locehl_zakoraThe Fyrelit Tragedy is the first in a series of four books, by Brisbane-based siblings, Nicholas and Alison Lochel.

The story takes place in the nation of Fynglade, a fantasy land inhabited by giants, elves, men, monsters and mysterious creatures. It begins in the city of Zarakora with an act of betrayal that will bring unexpected consequences for all and for the future of Fynglade.

We then fast forward to fifteen years later, in the neighbouring kingdom of Delmor. The young Fyrelit siblings are preparing for a tournament, of which the eldest, Neleik, is reigning champion. He, along with his brother, Ervine, and much younger sister, Skye, are getting along as best they can in the wake of their parents’ death. Neleik is the only one who fully remembers the event and the involvement of a cloaked man, known as Versalos. The trauma has left him protective and vigilant. He is now the head of the little family; a responsibility he takes very seriously.

During the tournament, Neleik’s worst fears become reality – Versalos returns and kidnaps Skye. Without pausing for thought, Neleik collects Ervine, some supplies, and an unlikely ally in Romahn, his former competitor. Together they tear off to petition the King of Delmor for aide in retrieving Skye.

Here the group experience their first obstacle, which only serves to harden their resolve. Their plight attracts another friend in Kyia, the Princess of Delmor, who finagles her way into their mission as they determine to find out more about Versalos. The four set out from Delmor with purpose, resourcefulness and little experience of the wider world.

It doesn’t take long for them to find trouble and intrigue aplenty. It soon becomes apparent that the situation is much larger than they knew. What started off as a mission to save one little girl, rapidly transforms into an epic quest to retake Zarkora and banish the forces of darkness from the land of Fynglade.

This new quest leads them to a city of magic, a close shave with the pursuing guards of Delmor, an unexpected reunion, and a devastating revelation. Undaunted, the friends forge ahead and continue to pick up information, allies and enemies in their bid to save the nation and Skye. They learn more about their quarry, Versalos, and soon realise that if they are to have any chance against him, it will take much more than willpower.

lochel_Zarkora Facebook CoverTheir many trials test the companions’ strength and moral fibre and bring to bear the most powerful bonds of family and friendship. Together, they encounter vicious monsters and experience tragedy, loss and triumph. They find that they have friends in the most unusual places and are hunted by some very persistent enemies. Each encounter brings them a step closer to their goal and risks the wrath of Versalos, who is determined to wipe out any that oppose him.

It is hard not to get swept up in the increasingly grand mission of the Fyrelit family. It is an exciting and perilous journey with spectacular escapes and near-misses, unlikely friendships, and tests of faith. The characters are engaging and the final band of friends is well-rounded. They all experience growth during the story and together they display bravery, compassion, integrity, empathy, and selflessness.

The Fyrelit Tragedy is a good opening to a quest series and should please young readers who have enjoyed stories along the lines of Harry Potter, or The Lord of the Rings. As is appropriate for this audience, enthusiasm is high, doubts are overcome and reflection is present but fleeting. The tension ratchets up nicely and there is plenty to distract the group from getting bogged down in lengthy debate. All of the characters are upfront about their intentions and fall clearly into the categories of either good or evil.

The world building is solid with a few interesting parallels to our world. The only glitch for me was in the use of contemporary, real-world language in places but this may not be a problem for others.

The Lochels are in themselves a story of courage and self-belief. Over the years they have generated so much positive publicity for their self-published books, that a publishing company (Hachette Australia) took notice. I imagine that Zarkora is only the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership.

The Fyrelit Tragedy ends on a cliff-hanger and continues with Zarkora: The Lost Kingdom, which is released in Novenmber 2015.

 



Alison Mather_HThe recipe is from the ‘ABC Delicious – Simply the Best’ cookbook, by Valli Little. It’s simple but time-consuming, so best to start a day or so ahead. It’s done in three stages, with cooling and setting time between, so the labour can be split up. To make the recipe lactose and gluten-free for those that need it, I used LF versions of the milk, cream, cream cheese, GF arrowroot cookies and Nuttelex in the base. It worked fine ~ A. V. Mather

 

cheesecake-alIngedients:

300 g shortbread of digestive biscuits

¼ cup (25g) cocoa, sifted

80g unsalted butter, melted

8 gold-strength gelatine leaves (I have no idea what these are, I just used regular)

1kg cream cheese at room temperature

1 ¼ cups (275g) castor sugar

1/3 cup (80ml) milk

300ml thickened cream

¼ cup (60ml) rosewater

2x250g punnets strawberries, hulled and halved

Method:

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Grease a 22cm springform cake pan.

Place the biscuits and cocoa in a food processor and whiz until fine crumbs. Add the butter and pulse to combine. Press mixture into the base of the cake pan. Place in the oven for 10-15 mins, cool on counter, and then place in the fridge to chill.

