Helen Harper

There’s more to vampire history than Dracula

There’s a part of me that is convinced all those mythological creatures have to be real.  Otherwise, how could they exist in so many different cultures? Of course, I also enjoy conspiracy theories so I’m not the greatest judge.  Just saying.

Ancient Babylonians told tales of Lilitu, a female demon who drank the blood of babies.  Lilitu gave rise to Lilith, a similar creature in Hebrew tales.  Indeed, there are several similar characters found in Ancient Greek folklore – interestingly, all of them women.  The idea of undead beings even appears in Homer’s Odyssey – although if you wished to communicate with those ones, you first had to drink blood yourself.  Lucky old Odysseus.  Personally, I particularly like the ancient Indian stories of vetala – creatures who would inhabit corpses and reanimate them.  At least until they decided to sod off and find a better vessel anyway.

Perhaps the vamps took a bit of a break after those times and hid themselves away.  Although stories of revenants (ghosts which could also reanimate corpses or were simply visible to the naked eye) abounded for centuries, it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that vampires really came into their own.  Europe, in particular Transylvania (naturally), went bloodsucker crazy.

There are a few very specific examples – such as that of Petar Blagojevich who died in 1725, reportedly returning the day after to have a wee chat with his son.  Then his son dropped dead, along with several other villagers in the days following.  Suspecting the worst, Petar’s body was exhumed.  There were no normal signs of decomposition and his corpse was eventually burned.  Of course, it would only take one contagious disease to cause those deaths and people did from time to time fall into the rather unfortunate situation of being mistakenly buried alive (hence the saying ‘saved by the bell’ – many Victorians were buried with their fingers attached to a string leading above ground to a bell which they could ring on the rare occasion they woke to find themselves in a coffin and wearing their Sunday best).  However, this fairly recent news report of a corpse found with a stake through its heart is somewhat seared in my memory.

It was also around that time when sex began to play a large role.  Female Romany vampires would return to their families and lead normal lives – but they’d eventually exhaust their husbands with their sexual demands.  Croatian vampires arise as a result of incest.  In fact, vampiric legends and sexual proclivity seem to go hand in hand.  It’s good to know that some things don’t change.

Vampire stories aren’t confined to Europe.  The Aztecs had slightly similar tales, as do various African tribes.  Particularly disgusting is the Madagascan ramanga who drinks blood and eats  toenail clippings.  Here in Malaysia, there’s the Penanggalan – a beautiful woman who can detach her head so she can fly it around in search of victims to sink her fangs into.  Now there’s a neat trick.

Bram Stoker may have defined the modern vampire as we know it today but he certainly didn’t invent it.  Charles Darwin wasn’t kidding around with evolution – bloodsuckers are always changing.  Sparkly, sexy, scary – what will we come up with next?

Helen Harper

Hot Summer Releases in Urban Fantasy (with maybe some Sci Fi and Fantasy too!)

Any time of year is good for reading.  Seriously.  But there’s little better than lying on a hammock with a cool drink in hand, soft sand and the lapping of distant waves.  Wherever you happen to be spending your summer, hopefully some of these new releases will make it even better!

July 7th

Elizabeth Hunter is releasing the third book in her Elementals series.

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On the waves of the North Atlantic, a poison spreads, sapping the life from humans and striking madness into immortals.

Patrick Murphy, the immortal leader of Dublin, has been trying to stem the tide of Elixir washing into his territory, but nothing seems to stop the vampire drug. While others in the immortal world work to cure the creeping insanity that Elixir threatens, Murphy has been invited to London to join a summit of leaders hoping to discover who is shipping the drug. If Murphy and his allies can cut off the supply, they might be able to halt the spread long enough for a treatment to be found for the humans and vampires infected.

Anne O’Dea, Murphy’s former lover, retreated from public life over one hundred years ago to help immortals in need… and to heal her own broken heart. Though powerful connections keep her insulated from the violence of vampire politics, even Anne is starting to feel the effects of Elixir on her isolated world. The human blood supply has been tainted, and with Anne’s unique needs, even those closest to her might be in danger. Not just from infection, but Anne’s escalating bloodlust.

When Anne and Murphy are both called to London, they’re forced to confront a connection as immortal as they are. As they search for a traitor among allies, they must also come to terms with their past. Behind the safe facade of politics, old hungers still burn, even as an ancient power threatens the fate of the Elemental World.

July 7th

Who doesn’t love a good dragon book?  UF author Yasmine Galenorn has a new series starting!

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I’m Shimmer, a blue dragon shifter. Thanks to a mistake, I was exiled from the Dragon Reaches and sentenced to work for Alex Radcliffe, a vampire who owns the Fly by Night Magical Investigations Agency. Now, not only do I have to adapt to Earthside culture, but every time I turn around, somebody’s trying to kill us. And worse, Alex is as gorgeous as he is exasperating. But you know what they say: All’s fair in love and bounty hunting…

When an old friend of Alex contacts him about a haunting at the High Tide Bed & Breakfast in Port Townsend, Washington, we think we’re on a simple ghost hunt. But our investigation quickly transforms into a deadly fight as we uncover an eighty-year-old murder, a cursed house, and a dark force trapping the spirits within. To stop impending disaster we must break the curse and lay the angry spirits to rest.

