"THE SECRETS OF CASTLE DRAKON'
A THORSTRUCK PRESS ANTHOLOGY #1.
I am delighted to present a review of “The Secrets of Castle Drakon.” An Anthology from eleven authors at Thorstruck Press.
I thought long and hard before reviewing this book, as I too have a story included. I made the decision to remove my author’s hat and review this as an avid reader. I will not of course be presenting you with a review of my own work.
The remaining 10 Tales I read for the very first time this week, and I can tell you before we begin that I am proud to be in this company.
The challenge presented to the authors was simply to write a short no longer than 20,000 words based on the writer’s interpretation of the cover above. Any genre was welcomed.
So … let us begin.
Tale 1: The Fiddler’s Soul, by Richard Rhys Jones.
Jacob Carpenter, chief sports reporter for the Chester Courier is invited by a stranger, a German named Freidhelm von Pilke to “attend a gathering of mystics and mediums at Castle Drakon, and witness a paranormal phenomenon, never before seen by man.”
Having been caught out by a hoax about a haunted chapel, Jacob was wary. His editor had no reservations, a flat NO was his response. Surely after being demoted in the pecking order as a result of his previous unfortunate gullibility, Jacob wouldn’t be interested?
He organizes time off, and with the promise of payment for the story garnered by another magazine he heads off to meet the German von Pilke.
In a small village in the north of Wales he meets Fritz von Pilke, together with the rest of his gathered mystics and mediums.
The location ‘Castle Drakon.’
On arrival Jacob meets the remainder of this odd assortment of humanity and is informed that the aim of the weekend is to “retrieve a soul from the realm of Satan, an innocent man who foolishly took a bet, and paid for losing it with his soul.”
Author Richard Rhys Jones has beautifully reconstructed the time frame, the formality of language then used and the mode of dress.
Each character is visible to my reader’s eye without overpowering my own need to visualize more detail.
The masks of ‘sophistication’ apparent within the gathering soon begin to slip haphazardly sideways, as Jacob is overtly propositioned by Hypatia von Pilke.
The dialogue is fast paced and held this reader riveted, and eager to read on. I will not spoil the tale for you. Suffice it to say that nothing is quite as it seems.
There is no predictability on offer here. Least of all the ending. I have no hesitation in recommending this read and will be looking out for more work by author Richard Rhys Jones.
Tale 2: Zeara Ga Mouche by Jeffrey Blackmer
This story is both clever and engaging.
Five interstellar travelers walk through a portal of ‘Castle Drakon.’
Their quest, to gather 50 kg of a fungus that grows nowhere else, a fungus that would be used to create a universal virus vaccine that could not yet be replicated synthetically. The portal brings them to an oasis of sorts, where the trees grow to over a mile in height, with bases over 100 yards in diameter.
They are a diverse group of travelers, with Hawthorne as mission commander, the female botanist Brandt, uncomfortable wearing a sidearm yet excited to have been included on the mission. Dobrovsky is their exobiologist; his expertise hopefully would help protect them from the apex predator, already the cause of eleven deaths on two previous missions. Grady and Arnoff are military, bought along as mission protection.
Grady was the only survivor of the 2nd mission. Apart from himself and the mission leader, none of the crew had been warned or told of the high death rate of the previous missions. They had all found it odd that they needed to be so heavily armed in what appeared to be an oversized tropical paradise.
The briefing by Brandt reveals that the fungus can only be found at approx. 3,000 feet. Their protective suits will shield them from the extremes in temperature.
Dobrovsky then informs them of the ‘apex’ predator which he calls Sheidah. The Polish for dark demon. The news that it is around the size of a saber-tooth tiger and will attack if detecting any movement has the crew rattled. They are warned not to move if sighting one.
The good news is that a bird resembling an Australian Kookaburra, only much larger and vividly colored, a Varovani ... Czech for Fearful Premonition could be their greatest ally, this bird gives a warning cry whenever a Sheidah is nearby. The call sounds like ‘zeara ga mouche.’
Author Jeffrey Blackmer keep the tension resoundingly high in this tale. Unrelenting and unpredictable.
An absolute pleasure to read.
Suffice it to say that I will not be heading into the tropics again anytime soon.
Tale 3: BROTHERLY LOVE? By Jillian Ward
Meet Carlton Greenleaf, Solicitor. A tall, thin, man who makes no sound when walking, and casts no shadow.
