Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Hauntings: An Anthology - Launch Party

International Anthony Burgess Foundation
3 Cambridge Street
Manchester M1
United Kingdom

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Come and join us at the launch party for Hauntings: An Anthology, a new collection of short stories from Hic Dragones.

Hauntings: An Anthology - twenty-one new tales of the uncanny

A memory, a spectre, a feeling of regret, a sense of déjà vu, ghosts, machines, something you can’t quite put your finger on, a dark double, the long shadow of a crime, your past, a city’s past, your doppelganger, a place, a song, a half-remembered rhyme, guilt, trauma, doubt, a shape at the corner of your eye, the future, the dead, the undead, the living, someone you used to know, someone you used to be.

We are all haunted.

Join us at the launch party on Thursday July 31st. Readings by: Tracy Fahey, Mark Forshaw, Hannah Kate, Sarah Peploe, James Everington, Michael Hitchins, Daisy Black and Rachel Halsall

Free wine reception, giveaways and launch discount on the book. For more information, please visit the publisher's website.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Summer Sale from Hic Dragones!

All paperbacks are £4.99 for the whole of July!

To celebrate the publication of Hauntings: An Anthology later this month, all our titles are now just £4.99 (plus p+p).

Check out our catalogue for more information about our titles.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Review: Mazarkis Williams, The Emperor's Knife (Jo Fletcher Books, 2011)

Full disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book by the author for review – but that’s not really news, as that’s true of most books reviewed on here and it carries absolutely no guarantee of anything other than an honest review. Even fuller disclosure: the author sent me a lovely, signed hardback edition, which has lingered on my to-review pile for far longer than I care to admit. I’m slightly embarrassed by how long it has taken me to post this.

Anyway… continuing in the anecdotal mode for a moment… why did I decide to review The Emperor’s Knife at all? The book is the first in a series – the Tower and Knife trilogy – which is (roughly speaking) high fantasy. I usually don’t read high or epic fantasy, preferring urban fantasy, sci fi and horror, but I like having the opportunity to dip my toe into other genres every once in a while. The synopsis of the book looked really intriguing, so I thought, if I’m going to read a high fantasy book, why not make it that one?

There was another big attraction with The Emperor’s Knife, and one that is a little unusual. I was attracted by the publisher. Williams’s novel is published by Jo Fletcher Books, an imprint of Quercus. I must admit, I haven’t yet found a book published by Quercus that I don’t like, and three of my absolute favourite authors of recent years (Cat Clarke, Tom Fletcher and Peter May are all published by them. In fact, Quercus are the only publisher whose books I will buy for the name of the publisher alone. So, despite knowing nothing about Mazarkis Williams, I was already inclined to give The Emperor’s Knife a go.

So… I’ll start talking about the book now, shall I?

The Emperor’s Knife is a fantasy novel set in a Middle Eastern-ish, Arabian Nights-sort-of world of emperors, viziers, magic and intrigue. There are a number of interwoven plots circling around a ‘plague’ at the heart of the Cerani Empire. A mysterious ailment is spreading through the empire, marking ‘carriers’ with a strange pattern – both physically and psychologically – and linking them to something ‘greater’, something unknown. At the book’s opening, it is made clear that the emperor (Beyon) is having ‘carriers’ put to death, but also that he himself is at risk of attack from those afflicted.

Parallel to the story of the empire’s struggle with the pattern is the story of Sarmin, Beyon’s brother. The last surviving brother of the emperor (the others having been killed in childhood to prevent any challenges to the throne), Sarmin lives in a hidden room in the palace, almost entirely ignored by the rest of the court. As Sarmin’s story progresses, his relationship to the pattern develops and the reader realizes he will play a much larger role in the future of the empire than his ‘forgotten’ status at first suggests.

Sarmin and Beyon’s mother, the ‘Empire Mother’ Nessaket has arranged for her ‘hidden’ son to marry. As such, a young ‘Felt’ woman, Mesema is being brought to the court as the prince’s bride. Mesema must struggle with both homesickness and a fear of the unknown, as well as with the physical dangers her journey entails. She is guided – at least at first – by Banreh, one of her countrymen, who attempts to teach her enough of the Cerantic language and imperial culture to get by in her new home. Like Sarmin, Mesema is draw into the web of the ‘pattern-master’. Mesema’s travels to the imperial court are fraught with danger, but also filled with a growing understanding of what is happening around her.

