Secrets of Eternia: A Photo Story or Watch Cora Play with Action Figures, Part 2: The Origin of Teela

It’s the second installment of a new series of posts which are basically me posing my Masters of the Universe Origins action figures to reenact scenes from the cartoons and my imagination. Part 1, where I discuss the secret identity of He-Man, is here.

However, in addition to the secret identity of He-Man, Masters of the Universe: Revelation also addressed another major secret, which has been a part of the series at least since the original Filmation cartoon from the early 1980s, namely the mystery of Teela’s origin.

As far as Teela knows, she is the adopted daughter of Duncan a.k.a. Man-at-Arms. However, the original cartoon revealed that Teela’s biological mother is none other than the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull and all subsequent versions (except for the recent Netflix CGI cartoon, which has Duncan and Teela as good friends of the same age for reasons best known to the writers, though the Sorceress is still her mother) have stuck with this.

Once again, Teela’s true parentage is kept secret from her to keep her safe, because as the guardian of Castle Grayskull and the Orb of Power that rests underneath the castle, the Sorceress is also a prime target for Skeletor, Hordak, King Hiss and anybody else who wants to conquer Eternia. In many ways, this makes more sense than Adam keeping the fact that he is He-Man from his parents and Teela.

However, there is no real reason for the Sorceress not to tell Teela the truth, once Teela comes of age, especially since Teela has not only inherited her mother’s abilities but is also expected to eventually succeed her. As for why Duncan doesn’t tell her, the Sorceress swore him to silence and he is the sort of person to honour such a vow under any circumstance, which is probably why he winds up keeping every single secret on Eternia. Though in an episode of the 2002 cartoon, an uncommonly angry Duncan demands that the Sorceress tell Teela herself that she is her mother.

As with the secret identity of He-Man keeping the truth about her parentage from Teela actually causes more harm than good. For starters, Teela is terrified and confused by the powers she inherited from her mother and only embraces them, once she learns the truth.

Another issue, which is mostly only alluded to in the various cartoons, is the psychological effect that believing she is a foundling orphan has on Teela. Because in every version of the story, Teela is an absolute overarchiever. Whereas Adam is often seen napping, reading, fishing or otherwise relaxing with Cringer, Teela is always training or practicing. I don’t think we ever see her relaxing just once. And her constant training is rewarded with success, because she is promoted to Captain of the Royal Guard at a very young age and orders about soldiers a lot older than she is.

Now as a kid, I always liked Teela. And a large part of the reason is that Teela always was the best at everything, stronger, faster and more skilled than Adam in his untransformed form. However, as an adult I can see how annoying growing up with someone like Teela must have been for everybody else around her. There is a flashback in an episode of the original cartoon, where an approximately twelve-year-old Teela is seen bossing around a squad of teenaged boys and making them march around the palace courtyard. She also bosses Adam around, who lets her, because he loves her. Plus, Adam has figured out how to sneak away and avoid Teela, when he’s not in the mood for yet another combat training session.

In another episode of the Filmation cartoon, we see Teela furious, because she lost a Sky Sled tournament. Her father, Adam and even Queen Marlena try to comfort her and praise her performance, but Teela won’t have any of that and even lashes out at poor Adam, when he tells her that she did great. No matter how good her performance, she lost, so she is a failure. Honestly, rewatching those cartoons as an adult, I often want to tell Teela, “Please, girl, just  slow down, relax and have a bit of fun.”

If you work with young people, you will have encountered overarchievers like Teela. Mostly, they tend to be girls, though there are boys like that as well. Maybe you’ve even been one yourself (I was). As for why kids are like that, they realised at some point that getting good grades and being the best at something gains them approval from parents and other adults, so some of them develop the idea that they always need to be the best to be loved and wanted and that not being the very best mean they are a failure.

With Teela, there is an additional layer here, because as far as she knows, she’s an abandoned child who was adopted and therefore she feels the constant need to prove herself worthy of being loved and cared for. Of course, Teela doesn’t need to prove anything – her father loves her and her friends love her – but she still feels that she does and that’s why she is the way she is. It explains why she is constantly exasperated at Adam’s more laid back attitude, probably because she assumes that Adam can afford to be something of a slacker, because his position is assured, unlike hers. Though Adam of course has problems of his own, since his father thinks he’s something of a failure.

None of the cartoons ever explicitly spelled this out, but it’s definitely there in the background. And I read somewhere that Filmation actually had a teacher (the teacher of one of the kids of Filmation founder Lou Scheimer) on staff as a pedagogic consultant to review the scripts and come up with the little moral messages tacked on at the end of every episode. And as a teacher, you encounter overarchieving kids very quickly – there’s usually at least one in every class –  so that consultant would have known exactly what such kids are like and that “You know, your parents will still love you, even if you’re not always the best” was a message they needed to hear once in a while.

Revelation comes the closest to spelling all this out, when Teela, just as she is about to be named the new Man-at-Arms, tells Adam that she has finally proven to everybody that this little orphan girl is worthy and Adam replies that she never had to prove anything to him. Even Teela’s rebellion, complete with hairstyle, clothing and career change, fits in with this, because constant overarchievement is not sustainable and these kids eventually tend to rebel and reinvent themselves, usually sometime in their twenties.

Would telling Teela the truth about her parentage, once she was old enough, make her less of an overarchiever? Probably not, especially since most kids who are overarchievers are not adopted. However, knowing that her mother gave her away to protect her and not because she didn’t want or love her would still have helped.

Teela does come close to uncovering the secret of her parentage a few times and the Sorceress even has to wipe her memory at one point, but she only learns the truth when Adam (who found out in an episode of the original cartoon) tells her in Masters of the Universe: Revelation – after her mother has been murdered by Skeletor.

Duncan, Teela and the Sorceress

Proud parents: Duncan and the Sorceress with grown-up Teela.

As for why Duncan wound up raising Teela, the various cartoons offer slightly different versions of the story. In the original Filmation cartoon ( You can watch the episode in question here), Duncan just happens to pass by, while the Sorceress is defending her baby from an attack by Mer-Man and his cronies. After Mer-Man has been defeated, the Sorceress realises that she cannot protect her daughter and gives her to Duncan.

Here is a recreation of that version of the story:

Duncan and the Sorceress fight Mer-Man over Baby Teela

Yes, I know the Sorceress puts her baby in a bird’s nest in the original cartoon for reasons best known to herself. However, I did not have a bird’s nest, though I did have a turtle-shaped silver pill box. The baby is a figurine for baby showers and the like that just happens to have the right scale.

“Hah, this child will make a tasty morsel for our Lord Cthulhu, when he rises from the depths.”

“Over my dead body, fiend!”

“Duncan, protect our daughter!”

The Sorceress, Duncan and a defeated Mer-Man.“You were right, Duncan. The royal palace is a safer place for our baby than a tortoise shell.”

“Have no fear, my love. I shall protect our daughter – with my life if necessary.”

“Waahhh!”

“Don’t cry, little Teela. The big bad stinky Mer-Man can’t hurt you anymore. Here, Daddy has a rattle for you.”

“Duncan, that’s no rattle.”

“I know. But do you have a better idea to calm her down? Here, little one, look at the pretty flashing lights on the mace – err – rattle.”

The Sorceress, Duncan and Baby Teela.

Eternian Family portrait: The Sorceress, Duncan and Baby Teela.

But if the Sorceress is Teela’s mother, then who is her biological father? The original cartoon mentions an unnamed husband of the Sorceress, a brave warrior who died in battle.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation ditches the mysterious dead husband and simply shows us Duncan and the Sorceress as two people who fell in love and had a baby together. But then the Sorceress had to fulfill her mythic destiny and abandon all attachments and Duncan was left holding the baby.

The Sorceress, Duncan and Baby Teela

Eternian Family Portrait No. 2: The Sorceress and Duncan with their baby daughter.

I like this version of the story much better, if only because every version of this story from the original cartoon onwards has hinted that Duncan is in love with the Sorceress. It’s fairly low-key and I for one never noticed until very recently (probably because you don’t pay much attention to the parent figures, when you’re a kid, and certainly don’t want to imagine them getting romantically entangled), but it’s definitely there all the way back to the Filmation cartoons of the early 1980s.

Duncan and the Sorceress kissing

Duncan and the Sorceress enjoy some quality time together in the bowels of Castle Grayskull.

The 2002 cartoon series, meanwhile, goes for a mix of both versions described above. Once again, Duncan is handed a swaddled baby by the Sorceress and once again, he vows to protect the child and raise her as his own. But unlike the Filmation cartoon from the 1980s, this version of the story gives us some more information about the Sorceress’ mysterious husband (who is very much not dead in the 2002 cartoon), though we still don’t learn his identity, largely because the Sorceress herself doesn’t know for sure.

Basically, the Sorceress gets bored being all alone inside Castle Grayskull all day and decides that she wants to see more of Eternia. Her magical powers don’t work very well outside the Castle, but well enough for her to defend a village against some attackers. All this happens during something called “the Great Unrest” (basically a civil war, which makes me wonder how the Sorceress thought this would be a good time to leave her magical castle empty and undefended). One day, a grieveously wounded soldier is brought into the village. The Sorceress nurses him back to health and they fall in love, even though the Sorceress has never seen his face, since it’s completely covered in bandages, nor does she know his name, because the soldier has amnesia due to his injuries. In fact, I suspect that main reason these two fell in love or rather lust with each other is because they literally are the only compatible humans in the whole village, which is inhabited by white little Ewok type creatures. At any rate, they get married. Apparently, either US children’s TV in general or Mattel in particular had a policy that characters have to be married before having children, even if that wedding is literally officiated by a small fuzzy Ewok critter.  Eventually, the soldier recovers his memories and leaves the village and his pregnant wife behind, promptly forgetting all about her. And yes, I know that’s not how amnesia works and in fact this whole story sounds like the plot of a bad Mills & Boon/Harlequin romance novel with a title like The Wounded Soldier’s Secret Baby.

But who was that mysterious soldier? The episode in which the Sorceress recounts that tale heavily implies that it was Duncan himself, especially since Duncan and the wounded soldier have the same square jawline. However, the writers were apparently planning to go into a different direction and reveal that Teela’s biological father was none other than Fisto.

What the fuck…?

That was my reaction, at any rate. True, he may be partly inspired by late medieval knight Götz von Berlichingen, who had an iron hand prosthesis to replace a hand lost in battle, with a bit of Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane thrown in, but Fisto has always been a bit of a joke. He is the character who gave birth to a thousand memes and mainly seems to exist to allow the writers to sneak fisting jokes into a kids show. Even the Götz von Berlichingen connection is appropriate here, because nowadays, the historical Götz von Berlichingen is mainly remembered for the very rude quote that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe gave him in his eponymous play about Götz, much to the delight of every German schoolkid forced to read that play.

Fisto

Could this man be Teela’s biological father?

Fisto punched Beast-Man

“Eat steel knuckles and tell Skeletor that he can lick my arse.”

