Book review: Project Hail Mary

With a title like ‘Project Hail Mary’, you figure that whatever stakes there are in the story, they must be high. And for this story in particular, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Our sun is dying. Energy – the literal light is being leeched by an interstellar bacteria dubbed astrophage, feeding off of our star’s light. The sun dims at the same rate as astrophage brightens. No one knows anything about this new threat. How does it feed? How does it breed, and most importantly: where did it come from?

Only one thing is certain: the consequences of the sun’s dimming will be devastating. Global collapse of the world’s agricultural systems. Ecological devastation. War. Civil unrest. Pestilence.

The only way to have a fighting chance at saving Earth is to follow the astrophage back to their home planet, study it, and see what its weakness is. It’s a one-way journey. Here’s the synopsis:

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian–while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

THE PROS

One of the (many) successes of this book is that regardless of what is going on in the story, there is a constant sense of dread. Weir is particularly gifted at making it very clear how many ways this mission will likely go sideways, either on Earth or out in space. Every second that Grace takes to determine his surroundings means one more second of potential chaos on Earth. And time is running out quickly.

Project Hail Mary was very difficult to put down, as there was always something new and exciting that made me want to read more. The stakes were unbelievably high (saving the Earth and all human kind? No biggie). And reading about the science was really interesting.

Now, as a non-science person myself, I really appreciated how Weir explained very difficult concepts (well, difficult to me at least) in a really approachable way. Weir is a devout space nerd and hobbyist, and it shows in the quality of the writing that he indeed did a lot of research to make this book seems as fluid as it is. It made the story that much more realistic, and even if I didn’t grasp every scientific concept brushed upon in the book, I understood enough to follow along with the story and see the impact.

This book was an automatic five-star read for me. The story is told in two timelines: the present, where Grace is on the Hail Mary, and the past, which come in the form of burst of his memories. These memories also happen to contextualize what is happening in the present, and I found it a brilliant way to show the reader what happened, without telling them outright. The back and forth also did a great job in cranking up the tension, especially as it becomes clear that Earth’s position is even more dire than initially thought.

And, without giving any spoilers…the ending of the book was one of the most beautiful I’ve read in a long time. I teared up a bit reading those last few pages, and was completely taken by surprise.

THE CONS

Now, ‘cons’ is a strong word for me being really nitpicky about a few things in an otherwise fantastic book. But every work has parts that aren’t as strong as the whole.

Ryland Grace is a multi-dimensional character, and the flashbacks peel away aspects of his personality in a really elegant and thoughtfully executed way. One of Weir’s strengths as a writer is creating main characters that are easy to relate to.

Now, on to the ‘but’: For all of Ryland Grace’s personality traits, he reads very much like Mark Watney, the main character of Weir’s debut science fiction novel The Martian. They share near identical types of humour and react very similarly to different situations. Personally, I didn’t care much, since I enjoyed reading The Martian and liked the humor injected into the story. But I do concede that it might annoy readers.

Another nitpicky thing with some of the tertiary characters from Earth in the story is that they sometimes come across as a little one-dimensional according to their nationality. For example, Russians enjoying vodka, or Canadians being unabashedly positive. These are characters who do not appear for very long, and for whom it wouldn’t make sense to delve into their backstories for longer than necessary. But, it’s something important to mention.

If you enjoy science fiction stories, dystopias, or epic adventures, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Project Hail Mary ASAP. You won’t regret it!

Must-read indie books for Spring

Do you read books by indie authors? The blockbuster hits are, of course, incredible. Who can forget A Song of Achilles, or Throne of Glass?

But recently, I’ve gained a huge appreciation for indie books, and by extension indie authors. There are so many good stories published by small presses, or self-published by authors themselves. As a small-press author myself, I know how even just a little recognition can go a long way.

Here are some indie reads that you should absolutely check out:

The Soft Fall, by Marissa Byfield

Genre: YA Fantasy / Roman Myth retelling

Demon wolves roam the forest, the villagers all said. Dianna had been warned to stay away.
She didn’t listen. Now every full moon Dianna slinks into the cellar beneath the barn. Into the cage made by her brother to protect her secret. One that would get her burned at the stake by the village leaders if discovered.

