October Reads – Oct 2

Continuing my series of spooky SFF reads you can pick up to get into the October spirit, here’s day two!

The Poison Throne by Celine Keirnan

7302398What’s it about?

Daughter of the king’s trusted confidante, Wynter grew up close friends with the two royal princes. Returning to the castle where she was raised after a long absence, she quickly learns that something has changed. The king has become a malevolent shadow of himself, his eldest and favoured son missing, and gibbets, torture, and whispers of a horrific ‘Bloody Machine’ have turned Wynter’s childhood home into a nightmare.

This is the first book in the Moorehawke Trilogy, a dark but still airy-feeling character driven fantasy series by Irish author Celine Keirnan. They’re fast reads with really compelling relationships and a lot of diversity!

How SFF is it?

Very! It takes place in a barely alternate Earth populated by talking cats, friendly ghosts, and werewolves howling in the night. It has a late west European medieval/early Renaissance feel to it. While not really high fantasy — few characters have any sort of real magical abilities — it definitely fits nicely into what you’d expect from a fantasy novel.

Why is it spooky?

Those friendly ghosts I mentioned above aren’t being so friendly anymore. The castle the book takes place in is haunted, and where once it’s spirits were friends, they’ve turned strange and mad and malevolent. There are some really outright eerie sequences involving the castle’s undead denizens!

This book also just has a sense of creeping dread about it. There isn’t much action and it’s a very slow burn, but it works well with the heavy sense that Something Is Wrong, that terrible things are happening and are only getting worse, that there is some awful unknowable secret just under our feet.

Finally, there’s some grisly details that add a gothic tone to it all, with the tortures mad King Jonathan is inflicting on his subjects and the way the castle has changed.

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October Reads – Oct 1

I looooove the fall!

Specifically, I love October. I love the cool air, the leaves changing, the pumpkin spice, and getting to break out my scarves and sweaters. The sights and smells and mood are all just one of my favourite times of year! Moreover, the third Faraday Files book, which I’m working at a breakneck pace to finish this month, takes place deep in the Harvest season! So the autumn mood is really inspiring me!

The centrepiece of October is Halloween, which I love best of all. I thought for this month, I’d share a bunch of spooky, moody SFF-ish books that you may or may not have checked out!

To start…

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Keirnan

What’s it about?

5356476After the suicide of her longtime girlfriend, author Sarah Crowe falls into a depression she can’t shake. Finding it impossible to write, Sarah impuslively spends a summer holed up in Rhode Island. She rents a little cottage whose grounds contain a gigantic, ancient red oak that has always been associated with mysterious, often gruesome circumstances.

This book plays havoc with your sense of what is and isn’t real. Sarah kills herself after the events of this summer. It sounds like a spoiler, but it’s more or less the first thing you find out when you start the book, because of the in-universe foreword by her editor. This is a publication of Sarah’s journals from that summer. And the real power of the book is that foreword, which holds just enough hints and glimpses into the real world, beyond the filter of Sarah’s madness, to confuse every attempt to decode what really happened.

How SFF is it?

Not very. This book is much closer to pure horror than anything else I plan to include on this list at this point. It has a contemporary setting and the characters feel like they live in the real world. At the same time, there’s very little communication with the outside world beyond the cottage and the red tree. It also feels very SFF to me, specifically in some of the weirder elements that I really don’t want to spoil! It’s also worth noting that the main character, Sarah, is actually an SFF author! Which is pretty cool.

Why is it spooky?

The kind of spookiness this book is going for is the idea of unknowable forces, of things that existed long before our civilizations, continue to exit in the shadowed corners of them, and will go on long after we’re gone. It taps into anxieties about the wildness of nature, the way that the natural world is in so many ways anathema to humanity and how we live, and the idea of vast powers and terrifying little glitches in the matrix that exist just below our feet.  It also plays with madness a lot, and the fear of the thing in the corner of your eye, and how you can convince yourself it was real… or was it actually real all along?