Category Archives: Fantasy

Shapers of Worlds Volume II Edited by Edward Willett

In Shapers of Worlds Volume II, Saskatchewan-based author and publisher Edward Willett packages up 24 speculative short stories penned by writers who have been featured on his podcast, The Worldshapers. Published under the auspices of Shadowpaw Press, Willett’s own imprint, Shapers of Worlds Volume II offers stories ranging from alternate history to science fiction and fantasy. Though six of the tales have been previously published, the majority have not. Included between the pages are elves, mages, detectives, retired henchmen, ancient heroes, commoners, and athletes. Though a variety of characters and settings are employed, one thing is consistent—the stories are both engaging, and engagingly told.

Readers familiar with the Canadian speculative fiction scene will recognize a number of the included authors, including Ira Nayman, Matthew Hughes, Susan Forest, and Candas Jane Dorsey. Forest’s story, “The Only Road,” was one of the standouts. Historical fiction with a fantasy twist, “The Only Road” whisks the reader to India at the time of British occupation. Forest provides a strong description to aid the reader in making the trek. The story opens with the lines:

A tin wind-up drummer marched jerkily in its red uniform along the broad, flat surface of the Thangdu Temple balustrade as Orville waved a handful of the mechanical soldiers and cried out to buyers in the crowd. Above the restless flow of the market, the high, white cliffs of Khangchengyao sparkled in the clear morning air.

“Featuring a wide range of authors and settings, Shapers of Worlds Volume II performs the function of a speculative fiction sampler, offering a taste of different styles and themes.”

Though “The Only Road” reads like historical fiction, there is a mystical twist with references to the mystical land of Shangri, “a land of magic, a land said to perch at the top of a hanging valley, accessible only by no more than a gossamer ladder, a land that touched the realms of the Gods.” “The Only Road” is a backstory to Forest’s Addicted to Heaven series from Laska Media. The first two books in the series won Canada’s Aurora Awards for Best Young Adult novel in 2020 and 2021.

In “The Cat and the Merrythought,” decorated writer Matthew Hughes, author of the novels What the Wind Brings and A God in Chains, spins a tale of an ancient artifact that has more to it than meets the eye. The story, which features two good friends named Baldemar and Oldo, is packed with humour and makes for easy reading. In “I Remember Paris,” James Alan Gardner provides a re-imagining of the events that occurred after Eris, the Goddess of Discord, threw the ill-fated golden apple into the midst of a certain gathering. Entertaining and imaginative, the story is lent greater resonance by Gardner’s ending. In “Message Found in a Variable Temporality Appliance,” Ira Nayman shows the clever humour that is on display in his other works, including the Multiverse: Transdimensional Authority series. “Shapeshifter Finals” by Jeffrey A. Carver offers something of appeal for sports fans, describing a futuristic wrestling match between a human and a shapeshifter. At the same time, the story illustrates how the collaborative comradery of sport might transcend species boundaries. “Going to Ground” by Candas Jane Dorsey is also noteworthy.

One of the stories I found most enjoyable was S.M. Stirling’s “A Murder in Eddsford,” a detective tale set against a backdrop of an alternate-history Earth. In Stirling’s story, events occurring just prior to the year 2000 resulted in the total failure of all machinery: “under the laws of nature as they’d applied since . . . March 17 of 1998, you couldn’t get mechanical work out of heat, not in any really useful amount. Not in an engine, not in a firearm.” Set at a time just over 50 years after The Change, as it is referred to, “A Murder in Eddsford” portrays a world in which wind pumps, thatched roofs, and horse-drawn coaches are ubiquitous. Besides the intrinsic appeal of a well-rendered and familiar, yet different, world, Stirling provides an intriguing mystery as Detective Inspector Ingmar Rutherston attempts to unravel the circumstances behind the death of a much-disliked man named Jon Wooton.

Featuring a wide range of authors and settings, Shapers of Worlds Volume II performs the function of a speculative fiction sampler, offering a taste of different styles and themes. Besides being entertaining in itself, the collection might inspire further exploration of the works of authors the reader finds appealing.