Finally, there’s Eyul, bearer of the eponymous Knife. Eyul is the imperial assassin, with long-standing and unshakeable loyalty to the throne. At the book’s opening, Eyul is sent out into the desert lands around Cerani to discover the true meaning of the pattern and to find a way to reverse the damage it is doing. On his way, he meets Amalya (a mage) with whom he forms a bond that causes Eyul to question some of his life’s mission (to an extent, anyway).

If this sounds like a lot to take in, that’s because it is. The scope of Williams’s novel is definitely ‘epic’. The world-building of the novel is detailed and there is a huge cast of characters, each of which have a different connection and affiliation within the world of the Cerani empire. Admittedly, this means that The Emperor’s Knife is not the sort of book you dive into and plough on through. I found the first couple of chapters quite a slow read (though I don’t mean this as a criticism), as they required my full attention. This is not a book for skim-reading.

The world itself also requires concentration for total immersion in it. While some aspects of the narrative landscape of The Emperor’s Knife might be considered ‘stock’ fantasy elements – there’s a harem of wives, for instance, and a scheming mother-figure – making the world of Emperor’s Knife seem, at times, rather familiar, there is something a little off-key about the setting, something a little unsettling. Again, this isn’t a criticism – the unsettling, off-key quality is a real strength of Williams’s writing. There is a lightness of touch to descriptions and exposition (which is used sparingly) that was a pleasure to read.

For me, the most compelling aspect of The Emperor’s Knife was the characterization. As I’ve said, there are a lot of characters, and some had more life about them than others. I’ll admit, I didn’t find all the characters engaging (Nessaket and her lover Tuvaini didn’t grab me particularly), but others fascinated me. I enjoyed the interaction between Eyul and Amalya in the earlier sections of the book – these two characters were so restricted by their ‘roles’ in the world that their dialogue was stilted and their mannerisms formal, so it was interesting to see their relationship develop and deepen within such rigid constraints.

However, the highlight of the book for me was Mesema’s interactions with the emperor Beyon – the brother of her intended husband. In the early chapters, I was fully convinced that I was going to hate Beyon. But as the story progressed and more was revealed about this character (again, Williams does this with a light touch, relying on implication and nuance more than explanation), I became really taken with him. I’d go as far as to say he was my favourite character. Mesema is the ‘feisty’ outsider – which, again, could be considered a stock element – but her interactions with Beyon were unexpected and engaging. Much of this surprised me, which is something I like in novel.

If I have a criticism of the book, it’s that the pacing is rather inconsistent. I found some chapters dragged a little, while others flew by. I rattled through the final section of the book, from the point where the storylines converged, not wanting to put it down. However, some of the earlier chapters (mostly the sections with the journey through the desert) seem a little pedestrian in comparison.

The thing that intrigued me most from the synopsis of The Emperor’s Knife was the pattern ‘plague’. The book’s blurb is vague about the nature of this ailment, and I’m going to be too. The nature of the pattern is revealed in a winding, circuitous way, and I don’t want to spoil the experience of reading the book and following the path to understanding. All I will say is that I found the resolution (and I guess you could call it the reveal) really satisfying, and well worth following the threads through the labyrinthine narrative to reach the conclusion.

I’m curious to know where the series will go. The Emperor’s Knife could easily have been a standalone novel, but it is apparently part of a trilogy. There’s no cliffhanger as such at the end, so no obvious signposts to what will come in the second book. The (very brief) advert at the back of the book only promises that the story of (some of) the characters will continue – but no real hint as to where!

Overall, then, I recommend The Emperor’s Knife. If detailed, complex worlds and an extensive cast of characters is your thing, then I’m sure you will lose yourself in this novel. (Though, if you like your fantasy brash, punchy and filled with trolls, wizards and grizzled warriors, this probably isn’t the ideal read for you.) As I said at the beginning of the review, this type of fantasy is not my usual genre of choice, but Williams is an accomplished writer and a good storyteller, and, at the end of the day, that’s far more important to me than genre labels.

