Friday, 5 June 2015

Book Review: Draven's Light, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Image and Description from
In the Darkness of the Pit
The Light Shines Brightest

Drums summon the chieftain’s powerful son to slay a man in cold blood and thereby earn his place among the warriors. But instead of glory, he earns the name Draven, “Coward.” When the men of his tribe march off to war, Draven remains behind with the women and his shame. Only fearless but crippled Ita values her brother’s honor.

The warriors return from battle victorious yet trailing a curse in their wake. One by one the strong and the weak of the tribe fall prey to an illness of supernatural power. The secret source of this evil can be found and destroyed by only the bravest heart.

But when the curse attacks the one Draven loves most, can this coward find the courage he needs to face the darkness?


Draven’s Light by Anne Elisabeth Stengl is not as dark as I expected it to be. Rather, it reminded me somehow of Perelandra by C.S. Lewis, with its ethereal, dangerous beauty, its link to the past that is so essential, the world within worlds, the questions that did not necessarily have answers, but without being questions… In this, it moves beyond the classics of Lewis (whose great work was giving us aid in finding answers) and more towards the epic push-and-pull between characters and their “historic moment” (a university professor of mine taught me the phrase, I believe) that is characteristic of Tolkien. Stengl makes the intimate epic in the same way Tolkien made the epic intimate to the reader.

                What I especially appreciated was the good use of superstition; it made the world feel more real. Even as I disagreed with the characters’ fears and was the sort to dismiss them, I still appreciated the history behind their fears.

                Of course, Draven’s Light is beautifully-written. Some ways of description may have been used slightly too much (there was an emphasis on the eyes), but this was not noticed upon my read-through and does not detract in any way from the actual story.

                Another reviewer mentioned that she was uncomfortable with Ita’s tendency to kick her brother. I understand this completely, but I also believe that it’s a subconscious reflection on her part of her very violent world. In Ita and Gaho’s relationship, you see a microcosm of the flawed network of relationships in which they struggle to thrive. No, you should not agree with it, but on the other hand, perhaps you’re meant to be uncomfortable with it.

The interior design of the story is absolutely gorgeous; the font for the chapter titles looks otherworldly! I especially liked how you could look for the links within the story between the present and past, as there were little clues here and there. In this series, everything seems to mean something, and I was having a great time trying to guess as I went along. Even now, I realize how much Ita reminded me of another character in Stengl’s books, and I wonder if they are related…

Now, this was perhaps one of my favourite parts, but I’m biased: DINOSAURS. Anne Elisabeth had dinosaurs and people living alongside each other!!! I read that, and my inner dinosaur-loving geek squealed!! I suddenly wanted to dive through the screen, steal Draven’s canoe, and go up the river to where the dinosaurs lived and try to tame one to be my pet. That is how much I adore dinosaurs and everything related to them. I loved the inclusion of Hydrus (a river dinosaur/fish thing) and the scene with him, that again I realize now parallels in a different way with Stengl’s scene between a girl and a creature in another book (Leta and the star...). Basically, just so you can appreciate how to build a creative world that reflects the complexities of ours in a way that does not detract from darkness yet does not glorify it in a way much of modern literature does, read Stengl’s work.

As in the rest of her work, Draven’s Light does paint a lot of links to Christian theology, but trying to create too many direct links will not work. I’ve tried, and I realized that Stengl takes themes common with our faith but makes the story all her own. Attempting to fit the characters and situations into an exact Biblical parallel will lessen the impact of the message on the reader, and, if you’re like me, you may even end up confusing yourself and over-thinking things.

The one thing that does bother me a little is this: if faith in the Wood Thrush is what gets one to the “heaven” of this world, is Draven there? That’s one question that haunted me, and at the end I wasn’t sure if he believed, or what he believed. This does reflect, however, our state in everyday life—we can never know until we get there.

Stengl has a great flare for “the last word”, and the last line was absolutely lovely in this book. 

Monday, 1 June 2015

Cover Reveal: Rooglewood Press's New Writing Contest!

