We are thrilled to announce that several of our authors were recognized in Tangent’s annual Recommended Reading List among some very prestigious company.

To give you the highlights relevant to eSpec Books:

From Footprints in the Stars,
edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” by Christopher L. Bennett (Footprints in the Stars, 7/19) SF (VS)

“The Black Box” by James Chambers (Footprints in the Stars, 7/19) SF (VS)

“The Sound of Distant Stars” by Judi Fleming (Footprints in the Stars, 7/19) SF (VS)

From (DTF8) In Harm’s Way, edited by Mike McPhail

“Slingshot” by Aaron Rosenberg (In Harm’s Way, 10/19) SF (TG)

“Medicine Man” by Robert E. Waters (In Harm’s Way, 10/19) SF (TG)

“Sympathetic” by Eric V. Hardenbrook (In Harm’s Way, 10/19) SF (TG)

Heroes of the RealmFrom Heroes of the Realm, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail (Published by RealmMakers)

“Hard’s Watcher” by Kerry Nietz (Heroes of the Realm, 7/19) SF (KPH)

“The Brick” by Jeffrey Lyman (Heroes of the Realm, 7/19) SF* (KPH) – One-Star Recommendation


Hard to believe we have been at this for five years, come October. That is a lot of blood, sweat, and cuss words…let me tell you! We have learned a lot and we have grown. We are making a name for ourselves and doing what we love. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like we are making too much progress, but then we look back and think “Damn!”

I did that today. My entire day has been nothing but entering and calculating data to see exactly what it is we’ve accomplished, by the numbers. So! Here it goes…

  1. We’ve published nine titles in electronic format only.
  2. We’ve published 39 titles in both print and electronic format.
  3. We have eight titles currently under review or in production.
  4. We have originated three imprints: eSpec Books, Paper Phoenix Press, and AGM Publications.
  5. We have three staff members: Danielle McPhail (publisher), Mike McPhail (art director/graphic designer), Greg Schauer (editor).
  6. Eight times out of eight times, we have paid out royalties either early or on time.
  7. We have zero company debt.
  8. We have a positive balance in each of our company accounts.

Those last three fill us with the greatest sense of accomplishment.

All-Time Top Bestsellers

  1. The Clockwork Witch by Michelle D. Sonnier
  2. The Sister Paradox by Jack Campbell
  3. The Weird Wild West
      edited by Misty Massey, Emily Lavin Leverett, and Margaret S. McGraw
  4. Issue in Doubt by David Sherman
  5. In All Directions by David Sherman
  6. Gaslight and Grimm edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine
  7. Dragon Precinct by Keith R.A. DeCandido
  8. The Best of Defending the Future edited by Mike McPhail
  9. Goblin Precinct by Keith R.A. DeCandido
  10. Unicorn Precinct by Keith R.A. DeCandido


In All Directions 2 x 3G&GRed-Gold Leaf-150Proof-DragonPrecinctNew-Proof-DTF1b

Goblin Precinct 2x3Proof-UnicornPrecinctproof-iwhk-coverproof-tbobaf

All-Time Highest Grossing

  1. The Sister Paradox by Jack Campbell
  2. The Clockwork Witch by Michelle D. Sonnier
  3. The Weird Wild West 
        edited by Misty Massey, Emily Lavin Leverett, and Margaret S. McGraw
  4. Issue in Doubt by David Sherman
  5. In All Directions by David Sherman
  6. Gaslight and Grimm edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine
  7. Dragon Precinct by Keith R.A. DeCandido
  8. The Best of Defending the Future edited by Mike McPhail
  9. If We Had Known edited by Mike McPhail
  10. Best of Bad-Ass Faeries edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Highlights of the last five years:

