S.A. Meade: Tournament of Shadows

Congratulations, S.A. Meade, Tournament of Shadows has received an Honorable Mention from the Rainbow Awards.

Confessions of a Speshul Snowflake.

I’ve always vowed not to be one of those authors who get precious about their books. Honestly, it’s true. I’m always telling others that, once a book is written and published, that’s it. It’s out of the author’s hands. It’s out there for readers. Finito. Goodbye. But I have a confession, I have a favourite book.

It’s Tournament of Shadows.

The setting fascinates me, the sad, tragic tale of Stoddart and Connelly stuck in my head long after I first heard it. For years I’d been struggling to come up with a story to set in Central Asia at the height of the Great Game. Tournament is that story. It has everything—two strong characters, an exotic backdrop, all set during a game that is still being played today, albeit with less glamorous characters and with more sophisticated weaponry. If you’d like an historical romance which is just a little bit different, give it a try.

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Buylinks: Totally Bound: Amazon.com: Amazon.co.uk

Blurb

In a shadowy game where defeat can mean death, a deal with the enemy can change things forever. 

In 1842, Captain Gabriel O’Riordan of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars is sent on a mission to Bukhara. His task—to try to free two of his compatriots from the clutches of a mentally unstable Emir. On his way, he encounters Valentin Yakolev, an officer in the Russian Army, who is also on a mission—to persuade the Emir that an alliance with Russia would be in his best interests. Gabriel, disguised as a holy man, is not happy to be the object of Yakolev’s intense scrutiny. After all, he’s working for the opposing team in the Great Game being played between their two nations. When Gabriel realises that his mission is little more than a forlorn hope, a game he has no chance of winning, he’s desperate enough to turn to Valentin to help and offer him anything in return. What he doesn’t expect is to have his plans to return to Calcutta scuppered by events.

Instead, he and Valentin flee north, fighting off bandits, their desire for each other and the hardship of desert travel. Their travails bring them closer together until a secret from Valentin’s past tears them apart.

Can they set the past behind them and move on together?

Excerpt

I had more important things to worry about than whether the man who trailed several miles behind me was a coincidental traveller or someone with a far more sinister purpose. My horse was hopping lame and I needed to find somewhere to rest. The prospect of dealing with potential trouble in a country ripe with dangerous possibilities did not appeal to me. I patted the animal’s warm neck and kept walking, trying my best to ignore the dust and discomfort of the desert.

A hopeful patch of green glimmered in the distance, distorted by the heat. It was promise enough. I urged the horse on. I cleared my mind of everything but becoming the travelling scholar once more. A harmless fool immersed in research for the sake of it, not a paid fool sent to rescue two other idiots. The May heat left me bad tempered. I just wanted to find a place to rest for a day or two, perhaps lie in wait for my unwanted travelling companion. I knew there was a caravanserai on the road ahead but I didn’t want the crowds, the braying camels, persistent hawkers. I just wanted peace and quiet.

I talked to myself in Uzbek. I talked to the horse. His ears twitched at the sound of my voice and he let loose a long, flubbering sigh as he hobbled along beside me. The oasis drew closer, rising out of the scorched earth in a cluster of trees and earthen buildings. The horse quickened his step and I hurried alongside him, desperate for cool, green shade and a place to rest, even if it was just a rug laid out beneath a tree. I needed all the rest I could get in preparation for the impossible task ahead.

* * * *

The furnace wind kicked up dust and dead leaves, hurling them across the road. I was glad to leave the desert behind and reach the refuge of the village. I searched for the closest thing they had to an inn—a small, mud-walled building beneath a canopy of trees. The proprietor, a wizened old man with skin like creased, oiled leather hobbled out into the courtyard and offered me a toothless smile. There were a few cots scattered beneath a wood-shingled awning. One or two were already occupied by weary, dusty travellers sleeping in the shade. I chose the bed at the far end, desiring as much peace and quiet as possible, not wanting to be bothered by conversation or company.

The horse came first. I led him to a stable.

“Your horse has a bad limp, sir.”

I bent down and examined the injured leg. “I think it’s his foot.”

The horse shuddered when I reached for his hoof. It was hot to the touch and a close study of the sole revealed a tell-tale black line, which told me that he had an abscess. “Can I have some warm water?”

“Yes, sir.” The innkeeper smiled, nodded then walked away.

I searched my saddle pack for the small bags of things I kept for medicinal purposes including Epsom salts, then pulled the knife from my belt. The innkeeper returned with a basin of water and stood watching when I dug my knife into the animal’s hoof. The horse groaned and snorted but remained still as pus streamed from his foot. I dropped Epsom salts into the water, then dunked an unrolled bandage into it. Once the cloth was soaked, I wrapped it carefully around the horse’s hoof, all under the watchful eye of my host.

“You are a clever man, sir.” His grin was brilliant in the seamed leather of his face.

I straightened my back and patted the horse’s warm neck. “No, just one who has learnt to care for his horse.” I didn’t much care for such close scrutiny and hoped the innkeeper wasn’t one of those talkative sorts who need to know the life story of each of his guests.

He stooped to retrieve the basin and flung the water onto the dirt. “I will leave you to rest. I will bring you some food later.”

“Thank you.” I salaamed, made sure the horse was settled then sought refuge on my bed.

It was cool enough in the shade to be comfortable. I lay down on my bedroll and fell asleep to the warbling of a bird in the dusty trees.

* * * *

The sun slipped beyond the walls of the inn. My host carried a tray across the yard and set it on a small table beside my bed. “It is but a simple meal, sir.”

