex Award, Locus Award, one of the Verge’s Best Books of 2017, as well as being a New York Times and USA Today Bestseller).

And it’s just utterly splendid. A somewhat depressed Company supplied SecUnit hacks its own governor unit so can pretty much do what it likes, calls itself Murderbot (long story) and has a soft spot for soap operas. Then some creatures start attacking Murderbot’s clients and it, somewhat reluctantly, is forced to do something about it.

I love Murderbot. The story might be short (well, it *is* a novella), but it’s fast and funny, and the plot fairly whistles along. It’s also a lovely character study, delving into the mind of a machine hybrid that’s not entirely sure who it is, or wants to be.

Everything About You, by Heather Child (Orbit Books, April 2018)

Everything About You is an unsettling, creepy techno-thriller which feels all too plausible. Echoes of Black Mirror abound as we follow the story of Freya and her new ‘Smartface’ virtual assistant. Technology has advanced to the point where you can have any personality installed you like, built up from the thousands of interactions that person had with others – emails, texts, voice. Except Freya has a new, bleeding-edge prototype and the voice of her missing sister, who vanished when they were teenagers.

I loved this book and rattled through it in a couple of sittings. It’s clever, it’s creepy and it’s just so damn smart. The mystery is neatly plotted and beautifully written, with plenty of twists and turns thrown in.

I also had the pleasure of attending a writing workshop with Heather at the Edge-Lit book festival in Derby over the summer.

Rosewater, by Tade Thompson (Orbit Books, SEptember 2018)

Stunningly good sci-fi. Rosewater is a community which grew up around an alien biodome, where people gather in the hope of its healing powers. But the healing doesn’t always take the form they might wish…

Deliciously weird biopunk with an avalanche of clever ideas and brilliant characters. Just read it.

Tade Thompson wrote a great guest post on the five ingredients that make up Rosewater as part of a mini-blog tour.

Void Black Shadow/Static Ruin, by Corey J. White (TOR, March/November 2018)

Books 2 and 3 of Corey J. White’s superb Voidwitch Saga. I adored Killing Gravity and was excited to see book 2, Void Black Shadow, turn up in March. Even more excited to discover that book 3, Static Ruin was out in November.

The action is bloody, brutal and relentless. Mars is brilliantly acerbic and pissed off with anyone who gets between her and her target, which turns out to be 90% of the people we meet in this book. So much blood. So much mayhem. So much fun.

The writing style is punchy and taut, with no time wasted. These books are short and to the point (often brutally so – did I mention all the blood?), and unlike some of their contemporaries, don’t wallow around waiting for stuff to happen. Gloriously refreshing

The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi (Tor, October 2018)

Another sequel, following Scalzi’s glorious The Collapsing Empire, again this one snuck up on me and I had to zip down to the bookshop to get a copy immediately. I bloody loved book 1, and book 2 continues in the same vein – glorious worldbuilding, snarky characters, feuding Houses, the works. The Consuming Fire is clever, funny, and it’s like taking the essence of an Iain M. Banks book and boiling it down until you’ve stripped it down to the pure essence of an idea, making it 100% more witty, with a ton more diverse characters and 100% more sex. 

Warren Ellis described it as

…frictionless high-speed platinum-pulp science fiction storytelling.

which pretty much sums it up perfectly.

Vicious/Vengeful, by V.E. Schwab (Titan Books)

Last, but by no means least, these two books by V.E. Schwab consumed a couple of very late-into-the-night reading sessions. I realised that I’d had book 1, Vicious, on my kindle since FOREVER and finally found a spare evening to read it. A couple of days later I got an email asking if I wanted to read book 2, Vengeful, and I nearly bit the publicists hand off.

The format was challenging at first, with timeline jumps between ‘last night’, ‘ten years ago’, ‘ a week ago’ and so on, but once you settle into the style you start to appreciate the craft on display. The characters are great but awful, but also sympathetic (ish) and you can’t help rooting for them.

