Book Review: Soul Swallowers

Last year, I read one of D. Wallace Peach’s earlier works and ended up choosing it as my favorite indie book of the year. Excited by the prospect of truly enjoying an author’s work, I wanted to continue reading some of her repertoire and moved to one of her newest series – The Shattered Sea books.

And where else to start except the beginning? I present to you now my review of Soul Swallowers.

The Book

51n4vq2bfuylSoul Swallowers
Author: D. Wallace Peach
2018
Amazon Link

I saw this on D. Wallace Peach’s website/blog. The Amazon review touts it as a fantasy New Adult novel. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel explicitly targeted to New Adult audiences, so I’m interested to see how this goes.

Non-Spoiler Review

Wow.

This book was everything I’d want, indie book or not. The characters were complex, the twists reasonable yet unexpected, and the political situation was at the forefront. The fantasy elements of literal soul swallowing was fit perfectly in with the way the politics worked. Peach’s writing style has always been one of my favorites, and I’m thrilled to say that her word choice, sentence structure, formatting, and paragraph breaks all pleased me.

Basically, I loved this book. I haven’t read The Game of Thrones, but I get the feeling the politics and build of Soul Swallowers would please fans of that more famous book. This book does contain some rather hard subjects (slavery and abuse being primary among these), so it may not be for everyone. Even despite the difficult subjects, Peach does an excellent job qualifying the characters’ experiences to show the evils within the world.

I recommend this to anyone who likes fantasy and doesn’t think the slavery and abuse pieces of the book will get to them.

Biggest complaint: Not a fan of the title. I know it’s just a personal opinion, but that’s really all I can say that I truly disliked.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Usually, I’m not a fan of character driven stories, but I’d have to say this was one of the most enjoyable character driven stories I’ve read. The book makes you become invested in Raze’s well-being as well as his quest to free slaves and see lasting change in his world, even if it’s through humble and slow means.

The political saga of Azalus, Laddon, and Nallea was exciting, and that was probably the story that had the greatest semblance of a plot. Laddon’s fate (dying without a soulstone) was especially important, as it allowed us a sneak peak into the fate of unbound souls. I enjoyed that, because it helped explain the world in a way that cleared so many issues up.

By the end, Azalus and Nallea married. It’s not as exciting now, when I type it, than it felt when I read it. Even though that plot seems tied neatly with a bow, there’s much left to find out, what with the slaver Sajem still at large and bondage still occuring throughout the Vales and Ezar. I’m looking forward to book 2.

Next week:

I’m reading Kevin Parish’s book of poetry, What Words May Come!

Reading List – January 2020

Welcome to my first Indie Book month of 2020! I’m kicking off this year right with a bunch of books that I have high hopes for, and I hope you enjoy these reviews.

A Bit of 2020 Reading Announcements

First, I’ve planned most of this year’s reading. If you go to my reading page here, you’ll see the entire year splayed out! You’ll also see there are 3 open spots for indie books, and you can go to my reading page and send a review request. There’s also a few July slots that I haven’t completely set in stone, but you have to be pretty convincing to get me to switch one of those. Also, even though the open slots are for October reviews, I will do Amazon and/or Goodreads reviews far sooner.

Speaking of Goodreads, I’ve made a new Goodreads profile that you can friend. It’s not well filled-out yet, but you can expect me to start rating and filling it up.

Because I’ve joined Goodreads and committed to giving star ratings, I thought I’d put those on the books I read this year. Present on my blog posts will be Discoball Snowcone ratings!

These snowcones will be given the same as stars. I am also giving old reviews ratings!

51n4vq2bfuylSoul Swallowers – D. Wallace Peach

I reviewed The Melding of Aeris by Diane back in April 2019, and I really enjoyed it. For that reason, I decided to see if her quality carries through to her newest series, The Shattered Sea! It seems to be a fantasy with soul-based magic, and I hope it carries similar tinges of darkness as Aeris did.
Amazon Link

41lpbrmcfsl._sx322_bo1204203200_What Words May Come – Kevin D. Parish

Kevin Parish has a WordPress blog that I follow. Not only does he write good poetry for his blog, he’s one of the nicest people out there. When he announced his book, I looked at the comments on his page and saw that he’d “delayed” publishing this book so his mom could get the first copy.

MY EYES DIDN’T TEAR UP AT THAT I SWEAR.

