Review: HELLMAW: Of the Essence, by Gabrielle Harbowy

A debut novel from a respected editor, publisher, and author, Gabrielle Harbowy that takes us into the fascinating world of Hellmaw.  The main character, Quills, is a delight, wonderfully cynical, self-sufficient, tattoo artist, exile, and powerful daemen. of the essence

Harbowy slips easily into the world of novelist with her debut, Of The Essence. Quills may not be human, but she has no love for the politics of the other exiles from her homeworld of Arnaut. But taking advantage of the daemons seeking her services as a tattooist for whom daemons can get far more than ink, Quills has put herself on the radar of the powerful Araunt war exiles. It turns out, keeping to yourself is much more complicated than it seems. The fact that you have no use for the schemes of others, doesn’t mean they have no use for you.

The novel is set in a new shared world, Hellmaw, from The Ed Greenwood Group, (Ed Greenwood of Dungeons and Dragons fame, creator of The Forgotten Realms.) The main character, Quills, brings us a beautiful commentary on human behavior…from a daemon. As a character, Quills is sharp, smart, cynical, and self-sufficient. The beauty of this character isn’t that she’s a “strong female lead,” in the stereotypical way, but she’s independent in a sensible way. Rather than simply throwing off the limitations of her sex when she first arrives on Earth in Medieval Europe by shapeshifting into a man, Quills makes her own place, one that isn’t historically implausible or simply silly in the context of the history of the region. Harbowy doesn’t throw away tradition and convention to make a point, she makes her point by fitting her female lead into a strongly patriarchal society without compromising either the character or plausibility.

In the present day, Quills has made for herself a life in an exile she doesn’t regret. Living among the humans of London Soho, Quills is a tattooist, inking mundane art onto humans, and not-at-all mundane work on her fellow daemon exiles. For payment, each daemon gives Quills a sample of their essence, which carries the power of their individual magic. Quills is able to ink these magical essences into both her own skin, and for other daemons who come to her specifically to purchase powers they would not have otherwise. Considering the vast array of both secrets and magic Quills has been accumulating as insurance for centuries, she would seem to be in a safe position, especially for one determined to stay safely out of everyone else’s scheming. She soon finds that the power-hungry among the exiles have plans for her.

When she’s set up to take the fall for the murder of one of the exiled warlords, Quills finds herself in a desperate race across her adopted country of England, tracking down and solving the clues that will lead her to the real killer, before the warlord’s allies come for their revenge. Gabrielle Harbowy

Though Quills has never been averse to enthralling and using humans to her ends, she finds herself relying on a human whose strength of character and determination are the perfect foil for Quills’ strengths, and weaknesses. The evolution of their relationship is a lovely and natural progression that becomes something close to magical for Quills when she needs it most. Alongside this are set the varied relationships Quills has developed with her fellow exiles, the sort of many layered, complex constructions that can only develop over centuries.

Harbowy writes with the precision of an editor, and the sensibility and passion of a writer. Quills brings us into a fascinating new world as a character you’ll want to follow through until the end. I hope very much that Quills will appear again in this shared world setting. Of The Essence is the seventh book in the Hellmaw universe, a great place to start or as the next one to pick up. A highly recommended work from a talented and promising author.

Your Punctuation Personality Type

In honor of National Punctuation Day, I give you the Punctuation Personality Type. This was originally a guest post on the blog of author Brian Thomas Schmidt.

Find Your Punctuation Personalty Type

A recent (totally made up) scientific study analyzed what your favorite punctuation mark means about you. Every writer, every person, over-uses and abuses at least one punctuation mark. Here’s what your particular weakness means about you:

Period (.): Type A personality. You are decisive and clear. You have no difficulty with setting limits. Often a stodgy person that no one else thinks is any fun to hang out with. You tend to be good with technology and have the latest gadgets.

Comma (,): The peacemaker. You like to help others, and you get along with everyone. You like to make sure people understand each other. You like clarity as much as the Period type, but, unlike him, you don’t subscribe to the “less is more” theory. You believe more information is better than not enough. For this reason you sometimes confuse others and can become tiresome. But, in general, you’re fun, or at least tolerable, to be around. If not, you can make people think you are.

Exclamation point (!): You are excitable and anxious. You don’t self-censor well and think that your opinion always matters. You use italics a lot in written communication. You get nervous easily and are often too loud. You’re either an overly-affectionate or a mean drunk. You’re fun at parties.

Question mark (?): Indecisive and uncertain. You over-analyze. You may be shy and have low self-esteem. People usually have no idea you’re there.