The strict standards of US children’s TV with regard to swearing prevent Fisto from quoting the other steel-fisted warrior Götz von Berlichingen, but he has always been something of a weird character.

When he was first introduced in the Filmation cartoon in 1984, Fisto was actually a villain of sorts, a grumpy loner who lives in the forest and harrasses Eternian peasants until the superior fists of He-Man and the power of kindess make him see the error of his ways and join the good guys.

Fisto in the forest

Fisto in his grumpy woodsman persona.

As an origin story, it’s weird and I now wonder whether Fisto was initially intended to be a villain, until Mattel decided to make him one of the good guys or whether Filmation just told the story they wanted to tell, toy continuity be damned. And because Fisto had such a weird origin story, the 2002 cartoon retconned it somewhat. In this version, Fisto is still a grumpy loner who hangs out in seedy bars and gets into fights. However, this Fisto is also the estranged brother of Man-at-Arms. Duncan and Fisto a.k.a. Malcolm don’t get along with each other – which is unusal, because Duncan gets along with everybody – and nearly come to blows more than once, though Fisto also saves everybody’s lives and badly damages his hand in the process, which is why Duncan builds the iron fist for him. The reason why Duncan and Fisto don’t get along is that Duncan thinks Fisto is a coward and deserter, because he vanished in the middle of a battle. Fisto, however, insists that he was injured and had amnesia… just like the Sorceress’ wounded soldier.

Fisto only shows up in the last few episodes of the 2002 cartoon and so the mystery of who Teela’s father is remains unsolved on screen, though someone from Mattel later confirmed that Fisto was supposed to be revealed as Teela’s biological father eventually. However, personally I prefer Duncan to be both the biological father and the parent who actually raised Teela. For starters, because both Teela and the Sorceress deserve better than Fisto. Never mind that I have a hard time believing that a guy called Fisto is straight.

Still, since I had all the required figures, I made a little photo story about what happens when Duncan confronts Fisto about this:

Fisto threatens Duncan, while He-Man and Teela look on“Get out of my sight, Malcolm. You’re a coward and deserter.”

“I was wounded and had amnesia.”

“Right, and isn’t that a convenient excuse?”

“So you’re calling me a liar?”

“He-Man, do you think we should intervene?”

“No, Teela, they need to sort this out between themselves.”

Fisto punches Duncan, while Teela and He-Man look on.“You’re a coward, a deserter and you slept with my girlfriend, arsehole!”

“What?! I’m pretty sure I’d remember that.”

“So you’re denying you slept with my girlfriend?”

“Duncan, you never even had a girlfriend. Always way too focusses on your duty to have a bit of fun.”

“At least I did my duty. Unlike you, deserter.”

“Eat steel knuckles, shithead!”

“That’s it. I’m stepping in.”

Duncan and Fisto are tussling, while Teela and He-Man prepare to step in.“I agree, Teela. Let’s stop them before they hurt each other.”

“Had enough yet, Duncan? Or do you want some more of my iron fist?”

“Anytime, deserter and girlfriend poacher.”

“Father, Uncle, stop it!”

He-Man and Teela stop Duncan and Fisto from fighting“No, Dad, he’s not worth it. Save it for Skeletor.”

“What’s the matter, Duncan? Hiding behind your daughter? So who’s the coward now?”

“That’s enough, Fisto. Stand down or you’ll feel my fist.”

Duncan walks off, Fisto shakes his fist and He-Man and Teela are very confused.“That’s it. I’m talking to the other person who knows the truth. And she will tell me.”

“Father, come back!”

“Yeah, run off, Duncan, like the coward that you are.”

“Shut up, Fisto!”

“So, He-Man. do you have any idea what that was all about?”

“Uhm, Teela, you’d better ask your father about that.”

Duncan confronts the Sorceress, as Fisto looks on.

A bit later, at Castle Grayskull…

“No, Duncan, I did not sleep with your loser brother. What do you take me for?”

“He’s not a loser. Okay, he is, but… are you sure, my love? Cause he said…”

“Of course, I’m sure. I do remember who I sleep with.”

The Sorceress struts off, leaving Duncan and Fisto standing.Men! Why do I even bother?”

“My love, wait. I’m sorry. I…”

“Uhm, Duncan, if it helps, I’m actually gay and she’s so not my type.”

Duncan and Fisto

Brothers in arms: Man-at-Arms and Fisto a.k.a. Duncan and Malcom

“Wait a minute, you’re gay? Why did you never tell me?”

“Because you’re… well, you’re you. You’re straight as an arrow and you always find fault in me, so I had no idea how you would react.”

“How do you think I would ract? You’re my brother and I love you.”

“Only that you forget that at times. But anyway, you and the Sorceress…?!”

“Got any problems with that?”

“No, I’m just surprised, that’s all. And Teela…?”

“Is our daughter, but don’t you dare tell her. So, Malcolm, do you… uhm … have anyone?”

“Yeah, but that’s private. So about the Sorceress, I’m curious. Are those wings part of her outfit or her body?”

“That’s private. But maybe I’ll tell you over a drink.”

“Yeah, let’s have a drink.”

I actually wanted to take a picture of Duncan and Fisto sharing a drink, but it turns out that I did not have any bottles or beer glasses in a remotely correct scale. The only thing I had was a Playmobil baby bottle, which isn’t really suitable. And even though I have decided that Fisto is gay in my head canon, I have no idea whom I’ll eventually fix him up with.

Anyway, the secret identity of He-Man and the origin of Teela are the two long-standing secrets that are revealed in Masters of the Universe Revelation.  However, there are yet more dark secrets surrounding the royal family of Eternia.

The Sorceress shows He-Man the Orb of Powe

The Orb of Power is actually a shiny marble, but it works really well.

“And this, He-Man, is the Orb of Power, from which all the power in the universe flows into your sword.”

“Why is it sitting in a tortoise shell?”

“Because the tortoise shell was useless as a baby crib, but makes a good orb holder.”

“What do you need a baby crib for?”

“Ahem, that’s private. Anyway, the Orb…”

“Wait a minute, why does your sword look like the twin of mine?”

“Not all secrets shall be revealed today, He-Man. Anyway, the Orb…”

So tune in again for the next installment of my Secrets of Eternia Photo Stories, where we tackle the mystery of He-Man’s long lost sister…

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just bought some toys, took photos of them and wrote little scenes to go with those photos. All characters are copyright and trademark their respective owners.

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Secrets of Eternia: A Photo Story or Watch Cora Play with Action Figures, Part 1: The Secret Identity of He-Man

Easter Monday was my birthday. There wasn’t much of a celebration, because my Mom is in hospital for hip replacement surgery, so it was just me and my Dad. Though I did get a nice haul of books, which you can see below:

Birthday book haul

Birthday book haul plus a box of chocolates from a friendly neighbour

Meanwhile, I also got some gifts for myself, because what’s the point of being an adult, if you can’t do that? And those gifts were something my ten-year-old self would have loved as well. Because I’ve been buying some of the Masters of the Universe Origins action figures Mattel has been putting out, inspired by enjoying Masters of the Universe: Revelation so much more than I expected to (see this and this post, now also collectd in a Hugo voter packet near you) and also by seeing Matt John of the excellent Rogues in the House sword and sorcery podcast post pictures of his collection.

Masters of the Universe collection

The whole collection to date. I eventually need to find another domicile for them, because that table is getting crowded.

Now except for Teela and Flutterina from She-Ra: Princess of Power, both fleamarket finds, I never had any of the vintage Masters of the Universe toys, even though I liked both cartoons and toys a whole lot. It’s not that my parents wouldn’t have bought them for me – they had no problems buying Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bear toys – it’s just that I was terrible at articulating “I want this. Please buy this for my birthday/Christmas/Easter.” By the early 1980s, I was very self-conscious both of the fact that things like Star Wars and Masters of the Universe were considered for boys (which again never bothered my parents – I had a huge collection of Hot Wheels cars as a kid, sadly lost to my stupid cousins) and also that they were violent and war-glorifying American trash and not appropriate for good children (which is hilarious, given the wholesome moral messages of these cartoons). So I adopted the strategy of standing in the toy aisle and gazing longingly at the Masters of the Universe or She-Ra or Star Wars or M.A.S.K. toys and hoping my parents would buy them for me. This worked about as well as you can imagine, namely not at all. My parents were mostly irritated, when I spent ages in the toy aisle, and never really paid attention to what precisely I was spending ages looking at.

In fact, both my parents have zero memory of either He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or She-Ra: Princess of Power, neither of the cartoons nor the toys. They did notice the colourful figures showing up in the house and occupying what’s supposed to be a coffee table and asked about them and when I tried to explain what they were, I just got a blank look. Re-enacting the whole “By the Power of Grayskull…” bit and showing them the intro of the old Filmation cartoon on YouTube did not spark any recollections either, even though they were right there in the room with me, when I was watching those cartoons. I also tried to explain the rather complicated family and friendship relations between the different characters and finally gave up and said, “You know, it was just like Dynasty, only with swords and magic and monsters and for kids.”  Which is not only a pretty good description, but is also one of the things which sparked this post.

The other thing, which sparked this post, are the figures themselves. They’re highly posable, a lot more posable than the vontage 1980s figures, and it’s so much fun posing them and making them re-enact moments from the various cartoons or just from my imagination. So I had way too much fun posing the figures and taking photos of them and using whatever props I could find.

I posted some of the photos on Twitter, but a blogpost is less ephemeral. In fact, I had so much fun setting up action figures and taking photos of them, that this will be a multi-part post. I’m planning to give them a more suitable environment eventually and may even get a Castle Grayskull, when I can find one for a good price. But for now, I used whatever props I had at hand to create their surroundings.

So enjoy photos of Masters of the Universe action figures as well as some thoughts about the stories themselves and how much the He-Man/She-Ra universe is driven by secrets and people withholding information, usually for the best of reasons, but often with disastrous consequences.

In fact, Masters of the Universe: Revelation not only has “revelation” right there in the title, the entire first half is also about the central secret of the entire franchise being revealed in the worst possible way and the fallout from that.

That central secret is of course the fact that Prince Adam is also He-Man. Interestingly, this was not the case from the beginning on – the very first mini-comics packed in with the early figures introduced He-Man as a wandering barbarian in the Conan mold. Prince Adam showed up in a DC comic a bit later – DC knowing a thing or two about dual identity heroes – and was then adopted by the Filmation cartoon and has been a central part of the lore ever since. There’s an interesting video about this here.

In fact, the intro to the 1980s Filmation cartoon spells out the whole premise for everybody watching, especially since I don’t recall that He-Man ever got an origin story in the original cartoon, though She-Ra did and both the 2002 cartoon as well as the current Netflix CGI cartoon both show Adam transforming for the very first time.