Anyway, I’m excited to read this book of poetry and see what Kevin publishes that could possibly be better than what’s already on his blog!
Amazon Link

clara-fjm_thumbnail_200x300Clara – Susanna Linton

I saw this advertised for free on Twitter, and I was like, “This person tweets well and seems nice. I’m going to read this first book in the series because I don’t think it will be bad.” Epic fantasy is usually right up my alley anyway.

Want to know something else?

She doesn’t use Amazon, and her system still works incredibly well with Kindle. I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve downloaded it from Bookfunnel through a link on her beautiful website (which I am freaking jealous of).
Website/Bookfunnel Link

The Leftovers: Something from YOU?

Do you have a published book and a method of purchasing it that isn’t sketch as hell? I need indie books to read, and those slots will be opening before you know it! Let me know if you have something you’d like me to peruse!

See my old reviews here

Favorite Books of 2019

Lucky for me, there’s 5 Mondays this December, which allows an excellent chance to look back at the pile of books (36! Huzzah for me!) I’ve had the privilege to read in 2019!  Here’s a few of my favorites from this year:

Favorite Book On First Read

650Without a doubt, my favorite book this year was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. If you are a fantasy or a history buff, you should read this absolutely exquisite work. It’s so good that I don’t even feel jealous of the author, just ever so grateful I was able to read the book. 100%, totally recommend. If I hadn’t already given away my copy in earnest effort to get someone to read it, I’d give you mine.

Pro tip, though: get an e-book version. The binding on the paperback is a little weird and can make your experience slightly less enjoyable.

If you allow re-reads, I would have to say this book is competitive with Ancillary Justice, which I still think is probably on of the best books I’ve ever read, but perhaps less fun that Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Favorite Indie Book

This feels like such a dangerous category to even have! First, let me say that so many of my fellow bloggers have written great books. More so than anything, what I’ve found to be important in finding a great Indie Book is to look at how dedicated the author is to the craft. A good blog/website is HIGHLY indicative of a good book to follow.

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That being said, I think my favorite Indie Book this year was Diane Wallace Peach’s The Melding of Aeris. While many books could boast powerful storylines and well-written prose, what continues to stick out about Aeris is the extraordinarily clever world and detailed magic system. The feel is post-apocalyptic, but it doesn’t go into detail as to why the world is such. I had a lot of fun reading it and would recommend to those looking for a way into the indie book scene.

I feel like if I do runners up, I’d just be listing off a bunch of bloggers’ books!

Favorite Series

One of my goals this year was to read more series, and I’ve read several. However, I’ve got to limit my choice to just one!

And, no doubt in my mind, it was the Robert Remini Andrew Jackson trilogy. This trilogy is a fantastic set of biographical works that incorporates both feelings from back in the day when everyone was racist and ideals from a more modern, critical era. Though Jackson was a lunatic, Remini shows you his charisma, wit, and drive in such a way that he becomes more coherent. I’ve always enjoyed studying Jackson, though, so I’m inevitably a bit biased.

Also I’ve read this series in the past, so I feel like I cheated a bit by choosing them here. A good runner up would be the Imperial Radch trilogy, but I think it suffers from having a weak second entry.

Favorite Classic

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t read too many true classics. For that reason, I’m including somewhat recent science fiction and fantasy classics.

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Even so, I’d have to go with Dracula by Bram Stoker. I didn’t go in expecting much from this book, but I was pleasantly surprised by the tension, the depth of character, and creativity with the subject matter. I think it’s a great read for anyone interested in expanding their experience with fantasy and classics. Don’t be afraid of it just because of the Twilight craze!

A Couple I Explicitly Didn’t Like

I don’t want to talk about Indie books I didn’t like. If you want to see me rip Indie books, you’ll have to go to my Reviews Page and find them yourself. Part of this is my belief that Indie Books, if done right, should explore niches traditional publishers are afraid to go down – niches that might not be for every reader.

I was sad that I didn’t like Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. I thought the premise looked really cool, and I very much enjoyed some of the short stories she’d published in other places. I thought the book didn’t explain itself well, and I could never root for the main character. It also came off as tone-deaf in a post 2016 world. 100% worst thing I’ve read this year.

Without anything coming close to Trail of Lightning in terms of sheer dislike, I moved on to thinking about disappointments. Though I enjoyed the book by the end, I was disappointed with The Warrior’s Apprentice. After having read two other novels by McMasters-Bujold, I expected more from this book. I also got more from the books following The Warrior’s Apprentice in the series. I think she tried to fit too much in the novel, and it ended up being an overwhelming tapestry of exciting stuff. It was also her first publication, so that inexperience probably didn’t help.

