Review: The Redcaps’ Queen by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

 The Hunt is On!

Cover and Interior Illustrations: Ed Coutts

The Redcaps’ Queen: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale

Synopsis:

When strength becomes weakness…

And hope becomes doubt…

As the past collides with the future…hard…

Can Suzanne—Wild Hunt biker chick and one-time member of the fae High Court—stand strong as her world falls apart? She survived an assault by redcaps, an all-out battle with the High King’s armies, and her first encounter with roller derby… but how will she fare against her inner demons? Caught in the midst of a transformation she scarcely realizes and does not understand, her hard-won convictions are tested as never before.

Suzanne is left with only one question—what if they’re wrong?

The truth could mean the difference between saving her sanity and losing her soul…

Excerpt:

Suzanne surfaced to the sounds of softly rustling leaves. The raucous cawing of crows. And sinister murmurs close by her ear. The chill of a breeze tickled her bare back as the sharp pain of bindings on her wrists and legs kindled anger in her breast.

The impulse to fight surged strongly within her, yet something more than physical bonds held her immobile. Her effort to open her eyes triggered no more than a weak flutter. The blackness shrouding her consciousness briefly lightened to grey before darkening once more. Inwardly, Suzanne growled, drew several deep, centering breaths, and once more bent her will toward moving.

Nothing.

The murmurs increased. She couldn’t distinguish what they said, but their growing excitement needed no words. Many hands grasped her. Lifted her up. Bore her away. Suzanne threw her effort into resisting as what felt like sharp-pointed claws pierced her flesh. Her mind fought, but her body remained lax. Her breathing labored the more she strained internally against the force that bound her. The rasp of something like barbed sandpaper swiped across her bare shoulder. Her stomach clenched at the sensation and her muscles screamed to break free of her bonds. Suzanne’s pulse picked up and her frustration grew. The more anxious she became the more the fog cleared from her mind.

And then she felt him.

Lance, her lover, was somewhere nearby. The link between them trickled his emotions into her thoughts. Love. Concern. Anger. The last most of all; his temper boiled fierce and hot beneath his skin, even in the bare echo that she felt through their magical bond. Suzanne’s soul reached for him but found itself likewise bound. Panic flooded her veins, born of memories long past of childhood beneath her father’s control. Kept weak and powerless, her every act dictated. In the here-and-now, Suzanne’s breath came in sharp gasps. The darkness deepened until she grew frantic, casting her inner self once more against restraints she could not shake free.
Someone spoke. Distant, yet all too clear. A flat, harsh voice, reminiscent of the crows’ caws.

“Service rendered calls for payment due.”

Her bearers lowered her to the ground and backed away. Like a rabbit sensing a hawk circling overhead, her inner self stilled, unsure of how to evade.

“No!” Lance roared.

Her eyes snapped open. The world became clear as the esoteric restraints lifted. In the next instant, bitter-cold droplets struck Suzanne’s skin. Acid burrowed deep and fast to devour her flesh. No longer weighed down, she bucked and thrashed. The clawed hands returned, pinning her down, and her vision filled with wizened faces grinning beneath brown caps that deepened to crimson as her blood flowed and the redcaps feasted.

Suzanne screamed a piercing, earth-rending scream.

~*~

She jerked awake, sweat-soaked, her body trembling and her breath fast and shallow in reaction to the raw, brutal memory that haunted her dreams. Screams still echoed in her mind. Torturous, agonized, piercing. Lance lay undisturbed beside her, arm draped over her waist, breathing in a slow, relaxed rhythm against the back of her neck. His presence calmed her, again a reminder she’d survived. Most mornings were the same lately. Ever since she had been captured by the Dubh Fae and his redcap minions—coming within seconds of death—her sleep had been a stalking ground.

She growled in frustration as she edged away from Lance’s loose grip. A grey hint of light placed the time somewhere just before dawn. Way too early to be up. She ignored the piercing phantom pains as she slipped from the bed. The chill of the morning air made her shiver as she ran her fingers over naked skin that should have borne scars. She caught her unblemished reflection in the bureau mirror across the room and shivered again. Damp tendrils of platinum-blonde hair clung to her face, neck, and breasts. In the low light, her blue eyes shone dark and startling against her ashen skin. She scowled at her reflection and quickly shimmied into her clothes, reflexively sliding a well-worn bandana in the front pocket of her jeans, an old habit from her childhood.

Behind her, Lance stirred. His arm reached for her in his sleep. The hint of a frown furrowed his brow when he did not find her. Awake or not, his protective nature seeped through. As the leader of the Wild Hunt M.C. he considered himself responsible for every member, but most particularly for her.

