Reviews, Uncategorized

Non-fiction book review: Living on the Spectrum: Autism and Youth in Community by Elizabeth Fein

At the beginning of last month, I received an email from Elizabeth asking if I wanted a review copy of her book. She stated that there were some sections in it which looked at the connections between autism and fantasy literature, and thought I might find it interesting. (If you’re new here, hi, I’m autistic and write fantasy books.)[Also, please excuse the bird images, WordPress is being odd and not allowing me to use paragraphs, so I decided to cheat and break up the text this way.]
minimal-4093114_1920
Elizabeth Fein is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Duquesne University and a licensed psychologist in the state of Pennsylvania (as stated in her bio on the book’s back cover), and so actively works in the field. At first I was unsure of whether to take up her offer, not only because I find academic texts extremely hard to read, but also because I was afraid that the book would take a very medical approach to autism and possibly speak positively of a cure. However, after re-reading her pitch a few times, I decided that her approach sounded a lot more considerate of autistic people as actual people, rather than patients with something solely negative that needs to be removed.
minimal-4093114_1920
Here is the pitch she sent:
The book combines approaches from psychology and anthropology to look at how youth diagnosed with autism spectrum conditions reconcile controversies around autism as a disease vs. autism as an identity.  I spent several years doing research in places where people on the spectrum come together to work, play, live, love and learn. The book describes how youth on the spectrum are looking beyond medicine for narratives that make sense of their lives, re-telling their own stories through a shared mythology drawn from roleplaying games, anime, and other forms of speculative fiction.
minimal-4093114_1920
(The book delves into these things solely within America, as that’s where Elizabeth is based, and only briefly mentions other countries. It also mostly focuses on teenagers and young adults diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.)
minimal-4093114_1920
The book starts with a very comprehensive introduction, which outlines how her research was carried out (lots and lots of field work, much of which was talking to autistic individuals and the people who work with them), where her personal interest in autism started (I found this part extremely heart-warming) and also a bit about the history of autism as a diagnosable condition – she mentions both Leo Kanner (who noted what is still sometimes called ‘classic’ autism; meaning individuals with high care needs who may be non-verbal) and Hans Asperger (who looked more at individuals who are often highly verbal and excel in topics they’re interested). She also mentions the controversy around Hans Asperger (which is highly Google-able), and notes how terminology around autism has changed over the years, and presently all variants of autism are diagnosed under one umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Condition/Disorder (some places prefer to say ‘condition’, others use ‘disorder’). When I was diagnosed early last year, it was under this umbrella term, though the psychologist I spoke to said the way my traits manifest are closest to what was previously called Asperger’s Syndrome.
minimal-4093114_1920
Elizabeth also notes that she uses both autistic person and person with autism to refer to individuals on the spectrum throughout the book, taking particular care to use the version the person she’s interviewing prefers. (Many people, like myself, prefer to say they’re autistic, however, there are some who like to say they have autism.) I actually liked this, as despite my own preference, I felt she was trying to be as inclusive as possible. Other notes she includes are that everyone interviewed has been given a different name in the book to protect their identity, and that as her research was done over a number of years, the way the participants referred to themselves in terms of gender may also have changed. There are many others, which all helped to put me at ease with the prospect of the topics the book talks about.
minimal-4093114_1920
Now, onto the main parts of the book:
minimal-4093114_1920
The first chapter looks at the idea of structured socialising, in this case through a live-action role-play camp specifically for autistic kids, and how having that structure can put people more at ease in social situations. Basically, the kids were given the ‘rules’ of the particular fantasy world and their characters, and interacted with those in mind. For me, the idea that having more structure makes socialising easier seemed kind of obvious, but then, as that’s how my brain responds best, I suppose it would. I also really enjoyed the journal/diary based style that parts of this chapter were written in – Elizabeth attended this camp and took a very active part in it.
minimal-4093114_1920
The book then moves on to looking at how autistic kids navigate school and followed a number of individuals and schools themselves. This section was particularly interesting for me, as because I was diagnosed as an adult, I attended mainstream schools without any assistance (I ‘coped’ by taking a lot of work home and getting my family to help), whereas theses kids were already diagnosed and trying to access the services they needed, which were often limited and difficult to get.  The difficulties in accessing suitable support for autistic people were highlighted strongly, which I appreciate. This isn’t often talked about.
minimal-4093114_1920
