The Stars Seem So Far Away by Margrét Helgadóttir

The last in this season of indie highlights, The Stars Seem So Far Away is published by Fox Spirit Books, a small press primarily focused on fantasy and horror works.

The Stars Seem So Far Away

Nora stood on deck waiting for the other ship to come closer. The sails flapped over her head, eager to let the wind take hold. The air was thick with ocean mist. She held her ship steady, never letting the other craft out of her sight.

An old wooden sailing ship, heavy in the sea, it glided towards her, majestic and elegant despite the high waves. The wind strained the massive sails to their limits. People ran to and fro on the deck, adjusting them. She counted five. All men. Shivering, she huddled deeper into her fur coat.

They had not fired at her yet, but she could see the weapons hanging from their shoulders and backs.

Climate change has rendered most of Earth uninhabitable; in the high Arctic, what remains of humanity clings by a thread, struggling to survive around a few coastal cities. Originally a series of short stories, The Stars Seem So Far Away follows the fate of around half a dozen of the survivors. Nora manages alone aboard her ship, sailing between ports, primarily concerned with day-to-day survival and the business of fending off pirates. Simik is of Inuit heritage, determined to reclaim his people’s ancestral lands. Aida and Zaki are young orphans, their town devastated by plague. Bjørg defends a seed vault, raising cloned polar bear-like creatures and wondering how she’ll know when humanity is ready to receive the treasure she guards.

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The Second Mango by Shira Glassman

Shira Glassman is another author I was lucky to meet on Twitter; her Mangoverse books are published by the LGBT-friendly YA publishing house Prizm Books.

The Second Mango

Once upon a time, in a lush tropical land of agricultural riches and shining white buildings, there was a young queen who spent the night tied up in a tent, panicking.

Apparently, a visit to a bawdy house got you kidnapped.

That wasn’t entirely accurate. Queen Shulamit was sure that plenty of men went in and out of such places every night without so much as losing a hair on their heads. But a skinny woman of barely twenty — even one who had been queen of Perach for two whole months — well, that was a different story. Especially if that young queen had ditched her bodyguards and snuck out by herself.

Shulamit becomes queen of Perach much too soon, when her father dies unexpectedly. As a lesbian, the young queen is lonely — sexuality isn’t much discussed, it seems, in society as a whole, and she doesn’t know how to find more women like her. But after an unfortunate bawdy house kidnapping, she asks the warrior who rescues her to accompany her on a quest to find herself a wife.

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Poison Kiss by Ana Mardoll

I met Ana Mardoll via mutual friends on Twitter, and it was only quite by chance that I noticed she’s an author with a new book out! Which was perfect timing for inclusion in my season celebrating indie writers.

Poison Kiss

“Rose, can you tilt your head for me, please?” The pale young woman who has been assigned to braid my hair whispers the words, her voice so soft that I can barely hear her over the crash of hail that pounds the mansion roof and sends icy pellets skittering noisily across the marble floor.

Obediently, I lean forward to facilitate her task. Her nimble fingers continue their work, twisting and looping my long pink hair into the elaborate style that our mistress has commanded for tonight’s festivities. I wonder numbly how many more hours my grooming will take; we’ve been at this since my morning bath. I’m curious also to know if this girl is as bored with braiding my hair as I am wtih sitting motionless. Not that either of us would dream of complaining; the May Queen’s temper is lethal, and there are far worse assignments to be handed out.

Rose and Lavender are enslaved by the May Queen, just two of many humans who have been abducted and taken to the faery world, altered to play parts in the cruel entertainments devised by the faeries. They don’t remember their previous lives on Earth, but tiny fragments of memory — and a huge amount of willpower — might just be enough to get them home.

Between Lavender’s bold planning and Rose’s knowledge, they manage to make their escape. Arriving Earthside isn’t the end of their problems, though. It doesn’t bring the memories back. And dangerous portals to the faery world keep opening up around them.

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Rainbird by Rabia Gale

I thought one of the best ways to get exciting new indie recommendations would be to ask some of my favourite indie authors for their picks. Intisar Khanani, author of Sunbolt and Thorn, recommended Rabia Gale.