Again, frustration burned along her nerves, causing her to tense as she willed him to remain asleep. She loved Lance, had for over twenty years…even before he turned thirteen and discovered the joy of girls, but he never seemed to get the fact that she needed to stand on her own, not because she had to, but because it was important to her to be able to. She’d even held a human job once. For nearly a year she’d manned the drying furnace at the local auto plant, where intense heat baked the fresh paint into a protective shell. A very unfae occupation; that had been part of its charm. With the resources of the fae world to draw on she hadn’t needed to work. What she had needed was to prove she could. That she was strong and capable in all things. Not until she proved that to herself and everyone else, could she and Lance move forward and build the kind of life she had always longed for. The life where they were never separate, where family meant love…and children.
That dream seemed even further out of reach now. If only she could conquer this crippling fear. In the military they called it PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder. Suzanne…she called it fucked up. Just seeing the color red froze her up worse than a seized engine. If she did not overcome that fear on her own, she expected she never would. But Lance kept interfering. He just never seemed to know when to stand down and when it was okay to step in. When he’d learned about her recent issues, he’d actually gone so far as to try and ban anything red from Delilah’s, the bar that served as a clubhouse for the Wild Hunt. Well-intentioned as his effort was, she stopped him straight away. Besides being impractical, a solution like that threatened to cripple her for good. Remnants of an older fear rose up at that thought. She would let no one make her weak again.

No one.

As she stood there trying to rally for the day, the room around her took on a steadily growing reddish tinge reflected from the rising sun. Suzanne tensed and refused to close her eyes against the sight. She fought to get control of the panic, resisting the urge to crawl back into Lance’s arms and pretend herself safe. She wouldn’t do it, though; unlike her father, she made a point of never lying, even to herself. The faster her heart beat, the more her skin crawled, as if distant eyes watched her, waiting eagerly for the chance to bleed her. Surrounded by the dawn’s haze she relived the attack; the flood of red light swept her back to the blasted crossroads, bound and helpless as the Dubh Fae’s Dragon Tears ate through her skin and flesh, and the redcaps feasted on her free-flowing blood. Suzanne shuddered. The panic gained ground until she nearly crumpled to the floor. Sheer will alone kept her standing tall, her slender frame too rigid now to tremble. An improvement after last night, where she’d been curled nearly fetal in Lance’s arms, but still unacceptable. She reminded herself that those who had harmed her couldn’t get past the shields safeguarding the property, including Delilah’s and the living space above the bar.

It didn’t help. The true demons lived in her head.

Deep beneath the trauma from the attack lurked her true fear: that her father was right. That she was weak and could not defend herself. She’d fought against those beliefs her whole life. That was likely the reason so many of her gifts to Lance—and anyone else she cared for—provided protection, right down to the magic tattoo of her likeness that linked their awareness. As if proving that she could take care of others meant she could look out for herself, too. Only…look how well she’d botched that.

Again Lance stirred in the bed behind her; he grumbled and came a little more awake. The flashback lost part of its grip on her as her thoughts latched on to him. His strength and presence tempted her to depend on him, to let him protect her. Furious with herself, she scrubbed her hand hard across tear-dampened cheeks.
Before he roused fully, Suzanne leaned over and tucked the warm blanket back around him, ran her hand gently over the soft waves of his light brown hair, lying long and loose over the pillow. “It’s okay, babe,” she murmured by his ear, a bit of magic giving weight to her words. Her heart surged and a smile crept across her lips. Impulse took her and she brushed a tender kiss across his brow. “Go back to sleep. I’m going downstairs.”

She watched to make sure Lance drifted to sleep again before leaving the room. Grabbing her leather jacket from the closet by the apartment door, she carefully kept her eyes averted from the pile of winter gear on the shelf above it. The knit hats were a mix of all colors, but Lance’s favorite—red—dominated. Suzanne shuddered as another flash of memory superimposed the leering, bloody face of a redcap over the pile of hats. Squeezing her eyes closed tight she fought the renewed anxiety the flashback caused. She stumbled back and the sleeve of her jacket caught on something. Opening her eyes, she saw an old air rifle with a blown gasket that Lance hadn’t had the time to fix yet. Suzanne reached out, her hand lingering on the stock of the gun. An idea took root as she forced her gaze back to the pile of knit caps. Last night she’d told Lance she would handle this problem of hers…

Now seemed like a good time.

It took a massive effort to fight past her aversion, but she reached up and managed to pick through the jumble of winter hats. Her hand shook violently as she plucked out every red one she could find, shoving them into the sleeve of her jacket where she wouldn’t see them until she had to.