The heirs to the throne disappear just as their enemies lay siege to the empire. Famine hits the village as it struggles to survive. Dianna does what she can to hunt and help. But her secret is discovered when she transforms during an attack. Captured and imprisoned, Dianna must find a way to escape. If she does, she has only one direction to go. Into the heart of the forest where she was cursed.

The Soft Fall is a refreshingly new take on the werewolf genre that mixes classic tenets with new ideas. In Byfield’s world, the wolves are prisoners of their own bodies. They are not inherently evil, just cursed.

The plot to the book is well-paced, and the features a diverse set of characters. Byfield writes with a poetic eloquence that makes it hard to put the story aside. It’s incredibly well-written, and an absolute must-read for any fantasy or Roman mythology fans! Dianna is a strong, independent young woman who will not bend to the expectations that others have for her. She is her own person who fights for those she loves while desperately trying to understand her place in the world.


Check out The Soft Fall on Amazon!

Clockwork Detective, by R. A. McCandless

Genre: Steampunk / Fantasy

Aubrey Hartmann left the Imperial battlefields with a pocketful of medals, a fearsome reputation, and a clockwork leg. The Imperium diverts her trip home to investigate the murder of a young druwyd in a strange town. She is ordered to not only find the killer but prevent a full-scale war with the dreaded Fae.

Meanwhile, the arrival of a sinister secret policeman threatens to dig up Aubrey’s own secrets – ones that could ruin her career. It soon becomes clear that Aubrey has powerful enemies with plans to stop her before she gets started. Determined to solve the mystery, Aubrey must survive centaurs, thugs and a monster of pure destruction. 

The Clockwork Detective was the first Steampunk novel that I read, and I loved it! I have the highest praise for McCandless’s book. Aubrey is a nuanced protagonist, who is both strong yet vulnerable, with flaws that make her human and relatable. The story itself kept me on my toes, as political interests weave in with the magical. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and anything in between.


Steampunk and fantasy come together in this heart-stopping detective novel that hits all the right tones. There’s mystery, hints of romance, and controversy afoot. Aubrey must solve the mystery of the murdered Druwyd, and fast, before the Imperium decide to go to war with the fae roaming the ancient woods near Aquilinne.

Check out The Clockwork Detective on Amazon!

The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past, by Tiffany Lafleur

Genre: YA Fantasy

Beast Whisperer – that was Lily’s special talent. Useful, but not as flashy as some. Or so she thought. When she was a child, Lily had washed up on the riverbank near Basolt, with no memory of who she was. Taken in by the couple who found her, she was raised as their own, alongside their new baby. Years later she does something extraordinary. And word spreads of a new Spirit Hopper, someone who can enter into and control not only beasts, but people.

Someone who can change the land of Sapeiro. Someone who supposedly died years before. The rumors catch the attention of those who would control her power. Those who would use Lily for their own purposes, no matter how many lives it costs. They set their plots to capture her in motion. But Lily discovers there is at least one group who might hold the key to her real identity. One group who would protect her. But trust does not come easily for Lily. And her would-be saviors have secrets of their own. 

A Forgotten Past is the first book in The Sapeiro Chronicles trilogy. Lily is a complex character who finds herself in the middle of a years-long secret conflict, a conflict she wants nothing to do with. But Lily will need to weigh her resistance to adventure with the consequences of not partaking. A whole kingdom hangs in the balance while she decides which side to take.

Sapeio is a grand land, where everyone has inherited a touch of magic. A Forgotten Past is a fast-paced novel that is at heart uplifting, at times heart-wrenching.

Check out A Forgotten Past on Amazon.

Republic of Ruin, by L. Blaise Hues

Genre: YA Dystopia / Post-apocalyptic

Forget life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… Surviving is a feat in and of itself.