Rooglewood Press is delighted to introduce their second fairy tale novella contest—

Five Magic Spindles

a collection of “Sleeping Beauty” stories

The challenge is to write a retelling of the beloved fairy tale in any genre or setting you like. Make certain your story is recognizably “Sleeping Beauty,” but have fun with it as well. Make it yours!

Rooglewood Press will be selecting five winners to be published in the Five Magic Spindles collection, which will be packaged up with the phenomenal cover you see here. Maybe your name will be one of the five listed?

All the contest rules and information (how to enter, story details, deadline etc.) may be found on the Rooglewood Press website. Just click HERE and you will go right to the page.

Rooglewood Press’s first collection, Five Glass Slippers is available for purchase, and our second collection, Five Enchanted Roses is scheduled to launch on July 27, and is currently available for pre-order. Be certain to get a copy of each and see what previous winners did with their wonderful retellings.

This cover illustration was rendered by Julia Popova, “ForestGirl.” You can find out more about this gifted artist on her website:

Monday, 16 March 2015

Until Midnight, Part 2

Almost a year ago, I posted the first part of my Cinderella retelling, Until Midnight, and very cruelly did not post anymore! Shame on me. So I've decided to rectify that!

For those of you who haven't read the first part, here's a link to it

And here are the next few chapters!


