The Qwillery | category: short stories


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Review: The God Tattoo by Tom Lloyd

The God Tattoo
Author:  Tom Lloyd
Series:  The Twilight Reign
Publisher:  Pyr, November 5, 2013
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook , 272 pages
List Price:  $18.00 (print)
ISBN:  978-1-61614-859-1 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher
Cover Illustration © Larry Rostant 

Review: The God Tattoo by Tom Lloyd
A short story collection fleshing out the world of the critically-acclaimed Twilight Reign series, a tremendous work of mature epic fantasy.

The history of the Land may remember the slaughter at Moorview or the horror of Scree's fall, but there were other casualties of the secret war against Azaer-more tales surrounding those bloody years that went unrecorded. In the shadow of memorials to the glorious dead, these ghosts lie quiet and forgotten by all but a few.

A companion collection to the Twilight Reign quintet, these eleven stories shine a rather different light on the Land. Look past the armies and politics of the Seven Tribes and you will find smaller moments that shaped the course of history in their own way. But even forgotten secrets can kill. Even shadows can have claws.

Brannigan's Review

The God Tattoo is a fantastic collection of short stories that take place in the Twilight Reign world. It's no light thing for me to say that a short story collection is fantastic. I hardly ever read short story collections, and when I do it's nearly impossible for me to like each one of them. I tend to read a few pages, and if the story doesn't grab me, I move on. I was a little nervous to start this book, because I'm obligated to read every page before I write a review. I should also say I've not read any of the books in Tom Lloyd's Twilight Reign series, even though they've been on my to-read list for a while. With all that said, this collection surpassed my expectations.

Lloyd's world is rich in history and detail. He does a great job of giving you enough information to make the story real, but leaves enough unsaid for you to want more. Most of the stories are short and entertaining, giving you a feel for his ability to create intriguing characters and situations. There are a string of stories that are vaguely connected to each other, which hint at a bigger story below the surface. One of the most surprising and enjoyable parts, is that several of the stories have a Gothic Horror slant. I always enjoy my fantasy mixed with other genres and Lloyd is really good at doing Gothic Horror.

Having never read any of the previous books in the series, I never felt lost with events or characters. It helped that most of the collection features new characters. This collection of stories definitely makes you want to read more from Lloyd's world.

Beware, The God Tattoo is a gateway drug to the Twilight Reign series. The God Tattoo contains strong language and descriptive violence. For that reason, I would recommend it to adult readers. It's perfect for both fans of fantasy and Gothic Horror, as well as those curious about the Twilight Reign series. I'd also recommend it to anyone who likes to read short story collections.

Guest Blog by Karen Heuler - Realism, Magical and Otherwise - February 8, 2013

Please welcome Karen Heuler to The Qwillery. The Inner City, Karen's upcoming collection of short stories, will be published on February 15th.

Guest Blog by Karen Heuler - Realism, Magical and Otherwise - February 8, 2013

Realism, Magical and Otherwise

No one ever read a story to me as a child, so I think I had to find all the magic, fairy tale, and made-up adventures on my own. Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh came into my life as a teenager, along with Dostoyevski, Charlotte Bronte, and Jane Austen. They all dealt with life, emotional life, and when I read that bastion of magica; realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude—and a character just levitated into the air—it all made sense to me. The world was porous. What I imagined was as true as what I saw.

There’s a ranking of genre that drops from realistic fiction to magical realism to fantasy to science fiction (you can change the order anyway you want). Magical realism—in which the world is distinctly our world, only with, shall we say, living metaphors popping in—is the suburban area of literary fiction, before we venture into the wilds and “here be dragons” of the speculative world.

But I don’t believe there is a war between literary realism and speculative literature, except the false critical war that says real literature deals with real people with real problems (as if real problems can’t be problems with the real world).

Of course our cultural mythology—our religions and hence our beliefs—is filled with supernatural beings and divine rewards and punishments, and is by and large assumed to be true. And the stories we tell our children are filled with animated animals and magical fairies. We do have a natural instinct to reach for the non-real as a method of understanding the world and our place in it.

The real and the literary bind us to our bodies; the magic releases our minds. Consider Alice—for me, the prototype of how to deal with impossible worlds. She doesn’t weep (except, of course, to create a river of tears, another metaphor gone live). She doesn’t give in. She is firm and inquisitive and occasionally impatient. (As is a Bronte or Austen heroine.)

And who of us doesn’t occasionally get impatient with the non-sense that life throws at us?

