Lockdown Fiction: New Moon

This week, the Improbable Press prompt drew a song out of me. (Check out the site and try the prompts yourself!)

I’ve been thinking about werewolves a lot, for an upcoming story, and this is the lyric that happened.

It might also apply to vampires, actually, but mostly it was written for a new werewolf.

Yes, I have a melody for it.

New Moon

Shine on, shine on
Little darlin’
Night is comin’ soon

Don’t let shadows
On your shoulder
Take away the moon

Darlin’ do not hunger for the sun
Let me tell you, darlin’
It’s for you the moon was hung

Lift your head up
Little darlin’
Sing to the starry sky

It is only a
Trick of vision
To see through the lie

Darlin’ do not hunger for the sun
You can feel it, darlin’
It’s for you the moon was hung

Shine on, shine on
Little darlin’
Night is comin’ soon

Don’t let shadows
On your shoulder
Keep you from your moon

Review: The Sugared Game by KJ Charles

I discovered KJ Charles in March 2019 – a friend had raved about The Henchmen of Zenda, and when someone whose taste in books allies very closely to your own, you listen to their raves. I actually began with a few other books first, but five books later I was ready to be a lifelong reader. The Henchmen of Zenda – a brilliantly entertaining take on The Prisoner of Zenda, only with the sympathy firmly in the henchmen’s camp – convinced me, if I needed any further convincing. Which I didn’t.

In the 18 months since being introduced to Charles’ work, I’ve read almost everything she’s published. I keep meaning to write about each of her series and standalones, but I’m not sure what I’d say beyond “another bloody brilliant book by K.J. Charles!”

Which brings me to The Sugared Game, the second in The Will Darling Adventures trilogy.  I could just say “another bloody brilliant book by K.J. Charles!” but that’s hardly helpful. So.

The first book of the series, Slippery Creatures, introduced us to Will Darling, a returned WWI soldier trying to adjust to civilian life, who has just inherited a bookshop from his uncle. He meets Kim Secretan, a very posh fellow with a difficult past who, it seems, can never be entirely trusted. Their sexual attraction is undeniable, but so is the fact that Will has fallen into a thick and deadly plot involving a criminal gang, the War Office, some even shadier goings on that Kim seems to be part of.

The Sugared Game continues the fabulously outré pulp fiction adventures that began in Slippery Creatures: the Zodiac gang with its code names and ruthless cohorts are still operating, despite the distinct blows delivered by Will and Kim in the previous book. The gang’s head, Capricorn, is still out there, though the focus this time is on the Aquarius.

Kim, as slippery a creature as ever tied an exquisite suit, has not been in touch with Will for a few months as the book opens, and Will is hurt and furious in equal measure, despite no declarations having been made. His best friend Maisie, however, has made fast friends with Kim’s fiancée, Phoebe (it’s complicated) and Maisie’s genius for clothing design is giving both women new opportunities.

Celebrating the new business potential at the High Low night club, however, Will is thrown unexpectedly into Zodiac dealings once more, and vulnerable, shifty, unreliable, gorgeous Kim is suddenly back in Will’s life. Inevitably, Will gets tangled up in this ruthless game – which he wouldn’t mind so much if Kim didn’t keep on hiding so much and lying the rest of the time. Their fragile intimacy – their mutual attraction and desire – could easily be the making or breaking of these men and the vicious gang they’re trying to dismantle (or just survive).

Charles once more delivers a cracking adventure story populated by gritty, really real people, despite the fantastical pulp/007 style plots. When Kim and Will clash, it’s not some silly misunderstanding that would be cleared up if only they would talk. (Though, yeah, Kim’s incapacity to do that isn’t a help.) The obstacles they have to overcome for the adventure, and for their personal lives, are real, embedded in personality, values, motivations that make sense and forces both internal and external. This makes the resolutions to both adventure and love story incredibly satisfying.

Slippery Creatures resolved one story line and took Kim and Will on a step forward in their relationship. The Sugared Game brings them on another step, while the Zodiac storyline is addressed in more detail along with consequences for Kim and Will as well as Maisie and Phoebe.

I’m eagerly looking forward to the third in the trilogy, Subtle Blood, due out later this year. I have no doubt that Kim, Will, Maisie and Phoebe will be tangled up in deadly adventures once more, facing believable and difficult personal issues, and that the conclusion will be as hard-fought-for, and as deeply satisfying, as everything she writes.

Buy The Sugared Game

Buy Slippery Creatures

September Price Promotion – Grounded

In a world where wings give everyone the freedom to fly, an artist born wingless uses her art to show the winged world the wonder of the ground. But when she meets a recently injured police officer who finds himself grounded, they will both learn that there is more than one way to soar.

From 1 to 30 September, Escape Publishing is offering Grounded at a special price on Amazon Australia for Australian and New Zealand readers! This ebook is available for only $3.99 until the end of the month!

To make the deal even sweeter, I’m offering a separate promotion of my own (to Australia-based readers only)!