 

 

The Secret Life of your Hammer

black claw hammer on brown wooden plank

Usually the hammer lived happily in a drawer next to the tape measure and a molten pack of gum, but sometimes the humans would attack. Someone would be abducted, sometimes for days, and abused mercilessly at their hands.

Today storm clouds whirled above, and the humans had innocent sheets of plywood to serve as storm windows. They withdrew a nail from a sack on their belts.

“Ow! Ow!” screeched the hammer.

But the human didn’t care. He beat the hammer senseless, imprisoned the poor nails in the plywood and siding, then left them precariously outside as the hurricane blew…

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This was written for the November 14th Carrot Ranch prompt, storm windows. I think this one has more the feel of a “yarn,” but I enjoyed it and hope you did to!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Book Review: Dracula

I’ll be honest – I saw this review done by Robbie Eaton, and I thought, “You know, I should actually read that book and not just rely on retellings and various elements of pop culture.”  What’s more, she used an audiobook, and I found easily at my library an audiobook that seemed to have good production value.

The Book

dracula1stDracula
Author: Bram Stoker
1897
I’m not giving you an Amazon link because I don’t want you to feed the monstrous, bloodsucking company for a book that’s way past its copyright date.  Your library probably has an audiobook edition.

I got this from my library.  I first tried to find a free version on Kindle, but let’s be honest – I’m not paying them a damn cent for a book that they shouldn’t have control over.  I suggest you to look at your library rather thank Amazon.  That being said, this was a surprisingly good Victorian-era book.  I don’t like a lot of the books written in the 1800’s, which is probably why I hadn’t fully read this one yet, but I found Dracula to be pretty good.  Definitely suggest it if you want to read a classic.

Non-Spoiler Review

I was pleased by the story.  Though I’d read bits of Dracula for classes in high school, and though I’d heard bits and retellings here and there, I’d never heard all of the original story at once. I have to say it was a rather readable, well-told Victorian tale.

There was a transition part where Jonathan Harker was going back to England and Dracula came with him (though secretly) that didn’t make quite as much sense to me as I wish it would have.  I caught back up rather quickly, and it may have been my fault for listening while I was doing some boring things at work.  Other than that, the book was surprisingly understandable for something of its era.  I had initially feared its epistolary nature would have made it difficult to understand, but it actually worked rather well and added to the horrifying nature.

One of the things I liked from the book was the surreal horror.  It reminded me somewhat of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in this aspect, wherein it had English sensibilities cloud the supernatural elements.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

One of the characters I hadn’t known much about prior to reading this book was Quincy Morris.  I don’t even think I knew he existed in the first place before reading Dracula in one sitting.  Anyway, I was pretty happy/excited to see an American in the book, and I was even more excited to see him as a Bowie-knife wielding, gun-happy badass who totally ran into the thick of trouble when it needed to be done.

Van Helsing was as interesting as I expected he would be, and Mina Harker was surprisingly well fleshed-out throughout the book.  Some of the stuff Stoker said about her wouldn’t have flown in a modern context, but it was really good given the time it was written.  The multinational flavor of the characters was also interesting, and I think it suited the day it was written.

Next week:

 

Book Review: Fairies, Myths, and Magic

I’ve followed Colleen Chesebro for a while and (except when I’ve been in DISSERTATION OVERLOAD mode) truly enjoyed learning from Tanka Tuesday about the niceties of poetry.

It was also short, which was important because I defend my PhD on October 29th. Which is tomorrow. 🙂

The Book

51kgbxbmpflFairies, Myths, and Magic
Author: Colleen M. Chesebro
2018
Amazon Link

I actually won this in a giveaway (first time ever to succeed at one! I was super hyped!), and then pretty much immediately felt guilty that I hadn’t bought it because Colleen is SUPER SWEET. Just look over her blog/website and bathe in the kindness. I’m so much more the asshole.

Anyway, looking forward to this collection!

Non-Spoiler Review

As expected, this book is full of sugary sweetness and seasonally inspired poetry and shorts. The haibuns, as a whole, were really thoughtful and calming.

Another reason I was interested in this book has an interesting take on the world, cultures, and human relationships with nature. Written with a loving outlook on magic and paganism, its messages are a far cry from my own upbringing and beliefs, but I still very much enjoyed the educational/learning aspect. Colleen included several mythological teaching moments that makes the book rather accessible to a wide audience. Regardless of your own faith or lack thereof, her book is a gentle way to imbibe a different world view.

