Out on blog tour again today – this time, though it could not be a more different book than our previous outing. The Obsidian Heart trilogy by Mark Morris is part horror, part fantasy, with a good helping of time travel. There are elements of steam punk and the time travel angle allows the author to write in both contemporary and historical settings – I don’t think I’ve read something quite so original for a long time.
To celebrate the release of the third book in the trilogy – The Wraiths of War – I’m hosting an exclusive extract today. Hopefully I’ll not spoil myself for the third book!! To set the scene, Alex Locke has obtained a mystical item, a human heart carved from obsidian and, among other things, it has allowed him to travel through time. During the extract below, Alex finds himself in the trenches of World War One…
‘Come on,’ Frank coaxed. ‘Come on, old son. That’s it. You know you want it.’
Stan Little, rain dripping off the brim of his steel helmet, chuckled, and was immediately shushed by the rest of us. He put a hand over his mouth, looking both contrite and amused. Squatting in the trench, plastered in clinging mud, which oozed up over the ankles of his boots, he reminded me of the Speak No Evil monkey.
The rat crept closer, its fur so slick with mud and rain it looked metallic. It was wary, but hungry too, and the gobbet of bread on the point of Frank’s bayonet was proving impossible to resist. Out in No Man’s Land, amid the mud and the corpses, the barbed wire and the shattered remnants of ordnance, it would be able to see nothing of us, hunched below ground level in our water-filled trench. Neither would it be able to smell us; the stink of death on the battlefield would mask our scent. But if we made too much noise it would hear us, whereupon it would be gone in a flash.
Like all the rats here – and there were so many of them they often scampered across our bodies at night – this particular specimen was a big bastard, but mangy and diseased-looking. Frank remained motionless as it moved to within a few feet of his bayonet, the tip of which was poking at an angle above the sandbags stacked on the lip of the trench. I glanced at the men. Stan had removed his hand from his face, leaving brown streaks, and was now grinning, his eyes almost feverish with excitement. The others, shivering in the cold, their uniforms soaked through and plastered with mud, their faces drawn with the effects of dysentery and exhaustion, were staring avidly at the lump of white bread, as if they wouldn’t mind snaffling it themselves.
After prevaricating for a moment the rat suddenly darted forward. As it clamped its teeth around the bread, Frank almost casually pulled the trigger. As ever his timing was perfect. As the rat turned away with its prize, the bullet from Frank’s gun transformed it from a living creature into a red explosion of unrecognisable meat. We watched it, or rather the bits of it, scatter across No Man’s Land. Geoffrey Ableman, a new recruit, barely eighteen, was so entranced by the spectacle that he forgot himself for a moment and raised his head above the lip of the trench to watch its progress.
Instantly there was the crack of a rifle from the German trenches and a bullet whined over our trench and smacked into the mud somewhere behind us. It might have drilled through Ableman’s skull if Reg Coxon hadn’t grabbed him and yanked him back down a split second before the bullet’s arrival.
‘That were yer one and only chance, lad,’ Reg told him in his broad Barnsley accent. He stabbed a finger at the sky. ‘Him up theer’ll not grant thee another one.’
As a grinning Frank descended the wooden ladder propped against the inside wall of the trench, the men surged forward to clap him on the back. His skill at ‘rat bagging’, one of the few things that kept us amused during the grinding hell of trench life, had earned him the nickname ‘Dead Eye’. The only member of our squad who didn’t come forward to congratulate Frank was John Pyke. As ever he sat a little removed from the rest of us, beneath the sheet of rusty corrugated iron that was laid over the top of the trench and served as our only shelter. Eyeing us balefully, Pyke was hunched like a gorilla over the brazier we used to keep warm and to boil water for tea. When I glanced his way he dipped his head, as if he was afraid I might hypnotise him.
It was early December 1915, and we’d been on the front line for five weeks. From when I’d first signed up to becoming a battle-ready soldier had taken around fifteen months. On 5th November we’d set sail for France, the men joking that although we’d miss Bonfire Night at home we’d be seeing plenty of fireworks once we crossed the channel. From Boulogne the eight hundred plus men and thirty or so officers who made up our battalion had boarded yet another rickety train, which had transported us to a railhead south-east of Abbeville in the valley of the River Somme. Although we’d camped there for the night with the intention of getting some rest before the next stage of our journey, it had been so cold that none of us had been able to sleep. Instead we’d walked around for hours, fully clothed and wrapped in our blankets, in an effort to keep warm. Another long train journey the next day, followed by a ten-mile trudge, during which each of us had been loaded down with equipment (rifle and ammo, blanket, ground sheet, eating utensils and other kit), had brought us to the village of Bellancourt. By the time we arrived in what turned out to be a filthy little place, the streets strewn with refuse, we were so exhausted and hungry that we’d been fit for nothing more than collapsing into our billets. Mine was a draughty barn, full of dirty straw, on the edge of the village, but I made myself a makeshift bed and fell into an immediate deep sleep. I woke several hours later to find my body covered in flea bites and the place swarming with rats, some of which had nibbled at my boots and clothes.
A really atmospheric extract, and it gives you a good idea of the rest of the series which is well-researched and uses lots of period detail, without being bogged down. Having read The Wolves of London, I can’t wait to crack on with the rest of the series!
The blog tour continues as follows below, so do please check out some of the other reviews and exclusive content.
I was sent a copy of the Obsidian Heart trilogy by the publisher (Titan Books) in exchange for participation in the blog tour and an honest review – all the thoughts and opinions are my own!