Seventeen-year-old Ellie Hudson immerses herself in the few things the Supply Wars haven’t destroyed—her ranch work and secret baseball games with her best friend. But her power-hungry stepmother is leading a group of domestic terrorists in an effort to start another Civil War and frame Ellie as the instigator.

Ellie’s lost her father, her home, and her country, but nothing can rob her of her need to preserve the American dream…or what’s left of it.

I had the absolute pleasure of being an ARC reader for L. Blaise Hues’ Legacy of Debris series, which includes three books, the first of which is Republic of Ruin.

An EMP attack has completely obliterated what we know the modern world to be. No more power, no more technology, only you and your skills. In the power vacuum left in the dust, some want to rise from the ashes and elect themselves as rulers. What I found most enthralling about the Legacy of Debris series was how realistic it was. This is not a story where you need to suspend your understanding of reality. The circumstances that led to the apocalypse are unfortunately not that far-fetched.

Republic of Ruin has all the makings of a classic in the genre: a heroic heroine, a nation holding itself together by a thread, a budding romance. But it also has elements that make it unique. Each book in the series is also a fairy-tale retelling. And let me tell you, it works surprisingly well!

Check out Republic of Ruin on Amazon.


The Wise One, by K. T. Anglehart

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy / Witches

Mckenna’s never thought much of her nightmares, but on her seventeenth birthday, a vivid dream of burning at the stake awakens her dormant abilities, thrusting her into a world where faeries are real, spirits hold a grudge, and a High Priestess obsessed with a 16th-century prophecy is tracking her every move.

​Now, her overprotective dads, Seán and Andre, are forced to tell her the truth—they know who her birth mother is, and her life is not the surrogate story she’s ​always ​been told. Abigail, Mckenna’s mom, is some sort of mystic, and Mckenna a Wise One. ​Whatever the hell that means.

​With the help of a persistent little wren and company of a newfound friend, Mckenna journeys to Ireland in search of her mother and real answers. Along the way, she learns to harness her innate magic and trust her intuition, as best she can anyway—Cillian, a kind and passionate delegate ​who crosses her path, is proving much harder to read. ​Only her mother could truly help her halt her ill fate and prepare her for what’s to come…before she gives in to the darkness she knows is buried deep within. 

The Wise one was a wonderfully witchy read, with strong elements of friendship and powerful family bonds that span oceans. Oh, and the best part? It’s set in the 90s!

The Wise One is a beautifully written book that takes us cross North America all the way to Ireland, where McKenna was born. As she embarks on her adventure of self-discovery, she makes friends along the way that help her in her search for her mother. But their motives might not be as genuine as they appear to be.

I read the whole book in like, two days. I had a very hard time putting it down, and I loved all the 90s references! An absolute must-read for anyone who enjoys reading about witches, friendship, magic and prophecies.

Get your copy of The Wise One on Amazon!

Time to Live, Jordan Elizabeth

Genre: NA Urban Fantasy

A witch’s magical orbs. Clan Wars that have lasted centuries. A heritage shrouded in secrecy.
Welcome to seventeen-year-old Banon Andreeta’s world.

Banon is a child of Clan Genae and can do things most people can’t. Which might account for her rebellious behavior. Or maybe she’s just a magnet for trouble. Either way, she’s in hot water more often than the average teen. When she rejects Fred, a random creep at the mall, she makes an enemy who will bring unwanted attention from Clan Julae, her own clan’s mortal enemy.

She also makes a friend in Clan Julae – the intriguing Hadley. Drawn to each other, neither understands the forces behind the attraction. Or that they are from opposing clans. Hadley only knows Banon is in danger and he must protect her. But the long-standing Clan War is not as much in the past as the Genae thought. Their very existence is threatened by enemies known and unknown. And the only thing between them and death is Banon. A secret weapon even they don’t know they have.

Time to Live is a beautiful story of love that spans hundreds of years. But it’s also a story of betrayal and the power that lies have when they become perceived truths. The characters were well developed and I found myself unable to put the book down as I rooted for them to achieve their goals!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and was impressed with how the author was able to jump between timelines seamlessly. I look forward to the sequel! Highly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading urban fantasy. 

