Excerpt: “The Unquiet House” by Alison Littlewood (Jo Fletcher Books)

Alison Littlewood’s latest novel, THE UNQUIET HOUSE, is due to be published in the UK by Jo Fletcher Books on April 24, 2014. Here, for your reading pleasure, is an excerpt…

LittlewoodA-UnquietHouseUKChapter Seven

Emma didn’t know when the house had changed. She had been sleeping, but when she awoke she had a sense that she had been listening to it all along, or if not listening, sensing it with her body, finding its rhythm, attuning herself to its ways.

She pushed the covers away, feeling too hot under them, but outside, the air was bitter. There was a sharp barrier between the two and once she’d crossed it, it was too late; the chill delved inside, embracing her skin, furrowing along her body, finding her spine, her legs, her feet. The room was dark, everything grainy and silver. The ceiling looked a long way off and the corners were dark, as if a child had sketched the room in stark black lines. She sat up and realised that the cupboard door was hanging open once more. How ridiculous, she thought. Monsters in the cupboard, like in a story. And then she saw the man standing quietly next to it.

He was half-dressed. He had hunched shoulders and a stocky body and slightly bowed legs, and she opened her mouth but the only sound she could make was a dry gasp. He didn’t move but she knew that he was watching her. She couldn’t see his eyes but she could just make out his rumpled vest and then she knew: the suit was his – he had come looking for it but he wouldn’t find it because she had thrown it away. Now he’d come to see where it was and instead, he had found her.

Her hands flexed. She could feel the tainted material on her skin, that shiny-musty fabric. She could see again the way she’d thrown it down in disgust, just as if it wasn’t wanted, wasn’t needed any longer.

You’re being fanciful, Emma.

She took a deep breath. She was in a strange house and there was nothing there, only an unfamiliar room full of shadows. But he was there. He didn’t move but continued to stand there, and she could feel his gaze on her, though she still couldn’t see his eyes. She could sense the hostility in his look. She became conscious of the cold on her own face, a bone-deep cold. She was alone, and for a moment that was the worst thing of all. She didn’t know why she had come here, but then she remembered Charlie, sleeping at the other end of the house. He would banish this thing. He’d grin at her and laugh, his very presence denying the possibility of its existence.

Panic took her and she pushed herself to her feet and ran, hoping – hoping – that the man wouldn’t stretch out his arm and grasp her shoulder as she passed. Then she was in the corridor and heading for Charlie’s room. The worn carpet was no protection from the hard boards beneath and her steps rang out loudly. She banged on the door, and the moment she did, she felt ridiculous. If she was so scared, why didn’t she just go in? There were no locks on the doors, nothing to stop her. And if she wasn’t, why was she at his door?

He opened it, his face full of concern. She reached for his arm and started to cry. She wanted to be held and yet a part of her didn’t want to touch him, this stranger in a strange house – in her house. Then he opened the door wider and put a hand on her arm and brought her out of the corridor, drawing her inside.

Charlie didn’t switch on the light but a slanting glow lit the room anyway and she realised his room didn’t have any curtains. There was nothing to shut out the moon which shone down, silvering the ancient carpet and the mound of his makeshift bed. She hugged herself. What must he think of her?

But he didn’t touch her. He took a step back and waited. She no longer knew what she was going to say. She was no longer sure she’d seen anything at all.

‘What is it?’ he asked at last. ‘A bad dream?’

‘No. I woke up. I thought – I thought I saw someone in my room.’

He turned towards the door. ‘There’s someone in the house? Now? All right, I’ll go and check. Have you heard him moving about – do you think he’s still in your room? Should we call someone?’

Instinctively she grabbed his arm. She felt cool skin, the roughness of his hair, and she realised he was wearing only T-shirt and shorts. He must be freezing. ‘No, don’t – I don’t think— that wasn’t it, Charlie. No one’s broken in. At least, I don’t think they have. I— it’s hard to explain, but it didn’t feel like that.’

