September Tarot Spread

I’ve always had a connection with tarot cards, which kind of figures, since I’m a practising witchy pagan. But in the last few years, as my life got rockier here and there and I lost myself a little in the chaos, I disconnected a little with these things, including the tarot cards. But, here I am!  Along with the intention of posting daily card readings to my Instagram, I’m going to post both my month ahead readings and my smaller week ahead spreads as well. Maybe they’ll help you like they help  me, or maybe they’ll pique your interest in learning more about tarot and modern witchcraft practises (which I intend to blog more about).

  • september-7th-2016The Devil
  • Son of Pentacles
  • Ace of Cups
  • Two of Swords
  • The Hanged Man
  • Ten of Pentacles

Oh, what a month ahead! Mercury’s retrograde definitely features in the energies and experiences for the month, but there is the potential to ride out whatever trials of heart and mind are introduced or exacerbated this month. Be ever mindful of the smiling, baiting Devil. He sees you and you see him – and oh, he knows it, too. Powered by the chaotic fluidity of the retrograde, this Devil will seek to lead you astray. But he is in direct opposition with the Son of Pentacles, who is set a about his course, trudging ahead with his determination to wherever he is headed.

Yet especially with the trickery of the Devil afoot this month, the Son’s dogged and stalwart approach is likely to lead straight into the goat’s smiling clutches, with our stoic Son too set to glance up and reassess his way. The Devil might be you – the personification of all the little brain gremlins you house and how they all lie to you every day. But instead of the goat, choose the clever perspective offered by the Hanged Man. The Bat knows its strengths and weaknesses and plays to them. It sees the situation the way it must and holds no illusions that it is upside down. Yet, this is because it is meant to be upside down. View a situation from the way you need to see it, not anyone else. Your perspective is what you need to stay the course through the trials of the Devil and lead to the waiting energies of the Ace and Ten.

It’s going to be a busy month, emotionally and spiritually, but there is a reward for all the chaos you’ll endure. The energy of the Ten is boundless yet calm, and pitted with both the Devil and the Hanged Man, it feels knowing, as if fully aware of what’s going on. And it is – let the calm fullness of the Ten keep the overflowing energy and emotions of the Ace in check, backed up by the determination of the Son to keep to your goals and see them through, without forgetting the perspective of the Hanged Man. If you do, the Two of Swords reminds us that you can block yourself by getting into a stalemate with the Devil and the overwhelming emotions of the Ace if you try to a battle too hard or in the wrong way. There’s a lot on the bat this month. Trust bat and keep those ten, whole Pentacles in sight as you channel the Son’s determination.

You’ve got this.

Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher

“My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. When things get strange, when what goes bump in the night flicks on the lights, when no one else can help you, give me a call. I’m in the book.”

Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files aren’t exactly new to the scene; in fact, it’s me who’s rather late to the Dresden party. I’d not even heard of the Dresden Files until the Sorcerer’s Apprentice film was released, and a friend complained beforehand that it should have been given a disclaimer of “based on the Dresden Files” after realising how its magic system would work. I enjoyed the film (so did the friend, in the end) and I always had that name at the back of my mind. Dresden.

Then, it was nominated—but didn’t win—in the Fantasy Faction book club a month or so ago, and so the name floated back to the surface. And of course, the release of Ghost Story only compounded the notion that I needed to start reading this Dresden fellow.

I didn’t look into the book before buying it, didn’t read reviews or look up the blurb—I just bought it. It was only after it was sitting pretty on my desk that I looked into reviews, and found a bundle of reviews on Goodreads, posted by people who were less impressed with Dresden’s charm. “Oh, goodie”, I thought, given that the mention of his basement, leather duster, potion-making and general pseudo-goth-nerd (though really, Dresden, a goth? I question you, reviewers, if the first book is any indication) comments piqued my interest, that I would really dig this book.

And you know what? I did.