Prince Adam with sword“I am Adam, Prince of Eternia and defender of the secrets of Castle Grayskull. And this is Cringer, my fearless friend…”

Adam and Cringer

Best friends forever: Adam and Cringer

“Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said, ‘By the Power of Grayskull’…”

Disco glitter Adam
Disco glitter He-Man
Disco glitter Adam
Disco glitter He-Man
Sparkle Adam

Sparkle He-Man

I ran the photos through an effect filter to get the disco sparkle transformation look.

“Cringer became the mighty Battlecat and I became He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe…”

He-Man in transformation pose

I’m kicking myself for not doing a Cringer to Battlecat transformation, but here is He-Man in his classic pose.

“Only three others share the secret…”

The Sorceress, Orko and Man-at-Arms

“Our friends the Sorceress, Man-at-Arms and Orko. Together, we defend Castle Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor.”

Skeletor and his Evil Warriors

Some of the Evil Forces of Skeletor – with bonus Hordak

Of the three who share He-Man’s secret, the Sorceress is an obvious choice, because she is the guardian of Castle Greyskull and the power that rests within its walls. She’s also the one who gives Adam the Sword of Power in most versions of the story. Man-at-Arms is another obvious choice, because he is Adam’s mentor, friend and surrogate father figure in pretty much every version of this story. As for Orko, I always assumed that he accidentally stumbled upon Adam transforming and had to be told, because much as I love Orko, he’s not the sort of person to whom anybody in their right mind would entrust an important secret.

However, there are also people who are very important to Adam, but don’t know that he is He-Man, namely his parents King Randor and Queen Marlena (though Marlena figures out the truth on her own) and his best friend/comrade-in-arms/love interest Teela.

Now the reasons given for Adam keeping the truth from his parents and Teela is to protect them, because knowing He-Man’s true identity would make them targets. But no matter how noble that intention, I’ve never quite bought that reasoning, because as King and Queen of Eternia, Randor and Marlena already are prime targets anyway for Skeletor, Hordak, King Hiss and any other lowlife who wants to conquer Eternia. And there are several episodes in the original cartoon and the 2002 version where King Randor and/or Queen Marlena are attacked, kidnapped or otherwise threatened. Besides, Randor and Marlena can take care of themselves. Marlena used to be an astronaut and we have seen her putting her piloting and shooting skills to good use from the original cartoon to Revelation. And while the Filmation cartoon of the 1980s mostly portrays Randor as an “Old King Cole was a Merry Old Soul” type, Revelation and particularly the 2002 cartoon show him as a warrior leading his troops into battle. The 2002 cartoon even shows a young Randor charging into battle as Captain of the Royal Guard before he became king.

As for Teela, she, too, is already a prime target as Captain of the Royal Guard and adopted daughter of Man-at-Arms. Never mind that Teela is usually right there at the forefront of the battle, fighting alongside He-Man, her father and the other heroes of Eternia. In fact, the only way to keep her away from danger would be by locking her up. Finally, Teela can take care of herself, too, and doesn’t need to be protected.

In fact, Adam not telling his parents and Teela that he is He-Man does more harm than good. For starters, there are plenty of times where Adam has to run off and find a quiet place to transform rather than just transforming right there in the throne room or the palace courtyard. There also are times where Adam waits longer than he should to transform, because – and this is something that every version of the story stresses – Adam is very eager to prove that he doesn’t need to become He-Man to be a hero.

And indeed, there are plenty of moments in every single cartoon series where Adam does get to be incredibly heroic and brave as himself, because he cannot transform for some reason, usually because he lost his sword. Revelation has the best example, where Adam faces up to Skeletor, while literally bleeding to death, and distracts him long enough so Cringer can free the good guys, but there are similar scenes across all the cartoons. The 2002 series has a scene where all the other heroes have been captured and Adam – sans sword – and Cringer are all that stands between Skeletor and Castle Grayskull. This Adam is younger than most versions, only sixteen, and yet he manages to steal Skeletor’s havoc staff and hold him off long enough for the wounded Sorceress to recover and protect the castle. Yes, Adam can be damn heroic, only that most of the time no one is there to see it except maybe Skeletor.

Prince Adam on the Sky Sled

Prince Adam as a hero in his own right. Or maybe he is just taking his Sky Sled for a joyride.

Futhermore, telling Randor that Adam is He-Man would also improve Adam’s relationship with his father a whole lot. Because something else that is remarkably consistent in any version of this story in the past forty years is that Randor thinks that Adam is something of a failure and is not particularly shy about letting Adam know how disappointed he is in his son. Now Adam clearly loves his parents and Randor loves his son, but their relationship is often strained and anything that improves it would be good for both of them.

Teela, Prince Adam and Man-at-Arms

Duncan and Teela comfort Adam, because his father thinks he’s a failure… again.

As for Teela, she spends much of the various cartoons either wondering where Adam is, being angry at him for missing a training session or worried that Adam might be in danger. Worrying whether Adam is safe obviously distracts Teela in battle and therefore puts her at risk. There is also at least one episode where Teela drags Adam off on a half-cocked mission without giving him the chance to “find” He-Man first and puts both of them in danger.

The entire first half of Masters of the Universe Revelation deals with what happens when Adam’s secret is revealed in the worst way possible. He-Man manages to get himself killed, while saving Eternia and the rest of the universe from total destruction, and reverts back to Adam just before he is disintegrated – all in front of Teela’s eyes.

The impact is devastating – not only on Eternia, which is not only not saved, since the destruction of the universe has only been slowed down, but also loses pretty much everybody who kept the planet relatively safe and stable – but also on Adam’s loved ones. King Randor responds by lashing out at everybody around him – Duncan, Orko, Cringer and even his wife Marlena.

Duncan gets the brunt of it and is stripped off his rank, banished and threatened with execution, if he ever comes back, which is a hugely excessive reaction considering that not even archvillains like Skeletor or Hordak or King Hiss have ever been threatened with execution. Instead, Skeletor’s cronies are just locked up in prison (from which they inevitably escape), whenever one of them is captured. But Randor threatens to execute Duncan, who’s not only his most staunchly loyal supporter and commander of his troops but also his best friend? Sorry, but that’s a very extreme response and very likely due to the fact that Randor realises that he was a pretty shitty father to Adam (there is a reason he almost earned himself a Darth Vader Parenthood Award) and also that Duncan was the one who was there for Adam, when his own father was too busy ruling Eternia, and the one Adam trusted with his secret, when he didn’t trust his own father. This is particularly notable in the 2002 cartoon, where Adam always looks to Duncan for advice, even when his father is standing right there.

Meanwhile, Teela has not only lost her best friend, but is also furious that everybody she ever cared for lied to her, so she walks away from it all, cuts her hair, may or may not engage in some same sex experimentation and spends a few years working as a mercenary, determined that she is through with being a hero.

Of course, Adam gets better and he and Teela are reunited. In Revelation, their reunion is overshadowed by the fact that Eternia is in grave danger – again. But here is how it might have gone if there hadn’t been another huge crisis going on at the moment:

Teela hits Adam

“Why didn’t you tell me you’re He-Man?”

“Teela, I’m sorry, I… ouch!”

“Listen, Teela, I’m really sorry. Can we maybe talk about it?”

“No.”

Adam and Teela“I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you.”

“But you did.”

Adam and Teela hugging“So are we good now?”

“I don’t know. I’m just glad you’re not dead.”

“Me, too.”

He-Man and Teela kissing

He-Man and Teela are sharing a moment, while Battlecat cringes and wishes he were somewhere else.

Revelation ends with Adam and Teela holding hands and declaring that they are a team and that there will be no more secrets between them.  There is no kiss – and in fact, Adam/He-Man and Teela have never kissed in forty years of cartoons, though apparently a comic does show them getting together and introduces their son – and whether this ending means that they are a couple now or just good friends remains open, especially since Revelation also gave Teela a shippable relationship with her new friend Andra (who sadly only has an action figure in the wrong scale).

However, I have been shipping Adam and Teela since I was ten, so they get together in my head canon. Nothing against Andra, who’s awesome, and I hope she finds someone eventually.

And that’s it for part 1. There will be more action figure photo stories coming soon and in part 2 I’ll tackle the other big secret revealed in Revelations, namely the origin and parentage of Teela. And yes, I will also do the overdue reviews of the first two episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just bought some toys, took photos of them and wrote little scenes to go with those photos. All characters are copyright and trademark their respective owners.

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Star Trek Picard Bids “Farewell”

Here is my take on the final episode of season 2 Star Trek Picard, Though this is not the last of the Star Trek reviews, for Paramount in its infinite wisdom is blessing us with even more Star Trek in the form of Strange New Worlds, so there is a review of the first episode of that coming soon. For my take on previous episodes and seasons of Star Trek Picard, go here.

Warning: Spoilers below the cut! Continue reading

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Cora is in the Local Newspaper as well as Free Sword and Sorcery

Yes, it’s another link post.

To begin with, I was in the local newspaper Kreiszeitung today and Andreas Hapke wrote a great profile about me and my Hugo nomination. As a bonus, you can see my three Hugo pins in close-up as well as a photo of me holding my DisCon III Hugo finalist certificate.

In other news, if your looking for some new edge sword and sorcery that has all the thrills of the classic stuff, but none of the retrograde attitudes, you can now get a free sampler of contemporary sword and sorcery, if you sign up for the Thews You Can Use sword and sorcery newsletter. Don’t worry, you can unsubscribe at any time.

So what are you waiting for? Get your free sword and sorcery sampler with fiction by Remco van Straten and Angeline B. Adams, Dariel R.A. Quioge, Mario Caríc, Chuck Clark, Nathaniel Webb, Michael Burke, J.T.T. Ryder and yours truly. Plus, a great cover by Hardeep Aujla.

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Of Rockets and Hugos

The final Star Trek Picard review is coming and I also have something new planned for this blog that you’ll hopefully enjoy. But for now I have two other things to share.

For starters, I was interviewed by the wonderful Andrea Johnson on the Retro Rockets podcast and talk about old and new SFF, being a Hugo finalist and lots of other things.

You can listen to the episode here.

***

In other news, I assembled my Hugo Voter Packet for 2022 and and if you’re a member of Chicon 8, this year’s Worldcon, it will be available soon, together with the rest of this year’s Hugo Voter Packet.

However, if you want to get a headstart on your Hugo reading, even if you’re not a member of Chicon 8, you can now download my Hugo Voter Packet for free in the e-book format of your choice at StoryOrigin.

What can you find inside? A hopefully representative selection of everything I wrote in 2021, ranging from fiction and media reviews via essays, genre commentary and interviews to humor pieces.

Finally, I also want to show off the gorgeous cover, courtesy of the hypertalented Tithi Luadthong. Not only does it strike the balance between retro and modern, there also is a rocket in the image.

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Star Trek Picard Plays “Hide and Seek”

Here is my take on the penultimate episode of season 2 Star Trek Picard, very late, because I’m very much trekked out at this point. Though this is not the last of the Star Trek reviews, for Paramount in its infinite wisdom is blessing us with even more Star Trek in the form of Strange New Worlds. For my take on previous episodes and seasons of Star Trek Picard, go here.