He enters the office of Larry and Barry Bolton, twin brothers that run an unsuccessful Real Estate office. Larry Bolton, the older twin by a matter of minutes, is the brash, pushy brother. His twin, accustomed to always being downgraded by his sibling, is quieter, more thoughtful and reflective. He has long given up trying to exert his own personality, knowing in advance that his brother would always undermine him.
The strange Mr. Greenleaf has a proposition for them, making it very clear from the outset that he is well aware of their precarious financial position. A tenuous situation that no amount of bluster by Larry Bolton can change.
Mr. Greenleaf offers them the opportunity to represent his client Count Malachi Drakon in the sale of Castle Drakon an imposing 300 year old ‘white elephant’ located nearby.
Greenleaf directs most of his conversation towards the quieter twin, Barry.
Before leaving them he offers a substantial bonus if they are able to acquire a buyer within a period of three months. That bonus together with their commission from the sale would buy them out of financial trouble and set them up in a major city to begin anew.
‘Castle Drakon’ named so by the last owner, and the twin’s newest and only client, was an architectural abomination in anyone’s language. Having being sold and resold often, and altered with every new owner, it had the unfortunate reputation of being called everything from haunted to a place of strange practices of unspeakable evil.
When the brothers head out to take their first look they find a lot more than they expected including a room that would please anyone with an interest in sexual perversions, and drug paraphernalia suited to all types of addiction.
Author Jillian Ward has set a cracking pace with this story, the relationship between the twins features strongly. The descriptions used and the gallows humor in the dialogue are both exceptional.
Relationships and their often strange outcomes are absolutely pivotal.
A terrific yarn.
Tale 4: A SOLEMN CURFEW by Bev Allen
Meet Quine. Section head in the enormous kitchen of a Castle Drakon that existed when Ladies and Lords were commonplace.
Quine, a man who loved recognition and reward almost as much as he did producing his marvelously creative dishes of exquisite vegetable produce.
He had an uphill battle on his clever hands to bring a superlative dish to the attention of the Master and her Ladyship. For the head chef was a devious man, recognizing that Quine’s talent could make his own dishes shine, without thought being given to their creator.
Quine hungered for that recognition, and the silver and sometimes golden coins that accompanied that acknowledgement. They would be saved, and one day he could leave this place and allow his dream of running his own small but excellent establishment to come to fruition.
He had a small run of success, thanks to the intervention of the chief steward. A fair man, who allowed a dish that Quine had created to be served, not as an accompaniment to a main course, but as a separate dish.
It was a huge success, and garnered Quine a small taste of reward, in the form of a glass of wine sent from the Master.
His self-esteem and standing within the kitchen rose as a result, he then earned another accolade in the form of a silver coin.
But … he ran short of the delicate mushrooms required to make his favorite dishes, and made a grave error in catering to his Master’s love of spicy or hot food as an alternative… Onion rings perfectly battered and deep fried, pleased the Master, but infuriated her Ladyship as she would be the one to suffer the foul odors the night of this dish would bring to her bed.
Quine was reprimanded in front of the kitchen staff. His standing reduced once more, and his anger and frustration grew.
He needed something so different, so unbelievably delicious that his standing would never falter again.
Author Bev Allen has crafted a wonderfully descriptive piece, which had me literally hungry for more. Combine with that her understanding of the demon’s that drive us; and those that take over and rule us; together with the knowledge of the betrayal man is capable of inflicting on their fellows.
And you have an altogether sumptuous feast of a story.
Tale 5: ANCIENT ILLUMINATION by Elaina J. Davidson
“There are only five of us now. We are the last of our kind.” So begins this story.
Take a journey with five people, unsure of why they have been drawn together to escape the death of their world. Knowing only that the desire to survive burns so strongly within each of them that they will run, until they can run no longer … run to escape the certain and inevitable destruction of Drakonis, their home, now laid waste by the forces of volcanic fire.
They will run in the blistering heat of a world blanketed so thickly by volcanic ash that everything in and of that world is close to ultimate annihilation. The darkness absolute.
Each of them connected, each of them necessary for the survival of the others.
They believe that their escape, or the passing on of memory, lay within the belief that legend is a tangible concept. A concept that was in eons past based on reality of sorts.
They ran from the fire into ice, the remembered heat a lifetime ago.
They are close to starvation, have not had fresh water to drink for too long and are close to frozen in the icy remains of a world gone mad.