Downstairs, in the back room of the bar, Delilah—Lance’s aunt—kept an entire closet full of well-maintained paintball gear: from weapons and protection, to marker flags and CO2 cartridges, not to mention a whole case of paintballs in ridiculous neon colors. That stockpile was the key to Suzanne’s plan. Well, that, and the fact the Wild Hunt owned all the acreage within a two-mile radius of the bar.
She headed for Delilah’s office off the kitchen to retrieve the ring of supply closet keys hanging just inside the door. She then returned to the back room and pulled all of the gear she wanted from the closet. Everything lay ready and waiting by the time the first footsteps sounded on the stairs. Jon, Lance’s uncle and fellow exiled Fae, didn’t appear surprised—by her or the pile of gear on the table—though the stack of stocking caps did seem to puzzle him a moment until he clued to the fact they were all red.

“Dušan doesn’t have any idea what you’re up to, does he?”

Her eyes narrowed. Jon rarely used the name the Four Winds had given Lance when the Hunt was formed; the subtle reminder that anyone wearing colors answered to him brought out her spirit of rebellion. “You going to help, or get in the way?”
Jon’s hands went up along with one corner of his mouth. “Me? I know better than that. S’long as you don’t plan anything stupid, I got your back.” He joined her at the table, picked up a Tippman pneumatic pistol, and made a show of inspecting it, then preparing it for use.

“You know, wanting to protect you isn’t the same thing as thinking you aren’t capable of protecting yourself,” he finally said, without looking up from the air gun he loaded.

Suzanne ground her teeth as she glared at her hands. Her knuckles had gone white. She glanced back at Jon. “It’s not what Lance thinks that I’m concerned about.”
Across the table, Jon’s head snapped up, a protest on his lips as he stared at her intently from beneath a shag of dark brown hair. His natural, deep purple highlights glimmered under the glamour that hid his magical state from most mundane folk.
Before he could speak, Suzanne went on, her words hurried. “Or the Club…I’m the one that has to get my head on straight, before I start thinking I can’t hack it.”
Jon nodded slowly, his rich bronze-brown eyes fairly swirling in sympathetic memory. For a moment both of them remained silent as he held her gaze. Then Jon laid the readied pistol down and settled back in his chair.

“I understand,” he said, and she could see he really did—both what she’d said, and what she hadn’t—as plain as the haunted look in his eyes. They sat in taut silence, inspecting and readying the gear as they waited for more bodies to arrive.

The Redcaps’ Queen is the sequel to The Halfling Court and is told from the point of view of Suzanne. To write and say that it is a “sequel” is kind of a misnomer as part of the book takes place at the same time as the first book. We just get to read a different viewpoint.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail expands on the feelings of one of the main characters, but we are still left in the dark about some of the others. There is action, battles, magic, and blood. Lots of blood as blood is at the core of this story. I like the premise of this story.

I do have to confess that I wanted to read this book because I love roller-derby. There was not enough roller-derby (laugh). Can there ever be?

Reading this book made some things in the first book make sense, yet I still felt in the dark about other things. It was not until I was formatting the review for the first book that I noticed that McPhail has written Bad Ass Fairie Tales in Anthologies so I wonder if there are other stories that were written before this that would make these books clearer. Just wondering.

Read what the author has to say about their books below.

I received an ARC of this book and I am writing a review without prejudice and voluntarily.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

 “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.” at no additional cost to you.

An Interview with Danielle Ackley-McPhail:

What inspired you to write this book?
The Halfling’s Court and its sequel, The Redcaps’ Queen were cross-pollinated by several different sources converging. First, on my way to Richmond, Virginia one year, for a convention called RavenCon, I happened to witness a biker stampede. This, for those who are unaware, is when you have miles and miles of bikers traveling in a group together to a specific destination where the journey itself is a part of the event. These are choreographed events involving police escorts, emergency vehicles, club colors, American flags and just awe-inspiring amounts of leather, chrome, and engine rumble. Completely, utterly, bad-ass. Fortunate for us, they were going in the opposite direction and we could observe the awesomeness without being one of those barricaded from entering the highway until they passed. That image has always stuck with me.

Soon after we witnessed that we came up with the idea for an anthology series called Bad-Ass Faeries where the only instructions authors were given was to pair faeries with a human occupation people automatically pictured as bad-ass. You know I picked bikers, right?

When those anthologies proved to be so wildly popular they were cited in the New York Times article as a good representation of the modern faerie genre, the natural progression was to expand the most popular stories into novellas.

