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Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye by J. Damask

“I wanted my land back. It was deep in my blood. It sang in my bones. It demanded action.” -J. Damask, Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye, pg 100

A black drake coils through Jan Xu’s days and dreams, threatening her family, her pack, her land. It is a difficult choice, whether or not to involve her people in a blood feud from her Gang of Four days. But as blood is shed and even the Ancestral Forest is violated, Jan Xu will bring the ferocity of the Lang into play.

There is an ethereal elegance to Damask’s writing that makes me forget I am reading urban fantasy. There is the fuzzy captivation of a dream just before waking, fairy tales and mythology more than the more familiar tropes, and reading her work always awakens in me an interest in everything that has ever hovered in the twilight. Her Lang are wolves, not the werewolves genre fans are more familiar with, with a beautiful, feral culture all of their own. In ‘Obsidian Moon Obsidian Eye’ we get more of that culture, as Jan Xu is now the Alpha of her pack, and the reader tastes the ritual and responsibility that goes with the title.

What I adore more and more about the books is the careful balance Jan Xu has to maintain between her vigilante days and her position as wife, mother, and Alpha. There is so much more accountability than a reader of the genre is usually treated to, and it adds something rich to both the characters and the story. There is an increased sense of tension, of threat, as Jan Xu tries to attend to all of her responsibilities.

Again, Damask’s word brings us more than the usual fey. There is a culture and a history that makes the world of the Lang sing to the reader, a blend of native spirits and animal people that is a pleasure to read, and to get lost in.

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Wolf at the Door by J. Damask

Wolf at the Door opens with the return of Jan Xu’s sister, Marianne, who has been abroad studying law. There was conflict between the sisters when Marianne left, and that conflict has survived their years apart. Marianne brings with her a boyfriend who is more, and less, than he seems, and he settles into day to day life with alarming ease. Jan Xu will need to fight fiercely to protect her pack, her territory, and her friends…while trying to figure out exactly what she is protecting them against.

I had three main thoughts as I was reading Wolf at the Door.

One- This is some of the most elegant prose I have ever run across

Two- This has taken an urban fantasy element I was completely done with, the werewolf, and turned it into something feral and fierce and perfect.

Three- How hard is it going to be to beg more of this from the author?

For the first thought- Wolf at the Door reads like poetry, without running into the structure issues that plague some of the more experimental prose-aware writing out there. It always adds something to a book for me when I can enjoy the writing as much as the story itself. It didn’t feel forced- this was some innately talented word-smithing. Beyond the form itself, the writing style lends itself rather perfectly to the setting and story. It all just works. The rich setting, the regal characters, the elegant prose. It all weaves together into a wonderful whole.

For the second thought, and this is the very important one, I started reading expecting werewolves. Wow, was I wrong. Wolf at the Door takes the reader back to the stories of Animal People. The characters aren’t humans who happen to turn into wolves, or even wolves that turn into people. They are just wolves. Wolves adapting and adjusting to the modern age to ensure their survival. That having been understood, it makes all of the other myths and legends casually wandering through the book seem so much more fitting. This isn’t quite urban fantasy as we have all grown to understand it- this is something more primal. And it has made me interested again in the wolf aspect of the genre, no small feat in itself. If, like me, you have read far too many urban fantasies with werewolves thrown in, and have grown tired of the concept, please do pick up this book. It revitalizes the concept.

For the third thought, and this is the one that is hard for me to admit as I have a strong and vocal love of stand-alone novels in a genre riddled with endless epics, I want more. Granted, the book stands well as a novel. It works. But…I am enthralled by the characters, the setting, the idea itself, and I want to read more. I want to get caught up in the culture of the Lang, to spend more time with Jan Xu and her friends, and that is the greatest compliment I can pay the book.

For the little things- if you like your prose nice and linear, you may struggle a bit as Jan Xu moves through things that have happened previously in a way that alternates between daydream and night terror. Her past colors the events of the present, and every now and then the line between what is happening and what she is remembering is a bit hazy. The first time it happened, I was a bit thrown off as a reader, but it settles in and starts to make sense as you move through the book. It is also a short book. Short, but very satisfying.

All said, it is a beautifully crafted book that is so different from anything else I have run into in the urban fantasy genre I cannot recommend it highly enough. The world of the Lang is a fascinating and frightening place. I hope you choose to wander through!

Wolf at the Door will be released April 4th through Lyrical Press, and will be in eBook format.

Wolf at the Door by J. Damask

The wonderful thing about reviewing books is you often get to have fascinating conversations with authors. I am especially fond of getting in touch with newer authors to talk about their work and see what I can do to signal boost their releases. I was fortunate enough to run into Ms. Damask and merrily subjected her to a handful of questions.

Me– What has it been like, trying to publish an urban fantasy book in Singapore? What sorts of walls did you run into?
J. Damask- Brick wall. Singaporean publishers are more fixated on things that sell: recipe books, self-help books, poetry books and children’s books. Add in horror – Singaporeans seem to like local horror. As for SF/F, nadah. I ended up publishing out of Singapore. I would say that there are many walls. Cultural wall and wall of ignorance. Not sure how we are going to change that – there are small presses/publishers who dare to publish genre fiction… but they are catering to a niche market.

MeYou have produced a good number of short stories, and now a novel, since having your daughters. How hard is it to find some good ‘writing time’ with children?
J. Damask- Very hard, especially when my girls are still young, my youngest being just one plus. They want my attention all the time. But I write at night, when they are in bed. It’s do or do not, as Yoda would day. In this case, I do – I make the decision to write at night (or when I have some free time).
MeTell us about the World of the Lang
J. Damask- The Lang are Chinese wolves. They are Chinese and wolves. Their world is interwoven with Chinese traditions and traditions of the hunt. They celebrate all the lunar festivals as well as honoring their wolf nature. On the surface, they look like any ordinary Singaporean Chinese – but wolf hearts beat beneath their skin. The wolves co-exist with the humans, like two worlds intersecting. They are organized in family clans or packs. 
Me– Tell us a bit about Jan Xu. How does Marianne fit into the picture?
J. Damask- Jan Xu belongs to one of the major wolf packs in Singapore. She is a bit of an anomaly in urban fantasy – she is married with two kids, juggling the roles of wife, daughter and wolf.
Marianne is her younger sister. As we know, there are always problems between sisters.

Me– What books or authors have influenced you the most? Are there any books you have utterly worn out from reading?
J. Damask- Anne McCaffrey, Robert Heinlein, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Octavia Butler, Charles de Lint … to name a few. Books I find myself going to back and back again are The Mists of Avalon and Forests of the Heart.
Me– Who is your favorite lycanthrope/shifter?
J. Damask- I would guess Lady Hawk. Oz from Buffy is a geeky werewolf. The black werewolf in Van Helsing. 😉

Wolf At the Door will be released Monday, April 4th, through Lyrical Press in digital format (.epub, .pdf, .lit, .prc)

The official book blurb-

“Being an ex-teen vigilante comes with its own set of problems.

Housewife, ex-teen vigilante…and shape-shifting wolf…Jan Xu has enough problems without adding her sister’s to the mix. Marianne is returning to Singapore and she’s filled with strange ideas. She’s also not alone. She’s coming home with a new boyfriend who has a dark agenda of his own.

With sibling rivalry threatening the inevitable: a battle-to-the-death with fang and claw, Jan and Marianne must overcome their issues if they’re ever going to find peace within their troubled relationship.”

Be sure to check out J. Damask’s blog for more updates and information about the book and her other writings!