Following chapters talk about the different concepts of what autism is and whether the two main views of it can co-exist, and how individuals on the spectrum feel about them. One of the chapters is called ‘The Pathogen and the Package’. The pathogen part referring to the view that autism is a negative thing akin to a disease that is stopping someone from being the person they ought to be; whereas the package looks at autism as a different way of being that has positives and negatives, and that the idea of removing it (or curing) would change a person’s very being.
minimal-4093114_1920
This was the part that I was the most concerned about reading, and parts of it made me angry – not what Elizabeth herself was saying, as she deliberately maintained a very neutral discussion of the different views so as to fully explore them, but where she quoted speakers from talks she attended. She mentions the organisation Autism Speaks, fully explaining how it was formed and that one of the organisations that it’s made up of was previously called Cure Autism Now!. She notes how, because of the controversy of a cure, Autism Speaks removed finding a cure from their list of goals and also makes use of very careful language (which, as Elizabeth quoted so much of it, I interpreted as the organisation still being willing to spend money and resources on finding a cure while not directly saying that’s what they’re doing).
minimal-4093114_1920
There is a chapter where Elizabeth looks specifically at the idea of a cure and what people on the spectrum and their families think of the idea. This section was delightfully heavy in interviews with said people, and very much reflected the difference in opinion between autistic individuals and their family members. The trend seemed to be that the autistic people themselves viewed a cure as something that would stop them from being who they were, while their family members, who saw how much these kids struggled in the world, thought a cure may ease some of those struggles and thus might not be an inherently bad thing. Elizabeth speculated that this may also be because of the age difference and continuously evolving views on autism and neurodiversity as a whole. However, there were one or two autistic individuals who thought that maybe something like a cure would be useful, and I’m glad she included these too. 
minimal-4093114_1920
(My personal view is that my struggles are largely due to the fact that the world around me is not designed for people outside the norm; therefore, the problem is more with the environment rather than my brain. I’d hate not to have the insights and fascinations that come from being autistic. To my mind, non-autistic people miss a lot of things. Thus, I find the idea of a cure utterly repulsive.)
minimal-4093114_1920
The last chapter moves on again (or perhaps back) to looking at the use of fantasy in how autistic kids see themselves and their position in society. Again, this chapter made excellent use of interviews and quotes, and I identified with a lot of it. Many of the examples were of characters kids had made up based around their own behaviours. There were a lot of half-demon, half-human concepts, which I suppose reflect the things we struggle with and often feel we have to hold back versus the things we’re good at.
minimal-4093114_1920
Elizabeth ends with a conclusion, which summed up, says that autistic people should be allowed to carve out their own space in society and that perhaps current medical views and interventions might not be as effective as others involving more active settings (like role playing or going about town in a group to explore and learn how to do/interact with different people and things – something that I feel would have benefited me greatly, and probably still would).
minimal-4093114_1920
So, as you might notice by how long this post is, there’s an awful lot to consider about this book. As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m not very good at interpreting and understanding academic texts, and some of the sections were very heavy with that kind of writing, so my take on this book may well be very different to that of someone who is actually able to take in all of that rather than getting the general ‘gist’ of things. However, though I found parts difficult to get through or follow, the more narrative parts and interviews were very fun and fascinating to read. I think Elizabeth’s research was conducted in a very careful, considerate way with full respect for everyone involved (this is also confirmed at the end of her acknowledgements).
minimal-4093114_1920
Though I was worried about the segments surrounding ideas of autism as a disease and whether it needs a cure, the very fact that she was so thorough in every part of the discussion (everyone was given space for their voice to be heard) left me with little doubt that she is very much a person who cares about autistic people being allowed to be their own selves (and make their own choices). My one peeve about the book is that few individuals with more drastic care needs were included, however, the reasoning for this is clearly explained in the introduction, so I can’t complain too much. Still, it would have been nice to hear from individuals from all areas of the spectrum. I appreciated the voices from autistic adults as well as young people, though, as I feel that autistic adults are often forgotten about.
minimal-4093114_1920
I very much appreciate and respect the level of work that has gone into this book, and I’m more than grateful that she reached out to me about it. If you can happily read academic books or are open to the challenge, I would easily recommend this one. I hope it gets read and shared by as many people who work in the medical field as possible, plus many more (perhaps it should be a library staple).
minimal-4093114_1920
The book is published by New York University Press (www.nyupress.org), and I believe Amazon has it too.
Elizabeth book cover
Uncategorized

Updates!