  • One title made it to the Bram Stoker Recommended Reading List.
  • Four titles were finalists for awards.
  • Two of those titles won those awards.
  • We have funded twelve successful crowdfunding campaigns (including one that is running right now – Defending the Future: In Harm’s Way.)
  • We have had the honor of publishing Faith Hunter, Jack Campbell, Brenda Cooper, David Sherman, Jody Lynn Nye, Jonathan Maberry, Bud Sparhawk, James Chambers, Jack McDevitt, Robert Greenberger, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Jeff Young, Michelle D. Sonnier, Bernie Mojzes, Aaron Rosenberg, Peter David, John C. Wright, Eric V. Hardenbrook, Christopher M. Hiles, Patrick Thomas, CJ Henderson, Judi Fleming, John L. French, Christopher L. Bennett, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, Misty Massey, Mike McPhail, John G. Hartness, RS Belcher, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Misty Massey, James R. Tuck, Robert E. Waters, David Sherman, Tonia Brown, Liz Colter, Scott Hungerford, Frances Rowat, Ken Schrader, Bryan C.P. Steele, Wendy N. Wagner, Christine Norris, Danny Birt, Jean Marie Ward, Elaine Corvidae, David Lee Summers, Kelly A. Harmon, Jonah Knight, Diana Bastine, Brian Koscienski & Chris Pisano, Adam P. Knave, Jesse Harris, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, John Passarella, Jeffrey Lyman,  L. Jagi Lamplighter,  James Daniel Ross, DL Thurston, Lee C. Hillman, NR Brown, John A. Pitts, Jennifer Brozek, Ronald T. Garner, Nancy Jane Moore, Maria V. Snyder, Lawrence M. Schoen, Andy Remic, Charles E. Gannon, John G. Hemry, Ian Randal Strock, Peter Prellwitz, Drew Bittner, Ty Johnson, Torah Contrill, Walt Ciechanowski, Hal Greenberg and Kenneth Shannon III, Erik Scott de Bie, Ed Greenwood, Christopher J. Burke, Jim Knipp, Herika R Raymer, Anton Kukal, Marie Vibbert, CB Droege, David Bartell,  Rie Sheridan Rose, Jean Buie, David M. Hoenig, Jamie Gilman Kress, Jean Rabe, David Boop, Leona Wisoker Robert M. Price, Leona Wisoker, Edward J. McFadden III, Tony Ruggiero, Janine K. Spendlove, Bryan J.L. Glass, James M. Ward, Kathleen David, and Vonnie Winslow Crist
  • We have projects in the works by Robert E. Waters, Christopher L. Bennett, Michelle D. Sonnier, James Chambers, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.
  • We have anthologies in the works with stories by Gordon Linzner, Lisanne Norman, Dayton Ward, and  Russ Colchamiro.

If you’ve made it all the way to the end here, thank you. It’s a lot of content but we are covering five years 😉 We’ll be making periodic posts throughout the year up to the anniversary. Thanks for joining us on this adventure!


eSpec Books is delighted to present to you:

(cover design by Mike McPhail of McP Digital Graphics)

Steampowered Tales of the Afterlife

edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Greg Schauer

While mankind can scarce hope to pierce the Veil without crossing it, a few intrepid souls will ever bend their will against the aether, combining artifice and the arcane to uncover its secrets. 

From voodoo death cults to the Day of the Dead, mummy parties, the wheel of reincarnation, the practice of death portraits, and so much more, these tales leave no gravestone unturned. 

Be it heaven or hell or the limbo in between, the hereafter is about to get ‘Punked.

With stories by Jody Lynn Nye, David Sherman, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, James Chambers, Michelle D. Sonnier, Jeffrey Lyman, Bernie Mojzes, Travis I. Sivart, Jeff Young, David Lee Summers, L. Jagi Lamplighter, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.


After a bit of a hiatus while we relocated and regrouped, eSpec Books is back with three delightfully punky tomes for your reading enjoyment. Won’t you help us make these fantastical books a reality? We bring you familiar favorites and shiny new names, but as always wonderful fiction. This campaign will allow us to cover production costs, pay the authors, and possibly include artwork in these books. It hasn’t launched yet, but you can check out the campaign here. And below you can read about the upcoming books…. 

 THE CLOCKWORK WITCH by Michelle D. Sonnier 

 The seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Arabella is destined to disappoint, when she was expected to shine. Though she descends from a long line of gifted witches she has earned the moniker of a “brown bud” showing no sign of magical talent. 

 When it truly seems her lot can grow no worse, she discovers an unnatural affinity for…of all things…technology. Not only are the mysteries of the mechanical world open to her, but her new-found ability allows her to manipulate them, making her the first ever clockwork witch and anathema to the nature of the witching world. 

 How will she come to grips with her new power when she must question if she will survive the judgement of her family and her peers? 

 SPIRIT SEEKER by Jeff Young 


 The Kassandra Leyden Adventures 

 The Leydens were people of extraordinary means. The father a well-known adventurer. The mother a spiritualist oft consulted by the government of New Britain. 