He frowned. ‘What do you mean? Did you dream it, Emma, or should I go looking?’

She paused. ‘No, I didn’t dream it.’ Her voice faltered. ‘He was real. I saw someone. I felt him looking back at me. I had to go straight past him to get out of the room. I was scared he’d touch me when I went past.’

‘And did he? Did he try to grab you?’

She shook her head. It hadn’t been like that, not someone who could grab and hold on. But someone trying to touch her would have been bad enough. She just wasn’t sure if she’d have felt it as a physical thing, a real thing. Now she didn’t know which would be worse, her feeling it or not feeling it. She reached out for him again. This time it felt more intimate, chosen rather than a reflex. She closed her fingers over his arm. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t a dream – or I don’t think it was – but it wasn’t real either. I knew he wasn’t real even while he was looking straight at me. Don’t ask me how I knew that. I just knew. He wasn’t there, not like we are, but he was still real.’

He looked at her and she replayed her words in her head, realising how stupid it sounded.

But Charlie didn’t tell her she was being fanciful. He didn’t tell her there was nothing there and he didn’t try to reason with her or name her fear. He simply twisted around so that he was standing at her side and he put his arm around her. After a while he squeezed her shoulders and he said, ‘I’ll go and take a look.’

She couldn’t see his expression as he walked out of the room. His footsteps receded, steady and sure, and there came the faint creak of a door opening and then silence. Emma listened to the sound of her own breathing. She tried to remember if she’d heard him breathing, the man in her room; she didn’t think so. She wasn’t sure what it would mean if she had. She still didn’t think he had been a real person.

After a time she heard footsteps again but they didn’t come back to this room. Instead they faded into another, and then came louder on the landing and then rhythmic on the stairs. After a time the same rhythm sounded, getting louder this time, and before the thought had fully formed in her mind that it might not be Charlie, it might be him, the door swung wide and she saw the outline of Charlie’s hair. He walked in and smiled reassuringly. ‘There’s no one there,’ he said. ‘I had a good look around – I even looked under the bed and in the cupboard, and in the other rooms and downstairs. Unless someone kept slipping into a different room while my back was turned, we’re on our own.’

She took a deep breath. ‘No, I— I didn’t think there would be. Sorry, Charlie.’

He frowned as the words sank in, and he tensed. Now he would say it: There’s nothing there, Emma. You’re just being fanciful. She could already hear the note of contempt that would be in his voice when he said it.

But he didn’t say that. Instead, she heard a low chuckle. ‘Well, you know what this means.’

I’m crazy, she thought. That’s what it means.

‘This house is even more interesting than you thought. It looks as if you’ve got a real live ghost.’

She turned the word over in her mind. Ghost. Had she really thought of it that way? She had only known that the person

in her room had come from somewhere else, that it belonged somewhere else. She hadn’t thought of it as a ghost – she hadn’t thought to name it – but now she couldn’t get the word out of her mind. It didn’t fit with the way she thought of herself. She wasn’t the sort of person who saw ghosts, or even believed in them. She pushed the idea away, something to think about later, and she forced herself to nod at Charlie. She really didn’t want to go back to her room, not now, but she couldn’t stay here.

‘Thank you, Charlie,’ she started. She found she wanted to say something else, to explain the whole thing away perhaps, but tiredness had overtaken her. She didn’t want to think about it, not now. Later maybe, when she couldn’t sleep or when she was alone. Charlie showed her out and she stood in the hallway, looking at the door to her room.

*

She knew her room was empty even before she flicked on the light and it flooded across the dingy floor and into the dusty corners. The cupboard door was open, though she couldn’t see inside. The sense of presence which had been so strong when she’d awakened was gone.

She went to the door, reaching out to push it closed once more, and froze. The suit was back again. It was hanging on its yellowing padded hanger, not pulled awry but straight and neat, the trousers sharply creased around the white shine of the bulked-out knees, the jacket hanging squarely over the top. At once she thought of grabbing the thing and taking it downstairs and throwing it out of the door, but she stopped herself even before the movement began. She didn’t want to feel that fabric on her fingers. Would the owner of the thing still be looking for it? Perhaps she’d feel his hand on her shoulder after all.

