“Children of Blood and Bone”, or the adventure of bringing magic back

Not gonna lie – you have definitely noticed what my literary tastes revolve around… or at least the bookish buffet for this year. Fantasy, mystery, some non-fiction and a thriller and a story told in letters – and there are two left, one more thriller and another fantasy. Buckle up, buttercups, because we’re off to explore a land where magic rules… or at least has ruled before.

Our main character, Zélie Adebola, is from Orïsha – a land to whose people the gods have lent magic… until ten years ago. Ten years ago, the Raid happened, and magic disappeared. Nearly all the maji in Orïsha were slaughtered, and the rest were forced into obedience. One of the maji who lost their lives was Zélie’s mother, and Zélie, like the rest of the maji, is having to fight for survival and live in fear of sharing her mother’s fate.

The fight for survival is what leads Zélie and her brother to the market in Lagos in an attempt to sell a rare fish and use the money for a ransom put on Zélie’s head. What happens at the market, though, is entirely different. Zélie helps a girl seeking refuge from the King’s guards, getting herself into a wild adventure… and, not soon afterwards, it turns out that the girl is nobody but Amari, the royal princess, who has fled from the castle with a scroll that can restore magic.

As you would expect, from alliance, the princess and Zélie’s relationship slowly blossoms into a friendship. Things between Zélie and the crown prince Inan, Amari’s brother, who is after them, do not stay the same throughout the story, either. Inan longs to prove himself to his father and to lead his sister the right way.

I won’t spoil much… but you will definitely not expect what happens between him and Zélie – but you will definitely love it!

Magic. A test of wit, of courage and of trust – in yourself and in others. Faith. Longing. A tale of fantasy, weaved into reality. Violence and oppression on one side, clashing with the inner peace and blossoming love that stand on the other. And, like the bow wrap on top of a gift box, enchanting metaphors and easy descriptions that take you by the had and lead you directly into Zélie’s world.

This is “Children of Blood and Bone”.

“Celephaïs” – a journey into man’s imagination

Been a while, hasn’t it? Why, allow me to excuse myself! Uni has started, and with it so has my business. But fear not! I will be trying to look up literary quotes and bookish photos when I lack the time for a review. And while I am relatively free… enjoy yourselves yet another Lovecraft story!

The beginning leads us into the life of our main character, who takes a peek at a world of dreams and comes up with a name for himself – Kuranes. He is not one with a story full of joy: he is the last of his family and has lost his money and lands, and Londoners turn a blind eye at him. And so, stepping further in his attempt to escape reality, Kuranes writes until he gets laughed out of it, and then he loses himself in his imagination and illusions, in childhood dreams and stories.

None of them make sense, however. As children, our thoughts are not coherent enough, and as adults most of us have lost our imagination – and yet some of us remember, and they know there once existed a time when we could all dream.

Then, abruptly, he chances upon his childhood dream-world once more, and finds himself making his way into the village where he was born and towards the house where he lived as a little boy, both of them cloudy, mystical images in his dream. The village has grown old, the windows have gotten broken, and the paths have been ridden with tall, untrimmed grass – signs of naught but a lack of life. Such is the life in a dream, and this life does not draw Kuranes in, only giving him wings to fly forward… until he flies over the precipice and past darkness and unfinished dreams, flying into the city of the valley through an opened rift, past the sea and the sky and a mountain with a cape of snow.

He knows the city by heart – it’s none other but the city of Celephaïs, where he would make his escapes from reality for an hour every summer afternoon a long time ago before the adults would awaken him. Now, forty years later, he hates to wake up from those dreams… just as much as he would hate it as a child.

Kuranes dreams again of Celephaïs, and one by one it comes alight before him, minarets and galleys and ginkgo trees all alight in his imagination. Not a single thing has changed, and he finds everything the exact way it has been when he has last cast his gaze upon it before leaving. The priests tell him that time has stopped and does not exist. And so, he gets whisked away by a desire to sail and goes out to seek the captain, Athib, who once upon a time promised him to get him on board. The two of them sail away, letting the sea take them to where it meets the sky. Kuranes marvels at how beautiful everything is; it seems like a dream, which he is to never leave. But then Athib tells him he is to leave the dream-world soon, for their journey was near its end, and when he finds himself awake again, Kuranes is back in his London garret.