Colon (:): You like things to be well-delineated. Much like the Period type, you like order. You make lists. People always know where they stand with you. You usually get asked to organize the office parties and school functions.

Semi-colon (;): You’re well-read and urbane. You knew where this was on the keyboard before it became part of the winky emoticon. You’re more easy-going than Colon or Period types, but you’re still put together and usually organized. People are comfortable around you and tend to like you, though they may not be able to say exactly why.

Hyphen (-): You like having fun. You are often creative and are very social. You like throwing parties, though you may call on your Colon type friends to organize them. You’re more likely to be impulsive and throw unlikely things together. No one would be surprised that your decor is shabby-modern or artsy-classic.

En-dash (–): If you knew this was a different mark than the hyphen, you are way too into punctuation. You’re either an editor or a schoolteacher, or else no one likes you. At all.

Em-dash (—): You’re stuck up and pretentious. You correct people’s grammar and complain about how stupid kids are these days. You like to show off. You made good grades in school and perform well at work. Your boss loves you, even if your co-workers don’t.

Parentheses ( () ): You’re scatterbrained. You throw things together at the last minute. You’re often hopping back and forth between different tasks and think you’re multi-tasking. You tend to bore people with your stories because you think every detail is important and you repeat yourself. You are often sarcastic but are good at making other people laugh, often at someone’s expense. (Including your own.)

Ellipses (…): An indecisive and flighty person. You lose your train of thought easily. You are a follower and like to let other people take the risks. You often misplace your keys or spend ten minutes looking for the glasses you’re already wearing.

Apostrophe (‘): You’re casual and carefree. You’re always the one who has random things in your purse or glove compartment that no one else would think to carry around but somehow you end up in situations where it’s a good thing you had that thumb-tack on you. You have lots of friends, usually without really trying. People just like you.

Quotation Mark (“): You aren’t very original. You tweet famous quotes a lot. You are nosy and like to gossip; mostly because you don’t have anything of substance to add of your own. People like to hang out with you for a coffee break but don’t really consider you a friend.

Slash (/): You’re a complicated and complex person. You can be secretive and have a hard time trusting people. You like to keep your options open. You’re the respectable housewife your friends will be shocked to see coming out of the S&M club.

Brackets ([ ]): You are snobbish and self-important. You are likely to use these to add “[sic]” to other people’s comments. You have no friends and probably have a “kick me” post-it on your back right now.

Asterisk (*): Nothing is ever final with you. You can justify anything and have an excuse for everything. You would make a good lawyer. People either find you entertaining, or really boring, because you know lots of random trivia.

Ampersand (&): You like stuff. You collect things and are a packrat. You’re friends with everyone, whether they know it or not.

At symbol (@): You’re very social, sometimes overly. You’re the one who always takes a phone call in the middle of a conversation. You also spend way too much time online. Go get some fresh air. Taking your iPhone out on the porch doesn’t count.

Hash/pound (#): Much like the @ type, you’re online too much, but, unlike @ types, in real life you have few friends and are reclusive. Before the internet, you called customer service lines just to have someone to talk to.

Bullets (•): You have OCD.

Interrobang (?! or !?): You have a multiple personality disorder. Seek help.

Don’t miss the follow up: The Grammatical Error Personality Type

Quick and Fun! Blog Hop!

So, once again, the enabler of this blog tour thing…ahem, I meant, the person who invited me to participate in this blog hop is the lovely and talented J.M. Frey, Lambda Literary Award nominated author of Triptych. Check her out here.

Now that the introductions have been made, the way this works is that I answer a few questions about myself. These are short and fun. Hope you enjoy! And make sure to check out the amazing authors linked at the end of the post.

1 – If you could time travel and steal somebody else’s novel/short story/film for yourself, what would it be?

The first book in Anne McCaffrey‘s Pern series, Dragonflight. It’s not currently my favorite book of all time, but it certainly was at one point, and it–and the following series–affected my life profoundly, and my writing. To have been able to start in that world and take it through the worldbuilding she did, would have been an amazing experience, I think.

2 – What writing sin do you actively have to struggle against in your own work?

In first drafts, I tend to use too many adverbs, echo the same reactions over and over (shrug, smile, etc.), and fail to indicate who is speaking in long passages of dialogue. Thankfully, those are pretty easy to spot in editing.

3 – Pick three writers, past or present, that you would want to have dinner with. Why those writers?

