Review: Return to Shanhasson

Many thanks to Soleil for not just reviewing all the Shanhasson books — but for also helping me beta read an early copy of Return before submission.  Here’s her review with a snippet:

Shannari has come along way since Rhaekhar, Khul of the Nine Camps of the Sha’Kae al’Dan, decimated her army and won her heart. She’s become such an iconic heroine for me. I have watched her love, hate, fight, win ….and lose. I have watched her suffer, truly suffer some horrific events and come out all the stronger for it. Because Shannari dal’Dainnari never ran from anything. Not for long. Her truly epic capacity for love puts all other heroines to shame. None of them can hold a candle to her passion.If there was one thing Joely managed to get through to this cynic, it’s that love can save you, no matter how Shadowed you are.

*wipes away a happy tear*  That’s exactly what I hoped this series would say.  Thank you so much, Soleil!

Giveaway: Handcrafted Journal

How better to celebrate Return to Shanhasson’s release than giving away a gorgeous journal handcrafted by my new editor, Lisa?  She kindly stepped in during Deena’s illness and put the final polish on Shannari’s grand adventure.  Without her, Mykal would still be lurking in Keldar and you’d never learn about Shannari’s greatest test of all, and yes, her greatest sacrifice.

I adore paper products, all sorts.  From colored index cards, sticky notes, journals, notebooks, reams of stock paper…  It’s physically impossible for me to go into an office supply store like Staples or Office Max and walk out without picking up some new paper product.  I’d probably be up for Hoarders if the monsters didn’t so kindly assist me in using up my paper goods.  *sobs – I’ve actually considered putting my notebooks and ink pens under lock and key!* 

Most especially, I love journals, especially unique, handmade ones.  My only problem:  I “save” them for something really good…  Which means they don’t always get used.  I keep them on a shelf and admire them.  I may not fight the blank page syndrome too much when writing a book, but when it comes to my own thoughts, I do often hesitate to put such “trival” matters down, especially on “nice” paper.  But you know what?  Those thoughts are just as important.

So I’m ordering one for myself and one to give away here on the blog.

There are two ways to enter.

  1. Comment here and tell me about your own journaling habits or simply throw your name in the hat.
  2. For extra entries, rate or review any Shanhasson book (Rose, Road, or Return) on any review site (Goodreads, personal blog, formal review site, even facebook) or online retailer (Amazon, B&N, etc.) and send the link(s) via email to joelysueburkhart AT gmail DOT com.  I’ll put your name in the magic hat again for each link you send me. Pre-existing reviews are okay and eligible, but please do send me the links if you’d like an extra entry.  I don’t have time to hunt them all down and I don’t want to enter someone who may not be aware of the giveaway going on (and I won’t be able to track them down if they win).

*cough* Notice that poor Road has NO Amazon ratings?  *sobs*

This giveaway is open to anyone on the planet, even if you’ve won something from me before.  I do not retain your name or email addresses after the giveaway is over. 

Comments and links will be accepted through midnight July 8th CST and the winner will be announced on the blog July 9th.

Reviewers who’d like a copy of any Shanhasson book, please drop me a note to the same email above with your desired format.

Return to Shanhasson – Spicy Excerpt

 

Return to Shanhasson, book 3 of The Shanhasson Trilogy, a Blood and Shadows book available at Drollerie Press.  For more of my free reads, check out this page.

“I thought your Green Land baths very strange after our steamtents, but I enjoy a long soak, especially when you’re at my side.”

She stirred and stretched her arms over her head, arching her back in blatant invitation. “Why don’t you lie down on the edge and let me begin my massage?”

Eyes heavy lidded, he ran his gaze down her body, but he complied, his mighty arms levering his big body out of the water. “I thought you wanted to give me such a bath that I would lose control.”

“I am. On your stomach, please.”

Laughing, he stretched out as she wished, carefully shifting his weight so he didn’t lie completely flat on his belly. “I can’t fully comply for obvious reasons.”

“Well, let’s see what I can do about that,” she purred.

Dunking her head beneath the water, she surged up out of the pool and straddled his lower back.

Na’lanna.” His voice was rather strained. “I don’t believe this is a very good starting position. One of us is backwards and it is not you.”

“Patience, my heart. I want to give you a massage first.”

“I don’t want a massage.” Heat rumbled through his voice that had nothing to do with anger. “I want you. Preferably this very moment.”