Warning: Spoilers below the cut! Continue reading

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First Monday Free Fiction: Rites of Passage

Rites of PassageWelcome to the May 2022 edition of First Monday Free Fiction.

To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.

Pirates are having a moment in pop culture right now, so this month’s free story is a pirate story. It’s called Rites of Passage and was not only one of the first stories I self-published, but is also the oldest of my stories to still survive in a semblance of its original version. I wrote it by hand during a particularly dull class in the last year of school. It was revised and submitted several times and eventually published in an issue of Thriller UK.

The characters are some of the earliest I created to actually make it into published fiction as well. I created Arianna and her supporting cast at the age of twelve and initially intended to write a whole series about them, though this is the only story that exists in complete form.

So follow Arianna Delora, as she undergoes

Rites of Passage

Parla, the dusty orange moon, was hanging low in the afternoon sky. He and his mate Jopla, the pale silver satellite, were the revered gods of this world. They were the movers of the sea, the bringers of the tide, the parents of all people.

Tiro, boatmaster to the pirates of Tasso, looked up. Lord Parla would sink early today, never even showing his full splendor in the dark sky. The night was to be ruled by Lady Jopla alone, bathing the world in her silvery light.

A motion caught Tiro’s eye. A motion where there was supposed to be none. Something or someone was moving among the boats. Tiro’s hand tightened on the grip of his sword as he moved to investigate. As soundlessly as possible he followed the shadow that was moving around between the between the boats and confronted the intruder. Tiro drew his sword. “Who there?” he bellowed.

The shadow turned around and stepped into the light. Now Tiro saw that it was no intruder at all, but Philon, seventeen years, hotheaded and the son of the leader of the pirates of Tasso.

“Tiro, man, you startled me,” Philon complained.

“That is my duty,” Tiro said gravely, “What are you doing here, Philon?”

“I need a boat. Tonight.”

“What for?”

Philon smiled. “That’s private,” he said.

“I cannot let you have a boat, unless you tell me where you want to sail,” Tiro insisted, “Your father’s orders.”

Philon sighed. “Sarava.”

“And what would you want in Sarava? They are our enemies.”

“I have not forgotten.”

“Then what do you want there? Steal their treasures?”

“Just one treasure. The most precious one they have.”

“And what treasure would that be?” Tiro wanted to know. From the way the boy behaved, he suspected that there was something else behind this than just a simple raid, even if it was a raid on Sarava, whose people, pirates as well, were the sworn enemies of Tasso.

“That’s none of your business,” Philon snapped.

So Tiro had been right. “Nevertheless, you will have to tell me, if you want a boat.” Tiro was acting above his station and he knew it. It was not his place to question the boy. Philon was the Captain’s son and his heir to be. Upon a single word of his father he could have all the boats he wanted and Tiro could not do a thing about it. However, Tiro was certain that Philon’s father had no idea what his son was up to and that he would not approve if he found out. Therefore, Tiro would do all he could to discover Philon’s plans and if necessary prevent them.

“So if you must know”, Philon said, “Tonight I am going to take a wife. That’s what I need the boat for.”

The Captain would most certainly not approve of this.

Tiro turned to the boy. “Parla has scarcely twice returned, since you undertook the ritual of manhood, and you already have a mind to take yourself a wife. And a woman from Sarava at that. As if there were no women here that could excite a man’s fancy.”

“No woman like the one I have set my sights on.”

Tiro eyed the boy speculatively, wondering how long it would take to wrest the secret of his sweetheart from him. “You want to tell me more about her?”

Philon hesitated. “I will,” he finally said, “if you won’t tell my father. Swear to me, Tiro, that you won’t tell him.”

Tiro swore, though he had little intention to keep that particular oath. His first duty was to Philon’s father. Should the boy (although he had undertaken the ritual of manhood, Tiro could not think of him any other way) plan some folly because of the pretty eyes of a Sarava girl, Tiro would of course report it to the Captain. Besides, Philon should know that one should never trust a pirate’s oath.

“So listen,” Philon said, eyes gleaming in anticipation, “Tonight Jopla will cast her silvery eyes upon the sacred terrace at Sarava, where Arianna Delora will undertake the ritual of womanhood on this very night.”

Tiro had withstood many a storm in his time, but Philon’s confession nearly knocked him off his feet. “Arianna Delora? That’s the one you want? Are you mad, boy?”

“Not at all. And I am not a boy anymore.”

“But you behave like one, Philon. Arianna is the daughter of old Delor, your father’s mortal enemy. She is his only child. Do you think he will let you have her?”

“Who says that he will have a choice? Listen, Tiro, I have thought it all through. I will take a small boat to Sarava. The cliffs upon which the sacred terrace is set are unguarded. There I will anchor my boat. The cliffs are steep, but I can scale them. You know that I am a skilled climber. Once I am on the terrace, I will be safe. There are no guards on the sacred ground. I will be alone with Arianna.”

“So you think you will be safe, once you are on the sacred terrace. I tell you, your problems will only start there. The sacred ground is forbidden to men. What do you think will they do should they find you there?”

“They won’t find me. I will hide till the right moment. And Arianna won’t betray me.”

“So you do have her consent?”

Philon hesitated. “Not exactly. But I will have.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that. That girl has a demon inside her.”

Tiro only too well remembered his last encounter with young Arianna Delora. She was a lovely girl, true. Skin the colour of a new deck plank, hair the colour of a sturdy and well weathered mast, eyes the colour of seaweed. He could certainly understand why Philon had fallen for her. But there was something inside her, a certain fire, that one did not usually find in a woman. The last time Tiro had seen Arianna, she had been holding a sword in her hand. She knew how to use it, too. Tiro could attest to that. A woman fighting like a man. It was not natural.

“Have you ever seen her fight?” he asked Philon.

“Of course I have. From the moment we crossed our swords I knew that she was the only girl I would ever take for my wife. Arianna is the most beautiful woman I ever met. And one of the best fencers.”

“Women were not made for fencing practice,” Tiro said dryly.

“So I know. But if all our sons are as skilled with their swords as Arianna, then what more can I ask for?”

The boy was determined to have her. No way to talk him out of it. Nevertheless, Tiro had to try. “But must it be tonight?” he wanted to know, “Invading Sarava is dangerous. Why not wait, till you can catch her at sea?”

“I told you, tonight Arianna will undertake the ritual of womanhood. And once she has become a woman, she will have suitors aplenty. She is old Delor’s only child, after all. Whoever marries Arianna will be named his successor. And that is a position to which many will aspire. But I will be the one who wins it. Arianna is not the only prize I’m after. In addition I will get all of Sarava. I will archive what my father has tried to do for so long. I will conquer Sarava and I will need nothing but this small boat to do it. Father will be so pleased.”

Tiro sincerely doubted that.

***

“Isn’t it exciting?” Jarina said, not for the first time that night. And as far as Jarina was concerned, tonight’s events were certainly reason for excitement. Soon, her friend Arianna would step onto the sacred terrace and undergo the ritual that would make her a woman. And Jarina would serve as her attendant, to aid in the preparations and then wait outside the sacred terrace until the ritual was completed. Usually, that was the task of a priestess, but since there were no priestesses in Sarava, it had been decided that Jarina would do just as well.

It was a high honour for one who had not yet undergone the ritual of womanhood herself. It was even an higher honour considering that Jarina was supposed to be held hostage by the pirates of Sarava. She had been taken prisoner at sea, and since she was a governor’s daughter she had been held for ransom. But as the governor was not only chronically short of money but also the father of four other daughters, no ransom had yet been paid for Jarina.

Nobody had really known what to do with her then. It seemed cruel to kill her. After all, it was hardly her fault that her family had chosen to desert her. Besides, Arianna, daughter of the pirates’ leader, had taken a liking to Jarina and made the girl her attendant, confident, friend. So Jarina found herself stuck here in Sarava. To her own amazement, she enjoyed her predicament far more than she should.

These people were not the fiends her father and the other officials had painted them as. They were pirates, true. They were outlaws, they made a living of stealing and plundering. But they had always treated Jarina kindly, even when no ransom had been paid for her. They could have killed her then, but they did not. They had even granted her some freedom, more freedom in fact than she had had in the governor’s palace. And Arianna was her friend, the closest friend she ever had. No, the people of Sarava were not evil.

Jarina looked up into the sky, where Lady Jopla had risen. Lady Jopla did not think that the people of Sarava were evil. She cast her silvery light on them just as she did on every other man and woman in the world. In fact, she looked even more beautiful hanging there in the indigo sky above the Bay of Sarava than Jarina had ever seen her in the city. Lord Parla, the larger orange moon, had descended below the horizon, once the night fell. Now, the sky belonged exclusively to Lady Jopla. This was her night.

“She is so beautiful,” Jarina said, “I hope she will shine on me just as beautifully, when my time comes to undertake the ritual.”

“You are really looking forward to the ritual, aren’t you?” Arianna wanted to know.

“Of course. Doesn’t everybody?”

Arianna did not reply. She had been unusually quiet all evening long. Jarina blamed it on nerves. After all, Arianna was about to experience one of the most important events in a woman’s life. Even someone as confident as she could not remain entirely untouched by that.

Arianna scanned the night sky with the experienced eye of a sailor. She saw Lady Jopla and Lord Parla and the myriad of stars up there not just as objects of devotion. To her they were more. They were landmarks to guide a ship safely through known and unknown waters. She had tried to teach it to Jarina, how to navigate by the stars and moons. Jarina did not understand much of it, though it was surely most fascinating.

“It is time,” Arianna said after taking a long look at Lady Jopla, “She is almost at her zenith. Do your part, Jarina.”

Carefully, Jarina picked up a silver bowl. “Don’t worry, I know exactly what to do. I watched when my sister undertook the ritual.” She dipped her forefinger into the scented oil and marked Arianna’s forehead and cheeks with it. “Now go, devoted daughter of our Lady Jopla,” she declared solemnly, “May she cast her sacred light on you and grant you her blessings!”

Jarina paused. She was pleased with herself, but also a little bit worried. After all, what she had just done might be considered sacrilege. “Only a priestess is allowed to perform these rites, you know,” she said nervously, “I might get in trouble, if somebody finds out.”

“They won’t find out,” Arianna assured her, “And if they do, just say that we forced you to do it.” With that she turned away and began to mount the stairs that led up to the sacred terrace.

Jarina looked after her friend. “Just say that we forced you to do it.” That was what Arianna always said, whenever Jarina was nervous about doing something that might be against the law. “Just say that we forced you to do it.”

But Jarina wouldn’t say that. She wouldn’t. When she got home again — for there was still no doubt in her mind that she eventually would return home — then she would tell everybody that the pirates of Sarava were not the villains they believed

***

Feeling slightly uncomfortable, Arianna stepped onto the terrace high above the Bay of Sarava. She did not want to undertake this ritual. She enjoyed the life she lived now and the freedom she had. But after this night it would all be over. Never again would she sit on the railing of a ship feeling the wind in her hair. Never again would she climb up the rigging all the way to the crowsnest. Never again would she rush into battle with a sword in her hand. Tonight she would trade all that for the joys of womanhood, marriage… and motherhood. But that was not the life she wanted. Not at all.