IV CoverMary Shelley, Brandon Sanderson, Carol Berg. Thankfully, two of those are still alive, and I might just get lucky enough one day…

As for why, Mary Shelley not only wrote the original science fiction novel, Frankenstein, but she was a woman writing something completely original–and heaven knows how that might have been received, woman or no–more than a hundred years ago. Anyone close to the industry knows that women writing science fiction and fantasy are STILL fighting for acceptance and equal standing among our peers. What must it have been like for her?

Brandon Sanderson is a name everyone reading this probably already knows. He’s an amazing fantasy writer and he doesn’t need me to sing his praises. But what fascinates me about him and what I’d love to talk to him about is his worldbuilding. He writes the most original worlds I’ve ever read, barring perhaps Elizabeth Bear. It’s not that they’re so mindboggling foreign that we can’t even relate, it’s that they take a world like ours, and they make something about it amazingly different, in a way that’s mindboggling and changes everything. To be able to invent worlds like that…

Carol Berg writes the most amazing characters I’ve ever read. And then she combines them into situations and relationships that could just tear your heart out or make you dance in the streets, depending on what page you’re on. I’m a character-centric writer, so for me, that’s magic.

So, quick and painless, more or less. 😉 Be sure to check out these other authors, and their amazing writing.

Marie Bilodeau: Aurora nominated author of science fiction and fantasy. Destiny’s War, the final book in the Destiny Series, is available now!

Erik Buchanan: Fantasy writer, author of Small Magics, Cold Magics, and the upcoming third in that trilogy, True Magics.

K.T. Bryski: Fantasy author of Hapax, and something Victorian and creepy and awesome sounding coming soon.

Gabrielle Harbowy: Editor and author extraordinaire. Co-editor with Ed Greenwood of the When the Hero Comes Home, When the Villain Comes Home, and When The Hero Comes Home 2. Also my co-author in a short story in Carbide Tipped Pens, coming soon from Tor.

And the talented authors in the anthologies When the Hero Comes Home, When the Villain Comes Home, and When The Hero Comes Home 2.

The Writer’s Voice, My Entry!

Yeah, I know, I’ve got books out already, right? Well, what I don’t have, and never have had, is an agent. And this shiny new manuscript isn’t selling itself. So, I’m thrilled to have been chosen (well, by a bot) to enter The Writer’s Voice contest. Here is my entry for my YA Fantasy, THE PRINCE’S BROTHER:


One world believes fourteen-year-old Kas is a king, and the only one who can end the civil war that has raged for a decade.

An alternate world believes he’s a powerful magician, and the only one who can save them from an enemy they can’t fight.

Kas thinks he’s just a simple farmer, with a knack for growing the best apples in the region.

Kas’ brother is the only one who knows the truth, and these dangerous secrets are what forced him to kidnap Kas ten years ago and hide him on a farm in the shadow of the World’s End. But an unexpected attack leaves Kas trapped in the alternate world and his brother a hostage to an insane king who will stop at nothing to prevent Kas from learning how to wield the magic that will change the very nature of the worlds—and topple the king from his stolen throne.

Desperate to save his brother, Kas rushes to confront his enemy, wielding only his ignorance, with the help of a dubious ally. If he is to succeed, and survive, he’ll have to discover the truth about his magic, his heritage, and the ancient secret tying the two worlds together before millions of people, and the brother who sacrificed everything for him, are destroyed.

THE PRINCE’S BROTHER is the first in a planned trilogy and is complete at 65,000 words.

The novels of my first trilogy, FIGHTING GRAVITY, CASCADE EFFECT, and IMPACT VELOCITY were published by Dragon Moon Press in 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively. I sold these novels directly to the publisher and have not worked with an agent yet.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

First 250 words:


I started a war when I was four years old.

My memories of that night are fuzzy, quiet, warm except where the crisp autumn air nipped my nose. They smell like my brother, the nursery, and horses.

I woke to hushed voices and soft hands changing my sleeping shirt for warm breeches, thick socks and shirts, and the coat Ver had given me at the turn of the weather.

I came slowly to awareness that it was the nurse dressing me in the light only of the moon coming through the window. Her hair was the color of chestnuts during the day, warm and heavy it would fall over me like a blanket when she held me on her lap. In the moonlight it was washed in silver and her cheeks sparkled with liquid diamonds. I thought she must have turned into a moon spirit when I was asleep. I would ask Ver about it. But they were being so very quiet, and I was still too drowsy-content to wonder enough to break the waiting silence.

As she dressed me I watched Ver going round the room, pulling things from drawers and wardrobes, stuffing them into a travel sack, a frown I had never seen on my brother’s face before drawing shadows on his brow in the moonlight. The feel of him, normally steady and gentle was sharp-edged and sour. I thought he sounded like yelling, though he hadn’t said anything.