“Don’t let Maman see you like that, Eloise,” my younger sister, Ilyse, said as I entered the house. My dark red curls were windblown, strewn across my face. I pushed them back and gave a one-shouldered shrug.
Elle was sewing in the far corner, her head bowed over her work. I hoped she was not ill; she had not spoken much since her status had fallen from noble to servant.
Ilyse fiddled with a piece of paper in her lap, worrying her lower lip with her teeth. Per usual, she had allowed Maman to fuss over her until she looked like a princess, her amber locks perfectly curled, her eyes rimmed with just the right amount of kohl.
“What is it?” I asked, beckoning to the paper in her hands.
“An invitation,” she said, folding the page and thinning it with her fingers. “For all eligible girls to attend a ball where the prince will choose the next queen.” She simpered, shooting a triumphant look at Elle, who flinched.
I grimaced. Ilyse and Elle were the same age—seventeen, creating an air of rivalry between them. Ilyse sensed Elle was her biggest competition in the house; I was too old and too dowdy to attract any men Ilyse would set her sights on, but Elle’s sweetness and innocent, girlish figure had already captured the attentions of a few passing nobles.
Perhaps this was another reason Maman had forced Elle into servitude—to give spoiled Ilyse a better chance at snagging an admirer and making a match.
It all tasted so sour in my mouth I wanted to spit it out. “Well I guess that excludes you,” I said, tugging off my gloves. “The king wants only well-bred young women.”
Ilyse tossed her shoe at my head. I ducked, and it went sailing over me to smack the opposite wall. “Better not let Maman see you like this,” I said mockingly, running from the room as Ilyse sent her other slipper hurtling toward my face.
Prayers of the Pitiful
Most nights I did not blow out my candle until the clock in the palace tower struck twelve. This night was no exception, but instead of reading the works of Perrault in my bed, I prayed. I prayed to le Seigneur to allow Michael and I to wed somehow—how could it not be His will that I marry such a good man? I begged him, asking him to forgive me for being so wild and brash at times—I would change so much if I could only have Michael for my husband rather than a brutish court pig.
I was almost weeping when a knock came at the door. Raising my head, I croaked, “Who is it?”
The door creaked open to reveal Elle, her tiny face pale. I sat up and patted the bed in front of me. “Come in,” I said.
“Are you all right?” she whispered, slipping inside on silent feet, her ragged night dress billowing around her legs.
I hesitated, then shook my head. “But I will be fine,” I said. “What about you?”
She raised her hands to run her fingers through her loose gold curls. “Do—do you think your mother will allow me to go to the ball, too?” she asked. Her gaze strayed to my window, from which one could see the palace rising against the night in the distance. It glowed with an ethereal gleam, as though ghosts were trapped within its walls. A cool breeze slipped into the room, raising goose bumps along my skin.
“I think she should,” I said, rubbing my hands across my arms. “But all you can do is ask her.”
She sighed. “I wish Father was still alive,” she said, then jammed her fist in her mouth. Her eyes squeezed shut against tears.
“Shhh,” I whispered, stroking her arm. “It’s all right, mon chéri.”
A sob broke out of her, and she fell into my open embrace. Poor little thing. She’d had no siblings until Ilyse and I entered her life, no big sister to coddle and cheer her despondent spirits. She nestled into me like a baby bird in desperate search of warmth.
She fell asleep in my bed, tucked in beside me as though we were full-blooded sisters. In truth, I felt closer to this ragged, ash-streaked thing than I did to my own sister. Strange how the world works in such mysteries.
When I woke the next day, well toward noon, Elle was gone, leaving nothing to remark of her existence in my room but a tiny spattering of ashes.
Petrov Skimov the Second
The next day at breakfast, Maman brought up the subject of the ball. I chewed the tasteless toast and eggs that Elle served and listened as Maman listed what Ilyse and I would need. Ilyse gave Maman her full attention, her entire being enraptured with the notion of frilled dresses and scented wigs.
I shuddered. Elle scooped an extra portion of eggs onto my plate. I shot her a grateful smile, ignoring Maman’s frown. It was her opinion that my waist was too thick for courtly beauty. But courtly beauties stuffed their faces with powders and kohl, smearing colour on their lips and fake hair on their heads. It was something I could not understand. In fact, I was toying with the idea of writing a novel like Petrov Skimov—I would write a satire about the ridiculous tomfoolery that passed as elegance in the royal court of Freanc.
The nobility would go insane over my novel, without understanding it poked fun at their very selves. I hid a snicker by coughing into my napkin.
“Stepmother,” Elle said softly.
I nearly choked.
Maman looked up from the list she had been reading aloud. “What is it?”
Elle took a deep breath. Her chin trembled, but she swallowed and said bravely, “Might I go the ball as well?”
Silence settled around the table. I waited, praying fervently to le Seigneur and any saints willing to intercede that Maman would say yes.
Maman dabbed her lips with a napkin. “Of course,” she said. I caught the curve of a smile from behind the linen; my heart sank. “If,” she continued, “you can find your own dress and carriage.”
Elle nodded. “Might—might I be paid ahead this month?” she asked.
Maman arched a brow. “Why?” she asked, then paused. “Oh, how silly of me. I didn’t tell you. Upon our marriage, your father borrowed money from me—quite a large sum, in order to start a business. It failed, of course, and his only assets left were his house, which I am not willing to sell. So you’re working off your father’s debt—and since that is the case, why would I pay you? I owe you nothing. You owe me everything.”
Elle staggered, clutching the edge of the table. I rose from my seat, speechless. My stepsister’s eyelashes fluttered as her eyes rolled back into her head. Racing forward, I caught her as her knees buckled. She was terribly light, and I hoisted her into my arms and carried her out without a word or look in Maman and Ilyse’s direction.
I strode through the kitchen, out the back door, across the yard—all the way to the coach house where Michael and the other coachmen dwelled. Madame Gastave, wife of one of the coachmen, opened the door. “Mademoiselle—” She gasped at the sight of Elle. “Ah non! La fille!” Tenderly she took Elle from me and led the way through a kitchen and communal living room into a dimly-lit hall. She laid Elle on the bed of the first chamber we came to. “This is our guest room,” she said with a warm smile, stroking Elle’s forehead and pulling a light sheet up to her chin. “We’ll take care of her here.”
I nodded, but I wasn’t quite ready to leave.
Madame regarded me with pity. “Michael has gone to tell your mother of his resignation within two weeks’ time,” she said, her voice quiet. “He has found another family willing to hire him.”
This time it was my knees that shook and threatened to collapse, but I kept myself steady and upright. Madame clucked, chucking me under the chin. “All will be well yet, Mademoiselle,” she said. “Just you wait and see.”
Choking back tears, I embraced her and fled the coach house. I ran blindly back to the mansion, only to smack into a comforting bulk I knew all too well. Without thinking I wrapped my arms around Michael’s waist and sobbed into his chest.
“Eloi—Mademoiselle—” He sighed in defeat and patted the back of my head, keeping his touch light and professional—as though all distraught daughters of nobility burdened their coachmen with their sorrows. Disentangling himself, he took hold of my shoulders and gazed into my eyes. “You must be strong,” he whispered. “Do not let your mother win by allowing her to see you weep.”
I sucked in deep breaths, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand. “Do you believe in miracles, Michael?”
“Of course,” he said, sounding surprised that I should even ask.
“Then start praying for one,” I said. “For all of us.”