Vengeful continues the story, but introduces us to the utterly brilliant and merciless Marcella. It’s a hefty book at 600ish pages, but the chapters are short and punchy and I flew through it.

So, those are my sci-fi books of the year. Have you read any of them? Agree/disagree? I’d love to hear what you think!, Oc

Attend – West Camel

Attend, by West Camel
Published by Orenda Books
Source: Review copy, ebook

When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah.
Seamstress, sailor, story-teller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, a history of hidden Deptford and ultimately the solution to their crises.

Well, now then. We are, dear reader, presented with somewhat of a conundrum when it comes to this book. A quandary, some might say.

Most books that I’ve read you could neatly slot into a category, or maybe two. Crime fiction. Check. Science fiction. Check. Crime fiction in space. Check.

Where to put Attend though?

Sometimes we’re too quick to attach labels, and those labels often mislead. It’s much like the sizing of my favourite t-shirts. One might say it’s a large, but be a little baggy, one an XL and yet be snug. When buying a new t-shirt, you never quite know what you’re going to get until you try it on.

And sometimes you get one which fits *just* right, despite what the label says. (I’m afraid there are going to be a lot of fabric-related analogies here folks).

Attend is just that.

It’s a book which doesn’t quite fit, yet fits perfectly.

It’s a wonderfully weird web of stories, deftly interwoven across time. It’s the story of Sam, a young gay man in Deptford. It’s the story of Derek, small-town gangster. It’s the story of Anne, middle-aged ex-junkie. Each thread of the story is held by the enigmatic, mysterious Deborah, always present, always overlooked.

The characters are all fascinating in their own way, but it’s Deborah who demands the most attention, despite all but disappearing in the real world. It feels that she’s embedded into the very fabric of Deptford, in a house that’s almost as invisible as she is.

I loved the way the story bounces from present-day back to Deborah’s younger days, unravelling her story one fold at a time. She’s a fascinating, unique character providing the warp threads to anchor the weft of the other three. She’s not the person they’re looking for, but she’s the person they all need in their own way. She fits *just* right.

West Camel has given us a gorgeous, multi-faceted novel, a book to curl up with and lose yourself in. One of those where you don’t know what to expect, but know that you don’t want to end.

Hugely recommended.

Attend by West Camel is published by Orenda Books. You can find West Camel on Twitter @west_camel. Huge thanks to Anne Cater and Karen Sullivan for the review copy. Kudos also to the hugely talented Mark Swan for another stunning cover.

Bait, Grist and Security – Mike Hodges

Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for Mike Hodges’ Bait, Grist and Security, three darkly comic noir novellas from the cult director of Get Carter.

More on the book later, but first I’ve got an extract from chapter one of BAIT.

Summer is hell here.

Winter is the only time to be in this place. On a wet night preferably.

Like tonight.

The dark sea, flattened by rain, laps against the long curving beach. White-painted iron railings and ill-lit weather shelters recede into the mist. An amusement arcade, boarded up, sits like a blind man watching nothing.

The Grand Atlantic Hotel, a vast, corroding edifice, looms over the deserted esplanade. A torn canvas banner flaps over its darkened entrance, announcing the presence of the Brotherhood of Magicians Conference. Bedroom windows stacked up to the murky sky are black patches. The magicians are long in bed.
They’ll need steady hands in the morning. The clock tower strikes on the hour.

Twice.

An approaching motorbike cuts through the sound of rainwater smacking the tarmac. The red Yamaha rounds a corner slowly, ominously, powerful as a shark. A metallic titanium flip-front helmet glints under the street lamps. Moulded gloves with visor wipes, grinder boots, cowhide jeans and a leather jacket embossed with a bloody knife embedded in the rider’s back. The rider steers his machine along the esplanade before circling a traffic island housing the public urinals, all the while scanning the empty street.

