The Wildkin’s Curse by Kate Forsyth

wildkins curseTitle: The Wildkin’s Curse

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 1st May 2010

Format: Paperback

Pages: 380

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Three times a babe shall be born,
between star-crowned and iron-bound.
First, the sower of seeds, the soothsayer,
though lame, he must travel far.
Next shall be the king-breaker, the king-maker,
Though broken himself he shall be.
Last, the smallest and the greatest –
in him, the blood of wise and wild,
farseeing ones and starseeing ones.
Though he must be lost before he can find,
Though, before he sees, he must be blind,
If he can find and if he can see,
The true king of all he shall be.

Merry, Zed and Liliana – three children born between those of hearthkin blood and starkin blood – are on a perilous quest to the Palace of Zarissa. Amid the splendour and treachery of court, they watch and wait: planning the rescue of Princess Rozalina, held captive in the dazzling Tower of Stars.

And as their pasts and presents unfold, their destinies become clear.

The engrossing companion to The Starthorn Tree by one of Australia’s best fantasy storytellers, Kate Forsyth.

Zedrin is a starkin lord, and heir to the Castle of Estelliana.

Merry is a hearthkin boy, the son of the rebel leader.

Liliana is a wildkin girl, with uncanny magical powers.

They must journey on a secret mission to rescue a wildkin princess from her imprisonment in a crystal tower. Princess Rozalina has the power to enchant with words – she can conjure up a plague of rats or wish the dead out of their graves. When she casts a curse, it has such power it will change her world forever. Set in a world of monsters and magical creatures, valiant heroes and wicked villains, The Wildkin’s Curse is a tale of high adventure and true love.

~*~

Sixteen years after The Starthorn Tree, Merry and Zed are fulfilling their parents’ promise – they have gone to live with Briony the Erlrune. Here, they meet Liliana, a wildkin girl who hates the starkin but is forced to work with Zed and Merry on a secret mission – they must collect seven feathers from seven birds to break a curse and save Princess Rozalina – doing so will set their land on a path to peace once the blood of the starkin, hearthkin and wildkin are united.

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Their mission is dangerous, and as they venture further into the land of Ziva, they encounter many dangers, but grow closer together as they begin to understand their mission and each other. Filled with fantasy creatures, magic and elements of fairy tale, this is a stunning companion to The Starthorn Tree. It continues the story seamlessly, but at the same time, enough hints are given that they can be read as stand-alone books, though work better read together, and I am going to read the final book – The Starkin Crown – soon.

The dangerous mission is filled with monsters and moments of terror – when you think the characters won’t get out of it – but of course, as in fairy tales, they do. I couldn’t decide who my favourite was – they were all such wonderful characters, but I think my favourite moment was when Priscilla, Zed’s sister, dressed in clothing a starkin wouldn’t usually wear, and pushed the sinister Zakary over when he tries to force her to marry him. Each character is complex, and this was definitely a delightful moment in the book as the characters worked towards uniting their land. There were many moments I enjoyed – this was just the stand-out for me.

These books are beautifully written and evoke all the classic archetypes of fairy tale quests but with unique twists that place the girls and women at the centre of the story and with great agency and powers, whilst still containing nods to Rapunzel and her tower. The role of towers is common in Kate’s books, and as a fellow fairy tale scholar, I love reading her works, and seeing how she’s incorporated the tower and Rapunzel story into her work. These fairy tale elements are seamlessly and creatively woven throughout – they might be more obvious in the children’s books, or certain adult books, but they are always there.

Another brilliant offering from Kate Forsyth that I loved as I work my way through her books that I have not yet read or not read for some time – there are ones I wish to re-read and hopefully, can get to them soon.

The Starthorn Tree (The Chronicles of Estelliana  #1) by Kate Forsyth

starthorn treeTitle: The Starthorn Tree (The Chronicles of Estelliana  #1)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 1st May 2002

Format: Paperback

Pages: 500

Price: $16.95

Synopsis:

Under winter’s cold shroud, the son of light lies.