Hi everyone, it’s been a while since I spoke about any writerly stuff, so I thought I’d share a few things I’ve been working on.

I’ve just finished going through the edits I received from my publisher for my upper middle grade/YA fantasy, Nekromancer’s Cage (which is coming out in June!). I had to rework the first chapter and fill in a few little details here and there, as well as approve the changes made during proofreading.

As editing goes, it was quite a light one, but I had a tight turn around time, so it still took a lot of energy and concentration to get done. And, of course, the moment I sent it off once I’d finished, I discovered a typo in the first paragraph. I quickly addressed it and sent the fixed version off straight away, so in the end it all turned out fine!

I’ve also started work on a new middle grade novel featuring witches, trapped spirits and a stroll into death, though as I’m a very light outliner, many of the details are still hazy. But for me, that makes the writing process much more fun, and I’m looking forward to continuing with it.

Last month, I set myself the task of illustrating one of the picture book stories that have been lounging idly on my desktop for far too long. It was definitely a challenge, as I haven’t spent any significant time drawing since I left school, and as lockdown was put in place mid-way through, I was short on a few tools that I probably should have used. The results aren’t spectacular, but I’m still pleased with myself for sticking to a project like that — normally, if there’s little writing involved in a project, I lose my drive for it after a week or so and it gets put on hold indefinitely. Not this time, though! I’m not sure what I want to do with it now, so I’ve put it away for a while so I can come back to it later with fresh eyes.

It was definitely a learning curve, as I quickly realised that my text didn’t leave as much room for the illustrations as I’d thought, and so the story had to be reworked and worded more succinctly. Even if nothing comes of this particular story, at least I have that lesson to take away from it.

That’s all from me for now. I’ve decided that I’m not going to talk much about lockdown unless it’s directly relevant to my work, as I’d like this blog to be an escape from all of that (even if I do post infrequently). I also believe that there are people far better at discussing things like that than me, so I’ll leave it to them.

Happy reading/writing/querying!

P.S. I forgot to mention, a few weeks ago my publisher released the Italian edition of my middle grade portal fantasy, The Door Between Worlds. It’s the first time one of my books has been translated, which is exciting.

Uncategorized

The Origin Stone, re-released!

Hi everyone, just a quick note to say that the second edition of The Origin Stone is now out, and it’s available in paperback, large print paperback and Kindle edition. Yay!

Links for all formats:

Kindle

Paperback

Large Print

The blurb has also been tweaked a bit, so if you’re interested, here it is:

Emily Renzi thinks she’s going crazy. After her parents move to a quiet village, she senses that something is off about the house they’re living in.

Dreams of strange creatures invade her sleep, and mysterious shapes appear in the garden. Confiding in her older brother, Ru, they research the house’s background and find out that a scientist disappeared there during World War Two. Afterwards, sightings of strange creatures were whispered around the village.

Could the creatures in Emily’s dreams be the same ones and if so, what do they want from her? Struggling to piece together the truth, Emily soon understands that monsters come in many forms

image (57)

Uncategorized

The Origin Stone…Cover Reveal!

Hi everyone, I’ve had another update from my publisher, Next Chapter, about the re-release of The Origin Stone (for those who don’t know, the publisher who had it previously closed down just after Christmas, and as Next Chapter have published all my other books, they were pleased to give it a new home).

I don’t have a release date yet, but they did send me the new cover design – and it took my breath away. It’s simply an amazing piece of design work, and the image of Emily is exactly how I’ve always pictured her. I also love how she’s positioned at the entrance of a tunnel; I really feel it signifies the journey she has yet to come, and oozes atmosphere.

Honestly, I was almost in tears when I saw it, I was so impressed and overwhelmed. I’m hoping such a wonderful cover will finally give it the attention I (and my publisher) feel it deserves:

image (57)

books, Uncategorized

It’s publication day! The Origin Stone is here!

Hello everyone, as you probably guessed from the title, my first young adult book, The Origin Stone, was released today!

WIN_20190331_12_09_20_Pro (2)

After some hassle with Youtube, I managed to upload the Q&A video I promised, which also contains a bit of background info on how the book came to be, and a reading of the first chapter.

I’d be thrilled if you could check it out and share it with anyone you think might enjoy the book.

Here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is0-mc8O5Sk&t=1s

The book is available in paperback and as an ebook from the following:

Book Depository

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Foyles

 

Happy reading!

Uncategorized

Update on The Origin Stone!