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Fear of Fraud: An Honest Reflection

I'm doing something a bit different here: I'm reflecting and confronting. I'm very vulnerable here, and am literally confronting some 'demons' that I've struggled with for a long time, inspired by those who have done so before me.


Beauty and the Beast is perhaps my favourite fairy tale. When I saw the contest hosted by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, my mind started racing with ideas.

However, I've struggled with a lot of things in the past few years--whispers that I'm not good enough, not original enough. That what I have is, in the end, not genuine. That I'm merely a copycat, that what I want to give to the world has already been done. That my voice, whatever it may be, shouldn't be shared because it has nothing new to give. I worried so much about being too much like others that, in the end, I couldn't find myself as a writer.

And in the end, I pounded out a story just because I couldn't let those whispers win--because if I didn't write something, I would indeed feel like a fraud. All the ideas I'd dreamed of earlier withered because I felt they were not original enough, and by the time I'd found the confidence to commit to one despite those whispers, I almost didn't finish it.

Obviously, the story I did end up writing did not win the contest. But I received a different kind of victory. A victory over the devil's lies, a victory over a plague of anxiety that has haunted me for months. And while the anxiety still lingers (and perhaps always will), I know myself again.

I am a writer.

And I will never stop writing--despite disappointment, despite desperation, despite the devil. To spite the devil.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Antics and Adventures in Albion: Vlog, Part One

Hi everyone!

I am currently living in England for a four-month semester abroad program. To record some of our adventures, my friend Kristen and I decided to vlog together. So here's part one of our Antics and Adventures in Albion! :D

Friday, 16 January 2015

Cover Reveal! Draven's Light, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

I am very pleased to help host the cover reveal for Anne Elisabeth Stengl's newest novella, Draven's Light. The cover is absolutely lovely--very atmospheric, and the colours...

Well, here it is for yourselves!

In the Darkness of the Pit
The Light Shines Brightest

Drums summon the chieftain’s powerful son to slay a man in cold blood and thereby earn his place among the warriors. But instead of glory, he earns the name Draven, “Coward.” When the men of his tribe march off to war, Draven remains behind with the women and his shame. Only fearless but crippled Ita values her brother’s honor.

The warriors return from battle victorious yet trailing a curse in their wake. One by one the strong and the weak of the tribe fall prey to an illness of supernatural power. The secret source of this evil can be found and destroyed by only the bravest heart.

But when the curse attacks the one Draven loves most, can this coward find the courage he needs to face the darkness?

Coming May 25, 2015


You can win one of three ARCs of the novella, either by filling out the Rafflecopter form below, or entering over at Anne Elisabeth Stengl's blog.


ANNE ELISABETH STENGL makes her home in North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She is the author of the critically-acclaimed Tales of Goldstone Wood. Her novel Starflower was awarded the 2013 Clive Staples Award, and her novels Heartless, Veiled Rose, and Dragonwitch have each been honored with a Christy Award.
To learn more about Anne Elisabeth Stengl and her books visit:



Excerpt from
By Anne Elisabeth Stengl
(coming May 25, 2015)