July 16th

A sci fi tease – but if it’s anything like Ready Player One, Ernest Cline’s Armada will be well worth it.

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Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

July 28th

If you like your UF with some history thrown in, then this might be the one you’re waiting for!

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A thrilling new Victorian-era urban fantasy for fans of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, and the Sherlock Holmes movies featuring Robert Downey, Jr.
 
The Crown and Key Society face their most terrifying villain yet: Gaios, a deranged demigod with the power to destroy Britain.

To avenge a centuries-old betrayal, Gaios is hell-bent on summoning the elemental forces of the earth to level London and bury Britain. The Crown and Key Society, a secret league consisting of a magician, an alchemist, and a monster-hunter, is the realm’s only hope—and to stop Gaios, they must gather their full strength and come together as a team, or the world will fall apart.

But Simon Archer, the Crown and Key’s leader and the last living magician-scribe, has lost his powers. As Gaios searches for the Stone of Scone, which will give him destructive dominion over the land, monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane, alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther, gadget geek Penny Carter, and Charlotte the werewolf scramble to reconnect Simon to his magic before the world as they know it is left forever in ruins.

July 30th

The fourth book in Hailey Edwards imaginative Black Dog series will be out.

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While Thierry is away, the Morrigan will play. Snatching the crown from her daughter-in-law’s head wasn’t the motherly thing to do, but Thierry doesn’t mind trading the throne in Faerie for the ratty couch in her Texas apartment. The old crow is welcome to it. But ruling one world is not enough. The Morrigan wants an all-access pass to the mortal realm too.

An attack on the marshal’s office leaves Thierry shaken…and Shaw missing. Now the fight brewing since Thierry took up the Black Dog’s mantle has landed on her doorstep, and the only way to save the man she loves is to defend the title she never wanted.

August 4th

Kate and Curran in their eighth outing – enough said really!

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In the latest Kate Daniels novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews, magic is coming and going in waves in post-Shift Atlanta—and each crest leaves danger in its wake…

After breaking from life with the Pack, mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate—former Beast Lord Curran Lennart—are adjusting to a very different pace. While they’re thrilled to escape all the infighting, Kate and Curran know that separating from the Pack completely is a process that will take time.

But when they learn that their friend Eduardo has gone missing, Kate and Curran shift their focus to investigate his disappearance. Eduardo was a fellow member of the Mercenary Guild, so Kate knows the best place to start looking is his most recent jobs. As Kate and Curran dig further into the merc’s business, they discover that the Guild has gone to hell and that Eduardo’s assignments are connected in the most sinister way…

An ancient enemy has arisen, and Kate and Curran are the only ones who can stop it—before it takes their city apart piece by piece.

 

August 6th

The  new Alex Verus novel will be released!

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REBEL NO MORE

Alex Verus is a mage who can see the future, but even he didn’t see this day coming. He’s agreed to join the Keepers, the magical police force, to protect his friends from his old master, the Dark Mage Richard Drakh.

Going legit was always going to be difficult for an outcast like Alex, and there are some Keepers who aren’t keen to see an ex-Dark mage succeed. Especially when Dark mages are making a play for a seat on the council, for the first time in history.

Alex finally has the law on his side — but trapped between Light and Dark politics, investigating a seedy underworld with ties to the highest of powers, will a badge be enough to save him?

August 18th

The sixth book in Dannika Dark’s wonderful PNR Seven series, Two Minutes.

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After years of living abroad, Maizy returns home to the only family she’s ever known—a pack of wolves. When she confronts her childhood watchdog to see where they stand, his resentment leaves her uncertain about where she really belongs.

Behind Denver’s charming smile is a tragic past—one that’s made his wolf savage and unpredictable. Only Maizy has been able to tame that darkness, and when they’re reunited after many years apart, he no longer sees a child he once protected. She’s captivating and intelligent—a woman with the world at her fingertips and two suitors offering more than he ever could.

Torn between two worlds, Maizy must choose how her fairy tale ends. Tragedy, murder, passion, and imprisonment all collide with a heart-stopping twist.

Destiny will find you.

 

August 19th

Okay, this is another slight cheat because it’s sci fi but it still looks great fun!

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Half Man. Half Machine. All Hers.
Rage, the Humanoid Alliance’s most primitive cyborg, has two goals—kill all of the humans on his battle station and escape to the Homeland. The warrior has seen the darkness in others and in himself. He believes that’s all he’s been programmed to experience.
Until he meets Joan.
Joan, the battle station’s first female engineer, has one goal—survive long enough to help the big sexy cyborg plotting to kill her. Rage might not trust her but he wants her. She sees the passion in his eyes, the caring in his battle-worn hands, the gruff emotion in his voice.
When Joan survives the unthinkable, Rage’s priorities are tested. Is there enough room in this cyborg’s heart for both love and revenge?