Selecting the smoky amber vial, she popped off the cork and sniffed it carefully. Exotic scents washed over her: roasted sticks nearly burnt, dark, sultry sandalwood, and beneath, a feral musk that she couldn’t identify.

According to Benton, the desert dwellers of Keldar threw sticks and seeds onto a stone, let the natural heat of the sun roast them, and then they tossed the burnt spices into both their tea and oil. Since their drink of choice was called “Fire Tea,” the oil had captured her imagination, for obvious reasons.

She poured a small amount into her hands and rubbed it into her skin, testing it on herself. The oil heated immediately, releasing a mouth-watering aroma of exotic sandalwood. Whether the oil heated her skin or her skin heated the oil, she didn’t know, but the spreading fire was unmistakable. It didn’t hurt, though, so she smoothed her palms from the small of Rhaekhar’s back up the slabs of muscle to his shoulders. Kneading her way across his shoulders, she said nothing, waiting to see his reaction.

“Great Vulkar, woman, what is that?”

“Fire Oil,” she replied innocently. She didn’t know what the Keldari called it. “Doesn’t it smell delicious?”

“Forget how it smells.” He sucked in his breath and shifted beneath her, his back humping like a horse getting ready to buck her off. “No wonder it’s called Fire Oil; my flesh is on fire.”

“You don’t like it?”

He shuddered, his big hands fisted in the soft mat. “If I were inside you, I’d like it much better.”

Stretching out on top of him, she rubbed her breasts against his back, spreading the oil into her skin. Deliberately, she moaned, tormenting him with her own sounds of desire. It did feel like fire spread across her skin. The scent burrowed deeper in her body, twisting and stirring her hunger. She gripped his shoulder in her jaws and slowly sank her teeth into the heavy muscle until he growled and moved beneath her, his hands sliding back to tug at her ankles and calves.

Her lips and tongue heated with the oil, buzzing and tingling as she rubbed her mouth across the broad expanse of his back. “You smell good enough to eat.”

Wriggling lower on his thighs, she licked a path down his spine, smoothing her palms up and down his flanks. She bit him again, hard enough he groaned so loudly the Blood must surely hear it. “Remember our challenge. You’re not going to lose control, are you?”

“That depends.” Panting, he raised his head enough to glare at her over his shoulder. Sweat dripped into his eyes, and his hair was dark and heavy with steam. “Are you finally going to mark my arse?”

She’d marked Gregar’s ass years ago on the night of their claiming, and Rhaekhar had long regretted that he’d lost that competition, even though he wore many other marks on his throat and chest. “That was my general intention.”

He buried his face in his forearm and cursed, muttering beneath his breath so she couldn’t make out his words. She took that as permission. But first…

She poured more oil into her hands and kneaded it into both cheeks and down his hamstrings. Lady above, she’d never seen a finer warrior. Hot velvet skin stretched tight over sculpted granite, he was a complex mixture of explosive power and incredible gentleness. Although there was nothing gentle about his hoarse growl when she reached under his raised hip to wrap her oiled hand around him.

“I’m going…” He arched his back, lifting his rump so he could thrust in her hand. “To pour…that cursed oil…all over you…while I hold you down…and let your Blood…lick it off.”

Lady, he might as well have doused her head to toe in the sizzling oil. Immediately, her mind pictured it: Rhaekhar lying at her head, pinning her arms against him, while auburn and golden brown heads moved eagerly down her body.

Using his own challenge words, she retorted, “You’re welcome to try.”

She struck, biting deep, gripping his cheek in a punishing bite until blood filled her mouth. Rich with strength, spiced with love, his blood stoked a fire in her that had nothing to do with Keldari oil.

Whatever he meant to say was lost on a roar.

He rolled over so hard she tumbled off to the side and nearly spilled the oil. “Come here.”

“The challenge.” She couldn’t seem to catch her breath. “Do I win?”

He slammed his arms down to the mat, fists at his side. Eyes blazing, he ground out, “Continue.”

“Are you sure?”

He shot her a dark look. “Be wary with that oil, na’lanna. When I come inside you, it’ll spread like wildfire on your tender flesh, too.”

Holding his gaze, she tipped the vial over his chest. “I’m counting on it.”

Return to Shanhasson is Live!

Blessed Lady above, thank you for your bountiful blessings of love.

The final book in the Shanhasson trilogy, Return to Shanhasson, is now available at Drollerie Press here.  In the next few days it should also pop up on Amazon, B&N, etc.  I’ll add buy links as they’re available.