One of my stories, “The Hair,” owes an homage to Gogol’s “The Nose” (and since they teach him in literary classes, let’s assume he’s not a fantasy writer) in that a co-worker steals the protagonist’s hair. At the time, I had lost all my hair from chemo, and this story worked out the sense of being attacked, of having to cope in a world that had gone haywire and could get even more so. But you don’t need to know that to like the story; and I don’t think Gogol actually lost his nose—in both cases, metaphors became live. Metaphors made more sense of the experience than memoir. Parts of our bodies can betray us by getting a life of their own—Einstein’s hair, Frida Kahlo’s eyebrows—they can personify us. We merely travel with them. And just as, in the real world, desirable things can get stolen, so in the world of magical realism, your hair and your job can be stolen, and your nose can go off on its own.

Likewise, “Creating Cow” owes a lot to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—which, again, is a bridge between the literary and the speculative. It also owes a great deal to my vegetarianism. It’s a reverse slaughterhouse story.

As for “The Inner City”—who doesn’t occasionally feel that someone is manipulating us behind the scenes? There are people who are lucky and people who aren’t—but is it really “luck” when some people always get a parking spot and others just drive around forever? Aren’t we right to be suspicious? “The Inner City” is a metaphor for all those things that seem to come out of nowhere and disconcert us. An indifferent universe? Or an indifferent conspiracy? Which makes more sense?

And our misgivings about the future? Medicine experiments with transplants from animals; where will interspecies grafts go? Is there something out there waiting to replace us? Have we gone too far? You can stay in the world of the real and be very concerned about it, or you can use all the possibilities we unknowingly embody and make them into a story, a fairy tale, a journey that goes past the mundane (where we think we are) into the speculative world of what we imagine can be done, or will be done, or will be done to us. And you can make your point a bit more easily that way. Possibility gives rise to idea which gives rise to action.

That’s magic. And it’s realism, too, because the imagination is the only way reality can get in.

The Inner City

The Inner City
ChiZine Publications, February 15, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 225 pages

Guest Blog by Karen Heuler - Realism, Magical and Otherwise - February 8, 2013
Anything is possible: people breed dogs with humans to create a servant class; beneath one great city lies another city, running it surreptitiously; an employee finds that her hair has been stolen by someone intent on getting her job; strange fish fall from trees and birds talk too much; a boy tries to figure out what he can get when the Rapture leaves good stuff behind. Everything is familiar; everything is different. Behind it all, is there some strange kind of design or merely just the chance to adapt? In Karen Heuler’s stories, characters cope with the strange without thinking it’s strange, sometimes invested in what’s going on, sometimes trapped by it, but always finding their own way in.

About Karen

Guest Blog by Karen Heuler - Realism, Magical and Otherwise - February 8, 2013
Karen Heuler's stories have appeared in over sixty literary and speculative journals and anthologies, including several "Best of" collections. She's published a short story collection and three novels, and won an O. Henry award in 1998. She lives in New York with her dog, Philip K. Dick, and her cats, Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.


Twitter: @KarenHeuler

Book page:

Guest Blog by Helen Marshall - Borderline Transgressions: On Writing Sex and Death - November 20, 2012

Please welcome Helen Marshall to The Qwillery. Hair Side, Flesh Side, Helen's debut collection of short stories, is out this month from ChiZine Publications.

Borderline Transgressions: On Writing Sex and Death
By Helen Marshall

Imagine you're in a hotel room, an ocean away from home, with a man. Not just any man: he's charming, captivating, handsome, energetic, powerful. You know you shouldn't be there but you can't quite help it, there's something electric about being near him, your hair seems to stand on end like there's a current running through you. You touch. It's casual, maybe, or maybe it's not casual at all. Is anything casual with two people in a hotel room? When you know the rest of the party is going on downstairs?

And imagine he's touching you, and this time it is on purpose, you know it's on purpose, and he's peeling back the edge of the collar of your shirt, he's brushing your hair away from your neck, and it is electric, you can feel it all as if the moment is supercharged. Superheated.

And he stops.

You know something is wrong.

He's found something. A spot, maybe. A mole. Maybe. A lump. Something. And his hands are cold now. He's not saying anything. You ask him what's wrong, and he's so quiet. He's so quiet. Why is he so quiet?

And you're thinking, “Cancer.” You're thinking, “Just say something!”

And he does. But it's not at all what you could have expected…

So begins the story “Sanditon” from my debut collection of short stories, Hair Side, Flesh Side: in which a young woman, in the course of an affair, discovers a lost manuscript by none other than Jane Austen written on the inside of her skin. I'm something of an absurdist writer; a fantasist, I suppose. But what has struck me over recent months is how many people find that my writing ventures into the strange landscape of horror fiction.