For months, he keeps looking for Celephaïs over and over again, yet to no avail. He passes through countries that make your blood curdle, and then through others that are pure bliss to look at… and it’s those last ones that almost make him forget that he is looking for his one and only Celephaïs.

His attempts all end up being fruitless, and he becomes so intolerable towards being awake that he seeks out drugs to help him sleep, hashish in particular. But that does not help for long enough, either – soon, he runs out of money and is left to wander the streets and ponder his fate. And his fate is merciful to him. Suddenly he gets approached by a pair of knights, and it turns out they have come to him from Celephaïs to take him back there. They travel through time and space to where dreams reign, and Kuranes realises he has only ever seen Celephaïs at night, but never when the dawn comes – not until that moment. The scenery around them is painted in hues like the creation of a Renaissance artist:

“…Just as they galloped up the rising ground to the precipice a golden glare came somewhere out of the east and hid all the landscape in its effulgent draperies. The abyss was now a seething chaos of roseate and cerulean splendour, and invisible voices sang exultantly as the knightly entourage plunged over the edge and floated gracefully down past glittering clouds and silvery coruscations. Endlessly down the horsemen floated, their chargers pawing the aether as if galloping over golden sands; and then the luminous vapours spread apart to reveal a greater brightness, the brightness of the city Celephaïs, and the sea-coast beyond, and the snowy peak overlooking the sea, and the gaily painted galleys that sail out of the harbour toward distant regions where the sea meets the sky. “

Our hero has found peace in his dream-land at last, safe and assured he is to never leave it again… even as the Innsmouth channel’s tides mock his lifeless mortal body.

“The Cats of Ulthar” – cats are not what our eyes make them seem

Written around June 1920 and first published in November, our narrator spins a feline tale. Cats are much older than we believe, for in their blood runs the blood of the great Sphinx, and they notice things that escape human eyes.

In the town of Ulthar an old couple lived, a couple who would take pleasure in trapping and murdering their neighbours’ cats. And though the townsfolk thought it odd, they did not raise their voices against it or speak with the two in any way – they were far too unapproachable, their cottage making shivers run down people’s spine, and they themselves did not look any more inviting. That left the townsfolk no choice other than making sure their precious furry companions were safe instead of arguing with them; they feared the couple much more than they hated them, and so, when a cat was lost to their hands, the cat-less fellow preferred to suffer in silence.

After all, they had no idea where the hell the cats had popped up from.

Then, one day, a caravan of Southern wanderers appears in town, starkly contrasting to the townsfolk. They tell people’s fortunes and trade silver for beads, their prayers are an oddity, and their wagons have curious drawings of humans with cat, hawk, ram and lion heads – an obvious hint towards Egyptian mythology. Among them is an orphaned boy, Menes, who has lost his parents to the plague’s merciless hand, with only a black kitten for family. Though it is a loss that he has gone through, his mind is strong enough to wander from it and find its path to joy – and thanks to nobody but the kitten and the games it offers.

On the third day of the wanderers’ stay, Menes loses his kitten. Word gets to him of the cat-hating couple that lives in their village, and he prays in a strange, odd language the villagers have never heard before. And they do not become too interested in it, anyway, busy watching the shapes that take to the sky as the boy chants – shapes of new, exotic, unknown things.

The same night, the wanderers leave Ulthar… taking with them all the cats that are to be found around the town. Big, small, fat, thin, black, white, grey or striped – there is not a single cat left. Some blame the usual suspects; others curse the travelers who passed through their town. Still, just like before, no-one dares blame the old man and woman, even when the innkeeper’s son swears he has seen the cats, all of them, in their yard, slowly pacing up and down, two abreast. Again, people decide to remain silent until they see the cottage owner outside his house again.