Check Time to Live on Amazon!

HOW TO MAKE AN AUTHOR’S DAY

As the air outside gets colder, and windows begin to glisten with an effervescent sheen of frost on them in the morning, it can only mean one thing.

I will start wearing gloves and a hat to type, because it’s cold as **** outside. Also, winter is coming, and all the darkness with it. The bright side is the pretty lights, the Christmas tree, and general Holiday cheer in the air. Even with the… circumstances…that we are living through in 2020, there is still reason to celebrate and be merry, even if it’s from six feet apart.

On to the good stuff. You may have come in possession of an author recently. Maybe it’s a friend, a partner, a child, or a colleague. And you may be wondering how to make their day. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place! Authors aren’t really that complicated. All they need is a bit of love, some caffeinated warm drink, and long stretches of silence. But there are absolutely ways to help them as they fledge into their final author form and grow as writers. Here are a few easy, simple and cheap ideas on how to make an author’s day.

Buy their book

This point may seem terribly obvious, but buying an author’s book is a great way to encourage them to continue writing and working on their passion projects. It’s also a way to achieve rankings on Amazon and other book-seller websites.

Authors spend hundreds, if not thousands of hours poring over their work, trying to catch every mistake, plot hole, and under-developed character before the book is printed. It has been re-read so many times by the writer that the words melt into one another and the story stops making sense.

So every copy sold, even if it’s bought by a friend or family member, brings a small ray of sunshine into the little author’s heart. And each copy sold brings with it the hope that more copies will be sold through word of mouth, until eventually complete strangers begin picking up copies of the book!

So, buy the book. It is the easiest way to support your author friend. Even if it isn’t a genre that you read, even if it will sit on your bookshelf for years. Buy the book. Don’t ask for a free copy. It invalidates the blood, sweat, tears and literal thousands of dollars the author may have poured into bringing the book to market.

Buy the book.

Buy the book for your friends

Good, so you bought yourself a copy. Now, consider buying it for your friends. Did the author in your life just publish an illustrated kid’s book? Buy it for the end-of-year raffle at your child’s day care.

Or better yet, get all your holiday shopping done at once and buy copies for all the children in your life, get them signed, and then be the cool person who brought signed books for all the kids. It’s a good look, trust me.

Buying copies for others is a great way to spread the author’s work and maybe inspire others to check their work. Your author friend will be grateful for the exposure, and for the thoughtful gesture! Not to mention, it might be the fastest holiday shopping you ever do.

Review the book

Authors have a fickle relationship with reviews. On the one hand, a good review can inspire another potential fan to pick up a copy and give the book a shot. On the other, a needlessly cruel review can drive potential buyers away and result in lost sales. But the worst is having no reviews.

Obtaining reviews is hard. Like, harder than writing the book. It’s the literary equivalent of pulling teeth.

Think of it, how many times have you reviewed a product? Yet how much do you rely on reviews when buying things?

There’s a reason authors are obnoxiously annoying about getting people to review their books. And it’s because every review counts. Every little star is worth its weight in gold, and helps bring the book one step closer to finding its way to another potential fan.

This is especially true for Amazon reviews. Amazon works with complex algorithms that are akin to magic. But they do bring people towards products they are likely interested in. Blame it on Big Brother, but the algorithms work wonders in making sure your target audience is targeted.

Thing is, these algorithms only work if the reviews are in. No one really knows what the ‘magic’ number is, what number brings you closer to having your book in a newsletter. But the general consensus is that reviews are good, and a product that has many good reviews has a higher likelihood of being recommended to audiences interested in the product.

So yeah, buy the book, and then review the book.

Talk about the book

So you’ve read the book, reviewed the book, and bought copies for your friends. What’s next? Now it’s time to talk about the book. Have you ever suddenly become interested in a movie or show because someone spoke about it? Same happens with books.