Though the summer sun burns high in the skies.

With the last petal of the starthorn tree

His wandering spirit shall at least slip free…

Nothing can save him from this bitter curse,

But the turning of time itself inverse.

The young Count of Estelliana lies sleeping as still and cold as if he was dead. His mysterious slumber has subjected the people of his land to the harsh rule of Lord Zavion, the cold and ruthless Regent.  But when Durrik, the son of the town’s bell-crier, involuntarily prophesizes the count’s death before the entire starkin court, he catapults himself and his best friend Pedrin into the adventure of their lives.

Pursued by starkin soldiers, they must seek refuge in the Perilous Forest, home to the dangerous and unpredictable wildkin. It is only when they are forced into the company of the spoilt starkin princess, Lisandre and her servant-girl Briony that they begin to realise the meaning of Durrik’s riddle. But if they are to waken the count and save their people, they must survive the hazards of the forest where the sinister Erlrune of Evenlinn awaits them…

~*~

The Starthorn Tree was one of those books I just happened to stumble across at the age of sixteen during a visit to the big three level Dymocks in the city. I was looking for something new to read when my eyes fell on this book in the children’s section. It was the first Kate Forsyth book I picked up, and had an autographed edition sticker on it – my first for both, and as I found out from Kate over the weekend after showing her a picture, it is also a first edition – I will be hanging onto this one!

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The Starthorn Tree begins with Durrik and Pedrin listening to orders from the bell-crier, set forth by the Regent for the coming summer for all boys their age to help build a tower. But during a dinner at the palace, Durrik has a vision of the death of the count, stuck in an everlasting sleep in the palace, unable to be awoken by any remedies. He has been struck down by the same mysterious drink that took the life of his father and several others. Fleeing their home, Durrik and Pedrin soon stumble across Lisandre and Briony – and together, they venture deeper into the Perilous Forest, searching for a way to save Lisandre’s brother, the count. But with Zavion’s spies after them, and danger looming from the wildkin – can the four children – a combination of starkin, wildkin and hearthkin, find a way to work together and save their beloved country?

With each of her novels, Kate Forsyth works fairy tale motifs into them. Towers, those stuck in an enchanted sleep, princesses, and many more to create her stories. Drawing on this rich and diverse fairy tale history, she creates worlds like Estelliana that are captivating and when reading, it feels like no time has passed and as though you are within the story itself, so it felt like the pages just flew by. In this one, she sets everything up well, and the journey is both exciting and filled with peril, creating a fantasy world that has everything from Australia’s master storyteller. The amount of fantasy novels written by Australian authors has boomed since 2002 – but Kate Forsyth’s Starthorn books and her Eileanan books are the first ones I remember seeing, buying and reading – though I am sure there were others. It was these books that were my gateway into Kate Forsyth’s books and works as a whole, and I have a great many on my shelf today.

I could not put this one down and am starting the second one as soon as I am able to over the next few days. This was Kate’s first book for children as well – so many firsts with this book for her and me – which makes it really special. I am keen to see where The Wildkin’s Curse takes us – and how things have changed in Estelliana since Durrik, Briony, Pedrin and Lisandre’s original journey.

Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey

Where the dead go.jpgTitle: Where the Dead Go

Author: Sarah Bailey

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 5th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 464

Price:  $29.99

Synopsis: Four years after the events of Into the Night, DS Gemma Woodstock is on the trail of a missing girl in a small coastal town.

‘Every bit as addictive and suspenseful as The Dark Lake . . . Sarah Bailey’s writing is both keenly insightful and wholly engrossing, weaving intriguing and multi-layered plots combined with complicated and compelling characters.’ The Booktopian

A fifteen-year-old girl has gone missing after a party in the middle of the night. The following morning her boyfriend is found brutally murdered in his home. Was the girl responsible for the murder, or is she also a victim of the killer? But who would want two teenagers dead?