On the next day, lo and behold! – every single cat returns to his or her home, not a single one left behind. That makes one thing clear; the old couple did not lay a hand on the cats. Curiously enough, for two weeks not a cat would drink milk or eat meat.

It takes the villagers a week to notice it, and another one to investigate it. The old couple is not to blame… because they get found dead.

The people of Ulthar do not leave that unnoticed. The couple’s dead gives rise to not few a discussions, questions, and disputes, which even the innkeeper’s little son joins. The tale of the old man and woman, the caravan and the travelers and Menes and his kitten never leaves people’s side, and they decide…

The law of Ulthar: that no man may ever kill a cat.

“Shadowblack”: the adventures of an outlaw spellcaster

Such delight, reading is! – even for a weird little reader like me, whose reading speed and preferred genre you can never be sure of. One day, I gobble up a dozen of horror short stories, one right after the other, like freshly-baked muffins… and on the next, I take centuries to make my mind up on how exactly to express how lovely fantasy is. One can never be bored with reading…

…much like Kellen can never be bored with living his life.

After Kellen realizes exactly why his magic had been weak and why he had only sparked one of his mage bands out of six and uncovers one too many horrible secrets the Jan’Tep had been hiding from the world, he becomes exiled. But he is not alone. He becomes an apprentice to the Argosi wanderer Ferius Parfax and crosses the borderlands along with her and his “business partner”, the sarcastic and violent squirrel cat Reichis, fleeing from mages who want him dead. And there’s plenty of those. After all, Kellen has a bounty on his head – and that makes him quite the irresistible target.

From the ‘most civilised’ city of the Jan’Tep, as they call it, our heroes move on to the Seven Sands, the “Wild West” of their world. And given they are constantly travelling, trying to stay out of danger’s way – not that this stops it from finding them, anyway – they have plenty of time to think, Kellen especially. Where does he belong now that he refuses to be Jan’Tep? What is this new place? And is Ferius really teaching him something?

After an attack from bounty hunting mages, the trio gets rescued by a fellow Argosi, Rosie. In the beginning, she and Ferius do not get along much, and Rosie’s tales of who the Argosi are aren’t always the easiest to understand, but as Rosie and Seneira, the girl who is in her care, join our trio on their way, they slowly warm up to each other. And so do Seneira and Kellen. Although they, too, do not become friendly to each other right from the start, they grow closer. They are both affected by the shadowblack plague, one of the reasons Kellen has become an exile. And the more Kellen tries to find a cure for Seneira and for himself, the more of the Jan’Tep intrigues he winds himself into. It’s just like we gathered from “Spellslinger”… nothing is like what the Jan’Tep make it seem.

If “Spellslinger” was the story of Kellen’s origin, then I can name “Shadowblack” his path of maturing without a moment of doubt. Although he remains unsure at times and feels awkward and fearful, he finds himself. In “Shadowblack”, Kellen comes to realise who he is and starts believing more in himself, all the while not allowing his righteous anger at what he has been done to take the worst of him.

For new kinds of magic, combat, and dancing… pick up “Shadowblack”.

“The Call of Cthulhu”: the gods are not always in one’s favour

Time for yet another most delightful – if chilling my blood to the bone, as it rightfully did – short story by H.P Lovecraft! This time, we are going to focus on his famous tale of the Cthulhu entity – the central figure of a whole mythos.

Written in 1926 and published two years later in the pulp magazine ‘Weird Tales’, the story introduces us to Francis Wayland Thurston, whose uncle, George Angell, a late linguistics professor at the Brown university, has left behind a series of manuscripts after a controversial death.

Although it is claimed that Angell passed away because of a heart attack, Thurston doubts that and decides to investigate. Upon going through Angell’s documents, he chances upon a box containing a clay bas-relief with inscriptions of hieroglyphics and the image of a creature that resembles an octopus, a human and a dragon all together.

The documents contain information on secret societies and cults and dream memoirs, as well as a document called the “Cthulhu cult”, the first section of which – “1925—Dreams and Dream Work of H.A. Wilcox, 7 Thomas St., Providence, R.I.” – Thurston proceeds to scrutinise. The bas-relief, according to the document, has been brought to Professor Angell by a young man called Henry Anthony Wilcox, a student of sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design rejected by society because of his eccentric behaviour.