“Well,” Arianna sighed, “Let’s get this over with!” She unbuckled the heavy belt which held her sword and her dagger. With a sharp clang it fell to the marble floor of the terrace. Then she loosened the lacing of her full skirt of dark red velvet and let the garment fall to the ground. Her white blouse, black wool stockings and leather shoes followed. Finally, she stepped out of her underclothes and stood naked in the silvery light of Jopla.

Unbeknownst to Arianna, Philon was watching her from his hiding place behind some pots of aromatic shrubs. He gasped, as she slid into the basin for the ritual bath. She was breathtakingly beautiful, her skin shimmering like a marble statue in the pale light of the female moon Jopla. The sweet smell of the petals floating in the water mingled with the stronger odour of the shrubs right in front of his nose, intoxicating him.

Arianna finished the ritual bath and rose from the water. She proceeded to put on the new clothes of womanhood that had been laid out for her. First, she slipped into the skirt, a long hip-hugging garment made of a shiny silvery fabric. The skirt was uncomfortable, Arianna noticed, and left her legs little room to move. She wondered how she should ever walk in that, let alone run or fight.

Next came the top, which was fashioned of the same silvery fabric as the skirt. It was extremely tight, so tight that it restricted her breath. On the other hand, it was also too short and left her midriff entirely exposed to the thrust of blades and the eyes of men. Finally, Arianna put on a heavy ornamental necklace and fastened a massive silver bangle around each of her upper arms.

Now, dressed in the new clothes of womanhood, Arianna stepped in front of the altar, which stood at the far end of the terrace. Twice she nearly tripped over the unfamiliar skirt. She bowed before the altar, then raised her eyes to Lady Jopla, standing high in the sky above the Bay. “Oh, Lady Jopla, mother of women. I, your devoted daughter, plead you, make me a woman. Give me children, as plentiful as…”

In order to see what was going on, Philon had to lean forward as far as he could. Unfortunately, he leant forward a bit too much, lost his balance and tumbled into the flower pots.

The noise made Arianna spin around. She both blushed and blanched at the sight that greeted her. There Philon lay, amid shards of broken flower pots and crushed plants, looking and feeling very much like an idiot and cursing himself for his clumsiness.

For an instant neither of them said or did anything. Arianna was still recovering from the shock of his sudden entrance and Philon still had to regain his composure.

Arianna was the first to recover. Cautiously, she took a few steps forward, this time mindful of her skirt, until she towered above Philon like a vision of loveliness. “How dare you interrupt this sacred ritual?” she demanded, “Speak!”

The sight of her so lovely and so close to him flooded Philon with a sudden surge of courage. Boldly, he sprang to his feet and announced, “Arianna Delora, I have come to make you my wife!”

“What?” Arianna exclaimed without understanding. She moved a few steps back, nearly stumbling once.

“I am asking you to marry me,” Philon repeated, taking a step forward.

This time Arianna did understand him. “Never,” she replied. With as swift a movement as her attire would allow, she bent down and grabbed her sword, which lay amid a pile of clothes on the floor. She unsheathed the blade and pointed it at Philon.

Philon made no movement towards his own sword. Instead, he cautiously advanced with his hands raised above his head. “Arianna,” he said, “we can fight this out if you want to. I am not afraid of you. But I don’t want to hurt you either. So why won’t you be reasonable, lower your blade and behave like an grown woman ought to.”

“I am no grown woman,” Arianna replied, still not lowering her sword.

“And what about the ritual you just undertook?” Philon asked.

“Thanks to you I was not able to complete that ritual. Hence I am no grown woman.”

“You can complete the ritual now. I promise, I won’t interfere. And afterwards we will get married, agreed?”

Arianna’s answer was as swift as it was firm. “No. Leave now or I will call for the guards!”

Philon did not leave, however. Instead he moved even closer. “I won’t go, Arianna,” he said, “I love you and I am going to make you my wife. You cannot refuse me forever.”

This was too much for Arianna. She cried, “I will never marry you, never!” Then she jumped forward, tearing her long skirt in the process, and thrust her sword straight at Philon. Only a swift jump to the side saved him from being impaled on the blade of his intended bride.

“If you want to fight, then so be it.”

Philon drew his own weapon. They fought, Arianna furiously, Philon only halfheartedly. He did not really want to fight her. Even less he wanted to hurt her. But he could not help it. Arianna was a skilled swordswoman and her attack was deadly serious. He had to defend himself or, so he was sure, she would kill him.

Desperately, Philon looked for a way to stop this fight, before either of them got hurt. He finally got his chance, when Arianna, struggling with her torn skirt, let down her guard. Her defenses were down for only a moment, but that moment was enough for Philon. He charged. His sword made contact, cutting loose Arianna’s silvery top.

In shock, Arianna looked down expecting to see blood. But all she saw was exposed skin. She cried out, more with shame than with pain, for Philon’s sword hadn’t even scratched her. Her own blade clattered to the floor, as Arianna desperately tried to cover her nakedness with her hands.

All of a sudden, heavy footsteps echoed up the stairs leading to the terrace. Apparently, the commotion had alerted the guards. The terrace was sacred ground, forbidden to all men. Therefore, the guards were theoretically not allowed to enter it. But Philon was not willing to bet his life on that. He knew that if the guards suspected even the least bit of wrong, they would come at once. And should they find him here, on the enemy’s territory, on sacred ground, with the screaming undressed daughter of his father’s mortal enemy, they would… — well, he had no idea what exactly they would do and he was not willing to find out. It would certainly not be pleasant, that much he knew.

“You have won, Arianna, for now. But I’ll be back, my sweet,” Philon said and swiftly kissed the stunned girl on the mouth. Then he climbed onto the railing and dove head first into the silvery waters of the bay so far below.

The crash of a wave later, a troop of guards, led by Arianna’s father himself, arrived on the terrace. The men were followed by Jarina. “I heard noise and I called them,” she explained.

“Arianna, child, what happened?” Captain Delor demanded.

Arianna flung herself into his arms. “It was so terrible,” she said, “He said he wanted to marry me and then he ruined my clothes and then he kissed me.”

“Arianna, what are you talking about? Who…?”

“It was Philon,” she said, “the son of Urian. He went down there.” She pointed at the waters far beneath the marble railing.

The expression on Captain Delor’s face darkened. In his eyes, a dangerous glare of white-hot anger flashed. “Guards,” he ordered, “search the coast! I want the intruder found. Bring him to me! But don’t even dare to touch him. I will deal with him myself.”

“No,” Arianna said, as she loosened herself from her father’s embrace, “I will deal with him.”

The guards departed and Arianna was left alone with her father, Jarina and her mother, who had also hurried to the terrace as soon as she heard what had happened.

Now the guardsmen were gone, the last remnant of dignity that Arianna had tried to maintain was gone as well. She began to cry. Both her parents and Jarina tried to comfort the sobbing girl.

Arianna’s mother gathered up the discarded clothes of girlhood and handed them to her daughter. “Here, darling, put these on. And never mind about the ritual. You don’t have to complete it tonight after all you have been through. Everybody will understand. You will simply wait until the next night Jopla sheds her silvery light on this sacred ground.” Having comforted her daughter, she turned to her husband. “That impudent boy has defiled the sacred ground and it must be purified. You will just have to kidnap another priestess, dear.”

“No,” Arianna said all of a sudden. Everybody stared at her in wonderment. “I won’t undertake this ritual again. Neither this night nor ever.”

“But Arianna,” her mother said, “you must. Seventeen times has the sun returned to the day of your birth. You are grown up now. You must attain womanhood.”

“I don’t want to,” Arianna insisted, “I don’t want the so-called joys of womanhood. I like my life just the way it is. I love cruising between the thousand isles of Taragon. I love feeling the wind in my hair and tasting the salty water on my lips. I don’t want to lose that. But I would. After undertaking the ritual of womanhood I could never go on another voyage again. My feet could never again walk across the planks of a ship. My hands could never again hold a sword.” She paused, as the full meaning of the night’s events sank in. “And someday,” she said, “another idiot will come and marry me and we would have children and I would be grounded for life. Some girls might be satisfied with that, but I am not.”

Everybody was staring at her in shock. Arianna’s mother was the first one to recover. “But Arianna,” she said, her eyes full of worry, “your talk is heresy.”

“Really? Who says that?”

“You should not talk like that,” Jarina said, “The high priestess of our Lady Jopla is very strict. Should she hear…”

“How should she hear? The high priestess is far away from here. She will never know. And even if she did, what could she do about it? Execute me? They will do that anyway, should they ever catch us, catch me. We are pirates, outlaws. We are under a death sentence anyway. They can kill me only once. And I don’t much care whether they hang me for piracy or bury me alive for heresy.”

“Arianna!”

She had only been frank, she had said what they all knew was true. Yet they all stared at her, as if she had committed some unforgivable crime. Maybe it was unforgivable in the eyes of the law. She had done many an unforgivable thing in its eyes. But they cared not for the law. Her father had always told her that the law was not made for people like them. They were free. And that was all Arianna wanted to be. Free.

“Father,” Arianna said, almost pleading now, “you said yourself that I was a good sailor and an excellent swordswoman. And I am your only child. You have no heir. So let me be your heir then. I promise I will be a worthy successor to you.”

Arianna had expected arguments and opposition, but to her own surprise she met with none. For an instant she even thought she saw something akin to pride in her father’s eyes. Then it was gone. “Do what you think is right, child. You are old enough,” he said.

Then Captain Delor took his wife by the hand. “Come, my dear. She is determined. No use arguing with her now. Someday she will come to her senses.”

Arianna’s mother cast one last worried glance at her daughter. Then her eyes darted upwards to Lady Jopla, as if she expected her to fall from the sky in a stream of fire and boil up the sea and blacken the sun and stir up a tidal wave the likes of which no man’s eye had ever seen to wash away the heretics who had broken her sacred law, just as it was told in the legends of old. But nothing of that sort happened. The night was beautiful and clear. Lady Jopla continued to cast her silvery light on the terrace sacred to her. It almost seemed as if she was smiling upon her defiant daughter.

Finally, Arianna’s mother turned around and followed her husband. Now Arianna was left alone with Jarina. “Are you sure you did the right thing?” Jarina asked.

“Perfectly sure. Don’t tell me that deep in your heart you do not feel the way I do. Don’t tell me that you do not enjoy the freedom we have. Don’t tell me that you really want to undertake that ritual when the time comes for you.”

“I don’t know,” Jarina replied, “I really don’t. I have always been a good and obedient daughter. I always did what was expected of me. I guess I… I’m just not used to so much freedom.”

“You will get used to it in time,” Arianna said, “Best is we start right away. Tomorrow a small boat leaves to patrol the Strait of Arras and look for prey. I want to be the one to command her. Are you coming with me?”