Greetings!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book update, so apologies if you have no clue what The Origin Stone is. For you guys, here’s the low-down: The Origin Stone is my first YA book, and it’s set to be released in late Feb/March 2019 by Nuff Said Publishing.

Here is the premise:

Emily Renzi thinks she’s going crazy. After her parents move to a quiet village, she senses that something is off about the house they’re living in. Dreams of strange creatures invade her sleep, and mysterious shapes appear in the garden. Confiding in her older brother, Ru, they research the house’s background and find that a scientist disappeared there during World War Two. Afterwards, sightings of strange creatures were whispered around the village. Could the creatures in Emily’s dreams and the ones rumoured about be the same? And if so, what do they want from her? As she struggles to piece together the truth from the fiction, she finds out that beasts aren’t always monsters – humans, however, are a different matter.

I’ve been spending the last few weeks combing through the manuscript with my editor, and we’re now in the final stages. Which means…I have ARCs! They are digital only copies, but still, if any book bloggers/vloggers are interested, they can get their hands on The Origin Stone early.

We’re also nearly there with the cover design, which I’m also super happy about. Despite The Origin Stone being my first YA, I wrote the original draft years ago, so it’s been a while in the making. And in a few months, it’ll be out!

Honestly, having my Half-Wizard Thordric trilogy and The Door Between Worlds published was exciting enough, but with The Origin Stone, I’m practically beside myself with glee.

I will be holding a few giveaways for ARCs at some point down the line, so look out for those when I announce them here and here.

As for now, I have to make my way to my day job and pretend I’m calm and collected. *sigh*

Kat out!

Uncategorized

Exciting news! (And some background before I get there)

When I was about seven, I came up with a simple story idea about strange creatures living in the woods. My dad took this little snippet and made it into something much more – the beginnings of a book.

Unfortunately, due to his mental health, he struggled with finding the motivation to keep going with it, and was always undecided about how old the main character should be. You see, his idea was to have the main characters based on our family, but as the years passed, my brother and I got older, so the main characters had to age too. Finally, his work on it came to a stand still, despite the fact that we all loved the chapters he’d written so far.

Skip forwards ten or so years, to when I started thinking about properly writing my first book. (I always wanted to write, I just hadn’t really had time with school and college, and I kind of had my dream stomped on a bit by an older relative who said there was no point in writing as there was no money in it.) Dad approached me and asked if I wanted to try writing his story, but in my own style. I didn’t really have my own story yet, so I thought about it, and once I’d finished college, decided that I’d do it.

My progress was slow, as I was in to many different things at the time and writing was only one of them, but after a year I had a completed first draft. And boy, was it bad. I was pleased to have finally finished, but I knew it was a very poor adaptation.

It took me a long time to realise why: it was still too much his story. I hadn’t made it my own yet, and using his characters was hard for me, because where he’d based them on us, I was too close to them.

So, being my usual stubborn self, I overhauled the whole thing. I changed the characters completely, making them very individual and unlike my own family (okay, one or two traits might have stuck, but there will always be a bit of those you know in any character), and I dived deep into their history to find out what made them tick. I also added characters, and removed others, until finally I had a cast that I could work with. A cast that I liked.

And it was hard. Hard to disregard so much of what I’d enjoyed of my dad’s story, but just wouldn’t work for me. Hard to knit the plot back together and make it strong, solid, enjoyable.

There were times when I was so stuck on a scene or frustrated with it in general that I wanted to throw the whole thing away and just give up. But I didn’t. I made it work, and at the end I had my story. Inspired by my dad’s, definitely, but truly, distinctly mine.

Over the years of visiting and revisiting, I’d worked on other books, including my Half-Wizard Thordric series, but once I’d found my writing voice and adjusted the manuscript once more, I decided to find a publisher.

So, the news I’ve been building too, and am so, so proud to say, is that now I have. The Origin Stone, as the book is now titled, is set to be published by the lovely Nuff Said Publishing in March 2019.

Out of all the books I’ve written, The Origin Stone is definitely the one that’s made me work hardest. It’s so wonderful to announce that it finally has a home!

Kat out.

Extracts/ Flash Fiction

Extract: The Origin Stone

‘True, I’ve felt its desire to lure you here, too. But now that you are here, I believe it recognises who will be more beneficial to it.’ He looks at me, his fake smile fading. ‘You think it’s me stopping you from using your powers? Guess again. The Stone doesn’t want you interfering with my plans, and it especially doesn’t want that,’ he nods to the First, ‘roaming around so close to it either. Like any rational being, the Stone fears its destruction, and one clumsy step from that monstrosity will most likely shatter it into a thousand pieces.’