But maybe he’d already found it – she had thrown it out, hadn’t she? She’d put it in the bin outside or left it in the drawing room, she wasn’t sure which. It hadn’t been something she’d wanted in the house. He must have come looking for it, and he’d found it and placed it in here. If she was to move it again, she might make everything worse. It might even call him back.

Then a thought struck her and she flushed with heat. Charlie had come in here, hadn’t he? He’d been checking the place, being helpful. And he knew about the suit. More Savile Row, the old man.

He’d been downstairs too, while she hid in his room. Had he found the suit down there and brought it back up with him? The whole thing might have been some kind of joke. Heat spread through her. She’d thought he was helping, that he was being kind, and all the time he’d just been pulling some kind of trick. She frowned. Had she really seen a stranger in her room or had that been only another kind of trick? The kind that meant standing and watching her, in the dark – watching her sleep, maybe?

She shook her head. The suit was still there, in front of her eyes. Tomorrow she would take it outside and banish it forever; it would be gone and so would Charlie and she would get on with all the things she’d planned to do. For now, though, she had no intention of touching it. Let it stay there. She backed away and closed the door, making sure it snicked into place. It wouldn’t open on her again; she didn’t even have to think about it until morning.

She turned, still not liking to have her back to that door, just as if she were a child again, afraid of the monster in the wardrobe, and she got back into bed. The sheets had grown cold and she pulled them up to her shoulders, watching the door as she nestled her head into her pillow. Charlie had comforted her. He had been kind to her, had gone to see what was wrong, looking around the house in the dark and the cold. It couldn’t have been him. She had seen a ghost, for God’s sake. If she accepted that, it wasn’t too much of a step to suppose it could have found its suit and put it back. And that was enough to worry about, without inventing trickery of another kind: without souring the kindness of the one person in her life who appeared to be intent on helping her.

***

Upcoming from Hodder Books (UK): “The Forever Watch” and “Lagoon”…

It’s Saturday night, and I’m stuck at home. So, naturally, I’m reading publishers’ catalogues. Currently, I’m reading Hodder Books’ Spring 2014 catalogue, which means I’ve got more information on a number of books that I’m excited to read this year.

PrintFirst up, we have David Ramirez’s THE FOREVER WATCH:

The Truth is only the beginning.

The Noah: a city-sized ship, half-way through an eight hundred year voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity must be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah’s telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime… if not longer.

And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.

The Forever Watch is due to be published on March 20th 2014 in the UK by Hodder, and April 22nd 2014 in the US by Thomas Dunne.

Update: Just been informed by Hodder that The Forever Watch has been pushed back to a May 1st publication.

OkoraforN-LagoonNext, we have Nnedi Okorafor’s LAGOON:

A star falls from the sky. A woman rises from the sea. The world will never be the same.

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper, famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Each wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before.

But when a meteorite plunges into the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they could never have imagined. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world, and themselves.

Love that Joey Hi-Fi cover… Lagoon is due to be published by Hodder in the UK and US in April 2014.

For more on Hodder Books’ science fiction, fantasy and horror publishing, be sure to check out the Hodderscape website.

Upcoming: “A City Stained Red” by Sam Sykes (Gollancz)

Sykes-04-ACityStainedRedI’m a fan of Sam Sykes’s novels. I thought both Tome of the Undergates and Black Halo were wonderfully subversive, dark and twisted takes on the fantasy genre. Sykes’s sense of humour is great, and runs throughout the novels without undermining the sense of adventure and action of the story. I’ve been woefully, shamefully slow about getting around to Skybound Sea, too. Nevertheless, the author’s story and characters continue apace! This April, Gollancz will be publishing the first in a new trilogy starring the loveable, dysfunctional heroes we have come to know and love(ish). A City Stained Red is the first in The Scion’s Gate trilogy.