Brennan is the leader, a female who has survived as a burglar for years, with the company of Cole the younger of two brothers. Bastian the older boy strong and quiet. Halley a female uncomfortable and untrusting of her companions, and Audri who has never spoken once on their journey.
The story is intricately woven by Author Elaina J. Davidson. She writes powerful words and leaves the reader entwined in her story, eager to read more, yet somehow reluctant to know what is coming.
The story has layer upon layer of connected meaning. Each section allowing the reader a glimpse of understanding, yet cleverly holding back until the final revelation.
This work is beautifully written, sadly prophetic, and superbly paced.
I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Tale 6: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT by Suzanna Burke.
As this is my own small contribution to the Anthology. It will not be reviewed.
Tale 7: SATAN’S BAND by Paul Rudd.
Set in the French Alps in 1995.
An invitation to a friend’s Gothic Fantasy wedding has the rock band … ‘Satan’s Band’ entering Castle Drakon. They are to supply the music for the nuptials and the pre and post wedding parties.
It is clear to them on entering that this could well be a couple of days that could show them both hell, and heaven in the shapes of the beautiful staff willing to meet their every need.
The narrator (The band’s drummer) has shared more than just friendship with one of the guests, or rather he had done till she unceremoniously dumped him and took up with a Scott the narrator refers to as ‘Jockstrap’.
Author Paul Rudd has a wonderful sense of comedic timing. I heard the voice of Keith Richards as I read. The pace is rapid, and the clever, tight, dialogue had me laughing out loud at times.
He gives clarity to the voices we the reader can hear, and the visual images he paints are both vivid and at times disturbing.
Musical references tie me into the story jogging my memory to sounds I am so familiar with.
Castle Dakron and its inhabitants of Vampires and the ancient Succubus becomes a killing field.
I love a story that leaves me wanting more. This one does exactly that.
Tale 8: THE BLOOD RED NAILS OF WAR by Hannah Warren
July 1908 …Chateau Drakon; France.
Count Horace de Dragoncourt together with his English wife Virginia and their four children escape the city life every year to spend the languid summer months in Departement Roye.
Elle de Dragoncourt at 17-years-old is bored, moody and looking for anything to excite her rebellious self.
The arrival of a guest and her dislike of the man has her eyeing his car with unbridled longing. She adores beautiful things, and the sleek, powerful, white 120 HP Benz lures her restless spirit.
Without regard for consequence Elle decides she will drive the car.
With the wind streaming through her hair and her spirit soaring she masters the beast, and her hands with their long red-painted nails feel as one with the steering wheel. She has no fear, and this ride will set her on a course she cannot change.
Her twin brother Jacques meanwhile lounges under a parasol totally immersed in Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove.
It is an innocent time. The formalities of afternoon tea parties and dinner at 8.00 where formal attire was de-rigueur sheltered them in the luxury they were born to.
Agnes Dupuis and her father Baron Maximilian Dupuis de Melancourt are guests at a tea-party at the chateau. Agnes is a beauty and at fifteen she is sheltered and unworldly.
The cynicism and behavior of the twins initially shocks her, however they vie for her attention and she is fascinated by their behavior.
The friendships develop slowly and the young people spend time visiting each other, until an incident when Agnes is staying at the chateau shocks her so profoundly that she returns home. She vows never to return.
1917. Agnes is a newly qualified doctor and the war in Europe rages on. Despite her vow never to go back to the Chateau Dakron she finds herself journeying there with her friend Angele also a doctor. The Chateau is now operating as a hospital close to the front lines and they want to help any way they can.
Author Hannah Warren lures the reader to that time and that place. Her ability to create mood and color through language is stunning. The reunion of peoples with shared history, and the empathy and understanding evoked by her words linger on long after the tale is complete.
Elegant and compelling.
Tale: 9 THE DRAGON’S MATE by Joanne Sexton
In an ancient Castle Drakon the sorceress Agatha rules. Her word is law and refusal to obey results in death, or worse still, a spell that will render the victim forever changed.
Elizabeth is a beautiful young woman falsely accused of murdering a member of the sorceress’s harem. She escapes the castle and runs for her life with the knowledge that she will die a horrible death if caught.
Exhausted and hungry she begins to falter. Rescue comes in the form of a dragon. Elizabeth is too shocked to question why it wants to help her. The dragon indicates by movement that she should hurry and climb up to seat herself, assisting her by lowering its beautiful neck to the ground.
They fly at great speed to the safety of a cave.
Nightfall descends and the dragon changes its form and becomes a man.