Wilcox gives Angell references to the Babylon, Tyre and the Sphinx when questioned about the object. He later rambles about a New England earthquake and mentions having dreamed of “Cyclopean cities” and “sky-flung monoliths”. Wilcox also remembers a voice in the dream that he attempts to transcribe with the letters “Cthulhu fhtagn,” as well as two words, Cthulhu and R’lyeh.

Around the end of March, Wilcox becomes feverish and delirious, and the family doctor reports he has rambled of an enormous monster “miles high” – the same creature inscribed on the bas-relief. But because the young man is feverish, the others do not believe him that such a sculpture does actually exist. About ten days later, Wilcox’s fever disappears without a trace and leaves him with no memory of the days of his delirium.

Then, we are led into a memory of the first time Professor Angell ever heard the word “Cthulhu” and seen such an image. During a meeting of the American Archaeological Society, a police officer, John Legrasse, looks for information on an ancient, grotesque stone statuette and questions the archaeologists. The statuette had been discovered some months ago in swamps south of New Orleans during a raid on a voodoo cult that Legrasse took part in.

On November 1, Legrasse and his colleagues go in search for several disappeared squatters, which they later discover dead and their bodies used in a ritual where a hundred men are noisily chanting, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”. The men get arrested and questioned, and the police officers learn that they worship “the Great Old Ones, who lived before there were any men” in an evanescent cult, ” hidden in distant wastes and dark places all over the world until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R’lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him.”

The men identify the statuette as Cthulhu himself and explain that their chant means, “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits, dreaming”. Old Castro, one of the cultists, claims that the center of their cult is the city of Irem, “the City of Pillars,” in Arabia. A professor of anthropology, William Webb, tells of “a singular tribe of degenerate Eskimos whose religion, a curious form of devil-worship, chilled him with its deliberate bloodthirstiness and repulsiveness” that had a similar disgusting chant and fetish.

In the third part of the story, Thurston reads an Australian news article reporting the discovery of a derelict ship in the Pacific with only one survivor on board, the Norwegian Gustaf Johansen, second mate on the New Zealand schooner Emma. The Emma encountered a yacht, the alert, with an evil-looking crew, and got attacked. Everyone on the yacht was killed, but the Emma crew lost their vessel, so they took the yacht and sailed to an uncharted island where everyone but two sailors, one of which Johansen, die.

Prompted by this story, Thurston travels to New Zealand, then to Australia, and visits the local museum to see a statue resembling the creature from the bas-relief. Afterwards he heads to Norway and finds Johansen’s window in Oslo. She provides him with Johansen’s notes telling of the fate of the Emma crew. The uncharted island has a horrifying terrain – “a coastline of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror — the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh”. Its queer geometry messes with the sailors’ minds, and they go on to open a portal that awakens Cthulhu: “It lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed. Its gelatinous green immensity through the black doorway…. The stars were right again, and what an age-old cult had failed to do by design, a band of innocent sailors had done by accident. After vigintillions of years, Great Cthulhu was loose again and ravening for delight”.

Johansen sees Cthulhu as a stumbling, walking mountain, as he observes it before escaping the island with his fellow sailors. They all fail victims to the monster, and the Norwegian manages to get back to the yacht and escape with only one other sailor. Cthulhu gives pursuit and ultimately gets its skull crushed by Johansen’s boat. The two sailors flee from the island, and Johansen’s comrade loses his sanity, and, subsequently, his life, soon afterwards.

After having read the manuscript, Thurston realises he, too, might get pursued – “I know too much… and the cult still lives.”

“Dagon”: a tale of a descent into madness

Hark! Your path into the land of regular magical fantasy will be now intersected… but not by another novel. This time, our focus falls on a short story, and a short story by nobody but H. P. Lovecraft himself.