I glanced at the bowl of aromatic stew, the cup of cloudy white rice, the pickles and slab of flatbread. “It is a feast after days of traveller’s fare. Thank you.”

He left me to eat in peace, which I did, until the bowl was empty, wiped clean by the last wedge of warm bread. I washed the repast down with the lukewarm tea he’d provided. It was more than enough to satisfy me. I returned the tray to the house then went to see to my horse.

The gelding dozed, resting his afflicted foot. I removed the bandage and poultice, pleased to note that the wound had finished draining. There was still some heat in the sole, which meant I faced a day or two of enforced rest.

“It’s all right, my friend,” I murmured into his ear. “A day or two isn’t going to make much of a difference.

I wasn’t sure I believed my own words but I needed a sound horse more than I needed the firearm hidden in my saddlebag. The gelding nudged me, then rubbed his head against my shoulder, seeking relief from some hidden itch. I obliged by scratching his cheek and offering up prayers to every god I could think of to speed his recovery.

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Julie Bozza

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Why opals…?

The motif for The Thousand Smiles of Nicholas Goring (the third novel of the Butterfly Hunter series) is an opal. I chose this for a number of interrelated reasons, one of which is very literal: A trip to the opal fossicking fields at Yowah in Queensland is at the emotional heart of the book. Dave and Nicholas have a wonderful time there – and the more I researched it, the more I wanted to visit, too!

Another reason is that opals are a very Australian phenomenon. Wikipedia tells us that opals are also found in places such as Ethiopia, Brazil and Mexico. However, the vast majority of opals are found in Australia (especially South Australia), and opal is the Australia’s national gemstone.

Precious opals can contain almost every colour of the rainbow, though some colours (such as red and black) are rarer than others (white and green). Personally, I love the blues best. With opals being so colourful, of course, I definitely pick up a ‘gay pride’ vibe.

Opals are a hydrated form of silica, with a water content of (usually) between 6% and 10%. So there’s a connection with the novel’s waterhole, which itself is described as having a vivid, jewel-like colour.

The Dreaming stories about how opals were created differ throughout the country, but often involve water (which relates to their content) and fire (which relates to their appearance). Water links to the waterhole, and fire links to Dave and Nicholas’s shared campfires.

I also thought an opal would make an interesting image for the book cover, as some opals look like a bird’s-eye view of landscape – which is the very perspective of most Australian Indigenous paintings. Actually, it now occurs to me that the three Butterfly Hunter covers feature an animal (a butterfly), a vegetable (eucalyptus flowers) and a mineral (an opal) – all of them Australian – which is almost unbearably neat.

I daren’t even hope that you find as much beauty in my novel as you would in a precious opal, but I trust you will see that Dave and Nicholas find all that beauty and more in each other and in their relationship. Thank you so much for being a part of their journey! They have certainly appreciated the companionship.

Blurb for The Thousand Smiles of Nicholas Goring:

Dave and Nicholas, married for seven years now, are happily settled together – but as an Australian prime minister once observed, “Life wasn’t meant to be easy.” An unexpected threat to their beloved waterhole forces Dave to try asserting unofficial custodianship of the Dreamtime site, and a visit from Nicholas’s nephew Robin doesn’t help as he brings his own surprises. And there’s always the question of Nicholas’s health hanging over their heads…

Buy links:

Author’s bio:

Julie Bozza is an English-Australian hybrid who is fuelled by espresso, calmed by knitting, unreasonably excited by photography, and madly in love with Colin Morgan and John Keats.

Author’s links:

Excerpt:

The next morning saw Dave and Nicholas at the airport early to collect Robin. They joined the line-up leaning on the waist-high barriers, greeted with nods and friendly monosyllables from the drivers and tour operators and such, some of whom had known Dave since he was a kid. “Brought the missus with you, then?” one of them commented to Dave.

Nicholas snorted with quiet humour, but Dave answered seriously enough. “Yeah, his nephew’s coming to visit for his summer holidays. Well, you know … it’s winter here, summer up there.”

“Got everything arse-about, them Poms.”

“You just wait,” Nicholas muttered darkly. “The magnetic poles will reverse, and then where will you be?”

“Still in God’s own country, mate!”

“So you will,” Nicholas happily responded. “And so will I!”

There was a general round of laughter, and then everyone fell back to their earlier silence or desultory talk. Nicholas nudged Dave with an elbow, and indicated the cold hard floor on the other side of the barriers. “That’s where I was when I saw you for the very first time.”

The guy on the other side of Dave asked, “Love at first sight, was it?”

“I get a lot of that,” Dave remarked.

“What can you do?” was the sympathetic response.

“I fancied him so badly!” Nicholas declared. “It wasn’t love, I don’t suppose – not back then. But that’s where it began. That’s where our story began.”

A resounding silence greeted this. Far too much information to be sharing with Aussie blokes of either gender. Dave was blushing, a little, but he couldn’t deny that he was pleased. No doubt his own smile was as fond as one of Nicholas’s, despite him trying to repress it. He hardly knew where to look.

But finally someone snorted, and someone else spluttered into laughter, and the embarrassment was lost in the general hubbub, or maybe just transformed into something else, something better. “Someone’s overdone it with the coffee this morning,” was one comment. – “That’s why I never bring my missus along,” another observed. – “Jeez, there’s a decent hour and a private place for that kind of thing …”

Dave and Nicholas leant there on the barrier together, pressed shoulder to shoulder, letting the jibes wash over them. And eventually Dave dared to glance at his husband, and he saw Nicholas’s lips curling in infinite amusement … and Dave could hardly even begin to measure his own happiness. He hadn’t seen the edges of it for years.

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