Sales and exposure are the two things that authors crave. And they work hand in hand. Have good exposure? You’ll probably have decent sales. Have good sales? It’s probably going to lead to more exposure. The effect is exponential. The more people are exposed to a product, the more likely they are to think it is good, and the more likely they are to give it a chance.

So go ahead. Share that book picture on Instagram! Recommend the book in a thread asking for good entertainment. A lot of times, authors take care of their own marketing, and it can be really, really heartbreaking when it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. So hyping up a book on social media is really the best way to help support your author friend.

And it doesn’t just need to be once! The effect is compounded: the more people who do it, and the more often, the higher the chances someone will stumble upon the book and like what they see.

So you see? Supporting your author friend isn’t complicated, and nor is it expensive! But each of these little things brings a lot of recognition and exposure to the author and will help them as they grow their audiences and flourish as a writer.

Interested in supporting an indie author? You can do so by buying my book The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past here! And don’t forget to review it once you’re done reading!

THE IMPORTANCE OF A BAD FIRST DRAFT

Writing is stressful. It isn’t this blissfully serene activity, where writers spend their days on high-backed chairs sipping a perfectly roasted cup of coffee while story arcs magically plot and write themselves.

No. every word choice is agonizing. Every plot twist takes time and preparation to, well, plot.

From the second draft to the fourth (or fifth, tenth, or how ever many it may take to get to a final), stress levels are high as you boil down the words to their most perfect form, and strip away any imperfections within the narrative arc.

But here’s the thing: a lot of writers stress about this in their first draft. And that’s a bad thing. You may be asking yourself: “but shouldn’t my first draft be the best it can be so I can build from there?”

Here’s the short answer: no, it doesn’t.

The longer, more elaborate answer is that your first draft doesn’t need to be perfect, because perfection isn’t the goal.

No story is perfect, ever, but especially in the first few drafts. The story is still figuring out what it is trying to be. Even if you, the writer, may think you have everything perfectly plotted out and ready to go. The story needs room to breathe and expand.

The only expectation you should ever have of a first draft is to have it written. It doesn’t need to be good. Doesn’t even need to have all the pieces. It just needs to be on paper, and it needs to be finished in the sense that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the first draft, the focus should be on story and making sure the main plot points are all in the right-ish order.  

You can always go back and tinker with the writing to your heart’s content. But focusing on the writing is kind of like choosing an outfit without looking at the forecast: might work out, but you might need to get changed. When you focus on the story, then you can make sure the pacing is good, the characters are where they need to be at the right time, and all the steps are in place.

The first draft is as bad as your story will ever get. It’s all improvement from this point on.

I’m a huge advocate of a bad first draft. My first draft for A Forgotten Past was just under 50,000 words. A few dozen drafts later, and the final was just over 100,000. The first draft was not publishable. Neither was the second or third. I would never have dreamed of sending it to an agent.

And that alleviated a lot of pressure. The stakes were lower. This draft just needed to be done, typos, mistakes, and run-on sentences galore. I didn’t care, because it didn’t matter. No one, short of a few trusted friends, would ever read that monstrosity.

But because I didn’t sweat the small stuff, I was able to get a first draft out in a few short months. And from there, I refined, re-plotted, re-wrote, and edited, edited, edited.

All the writers I know all agree on one thing: it’s a lot easier to edit than to write. Staring at a blank page is awful. The stakes are so high, needlessly so.

But editing is a thing of beauty. You have an outline, maybe not a clear one, but an idea is beginning to form, and it just needs some polishing. Your first draft is the putty that you need to sculpt your masterpiece. It needs to be sculpted and mashed and cut and worried for it to resemble something worth displaying.

Without that first bad draft of A Forgotten Past, I might never have finished the whole book. Or maybe I’d still be writing it. But by hanging up my pride as a writer and embracing a get-‘er done attitude, I was able to have fun just writing and throwing ideas onto a page for an older and wiser version of myself to edit at a later time.

The more time you waste on trying to find the exact, perfect word to describe something, the less time and energy you have on building your story.

And remember: story is everything. Readers will forgive a good book that is written okay. But good writing cannot cover for a bad story.