Horror is a hard category to define. So many writers avoid the term absolutely because they feel it's a ghettoising label. They might not be wrong. Growing up, you couldn't have got me to crack the spine of a horror novel for love or money. I didn't like being scared. I didn't want to spend my time deliberately opening myself up to that. But the funny thing I find now is that the jolt I shied away from as a kid is exactly the kind of jolt that I find myself drawn to now. Because, as anthologist and critic Douglas Winter tells us, horror isn’t so much a genre as it is an emotion.

And because there's such a thin, thin line between sex and death.

A 2003 study published in the Annals of Neurology argued that there was a connection between the size of the amygdala, the centre of the brain which controls emotion and fear responses, and a person's sex drive. Writers have been saying that for years though. Yeats once claimed that sex and death should be the only compelling subjects to a studious mind. They are the bookends of our lives, determining behavior, the key prods of the lizard brain that seems so intent on backseat driving.

Take a look at the new subway ads put out by Penguin Canada to support their romance line, sporting slogans like “Our readers come first” and “Get off here” and “Pleasure yourshelf.”

What do you see in that facial expression? It’s terribly ambiguous. Is it surprise? Is it lust? Is this woman mid-orgasm? Or has she been caught mid-orgasm? Is that a look of shock that someone has found out her dirty secret? That someone is spying on her? That, suddenly, in the midst of reading something a bit sexy she peeks up over the top of her book to discover—what?—a camera?

How easy to mistake those wide eyes, those lifted eyebrows for some other emotion. Shock. Fear. And why not? Penguin’s campaign #50ShadesHotter sports titles like Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture. The title Reflected in You itself carries the tagline “The sweet, sharp edge of obsession…” Why? Because there’s something sexy about the line between fear and arousal, between sex and death. There’s something powerful. Something that takes readers out of their comfort zones.

In one light, romance novels are all about playing with the comfort zones of their readers. Opening up spaces for experimentation, for tiptoeing on the other side of the line while still keeping a protected space. There’s a reason that the woman in the Penguin ad is wearing a wedding ring. Penguin wants you to know that whatever is going on in this picture, it’s still a safe space, it’s just a bit of a fun, it doesn’t mean anything. The boundaries between the secret thrill of reading about someone else’s sexcapades and what happens in real life when you’ve got a flesh-and-blood partner never get stretched too far.

In Hair Side, Flesh Side I wanted to play with those boundaries: between sex and death, between horror and humour and romance, between insides and outsides—and I wanted to do it by using the body as a central metaphor. Because the body is the place where all these boundaries become confused and malleable. Where emotions slip into one another. Where the electric sense of your hair raising could be desire or fear—or both.

Where living in a character’s skin might mean the vicarious pleasure of a fictional one-night stand or the sudden discomfort of discovering something unwanted and strange: a mole, a lump, or the handwriting of a dead woman.

About Hair Side, Flesh Side

Hair Side, Flesh Side
ChiZine Publications. November 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 300 pages

A child receives the body of Saint Lucia of Syracuse for her seventh birthday. A rebelling angel rewrites the Book of Judgement to protect the woman he loves. A young woman discovers the lost manuscript of Jane Austen written on the inside of her skin. A 747 populated by a dying pantheon makes the extraordinary journey to the beginning of the universe. Lyrical and tender, quirky and cutting, Helen Marshall’s exceptional debut collection weaves the fantastic and the horrific alongside the touchingly human in fifteen modern parables about history, memory, and cost of creating art.

About Helen

Aurora-winning poet Helen Marshall is an author, editor, and self-proclaimed bibliophile.

In 2011, she published a collection of poetry with Kelp Queen Press called Skeleton Leaves ( that “[took] the children’s classic, [stripped] away the flesh, and [revealed] the dark heart of Peter Pan beating beneath.” The collection was jury-selected for the Preliminary Ballot of the Bram Stoker Award for excellence in Horror, nominated for a Rhysling Award for Science Fiction Poetry and won the Aurora Award for best Canadian speculative poem.

Her highly anticipated collection of short stories Hair Side, Flesh Side, out from ChiZine Publications, hits bookshelves this month. Visit the webpage for videos, artwork and sample stories.


Review: The God Tattoo by Tom LloydGuest Blog by Karen Heuler - Realism, Magical and Otherwise - February 8, 2013Guest Blog by Helen Marshall - Borderline Transgressions: On Writing Sex and Death - November 20, 2012

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