About the Editor

EDWARD WILLETT is the award-winning author of more than sixty books of science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction for readers of all ages, including the Worldshapers series and the Masks of Agyrima trilogy (as E.C. Blake) for DAW Books, the YA fantasy series The Shards of Excalibur, and most recently, the YA SF novel Star Song. Ed won Canada’s Aurora Award for Best Long-Form Work in English in 2009 for Marseguro (DAW) and for Best Fan Related Work in 2019 for The Worldshapers podcast. His humorous space opera The Tangled Stars comes out from DAW in 2022. He lives in Regina, Saskatchewan. Find him at edwardwillett.com or on Twitter @ewillett.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Shadowpaw Press (Oct. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 544 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989398286
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989398289

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Off My Feet by Rachel Tremblay

In her fantastical Young Adult (YA) fantasy novel Off My Feet, Rachel Tremblay slays at delivering a wild ride of an adventure while also delivering many important and under-communicated messages to her younger audience.

Tremblay opens her novel with one of the best introductions to a character I have ever encountered in any writing, perfectly encapsulating the personality of Edie Stacks, the female protagonist we didn’t know we needed, in just a few lines:

“We are Stardust. Highly complex puzzles made up of the myriad pieces of carbon let loose from the explosion of a gazillion-year-old ball of glowing, hot gas. That’s us. All we are is intelligent dirt . . . that’s who I am. I am Edie. I am sun-loving dirt, and I like coffee” (2).

Edie is introduced to us with such gusto and grandeur that I could not help but fall in love with her in the first few sentences. I was soothed by her bitter and skeptical nature. I enjoyed watching as she interacted with the (dream) world around her. Tremblay unapologetically shows us who Edie is while taking us on a psychedelic adventure that unravels so much more than adorable aliens; it follows the slowly evolving and healing of Edie.

“Tremblay’s novel does so much more than entertain her readers. It gives voice and representation to those who are often forgotten in literature, especially literature targeted at engaging a younger audience.”

michala keeler

Tremblay marvellously has Edie established and fully fleshed out to the audience before any of her unfortunate history is disclosed to us, preventing any pre-existing stigma and connotation of trauma from clouding how the audience views Edie’s glorious character. Edie is not atrauma “survivor” we pity. Edie is a strong but vulnerable woman we admire and respect. Plus, with most of the audience’s sympathies already directed towards Edie’s fate rather than her past, Edie surpasses the mark for a perfectly developed a character that is much needed representation for many young people who have suffered similar traumas or know people who have.

Tremblay’s novel does so much more than entertain her readers. It gives voice and representation to those who are often forgotten in literature, especially literature targeted at engaging a younger audience. Edie is a character that can give hope those who can empathize with any of her struggles. To those who are unable to empathise with Edie or relate to her, she still brings awareness to some of the extreme hardships in life that many people may not have thought about or fully realized.

Overall, Off My Feet by Rachel Tremblayis an amazing novel that I recommend to anyone who wants an enjoyable, but important, read.


About the Author: Rachel(le) Tremblay is a Canadian artist, musician and writer. Working on poetry, songs and hip-hop lyrics in her young adult life, she also spent a lot of time drawing. Painting, music and poetry led her to finally write novels doused in magic and fantasy. A homeschooling mother, vegan and straight-edge, she lives against the grain as a spiritual warrior who believes in the innate goodness of the human heart. You can find her in her native Montreal or in the Laurentian woods walking her dogs or making art in some form or other.


  • Paperback : 346 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0969017278
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0969017271
  • Product Dimensions : 13.34 x 1.96 x 20.32 cm
  • Publisher: Grindspark Press (June 16, 2020)

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3jQcesP Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Seeds and Other Stories by Ursula Pflug

In my years of reading and reviewing, I consider Ursula Pflug one of my “finds”, that is, an author that I enjoy reading and want to read everything he/she produces. I was first introduced to Ms. Pflug by her 2017 novella Mountain. Down From (2018), is derived from the seeds of two short stories (“The Dreams of Trees” and “Daughter Catcher”) in this collection of her previously published works from the past decade or so. So, then, Seeds is a fitting title!

“Ms. Pflug’s style is a nice little mixture of literature, surrealism and sci-fi. In short, escapist reading with significance, if you will.”