Speaking of gentle, the general tone was gentle and relaxing. The hotness and splendor of summer was definitely the star of the show, and the inclusion of many fairies was adorable.

The issue I had with the overall book was simply that I didn’t feel much tension. Most stories and poems were soothing, but I didn’t get that “I need to read more NOW” feeling. I usually read one story or one poem just before bed, and I did enjoy going to sleep feeling like all was right in the world. It was a good book for me right now, when my life is tense, but it may not be for me when I want to really get into something meaty.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Like I did last week with Stories In Between, I’m going to talk about my favorite story/poem, a standout that was memorable (even if not my favorite), and my least favorite one.

Favorite: The Healer
This story was about a dragon, Drac, who has been poisoned and is looking for healing. A young witch helps him find inner and outer peace. I liked this story because the potion was also metaphorical for internal trasformation and healing, which can only be achieved when one wants to. It also had the patented sweetness and kindness I love from Colleen.

Standout: The Litha Celebration
Whenever I’ve attempted a Garland Cinquain, I’ve always found it incredibly difficult. Chesebro, however, seamlessly weaves all the requirements of the cinquain together with such beautiful word choice and heartfelt praise for the summer celebration that I couldn’t help but remember this poem.

Least Favorite: Halloween Havoc
This story was about an absent-minded witch who makes some mistakes when casting spells to reduce her workload. While I can see the attempt at cuteness, to me the main character came off as somewhat inconsiderate. She seemed to know there were risks involved but chose to ignore them at the risk of other people’s feelings and well-being. It was also about Halloween, which I find squarely in the middle of fall, not summer. The story didn’t feel like it fit with the otherwise on-theme poems and stories.

Next week:

It’s November, and I’ve got a new stock of books to reveal! Stay tuned for next week.

A High Price

abstract-3159733_640

“I’ll give you power,” the devil crooned, “For bartering your soul.”

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This was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #124barter. With only 11 required words, I had to do it.

Hello, everyone – as any regulars may be able to tell, I’ve slowed down a LOT on the blog recently. I’m in the home stretch on my dissertation, though, with only about a month and some change to go! Hopefully after that I can get back on the bandwagon.

Until then, I’ve got all my book review posts planned through to the new year, and those should be reliable.

I got the picture off a royalty-free image site a couple years ago and don’t remember which one.

The End

The priest beheld the visage of the old man. The ancient General seemed shrunken from age, but the priest did not believe the call for extreme unction was necessary at this time. In many respects, he hoped it wasn’t necessary, because the old man was filled with heroism and daring.

And, worst of all, he was certainly bound for the devils’ hell.

The old man, surrounded by many family members and servants, pointed his cane to a chair with horsehair-stuffed cushion. “Sit. We don’t even have an hour, Father, and it’d be a damn shame to waste these precious few minutes.”

The priest coughed at the cursing and took the seat. “I – sir, forgive me if I seem insolent to one so aged and venerable as you, but you appear to be in tolerable health. I brought the appropriate oils for anointing, but I won’t apply them if it’s unwarranted.”

The old man brushed off the statement. “I will die when the sun is at it’s peak. I’ve made my peace with it, and I gathered all who are important to me here in this room.”

“And how can you be so sure? Do you… you don’t plan on shooting yourself, do you?”

“By the eternal, no! Good God man, you think me mad?” The General laughed, which caused him to cough up some slime which he spat into a handkerchief.* “No. Almost 16 years ago, I sacrificed several months off the end of my life to get something far more important than lingering here on this soil. Now, all the signs and signals are fulfilled, and I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I will die within the hour.”

The priest shook his head. “There’s no way to know for certain. Our Lord Yarenth is not master of devilish signs or superstitions.”

“Yarenth also isn’t the master of the blood magic I was part of to excise the last few months off my life.” The old man’s eyes, clouded by cataracts and sitting behind glasses and flaps of wrinkles, still held a frightening, threatening power. “I am certain I will die. If you do not perform this action, Yarenth will hold your treachery against you.”

The priest nodded. “I think you at least believe what you say.”

“And how dare you not believe me in return?”

The priest opened his jar of alabaster oil, sprinkled a bit on his own hand, then rubbed it on the old General’s forehead. He muttered some words in a language he didn’t understand, in a language he almost certainly garbled, then closed the box back up.

All the family members swooped in upon the oil-laden general. His son, bedecked in his own uniform, sat on bended knee at his foot while nieces and nephews of diverse ages teared up and wept.