The nurse pushed my feet into my new pair of boots and picked me up.

Tag! You’re It! Blog Tour

So, I’ve been just dreadful about blog writing, updating, all that nonsense lately. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been doing nothing but writing, but that would be a lie. I HAVE been busy though, with about a bazillion different things. Some of those things have more merit than others.

IV CoverBut Impact Velocity‘s just come out, so that’s cool, right? Have you checked it out yet?

Jake has finally found peace and a family with the man he loves. But when the unimaginable happens, Jake finds himself on the run with his greatest enemy and the man who betrayed them both.

If he can’t find a way to bring down the man who now wields the power of an emperor, he’ll lose not just his own life, but his daughter’s as well.

So, the lovely and talented J.M. Frey, Lambda Literary Award nominated author of Triptych, has tagged me in this blog hop thing. Looks like fun. Check her out and her post here.

Now for my part in this party. I get to interview myself. Here goes:

1) What am I working on?

Not going crazy? Oh, you meant writing? Well, I’m working right now on a YA scifi. It has no title yet so right now I’m calling it Snow White and the Seven Genetically Engineered Teenagers. It’s fun. 🙂 I have a YA fantasy I’ve completed but it’s being shopped right now and doesn’t have a home yet. Soon, I hope.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think a lot of that depends on how you’re defining genre? Broadly? Well, in both fantasy and scifi I try to always write characters that aren’t straight, white, whatever, in worlds that look disturbingly like our own. The Physics of Falling took that farther than I had in the past, which is to say, not terribly far because I’d never really considered gender issues in my writing before. So simply writing a gay or bi character was a new thing for me. These days I find myself writing characters in a lot more interesting places on the gender scale. And the fun thing about that when it comes to scifi and fantasy, is that you can make it something that is integral to your world for all kinds of interesting reasons.

Other than that, I have always written character based stories, even when it’s hard scifi.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Because it’s fascinating. Because anything’s possible. Because I live in the real world all day long and find the process of seeing how far from it I can get with my character and worlds to be something that is very satisfying to do. And when it comes to queer characters, because I know what it’s like to be different, or to be perceived as “wrong” or “flawed” by the “normal” people. I want to write about and for people like us.

4) How does my writing process work?

I wouldn’t say it works… Ah, the question that drives all my stress. How I got to be a person who works a nine to five, freelancing on the side, AND writing novels, I’ll never know. I don’t do organization and I don’t handle stress well. WTF, right? Somehow it happens anyway. I’ve learned about myself that I don’t accomplish much just sitting down to write because it’s “time.” So I don’t have a schedule. When I’m seriously in a writing-the-novel phase, I will set myself daily goals, but I’ve discovered about myself that I need to write in my head before I write anywhere else. So I’ll spend at least as much time writing in my head as I do sitting at the keyboard. Once I sit down to actually “write,” I’m really just transcribing. Oh, new and unexpected things can come out at the keys, but that’s only when I’ve brought something with me to the table.

Once I’m really down and dirty, ready to tackle that novel, I make up for weeks or months of not writing by writing a LOT all at once. For every novel, I take at least one “writingcation” in which I go out of town and just write all weekend. My record is just north of 30,000 in three days. And for that one there was fourteen hours of driving to account for. Still, it’s what works for me. Some good stuff has come out of such panic-writing. It’s definitely gotten the novels written.

Well, folks, there it is. Everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about me. 😉 Here’s where I’m supposed to tag two other authors, but, since I managed to flub this up and get the dates all wrong, everyone else is taken. Instead, I’m going to link you to the amazing Dragon Moon Press authors. I first met most of them three years ago when I went to Toronto for the launch of Fighting Gravity. They’re talented, fun, and just some really good people. You should check them out. Fair warning, you may find yourself buying books. But, that’s why we’re all here, right? Enjoy!

Marie Bilodeau: Aurora nominated author of science fiction and fantasy. Destiny’s War, the final book in the Destiny Series, is available now!

Erik Buchanan: Fantasy writer, author of Small Magics, Cold Magics, and the upcoming third in that trilogy, True Magics.

K.T. Bryski: Fantasy author of Hapax, and something Victorian and creepy and awesome sounding coming soon.

Gabrielle Harbowy: Editor and author extraordinaire. Co-editor with Ed Greenwood of the When the Hero Comes Home, When the Villain Comes Home, and When The Hero Comes Home 2. Also my co-author in a short story in Carbide Tipped Pens, coming soon from Tor.

And the talented authors in the anthologies When the Hero Comes Home, When the Villain Comes Home, and When The Hero Comes Home 2.