A municipal shelter with a noticeboard advertising local events for wet winter nights stands beside the amusement arcade. It’s here the bike comes to rest. The rider leaves the engine running as he nervously pulls posters from a saddlebag.

He works fast, skilfully.

Soon the forthcoming amateur operatic production of Annie Get Your Gun is no longer forthcoming. But ‘The Personal Improvement Institute: A Course in Leadership Dynamics’ is. The etched face of a wild-eyed mountaineer intending to give a slide lecture the very next evening is replaced by the well-fed features of Dr Hermann P. Temple, who will show you the QUICK way to the TOP! during his impending weekend course on SUCCESS-POWER GETTING!

A similar fate is accorded ‘Pinkie and Barrie, the Comedy Duo’; ‘Diana Barnham playing Bach on the Clavichord’; and the providers of ‘Merrie England Banquets. Book now to avoid disappointment.’ All disappear within seconds to be replaced by five identical images of Dr Temple. A quintet of pointing forefingers, quiffs and eyes that would make a cobra back off.

*

A solitary light snaps on.

It’s on the third floor of an office block five minutes from the esplanade. The bare bulb backlights the gold lettering on the window: ‘Mark Miles Intercontinental’. Below that: ‘Creative Publicity and Personal Management’. On the bottom line: ‘MAKE your MARK with MILES. He’s WAY ahead.’

The block housing Mark Miles’ office is just that: a block. It has all the charm of a coal bunker. Built in the sixties, it’s an early example of how easily even smart people can be conned. Concrete is beautiful. Or so the architects decreed at the time.

Providence House, for that’s the block’s portentous name, takes on a gloomy appearance in the torrential rain. Mark Miles appears at the window, taking off his helmet, while simultaneously dropping the slatted blind. One side falls faster than the other, which doesn’t happen in movies, but almost always does in real life. Cursing, he tries to level it off, one-handed. Instead it becomes uncoupled and collapses on top of him. Mark Miles and his blind have one quality in common. Both spend their lives dangling.

Mark is sick of being a small fish in a small pond. His only remaining heroes are the sharks in the local aquarium. These massive glistening predators eye the awed visitors on the other side of the glass with contempt as they sweep majestically past in their eternal search for a way out. Like them, Mark wants to command respect. To this end, his pinball mind has been hyperactive since being approached by Dr Temple’s people to promote his weekend course. Leadership dynamics might just be the metamorphosis needed to take him to the top.

And quickly.

He switches on a battered desk lamp, puts it on the floor and kills the overhead. Mark has to be careful. The landlord suspects that, contrary to the terms of his lease, the office also doubles as his living quarters.
The landlord is right.
That’s why the chipped commode with ‘Hospital Property’ boldly stencilled on its lid, and smuggled in under cover of darkness from his late grandma’s council flat, is disguised with a potted palm. He lifts the palm and urinates into the china basin.

Slopping out has always been a complicated ritual. When he first moved into the building, the landlord – Fred Snipe, thin as a drainpipe
– was wont to ambush him on his early-morning run along the corridor to the communal lavatory. After several narrow escapes, Mark devised a strategy whereby he transferred the contents of the commode into a plastic first-aid box before embarking upon this essential mission.

Now, on their occasional encounters, Snipe’s nose twitches like a gerbil’s at the odour. His mouth opens but words refuse to emerge. He just can’t bring himself to ask what the container contains. Mark relishes these precious moments, smiling and patting the Red Cross on the box. ‘Preparation H, Fred. Works wonders.’ He sometimes varies the exchange: ‘Glycerine suppositories, Fred. Never fails to get you moving.’ Or, if he wants to make the landlord really blush, he adds, ‘Clinically proven to be effective against irritation and itching piles.’

These words always play on Snipe’s retreating figure.

Mark now eases out a crumpled futon and sleeping bag from under the defeated sofa, carefully avoiding any tangling with its bare springs. Rolling back and forth on the floor, he sheds his clothes and slips into the kapok envelope.

Light out.