He introduces himself to Elizabeth as Dante.
He had worked in the castle stables and his good looks had attracted the attention of Agatha the sorceress. She wanted him to join her harem … he refused, and she punished him by casting a spell that would alter his form to a dragon during the hours of daylight. He reverted to human after sundown.
Author Joanne Sexton has woven a fantasy tale that captures the imagination. She entwines the story with the developing relationship between Dante and Elizabeth. The innocence and freedom that they share during the daylight begins to alter as their love grows.
The author touches on many of our human frailties, and our strengths, as loyalties and courage are called into question.
She has a deceptively light touch and the lovely ability to cleverly craft deeper messages within.
Tale:10 SLEEPING WITH THE GODS By Tee Geering.
Maia and Alcyone are sisters, named after the daughters of Atlas due to their parent’s obsession with Greek mythology.
They have grown up accustomed to great wealth and the surroundings at Castle Drakon (Won by their father in a poker game) reflects the opulence of the exorbitantly wealthy.
Alcyone is the elder sister by a year, beautiful, bored, and in her dealings with her sister she is often cruel. They couldn’t be more different.
While Alcyone searched for her next male conquest, Maia searched for her next food fix.
Maia weighs a hefty eighteen stone and having overheard her parents discussing their ‘mistake’ of having two children helped her along the road to that obesity. Her nature is sweet, sometimes compliant, and her sense of humor is delightful.
Her sister refers to her as ‘fats’ and ‘ugly bug’. Maia has fallen in love with the castle, whilst her sister hates it with a passion.
Alcyone in one of her moods bets her sister that she would not be brave enough to spend the upcoming night of Halloween in the castle’s crypt.
The bet is taken.
Maia dresses in multiple layers of clothing and enters the crypt. She allows her imagination to run free for a short while until she spooks herself, then she burrows into her sleeping bag and drifts into sleep; awakening soon after with hunger pangs gnawing at her.
She floats in and out of sleep and is certain she is dreaming when she sees a small golden dragon sitting on her chest with a platter of delicious looking food.
Everything comes at a price.
Drako the Dragon offers her the food … but ... he warns her that if she eats from the platter her life will change dramatically; she will become immortal and live on a different plane with the Gods … she would also become a beautiful and desirable woman.
He leaves her alone with the food to make her decision. Maia deep in thought nibbles a little of the food without realizing she has done so. Drako returns instantly, pleased she had made her decision.
Maia had eaten subconsciously, but she had been warned.
What follows is a marvelous romp with the Gods, each of them represented with clever description.
The darker emotions are presented with Author Tee Geering’s deft touch, jealousy, hatred, lust, anger, obsession and greed, mingle freely with their opposite number.
Author Tee Geering had me laughing out loud with much of her dialogue.
However don’t mistake this story for comedy … the layers peel back like a Spanish onion, cleverly exposing the very human need for love and acceptance.
Tale 11: MY SWEET MATRYOSHKA by Poppet.
“Tears make no sound when they fall; they are the most silent of screams.”
That is just one line from this story, powerful and deadly accurate.
Evanda rejected a man in her youth, she took his love and betrayed him. The love between them he had revered, he would willingly have given his life to make her smile. Her betrayal murdered his soul.
She had married another, an imposter and allowed him to banish her lover from Castle Drakon without regret.
Zalar Pelum Vilantovic returns to Castle Drakon initially with only revenge on his mind. He is the rightful heir and it is time for him to reclaim what he has been deprived of for so very many years.
The setting is today, yet those within the castle live a life where servant equates to slave. The violence and cruelty of the current Master, Ivan, is obscene. His drug addled brain increasing his sexual needs, for everyone but his wife. The lineage is 15,000 years old, and Zalar is well prepared to prove his heritage.
Evanda does not recognize him. “An auspicious portent for success.” There are secrets he is not privy to. He speaks to Evanda in private, using the pet names he had once spoken, and only ever to her. She remains blinded to who he is. A bitter, angry woman has replaced the girl he once loved beyond reason.
Author Poppet has crafted this feast of beautifully descriptive writing, the pace, visual descriptions and dialogue all serve to enhance the reading experience.
We are presented with the worst and the best that humanity has to offer by an author who has honed her art to perfection.
As a reader I am delighted with this book. The writing is of a high standard and the stories are rich, vibrant and a pleasure to read.
As an author I have no hesitation in saying I am proud to have been included alongside writers of this caliber.
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