It was my first timid foray into urban fantasy, and whilst I certainly felt disarmed without my sword, daggers, leather armour and longbow, I did rather enjoy the staff and the spelled trinkets that Dresden totes. In fact, it was everything I expected it to be. I can’t say it’ll make an avid reader of urban fantasy out of me, because it won’t. I like my other fantasy, far, far too much. However, I shall be reading the backlist of the Dresden Files, that’s for sure.

Harry is a likeable character, and whilst his first person narrative style is about as done and overdone as badly cooked beef, it doesn’t matter. Nobody complains (well, I will, because I dare, and it’s what has kept myself and urban fantasy at odds with each other for a while now) about self-obsessed vampire hunters who all have the same damn narrative voice, so I sure as hell will back Harry’s voice: he’s fun, he’s quirky, and whilst by now he might not be original, it doesn’t matter, because he’s entertaining. It’s nice reading a first person novel and seeing yourself in the protagonist, even if just a teeny bit. And Harry is a nerd. Harry rocks, quite frankly. Plus… what’s wrong with a leather duster?

The writing is surprisingly good. I don’t mean that I expected it to be bad, because I didn’t. I didn’t, however, expect it to be so well-written and rich. I expected urban fantasy equals plainer writing than other fantasy subgenres. I don’t know why, I just did. But, Butcher’s writing is perfect for the book, perfect for Harry, and perfect for the story he tells. The plot is as complex and yet as simple as any good detective story should be, with all the pieces there waiting to be found, waiting to be put together, and always just out of reach. It worked excellently.

I’m not a fan of the detective genre, I never have been (I like fantasy), but I think the mixture of supernatural and crime works like a charm. It felt like a better crafted, more case-driven version of Tanya Huff’s Blood books. Very different, but somehow, it worked better for me. Maybe, if you believe the Goodreads ladies and their damning reviews, because I’m a guy and I identify with Dresden. Someone called it “misogynistic shit”: baffled as to how Harry is misogynous, however. Not that it matters: Harry is all kinds of cool, the plot is exciting and different enough that no matter the urban fantasy you’ve encountered (I’m thinking TV here, too) you will be surprised by the originality of Butcher’s ideas. The supporting cast is interesting enough, and Butcher’s subtle worldbuilding—picking and choosing ideas from the buffet of folklore and our world’s paranormal/supernatural repertoire—presents a very tangible world which he populates realistically and attractively.

Basically, I liked it. I didn’t love it, and the Dresden Files won’t be steamrolling to the top of my extensive to-read list—I’m too starved of my lovely, comfy fantasy after my last two reads. But I will be buying the backlist, and I do now count myself as a Harry Dresden fan. In all honesty: what was there not to like in Storm Front? It’s a bit of fun, Butcher flirts with the idea of darker, deeper and stronger things to come, from Harry, and it’s generally an excellent stepping stone into a new genre for me. I’ll start with Dresden, and take it from there.

If you want a quirky, partly-geeky wizard-for-hire, and want to follow him around investigating weird and whack cases, then Harry is your man, and I suggest you become acquainted with him immediately. He’s in the book.

4/5

Songs of the Earth, (The Wild Hunt #1) by Elspeth Cooper

“Define magic … If you define it as a natural force or energy that is an intrinsic part of every living thing and the world around you, then yes, the Song is magic.”
  • TITLE: Songs of the Earth
  • AUTHOR: Elspeth Cooper
  • RELEASE DATE: 16th June 2011 (UK)
  • PUBLISHER: Gollancz

One of Gollancz’s big releases this year has been the debut novel by UK fantasy novelist, Elspeth Cooper, Songs of the Earth. The first of The Wild Hunt series, Songs of the Earth claims to take the usual fantasy cliché of farmboy-meets-adventure and offer something new to the genre. Certainly, there are lingering clichés within fantasy fiction, although I strain to think of when I’ve last encountered this cliché—but I appreciate the point being made: Songs of the Earth strives to proffer a different kind of epic fantasy experience.