Soak 5 gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place cream cheese and ¾ cup (165g) sugar in cleaned food processor and whiz until smooth. Place the milk in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to just below boiling point. Squeeze excess water from the gelatine, then add the gelatine to the milk, stirring until the gelatine has dissolved. Cool slightly, then add to the cream cheese mixture in the food processor and whiz to combine. Transfer to a bowl.

Beat the cream with electric beaters until soft peaks form, then fold into the cream cheese mixture with 1 tablespoon rosewater. Pour the filling over the biscuit base and gently tap the pan on the bench to dispel any pockets. Cover in plastic wrap and chill for 4 hours or until filling is set.

Meanwhile, place the strawberries and remaining ½ cup (110g) of sugar in a large bowl with ½ cup (125ml) of water, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cover the bowl tightly with foil and place over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water). Simmer for 20 minutes, topping up the pan with more water if needed, until the strawberries are very soft.

Soak the remaining 3 gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes.

Pass the strawberry mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl – don’t press down on the fruit, or the jelly will be cloudy. While the juice is warm, squeeze excess water from the gelatine, then stir the gelatine into the juice until dissolved. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons rosewater. Cool completely, then place in the fridge for 15 minutes until just starting to thicken. Pour the strawberry jelly over the cheesecake, then return to the fridge for 3-4 hours until the top has completely set.



 

Alison MatherI had the pleasure of attending the Hachette Roadshow last week, alongside fellow MDPWeb staffer, Joelene Pynnonen. The Roadshow is an annual event for those in the book trade and stops at major centres in Australia. It’s great fun and showcases the breadth of Hachette’s new and upcoming releases for Christmas and beyond.

It was easy to become giddy over the glittering array of food, bubbles, books and, yes, goodie bags. The mood was chatty and festive, the new releases tantalising, and the asparagus spears to die for!

For YA readers, there is much to look forward to in the coming months. Included in the gift bag was a copy of ‘Only Ever Yours’, by Louise O’Neill, a dark piece of hard-hitting fiction that has garnered international attention. It offers a view into a world in which girls are groomed to become ‘companions’ for the elite. Taught that their only value is in their perfection, the pressure becomes too much for two best friends. Everything starts to unravel in their final year of school, on the cusp of being chosen as brides, when the future is all that matters.

This one promises to be riveting and I can’t wait to read and review it.

untitledAnother to look out for is ‘The World According to Anna’, by Jostein Gaarder (of ‘Sophie’s World’ fame). Sixteen year old Anna starts having visions of a future time; a bleak world where she witnesses her own descendants sifting through the ashes that are left. She begins to believe that it is her destiny to change the future, or disaster will ensue.

Anyone who loved Lemony Snicket will want to catch ‘Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head’ by Lauren Oliver and HC Chester, for an overload of freaks, wonders and oddities. Fans of a good series can look forward to the VERY LAST EVER instalment of How to Train Your Dragon, ‘How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury’; the third in The Mapmaker Chronicles, ‘Breath of the Dragon’; and Book Two of Zarkora, ‘The Lost Kingdom’, by Nicholas and Alison Lochel.

I managed to exchange a few words with Nicholas and Alison, who were present on the night to promote their Zarkora series. The Brisbane-grown siblings have worked hard over the years as self-publishers, and it is wonderful to see it paying off so successfully. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with the Lochels on burnbright.com, and for my own review of the first book of the series, ‘The Fyrelit Tragedy’.

The reading landscape is looking good for YA enthusiasts, thanks to the team at Hachette Australia. Make room on your bookshelves, folks, they’re all coming soon.



alexander_WolfWolf is the second book in the Were Chronicles series, which began with Random and will close with Shifter. The series focuses on the lives of one particular Were family and the struggles they face assimilating into regular society. The overall story is complex and deals with issues such as the importance of identity, family ties, the binding nature of loyalty and how these forces compel us to action.

Malcolm Marsh is the middle child in a family of ‘Random’ Were-people who have immigrated to a new country to escape persecution. Hunted in the old land and now marginalised in the new, they soon discover that tolerance of their kind comes with strict rules and restrictions. Here, the public face of acceptance has simply made bigotry more insidious.

Armed with a new identity and a name that he can scarcely pronounce, Mal suffers his way through the full force of bullying at school. Despite this toxic unpopularity, he manages to gain an unassuming ally who goes by the name of Chalky. It is a kinship of spirits, and as their friendship strengthens, it becomes apparent that Chalky has secrets of his own. If Mal’s random Were-blood puts him in the minority of the minority, Chalky is a true outlier – he exists somewhere just beyond the rules.

Their friendship made life just about bearable for Mal, until, at the age of twelve, a tragic event caused his fragile world to shatter completely. This becomes the harbinger of a series of changes in Mal, which takes him through his teen years on a path of self-loathing, isolation and destruction. Fuelled by guilt and anguish, and further ignited by his own inadequacies, he finally hits on an opportunity for redemption through vengeance.