So, in summary, I still haven’t found a Quercus book I don’t like.

Monday, 12 August 2013

CFP: Little Horrors: Representations of the Monstrous Child

Book Project

Call for Chapters

Gone is the Victorian innocence of childhood. We have entered the age of the monstrous child, the little horror.

Each historical period can be seen to have prioritised a different facet of the child, the Victorian era idolised the innocence of the pre-pubescent child, the twentieth century the disaffected teenager, whilst the early twenty-first sems to be that of the monstrous child. Whilst global organisations such as UNICEF and Save the Children promote the sanctity of childhood as a fundamental human right, popular culture and empirical, sociological data would intimate something else. Here children are not configured as the wealth of the family and the community, but are seen as an economic burden, a luxury or even a parasite. Far from being the repository of all society holds dear about itself, the child becomes something at once uncontrollable and monstrous, not to be loved and cherished but feared and expelled. Whether supernatural or just plain wicked, the child becomes a liminal being caught outside of normalised categorization; not mature, not socilaised, not under the rule of law and not conforming to adult nostagia over what they should be.

Is there a relationship between the declining birth rate in the West and the increasing representation of children as an alien other? However, as witchcraft accusations against children in Africa and representations in the Asian horror film genre show, this is not just a Western phenomenon. So just what are the underlying reasons, if any? This volume aims to assemble the evidence from history, psychology, sociology, literature and media studies to map the extent and meaning of this representational development.

Topics to include:

- Witch children, witchcraft accusations against children, children using witchcraft accusations
- Magical children: children with magical or superhuman powers, the wunderkind
- Werewolves and other shapeshifters: children as animals
- Fairies and changelings: the folklore of strange children
- Undead children: vampires, zombies and others
- Ghosts and demonic children: children possessed, children as demons
- Child crime and culpability: moral evil and legal responsibility
- Monstrous children through history: physical deformity and mental health issues
- Children as embodiments of other aspects of supernatural horror
- The monstrous as a new role model for children
- Children as adults and adults as children
- Society and children and public and private spaces
- Immigration, post-colonialism and foreign adoption
- War children and child soldiers

A brief bio and abstract of circa 300 words should be sent to -

For literature and media studies: Simon Bacon
For history and social sciences: Leo Ruickbie

Deadline for abstracts: 1st September 2013

There's no project page as yet, but you'll find these same details here

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Review: Fred Botting, Limits of Horror: Technology, Bodies, Gothic (Manchester University Press, 2008)

In 1996, Fred Botting published the influential textbook, Gothic. It's likely that anyone who has studied Gothic literature at university level since then will be familiar with this work, as it is a staple of reading lists and bibliographies. Limits of Horror is the second book on the Gothic that Botting has written since 1996 (the first being Gothic Romanced), and it revisits the territory of his earlier work with a sharply critical and theoretical eye.

"Horror is not what it used to be," states the inside cover of the hardback edition. And this is a fitting introduction to Botting's argument. Considering material spanning over 200 years, all of which could arguably be labelled 'Gothic', Botting charts the development of the meanings of horror and monsters. Considering literature, film and computer games, Limits of Horror offers a theory of cultural production that expands current understandings of genre, horror and 'Gothic'.

Botting's argument explores the relationship between the Gothic, modernity and technology, drawing on Freudian and post-Freudian ideas of the uncanny, the pleasure principle and the death drive. Limits of Horror also considers Gothic texts as products of capitalist societal structures, arguing that as we move into what many have described as 'late capitalism', with the forces of supply and demand becoming wholly inverted, the meanings we ascribe to monsters and horror change. Botting denies any ahistorical or universal sense of 'horror', asserting: "Light and dark, good and evil, knowledge and mystery, self and monster, are paired productions of the same cultural systems rather than natural or universal characteristics."