The aftermath of a personal tragedy finds police detective Gemma Woodstock in the coastal town of Fairhaven with her son Ben in tow. She has begged to be part of a murder investigation so she can bury herself in work rather than taking the time to grieve and figure out how to handle the next stage of her life – she now has serious family responsibilities she can no longer avoid. But Gemma also has ghosts she must lay to rest.

Gemma searches for answers, while navigating her son’s grief and trying to overcome the hostility of her new colleagues. As the mystery deepens and old tensions and secrets come to light, Gemma is increasingly haunted by a similar missing persons case she worked on not long before. A case that ended in tragedy and made her question her instincts as a cop. Can she trust herself again?

A riveting thriller by the author of the international bestseller The Dark Lake, winner of both the Ned Kelly Award and the Sisters in Crime Davitt Award for a debut crime novel.

~*~

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The third and final novel in the Gemma Woodstock trilogy goes off with a bang. First, a young girl goes missing. At the same time, Gemma’s ex-husband, Scott, dies, and she’s left to care for her nine-year-old son, despite people around her thinking she should leave him with his step-mother and baby sister. Instead, Gemma takes a job up the coast, near Byron Bay over the Easter holidays and takes Ben with her. She is called to investigate the disappearance of a local girl, Abbey, and the murder of her boyfriend. Everyone seems to think Abbey is dead as well – but is she really, and who in this town would want both of them dead?

The search for answers becomes complex as the story moves along, as suspects ebb and flow, and everyone starts suspecting everyone else. At the same time, whilst staying with the local police officer and his wife, Gemma starts to look into missing drugs from the hospital, and incorrect use of prescription drugs. With these two cases possibly linked, Gemma finds out there is much more to the murders and those on the suspect list than Gemma and her colleagues realises.

The final book wraps up many threads left over from the previous two books, whilst a murder and secondary storyline evolve over the novel to reveal a complex storyline on many levels – for the plot, the crime and the characters, especially Ben and Gemma as they deal with the death of their father and husband while Gemma investigates the crimes.

Referring back to previous cases, Gemma’s story and past is revealed more in this novel, and as she reconnects with her son, she finds herself wanting to be in his life more than she has previously.

Told in first person, everything is seen through Gemma’s eyes, and view of the world. She still feels like her family doubts her and thinks she should leave Ben’s care to Jodie, his stepmother, and try to convince her it would be better for both of them – this has been an ongoing thread throughout the trilogy. However, it feels like things will be resolved in the final book for Gemma and her family, and much like the crimes she investigates, things are not going to be simple or straightforward. But hopefully, she can work it all out.

What I’ve enjoyed about this trilogy has been the mysteries that Gemma has to solve and experiencing the world through her eyes. Intricate and deeply involved in every way and with every thread of the story. It’s an intense mystery that has the characters and reader on their toes – you never know what is coming, and even as various clues are dropped, they aren’t so obvious that I could work out who the real killer was, there was definitely a feeling that came from a couple of characters that made me instinctively not trust them and wonder if they had any involvement.

Overall, this was a really good way to end the trilogy, and I hope Gemma Woodstock fans will enjoy it.

Firewatcher Chronicles #1: Brimstone by Kelly Gardiner

Fire watcher BrimstoneTitle: Firewatcher Chronicles #1: Brimstone

Author: Kelly Gardiner

Genre: Historical Fiction/Time slip

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: December 1940, London: Christopher Larkham finds an ancient Roman ring inscribed with a phoenix on the banks of the Thames. As he takes shelter from the firestorm of the Blitz, the ring glows, and pushing open a door, he finds himself in 1666 and facing the Great Fire of London. Fire-and-brimstone preacher, Brother Blowbladder, and his men of the Righteous Temple have prayed for the ancient gods of fire to bring flames down upon London, a city of sin. Could Christopher be their messenger? Or was it the strange girl on the quay who drew him back in time? Why do the Righteous men wear the same phoenix symbol as the engraving on Christopher’s ring?

