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Book Review – “Ghostkin” (Ellen Mellor, 2018)

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“Ghostkin” works from a premise that will be instantly familiar to fans of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”: an inextricable collision between the otherworld and the mundane world has forced history (since the 20th century) down an alternative route in which humans have been forced to coexist with fay, demons, spirits, and various undead horrors. However, while Ellen Mellor’s book derives its tropes from fantasy and mythology, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to Bram Stoker and Norse legends, in tone it owes a good deal more to the likes of “Get Carter”. At heart, what we have here is a supernatural British gangster thriller that de-romanticises its fantasy tropes in a fashion Terry Pratchett would have approved of (One suspects the author may be a “Discworld’ fan). For the various fantasy creatures have all managed to find their niche within human society, while proving themselves just as corrupt and sordid as any humans. The faery – cruel and arrogant beings who delight in spinning glamours and illusions (again, very Pratchett-y, but also drawing on the darker roots of fantasy) – have become drug dealers. Zombies are cheap, exploitable labour (though still partial to blood frenzies and brain-eating, alas, so they need careful handling). Vampires, power-obsessed, domineering, and predatory, are the hardcore gangsters and extortionists, intent on parasitising every aspect of society. The author’s presentation of these particular villains is a strong point: denuded of all “Twilight”-esque glamour or even the “bad boy” Byronic appeal of a Christopher Lee, they are much more akin to the classic “Nosferatu”; verminous and ugly beings, occasionally pitiable but mostly repulsive, and extremely dangerous and amoral. Then there are the ghostkins, but to say too much on them would be a spoiler, suffice it to say that the book’s main character is a strikingly original fantasy creation, whose nature is explored both through plot development and flashbacks. She is also a trans character, but thankfully this is incidental – as a trans writer, I mean this passionately. It is good to see a story about a trans character that does not centre around the fact of them being trans. It communicates the sense that this has only been part of her complex life struggle, and not the be-all and end-all of who she is.

Having said that, Rachel falls firmly within the anti-hero category: not quite as ruthless and unsavoury as Jack Carter, but not so very far above that low level, and her actions and attitudes often make her a hero only by default (as the de facto villain of the book is a complete moral monster). Whether or not she learns from her experiences is debatable: the novel eschews a happy ending with firm closure, appropriately enough, true to its noirish roots. One source of evil is defeated, but in a world so corrupt, what difference can that really make? Potential readers should note that for all its deadpan, Pratchett-esque humour and quirky fantasy tropes, this is very much a dark and adult novel, with themes of drug abuse, mental abuse, human trafficking, torture, and graphic violence. Prepare to spend a lot of time in the heads of characters with unsavoury outlooks and attitudes … If you are up for a gritty, cynical take on the dark fantasy genre, however, “Ghostkin” is a compelling read that will pull you along to a thrilling and original (though well set-up) climax, albeit followed by a troubling ending. Perhaps a sequel is not out of the question?

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Wolves of Dacia (First time in paperback)

2018 has got off to an eventful start – lots of requests for Tarot readings, new fanfiction published, Burlesque dance classes started, but best of all, my long-awaited first ever paperback novel has finally hit the shelves (or Amazon, at any rate) …

Wolves of Dacia is my second foray into historical Gothic fiction (after Lucille and the Healers, 2011, Mushroom Ebooks). It is a dark fantasy with a “dieselpunk” flavour set in WW2 Romania. It was inspired by a wish to write something concerning the Porajmos (Holocaust of the Romani people by the Third Reich), but became a wider commentary on racism and misogyny as it went on. At the time of publishing, with Trump, Brexit, and the resurgence of the far-right still very much dominating the headlines, I fear it has only become more pertinent …

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Synopsis:

Transylvania, 1941: as the spectre of the Holocaust reaches Romania it falls to Andreea Petrescu, a Romani biology student, to go on the run from an SS Einsatzgruppen with her irascible, superstitious father. Their flight leads them to seek refuge in ancient Dacian catacombs, where they discover they are not the first to have taken shelter.

Though her father is repulsed by their discoveries, the scientifically-minded Andreea finds herself fascinated by the activities of the mysterious resistance unit that has set itself up in the area, and of their leader, the charismatic and ruthless Miss Bendice. She seems eager to recruit Andreea to her cause, and offers her an opportunity to escape from her degrading circumstances, but at no small cost.

Forging unlikely friendships with a naïve Wehrmacht lieutenant, an amnesiac teenage vampire, and a scatterbrained Welsh parapsychologist, Andreea’s knowledge, courage, and integrity are put to the test as she struggles to survive, save her loved ones, and stay true to her principles, though it may entail sacrificing her dreams.