He heard the drums in his dreams, distant but drawing ever nearer. He had heard them before and wondered if the time of his manhood had come. But with the approach of dawn, the drums always faded away and he woke to the world still a child. Still a boy.
But this night, the distant drums were louder, stronger. Somehow he knew they were not concocted of his sleeping fancy. No, even as he slept he knew these were real drums, and he recognized the beat: The beat of death. The beat of blood.
The beat of a man’s heart.
He woke with a start, his leg throbbing where it had just been kicked. It was not the sort of awakening he had longed for these last two years and more. He glared from his bed up into the face of his sister, who stood above him, balancing her weight on a stout forked branch tucked under her left shoulder.
“Ita,” the boy growled, “what are you doing here? Go back to the women’s hut!”
His sister made a face at him, but he saw, even by the moonlight streaming through cracks in the thatch above, that her eyes were very round and solemn. Only then did he notice that the drumbeats of his dream were indeed still booming deep in the woods beyond the village fires. He sat up then, his heart thudding its own thunderous pace.
“A prisoner,” Ita said, shifting her branch so that she might turn toward the door. “The drums speak of a prisoner. They’re bringing him even now.” She flashed a smile down at him, though it was so tense with anxiety it could hardly be counted a smile at all. “Gaho, your name!”
The boy was up and out of his bed in a moment, reaching for a tunic and belt. His sister hobbled back along the wall but did not leave, though he wished she would. He wished she would allow him these few moments before the drums arrived in the village. The drums that beat of one man’s death . . . and one man’s birth.
His name was Gaho. But by the coming of dawn, if the drums’ promise was true, he would be born again in blood and bear a new name.
Hands shaking with what he desperately hoped wasn’t fear, he tightened his belt and searched the room for his sickle blade. He saw the bone handle, white in the moonlight, protruding from beneath his bed pile, and swiftly took it up. The bronze gleamed dully, like the carnivorous tooth of an ancient beast.
A shudder ran through his sister’s body. Gaho, sensing her distress, turned to her. She grasped her supporting branch hard, and the smile was gone from her face. “Gaho,” she said, “will you do it?”
“I will,” said Gaho, his voice strong with mounting excitement.
But Ita reached out to him suddenly, catching his weapon hand just above the wrist. “I will lose you,” she said. “My brother . . . I will lose you!”
“You will not. You will lose only Gaho,” said the boy, shaking her off, gently, for she was not strong. Without another word, he ducked through the door of his small hut—one he had built for himself but a year before in anticipation of his coming manhood—and stood in the darkness of Rannul Village, eyes instinctively turning to the few campfires burning. The drums were very near now, and he could see the shadows of waking villagers moving about the fires, building up the flames in preparation for what must surely follow. He felt eyes he could not see turning to his hut, turning to him. He felt the question each pair of eyes asked in silent curiosity: Will it be tonight?
Tonight or no night.
Grasping the hilt of his weapon with both hands, Gaho strode to the dusty village center, which was beaten down into hard, packed earth from years of meetings and matches of strength held in this same spot. Tall pillars of aged wood ringed this circle, and women hastened to these, bearing torches which they fit into hollowed-out slots in each pillar. Soon the village center was bright as noonday, but with harsh red light appropriate for coming events.
Gaho stood in the center of that light, his heart ramming in his throat though his face was a stoic mask. All the waking village was gathered now, men, women, and children, standing just beyond the circle, watching him.
The drums came up from the river, pounding in time to the tramp of warriors’ feet. Then the warriors themselves were illuminated by the ringing torches, their faces anointed in blood, their heads helmed with bone and bronze, their shoulders covered in hides of bear, wolf, and boar. Ten men carried tight skin drums, beating them with their fists. They entered the center first, standing each beneath one of the ringing pillars. Other warriors followed them, filling in the gaps between.
Then the chieftain, mighty Gaher, appeared. He carried his heavy crescent ax in one hand, and Gaho saw that blood stained its edge—indeed, blood spattered the blade from tip to hilt and covered the whole of the chieftain’s fist. Gaher strode into the circle, and the boy saw more blood in his beard. But he also saw the bright, wolfish smile and knew for certain that his sister had been correct. The night of naming had come.
“My son,” said the chief, saluting Gaho with upraised weapon.
“My father,” said Gaho, raising his sickle blade in return.
 “Are you ready this night to die and live again?” asked the chief. His voice carried through the shadows, and every one of the tribe heard it, and any and all listening beasts of forests and fields surrounding. “Are you ready this night for the spilling of blood that must flow before life may begin?”
Gaho drew a deep breath, putting all the strength of his spirit into his answer. “I am ready, Father.”
Gaher’s smile grew, the torchlight flashing red upon his sharpened canines. He turned then and motioned to the darkness beyond the torchlight.
The sacrifice was brought forward.

I hope you all enjoyed this cover reveal--and enjoy the novella even more! It looks like it's going to be an eerie, heart-wrenching story!