Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Book Review: RavenSong

This was a really fast-paced book set in a future after 'The Bombings', an event which has meant that most of mankind lives in centres like New York where a barrier keeps out most of the radiation. Jackson, a dodgy businessman fighting nightmares related to his efforts to keep his peculiar powers under wraps, finds a woman in a box in the desert - as you do - and discovers that she has some very peculiar powers of her own. The government of course takes an interest, and the resulting action leads to both of them finding out a good deal more about their background and abilities - not quite enough, though, that there is not plenty of room for a sequel.

The pace was hot, the plot was sound, the characters worked well together, and the main two were very sympathetic, particularly Anna. I liked the underplayed descriptions of a world that was familiar enough but clearly gone wrong, and the hints of a magical authority operating alongside the government, as well as apparently a parallel magical existence. I hope to see another episode in the series soon.

More information:

Name: Raven Song
Series: Inoki's Game (Book 1)
Paperback: 290 pages
Published Date: March 14, 2016
Publisher: Lucid Dreams Publishing
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1944674004
ISBN-13: 978-1944674007

Book Blurb:
A century ago, the world burned. Even now, though rebuilt and defiant, civilization is still choking on the ashes.

Jackson, a smuggler, lives in the shadows, once a boy with no memory, no name, and no future. Ravens followed him, long-extinct birds only he could see, and nightmares flew in their wake. Once, Jackson thought himself to be one of the lucky few touched by magic, a candidate for the Order of Mages. He is a man now, and that dream has died. But, the ravens still follow. The nightmares still whisper in his ear.

Anna’s life was under the sun, her future bright, her scientific work promising. She knew nothing of The Bombings, the poisoned world, or the occult. One day, she went to work, and the next, she awoke in a box over a hundred years in the future, screaming, fighting to breathe, and looking up into the eyes of a smuggler. Anna fears she’s gone crazy, unable to fill the massive hole in her memories, and terrified of the strange abilities she now possesses.

The Coalition government has turned its watchful eyes towards them. The secret factions of the city move to collect them first. And, old gods stir in the darkness, shifting their pawns on the playing field.

If Anna and Jackson wish to stay free, they must learn what they are and why they exist.

Unfortunately, even if they do, it may be too late.

Raven Song is the first of a four book adult-oriented dystopian fantasy series, a story of intrigue, love, violence, and the old spirits in the shadows who wait for us to notice them again. Readers of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Charlie Human will enjoy this dark magic-laced tale rooted on the bones of what our world could become.

Author Bio:
​I. A. Ashcroft has been writing fiction in many forms for almost twenty years. The author's first book, written at age seven, featured the family cat hunting an evil sorceress alongside dragons and eagles. This preoccupation with the fantastical has not changed in the slightest.

Now, the author dwells in Phoenix, AZ alongside a wonderful tale-spinner and two increasingly deranged cats. Ashcroft writes almost exclusively in the realm of darker fantasy these days, loving to entertain adults with stories of magic, wonder, despair, violence, and hope, bringing a deep love of mythology into every tale penned. The author also loves diverse and intriguing casts of characters.

When not buried in a book, one might find Ashcroft learning languages, charting road trips, and playing tabletop RPGs with clever and fun people.

Contact the Author:

Quotes from Reviewers

“Fresh, futuristic, dark, scary, and thrilling all at the same time… Even people who don't usually read sci-fi/fantasy type stories will be able to feel grounded.”
– Sydney Scrogham, author of Chase


“This is a surprising book. Not because it is well written (it is) and not just because it has an engaging plot that keeps you reading and wishing for more but rather because it is such an unusual concept… an excellent novel that is well worth reading if you want something different to the usual tropes.”
– D. A. Lascelles, author of “Gods of the Sea “and Transitions


“The concepts of Chosen ones, superhuman magical abilities, world collapse and time travel aren't new, but Ashcroft gives them a special twist to create a story that is clever, intelligent, original and utterly engrossing.”
– Hannah Ross, author of the Quest of the Messenger series


“Raven Song does not wait long and throws the reader into an action adventure starring likable leads from the very start.”
– Moonike, Goodreads reviewer


“I will freely admit the chapter where the book shows Anna’s past made me tear up… even now as I write this I tear up a bit thinking of it.”
– taruofatlantis, Goodreads reviewer


“Jackson was such a realistic character that I could practically see him in front of me when I read about him. I could see his movements, mannerisms… feel his relief, fear and curiosity. He is a perfect character in every which way. Anna is a character with no memories of why she is where she is. Oh and also, she may have traveled in time. Her character develops so beautifully as the story progresses. I wanted to hug her and cry out "You go girl!" at many points in the story.”
– Uma, book blogger at Books. Bags. Burgers.