Extracts/ Flash Fiction

Sweet things

The hessian sack over Parro’s head was clean, not dust ridden and mildew stained as she had expected. Then again, the soldiers guiding her and the rest of the group of potential royal poisoners were of the King’s personal guard.

Under her soft faux leather boots, she felt the firm evenness of flagstones. It was a welcome change from the three miles of cobblestones they’d just walked, and also a sign that they were finally nearing the castle. Perhaps they were already in the courtyard.

She felt herself being marched through a maze of sharp turning corridors, hearing the guards bark at any servant who wasn’t quick enough to scurry from the path. Eventually the party came to a stop. Then the clink of heavy chains, the grinding of a door that was not often used being opened, a sharp push forwards so that everyone stumbled against each other, and the same door being closed behind them.

The sacks were removed from everyone’s heads as the chains were being strung back across the door, and Parro got her first look at the King’s private audience chamber. The room was windowless, the light coming entirely from bright torches held in iron sconces on the walls. The floor was tiled with grey granite, and was devoid of decoration other than the royal banner at the far end, underneath which the King was sitting in a silver filigreed throne. His manservant stood next to him, still to the point that one might have mistaken him for a statue.

The King’s gaze was fixed on the poisoners, but none looked him in the eye except Parro. She examined him closely; his expression was flat and disciplined, but his eyes stared back at her with a keen intelligence. She quickly dropped her head; it would not do to give herself away just yet.

The captain of the guard made the poisoners stand in line, facing the interior of the room, where a table adorned with various apparatus was being set up for the demonstrations that Parro presumed would shortly take place. She caught sight of another group of people gathered in a dark corner. She focused her vision, and saw that they were shackled together. Prisoners. At least that answered the question of just how the demonstrations were to be carried out.

‘I presume they have all been checked, Captain?’ the King said when the preparations had been completed.

‘Of course, sire. I personally checked each candidate, only one of them had any marks pertaining to either spy or assassin guilds, and I dealt with him as soon as I found it,’ the captain replied, tapping the hilt of his sword meaningfully.

The King raised a bushy eyebrow. ‘Oh, from which guild?’

‘The Oens, sire.’

The King grunted. ‘The Oens? I’m surprised one of theirs made it as a candidate at all. It seems our selection protocol has become rather lax of late.’

The captain stiffened. ‘I shall see to it that proper disciplinary action is taken, sire.’

‘Good. Now, I think we should proceed, don’t you?’

The captain bowed, and turned to address the poisoners. ‘I shall call your names one at a time to present your skills. You may request as many prisoners to use for your demonstrations as you wish, but do not bore us with flowery words. Be direct, be swift, and be thorough. Once your presentation is complete, you must take your place back in line and wait while the other candidates present their skills.’ He took a scroll from his belt pouch and unrolled it, reading out the first name on the list. ‘Lector Heeny, please present yourself to His Royal Majesty, King Theroux the Second, Ruler of all Mentrolis.’

A thin, trembling man stepped forwards to the centre of the room, carrying a neat wooden box in his skeletal hands. He set it down on the table and opened it, taking out a myriad of vials and boxes, as well as a bottle of clean water, and began mixing various ingredients together with the apparatus that had been provided.

Parro stifled a yawn. The man’s poisons were basic and the shudder in his hand as he called for his first prisoner betrayed the fact that he had not once stayed to watch his victims die.

The prisoner, a middle-aged woman whose threadbare pantaloons were stained with fresh urine, struggled against the guards as they dragged her towards Lector Heeny. The poisoner gave a stammered speech to the King as to what the poison he had mixed would do, and then asked the guards to hold the woman’s head so he could poor the miniscule measure of green liquid down her throat. The pitiful man could hardly bare to look at her as he instigated her death.

The woman choked and tried to cough it up, but already her muscles had begun to seize. Within a few brief seconds, her entire body became stiff and she fell to the cold floor. Lector Heeny shuddered and turned away, already mixing the next poison for his demonstration.

So it went on. Poisoner after poisoner was called to display their lacklustre skills, while the bodies of their victims were hauled away and covered with a dark sheet. The King neither displayed his displeasure, nor acknowledged the candidates in any way… until Parro was called.