 

September 1st

The fourth book in Sarah Maas’ acclaimed Throne of Glass series is out!

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Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. Now she returns to the empire – to confront the shadows of her past … The fourth breathtaking instalment in the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series.

Bloodthirsty for revenge on the two men responsible for destroying her life, and desperate to find out if the prince and his captain are safe, Celaena returns to Rifthold, the seat of so much evil. She has accepted her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, there are dark truths to learn and debts to be paid. Aelin must stay hidden beneath her assassin’s hood and draw on her mortal strength as Celaena to prevent the King of Adarlan from tearing her world apart. Only then can she fight for her people.

Readers will be held rapt as Celaena’s story builds to an agonising crescendo, packed with heart-pounding action and swoon-worthy romance.

Helen Harper

10 Signs You’re Addicted To Urban Fantasy

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1. You can explain what Urban Fantasy is to other people in five words or less.

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2. You’re waiting for the day when your secret magical powers reveal

themselves.

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3. Sometimes you go about life with just a bit too much badass attitude.

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4. You know for certain how to conduct yourself appropriately in a sword fight.

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5. You have no problem distinguishing between fairies, faeries, fae, fey or fay.

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6. Full moons make your toes curl up.

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7. You’re always on the lookout for a new series to get your teeth into.

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8. Guys wearing shirts are definitely far too over-dressed.

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9. Black is the new black.

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10. You know that your own HEA is only just around the corner.

Photo by ˙Cаvin 〄

Helen Harper

The future of urban fantasy

For a long time, urban fantasy was HOT. Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon and everyone (or so it seemed) was reading it. We’re now in more of a natural cooling off period. There are still loads of UF writers and still loads and loads of UF readers (hello people!) but it’s no longer the shiny new thing that it once was. Apparently trad publishers no longer want UF novels because the sales are no longer there. Looking around at other authors whose names appear on my Amazon pages, I’d completely disagree with that. At the RT Convention, there was a panel discussing the future of UF and a good chunk was given over to the discussion about whether it was dead or not. Genres never die though – it might evolve and adapt but urban fantasy is definitely here to stay. What will it be like in five years time though?

 

An urban fantasy and sci fi meld

 When I was a teenager, one of my absolute favourite (and very well thumbed) series of books was Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept books.  Piers, if you ever stumble across the blog (unlikely, I know but it pays to be prudent), I’d be eternally grateful if you could work on getting that series onto Kindle. Pleeeeeeeease.

Anyway, that series mixed science fiction and fantasy in a truly wonderful way, with two parallel worlds – a sci fi planet and a secret fantasy world next to it. UF is, of course, slightly different but given the current sci-fi predilection with The Martian, Star Wars, Tomorrowland and all that stuff, there could be a great future for a UF/Sci-Fi mash-up. Vampires in space? If they’re dead, then maybe they can wander around outside their spaceships without the need to suit up. Or maybe Earth could send out a group of astronauts who come across a planet where magic rules instead of technology in a kind of Star Trek sort of fashion. And just think of the fun that could be had if internet trolls really did become, well, trolls. Hmmm.

 

UF spies

 I grew up at the end of the Cold War and possessed a considerable yen for a long time to learn Russian and become a super spy. In fact, spy fiction has been making somewhat of a comeback lately (much to my delight). I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch for a well funded government to use a host of UF styled characters to spy on the world. Just think of the fun that could be had if an Edward Snowden type of guy turned out to also be a vengeful werewolf. Yeah, okay. Perhaps not.

 

Multiple viewpoints

 Requiring more serious consideration than James Bond turning furry once a week, I’m genuinely surprised that more hasn’t yet been made of a G.R.R. Martin style of UF. By which I mean, more epic and lengthy novels with a range of different narrators. It wouldn’t exactly be easy to pull off (let’s face it, Martin is one of the most famous authors alive right now for a reason) but surely it could be a thing. I really, really hope so.

 

New characters

 Vampires have been done to death (boom, boom – see what I did there?). Werewolves and werebears and everything in between have been covered. There are plenty of angel stories. And demon stories. Fairies in different guises get around as do witches and wizards. Plenty of novels have used other types of characters in different ways – and I know I for one will continue reading, loving (and no doubt writing) about all of the above – but which new characters could become really popular next? Mermaids haven’t been used much (although I happen to know of a popular UF author who might be addressing that in the near future). I seem to be reading a lot about new dragon novels popping up soon so that’ll be super fun. Of course, dragons are close to my heart!

I actually think that in the future we’ll see more of brand new creations. After all, Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series is great and Neil Gaiman has written wonderful stuff using completely original characters. Neverwhere will remain one of my personal favourites until the day I pop my clogs.  Donna Augustine’s Karma series is also worth a serious mention. I wish I’d thought of those characters…

It’s exciting to see who and what might come along next!  The future of urban fantasy can be whatever we want it to be – that’s the beauty of it 😉

Photo by BurgTender

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