There are twenty-six short stories in Seeds’ almost 300 pages, and while some are brief (“A Shower of Fireflies”) others are much longer and tell a more complete story averaging about 15-20 pages per story. Ms. Pflug’s style is a nice little mixture of literature, surrealism and sci-fi. In short, escapist reading with significance, if you will. The title story is post-apocalyptic science-fiction that seems a little closer to reality reading it in the midst of a pandemic. “The Lonely Planet Guide to Other Dimensions” has two hotels physically separated by distance, but connected by a portal:

“The hotel is a node. People from another dimension can stay here. The hotel exists in two dimensions at once, and in the other one it’s called The Red Arcade.”

What is fascinating about this story is that Rachel, living in one dimension, is writing a story about Esme, who lives in another, but they manage to meet via this portal. In “Mother Down the Well” a very different type of portal exists deep in a well on a farm in Ontario. Clarissa’s mother fell (jumped?) into it before Clarissa was born and has been living down there ever since.

My mother jumped down the well the day after her wedding to a local settler boy. Everyone thought her young husband must have been awful until a beautiful baby girl floated to the surface nine months later. That would’ve been me. Dave followed a year later although how Pa impregnated Ma once she was living down the well I was too shy to ever ask.
Pa did a fine job raising us. I think he missed my mother a lot and wished he had been able to provide whatever it was she got suckling at the portal down the well, but of course could not. Special as he may have been he couldn’t provide her with whatever other dimensional flavour it was she loved best, for it simply doesn’t exist here on Earth, not now and probably never. Ma never did tell me what it was either.

The above passage is a good example of Ms. Pflug’s pragmatic story-telling style as if things like portals and interdimensional travel are occurrences that are not unusual in themselves, they just transpose that way in the telling, like trying to explain the colour blue to a sightless person.

Is Seeds and Other Stories unusual? Yes. Far-fetched? Maybe, but not unreasonably so, I don’t believe. But this is what I so enjoy about reading Ursula Pflug. “A little bit of escapism with your literature, James?” “Yes, I don’t mind if I do Ms. Pflug, thanks.”


About the author: Ursula Pflug is author of the novels Green Music, The Alphabet Stones, Motion Sickness (a flash novel illustrated by SK Dyment), the novellas Mountain and Down From, and the story collections After the Fires and Harvesting the Moon. Her fiction has appeared internationally in award-winning genre and literary publications including Lightspeed, Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Postscripts, Leviathan, LCRW, and Bamboo Ridge. Her fiction has won small press awards abroad and been a finalist for the Aurora, ReLit and KM Hunter Awards as well as the 3 Day Novel and Descant Novella Contests at home.

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Inanna Poetry & Fiction Series (May 1 2020)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1771337458

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This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

As Fierce as Steel (Gold & Steel Saga) by Christopher Walsh

First-time novelist Christopher Walsh has penned a formidable fantasy novel in Fierce as Steel (2016), the first instalment in the Gold & Steel saga set in the country of Illiastra where revolution is brewing against the wealthy and all-controlling Elite Merchant Party (EMP) and the Triarchists, the sole ‘official’ state-sanctioned religion. The principal revolutionaries are the Thieves, led by the elusive Lady Orangecloak, whose mission is to “steal back freedom” for the oppressed. However, many of the Thieves are captured in a raid and imprisoned. Soon thereafter, Lady Orangecloak is captured by a bounty hunter and brought to Grenjin Howland, the leader of the EMP. Tryst Reine, the hired Master of Blades who is employed by Howland, defects from Howland’s service and effects Orangecloak’s escape from prison and convinces her to use her political leadership and combat skills to mount attacks against EMP-held territories.

“It is said that while Grenjin Howland is the controlling head of human Illiastra, it is the Lady Orangecloak that is the heart. The will of the people flows through you, my lady.”

Kevane Dupoire

That’s the story in a (very small) nutshell, but with under 700 pages to its credit, the story has many twists and turns and multiple threads of intrigue running through it. You can learn more about the characters and read an excerpt at https://thegoldandsteelsaga.com/.