Chapter 1 is entitled "Daddy's Dead", and considers how the patriarchal figure of prohibition, so integral to early Gothic, has been killed off by late capitalist cultural production. Botting suggests that "[h]uman creativity and agency, along with paternal metaphors, are replaced by a mechanical system in which questions of meaning and agency matter less and less." He goes on to consider how the proliferation of contemporary monsters is "bound up with recent developments of technoscience and the consumer economy", arguing that the removal of the "paternal metaphors" removes much of the transgressive horror from today's monsters. Transgressive energy, without limitations and prohibitions, therefore, becomes the "norm". Chapter 2, "Tech Noir", continues this analysis to explore the close relationship between consumerism, horror and technology. Botting explores theoretical ideas of play, and its "aneconomic" wastefulness, and how we might apply these ideas to a study of computer games. The argument returns to the question of proliferation: "Games, like fictional narrative, are not, it seems, neatly contained, but spill over, with ambivalent effect, introducing a disruptive heterogeneity into the social sphere." The concept of the uncanny is pivotal to Botting's argument in this chapter, as he suggests the mechanisms of fiction and reading - as well as horror itself - are revealed as mechanical and dependent on the breaching of boundaries and the engendering of identifications. Ultimately, this chapter returns to the question of late capitalism; monsters are no longer something that threaten us from without. Indeed, in a world driven by consumption and unbridled desire, we are the monsters: "There is little difference it seems between figures on the screen and figures twitching in front of it, puppets, zombies, mutants, vampires, automata."

The third chapter in the book is entitled "Dark Bodies", and begins with an analysis of the extreme bodily mutilations of performance artist Orlan. Botting considers the anxieties, shocks and revulsion caused by Orlan's art. However, he returns to the question of repetition and identification to suggest that monsters are now "banal, unsurprising, ubiquitous, visible and overlooked at the same time". What Botting terms "Gothic affect" has been emptied out of horror, and images are produced wholesale and repeated ad nauseam. The fourth and final chapter, "Beyond the Gothic Principle" is by far the most theoretical of the book. Here, Botting explores Freud's "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" and concept of the 'death drive" in relation to horror and the Gothic. This chapter includes an exploration of the sublime, the importance of the 'past' to Gothic texts, and ideas of loss and recovery. The book ends on a bleak note, positing a notion of machinic desire which "is driven by a headless and immanent drive - 'synthanatos' - an artificial death drive (as if the drive were ever natural)".

As with Gothic, the strengths of Limits of Horror lie in Botting's incisive theorizing of genre, horror and the monstrous. Psychoanalytic and cultural theories, along with Deleuzian philosophy and ideas of the post-human, combine to give a consistent and thorough exegesis of contemporary and classic Gothic. For an introduction to such concepts, I would recommend Gothic rather than Limits of Horror, as some prior knowledge of Botting's approach to the genre is advisable. However, the latter book moves current discussions on and is highly recommended for anyone researching or reading Gothic/horror texts to any depth.

Of course, the book is not without its problems. As is sometimes the case with Botting's work, theory often overshadows textual analysis. Botting's considerations of Candyman, Reservoir Dogs and Orlan's performance art are detailed and probing, but there are other examples which are treated with somewhat less rigour. Chapter 4 has almost no textual examples, exploring instead the theories of Freud, Lacan, Zizek and others. Moreover, some of the examples chosen by Botting seem a little dated. While the Marxist analysis of Pac Man is certainly entertaining, it did little to address the complexity of desires at play in contemporary gaming. Additionally, I suspect that the chapters in the book began life as stand-alone articles, as there is some overlap and repetition. The same quotes appear in more than one chapter, and some analyses also reappear. This is somewhat unsettling, and adds a kind of uncanny quality to Botting's argument. It does not detract from the overall quality of the book, but leaves the reader with a feeling of 'didn't I read this before?' - which, as I say, fits well with Botting's thesis.

Limits of Horror is an invaluable book for students and readers of horror and the Gothic. It continues Botting's insightful theorizing of genre and culture. It is a fascinating read, which challenges understandings of the relationships between modernity, technology and the monstrous. While it may often privilege theory over textual analysis, Botting's model can be applied to, and used to elucidate, numerous cultural productions and developments. A word of warning, though, Limits of Horror has little optimism about it, but then, perhaps, there is little about late capitalism to be optimistic about: "Game over and over again."

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Books We Like...