Fantasy Writer Spotlight

Since becoming more involved in the writing community online, I’ve had the absolute pleasure of meeting a ton of amazing writers with incredible stories.

One of those writers is Jonathan Chandler. I had the pleasure of reading his entire manuscript for Bright Claw, a fantasy story about a wolf who goes on a journey to discover who she really is, and how her relationship with her mother, the pack leader, has impacted her self-image. It’s an amazing story with a heartfelt cast of characters who each have their own struggles and conflicts to surmount.

Since our audiences and stories are similar, Jonathan and I decided to do a blog swap! You can read Jonathan’s blog here.

Here’s what Jonathan had to say about why he writes, and what his story is about.

What is your story about?

            Bright Claw follows a hunted wolf, fleeing the harsh and overbearing rule of her mother and the pack her mother commands. After refusing to give up the hiding place of a rival god filled being in the ancient and wintry forest her mother rules, the wolf eventually named Bright meets another outcast named Trickclaw, who shows her the merits of being willing to fight even one’s own blood for the right to live life one’s own way.

            It’s a story about coming to terms with the pains that have made your parents the way they are; about accepting the harshness of a world where power seems to be the only way to survive. It’s a story of the loneliness suffering creates in us and the will it takes to overcome that isolation.

            While gods and fate seem to clash with Bright’s pursuit of happiness, her adventure will call for her to accept those things and still, somehow, remain herself.

Why do you write?

            When I was younger, I used to fancy myself a debater. I loved playing devil’s advocate, but more, I loved when I could unpack the layered perceptions that led someone to believe what they did. And, in doing so, I loved when I could take part in creating an entirely new, often more nuanced perception—that even I hadn’t had before.

            As beings of flesh and bone and spirit—of thought—we are constantly living at odds with the world and each other. With our varied experiences and physical separation from one another, with our individual bodies and minds, we often feel we have no choice but to designate the differences in others as either wholly good or wholly bad. We have to make others either friends or foes, or risk being overrun by the problems of the world around us, and the basic physical needs we each have. Yet, in spite of that reality, we humans have managed to create societies, communities, and nations that have worked in concert to thrive in a harsh world and have even begun to manipulate those fundamental aspects of reality that only the gods had dominion over in the past.

            We have survived and evolved. And not just by chance. We didn’t simply always give in to our instinct to make lines of ‘us’ and ‘them’. We discovered a magic, I think, that does more than even a revelatory debate, because it acts as a neutral party to mitigate the effects of ego on the ensuing change of the involved parties’ spirits. That magic was storytelling.

            The act of creating a dialogical space where empathy could bridge the gap of our physical selves, helped us see other points of view and ways of experience. It helped us find common ground. It helped us continue to expand the once small tribes that our ancestors fought and bled for. Now, we sit on the edge of an interconnectivity that no one has experienced before, because of the momentum of that magic and the technology its seeded desires have given birth to, through us. I want to be a part of that.

            I no longer consider myself a debater—though I’m sure I argue as much as anyone else in these days. I don’t want to fight. I want to experience. I want to cry, live, love, and share in the magic of stories in whatever way I can. Because, I think, writing stories is the most human thing that can be done, and I can’t see myself doing anything else.

What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

            World building; initial plotting and character sketching, are all my favorite parts of creating a story. When you’re someone that, perhaps, spends too much time in your own head, it can be a surprising thing to discover that you don’t know everything that can be found there. I’m sure everyone has moments of introspection that coincidentally lead to recalling a vague memory, or person, or idea. But those small moments are often fleeting and rarely do more than bring up sparks of the emotion they had when they were first experienced. The nostalgia is short lived, however true it might feel for a little while.

            Unearthing a gem in the back of my mind and rotating it in the hands of my perception has always been a passed time, nonetheless. And I’ve found that writing enhances this act. It digs deeper and melds together half forgotten things of your past to produce something novel (to you and the world—oh, and no pun intended there, ha).