The Firewatchertrilogy blends time-travel, history, mystery and action into adventure as Christopher and his new friends race to untangle the truth of the phoenix ring, and face the greatest fires in the city’s history.

~*~

In 1940, Britain is in the grip of World War Two, and the Blitz has started to hound London day and night. Everyone has gas marks, is always ready to rush into the bomb shelters, and those serving on the home front spend their nights as fire watchers, watching the night skies for German bombers coming to destroy the city of London. One afternoon, Christopher discovers an old Roman ring whilst exploring the docks with his friend, Ginger.

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One night. whilst hiding out in the neighbourhood bomb shelter, Christopher opens a door into a world engulfed by fire. Watching London burning, Christopher thinks that at first, Hitler has won, and London is finished – yet a few differences to the skyline, and his meeting with Molly at the quay, make him realise he has fallen almost three hundred years into the past, into the year of the Great Fire of London – 1666. As he finds himself going back and forth 1940 and 1666, Christopher finds himself facing the threat of two evil leaders: Hitler in 1940, and Brother Halleluiah Blowbladder and his cult-like followers in 1666, who believe that fire is the only way to purge the city of sin. But why has Christopher been brought back? Well, like me, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

I love a good historical fiction and time travel story, especially one that is the start of a very engrossing trilogy from a renowned Australian publisher and a fabulous author I have recently discovered, and now want to read more by Kelly Gardiner, as well as find out what happens to Christopher in the next two books. The fire burns through each page, crackling and smoking as you read, and feel the fear and uncertainty of both events, even though today, in 2019, we know the outcomes of each event.

For Christopher, living through the Blitz and witnessing the Great Fire of London, the two events could start to bleed together, as he travels back and forth, and has to check where he is each time. Christopher is a great character – he’s smart, and not wholly perfect – which is what makes it all work so well, as does seeing two of the most terrifying events in London’s history through the eyes of children and the realities that they had to face. In an exciting new trilogy, history and time travel collide with mystery as Christopher is pulled into a mystery involving Brother Blowbladder.

Beatrix the Bold and the Curse of the Wobblers by Simon Mockler

beatrix-the-bold-and-the-curse-of-the-wobblersTitle: Beatrix the Bold and the Curse of the Wobblers

Author: Simon Mockler

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Bonnier/Piccadilly

Published: 1st July 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:Ten-year-old Beatrix is very good at telling jokes, dancing and throwing knives. She also happens to be a queen of a distant land – though she doesn’t know that yet. She also happens to be the queen who is quite possibly destined to lead the Wobblers to bold victory over the Evil Army – though she doesn’t know that yet either.

Beatrix lives in an enormous golden palace with Aunt Esmerelda the Terrible and Uncle Ivan the Vicious, but as she’s only been allowed to see one new room per birthday, she’s only ever been inside ten rooms of the palace. Her aunt and uncle have always told her that if she goes beyond the woods outside the palace she’ll fall off the edge of the world.

And the Dark, Dark Woods and all that lies beyond must be avoided at all costs – what if the dreaded Wobblers were to get her? But finally, the veil Beatrix has been living under is starting to slip. Beatrix knows she needs to be bold. Beatrix knows she needs to look for answers. And she’s about to get them.

Once upon a time, in a land far away, lived a small girl, and a big secret. The girl’s name was Beatrix, and the secret was … well, you’ll find out soon enough.

Beatrix is a bold and clever young thing, but she has also never left the palace where she lives – because then she might fall off the edge of the world or get eaten.

Er – really?

What is this big secret everyone’s keeping from her? Beatrix decides it’s time to look for answers. And with her trusty sidekicks Oi the Boy, Dog the dog and Wilfred the Wise, she can do anything.