With the help of Chalky, Mal hastily knocks together a plan and throws himself at it, body and soul. Against the odds, his half-baked strategy works and continues to work. Before Mal has time to get his bearings, he is once again saying goodbye to everything familiar and taking on a new identity.  All he can do now is hold on and try to stay ahead of the game, but the people he has taken on are serious and have a long-standing agenda of their own. It soon becomes apparent that Mal had only a vague notion of what he was getting into and that this time he might not make it back out.

I enjoy a good hare-brained, emotion-driven, revenge plan and this one is a classic of its kind. It really does take on a life of its own, and Mal spends most of the second half of the book trying to keep up with it. He manages to achieve so much without anything going wrong that when disaster eventually strikes, it does so in spectacular fashion. But by now, Mal is somewhat impervious to disaster. He succeeds in building a strong support team, despite his habit of placing them all in danger, and they bond together through his mission.

Through it all, Mal never loses his stubborn, headstrong determination. While this behaviour certainly rings true for his age and emotional state, after a while it began to seem a little callous. I started to wonder if he’d ever learn anything because he repeatedly drags those close to him through the wringer, without much thought for consequences. That said, there certainly are times when it is an advantage to act, and Mal finds that he has gumption to spare.

I also found his internal voice to be quite mature, and it jarred with the way he comported himself in the outside world. He often muses like a student of Philosophy, pondering the big questions. Similarly, his character arc seemed to jolt in places. He changes from unreachable, surly teen to compliant worker bee almost overnight and with little complaint. Readers who had spent the first part of the book identifying with his misunderstood, loner status might find his new ‘can-do’ persona difficult to like. However, people are complex and different environments do change behaviours. Mal takes the opportunity to step up and this is certainly a positive approach.

There are many familiar teen issues in this story, with the pain of adolescence very much at the heart. Whilst the main themes tend towards the masculine side of things, female readers in this age group will certainly be able to identify with experiences of isolation, guilt, loyalty and rebellion. Sadly, many will also recognise the slow torture of self-loathing.

I particularly enjoyed the science underpinning ‘Wolf’. It tends to get pushed to the background by the action, but it is well thought out and convincingly written. The daily lives of Were-people, along with the concept of the ‘Random’ Were, were interesting and presented with compassion. The larger issues, such as genetic manipulation and the use of drugs to control nature, are perfectly pitched and relevant. Setting the whole thing against a background of bigotry and the threat of a Master Race scenario – while not particularly original – created an appropriate sense of scale and consequence. Although the pacing tended to drag in parts, there is some terrific descriptive writing, (eg ‘…an agonizing oily slowness that comes with waiting.’), which made the long stretches worth it.

Mal does spend a lot of his time raging against the injustices that life has dealt him. This will certainly be a familiar tune for most YA readers, or anyone who has had a child, or been one. It is this very thing that makes it so easy to identify with his story. In ‘Wolf’, Alma Alexander holds a light to the feelings beneath the surface, the emotions that unite us all, and that makes for a moving experience.

 



Alison MatherHow long have you been writing for MDPWeb, why did you join the group, and what do you like about being part of it?

I think for about a year. I joined because it’s a wonderful opportunity to be associated with great writers, and it keeps me writing.

What creative piece are you working on, and what author would you liken your work too?

Currently attempting a re-imaging of the first story I wrote for young readers. I’m not sure whose style I’m similar to but I’ve been told that my stories have an Alice in Wonderland/Narnia feel to them, with a modern edge.

What book have you most enjoyed reviewing for MDPWeb?

Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2013. Those stories are on fire!

What’s your favourite thing to do in your downtime?

Obviously nothing shameful like inhale TV series and shop online. So…read and be in nature. I also really love to lie down and think.

Is there somewhere else online/in bookstores we can find your work?

Not yet, but you can follow me on Twitter @AVMather, check out my writer’s page on fb under AV Mather, and also find me on my agent’s website blakefriedmann.co.uk

What’s your favourite TV series?

Just one? I can’t be expected to work within these stingy parameters. Twin Peaks, hands down.

Who or what is your current crush?

My current addiction is Canadian and American home renovation shows, and have major crushes on a several of the hosts. I want to be Joanna from Fixer Upper when I grow up.

 

BIO:

I am a Brisbane-based writer of Fantasy fiction for Young Adults. I have a BA in Fine Arts and a Post-Grad in Education. In previous decades I have worked as a Scenic Artist and a Secondary School Art teacher. Eight years ago I finally gave in to my overactive imagination and devoted myself wholly to writing. I am represented by Tom Witcomb, of Blake Friedmann Agency in London, England.

I enjoy reading widely across genres and am also interested in art, satire, history, the natural world, photography, popular culture, psychology, road trips and good stories – real and imagined.



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