Reviewers:  please contact me (joelysueburkhart AT gmail DOT com) for a review copy!

What George RR Martin Taught Me

For my early formative years of writing (early 2000s), there were only a handful of authors I read heavily:  Robert Jordan, Laurell K. Hamilton, Amanda Quick, Julie Garwood, Johanna Lindsay, and George RR Martin.  Since the Shanhasson trilogy was my first project, you’ll probably see a lot of those influences.

I tried to take everything I loved from epic fantasy… the lushness of romance…and the sultry romps of LKH (before the arduer took over)…and create a world that contained it all.  Political intrigue, worldbuilding, large character casts, sweeping story arcs, epic journeys mixed with emotional relationships and complex erotic situations.  If LKH taught me that one heroine could have many lovers, then George RR Martin taught me…

To kill characters.

I’m so in love with Game of Thrones on HBO and I’m absolutely thrilled that it’s generating such excitement for people who might not have read the series, but seriously, I’m worried about people’s reactions as those beloved characters start dropping like flies. 

Okay, I don’t quite kill as many characters as Martin, but major characters DO die in the Shanhasson series.  If you already read Road, you know that.  But killing characters is a huge no-no in Romancelandia, and since I write a lot of romance and romance-like work, I want to be clear up front.

Return to Shanhasson is NOT a romance.

However, if your heart isn’t singing with joy at the end…and yes, a few tears might spill from your eyes (I cry every time I read it)…then I’ve failed utterly and completely.

To be completely fair, characters might be DEAD but they’re not GONE.  e.g. there are still scenes with the characters who were killed and they’re still important to the story.  They’re simply bound to appear only in Dreams.  So here’s a little twist for you:  if I bring back the beloved characters, then it’s only fair that I bring back the hated ones too, right?  *wicked grin*

Anyway, if you take a look at the Return to Shanhasson page, you’ll seen the following warning:

THIS TRILOGY IS NOT ROMANCE. Bad things happen. Significant characters die. Love is the greatest gift of all, and sometimes requires the greatest sacrifice. However, love shines in the darkest night. The road is long and hard, but when Shannari reaches her destination, she’ll reunite with all her loved ones she’s lost over the years and find more love and happiness than she’s ever known.

Thank you, Mr. Martin.

Return to Shanhasson Cover

We’re finalizing the release date as I type, but it’ll definitely be THIS MONTH!  Thank you, everyone, for your patience.  I hope the final book in the Shanhasson trilogy meets your wildest expectations!

Meet Mykal tal‘Mamba, a man so cloaked in Shadow that he doesn’t remember exactly who he is.  Or rather, who he’s been

Raising his voice, Mykal yelled after the fleeing trader. “Tell Shannari dal’Dainari that soon I’ll soar over her Shining Walls!”

Return to Shanhasson News

The formatting is complete and we’re working on the cover.  This one will be done by a new cover artist.  I’ll keep you posted but we’re very close!

REVIEWERS:  I have ARCs (pdf — and I can probably make you an epub too)!!!!  This is the third book in a trilogy and I’m afraid it will NOT make sense if you haven’t read the others.  If you’re interested in rating/reviewing on any book site and would like the book(s) please contact me!

My Beloved: How It All Began

I haven’t talked about The Shanhasson series in the past year or more.  I kept thinking, “Oh, I’ve talked about it so much already–I don’t want to bore people.”  But then I realized that I lost years of posts when I left yahell hosting, and so if you’re a newish blog reader in the past year or so, you might not have any idea how it all began.

The first dream.

I’ve always tinkered with writing.  I was writing Walter Farley The Black Stallion and Gone with the Wind fanfiction way back in elementary and high school.  I have enough credits for a minor in English, and one of my all-time favorite classes really was a Romantic Period class on Byron, Shelley, Blake and crew (alas, Conn was NOT my teacher).  But in all those years of writing both for school and pleasure, it was a hobby.

I never took it seriously, until my beloved sister called me in the fall of 2003 because she’d finished her first book.  Other than fanfic stuff I’d finished as a kid, I couldn’t say I’d ever finished anything.  Certainly nothing that was entirely MY OWN.  She even sweetened the pot by saying she’d only let me read HER story if I let her read MINE.