“The descriptiveness of these scenes is amazing and keeps you turning the page.... you get the sense of a meld between Mad Max and some drug addled dream sequence at times.”
– Mark, Goodreads reviewer


“What a dark and beautiful fantasy! I had wanted to read this one for a while, since I has first heard of it, but just got the chance, and I'm so glad I did! Richly written with an interesting plot and complex characters this is one for all you dark fantasy/dystopian/grimdark tales!”
– Stephanie, book blogger at Adventures Thru Wonderland


“Ashcroft has a brilliant imagination coupled with an eloquent writing style that draws the reader in, makes us feel a wide array of emotions, and holds us captivated to the very end. I anxiously await the next volume in this series.”
– K. McCaslin, Amazon reviewer


“Such beauty blooms in the language and such mystery envelops the plot that the more you read, the more you fall in love with the pages.”
– Gayathri, Amazon reviewer


“The story of Jackson and Anna is one that was both touching and action packed. Smartly written with a smooth voice and an incredible talent for world building and storytelling, the author has really captured a great premise here. In fact, I was thrilled to see that this was only Book One in a series. ”
– Judge, 24th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards


“This being a debut book, blew me away. I do not ever do book reviews, but I wanted to let those who read them know, you must buy this book. It is gritty, fun, full of drama, and a little bit of love. All of the elements come together and are beautifully married to create the dystopian world full of complex, and varied characters.”
– Amazon Customer, 5 star review

"A fresh and unique take on a dystopian world, Ashcroft has managed to take one of my favorite genres and breathe new life into it. With touches of magic in a world gone south, Raven Song is packed with adventure and intrigue. A page turner you won't want to put down..."
– The Faerie Review


"Urban fantasy lovers who like layered multi dimensional plotlines would surely like the author's page turning writing style."
– Saiswaroopa Iyer, author of Abaya

Quotes from the Book

Jackson let the implication settle on his shoulders, and his voice dropped to a whisper, even though no one was there to hear. “The Coalition wants to smuggle. With us.”
“They’re not here for our generous bulk discounts on three-day shipping, boss.”

And there, behind the glass, was no gun stash, no bombs, no drugs, no illicit data chips.
It was a woman, a young woman, eyes closed as if asleep. 
Jackson blinked.
“Well, shit,” Frank said for both of them.

Something in Anna snapped … She yelled like Nyx had, tears coursing down her face now, and slammed her under-exercised, desk-job fist into the glass.
Anna heard the crunch, and was certain it was her hand breaking. A throbbing numbness exploded up her entire arm.
She pulled her hand back, and under it, a thick crack had split the plate.

“What am I?” The question tore out of his chest in the wake of the jarring memories, and it left a cold, fearful hole behind.
“Ah. There it is. Good job.”
Jackson could hardly look now at the stranger’s jaunty smile. His heart beat faster with terror.
“Do you really want to know?” the man said.

The road was lined with an old wiry fence, which sagged and splintered in places, cordoning off barren, rocky land. Anna sipped her coffee and gazed absently at the fence and the road lines, watching them stretch forever into the horizon. The clouds had been flat wisps, the landscape a painting frozen in time. And then, she had seen them.
Nearly twenty of the massive birds were clustered on a segment of wire. She normally would have thought nothing of the flock. But, as she passed, in the span of half a second, they lifted their heads and turned with her, as if they weren’t twenty birds at all, but one mind in many bodies.
Her stomach made an apprehensive leap. Some old story in her memory surfaced. Omens of death. Ravens.

She bounded ahead of the soldiers, snagging a handhold in the maimed dirt. Her arms screamed as she pulled herself up, forcing her hands into new nooks, finding purchase for her feet. She never would have been able to do this in her past life. And yet, now, it seemed like she should, and she was hardly surprised when it worked.

The harsh arena lights were like the sun, drying Jackson’s blood to his skin. Flickers of black wheeled in his vision against the light. Then, they weren’t flickers anymore. They were dark-feathered birds croaking their song overhead, circling, watching.
His companions until the end. Always.

In the end, she didn’t have a plan.
But, she did have the inner voice that had urged her on when the NNSS was attacked. It was the same voice that saw her lead the breakout. You’re going to do it, the voice said. You don’t know how yet, but you will. You have to. Why else would you be alive, after all this? To die here?
Anna decided to call this voice courage, and she hoped it was right.


A boy lay on the broken sidewalk, eyes closed. He was pale and thin, looking not a day over ten years old. His half-clothed body shuddered against the chilly night air. His bony frame scraped against the grime of the street as he curled into himself, trying to keep back the cold. Overhead, the stars hung bright and lonely.

In the alley, almost invisible against the midnight darkness, a man stood tall over the boy. His well-pressed suit was as black as the shadows, as his skin, and as the raven on his shoulder. The way he hovered over the child, he seemed a strange guardian. But his eyes were turned upwards to the sky, away from the boy’s plight, as if it was no real matter. In those black eyes the stars were mirrored, impossible and brilliant. Those eyes stared back into the past, when the celestial lights were loved and revered, when each constellation had a story.

Once upon a time… this was when the world had sung to him, the dream-walker, the song-weaver, the star-stringer.

Once, before humans had forgotten his name.

