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BARATANAC (Part I): Book One of Fitzmarbury Witches

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Loved it! 😍

An impressively written and captivating first installment of supernatural historical fiction.

Synopsis

EVEN THE PUREST EVIL HAS A HISTORY

In 2017, an author flees the accursed London streets of Fitzmarbury, terrified and fearing for his life. In an isolated Barbados redoubt – on wild Atlantic shores – the author’s mind and writings are haunted. Cruel voices speak horrifying revelations. A vast storm approaches as another visitor to Bathsheba – a presence – stalks him in the darkness.

A NEW DARKNESS AT THE WORLD’S EDGE

A ruthless priestess of Baal sails from imperial Carthage, sixty years after the fall of King Leonidas and the Spartan 300. She is a hardened warrior, wrenched from the only love she ever knew and raised in merciless service to Baal. Her iron heart holds the secrets of a young girl trafficked across the Sahara from the decaying Egyptian city of Sekht-Am (Siwa). Ever threatened by the scandal of her origins, she proves herself by embarking on a series of violent missions. Once again, she is sent from Africa – this time to penetrate new frontiers at the edge of the world, in ancient Britain. Will she follow orders and fiercely carve a place for Baal in Baratanac? Or will she find reasons to claw back her humanity?

Baratanac (Part I) is the first in a series known as the Fitzmarbury Witches. This initial installment is a complex novel which opens up on a young writer in Barbados. Haunted by a supernatural entity, Declan seeks refuge on the island while working on a book that is dictated to him by malignant, otherworldly beings. Writing for him is not a choice, it is a compulsion. Declan struggles to combat the powerful evil that pursues him while doggedly attempting to complete his book in order to make his truth known.


The majority of the story is centered on Declan’s manuscript which describes the origin of the malevolence that plagues him. Readers are transported to ancient Carthage to learn of the merciless cultural practices that took place and of the priestess Emeshmoon, a woman who was taken from her home as a child and ruthlessly trained to be a religious emissary in service to the god Baal.


Baratanac is a debut novel different from any I’ve read before (this is also mentioned by another in the foreword, but if it’s true, it’s true, right?); for that reason I really struggled to write a review that would do it justice. It is not without its flaws, but the beauty of the writing - despite much of the unsavory and horrific content - is undeniable, and the intricacy of the plot and detailed descriptions are truly praiseworthy. 


The plot’s strengths could also be called its weaknesses: the sheer scope means that the writing is often tangential and at times difficult to follow - sometimes it was a struggle to determine if what was happening was current, recollected, or in the past. Swales lays out fascinating and vivid explanations of rituals, cultural practices, and political ambitions among the different people of ancient Africa which at once captivate and challenge the reader to keep up with the barrage of information. In several instances there are lengthy geographic details that can become tedious if the reader is not predisposed to such knowledge.


Overall, Baratanac is an admirable piece of work. It is clear that Swales’s own unique personal experiences and extensive traveling, paired with his evocative writing style, have come together to create something wholly original. If you are a fan of ancient history, supernatural horror, and don’t mind a little heavy-handedness when it comes to description, this book is certainly worth your time.

Reviewed by

Horror, thriller/suspense, and mystery are my areas of reviewing expertise, although like most dedicated readers I'll delve into (nearly) anything with a great plot. I love being a reviewer and having the chance to interact with talented writers as well as help their stories gain exposure.

Synopsis

EVEN THE PUREST EVIL HAS A HISTORY

In 2017, an author flees the accursed London streets of Fitzmarbury, terrified and fearing for his life. In an isolated Barbados redoubt – on wild Atlantic shores – the author’s mind and writings are haunted. Cruel voices speak horrifying revelations. A vast storm approaches as another visitor to Bathsheba – a presence – stalks him in the darkness.

A NEW DARKNESS AT THE WORLD’S EDGE

A ruthless priestess of Baal sails from imperial Carthage, sixty years after the fall of King Leonidas and the Spartan 300. She is a hardened warrior, wrenched from the only love she ever knew and raised in merciless service to Baal. Her iron heart holds the secrets of a young girl trafficked across the Sahara from the decaying Egyptian city of Sekht-Am (Siwa). Ever threatened by the scandal of her origins, she proves herself by embarking on a series of violent missions. Once again, she is sent from Africa – this time to penetrate new frontiers at the edge of the world, in ancient Britain. Will she follow orders and fiercely carve a place for Baal in Baratanac? Or will she find reasons to claw back her humanity?

The Malignant Watcher

Le Papillon, Bathsheba

Barbados


January 13th, 2017


The night’s cloak swallowed all shadows except one. A brooding shadow darker than the sunless sky. It possessed a name – one rarely and never safely uttered. Water was illuminated like liquid neon in the ancient creature’s vengeful gaze, the human’s hands slicing through its surface, over and over. Above the swinging limbs its eyes lingered on a fluid electric-blue that shimmered on the undersides of overhanging coconut palms and swathes of bougainvillea. In the swimming pool’s spectral glow the foliage appeared to float – rootless and untethered.

The creature hung there in its latest transitory form – a void – a fetid smear of eternal sentient misery. Time and again it watched the human’s head gasp, purging and sucking at the warm air. Stifled mercury tears of laughter welled in its undead eyes, mocking the mortal’s stunted vision as he snatched glimpses of the darkness. A simmering darkness about which it knew mankind understood very little, but had always dreaded. A besieging darkness within which humans were prone and nearly always defenceless. Its shapeless mass convulsed and extended a dry cracked tongue to savour the scent of fear – subtle, but perceptible on the air. And so sweet! Every fibre of the creature yearned for fruition, but it remained patient in the way only the eldest ones can. The parchment fragment it sought was still to be found, a scrap borne across the ocean by blemished human hands . . . but it was so close! Soon the creature would be free to crush all the enchantments – trivial and otherwise – that the human had invoked and constructed. It wished to taste blood again, the blood it had been sent by another to reap.

Close to the deep end of the pool the creature lurked, impervious to light, at the spiny ragged base of a macaw palm thicket. It pressed against their deadly spines, shivering with pleasure as they pierced its skin. With confident indifference it neither recoiled nor hid from the doomed human. Indeed it pulsed darker when the mortal’s strokes brought flesh within reach of its talons. The creature wallowed in temptation’s exquisite tenderness, changing its shape at will. A bargain made in Bloomsbury would soon be fulfilled.


About the author

Hello! My name is D. J. Swales, poet, audio drama podcaster, and author of BARATANAC (Parts I, II, and III), my debut series of dark fantasy, horror, and historical thrillers. I'm a total book worm. I enjoy history, night walks in the deep dark, art, Paris, Istanbul, Mexico City, and Tokyo. view profile

Published on November 12, 2020

70000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Fantasy

Reviewed by