*

In the street below Mark’s office, a black umbrella is opened from the shelter of a shop door. A man, short and paunchy, steps out, his suet- pudding face glistening in the rain. His name is William Snazell and he’s a private detective, a gumshoe. Dressed in a faded raincoat and shapeless trilby, he takes a final look at the darkened window before crossing the road. His shiny rubber galoshes shuffle through the sheet of rainwater.

~~~~~~

Bait, Grist & Security by Mike Hodges is published by Unbound on 29th November 2018. Many thanks to Anne Cater and Unbound for the review copy.

In ‘Bait’, a slippery PR man, Mark Miles, is unaware he’s being manipulated and dangled as bait by an investigative reporter until he’s swallowed by a sadistic mind-expanding cult from
America.
In ‘Grist’, the bestselling writer, Maxwell Grist, ruthlessly uses real people as fodder for his crime novels before finding himself living up to his name and becoming grist for his own
murder.
In ‘Security’, an American movie star, unhappy with the film he’s working on, refuses to leave his hotel for the studios, while in the corridor outside his luxury suite mayhem and murder take over.

All Systems Red – Martha Wells

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Winner: 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella
Winner: 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novella
Winner: 2018 Alex Award
Winner: 2018 Locus Award
One of the Verge’s Best Books of 2017
A New York Times and USA Today Bestseller

So, All Systems Red won a *lot* of stuff. And it’s just utterly splendid. A somewhat depressed Company supplied SecUnit hacks its own governor unit so can pretty much do what it likes, calls itself Murderbot (long story) and has a soft spot for soap operas. Then some creatures start attacking Murderbot’s clients and it, somewhat reluctantly, is forced to do something about it.

I love Murderbot. The story might be short (well, it *is* a novella), but it’s fast and funny, and the plot fairly whistles along. It’s also a lovely character study, delving into the mind of a machine hybrid that’s not entirely sure who it is, or wants to be.

You see, Murderbot doesn’t really like people. It just wants to be left alone to get on with watching the long-running Sanctuary Moon. I can empathise a lot with Murderbot.

All Systems Red is the first of four (at time of writing) in the Murderbot Diaries, and I’m greatly looking forward to following their adventures.

You can get All Systems Red here (affiliate link)

All Systems Red by Martha Wells is published by Tor. You can find Martha Wells on twitter @marthawells1 or on her website marthawells.com

Athena’s Champion – David Hair & Cath Mayo

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Athena’s Champion by David Hair and Cath Mayo, published by Canelo on 8th November 2018. More about the book later, but first I’ve got an extract for you.

~~~~~~

The preparations are brief, and simple. Doripanes takes me to a small chamber where a copper bowl has been filled with water from the nearest, most sacred spring. I strip and wash to cleanse myself before being presented to the Goddess, then pull on a borrowed knee-length tunic. After that I’m made to kneel before an altar crowned with a rough statue of the Goddess that’s old, darkened by ash and smooth from decades of hands. An open chalice of scented lamp oil burns slowly, filling the air with fragrant smoke.

Then a hissing voice whispers. ‘Odysseus… Odysseus,’ it says. ‘Man of fire…

I startle, and Doripanes looks at me. ‘Prince?’

‘Did you hear that?’ I begin, but it’s clear he’s heard nothing.

He touches my shoulder. ‘Come, the Pythia awaits.’

My rational mind has never quite believed this coming ceremony isn’t mere formality, more elaboration than truth. False seers plague Achaea, the kingdoms of the Greeks, and I’ve heard Father and others often talk of this experience as being solemn, but not in any way uncanny. To believe in distant gods, whose lives barely touch a man’s except in such huge incidents as storms, earthquakes and plagues, is quite different to believing they are watching me, and examining all the strands of my future. Despite the ominous pressure I’ve felt all day, it’s solid and tangible things I usually fear – war, piracy, assassination – not the mystical.