~*~

Beatrix the Bold and the Curse of the Wobblers is the first in a new trilogy by Simon Mockler, about a princess who has spent her entire life so far in a palace of locked doors with her Aunt Esmerelda the Terrible and her Uncle Ivan the Vicious (who is probably no more vicious than a kitty), and for years hasn’t known anything about her parents. Until she overhears her uncle talking about her and battle plans. This discovery sets in motion a series of events that leads Beatrix to escape the palace, discover that her aunt doesn’t really want to protect her, and find new friends – Oi, Dog and her tutor, Wilfred, who help her plan to take down the Evil Army and find her family.

Beatrix’s story is set in a distant past and land, far removed from our own. However, the author including references to our world, usually as comparisons to how Beatrix does things in her world. These will work really well for a younger audience, and are not overdone, and nor do they take away from the story being told.

Beatrix is not like other princesses. When she’s not reading, watching her aunt paint the palace servants in gold paint, or at school, she’s playing chess and battles with her uncle Ivan. As the story progresses. Beatrix uncovers the secrets that have been kept from her, by the very person who was meant to be protecting her. From here, Beatrix’s quest, with Oi, dog and Wilfred, is to seek out her parents and real home – and save them from dangers that were predicted when she was a baby.

This delightful start to a new trilogy is enthralling and engaging and will appeal to a broad audience of readers. Filled with adventure, magic and everything enjoyable about this kind of book, and I am looking foward to the next two in the trilogy.

The Blood of Wolves by S.D. Gentill (Sulari Gentill)

blood-of-wolvesTitle: The Blood of Wolves (The Hero Trilogy #3)
Author: S.D. Gentill
Publisher: Pantera Press
Category: Fantasy/YA/Mythology
Pages: 440
Available formats: Print
Publication Date: 1/3/2013
Synopsis: The third and final book in the HERO TRILOGY
4 DARING YOUNG HEROES…
…INSANITY… HERESY…
AND A BLOODY WAR…
As empires fall and are founded anew, the Herdsmen of Ida join the refugees of Troy in search of a vague destiny promised by fickle gods. Amidst disaster, monsters, heresy and war they risk not only their lives, but their hearts, to twist the treacherous threads of fate and deny the desperate demands of blood.

~*~

The Blood of Wolves was my first introduction to S.D. Gentill’s work when I read it and reviewed it for the New South Wales Writer’s Centre. The second time around, having purchased and read the preceding books in the trilogy, I came to it with a better understanding of the events that led to what happened in this book, and found it just as enjoyable.
The fall of the Trojan empire and Aeneas’ attempts to position himself as the Son of the Goddess and to build a new city for his people coincides with the conclusion of the Trojan War and Hero and her brothers’ journeying to find Odysseus and their adventures following their encounters with him. Aeneas, and his young son, Iulus, who finds Hero a great comfort during the time the Trojans find themselves wandering with the kinsmen of The Herdsmen of Ida. Aeneas’ dedication to the gods and the signs they give him, so he says, capture Hero’s attention, even when it seems Aeneas is leading those with him into disaster.
Accompanied as they have been by she-wolf Lupa, throughout the trilogy, the siblings find themselves helping Aeneas, but then threatened by the Carthaginians when Machaon battles to gain the freedom of the Phaeacian princess, Nausicaa, who helped them during their search for Odysseus, and finally embroiled in tragedy that Aeneas claims has been foretold, the journey of the siblings must come to a conclusion. What that conclusion is to be can only be decided by yet more war and tragedy.
Gentill has yet again seamlessly woven ancient history and mythology into a fine narrative, accessible for young adults and anyone interested in Greek Mythology. In calling the chapters books, as in The Odyssey, and describing the gods as Homer did, it adds a layer of authenticity and familiarity for people who have read The Odyssey and texts with similar themes such as The Aeneid, and can introduce the idea of reading these texts to new readers. I found this trilogy to be enjoyable, and would love to revisit them. I recommend them to anyone interested in adventures and mythology or ancient history, and hope that future readers enjoy the journey as much as I did.

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