Now, the starry sky was almost hidden by the glowing blue haze of the Barrier, a shield cast over what was left of the city: proud New York, ruined, rebuilt, defiant.

The stranger kept staring upwards into oblivion, even as the boy let out an unhappy whimper, chills wracking his weak frame. The raven flew from the stranger’s shoulder then, alighting onto the sidewalk, picking past the weeds and rubble. It rejoined its fellows who had settled amicably around the child, oblivious to the fact that ravens were all supposed to be dead. One hundred years ago, poison had leeched into the earth, into the grass, into the grazers, and into the corpses left behind. The blight spared little, its kind no exception. Regardless, this impossible creature affectionately brushed at the boy’s dark hair with its beak.

At the touch, the boy awoke with a start. His wide, uncomprehending eyes took in the world as he struggled to sit up, his head swinging around wildly; past awnings and high rises he had never seen, past scrawled words and graffiti he could not understand. He teetered to his feet, then fell back down again as his knees gave out, sending the birds around him into flight.

He saw no starry eyes in the darkness, no stranger standing nearby. He was halfnaked, shivering, hungry, and alone, his head aching down to his teeth. The nameless boy shook off the dreams he couldn’t remember and wondered where he was.

If there had been any passersby on that cold autumn night, they would have sworn that this boy hadn’t been there a minute ago, and no stranger or ravens had been there at all.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

August's literary 'house'

For the summer months it’s nice to be out and about and under canvas, and although this particular expedition was not as successful in that regard as was hoped, it still remains one of my all-time favourite books which I have read so often the book is falling apart. When I read it on the Thames itself, and on the towpath outside Hampton Court Palace, it almost had to be held over a bag in case bits fell off. I’m not a good sailor but I do like a boat on a river, and this one appealed particularly, even if it didn’t really work!

‘We won’t take a tent,’ suggested George; ‘we will have a boat with a cover. It is ever so much simpler, and more comfortable.’
It seemed a good thought, and we adopted it. I do not know whether you have ever seen the thing I mean. You fix iron hoops over the boat, and stretch a huge canvas over them, and fasten it down all round, from stem to stern, and it converts the boat into a sort of little house, and it is beautifully cosy, though a trifle stuffy …
Then we thought we were going to have supper (we had dispensed with tea, so as to save time), but George said no; that we had better get the canvas up first, before it got quite dark, and while we could still see what we were doing. Then, he said, all our work would be done, and we could sit down to eat with an easy mind.
That canvas wanted more putting up than I think any of us had bargained for. It looked so simple in the abstract. You took five iron arches, like gigantic croquet hoops, and fitted them up over the boat, and then stretched the canvas over them, and fastened it down; it would take quite ten minutes, we thought.
That was an underestimate.
We took up the hoops, and began to drop them into the sockets places for them. You would not imagine this to be dangerous work; but, looking back now, the wonder to me is that any of us are alive to tell the tale. They were not hoops, they were demons. First they would not fit into their sockets at all, and we had to jump on them, and kick them, and hammer at them with the boat-hook; and, when they were in, it turned out that they were the wrong hoops for those particular sockets, and they had to come out again.
But they would not come out, until two of us had gone and struggled with them for five minutes, when they would jump up suddenly, and try and throw us in the water and drown us. They had hinges in the middle, and, when we were not looking, they nipped us with these hinges in delicate parts of the body; and, while we were wrestling with one side of the hoop, and endeavouring to persuade it to do its duty, the other side would come behind us in a cowardly manner, and hit us over the head.
We got them fixed at last, and then all that was to be done was to arrange the covering over them. George unrolled it, and fastened one end over the nose of the boat. Harris stood in the middle to take it from George and roll it on to me, and I kept by the stern to receive it. It was a long time coming down to me. George did his part all right, but it was new work to Harris, and he bungled it.
How he managed it I do not know, he could not explain himself; but by some mysterious process or other he succeeded, after ten minutes of superhuman effort, in getting himself completely rolled up in it. He was so firmly wrapped round and tucked in and folded over, that he could not get out. He, of course, made frantic struggles for freedom – the birthright of every Englishman – and in doing so (I learned this afterwards), knocked over George; and then George, swearing at Harris, began to struggle too, and got himself entangled and rolled up.
I knew nothing about all this at the time. I did not understand the business at all myself. I had been told to stand where I was, and wait till the canvas came to me, and Montmorency and I stood there and waited both as good as gold. We could see the canvas being violently jerked and tossed about, pretty considerably; but we supposed this was a part of the method, and did not interfere.
We also heard much smothered language coming from underneath it, and we guessed that they were finding the job rather troublesome, and concluded that we would wait until things had got a little simpler before we joined in.
We waited some time, but matters seemed to get only more and more involved, until, at last, George’s head came wriggling out over the side of the boat, and spoke up.
It said:
‘Give us a hand here, can’t you, you cuckoo; standing there like a stuffed mummy, when you see we are both being suffocated, you dummy!’
I never could withstand an appeal for help, so I went and undid them; not before it was time, either, for Harris was nearly black in the face.