I set my jaw and concentrate on bearing myself with dignity, rejoining my family but not looking at them as I follow Doripanes down curved stairs into a deep chamber, a circular subterranean vault around twenty feet in diameter. In the middle, oil lamps have been placed around the great central cleft in the rock, from which a vapour rises, drifting around the Pythia as she sits on a large bronze tripod. The rest of the vault lies in semi-darkness.

The old woman before me in her purple and white robe is no longer my grandmother Amphithea: she’s entirely the Pythia, voice of the Goddess, heir of a tradition of prophecy to whom even kings bow. Every few moments she lifts her veil to catch the steam, inhaling it deeply and moaning as she does. Behind her, in the shadows, a half-dozen shaven-haired priests are arrayed: thin, insubstantial figures, like ghosts haunting the chamber.

Doripanes takes me to stand before the Pythia. ‘Remain standing,’ he whispers. ‘I’ll do the talking.’

I nod, and glance back at my family: Mother and Ctimene are huddled together, with Laertes slightly apart, next to Eurybates, watching gravely. Eury gives me a reassuring nod, but my nerves only tighten.

That slithering voice whispers again: ‘Odysseus… Fire…

The walls of the chamber change, mottling like snakeskin and moving, contracting around us. The air thins and I’m sure there’s something poised behind me, its breath cold and stale and rotting. I flinch, wanting to spin round to confront it, but afraid to shift even my gaze. The Pythia coughs as she inhales more of the noxious vapours.

‘Great Goddess! Hera Parthenos, Hera Basileia, Hera Khere!’ Doripanes calls loudly, invoking the Virgin, the Queen and the Widowed Aspects of Hera. ‘We come before you, seekers of truth and wisdom! We bow before you! We worship you and thank you!’

The Pythia takes yet another deep inhalation of the vapours that swirl around her before parting her veil to reveal her face, the wrinkles deep-etched in the lamplight, her eyes rolling back in her skull. ‘Who comes?’ she rasps, her voice a full octave lower than her speaking voice, a low rattle filled with menace.

‘Odysseus, Prince of Ithaca, as a supplicant to your Holiness!’ Doripanes announces. ‘He comes before you humbly, purified and desirous of knowledge. His family await your judgement! Upon his line rests the peace and prosperity of his homeland! Will the kingdom of Ithaca pass into worthy hands? His parents have given consent, for he is their legacy, their heir! Will you walk the Viper’s Path with him, and measure his worth?’

The Viper’s Path? The phrase shocks me, alarmed already as I am by the slithering voice, and that monstrous serpentine presence I sense. The walls of the chamber seem to throb.

The Pythia’s orbs turn a glowing white and pierce me through. My muscles clench, as if to prevent me from being blasted backwards by that empty, harrowing gaze, the air crushed from my lungs by the twin weights of tension and fear. Part of my brain, the emotive part, the boy inside the man, is struck dumb; but the rational part is even here trying to guess how this might be contrived… The vapours, strong and heavy, what are they?

Then the Pythia speaks, obliterating all thought. Her voice is at times shrill, at others a low growl, her face staring into a void, looking past me, looking through me.

Purified? Where is the purity? He came to be purged yet he has been touched by another! Another? Nay, by two! Spawned in fire, born of lust, the renegade, the trickster, eternal traitor, eagle’s prey! Who dares! This is my place! Mine!

There is a collective gasp at each raving ejaculation. The Pythia is no longer seated but standing, her feet straddling the steaming fissure, her eyes still blind but her face enraged. And when she looks at me with those blind eyes, her whole face is overlaid with some kind of serpentine visage, with massive fangs and hooded eyes. The fingers she jabs at me are virulently accusing.

Wit before wisdom! Concealed hands and hearts! Faithful yet false! Loved and loathed! Touched, more than touched: claimed, by another! I see you, False Daughter, the owl that swoops! But this one is not for you! Tainted chalice! Envenomed blade! Honourless, perilous! Lost wanderer! Twin-finder! And dangerous: yes, most dangerous! Wall breaker! Lock picker! True-hearted deceiver!