Set in a world that could almost be our own, especially if we include folk mythology and faerie tales of a hidden realm where the Other Kind dwell, Songs of the Earth heavily resembles a medieval, church-ruled Europe, where witchcraft is loathed, feared and outlawed. In keeping with the images evoked by the setting, with Church Knights enforcing order, witches—or suspected witches—are burned at the stake.

Witches can hear music; music laced with power that thrums and reverberates through their every fibre. Gair is one such witch, and facing a death sentence, he waits for his trial, alone and afraid, seeking comfort in the Goddess. Given to the Church for training, Gair’s crime weighs doubly on his heart: he understands the teachings of the Church, understands that magic is the tool of infidels, and yet… he yearns to touch the Song, yearns to wield and shape it.

It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that through some twist of fate—or mercy—Gair is not executed, much to the disquiet of the Church Elders, and allowed to leave. He is exiled and forbidden to return, lest the charges be brought again and his original fate exacted. A brand on his hand ensures he is marked a witch, and he is allowed to leave, as the Preceptor’s word is law.

Intercepted by an old man, Gair is offered help to cross the border safely—out of the Church’s hands and into his exile. But with trouble hot on his heels, with more than one motive against letting him go, despite the Preceptor’s verdict, Gair can’t possibly realise how much he needs Alderan, or just how close he’ll become to the old man.

Gair’s journey takes him far from his beloved Leahn, and towards a new life, where everything he ever learned at the Motherhouse is about to be turned upside down, and illuminated brightly, as he realises just what he is—and what the Song inside him as he hears it means.

Although the world so closely resembles our own—Christianity included—the setting works, and through Cooper’s constant innovations and “tweaks” on an existing world, it becomes something detached from Medieval Europe, even with the notion of Church Knights, witches and holy wars with a history of infidel blood upon which the Church is founded. Furthermore, the world fades into the background in lieu of the characters, whose emotions, conflicts and personalities drive the story forwards.

Gair is our main POV character, and Cooper crafts him well enough that whatever Gair suffers, the reader suffers. You feel what he feels. The emotion is conveyed effortlessly with all the skill of a hand that has been writing novels for decades. In regards to character, Cooper needn’t change a thing as she develops her series, rather, she should carry on in much the same vein and her new characters—and current ones—will merely continue to grow as she does as a writer, maturing with the progression of the story.

Emotive, yet crystal clear writing envelops the superbly-written characters in a solid, believable world that drives forwards the story with ease, creating an exciting page-turner that will have you reading until the small hours, and then past dawn.

Despite the fact that there were themes included that I usually avoid—shapeshifting, mainly—the strength of Cooper’s plot, and the sheer likeability of her characters drowned out any problems I might have had. There will always be something in a book a reader doesn’t like, something small and insignificant. And it remains just that; insignificant.

Filled with real, human emotion, and a villain that fully conveys a shockingly human need for power, dominance and progression, with nary a care for the consequences—as cruel as a child whose concepts of good and evil have been shattered and skewed—even the antagonist of Songs of the Earth looks an old cliché in the face and merely turns away, choosing another path. Yes, the villain is vicious, relentless and cruel, but he exhibits only a human sort of evil in his reckless abandon and selfishness. Coupled with the setting, and faced with the rest of the cast, Cooper’s choice of antagonist works exceedingly well.

With a supporting cast that you grow to know and love, sharing in Gair’s experiences as he discovers life outside the Motherhouse—as he matures, learns and becomes a man—the first instalment of The Wild Hunt is a brilliant indication of just how fantastic this series might become.

An effortless debut, filled with good honest classic fantasy tropes, a memorable cast, and easy originality, Songs of the Earth was an absolute pleasure to read. Slated for release in March 2012, Trinity Moon, book two of The Wild Hunt couldn’t come soon enough.

It’s safe to say, Elspeth Cooper is a star in the making, and with a debut like this, I can only wonder as to the sheer talent she’ll exhibit if given a few more years in the game.

Absolutely enthralling.

5/5