Here is the synopsis…

The Scion’s Gate is a trilogy that tells the story of the struggle between the adventurer, Lenk, and his companions and the demons trying to break free from hell in order to resume their own agendas.

Long before he was sent to hell, the Aeon known as Khoth-Kapira was the closest thing to a living god the world had ever known. Possessed of a vast intellect, he pioneered many of the wonders that persist in the world that lingered long after he was banished. Nearly every fragment of medical, economic and technological progress that the mortal races enjoyed could be traced back to him. But with his wonders came cruelty beyond measure: industrialized slavery, horrifying experimentations and a rage that would eventually force the world to bow to him.

Now, as Khoth-Kapira stirs the world begins to shudder with disasters yet to come.The epicenter is the city of Cier’Djaal. A religious war between two unstoppable military juggernauts begins to brew. The racial fury among many peoples of the world is about to explode. Demons begin to pour from the shadows at the head of a vicious cult worshipping dark powers.

And Lenk finds himself in the middle once more, his fate and the fate of Khoth-Kapira interlinked as the demon attempts to convince him of his earnestness.

Also, I really like the new approach to the artwork – before, the character-based pieces were a little weird. Eye-catching, sure, but not the best. This new cover is a little more vague, but I prefer it to the original style.

Also on CR: Interview with Sam Sykes, Post-Trilogy Catch-Up

Full disclosure: I have read an early draft of this novel. It was very good – tighter, funnier and all-round better written and constructed than the first two novels. Given that I thought they were very strong, too… Well, I’m very excited to read the final version.

Artwork: “Gotrek & Felix: The Serpent Queen” by Joshua Reynolds (Black Library)

I must have said it a hundred times on the blog, now, but I really must get around to reading Josh Reynold’s Road of Skulls, his first full-length novel featuring my favourite Dwarf Slayer and human companion… In advance of that, though, I spotted the artwork for Reynolds’s next novel in the series, The Serpent Queen:

ReynoldsJ-G&F-SerpentQueen

Sorry for the low-quality image, but I wanted to share the cover anyway. It’s one of my all-time favourite fantasy series, so I’m always excited for news and more fiction (even if it does take me altogether too long to get around to reading them…). Here’s the synopsis:

Gotrek and Felix: unsung heroes of the Empire, or nothing more than common thieves and murderers? The truth perhaps lies somewhere in between, and depends entirely upon whom you ask… Travelling to the mysterious south in search of a mighty death, the Slayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his human companion, Felix Jaeger, find themselves caught up in a battle between warring kingdoms. Captured by the sinister Queen Khalida and forced to do her bidding, the adventurers must brave the horrors of the sun-soaked Land of the Dead, where the dead do not rest easy.

Serpent Queen is due to be published in March/April 2014. Road of Skulls and David Guymer’s City of the Damned are available now from Black Library. In addition, the first in the series, William King’s Trollslayer, has recently been re-released as part of the Black Library Classics series – it is, in my humble opinion, a must-read.

Gotrek&Felix-AlsoAvailableNew

Upcoming: “The Dark Blood of Poppies” by Freda Warrington (Titan)

Warrington-BW3-DarkBloodOfPoppiesI’m intrigued by Freda Warrington’s Blood Wine series. It was first released near the height of the vampire vogue – authors such as Anne Rice had established the genre as far more varied and ambitious that mere heaving bosoms and strained bodices. This year, Titan Books began re-issuing the series, which started with A Taste of Blood Wine (A Dance in Blood Velvet is due to hit shelves in October 2013). Last week, this cover for the third novel in the series was unveiled. And it’s another stunning, attention-grabbing one, too.

Here’s the original synopsis, from the 1996 edition (which I nabbed from the author’s website) – I don’t know if Titan will be changing it for their 2014 edition, but I assume it won’t be too different:

The ballerina Violette Lenoir has fallen victim to the bite of the vampire Charlotte. Her fire and energy have fuelled a terrifying change and a dreadful realisation; that Violette has become Lilith, the demon mother of all vampires.