Jarina nodded, still unsure of herself.

“Then let’s go. Although there is one more thing I have to do. An oath I have to take here on this sacred ground.”

“This is not good, Arianna”, Jarina said, worried again now, “You have just insulted Lady Jopla. You have rejected her teachings. You should not try her patience by taking a sacred oath in her name.”

Arianna ignored her. She had had enough of arguing for one night. Lady Jopla was still peacefully shining down on the bay, though she had traveled noticeably closer to the horizon.

Once more Arianna stepped in front of the altar. “I will make Philon pay for what he did to me this night. Even if he saved me from doing what I would have regretted all my life. But nevertheless, he deserves death for what he has done. And I shall be his executioner. I hate him. I shall never forgive him for this and someday I will have his head for it. This I swear, by the Lady of Jopla, on this sacred ground.”

A single cloud passed over the serene face of the moon Jopla, as she prepared to descend into the waters for a day’s rest.

The End

***

That’s it for this month’s edition of First Monday Free Fiction. Check back next month, when a new free story will be posted.

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A Podcast and a New Story

The next Star Trek Picard review is coming, but for now I just want to point out two other places where you can find me on the web this week.

For starters, I was a guest on the Dickheads Podcast (as in Philip K. Dick), where I discussed the 1955 science fiction novel The Big Jump by Leigh Brackett with Grant Warmack and host David Agranoff. As for why we discussed a Leigh Brackett novel on a Philip K. Dick podcast, The Big Jump was originally one half of an Ace Double, paired with Philip K. Dick’s debut novel Solar Lottery.

You can listen to the episode here. Also check out the interview I did with David Agranoff for the Fancast Spotlight project.

Ace Double: Solar Lottery and The Big Jump

In other news, I also have a new flash fiction story out on the website of Wyngraf Magazine of Cozy Fantasy. It’s called “A Cry on the Battlefield” and it’s basically Conan the Dad.

And while you’re over at the Wyngraf website, also check out the other new cozy fantasy flash story, “The God’s Apology” by Ian Martínez Cassmeyer.

Finally, Issue 1 of Wyngraf Magazine of Cozy Fantasy comes out today, so check it out.

And that’s it for today. The Star Trek Picard review is coming soon as well as another post I’ve been working on for a while now.

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for April 2022

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month
It’s that time of the month again, time for “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie and small press authors newly published this month, though some March books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have new releases covering the whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction. This month, we have urban fantasy, epic fantasy, historical fantasy, fantasy romance, sword and sorcery, fairy tale retellings, paranormal mystery, science fiction thrillers, space opera, military science fiction, dystopian fiction, Norse mythology, Greek mythology, werewolves, dragons, valkyries, beasts, giddesses, grim reapers, spirit seekers, aliens, space marines, outlaw hackers, revenge of nature, crime-busting witches, crime-busting skeletons and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog run by Jessica Rydill and myself, which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

What Lies Behind by Jonathan P. BrazeeWhat Lies Behind by Jonathan P. Brazee and J.N. Chaney:

A new alien threat arises. A Galactic War unlike any before it.

A powerful enemy threatens not only humanity, but humankind’s former enemy, the Centaurs. A warrior race, the Naxli, consider themselves the rightful rulers of the galaxy, and all other life should be either enslaved or destroyed. Still, the Naxli are honor bound, only willing to face those who present a worthy challenge. They recognize strength and nothing else, so it is with strength that humanity must fight back.

Faced with an implacable enemy, distrust within his own government, and a deep-seated fear within the populace of augmented soldiers, Rev and his fellow hyper-augments must carefully balance a tightrope if they are going to save humanity against this enemy.

Now is not the time for second guesses, political hyperbole, or weakness. Humanity must stand and fight together or risk losing all that they’ve gained.

Charmed and Dangerous by Lindsay BurokerCharmed and Dangerous by Lindsay Buroker:

After battling witches, werewolves, and a crazy one-eyed rougarou with a vendetta, starting a business making magical charms should be easy.

At least, that’s what Morgen Keller thought.

But now she’s leased a haunted building, her cousin is dating the town’s scheming mayor, and Amar—AKA the handsome werewolf she’s been dating—is embroiled in what could be the final showdown between two rival werewolf packs.

If his pack doesn’t come out on top, she could lose her lover, her business partner, and the only guy willing to catch mice for her snooty owl familiar.

Why did Morgen ever think life in the small town of Bellrock would be simple?

Frolic on the Amaranthyn by Chase A. FolmarFrolic on the Amaranthyn by Chase A. Folmar:

Through lands awash in dark secrets and half-forgotten truths, the duo Uralant and Emrasarie wield swordsmanship and seduction alike in the pursuit of fortune and precious coin.

But when a failed ploy for riches leads them to a city seduced beneath the thrall of ancient and malevolent sorcery, they unwillingly become entwined in the schemes of a nightmarish zealot and his own search for guarded treasures.

…and the deeper they continue to delve, the more the two come to realize they are little more than pawns against powers far greater than anything they could have ever imagined.

Head Case by M.R. ForbesHead Case by M.R. Forbes:

Ben never thought owning a starship would be easy. He didn’t expect it to be quite like this.

It was one thing to take a job as a smuggler to pay for basic necessities like maintenance, fuel, and food. Another to have one of the most powerful nobles in the galaxy gunning for him at every turn. But when Keep turns up unexpectedly with a new offer that’s even wilder than the last, will it put him on the path toward his true destiny?

Or is it just another con?

Skull and Crossbones by Rachel FordSkull and Crossbones by Rachel Ford:

I’m a magic-wielding Freak. My partner Flinty Jack is a sentient skeleton. But for all that, we’re not fireproof.

When a vengeful serial killer nearly roasts us in our beds, the FBI whisks me, my fiancée, and my partner into protective custody in a remote safehouse on a quiet Maine island.

But we’re about to find that we stepped out of the frying pan into the fire. There’re more skeletons in the closets of this picturesque town than one of Flinty Jack’s family reunions.

Between hostile locals, mysterious visitors from the past, and something fishy happening on the coast, a serial killer is looking tame.

Gods of the Sands by Chris FoxGods of the Sands by Chris Fox:

Condemned to Die Upon the Sands

I have been sentenced to death for the crime of being born. Of winning the Hasran’s war for them. But my death has purchased the freedom of my people, and so I go to it gladly, ready for whatever final torture they might have in mind.

The Imperator has decreed that I will be sacrificed in the Great Games, a sacred ritual that will magically empower the Gateway Arena. It requires five god-souled, the reincarnations of gods, divine shards that can be fed to the Arena, and used to increase its size.

It means my life has narrowed to one purpose. Live. Each day I train, and each week I fight. Harder, and harder challenges until I die. For there is no escape, no reprieve. Once the ritual begins it can only end with my death.

Heaven and Spell by Lily Harper HartHeaven and Spell by Lily Harper Hart:

Ofelia Archer isn’t a fan of change, even when it benefits her. That’s why moving in with her boyfriend Zach Sully – even though it’s temporary – has her constantly pacing. She’s convinced it’s because the space doesn’t feel like her own, but it turns out to be more than that.

When leaving for work one day, Ofelia stumbles across a body hanging from the church belfry across the road. When she and Sully start asking questions, they find the church used to operate under a different name … and a tragic fire sixty years before has left a tainted memory.

Ofelia is haunted – and not just by the ghostly nuns flitting through the church’s windows – but also by a mystery that should’ve been solved decades before. The harder she digs, the more horror she finds.

It seems New Orleans has a demon on the loose, and the creature could be hiding behind any face. Ofelia is determined to take out the demon and free the neighborhood from torment, but when Sully becomes the demon’s next target, her efforts are for naught.

Ofelia is loyal to a fault and willing to die for those she loves. She just might have to if she expects to keep Sully safe.

New Orleans is home to ghosts and goblins on every corner. This monster, however, might be more than the city’s favorite witch can overcome.

Coral Red by A.L. HawkeCoral Red by A.L. Hawke:

The immortal shall die by the will of Persephone.

Greek triremes approach the shores of Cassandra’s kingdom, home of the Amazon nymphs, threatening a sea battle. At a young age, Cassandra is forced to defend Azure Blue. If she cannot stave off invasion, Zeus will finally have victory over the nymphs.

Meanwhile the young Greek hero Theseus Aegeus tries to lay claim to Athens. His father, the sea god Poseidon, orders him to complete a series of tasks. While completing one, Theseus meets Cassandra in Atlantis. He is struck by the queen’s strength, beauty, and righteousness. Unlike his people, he does not wish her or her subjects harm. But can the couple do anything to avert a war that’s been building for centuries?

No matter what the outcome, Mount Olympus will have to contend with Cora, the goddess Persephone. No one can douse the fire stewing in the depths of her heart. But if Cora wars, she risks hurting the land and people she loves amidst her deluge of fury.

Coral Red is book III, the final book in The Azure Series trilogy.

Cascade by Joshua JamesCascade by Joshua James:

OPERATION CASCADE IS UNDERWAY.

The changes on Enceladus are causing ripples throughout the solar system — and beyond. But the Artifact isn’t done yet.

The end is only the beginning…

Cascade, the second book in the Saturn’s Legacy series, is a sci-fi thriller full of mystery, intrigue, and epic action from the depths of the ocean to the edge of outer space.

The Language of Roses by Heather Rose JonesThe Language of Roses by Heather Rose Jones:

A Beauty. A Beast. A Curse. This is not the story you know.

Join author Heather Rose Jones on a new and magical journey into the heart of a familiar fairytale. Meet Alys, eldest daughter of a merchant, a merchant who foolishly plucks a rose from a briar as he flees from the home of a terrifying fay Beast and his seemingly icy sister. Now Alys must pay the price to save his life and allow the Beast, the once handsome Philippe, to pay court to her.

But Alys has never fallen in love with anyone; how can she love a Beast? The fairy Peronelle, waiting in the woods to see the culmination of her curse, is sure that she will fail. Yet, if she does, Philippe’s sister Grace and her beloved Eglantine, trapped in an enchanted briar in the garden, will pay a terrible price. Unless Alys can find another way…

Only the Evil by Amanda M. LeeOnly the Evil by Amanda M. Lee:

The revenant war is officially here.

Armed with a list of reapers who have turned to the dark side, the Grimlocks are at a crossroads. Izzy Sage knows that they’ve barely scratched the surface on the evil that’s pervading their world but she’s unsure where to look. Then the problem comes looking for them.

When checking in at the yacht club on Belle Isle, a dead man attacks … and he doesn’t go down easily. It turns out, not only are the dead jumping back into their bodies, but several reapers have gone missing.

With the Michigan territory thrown into turmoil, the Grimlocks know they need help. The revenants aren’t capable of causing this sort of chaos, which means someone else is providing the magic. Who, though?

Help shows up in the form of Zoe Lake-Winters, and she’s not alone. The enigmatic god Cernunnos is with her, although as usual, he’s stingy with the information. As the dead accumulate in the city, they start to move on the forces of good. It’s going to take everybody working together – including a few new friends – to overcome an undead army.