“What is the matter with my dear children?” The general asked. He rubbed his son’s head, patted the top of a little boy’s. “Have I alarmed you? Oh, do not cry. Be good children and we will all meet in Heaven.”

The sun rose imperceptibly, and the clock struck noon.

The General gave one breath, which passed easily from his lungs, and all was over.

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*The slime is from a lingering respiratory problem due to a bullet lodged in his chest. It’s not actually the thing killing him in this scene.

This was written for Joanne the Geek’s Flash Fiction Challenge #7, The End. In this, we’re supposed to write the end of a book that we’ll likely never make. I know she said to do the last paragraph, but I couldn’t do it. The last paragraph had to be a single line for this book.

The book I’m talking about here is part of an enormous series that I’m not sure I have enough time left in my life to finish. I wrote the first novella earlier this year and will work on the second when my hand feel a little better, but this one is like… the end of novella #60? Something ridiculous like that?

Anyway, this is the last part in my “novella crazy pants series” before the plotline goes completely off the rails.

Book Review: Trail of Lightning

Because I read a lot of older works in effort to catch up with my genre (I am, sadly, more poorly read than an author should be!), I find myself reading a lot about white people.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m about as white as sour cream, and I do enjoy a lot of stories about white people, but I thought I should make a concerted effort to work beyond that comfort zone.

The Book

51av2ksycqlTrail of Lightning
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
2018
Amazon Link

A long time ago, I read on Maggie Tiede’s book blog about a short story by Rebecca Roanhorse called “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience (TM).”  I really enjoyed the short story, and I found it desperately creative.  Maggie also mentioned that there was a book, Trail of Lightning, by the same author that would be published later in 2018.  I looked at it, thought it seemed like Native American Supernatural, and requested it on some gift lists for Christmas.  I did end up receiving it as a Christmas gift, and I am now very pleased to share my review with you.

Non-Spoiler Review

When I enjoy a book’s writing style, as I do with almost anything Asimov and definitely with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I find myself delighting to read each sentence.  I didn’t do that with this book.  Written in first person present tense, it was difficult for me to get into.

Once I started and committed, I found that I didn’t like the main character: she whined a lot about her personal backstory, but then she wouldn’t tell you anything about it – even at the end, the backstory was implied rather than told, and I was never sure what I should be rooting for.  Main-character Maggie felt flat, like one of those characters I’ve seen described on Tumblr.  On Tumblr, a bunch of people complain that ‘your character’s not X enough’ or ‘I need to read a book where my character is X amount of psychologically broken’ without giving her more depth than that.  Sure – I get that she’s psychologically broken, but I honestly don’t want to read a book about a character that starts out a quiet, unlikable badass who hates her life and ends up a quiet, unlikable badass who hates her life.  I didn’t feel Maggie Hoskie to be dynamic, nor could I ever really get behind her.

Another weird thing?  The book felt like it was diverse for the sake of being diverse.  I was looking forward to a cool book with a new cultural backdrop, but the Navajo/Dine’e aspects didn’t really seem to add to the story.  Some of the concepts were done with a Navajo name that was long and impossible to type because it didn’t use regular, Romanized characters – so I couldn’t even look them up easily to see if I was wrong.

“Oh, but H.R.R.,” you may say, “The book may have been written with Navajo/Dine’e readers as an audience.”  Sure, I’ll give you that possibility, but that is almost worse to me.  The world was post-apocalyptic, and almost all the white people had died in the Big Water event.  The Dine’e survived because they built a big wall that kept all the white refugees out, but the main character claimed it “wasn’t like the old, American wall that failed” and that the Navajo wall was completely different.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I think the border wall is a waste of money and pretty cruel in intention, but I must say that the author’s Navajo wall is built for the exact same reason as Trump wants to build his wall. The only difference is that it keeps out and hurts white people instead of brown people.

I felt incredibly uncomfortable especially with this scene, but also with much of how Roanhorse handled race throughout the book. I will give her some benefit of the doubt because her narrator could have been bad (i.e. a terrible example of an unreliable narrator), but it was extremely difficult to tell what was her literary message and what was the opinions of her narrator. When a world other than the one we live in must be introduced, we have no option other than to trust the narrator’s assessment as mostly true. This made the main character’s statements about race incredibly disconcerting to me, because it felt like you were supposed to believe that white people were inherently evil.

Anyway, the book just felt hypocritical.  Is that weird?  I don’t know.  I almost hate admitting it in a review because it makes white-bread me look bad, but the book just felt like there was no factor redeeming enough for me to like it.  I was really disappointed.  Either way, I sure won’t be reading the next installment in the series.