            The feeling of wonder that comes with the contradictory feeling of familiarity is the reason I love plotting and building worlds—particularly in fantasy, where archetypes let us graft our experiences intuitively. I think, just like how story allows people to connect with others outside of themselves by internalizing external experiences, I think story making allows a person to connect with the ‘other’ in themselves through the exercise of externalizing what has been left subconsciously internalized throughout their lifetime. Learning about the good and bad parts of myself, that I never knew before—or have never been able to articulate before—is the reason I keep staring at blank pages until my head hurts.

Here’s an exerpt from Jonathan’s incredible story:

She wasn’t alone. She only felt like it. There was a pressure, a pressing on the sides of her eyeballs that shadowed everything in a way that pulsed with the beat of the blood in her veins.

            The ravens’ magic? Bright wondered.

            There was another wolf with her, whining and growling plaintively for her not to press on. It was a familiar complaint, from a familiar source. She ignored it, in spite of her present self-howling for her to listen to the tag along her mother always sent with her. To watch her.

            To stop me from wandering too far….

            She was too far. The shadows broke along her memory self’s path, creating a tunneled vision toward the very place Bright of the present had run so far away from.

            There was a copse of ashen trees, clustered oddly together, so that they were like a great beaver’s damn emerging into Bright’s vision. She investigated them, sniffing up and down the wall’s length for an opening, a place where the scents beyond could become an inviting cloud.

            This place had been new to Bright. This was a place the pack hadn’t been. A place her mother hadn’t marked.

            It was a horizon. A place I could have made my own. It had been so important to do that, Bright of the present lamented. Then her past self found a way through the wall. There was a place where the lay of the trees was untethered with a dip in the ground. She had to dig to clear dirt, moss, and the ominous bones of some small beast, but the Bright of the past was undaunted.

            She was spurred on by a strange scent that grew and grew in her nostrils, until it was all she could think about. She smelled, beyond the dirt and roots and bark, animal flesh and smoke. Like the sky had sent down one of its blinding, jagged furies to start a fire in the Wood. But the smell didn’t have that warning itch, that dryness of the air that would have scared her off. There didn’t seem to be a storm brewing.

            Again, this had been something new; fire without the scent of a spark.

            When she broke through, she learned the terrifying why.

            There was the hollow skin from a bear, standing next to a fire, surrounded by small stones. Bright snarled immediately, even before she got her body free of the hole she’d dug beneath the clustered and stacked trees. The thought of how vulnerable she was rolled through her past self in a chill down her spine, making the Bright that had to watch bark in time with her vision.

            What kind of bear wasn’t afraid of a fire? What kind of fire wasn’t wild and ravenous, consuming all it could snare?

            This bear, placid and sunken in many places, was nearly hugging the flame; as if it had no fur to warm it. This fire was tame, beneath a conical roof of tinder, content to nibble at its own housing and blacken it to ember.

            The sunken bear moved at the barks past Bright threw at it. But it didn’t move like a bear. The head didn’t raise and the eyes, the wolf realized, were empty sockets— sightless.

            Bright of the present, who saw this as a ghost might, through eyes too far away to control what was seen— to demand her past self to turn away— watched the tunneling shadow of her vision condense around the figure that was not a beast of any kind. It stood tall, having been crouched in the guise of an animal. As it did, the fire it had been huddled over cast a dancing light on its skin.

            Skin. Not fur. The thing, the lanky, but muscled thing that stood on two legs, had almost no hair, save for its shoulders, face, and head. In its head were piercing eyes, darkened by the cowl of the bear pelt and strong brow.

            Bright had never seen anything like it. Her past self knew to fear it though. After all, what prey thing could wear a dead bear.

            It took a pack of wolves to kill a bear, normally. This creature had apparently done it alone, because Bright scented no others. The question of how crawled over Bright’s mind for a moment. Then the thing spoke. And, having now felt what god-speech is like from a more mortal creature, Bright of the present could not help but flinch at the force of a god’s thoughts given form.

            Through this vision, Bright experienced the sights this new god had cast into her and all around her, a second time.