It seems another figure has been pulling the strings from the beginning, and when the identity of the puppet master is outed, it will change everything.

Here it comes. The answers you’ve been waiting for are finally here.

Grease the Wheel by Amanda M. LeeGrease the Wheel by Amanda M. Lee:

Stormy Morgan is a witch with too much attitude, an old love fueling new fires in her soul, and a talking cat who keeps threatening to give her an ulcer. She’s got a full plate. Things get even busier in her life when a body drops outside her boyfriend Hunter Ryan’s house … and the death looks like more than a standard murder.

Even though her magic is growing at an exponential rate, Stormy is still a novice when it comes to wielding her new power. She’s determined to find answers, prove herself invaluable to Hunter in the process, but each lead brings more questions … and all of them are of the mind-blowing variety.

The victim, a man who wove a tapestry of lies across multiple towns, doesn’t stir Stormy’s sympathy. The puzzle of his life is too much for her to ignore though. On top of that, her new roommate has turned into a big problem, and she has no idea how to fix it.

Stormy moved home to make her life better, and she’s succeeding at every turn. That doesn’t mean she’s safe.

At her core, she’s a fighter … and she’s going to need all her strength for what’s to come. The victim’s vices were of the human variety, but what killed him was something so much more dangerous. It’s up to Stormy to save the day. Again.

If she can, that is.

Silver Dust by G.K. LundSilver Dust by G.K. Lund:

What would make you betray your family of deadly assassins?

A lethal abomination is roaming the streets of Agartha—a forbidden werewolf and vampire hybrid.

Nadia Navarra, half-werewolf and a young member of the Queen’s Wraiths, knows this monster all too well. Lying low, she has tried to sever every connection to this beast.

When the creature reappears, crazed and tormented from his transformation into a monster, Nadia’s loyalties to the Wraiths are tested. Especially when someone closer to her than either her connection to the past or the Wraiths needs her help.

Facing an impossible choice, Nadia is desperate to do the right thing for those who need her the most. But that means embarking on a life where she must continually balance lies…

Silver Dust is a dark urban fantasy novelette of 20K words. It is also a starting point to the Queen’s Wraith series, but can be read as a standalone story.

Of Claws and Inferno by Kyoko M.Of Claws and Inferno by Kyoko M.

In a modern day world teeming with marauding dragons, there is only one solution: The Wild Hunt.

Dr. Rhett “Jack” Jackson and Dr. Kamala Anjali have worked for the Knight Division capturing wild dragons for years, but now the government has decided to hold a tournament called The Wild Hunt. Jack, Kamala, and their teammates Calloway, Libby, Agent Shannon, and Yousef, must capture five of the deadliest dragons alive before the opposing team or they lose their jobs at the Knight Division. Jack and Kamala are also chasing after Kazuma Okegawa, the yakuza lieutenant who has been trying to kill them. Okegawa is planning a hostile takeover of the worldwide illegal dragon trade and if he succeeds, everyone will be in grave danger. Between the Wild Hunt and Okegawa’s plot to destroy everything in his path, Jack and Kamala have to rely on each other to stay alive in the middle of an inferno.

Of Claws and Inferno is the fifth book in the Of Cinder and Bone science fiction/contemporary fantasy series. It follows Of Cinder and Bone, Of Blood and Ashes, Of Dawn and Embers, and Of Fury and Fangs.

Before Times by Kim McDougallBefore Times by Kim McDougall:

Before Times, 3 Valkyrie Bestiary Prequels:

The Last Door to Underhill: In the last hours of the Flood Wars, a fae princess makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the human world.

The Girl Who Cried Banshee: Kyra Greene is a pest controller, not an exterminator. She has to be clear about that when the pests can be anything from pixies to dragons. But when her fledgling business teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, Kyra takes on a job that blurs those lines.

Three Half Goats Gruff: Kyra Greene, pest controller of fantastic beasts, takes on a rock troll and meets the man who will haunt her dreams for the next three-hundred and twenty-one nights. Come sing around the campfire with satyrs and discover how Kyra found one little lost cephalopod.

Before Times tells the tales of Kyra Green, pest-controller of extraordinary beasts and Leighna Icewolf, Queen of the Fae—two warriors learning to navigate new roads in a world where magic is the only rule of law. Each story takes place 1 to 50 years before the events of Dragons Don’t Eat Meat, Book 1 of the Valkyrie Bestiary Series.

Burnout by Sean Platt and Johnny B. TruantBurnout by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant:

Cutter Dunn was born a ghost. Unchipped and unregistered, he exists as a nonperson, living off-the-grid, unrecognized by the facial recognition software built into every smart glass device that provides everyone with everything they want and need. According to the official system, he doesn’t even exist.

He has the skills and out-of-the-box perspective to design the nuts-and-bolts mechanism for the next generation of driverless shipping vehicles. He’s also the kind of person that a massively wealthy and corrupt corporation can exploit and make disappear without a trace. For good measure, they also erased his home settlement of Amenity, bulldozing the dwellings, scattering the residents. And that was their big mistake.

Because Cutter knows they can’t track what they can’t trace. And they won’t know what he’s planning until it hits them.

Natural Selection by Janna RuthNatural Selection by Janna Ruth:

Nature has declared war on us, and we’re here to answer that call.

Wulf might be the greatest spirit seeker the agency that leads the war against nature has to offer. A new mission calls him and other elite spirit seekers to Italy where they face off against an active volcano. Two thousand years ago, Vesuvius obliterated the city of Pompeii. Now the fire spirit has set his eyes on Naples.

Leading the spirit seekers into the volcano, Wulf begins to realise that his biggest challenge might not be the spirits but keeping this group of big egos in check. Tensions rise as the heat is turned up and one false move could spell out their death.

Join the Spirit Seekers in this prequel to meet the greatest of them all in action!

Outlaw Rising by Kate Sheeran SwedOutlaw Rising by Kate Sheeran Swed:

Secretly, Sloane Tarnish has always admired her outlaw of an uncle, and his tales of not-so-legal adventures across the galaxy–but she never thought she’d be asked to help with one of his heists.

When Uncle Vin shows up on her med school campus with a plan to steal a chip full of Fleet intelligence–and the baffling idea to have her play a key role in the scheme–Sloane’s got her doubts. Uncle Vin doesn’t seem to realize that her top skills involve the kind of shots you drink, not the ones you fire.

But Vin’s convinced the Fleet’s got plans to install empirical rule across the free galaxy, and that this data could stop them before they can begin. When a bunch of rogue delivery drones start taking shots at her–and not the liquid kind–she has to figure he’s onto something.

To prove it, all she needs to do is steal the data key from the middle of a Fleet ball… and right out from under the Commander’s nose.

Too bad she’s got absolutely no idea what she’s doing…

Outlaw Rising is the prequel novella to the Parse Galaxy space opera adventure series.

Star Breaker by James David VictorStar Breaker by James David Victor:

Humanity’s only chance of survival might be to embrace those that have been long considered outcasts.

Holly Cropper and her team have been separated. When her mission to unite humanity is interrupted by a full-scale invasion, she must do the unthinkable. She must embrace her roots and work with the people she has spent a lifetime trying to avoid. Can Holly and the Breaker group she so desperately tried to leave in her past help defeat the Thaal invasion?

Star Breaker is the seventh book in the Star Breaker series. If you like fast-paced space adventures with interesting characters who battle aliens, evil corporations, and space pirates, Holly Cropper and her team of Marines are ready to share their epic adventure with you.

Download Star Breaker and continue this epic space adventure today!

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Indie Crime Fiction of the Month for April 2022


Welcome to the latest edition of “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of crime fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some March books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have cozy mysteries, hardboiled mysteries, humorous mysteries, historical mysteries, Jazz Age mysteries, Regency mysteries, paranormal mysteries, crime thrillers, psychological thrillers, action thrillers, adventure thrillers, pulp thrillers, spy thrillers, police procedurals, police officers, private investigators, amateur sleuths, FBI agents, spies, assassins, terrorists, missing families, missing jade masks, organised crime, crime-busting witches, crime-busting socialites, crime-busting realtors, death by wind turbine, murder and mayhem in London, Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, Upstate New York, the Cayman Islands, Rome, Saudi Arabia, Tadjikistan and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Crime Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things crime fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Murder Beside the Swift Waters by Blythe BakerMurder Beside the Swift Waters by Blythe Baker:

When Lillian Crawford is persuaded to investigate a mysterious death for a family friend, she thinks the case will be solved quickly. But as one surprise after another is unraveled, Lillian finds herself without the help of Felix just when she needs her brother most.

Can Lillian discover the victim’s secrets before it’s too late…and can she do it alone?

 

 

An Inescapable Conclusion by Blythe BakerAn Inescapable Conclusion by Blythe Baker:

Despite all the dark happenings she has experienced at Pemberton Heights, Jane cannot refuse a summons to rush back to the bedside of her dying uncle. As it becomes clear there is a shadow hovering over the manor, Jane is drawn one final time into a web of lies and danger…

 

 

 

All the Devils Are Here by Beth ByersAll the Devils Are Here by Beth Byers:

Smith has been asked to help with a case that no one wants to work. A girl’s gone missing and the most likely suspect is one of the Scotland Yard men.

He’s not a man to give a pass to police officers, but this will open himself, his wife, and his friends up to potential danger depending on who’s involved. Now the question is, what will it take for him to find the girl. How far will he go to catch the killer before Scotland Yard finds proof of the many, many laws he has broken? Or maybe Scotland Yard will turn on Smith and the tenuous peace between them will be broken. It’s a race of skill and trust as Smith tries to keep his family safe and Beatrice tries to keep Smith alive.

The Cartographers Guild and the Search for the Jade Mask by Aaron CumminsThe Cartographers Guild and the Search for the Jade Mask by Aaron Cummins:

A roller coaster ride of action and adventure in the grand pulp tradition

Kidnapped friends. A raging revolution. Dangerous mountains. And, at the end of the trail, a lost city that holds a secret worth killing for.

Ace Barrett is a daredevil pilot with iron fists and a wooden head. There’s no danger he won’t face for his friends.
Verity Hester is a research assistant with unusual skills and a secret past. She can pick locks and pockets with equal dexterity. Just don’t ask her where she picked those skills up.

Explorers have called the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan “the roof of the world” for centuries. Snow-capped peaks tower over deep, dark valleys. Visitors to the Pamirs face extreme weather, dangerous slopes, and deadly creatures.

The year is 1922. When two members of a mapping expedition are kidnapped by raiders, the members of the Cartographers Guild will stop at nothing to get them back. The explorers follow the trail into the uncharted mountains and face doom at every turn, while their missing companions are forced to brave ancient dangers to locate a legendary treasure. If bandits or traps don’t kill them, the mountains will. Their crusade leads to an impossible lost city—one no archaeologist would believe—and the home of the fabled jade mask.

Will the explorers save their friends, or will they die while searching for the jade mask?