I stare, petrified, as the Seeress sways towards me, holding her hands high as if admonishing the heavens, then twisting to hurl imprecations at the enclosing shadows. My mind is roiling: is this normal? Is it genuine, or some kind of performance?

Then she spins to leer into my face.

I see you, cuckoo’s egg! Seed of the cursed! Rotted fruit of the tainted seed! I see you: son of Sisyphus!

The chamber is utterly quiet, the stillness broken by an awful sound – the startled sob of the woman I love most in the world: my mother, Anticleia. But I can’t look away from the hooded, pupil-less eyes of the prophetess, her bared teeth a hand’s breadth from my own, as the true horror of her words sinks in. Then I reel as the old woman gives an ear-splitting shriek and collapses to the ground.

The priests, led by an ashen-faced Doripanes, hurry to the Pythia’s aid as I stare at her prone form, momentarily paralysed. Anticleia has fallen to her knees, staring open-mouthed at the crumpled figure of her mother, and Ctimene has dropped to hold her, her face upturned to see the reaction of Laertes, her mouth moving but no words coming out.

Cuckoo’s egg… Seed of the cursed… Son of Sisyphus…

‘Mother?’ I croak.

The wretched look on her face tells me the rest. She’d resisted coming here because she’d feared this very moment. Her final words before we entered the shrine take on new resonance: ‘We all have secrets…

My father… No, not my father… King Laertes is staring at me as if Hades himself has risen to claim him. His normally stolid face is torn open with anguish and rage.

Mother slept with another man… and the two of them, clasped in adultery, conceived me…

Anticleia crawls to her husband, tries to seize his knees. He bends and catches her arms, lifts her, and for a moment I hope for some kind of understanding.

Then Laertes’s right hand cracks across Mother’s face and she’s sent flying, sprawling on her back, her head striking the stone floor. I rush to her side.

Her cheek is split, she’s been struck senseless, but she still breathes. ‘Mother, wake up,’ I cry, ‘Please, I beg you! Wake!’ Then I look up. ‘Father?’ I plead.

‘I’m not your father,’ Laertes croaks. The King rocks on his heels, almost falling before he regains his balance. Then he turns and strides to the stairs, taking them at a run, and vanishes.

 

Athena’s Champion, by David Hair and Cath Mayo is published by Canelo on 8th November 2018.

The first in a thrilling new historical fantasy series; Odysseus must embrace his secret heritage and outwit the vengeful Gods who would control or destroy him…

Prince Odysseus of Ithaca is about to have his world torn apart. He’s travelled to the oracle at Pytho to be anointed as heir to his island kingdom; but instead the Pythia reveals a terrible secret, one that tears down every pillar of his life, and marks him out for death.

Outcast by his family, hunted by the vengeful gods, Odysseus is offered sanctuary by Athena, goddess of wisdom, and thrust into the secret war between the Olympians for domination and survival. Only his wits, and his skill as a warrior, can keep him ahead of their power games – and alive.

When one of Athena’s schemes goes drastically wrong, and the young Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, Odysseus must journey past the gates of Hades to save her. Falling in love with a Trojan princess, a bewitching woman who poses a deadly threat to both his homeland and Athena, won’t make his task any easier…

Drawing from classic Greek mythology, Athena’s Champion, first in the epic Olympus series, is perfect for fans of Madeline Miller and David Gemmell.

David Hair is an award-winning New Zealand YA and Adult fantasy writer, and the author of sixteen novels.  He’s joined his considerable skill and expertise with Cath Mayo to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods.
@DHairauthor

Cath Mayo is a New Zealand YA, Children and Adult fiction author. Her two published YA historical novels are both set in Ancient Greece and her first novel received a Storylines Notable Book Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2014. She’s joined her considerable skill and expertise with David Hair to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods. @cathmayoauthor