Written in the summer of 1917 and first published in 1919, this short story is among the first works Lovecraft writes as an adult and is said to have been, in a way, inspired by a dream that the writer had. Its name, “Dagon”, points us directly to a Summerian deity of fish – the exact object of the main character’s research.

The story is told by a morphine addict about to take his own life. He has spent five days captured by a German sea-raider but has at last managed to escape with some food and water and has fallen asleep, only to awaken to “…discover myself half sucked into a slimy expanse of hellish black mire which extended about me in monotonous undulations as far as I could see”. Rotting fish lay all around him, he notices then, and supposes this must all be the ocean floor, thrown in chaos around him, so vast that he is unable to hear even the slightest noise.

He waits for three days until the soil is dry enough to walk on, then spends two days climbing a hill on the edge of a mount, noticing “a well-shaped monolith whose massive bulk had known the workmanship and perhaps the worship of living and thinking creatures”. On its surface, he makes out inscriptions in an unfamiliar kind of hieroglyphs, reminding of aquatic creatures, as well as men; the latter prove to be indescribable to our main character, as they instill fear into him.

Just then, a monster appears. “Vast, Polyphemus-like, and loathsome, it darted like a stupendous monster of nightmares to the monolith, about which it flung its gigantic scaly arms, the while it bowed its hideous head and gave vent to certain measured sounds.” Our narrator flees in horror, later awakening in a San Francisco hospital, knowing others have not believed his delirious rambles.

The visions and memories of the creature haunt him, so much so that he decides to put an end to it all and take his own life. The drug that has brought peace to his mind is wearing off, and he hears a noise, “as of some immense slippery body” pushing up against the door. He recognises it as the creature near the monolith, and his last cry, “God, that hand! The window! The window!” makes it clear he has, at last, saved himself from the horror… even at the cost of his own life.

“Spellslinger”: where magic lies in the lack of magic

At last, fantasy! After so many sea adventures, both big and small, it’s time for me to share my thoughts on a slightly different kind of novel. A novel that, while rooted into an imaginary world that only has little to do with our own, was strangely relevant to reality. How exactly? Do give me your hand, dearest reader, and allow me to lead ahead. The path is murky… but, just like our hero, we will get right on the other side. Unafraid.

Kellen, a few weeks from turning sixteen, is the son of the Jan’Tep’s greatest and most powerful mage. His mother bears an equally powerful magic, and his younger sister Shalla is just as strong… while Kellen himself is barely able to summon wind or set a candle alight. And not just that. If he fails to pass his mage trials before he turns sixteen, he is going to become a Sha’Tep – a servant with no magical powers, treated like a dog by the Jan’Tep, and lose his chance of becoming a mage. Things are not at all looking rosy.

Kellen isn’t even a little short of hope, however, and he definitely does not bide his time. While his magic is too weak, and he might not be the brightest young man (which only paints him as an extremely realistic character), he resorts to using tricks and creativity to pass the first mage trial – tricks that will seem enough like magic to be believable. Only, his plan nearly fails, his sister close to killing him in an attempt to stop him from cheating. But main characters never die – and Kellen finds his help in the face of an Argosi wanderer, Ferius Parfax.

Ferius isn’t exactly the stereotypical image of a woman you would imagine. She’s sarcastic and nonchalant, a jack-in-the-box, and a heavy drinker – not someone you would expect to take you seriously or even help you. But it’s her and nobody else who teaches Kellen that men and women change the world with the strength to follow their principles and breathes hope in him… hope he will need to keep walking.

Ferius is the reason Kellen finds hope… as well as the reason for him to get summoned to the Dowager Magus, the widow of the recently passed away ruler. Argosi like Ferius travel to places where they think they will find people or make events happen that can change the world. Kellen gets torn between what the Dowager asks of him – to spy on Ferius and try to find out why she is there – and following his conscience. On the way, he uncovers dark secrets here and uncomfortable truths there, secrets and truths about the Jan’Tep society… and about himself.

Sometimes, trickery is not equal with deceit.

And sometimes you cannot trust even your closest people.

Action. Fantasy. And a dash of love and sadness.

Spellslinger has them all.