She walked to the table, putting her deep case up on its surface, and with her other arm, swept the apparatus laid out for her onto the floor. ‘Excuse me, your Majesty,’ she said as they shattered.

The King raised one bushed eyebrow. ‘It is unusual for a woman to be in your line of profession,’ he remarked.

‘I assure you that my skills are not lacking. In fact, to be worse than these other candidates would be impressive indeed, you Majesty,’ she said.

The King snorted in amusement. ‘I hope for your sake that your confidence is not unfounded.’

Parro smiled, and snapped open her case. From within, she pulled out two serving trays with domed metal covers, concealing the contents inside, and laid them on the table with a deft flourish of her arm.

‘What is this, woman?’ the captain snapped, rushing forwards. ‘His Majesty has called for poisoners, not a serving wench. How dare you waste his—‘

‘Captain, stand down,’ the King said, holding up his hand. ‘Let her proceed.’

The captain stepped back, his expression incredulous. ‘But sire—‘

‘Captain, if you disobey me, it will be your tongue on which this woman’s poisons will fall. Is that clear?’

‘Yes, sire,’ the captain replied, his face turning grey. He turned to Parro. ‘Proceed, woman.’

‘Why, thank you, Captain,’ she said. She took a bottle from her case, and placed it next to the first serving tray. Then she turned to address the King directly. ‘Your Majesty, there are a vast amount of poisons in this world and, while effective, a great many of these now have known antidotes. Though these antidotes are only available for a substantial sum, they are not out of reach for those of a high societal standing. It has also become expected now that when hosting a feast, someone is sure to be the target of a poisoner’s deft hand, so people are being more cautious than ever. Even the ambassadors of Importa and Tlousin, whom I believe have recently lost your favour, have prepared themselves for such.’

Surprise flickered across the King’s face, but he regained his control instantly. ‘You have kept yourself well informed, woman. However, what is your point on this matter?’

‘My point is simple, your Majesty. There is a growing need for new poisons, and I have concocted one that I believe you’ll find most interesting.’ Parro lifted the domed cover from the first tray as she spoke, revealing a curried dish boasting a hue of deep orange. The fine use of spices in the sauce made the dish so aromatic that it almost chased away the stench of the prisoners. Almost.

‘That is Umbren, is it not? A staple served widely in Tlousin,’ the King remarked.

‘And a favourite of Lord Enru, the ambassador of Tlousin,’ the captain added. ‘He requests we send for ingredients for it all the time.’

‘Indeed,’ Parro said. ‘The first poison I wish to demonstrate only reacts with certain seasonings, which means to say that if administered in any other food or drink, it will be harmless. It also merges with the ingredients so well that it becomes untraceable; even a practiced healer examining the stomach contents of the victim would not find it.’

She clicked her finger to the guards. ‘Two prisoners,’ she said. As the guards brought them to her, she undid the cork on the bottle, adding several drops to the curried dish and then pouring a measure onto a spoon again taken from her case. ‘Observe, your Majesty.’ Forcibly opening the first prisoner’s mouth, she let the poison drip straight onto their tongue from the spoon. Then, washing the spoon in water to remove any saliva, she used it to take a level scoop of the curry, which she then forced into the second prisoner’s mouth. Satisfied, she stepped aside so that the King could see the effects in full.

While the first prisoner made a face of disgust, the second fell to the ground without so much as a cry.

‘As you can see, with this poison, there is no violent frothing, convulsing or bleeding. The man might have died naturally of a brain clot, for all anyone need know.’

‘I see you were not merely boasting after all,’ the King said.

Parro inclined her head, acknowledging the compliment, and turned to the second serving dish, again removing the dome to reveal the contents. On the dish was a glass gravy boat, but instead of holding brown liquid, it was filled with a tart yet honeyed smelling condiment. ‘This is a popular new sauce for meats that has made its way here from the continent. I am sure your chefs are already perfecting the recipe to serve it to you. What they do not know, however, is that this sauce is a poison far more deadly than any you have seen today. The reason why no one realises it, including your chefs, is that by themselves, the ingredients are harmless, just as other spices and herbs. It is only when mixed do they become so potent, and they kill very, very slowly. Not only that, but the taste is believed to be so divine that the consumer quickly becomes addicted.’

The King stood up abruptly. ‘Are you trying to tell me that someone from the continent is bold enough to poison me, woman?’

Parro walked around to the front of the table, facing the King directly. ‘That is exactly what I’m telling you, your Majesty.’