Rainbird coverRainbird danced on the sunway to the singing of uncountable stars, music that only she could hear. Her trench coat, too large and shabby, smelling of cigar smoke and mothballs, flapped around her. Under the thick thirdhand fabric, her wings whispered, satin-starch-slither. Her long-toed bare feet skimmed the bumpy bone of the sunway, worn smooth and glittering by centuries of inspection. Her oversized lungs pulled in the thin cold air.

Rainbird rose up on her toes, spun, leapt high and proud like a horse, and landed perfectly. She dipped her head and knees in a curtsey to her celestial audience. Then she kissed her hand to Glew, the dim, faraway true sun of the purebred eiree. It glowered with sour malice, rheumy-eyed even this far above the clouds and the smoke, the haze and the lights of the cities of men.

Rainbird is half-human, half-eerie, and an outcast from both societies. She keeps her eerie wings hidden beneath a heavy coat and lives in secret with her father on the sunway, helping him to maintain the track of the Day Sun and trading illicit caches of moss for the drugs he needs to keep his lungsickness under control. If his manager discovers he’s too sick to work, he’ll be sent down to the surface for treatment, and Rainbird will be forced to leave her only haven.

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Realm of the Goddess by Sabina Khan

For the next in my series of indie and small press highlights, I picked Realm of the Goddess, a good opportunity to read a book which has been sitting on my Kindle for a while now.

Realm of the GoddessThe demon’s eyes were wide open, staring up at me in surprise as blood dripped from my sword and pooled at my feet around his severed head. I looked over to where the rest of his corpse lay, arms outstretched, the right hand still clutching the curved scimitar with which he had planned to finish me off.

Well, who’s laughing now? Never underestimate a pissed-off girl with a sword.

I surveyed the battleground on which I stood. Corpses littered the field, demons and mortals alike. In the distance I could see the flames, their smoke turning the air into a thick haze that carried the stench of burning flesh. There was still fighting and I could hear the sounds of battle coming from beyond the hills in the north. I turned around just in time to see another demon heading toward me, clutching a long dagger in his right hand. When he was close enough I caught my reflection in his shield in the split second before he raised his weapon.

Callie has been plagued by bad dreams for years, off and on, but she thought moving from Kolkata to Seattle had put an end to the torment. It turns out that was only a temporary reprieve: as the story begins, Callie’s nights are again disturbed by violent scenes from ancient battles.

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Miss Landon and Aubranael by Charlotte E. English

For the winter season, my goal is to highlight excellent work published independently by self-published authors or small presses. There was therefore never really any question of whether I’d include something by Charlotte E. English, whose first novel, Draykon, was one of the very first indie books I ever read. I’m lucky enough to beta read for Charlotte these days, which means I get to be amongst the first to see her new books, and I’m never disappointed.

Miss Landon and Aubranael

One corner of this faded chamber was different. A set of miniature furniture stood fastidiously arranged: a little oak table with two matching chairs, a tiny closet and a rocking chair. Sophy herself had sewn the tiny rag rug that covered the floor, and the cushions that covered the rocking chair’s hard seat and back.

Sophy sat down on the floor nearby, heedless of the folds of her dress, and laid the shirt carefully across the little table. She placed a tiny bowl of honey beside it, and a second full of clear water.

“Thundigle,” she called. “I have a gift for you.”

A puff of light erupted in the air before her, and the Landon household brownie appeared. He was a diminutive creature with dark brown skin, wild curly brown hair, and eyes the colour of autumn leaves.

“Miss Landon,” Thundigle said with a graceful bow. “You are generous, as always.”

Sophy smiled. “You haven’t seen what it is yet.”

In this Regency fantasy, Sophy Landon is the daughter of a struggling clergyman in a small Lincolnshire town. Society is hard on single women without wealth or title, and Sophy’s skill with a needle and thread isn’t going to be enough to win her a good marriage. Then her friend, the brownie Thundigle, arranges for her to visit the fae realm of Aylfenhame, where she discovers a world built on rather different social rules, and meets an intriguing young man named Aubranael.

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