(To purchase in additional formats including Apple, please visit the publisher’s site.)


Double Dragon Publishing, Eleanor Burns, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

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Cute Eggs and Cenobites

“DIZZY AND THE RAVEN’S HEX”

My first full creation of the new year – another PC game, with a theme both retro and Wiccan …

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The Dizzy games were well known to 8-bit computer gamers in the late 80s and early 90s: a series of object-based puzzle platformers following the adventures of the eponymous Dizzy the egg as he solved mysteries, escaped dungeons, and rescued his friends and family in a tongue-in-cheek fairytale world. This is my attempt at a 3D version (compatible with fairly low-end PC hardware but not Mac, sadly).

GAME MANUAL / INSTALLATION

GAME FILES / SETUP

SOUND FILES

STORY

The new factory town of Morgenholt, located deep within ancient fay woodlands, has recently been troubled by a mysterious and baleful haunting. Squire Whateley, leader of the town and owner of its factory, has sent for the most daring and resourceful hero in the kingdom to investigate and put an end to this menace. Which is where a certain familiar ovoid steps into the scene. Has boxing gloves, will travel …

Programming and graphics by me, soundtrack by Lost Radikals.

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“ASSIGNMENT – LAMENT”

An ongoing, though somewhat less family-friendly project is my latest fanfic, this time combining the world of “Sapphire and Steel”, “Hellraiser”, and classic “Doctor Who”. Currently four chapters in (probably aiming for a total length of 5-6), this story features fairly graphic scenes of violence, mental manipulation, and pseudo-domination of beloved TV characters, in case anyone would prefer not to subject themselves to that …

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SUMMARY

The abduction of a journalist by ruthless extra-dimensional forces leads Sapphire and Steel back onto familiar territory. Meanwhile, deep within the Labyrinth, the Cenobite High Priest has a disturbing encounter of his own with an old wartime comrade, leading to a bizarre alliance. Can the operators find a way to successfully infiltrate Leviathan’s domain, sabotage this plan, and rescue the hostage before reality itself becomes a war casualty?

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Gothic Dieselpunk

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Manchester Mk1 Computer, late 1940s

…and if that isn’t a mouthful of a name for a genre, I don’t know what would be.

I am conscious this has recently turned into a blog for my weird artistic pursuits rather than for anything directly related to my transition, but so be it. Since my fiction has for many years been a channel (or a coping strategy) for my gender dysphoria, it may as well have its due as long as there is no more obviously relevant news, and real-life news has been pretty scarce for both the hubby and I of late.

This novel I am currently working on is now in the 90% region of completion, so I will fairly soon be pleading for readers… For the present, however, I would just appreciate opinions on this synopsis. I will be using this, or something like it, to pitch the finished story to potential publishers and / or agents, so please tell me if it fails to grab, or share any advice you may have for improving it (and be as harsh as you please).


Wolves of Dacia (Synopsis)

Berlin, 1933: Andreea Petrescu, a Romani gypsy biology student, is expelled from university by the Third Reich. She returns home to Transylvania, to face a grim future of poverty, misogyny, and the stigma of having associated with outsiders: a fact her insular community regards with distrust. Just before she returns, her mother – a gifted medium – strikes a terrible deal in order to protect her.

Eight years later, Andreea’s circumstances have only worsened: her mother is dead, her father is unsupportive, her community is as estranged from her as ever, and fascism has spread to Romania. The Nazi-allied government takes measures to deport gypsies to concentration camps, forcing Andreea and her father to go on the run from the SS. Their flight leads them to seek refuge in ancient catacombs, where they soon discover that they are not the first to have taken shelter.

Though her superstitious father is repulsed by their discoveries, the scientifically-minded Andreea finds herself fascinated, and drawn into the activities of the mysterious resistance unit that has set itself up in the area, and of their leader, the charismatic and ruthless Miss Bendice. She seems eager to recruit the brilliant young fugitive to her cause, and offers Andreea a unique opportunity to escape from her degrading circumstances, but at no insignificant cost.

As Miss Bendice’s hubristic plans escalate to a world-threatening climax, and as the SS death squad closes in, Andreea finds herself caught in the vice. Forging unlikely friendships with a naïve Wehrmacht lieutenant, an amnesiac teenage vampire, and a scatterbrained Welsh parapsychologist, she finds her knowledge, her courage, and her integrity put to the test as she struggles to survive, save her loved ones, and stay true to her principles, though it may entail sacrificing everything she has dreamed of.

© Eleanor Burns, 2016.


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Christopher Lee as Dracula – just because nobody else ever looked that good or ever will look that good as a vampire…