Today marks the official kickoff of the The Hollow Gods Book Tour presented by Storytellers On Tour, and throughout the week we’ve got a great lineup helping us spotlight this incredible Dark Fantasy/Magical Realism tale! The Hollow Gods is the first installment in A. J. Vrana’s The Chaos Cycle series, and I’ve head the pleasure of getting my hands on an early copy of this stunning book, as well as hosting A. J. in my Ladies of Grimdark feature. This story…this story. If you’re looking for a beautifully surreal, captivating, and genre-bending novel, you can’t go wrong with Vrana’s debut.
Read my full review and author spotlight here.
Instead of the conventional Meet the Author interview, A. J. was kind enough to stop and give us insight into the inspirations for some of the core elements of The Hollow Gods, so keep scrolling for the tour schedule, more info about the book, and her guest post on Slavic folklore.
We’ve enlisted a group of wonderful and talented bloggers and Bookstagrammers to help us feature The Hollow Gods. This is what we have going on, so make sure to check out each and every one throughout the week for some brilliant content, including reviews, interviews, and more.
JULY 26TH–THE WELCOMING
Whispers & Wonder
The Sword Smith
Cosmic Lattes and Books
Betwixt The Sheets
Fantasy Book Critic
The Bookish Fae
A Bronx Latina Reads
Armed with A Book
The Coycaterpillar Reads
JULY 11TH–THE ENCORE
For more about this tour visit Storytellers On Tour.
A perfect story for contemporary fantasy readers who love their narratives razor-sharp and their secrets dark and deadly.
Black Hollow is a town with a dark secret.
For centuries, residents have foretold the return of the Dreamwalker—an ominous figure from local folklore said to lure young women into the woods and possess them. Yet the boundary between fact and fable is blurred by a troubling statistic: occasionally, women do go missing. And after they return, they almost always end up dead.
When Kai wakes up next to the lifeless body of a recently missing girl, his memory blank, he struggles to clear his already threadbare conscience.
Miya, a floundering university student, experiences signs that she may be the Dreamwalker’s next victim. Can she trust Kai as their paths collide, or does he herald her demise?
And after losing a young patient, crestfallen oncologist, Mason, embarks on a quest to debunk the town’s superstitions, only to find his sanity tested.
A maelstrom of ancient grudges, forgotten traumas, and deadly secrets loom in the foggy forests of Black Hollow. Can three unlikely heroes put aside their fears and unite to confront a centuries-old evil? Will they uncover the truth behind the fable, or will the cycle repeat?
A. J. Vrana is a Serbian-Canadian academic and writer from Toronto, Canada. She lives with her two rescue cats, Moonstone and Peanut Butter, who nest in her window-side bookshelf and cast judgmental stares at nearby pigeons. Her doctoral research examines the supernatural in modern Japanese and former-Yugoslavian literature and its relationship to violence. When not toiling away at caffeine-fueled, scholarly pursuits, she enjoys jewelry-making, cupcakes, and concocting dark tales to unleash upon the world.
On Slavic Folklore
by A. J. Vrana
People in North America and Western Europe are familiar with Germanic, Nordic, and some Celtic folklore. So much of what we consider to be fairy tale is rooted in the tradition started by the Grimm brothers, who we typically think of as the fathers of European folk traditions. However, the Grimm brothers didn’t develop folklore studies in a vacuum and were in contact with other folklorists and literary scholars around Europe. In fact, Jacob Grimm got some of his most influential ideas from Serbian folklorist Vuk Karadzic, who spent his adult life travelling throughout the Balkans to collect oral folk tales from rural villages. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we live in a highly interconnected world, and this has been the case since globalization began in the 19th century. In truth, folklorists from around the globe were sharing and borrowing ideas from one another long before Disney began turning fairy tales into film.
Recently, publishing has seen an explosion of Slavic folklore-based fantasy, including Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy, Emily Duncan’s Something Dark and Holy Trilogy, and Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver. However, most of these books focus on Eastern Slavic folklore—that is, from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Slavs are actually the largest group of people in Europe who share a common linguistic heritage, and with language comes the transmission of folklore and cosmological beliefs. However, there are always regional differences, and the South Slavic world has its own unique folktales—some of which have spawned some of the world’s most famous fantastical figures.
Did you know the word ‘vampire’ is actually South Slavic (Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, and Bulgarian), and that the first historical records of vampires are from Serbia and Bosnia? The word vampir first spread to the German lexicon, and subsequently other Western European languages, thanks to reports by Austrian military physicians investigating cases of vampiricism in Serbia, Bosnia, and Wallachia. The word ‘vampir’ is mostly commonly associated with the South Slavic tongues and was then passed on to the rest of the Slavic world and Western Europe. By the time Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, the vampire had already been stalking the South Slavic world for centuries, and records from Austrian military physicians date back to about 1725, over 150 years before Dracula. Unfortunately, Bram Stoker’s mythos is mostly informed by his own colonial imagination, and not by the actual folklore found in the Balkans.
But okay, that’s not the only weird folklore from that region. Another that inspired me personally when writing The Hollow Gods, and even more so its sequel, The Echoed Realm, can be found in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and some parts of Serbia: the Kukeri dancers. These shamanistic figures were responsible for chasing away evil spirits with magical bells, and every year, Bulgaria holds a festival in their honour. The Kukeri dancers dress up in animal fur and animal-themed masks, dance through the streets, and ring their bells to scare off the bad juju. Sometimes, seeing is believing, so check out the link below and feast your eyes:
Last but not least, there’s a particular folk tale recorded by Vuk Karadzic that is near and dear to my heart. The name ‘Vuk’ is actually very popular throughout the South Slavic world, and its meaning is very simple: wolf. While the wolf has historically been a villain in most Western folk traditions, the South Slavs revered wolves for their courage, their ferocity, and their dedication to their kin. This made them a popular totem animal, and at some points in history, it was illegal to kill wolves. Vuk Karadzic recorded one oral folk tale that went like this:
It was said that when a woman lost her children to stillbirth or miscarriage, it was because the child’s soul had been taken by witches or evil spirits. To prevent this from happening again, the woman would name her next unborn child Vuk (aka wolf), because it was thought that wolves were the only creature witches and evil spirits feared. Believing the unborn child to be a literal wolf, the menaces would leave the baby unharmed.
For those of you who’ve read The Hollow Gods (or plan on reading it!), this story might be a useful one to keep in mind! A lot of the book is loosely inspired by South Slavic folklore, and there are a ton of little Easter eggs for my Slavic readers—names, like Gavran, that mean “raven,” and blurry boundaries between human/animal and physical/spiritual worlds, harkening back to these strange tales of creatures that straddle multiple realms.
Enter to win a poster of your choice – art featuring our favorite wolfie inspired by The Hollow Gods!
That’s all I got for ya! Be sure to keep an eye on the official The Hollow Gods tour page over at Storytellers On Tour (https://storytellersontour.online/2020/06/16/tour-schedule-the-hollow-gods-by-a-j-vrana/) to see what the other bloggers and Bookstagrammers have to say!