Haunted both by what she has done and by Violette’s dark sensuality, Charlotte and her immortal lover Karl are drawn towards the dancer and the terrible destiny that has fallen on her shoulders.

But other, far more dangerous shadows are gathering around Violette. To the vampire Sebastian and to the dark heirs of Kristian, she threatens to wreak havoc with their plans to bring all of mankind under their dark wings.

Innocently embroiled in the endgame, courtesan extraordinaire Robyn Stafford finally meets her match as she is torn between the two ultimate lovers: Sebastian, and Violette …

As someone pointed out on Twitter, that is a very Black Metal cover – everything from the title to the model’s make-up does remind me of band photos from Terrorizer and Metal Hammer… It also has a smidgeon of Black Swan in there (ok, a fair bit…). I’m intrigued to read this series, and luckily I have the first book on my tottering TBR Mountain. I’ll hopefully get to it at some point in the not-too-distant future.

The Dark Blood of Poppies is due to be published by Titan Books in April 2014. A new, fourth novel in the series – The Dark Arts of Blood – is also meant to be coming out next year (October).

Upcoming: “Abaddon: The Talon of Horus” by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library)

DembskiBowden-A1-TalonOfHorus

I had no idea this cover had been released, yet, but while on Goodreads adding my latest read to my Currently Reading shelf (Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Helsreach), I saw this listed among his novels. Complete with a cover. So I did some more digging/Googling, and this post is the result.

Abaddon: Talon of Horus is the first in a new series of novels focussing on the Black Legion and their leader – former first captain of the Luna Wolves/Sons of Horus (who will be familiar to readers of the Horus Heresy series). Naturally, I’m extremely excited about reading this. The author is one of my favourites, period. (Although, that being said, I’m struggling a bit with Helsreach…) Also, as a more personal aside, Abaddon was my favourite model from the Warhammer 40,000 range, when I was younger and paid more attention.

Can’t wait for this. I’m ready for it to be April 2014, now!

Here’s an early synopsis, which I found on Simon & Schuster Canada’s catalogue…

The rise of Abaddon, successor to Horus and Warmaster of the Black Legion.

When Horus fell, his Sons fell with him. A broken Legion, beset by rivalries and hunted by their erstwhile allies, the former Luna Wolves have scattered across the tortured realm of the Eye of Terror. And of Abaddon, greatest of the Warmaster’s followers, nothing has been heard for many years. But when Horus’s body is taken from its resting place, a confederation of legionaries seek out the former First Captain, to convince him to embrace his destiny and continue what Horus began.

Aaron is also the author of brilliant The First Heretic (Horus Heresy), and the superb Night Lords trilogy (Soul Hunter, Blood Reaver, and Void Stalker), among others.

Disturbing New Marvel Cover Art…

There’s something wrong with this cover. Cyclops looks real bad-ass, sure, but part of me wants to make inappropriate jokes at “Daddy’s Home.” The other part of me thinks it’s a really sinister piece of art…

This is the cover of Cable & X-Force #7, which will be published April 17th 2013. The issue is written by Dennis Hopeless, with the cover and internal artwork by Salvador Larroca.

Art: FAIREST #14 (Vertigo)

I just saw this on CBR, as part of an other-wise black-and-white preview for Fairest #14, and really wanted to share it. This excellent, atmospheric piece is Adam Hughes’s cover for the Bill Willingham-penned issue from the very good Fables spin-off series:

Fairest-14-Art

Fairest #14 is billed as a “special issue”, written by Willingham (who created Fairest and Fables) and features internal art by Barry Kitson. Here’s the synopsis:

Dating is hard for everyone in this standalone tale — but it’s especially tricky if you’re a gorgeous tree nymph from Fabletown. Princess Alder tells her tales of woe to Reynard the fox

Fairest #14 will be published April 3rd 2013.