Flame and Fortune by Jana DeLeonFlame and Fortune by Jana DeLeon:

No smoke without a fire.

It’s New Year’s in Sinful, and the competition for the New Year’s Queen is heating up as the warring churches go head-to-head. Fortune Redding is not the sequined dress kind of woman, but reluctantly agrees to partake in the debacle so that Ida Belle and Gertie can best their nemesis, Celia, who’s put up former Sinful mean girl RJ Rogers.

RJ and her friend Brock Benoit left plenty of devastation in their wake when they fled Sinful after high school. So when they return and Brock is found dead, there’s no shortage of suspects. Fortune, Ida Belle, and Gertie know all too well what it’s like to live under suspicion of a crime with no resolution. When good people become the targets of gossip, they know they have to rush to unravel the tangled lives of RJ and Brock and expose a killer before the wrong person’s reputation is ruined. Or worse—they’re arrested for a crime they didn’t commit.

Surprise, Surprise! by Mark FaricySurprise, Surprise! by Mike Faricy:

Surprise, Surprise!

Private Investigator Dev Haskell watches a gorgeous woman strut across the street and head into his building. A moment later she knocks on his office door. Beautiful, sexy, Phoenix Starr hires Dev to investigate her husband, Sterling Kozlow. She thinks he might be having an affair. After following Kozlow for days Dev waits for him to meet a woman in a bar. Unfortunately, he never shows, at least until Dev finds him… Meanwhile Crime Lord Tubby Gustafson has an unwanted visitor…his sister. Tubby makes it clear Dev Haskell will be dealing with this problem. Dev deals with the problem, just not the way Tubby may have considered. Another delightfully entertaining Dev Haskell tale.

Skull and Crossbones by Rachel FordSkull and Crossbones by Rachel Ford:

I’m a magic-wielding Freak. My partner Flinty Jack is a sentient skeleton. But for all that, we’re not fireproof.

When a vengeful serial killer nearly roasts us in our beds, the FBI whisks me, my fiancée, and my partner into protective custody in a remote safehouse on a quiet Maine island.

But we’re about to find that we stepped out of the frying pan into the fire. There’re more skeletons in the closets of this picturesque town than one of Flinty Jack’s family reunions.

Between hostile locals, mysterious visitors from the past, and something fishy happening on the coast, a serial killer is looking tame.

The House on the Hill by Elle GrayThe House on the Hill by Elle Gray:

When a family of 4 goes missing seemingly in the dead of night, Blake Wilder and her team are called to find the young family and determine the reason for their sudden disappearance.

Change is the only constant in life. It’s a lesson FBI Agent Blake Wilder is having to learn all over again. Summoned to DC by a Bureau legend, Blake is excited, imagining big things on the horizon for her team. That excitement though, is quickly dashed as her entire world is instead, turned upside down and she’s left to pick up all the pieces.

A reorganization within the Bureau has stripped Blake of her command and the unit she’d given her blood, sweat, and tears to build, turned over to somebody else. In this new role though, she is given a case that takes her team to Colorado to investigate a missing persons case.
There she finds that nothing is as it seems. Blake is having to adjust to this new world and her new team members as she finds herself caught up in a web of international intrigue, espionage, and cold-blooded murder.

New enemies rise, and old adversaries come to the forefront as Blake and her team race to find a man and his family being hunted by a ruthless organization. The sands of the world are shifting beneath her feet. Nobody and nothing is what she believes and Blake doesn’t know who to trust.

With the lives of the young family on the line, Blake juggles the danger that surrounds her, the changes that she faces, and the perplexing mysteries regarding what happened that night at The House on the Hill.

Heaven and Spell by Lily Harper HartHeaven and Spell by Lily Harper Hart:

Ofelia Archer isn’t a fan of change, even when it benefits her. That’s why moving in with her boyfriend Zach Sully – even though it’s temporary – has her constantly pacing. She’s convinced it’s because the space doesn’t feel like her own, but it turns out to be more than that.

When leaving for work one day, Ofelia stumbles across a body hanging from the church belfry across the road. When she and Sully start asking questions, they find the church used to operate under a different name … and a tragic fire sixty years before has left a tainted memory.

Ofelia is haunted – and not just by the ghostly nuns flitting through the church’s windows – but also by a mystery that should’ve been solved decades before. The harder she digs, the more horror she finds.

It seems New Orleans has a demon on the loose, and the creature could be hiding behind any face. Ofelia is determined to take out the demon and free the neighborhood from torment, but when Sully becomes the demon’s next target, her efforts are for naught.

Ofelia is loyal to a fault and willing to die for those she loves. She just might have to if she expects to keep Sully safe.

New Orleans is home to ghosts and goblins on every corner. This monster, however, might be more than the city’s favorite witch can overcome.

Stolen Summer by Nicholas HarveyStolen Summer by Nicholas Harvey:

A new crime. An old secret. A familiar demon.

When the Cayman Islands police investigate a burglary, Constable Nora Sommer recognises the victim from a past she’s desperate to forget.

As thefts continue, consuming the department’s focus and resources, Nora can’t shake her new found knowledge – a guilty man living a happy life… behind a lie.

A missing girl adds further strain, and with little evidence in either case, Nora develops an improbable theory she’s determined to prove.

How far will Nora go to right the wrong one man will do anything to hide?

Final Walk Through by CeeCee JamesFinal Walk Through by CeeCee James:

Stella O’Neil tried to get along with her rival, she really did. But when her rival is found murdered, she wasn’t as shocked as she might have been. Angela had been making enemies all her life; people either loved or hated her.

Everyone knew that Angela had been trying to ruin Stella’s business ever since she helped a client, so Stella is shocked to find she’s the prime suspect.

She has motive, access to the property where Angela was killed and no alibi… if she doesn’t find the murderer, she might pay for a crime she didn’t commit.

Perfect Extraction by Ethan JonesPerfect Extraction by Ethan Jones:

How do you say goodbye?

After an agonizing, unsuccessful search for his missing family, Jack Storm finally makes a breakthrough. But how much can he trust the one offering him this supposed sliver of hope? His source has already betrayed him before; could she be doing it again?

Before getting the intel, Jack is tasked with executing the most daring extraction of his entire career, right under his agency’s nose. A former Saudi spy chief is seeking political asylum in Canada, but the Saudi royal family has branded him a traitor and wants him dead.

With more questions than answers, will Jack risk it all on this daredevil operation and be able to pull off … the Perfect Extraction?

Lose yourself in Jack’s most personal and brilliant mission ever with a spectacularly satisfying twist.

Vatican Conspiracy by Ethan JonesVatican Conspiracy by Ethan Jones:

What if your closest friend was going to kill you?

CIS elite operative Carrie O’Connor dives headfirst into the underground to uncover Italian mafia ties to a recent Islamic terrorist bombing of a passenger airplane from Rome. But when her asset within the mob is exposed, she realizes that nothing is as it seems and things are far worse than she could have ever imagined.

As she digs deeper, Carrie discovers a potential connection between the mafia and one of the highest religious figures in Italy. Working around dangerous loyalties, she must unmask the real conspirator to avoid a devastating clash between two worldwide religions.

How will Carrie discover the most sinister conspiracy to ever threaten The Vatican?

Grease the Wheel by Amanda M. LeeGrease the Wheel by Amanda M. Lee:

Stormy Morgan is a witch with too much attitude, an old love fueling new fires in her soul, and a talking cat who keeps threatening to give her an ulcer. She’s got a full plate. Things get even busier in her life when a body drops outside her boyfriend Hunter Ryan’s house … and the death looks like more than a standard murder.

Even though her magic is growing at an exponential rate, Stormy is still a novice when it comes to wielding her new power. She’s determined to find answers, prove herself invaluable to Hunter in the process, but each lead brings more questions … and all of them are of the mind-blowing variety.

The victim, a man who wove a tapestry of lies across multiple towns, doesn’t stir Stormy’s sympathy. The puzzle of his life is too much for her to ignore though. On top of that, her new roommate has turned into a big problem, and she has no idea how to fix it.

Stormy moved home to make her life better, and she’s succeeding at every turn. That doesn’t mean she’s safe.

At her core, she’s a fighter … and she’s going to need all her strength for what’s to come. The victim’s vices were of the human variety, but what killed him was something so much more dangerous. It’s up to Stormy to save the day. Again.

If she can, that is.

Burnout by Sean Platt and Johnny B. TruantBurnout by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant:

Cutter Dunn was born a ghost. Unchipped and unregistered, he exists as a nonperson, living off-the-grid, unrecognized by the facial recognition software built into every smart glass device that provides everyone with everything they want and need. According to the official system, he doesn’t even exist.

He has the skills and out-of-the-box perspective to design the nuts-and-bolts mechanism for the next generation of driverless shipping vehicles. He’s also the kind of person that a massively wealthy and corrupt corporation can exploit and make disappear without a trace. For good measure, they also erased his home settlement of Amenity, bulldozing the dwellings, scattering the residents. And that was their big mistake.

Because Cutter knows they can’t track what they can’t trace. And they won’t know what he’s planning until it hits them.

Killer Smile by Mary StoneKiller Smile by Mary Stone:

If looks can kill, a smile can be deadly.

Special Agent Stella Knox became an FBI agent to find the dirty cops responsible for her father’s murder and make them pay. But fresh out of Quantico, her first case has her seeking justice for a different victim—three of them, in fact.

The bodies of three teenage boys have turned up in a sleepy town outside of Nashville, TN. There’re no fingerprints, no DNA, and very little to connect the murders, except for a smiley face drawn in blood near two of the bodies. But why only two? The case makes zero sense, and the questions outnumber the answers.

Are the crimes related? Could it be the work of one calculating serial killer, or are they looking for three separate assailants?

One thing Stella knows for sure: someone is threatening the teenagers of small-town Cherry Farms, and they aren’t finished. As she and the team race against the clock to stop the nightmare that has descended upon this rural community, Stella has one more question…who will be next?

Dead Wind by Tessa WegertDead Wind by Tessa Wegert:

Senior Investigator Shana Merchant must dredge up dark secrets and old grudges if she’s to solve the murder of a prominent local citizen in the Thousand Islands community she now calls home.

The body is discovered on Wolfe Island, under the shadow of an enormous wind turbine. Senior Investigator Shana Merchant, arriving on the scene with fellow investigator Tim Wellington, can’t shake the feeling that she knows the victim – and the subsequent identification sends shockwaves through their community in the Thousand Islands of Upstate New York.

Politics, power, passion . . . there are dark undercurrents in Shana’s new home, and finding the killer means dredging up her new friends and neighbors’ old grudges and long-kept secrets.

That is, if the killer is from the community at all. For Shana’s keeping a terrible secret of her own: eighteen months ago she escaped from serial killer Blake Bram’s clutches. But has he followed her . . . to kill again?

The Shana Merchant novels are a brilliant blend of chilling psychological thriller and gripping police procedural, set in an atmospheric island community with a small-town vibe.

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