What can we expect from you in the future?
I write all over the place, basically doing my best to be unexpected 😉 Right now I am working on a military science fiction novel called Daire’s Devils about an elite unit rooting out subversives that have infiltrated the vessel they are stationed on, only the line between the good guys and the bad guys blur when members of their own unit are suspected. In line behind that, though, is The High King’s Fool, which is the third book in the Wild Hunt M.C. saga.

Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
A new anthology released recently called Bad Ass Moms (edited by Mary Fan and published by Crazy 8 Press), my story in the book features both Lance and Suzanne, the main characters from The Halfling’s Court and The Redcaps’ Queen. This story is the seed for the next book. It “gives away” something major, but I don’t mind, because that is just the setup for bigger things that no one anticipated. It felt so good to delve into their story once more. I am amazed at how easy it was to slip into Suzanne’s voice even after several years. This world is rich and gritty and tactile. It will imprint the reader’s understanding just as it has imprinted mine. I don’t know where it comes from, but I know these people and they are not done with me yet.

Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in The Halfling’s Court and The Redcaps’ Queen?
There are four main factions in The Wild Hunt M.C. saga: The traditional fae, that hold to Underhill and are ruled by a mad tyrant (sound familiar?), the biker faeries that have had enough and defected to the human realm, the human bikers they have aligned with, and the founding members of the Wild Hunt Motor Club; our main character, Lance Cosain, who is half fae and half human, and four mysterious elementals that have aligned with Lance for reasons of their own. Though the bikers keep to themselves, the High King of Underhill see them as a threat to his power and all hell breaks loose when he tries to neutralize the threat.

How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
Well, the main concept of biker faeries came out of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies, of which I was the senior editor. The concept was to pair the concept of faeries with some human occupation people automatically thought of as bad-ass, to restore the perception of faeries to their former, if at times, dark, malevolent, or powerful origins.

As for the characters themselves, the main male protagonist is loosely modeled after my uncle, who is the president of a motor club, the female protagonist is loosely based on his wife. Some of the other characters presented themselves, others are based on figures from mythology, or are in tribute to other family members.

Where did you come up with the names in the story?
The main conflict in the first book is in a nutshell: the king of the road versus the king of the fae. It is a power struggle because any time a fae defects, they gravitate toward the Wild Hunt Motor Club, which was founded by exiled fae and the offspring of exiled fae. The club’s members also tend to be humans, fae, or other beings of power who would not only be accepting and knowledgeable about the way of the fae, but also represent a group powerful enough to defend its members against outside hostile forces (ie, Underhill). So basically, the bike club is viewed as a rival to the fae court, and the leader of the club is half human and half fae, so by definition, a halfling, thus The Halfling’s Court.

That title set up precedence. When The Redcaps’ Queen came up, the title was logical both in keeping with the first title, and due to the nature of one of the conflicts in the book. The main character, this time Suzanne, Lance’s woman, takes center stage. She has gotten herself cursed…actually, she unknowingly cursed herself and is slowly becoming a rare and unheard of female redcap. And I can’t tell you anymore…you’ll just have to find out what happens for yourself 😉

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
It would have to be the biker slang. They have an entire language all their own, fortunately there are plenty of sites that will tell you what it is, translate it for you, and even give you examples of usage. Delving into the biker culture and capturing that feel was a rush. I didn’t tell my uncle I was doing this…or that I modeled the main character on him. Once I was done the first story that became the seed for the novel I just sent it to him and asked him to read it for me…I didn’t even tell him why. My crowning achievement was when he sent back feedback and all he did was tell me I put Suzanne on the wrong kind of bike, and he told me the answering phrase to one of the slang terms I used, which the site I found it on didn’t include.

Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?
Really? Truthfully? They just want to be left alone! They have created their family of outcasts and abused souls, made a safe haven for them all, and just want to enjoy their freedom and the open road…only outside forces won’t leave them alone. Lance’s given name…as in the name the founding members of the club (who call themselves the Four Winds, even though each one of them represents a different element) gave him is Dusan, which means Spirit…which is the fifth of Aristotle’s elements. He is a nurturer and a caretaker, a born leader, the true spirit of the club. In biker terms, he is a Wind Walker, one who is well-respected for looking out for others on the road, only Lance doesn’t limit his protection or help to the road. Most of the Wild Hunt live by that code, valuing honor and community.

Further Details:
Publisher: Paper Phoenix Press, 9781942990703, 2013, 1 March 2019
Compass Rose illustration: Linda Saboe
Interior Design: Danielle McPhail
Cover Layout: Mike McPhail, McP Digital Graphics
Copyeditor: Greg Schauer
Narrator: George Kuch
Series: Bad-Ass Fairie Tale #2
Pages: 210
Sex: PG

Promotion materials provided by Silver Dagger Book Tours.

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