Fierce as Steel has no wizardry, magic or dragons in its storyline. It is more like the “fantastical realism” style of Ian H. McKinley; it is set in mythical places, in a time when swords were the weapon of choice, but some guns (non-automatic) exist as well. There is also electricity, trains (coal-powered) and warships, but of the wood and sail variety. The action, when it occurs, is based on the skillset of the combatants, using stealth and disabling their foes rather than outright dispatching them, since the Thieves refrain from using violence if at all possible. Character development takes place through well-written (and well-worded) dialogues as well as each character’s thoughts and actions. While it took me some time to get through the book, it wasn’t due in any way to its size or pacing (I had other, shorter titles to read and review). Indeed, it is well paced, intriguing and easy to follow. The storyline of Fierce as Steel doesn’t confuse one with extraneous details about every little place person or thing. It would have been nice to have some maps of the countries Mr Walsh has created, but that is a minor point. I was also dismayed to learn that the F-bomb and other expletives also exist in this make-believe world, however, they are only employed by the basest of characters.  Fierce as Steel is quite an admirable work of writing for a first-time novelist, and it is with great eagerness I anticipate its sequel, The Worth of Gold. Highly recommended for fans of the genre.

Note: Fierce as Steel is available as hardcover or softcover, but for only $3.89, you can purchase the Kindle edition below.


Christopher Walsh was born in rural Newfoundland in 1985, a place he still calls home. The Gold & Steel series, which he has been crafting since 2009, is his first foray into the literary world.

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This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Harbinger: Book 1 of Northern Fire by Ian H. McKinley

New Brunswick’s resident writer of fantastic realism, Ian H. McKinley, has just released Harbinger, Book 1 of his Northern Fire series. It is firmly rooted in Nordic myth and legend, a time of swords, spears, axes, bow and arrow and fearless sea raiders that pillage enemy villages along the coasts and fjords of the Northlands.

“Mr McKinley’s writing style is solid and detailed, yet pleasurable to read. He has concocted a mythopoeic story of the first rank in Harbinger.” 

Four Children of Destiny

Four children are born in the village on Darknight (the winter solstice) marking them as special and destined for greatness, according to the villagers and seers among them. Harbinger (which is the name given to an unusual sword found by one of the children) traces the lives of the four (Lars, Thay, Cairn and Lora) as they grow, learning the ways of the village and the wills of the various gods they worship. Alll learn to handle the various weapons of the day for the village being on the coast could be at the mercy of the Sea Wolves without warning. The Sea Wolves are a little bit pirate, a little bit coast guard in that while they may give protection to a village that provides them with supplies and young men to train, they raid enemy villages and cart off spoil and men to serve as slaves at the oars.

When the four become of age they are given to the Sea Wolves by their parents (some of whom are former Sea Wolves themselves) to train and to become better Fjordlanders. While the Sea Wolves are off on a raiding expedition, the four are left behind to guard the three boats. The raid goes terribly awry and a lone survivor makes it back to the four instructing them to set fire to the boats and escape for their lives:

Lars clenched his teeth, heaved in a deep breath, nodded and hissed, “Aye, I’ll light a northern fire.” An odd look crossed Lora’s face and she said, “It’ll set the world ablaze.”

The four escape in the remaining boat and this is the true start of the adventures to follow as the sea takes them far from home and brings them ashore in a place they had only ever heard of, trying to survive as strangers in a strange land with varying customs, language and a healthy fear of the “Thorn People” as Fjordlanders are known as in these parts. Their fortunes improve somewhat when they come across the outcast Elkor, a bitter and disfigured man falsely labelled by the ignorant populace as a necromancer.

Conclusion

I truly enjoyed reading this book, and while I am not a fan of the wizards and warriors type of fantasy, Harbinger is closer to reality, aside from the place names which are realistic enough in their own right. Mr McKinley’s writing style is solid and detailed, yet pleasurable to read. He has concocted a mythopoeic story of the first rank and one that will have you highly anticipating Book 2 of Northern Fire: The Winter Wars, due in November 2017.

You can purchase copies of Ian’s books directly from his website, which also has coloured maps of the imaginary countries of Harbinger: http://northernfire.net/

Here is the official trailer for Harbinger:

Ian is a career diplomat with Global Affairs Canada who has served abroad in Colombia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and at the Canadian Mission to the U.N. in New York. He speaks English, French, and Spanish, and can say hello in Shona and Swahili. Ian is a proud member of the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick (wfnb.ca) and the Sunburst Award Society that promotes Canadian literature of the fantastic (sunburstaward.org). Ian was named a Prélude “Emerging Writer” at Frye Festival 2016. His previous book is The Gallows Gem of Prallyn.

This article has been Digiproved © 2016 James FisherSome Rights Reserved