The daughter, Kassandra, inherent of both the skill and sense of adventure that made her parents great. But when her mother vanishes without a trace, and her father turns toward spirits of a fluid nature as he loses himself in memory, Kassandra is left to find her own way and purpose. She quickly learns a sense of caution as she discovers there is as much intrigue as adventure about the world she lives in. And not all those she’s had faith in are to be trusted. 

 With the whispers of spirits in her ear and unlikely allies at her back, Kassandra strives to defend both the living and the departed…after all… It’s the Spirit of the matter…

 AFTER PUNK: STEAMPOWERED TALES OF THE AFTERLIFE edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Greg Schauer 

 While mankind can scarce hope to pierce the Veil without crossing it, a few intrepid souls will ever bend their will against the aether, combining artifice and the arcane to uncover its secrets. 

 From voodoo death cults to the Day of the Dead, mummy parties, the wheel of reincarnation, the practice of death portraits, and so much more, these tales leave no gravestone unturned. 

 Be it heaven or hell or the limbo in between, the hereafter is about to get ‘Punked. 

 With stories by Jody Lynn Nye, David Sherman, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, James Chambers, Michelle D. Sonnier, Jeffrey Lyman, Bernie Mojzes, Travis I. Sivart, Jeff Young, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.  

Once again, you can preview the campaign for Tales of Paranormal Steampunk here, it should be launching in just a few days.



proof-tbobafThis is a part of our series of excerpts connected with our campaign for The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries. All of the authors have been selected based on fan and reviewer recognition as some of the best examples of Bad-Ass Faeries, representing over a decade of this award-winning series. If you are interested in learning more about The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, please check out our Kickstarter. #Make100

Grim Necessity

Jeffrey Lyman

Featherlight and her partner, Remy, strode down the corridor of the pixie wing of the maximum security prison, boots clacking on the floor. Remy tapped his billy club against his hip as he walked, a nervous habit. Full-sized bricks, painted white and stacked four high, had been used in the construction of the walls, and there was iron plating behind those bricks. Iron didn’t bother Featherlight, but Remy said it felt like an uncomfortable itch.

“I can’t believe Clank’s getting a visitor,” he said.

“Happens to the worst of us,” she replied, keeping her eyes open for trouble. “I can’t believe the warden’s allowing her to see a visitor.”

The corridor ended and P-wing opened up around them. They were on the top floor of four stories of cells, wrapped around a central, open core. The core had been strung back and forth with steel wire to keep the pixies from flying.

There were a lot of pixies inside today. The prison was on semi-lockdown because of an outbreak of fighting the day before. The warden was limiting the number of races out in the yards. Right now the brownies and faeries were out, and the pixies, ogres, and most of the dwarfs were inside.

Featherlight and Remy stopped in front of a cell. “Clankerbell. You have a visitor.” Remy grunted.

She didn’t agree with the warden allowing Clank to have a visitor.

All evidence indicated that she hadn’t been in the fight, but Featherlight knew Clank had been involved somehow. She always was. Clankerbell stood from her cot, looking bored. Plastic dog tags hung proudly on the wall behind her. They were a trophy, taken from the body of the Rottweiler that had bitten off her right wing.

“My reputation must be growing,” she said, staring at Featherlight. “They sent the Big Pig to fetch me this time.” She fanned her remaining left wing like a butterfly and glanced at Remy. “Who is it?”

She had gotten a new tattoo on her arm, Featherlight noticed. An inverted rainbow, meaning something like an upside-down cross. No matter how hard the warden tried, he couldn’t keep the pixies from getting colors for their prison tats. They practically shat colors, so what was the use?

“I have no idea who it is and I didn’t ask,” Remy said. “He’s either a dwarf or a short, hairy man. You ready?” Clank nodded and Remy bellowed back down to the guardhouse, “Open up number seventeen.”

The bars of Clankerbell’s cell clicked and whirred on their servos and slid to the side.

Featherlight tensed up. “You know the drill. Keep your hands to yourself and I won’t crush you.”

“Chill, Big Pig. We’re cool.” Clankerbell smirked and stepped out of her cell.

Featherlight was a protean shapeshifter who could change not only her looks, but her size. She could swell up in the corridor and mash Clankerbell into the wall in a second if there were trouble. She could also close up her wounds if someone knifed her. The warden always sent her into the fights, and the prisoners respected her abilities.