The story I had the most finished was then called My Beloved Barbarian.  It was a kind of mishmash of all my favorite elements of both fantasy and romance.  A little bit of Johanna Lindsey, Robert Jordan, George RR Martin, not to mention all the Scottish and Regency romances I’d read in my 20s and early 30s.  I adored both fantasy and romance, but it’s hard to please me as a reader with “romantic fantasy” because it’s usually not romancy enough.  Fantasy Romance is usually too lite on the fantasy for my tastes. 

So I set out to write what I couldn’t find at the time.  Steamy, highly romantic yet very epic fantasy.

With my sister’s encouragement, I finished the first draft of My Beloved Barbarian around October of 2003 and went on to write its sequel, then titled Khul’s Beloved by Christmas.  YES — a huge amount to accomplish in just a matter of months.  MBB clocked in well over 500 pages and the first draft of the second book was almost as long. 

Remember, these were the first books I’d ever finished.  e.g. I didn’t know ANYTHING.  My POV was all sorts of messed up.  My heroine had significant problems, speaking too modern–while my heroes spoke too stiffly and formally.

But it was a start.  The beginning of the dream.

Yes, there were dark patches.  Like the first time I entered an RWA contest.  Yowsa, did I learn a LOT!  I rewrote the books entirely from scratch and tried again in 2004 with contests.  MBB even finaled in a few that time and I got some nice agent requests but no bites. 

Then I hit another bad patch in 2005.  I was learning all this new stuff about plotting and characterization — basically figuring out all the things I’d messed up and feeling overwhelmed that I’d never get it right again.  I doubted that I’d ever finish a book with the same kind of overwhelming love and excitement.  I was too hung up on the rules and I’d lost the love.

I started to fear I’d never finish a book again.  In fact, I didn’t finish a single book in 2005.

But Beautiful Death helped break that vicious cycle, and in 2006, I decided I was going to rip MBB apart and rewrite it yet again.  I murdered my heroine and recreated her.  But as I threw out those hundreds of pages to start over for the third time, I realized I’d done quite a few things right.  It was my job in this third and final draft to highlight those things I’d done right and fix the things that were wrong.

It might sound depressing to think about throwing out yet another draft and starting from scratch (by now, I’d written over 1000 pages in this series only to throw them out), but it proved my love for these characters.  Turning MBB into The Rose of Shanhasson was like coming home and finding it more wonderful than even I remembered.  Surely I didn’t really love this story that much (wrong!).  Surely it wouldn’t make me cry AGAIN.  (I was mistaken.)  Surely it wouldn’t keep me up until all hours of the night when I already knew exactly what happened (ditto, again). 

After years of learning and writing other things, my voice in this world was firm.  I’d learned to write with authority because I believed.  The dream lived in me and I refused, absolutely REFUSED, to give up on it again.  Rhaekhar and Shannari lived and breathed on the page, and Gregar…well.  Let’s just say that Gregar whispered in my ear.  “It’s about time you came home to us.”

The biggest plus to working so hard and rewriting so many times:  years had gone by and I found the courage to do things that never occurred to me when I first started.  I’d grown so much.  I wasn’t afraid to make the difficult choices, to really put my characters through the Three Hells and bring them back again. 

It was a long road, and so “Faith of the Heart,” the original theme song for Enterprise, became the major theme song of this series.  Along with Kiss from a Rose by Seal and Everything I Do (I Do It For You) by Bryan Adams.  Those songs instantly put me in the Shanhasson world.  I can’t hear them on the radio without thinking of Gregar, and usually, I burst into tears. 

I’m not kidding.

So the dream that began in 2003, continued with the publication of The Rose of Shanhasson in 2007 and The Road to Shanhasson in 2008, will be complete with the release of Return to Shanhasson.  The story began in Dalden Bay and that’s where it ends.  It began with a barbarian declaring his love was unshakeable, and ends with him proving that he was right.  This is not “romance” in the true sense of the word (WARNING:  major characters do die – but they are never gone) but if your heart isn’t singing and crying at the end, overwhelmed with the love of these characters, then I should become a sports mystery writer like my husband wanted.  *wry laugh*

It’s been a long road fraught with tears and heartache and doubt, but through it all, the Lady’s Moon shines down with love from above.  Love, the greatest gift of all, and the greatest sacrifice.

Review: The Road to Shanhasson

Susi from The Geeky Bookworm says:

The Road to Shanhasson is a wonderful Fantasy Romance which does everything right. I loved the story, the characters and the wonderful narration. This book broke my heart and put the pieces back together and left me with a warm feeling deep inside. I can’t say often enough how wonderful Joely’s books are and again I’m sitting here craving more. Highly recommended to all romance readers.

