I can’t believe the end of the year is upon us. Friday brings the Winter Solstice, and we officially say goodbye to the Holly King as the Oak King again takes the throne until midsummer.
Whether you see it as more practical or spiritual, the solstice marks a pivotal moment in the year (specifically, at 5:23pm EST on 12/21). In my home, it is the inciting event that kicks off our twelve-day midwinter celebration of Yuletide. We will spend the evening over a roaring campfire, singing carols and roasting marshmallows as we prepare for the arrival of our holiday guests. My boys will have their annual mock Holly versus Oak King battle, we’ll drink homemade mead, and then we’ll wake up the next morning and welcome our Yule Log into our home with song and merriment.
More than a season of celebration, the winter solstice (and the entire midwinter holiday) provides a perfect time to reflect on the past year: to celebrate successes, to plan for the new year, and—most important—to take time away from the hustle and bustle of every day and spend it instead with friends and loved ones, making merry and enjoying the warm company of the people who matter most in our lives.
As my holiday gift to you, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite tunes of the season from Damh the Bard, a modern-day Bard whose spirituality and love of folk tradition is expressed through his music, storytelling and poetry.
For me, these two weeks give me time to catch up on reading and dwell on the ideas that have been swirling inside my head as I plot out my projects for the new year. The past year has brought so many wonderful things into my life—a debut novel and a new agent among so many other blessings—and I am so grateful for everyone who has been a part of this journey with me. There are so many new things coming in 2019 that I am eager to announce, including a new project for the Havenwood Falls collective, a super secret authors project at Black Spot Books, and so much more! For now, I’ll be tucked away by the fire, reading and dreaming, and hope that you will be, too.
Happy holidays, and be merry!
If you’re looking for a new young adult sci-fi adventure to fall in love with this Valentine’s Day, might I suggest Apocalypse Five--the first in the Archive of the Fives series, upcoming from author Stacey Rourke, which is set to be published by Black Spot Books on February 12th 2019.
Like a swift punch to the gut, Apocalypse Five starts off with the sudden burst of energy of a rocket ship—literally—as readers are plunged headfirst into the jarring and unpredictable reality of Earth’s future (spoiler alert: don’t get too attached to anyone you meet in the first chapter).
Stationed aboard the AT-1-NS space station, the A-5—highly trained and deadly—are little more than children forced into a militarised combat life. Per 17-year old team-leader Detroit, nameless cadets begin their training as soon as they’re old enough to “stand without wobbling,” foregoing (unwittingly) a life of human emotion and connection. Instead, they are forced into virtual simulations to practice saving Earth—which is now populated with humanoid things while what’s left of humanity’s chosen people live a glamorous, synthetic existence in space. Only the best soldiers are chosen to become part of the mock-celebrity elite A-5 team, but it’s not all pomp and circumstance here; it’s a high-stakes game where a game over on the grid is a brutal death sentence with all the gore and pain you’d expect in a proper sci-fi combat scenario.
When team-leader Detroit—a kickass, sharp-tongued, and totally self-aware lady of color—is sent on a solo mission that’s a little too real to be a simulation, she finds all she has come to believe—or, rather, has been brainwashed into believing—might not be true after all. Of course, as these things go, when she and the rest of her team—including love-interest Houston, ginger twins Juneau and Reno, and probably the most teenage-angsty, dread/mohawked dude ever, Augusta—take their concerns to the political and military leader of their universe, Chancellor Washington, he does what a classic sci-fi villain always does: prove them correct. The A-5 find themselves in a run-or-die situation as they head back to Earth—only this time it’s not the simulated one that they’ve been training to “protect”, but the real one, and they’re not there to protect Earth, they’re there to save it…from them. With their feet firmly on the scorched and battle-drained dirt of the real world, the A-5 quickly discover the depth of the lies programmed into their psyche and the consequences of what their specialised “training” has done to the very actually-human people of Earth, who are now little more than resource mills—from foodstuffs to children—for the AT-1-NS regime. It’s impossible to tell the rest of the plot without spoilers, so you’re going to have to check this one out for yourself. (There are androids, and really cool bracelet weapons, and some rather chuckle-worthy nods to current pop culture, too.)
There are some tropey genre-mainstays in this new series that fit it firmly within the ranks of a typical YA SFF—a good bit of eye-batting between Detroit and Houston, fashionable spacesuits and an obsession with fancy outfits, laser guns with dubious technology, and a head-honcho bad guy(s)—but Apocalypse Five also includes unexpected and refreshing elements that make it a breath of fresh air in genre saturated with cheesy love triangles and fickle white girls trying to play badass (yeah, I said it, fight me).
This isn’t just a story about kids who fight back against a power-hungry regime, but one that embeds a critical social message at its heart. While Detroit and her team are busy fighting Washington and the fury released from the Fortress at their insurgency while trying to save the people of earth—including a newborn baby who is, like all cadets, intended to be fed to the ranks of the soldiers-to-come aboard the AT-1-NS—what Rourke is really writing is so much more than just another dystopian book. With a cast of strong, empowered women—from Olympia (the ill-fated original leader of the A5), Detroit and Juneau; to the leaders of the Air Walkers and the Floaters (two of the three tribes of Earth introduced in the first book); to new mother Remi and enduring baby Adalyn, this story is a call for women to stand up against oppression, to find our own power, and for everyone to take up arms and fight to save what’s left of our humanity in a world that would sooner see us turn on each other rather than unite as one.
Apocalypse Five is a fresh breath into a genre thick with same-as-always stories with a tale ripe with classic dystopian elements and soft science fiction, as well as a healthy dose of female empowerment, diversity, and the social critique that we’ve been waiting for.
Coming from Black Spot Books 2.12.19 (learn more).