Lancashire's Sacred Landscape: from Prehistory to the Viking Age, ed. by Linda Sever (The History Press, 2010)

A new collection published by The History Press, and edited by a good friend and colleague of mine. As a Lancashire lass myself (well, near enough), I think it's great to see a book exploring some of the rich historical and folkloric heritage of the county. Here's what the publishers say:

Lancashire, situated in the north west of England, does not at first tend to conjure up an image of 'a sacred landscape'. But look a bit deeper and one will discover a vast array of sites of ritual and early worship. Archaeological remains of prehistoric stone circles, cairns and burial chambers, pre-Christian place-names, Anglo-Saxon and Viking stone sculpture, as well as tales of fairies and 'otherworldly' creatures within the folklore and legend are spread throughout the county. Within this book the reader will find a discussion of all these, including a comprehensive gazetteer of prehistoric sites, listings of place names, locations of stone sculpture and detailed analyses of carvings and the inscriptions upon them, as well as a personal, experiential approach to landscape. Extensive photographs illustrate the sites described within the chapters.

The contributors to this book are from a variety of academic disciplines - geology, archaeology, art history, history, place-name and folklore research. They have spent many years deeply engaged in their own different areas of research in order to produce this wide-ranging material. Each chapter is accompanied by details of how to visit the sites in discussion.
For more information, please click here.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Books We Like...

Hosting the Monster, ed. by Holly Lynn Baumgartner and Roger Davis (Rodopi, 2008)

A inter-disciplinary collection of essays exploring monsters, the monstrous, identities and boundaries. This collection grew out of the Fifth Global Monsters and the Monstrous Conference, held at Mansfield College, Oxford in 2007.

I'm sure eagle-eyed readers will spot the chapter on medieval werewolves written by yours truly!

For more information, click here.


Hosting the Monster: Introduction
Holly Lynn Baumgartner and Roger Davies

"I Live in the Weak and the Wounded": The Monster of Brad Anderson's Session 9
Duane Kight

The Monster as a Victim of War: The Returning Veteran in The Best Years of Our Lives
Amaya Muruzabal Muruzabal

Human Monstrosity: Rape, Ambiguity and Performance in Rosemary's Baby
Lucy Fife

The Monstrous and Maternal in Toni Morrison's Beloved
Inderjit Grewal

The Witch and the Werewolf: Rebirth and Subjectivity in Medieval Verse
Hannah Priest

It's Never the Bass: Opera's True Transgressors Sing Soprano
Holly Lynn Baumgartner

Joseph Merrick and the Concept of Monstrosity in Nineteenth Century Medical Thought
Katherine Angell

Herculine Barbin: Human Error, Criminality and the Case of the Monstrous Hermaphrodite
Jessica Webb

Literary Monsters: Gender, Genius, and Writing in Denis Diderot's 'On Women' and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Cecilia A. Feilla

Sweet, Bloody Vengeance: Class, Social Stigma and Servitude in the Slasher Genre
Sorcha Ni Fhlainn

It Cam from Four-Colour Fiction: The Effect of Cold War Comic Books on the Fiction of Stephen King
David M. Kingsley

The Monsters that Failed to Scare: The Atypical Reception of the 1930s Horror Films in Belgium
Liesbet Depauw

"a white illusion of a man": Snowman, Survival and Speculation in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake
Roger Davis

Friday, 13 August 2010

Books We Like...

Rosie Garland, Things I Did While I Was Dead (Flapjack Press, 2010)

A powerful new collection of poetry by Rosie Garland (known to many as Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen). Garland moves between childhood, gender, sexuality, religious iconography, relationships, with characteristic flair and exuberance. The poems in this collection reveal a love of, and dexterity with, language that amuses and moves.

"I braid my hair in snakes with fingers sugar sticky.
Hang necklaces of breasts beneath my chin.
Turn women to butter, men to stone.
When I dance, the sky drops water, the earth moans."
(from 'Lilith')

"I take your hand, wait
for the magic: some old god's
shoulder turning over in the dirt;
a raven come to omen the stones;
a black dog flicker at the corner
of eyeshot."
(from 'The Promise of Ghosts')

A highly recommended collection. Rosie will also be taking part in the She-Wolf discussion panel on Wednesday 8th September 2010 - more details on this to follow.

See Flapjack Press for more details.