            While the fear of this new thing speaking seized her chest, the Bright of the present had the mind to keep her eyes opened as the god spoke its words to spawn sights not just into her mind, but into the world itself.

            That was the power of true god magic. Bright’s mother could do the same, as host of Great Cold. It created more than visions. It created the real. But no god Bright had ever heard of had ever been able to produce so much. What was this god’s name that it had mastery over the trees, earth, and fire?

            Only the Bright of the present could now wonder if indeed the strange new creature was full of only one god at all.

            Trees sprouted with loud cracks of stone and earth, right in front of the wolf and made her jump from the hole that was her only apparent escape. She was nearly bowled over sideways when a fir erupted at an angle to her left and thundered toward the sky, headless of the wolf in its path. Then another sprouted and lanced through her now wounded ear. Bright of the present cried out from the doubly present pain.

            More words came, followed by trees and rocks and fire gouts that licked the pads of her feet. At one point, her breath a scratching coil in her chest, incomplete and panic inducing, she was seized. Great arms grabbed her by the scruff and tried to wrestle her from her feet. But she thought of the bear. She thought of the blackness of those empty eyes and the icy gaze of the figure wearing the bear’s sockets as its own. 

            She felt like prey. She felt like death was near.

            I had looked for a horizon— not an end!

            She twisted in the god’s grip. She lashed out with her teeth, biting some part of the figure blindly. The creature’s muscle moved oddly in her mouth, like a clutch of snakes. The taste of blood on her tongue was hot and filled her with a shock of strength. The thought of how her mother looked, hunting other god-hosts, occurred to her for the briefest instant. Then her mouth burned. It flashed with a bewildering light that made the creature holding her yell and set her free.

            Immediately, she ran in a widening circle, unsure what random creation would spear her or flay her, when her tag along resolved on a ridge above a low part in the ash tree wall.

            Bright followed his howl, as she remembered from the actual moment of her frenzied escape. All the while the god thing spoke and she couldn’t understand his words, or even really if it was more than one word it was speaking. An incredibly terrifying and, somehow, frustrating situation. As if she couldn’t understand why she was afraid, despite the danger of death on her heels.

            But I’m almost free….

            No.

            The path she took up the hill to leap over the ash wall vanished, then the other wolf she’d been with turned into shadow and shattered into a burst of cawing black birds.

            Suddenly Bright was in complete darkness, with the cloud of black birds becoming a veil that crowed and yelled to drown out the god she fled. At first, this was like a gift. Then there was snarling.

            She was still running. It was the only thing that made her heart’s pounding feel right in its cage. Ahead there was a dimly glowing light, growing its ambient sphere as if Bright were rapidly closing on it. Light in this emptiness was welcome, but a cold tingled her nose that soon sank beneath her fur. Her mother resolved in the light, snarling and barking loud enough to shake the invisible ground beneath Bright’s feet.

            The whole pack was behind her mother’s tall shadow and were resolute as a wall amidst the wisps of frost and snow her mother brought with her. All their hackles were raised and they magnified to the size of mountains as Bright’s legs rushed her toward them.

            With numbing anxiety, Bright thought she might pass between the giant wolves’ legs, since she could not change direction or slow down.

            She was afraid. And she was right to be.

            Her mother’s head lowered, nearly to the invisible ground, her massive eyes, the color of winter wind, peering into her soul to dispel all hope.

            “Tell me, daughter,” Bright’s mother said, with a voice like the hiss of a blizzard’s gusts. “Where is it?”

            Bright kept her jaws closed.

            “Where is the new god in my wood? Tell me, so I can avenge my daughter.”

            Bright shook her head with a whine as her mother’s oversized head let its mouth hang open on the path Bright took. She would be consumed!

            “Tell me or you will be eaten first, and the Great Cold will still have its way. Why protect what threatened you? Tell me and be the wolf you are. Tell me or be gone!”

            The fury of winter and the god within Bright’s mother cast spikes of ice on either side of Bright’s path. She would be eaten.

            And like the new god, she realized, she was alone and afraid.

            I will be no more than what my mother wished for me….