1/5 Discoball Snowcones, but only because 0 isn’t an option on Goodreads or Amazon

1 Discoball Snowcones

*NOTE: This section was edited to soften some of the language.

SPOILERS REVIEW

This is going to be pretty short.

Like I said above, the main character – Maggie – kept complaining about her backstory.  Up until nearly the end of the book, she continued this trend, and then finally we get to know that she did have sex with Neizghani (probably), and that it was an abusive relationship (probably).  But none of it was clear, and it didn’t quite make sense to me.  I feel like this is a massive shame, because as others (like Tom Darby) have pointed out, women on Indian reservations have it pretty rough.  It could have been a great thing to point out.

Also, the twists fell flat to me.  What I like in a twist is two things: 1) I don’t want to see it coming, at least not exactly, and 2) I want to be able to recall things from earlier that “make sense now” after the reveal.  Neither of the big ‘twists’ in Trail of Lightning did that for me.  One of them I saw coming from miles away and never understood why Maggie couldn’t see it.  The other I thought didn’t have enough evidence left beforehand or even storyline tension to back up.

It just wasn’t a fun read.

Next week:

Next week, I’m reading Andy Weir’s The Martian.  Highly awarded and recommended, I hope this book lives up to its hype!

A Familiar Face

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The old woman stroked the cat, and his yellow eyes blinked with content. She drank a bit of potion – or tonic, as she called it in the market – and smacked her lips. “Excellent work, my boy.”

The apprentice to the witch, a boy of 17, nodded in thanks. Years spent under the witch’s tutelage had led him to be a formidable witch in his own right, and fewer seemed to suspect him of wrongdoing than the old witch. He found this unfair but decided to use the advantage.

“I think you are ready for a familiar,” the witch said.

His eyes glittered. “Really?” He sat back down, trying to calm himself and not seem so interested. “I mean, sure. I think I’m ready.”

The witch simply smiled, pet the cat – Sam, her familiar – on her lap. “Then I will help you. The first step, of course, is to use the beast-speech potion to find an animal whose personality works well with yours. Heed me, my dear: do not choose an animal who is unwilling. The familiar will last for the rest of your life, and its death will take a piece of your soul with it.”

The apprentice nodded. “I know. I understand.”

“Then take your time. When you find such a creature, bring it here, and we’ll request its service.”

***

A month later, the apprentice drank the potion once more. He’d spoken to every animal in the county, perhaps even the territory considering how many animals traversed through the area while seeking somewhere else, and no reasonable creature had wanted to help him.

And those who might have agreed were bugs or spiders or other creatures too stupid to understand what he asked.

A black cat belonging to a family in town licked its paws while it sat on a railing. The apprentice walked up to it, and he asked, “What’s your name?”

It stopped licking. “Fuck off, mate.”

The apprentice furrowed his brows and stepped back. “I beg your pardon?”

“You heard me. Fuck off, go away. I’m happy here and don’t want to serve the likes of you.” It continued licking its paw. “Everyone knows what you’ve been up to for the last month, so don’t even pretend like this wasn’t some sort of interview.”

“Well, excuse me for living!” the apprentice growled back.

He removed himself from the foul animal’s presence and headed back to the witch’s little house in the woods.

***

He found the witch stirring a brew, this one likely a beer rather than a potion. She looked up from her work to see the young man’s dejected entry. “Is something wrong, dear?”

He sat down on the chair. “I just can’t find a familiar. I’ve tried everything, but every animal says no.” He placed his elbows on the table and leaned his chin into his palms. “Should I go farther? Perhaps head to New Orleans and see what I can find there?”

“Perhaps,” the witch answered. “But perhaps there’s another solution to your problem.”

“What?” the apprentice asked.

“You’ve only been at this for a month, and if you’ve gone through every option, that means you’ve not built any relationships. You’ve just asked them to join you, and of course they said no because they thought you an abusive witch.” She put the pot atop her brew and pat the lid. “Whether you go to New Orleans or you stay here, it’s best to find a friend before you even think about asking for a permanent relationship.”

“You sound like someone giving dating advice.”

She chuckled. “I suppose it could be similar.”

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This was written for Alexander Eliot’s photo prompt, “Cats’ Eye.” This photo, provided by Mr. Eliot, was such a crisp and clean photo of a cat named Sam. I decided to use this opportunity to continue the story from earlier, wherein my younger apprentice learned to appreciate many forms of life and find satisfaction with his trainer.