The Road to Shanhasson is a wonderful and unique Fantasy Romance with wicked warriors, a heartbreaking lovestory and an engaging plot.

Read the whole review here.  Thank you so much, Susi!  Plans for the print release of Road are in the works now, and Return to Shanhasson (the final book in Shannari’s trilogy) will release in electronic format this fall!

Friday Snippet: Shadowed

Continuing from last week, this is Gregar’s story.  Note:  first draft, subject to change and heavy revision later before I compile the complete short story.

With Kae’Shaman’s instruction, I parted the mark’s dream as easily as a tent flap and stepped within. I had no need of the man’s name or Camp to know he was my target, because Vulkar’s Call pounded fiercely in my head, thundering hooves to split my skull wide open.

Kae’Shaman had assured me that a mark eliminated in his own dream would also die in the waking world unless he was an extremely strong dreamer, but I had to be certain of the blow. I had no guilt to weigh my heart, but I did have my pride and my kae’valda, the honor I wore in my hair and colors I wore about my hips. I was the best Death Rider and I would kill appropriately, cleanly, while awarding the most blood sacrifice to Vulkar.

Wrapped in Shadow to hide myself, I crouched in a corner of the man’s dream and paused to gain my bearings.

Despite being Sha’Kae al’Dan, the man dreamed of an outlander place, not the tents of our Plains. Cold stone pressed against my back and the rank odor of fear, blood, and urine burned in my nostrils. Distant screams and wails echoed eerily so I could not tell the source. This was no pleasant dream I had stepped into.

My mark dreamed of the Endless Night, confirming the necessity of his death.

I tasted something foul in my mouth as though I had been sick. My stomach churned. Inside my own gift of Shadow, my skin felt cold and clammy. No one could see me. No mortal eyes would pierce my invisibility.

But if I had stepped into a shadowed nightmare, a place ruled by the Endless Night…

Vulkar, let me strike quickly and leave this dream unnoticed.

Straightening, I glided silently after my mark. Creeping down a tunnel, he hunted someone, unaware that Death was already on his trail. Shadows cloaked the narrow way, thick and suffocating. They felt hungry, alive, and all-too knowing. My dark gift from Vulkar shivered on my skin, slinking and winding about me like snakes.

Shadows flock to me. As though they recognize me.

Furious, I sliced my left palm with the rahke. Pain cleared away the terror worming into my brain. I gave every drop of my blood to the Great Wind Stallion and His fire burns away the Endless Night!

Immediately, the tainted shadows flinched away from me. My mark was not so lucky. Shadows encircled his throat and winded about his limbs, pinning him against the wall. His eyes bulged and he opened his mouth to scream. A wrist-thick vine of shadow eagerly slithered around his throat, tightening like a noose.

I moved forward to put an end to the man’s suffering, but a voice echoed in the tunnel.

COME, RIDER OF DEATH, AND SEE THE MARK I HAVE SELECTED FOR YOUR RAHKE.”

I scanned the tunnel, but no one was there, just the voice that made my teeth and bones ache. The man I’d come to kill struggled against the shadows binding him. “Never! I kill for Vulkar, not for you!”

Another Death Rider? Startled, I searched the mark’s hair, but in the darkness of the tunnel, I couldn’t tell if he wore red beads. However, his rahke shone in the darkness, pure bone against the black.

Exactly like my ivory rahke.

Chilled with foreboding, I drew my gift tighter about me, making myself as small and invisible as possible. If this mark was a Death Rider, lured specifically for some dire purpose, then I had to know the Endless Night’s schemes, not just to protect myself but all Death Riders who roamed the Plains in Vulkar’s name.

HER DREAM AWAITS. STEP INSIDE AND MEET YOUR DESTINY. I GIVE HER TO YOU.”

Released from the shadow bonds, the man staggered backwards and instinctively brought his rahke up. “Death Riders never kill women.”

SHE YEARNS FOR THE EMBRACE OF SHADOW, EVEN WHILE SHE RAILS AGAINST MY MIGHT.”

The voice crooned, still vile but sleek and soft and slick with oiled promises. The opposite wall swirled with shadows, opening to reveal a woman, asleep in a high bed. Her black hair gleamed against the sheets like a raven’s wing, and her skin was as luminous as though she’d swallowed the moon.

“ALREADY, SHE DREAMS OF YOU.”