If you reblog this post, you’ll get one entry into a competition to win one of three Dangerous Charms items of jewellery, inspired by Grounded.

If you buy Grounded at the special offer this month, message me with proof of purchase via the Contact page (under About Narrelle) or via @daggyvamp and you’ll get 10 entries in the draw.

Get Grounded from Amazon Australia for $3.99 until 30 September!

On offer are a necklace and two sets of earrings, to be posted anywhere in Australia for three winners.

The Dangerous Charm jewellery promotion is only open to people based in Australia, as I’m not able to post small items overseas under the current Covid-19 Australia Post restrictions.

Lockdown Fiction: Stand LIke Stone

This week’s prompt from Improbable Press made me think of Australian poet, Adam Lindsay Gordon, and how I’ve often wished there had been somebody to rescue him.

Gordon’s poems are generally much more glum than his most famous few lines suggest, but I’m glad he’s known best for the hope than the despair.

Stand Like Stone

Cal knew it wasn’t done to climb statues, but he did it anyway, there in the middle of a Melbourne night. The metal was cold – colder than the night itself – but Cal was so cold already it hardly mattered.

Being held, or at least holding someone, that’s what mattered. Months of alone, months barred from touch. Months in an inverted world.

His chest ached and his breath wheezed on the ascent, but he made it.

Some joker had attached a mask to the statue’s face. Adam Lindsay Gordon, bush poet, his noble features concealed behind the message: breath was dangerous, lately. Cover up, protect yourself, protect others.

Gordon’s statue depicted him sitting loosely in a chair, the accoutrements of his riding days underneath the chair, a pen in one hand, a book in the other, his index finger marking a page. On the verge of writing another poem.

Poetry had been the death of him. The printing debts, and the acquired brain injury of one fall too many from the saddle.

Cal sat in Adam Lindsay Gordon’s lap and leaned his head against the metal folds of his shirt. Cal was still cold on the outside, but he felt warmer inside, and he recited his favourite of Gordon’s lines.

Life is mainly froth and bubble
Two things stand like stone
Kindness in another’s trouble
Courage in your own.

Clumsily, Cal removed Adam’s mask and fixed it on his own face. It was a kindness in others’ trouble; it was courage in his own. Homeless, hungry, haunted. But he could do this. Protect others. Protect himself.

‘You all right up there, son?’

Cal, cradled in metal arms, looked down towards the face looking up at him. A man in a puffy coat, a beanie pulled over his ears. A big fellow, with broad shoulders and big arms. Masked.  Maybe like a bandit; or like a superhero. Hard to tell which these days.

Cal coughed behind the mask, a nasty, chesty cough.

‘Do you have a home to go to?’

Cal shook his head and coughed again, a terrible fit of it that left him exhausted. He leaned against Adam Lindsay Gordon’s solid torso and closed his eyes.

‘How about we get you somewhere warm?’

Cal was surprised the man was still there. Coughing fits were a sure way to clear a bench, a room, a whole fucking side street these days.

‘I’m sick,’ Cal said.

‘I’ve already had it,’ said the big man. ‘You shouldn’t be out here in the cold.’

‘Nobody wants me,’ said Cal, and wheezed again. ‘I’m not safe.’

The big man didn’t ask why, so Cal didn’t have to tell him about the shouting at home, the hitting, being trapped indoors with a father who hated the difference in his son, who was mainly only different to him. There were loads of people just like Cal, really, out in the world. There was nothing wrong with him, really, except, of course, for the obvious.

‘Come on. Let me take you somewhere warm.’

Cal peered over Adam Lindsay Gordon’s arms to the big man. His eyes had adjusted to the gloom and dear god, the man was huge. Like a bear. Like a statue come to life. His eyes seemed kind, but Cal had been fooled by kind eyes before.

On the other hand, here he was, sitting in the arms of a statue, waiting to die of cold and loneliness. Might as well take a punt. Courage, Adam Lindsay Gordon urged. Maybe the bear man would be kind.

Cal tried to climb down again, but a coughing fit seized him. The mask protected the Bear Man but made it harder for Cal to catch his breath.

But then the Bear Man climbed up the statue too, and helped Cal. Arms around that thick neck, across those broad shoulders. Bear Man was warm, the heat soaking into Cal’s chest and belly and it made him want to cry.

‘Hold tight. Here we go.’

The bandit/superhero reached the ground again and scooped Cal into his arms.

‘You’ll be safe with me, I promise,’ he said to Cal, walking across the park to the blocks of flats on the opposite side of the park. ‘We’ll get you fed and warm and work out if I should take you to hospital.’

Cal should have had an opinion, but all he felt was safe as this stranger took him home and wrapped him in a doona and gave him soup and pillows and paracetamol and care.

Then there was sleep, deep and long, and fourteen days in isolation, during which Cal learned he had a chest infection but not a virus, that some people really were as kind as they looked, and that the hero-bandit’s name was Adam.

Of course, Cal thought, smiling. Of course the strongest, safest arms he knew belonged to Adam.

Words are like oxygen