Clank carelessly sauntered down the corridor, whistling the same cheery song all Pixies whistled. Featherlight heard it in her head sometimes after long days. Remy walked behind them both to stay out of the ‘crush zone’ should Featherlight’s abilities be needed.

They passed a smaller cell with a single bell hanging from the ceiling, and it rang off-key in time with Clank. An ugly gremlin peeked out below the rim and Featherlight pointed at him. “Go back to sleep, Smear.” The greasy head vanished.

They passed through security, where Clankerbell was searched from top to bottom. Featherlight then led her through a mouse hole and into the secure visiting area. Birdcages hung where pixies could talk to their visitors. More docile inmates were allowed out into the larger Visitor’s Room to meet with family members directly. Clankerbell had never been docile.


Jeffrey Lyman is an engineer in the New York City area. His work has appeared in Sails and Sorcery, Trouble on the Water, and in The Defending the Future anthology series, including the Best of Defending The Future. He was co-editor of No Longer Dreams and the Bad-Ass Faeriesanthology series. He is a 2004 graduate of the Odyssey Writing School and was a finalist for the Writers of the Future Award.


Currently, Kickstarter is running a promotional campaign Make/100. As a part of that campaign, creators launch a project that includes a limited edition, 100-Backer reward.

eSpec is taking this opportunity to launch a project that is near and dear to my heart, a Best of Bad-Ass Faeries anthology commemorating a decade of this award-winning anthology series that has shocked and delighted readers through four epic volumes. The series is out of print, but we will bring you the highlights of its glory. <grin>


The stories selected for inclusion, based on fan and reviewer response, are as follows:

Bad-Ass Faeries  

  • Brian Koscienski & Chris Pisano – The Ballad of the Seven-Up Sprite  
  • Keith R.A. DeCandido – House Arrest
  • Adam P. Knave – Futuristic Cybernetic Faerie Assassin Hassballah  
  • Jesse Harris – Hidden in the Folds  

Just Plain Bad  

  • James Chambers – Way of the Bone  
  • CJ Henderson – Do You Believe?  
  • Danielle Ackley-McPhail – Within the Guardian Bell  
  • John Passarella – Twilight Crossing  
  • Jeffrey Lyman- Grimm Necessity  
  • Bernie Mojzes – Moonshine

In All Their Glory  

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter – A Not-So-Silent Night  
  • John L. French – So Many Deaths  
  • James Daniel Ross – The Natural-Born Spy  
  • Robert E. Waters – At The Grasshopper’s Hill  
  • Kelly A. Harmon – Selkskin Deep  

It’s Elemental  

  • DL Thurston – The Face of the Serpent  
  • Patrick Thomas – Looking a Gift Horse  
  • Jody Lynn Nye – Fifteen Percent  
  • Lee C. Hillman – Bad Blood  
  • NR Brown – Melia’s Best Wave

We hope you will help us celebrate these great authors!



This has been an interesting year for us at eSpec Books, in every connotation of the word.

We have held three successful Kickstarters, funding a total of seven books, we have released ten titles in print and/or ebook this year, and we have become self-employeed…but not salaried. 

Our Best Sellers for the year were:


  1. The Weird Wild West
  2. Gaslight & Grimm
  3. Best of Defending the Future
  4. POST
  5. Dogs of War – Reissued / In the Lamplight (tie)


  1. The Weird Wild West
  2. Gaslight & Grimm
  3. Best of Defending the Future
  4. Dogs of War – Reissue
  5. In the Lamplight

We have signed books with award-winning, bestselling authors  Jack Campbell, Brenda Cooper, Bud Sparhawk, and David Sherman, and have brought on some exciting newcomers in our anthology projects.

At Balticon we connected with old friends, had a fire alarm, and held a pretty amazing launch party where we got to meet quite a few of our authors for the first time in person, as well as gave away loads of prizes and sold lots of book. We also had enough goodies left over that we provided food for the party after us, and they still had leftovers to send to the con suite when they were done.


We have also started a new reprint line of books, Paper Phoenix Press and released our first title under that imprint.

All in all, this has been an amazing year of growth for us, if also one of readjustment.

Thank you all for joining us on this journey. We hope you’ll continue to follow along in the new year.

Be nice, be happy, be safe this holiday season!

Danielle McPhail, Mike McPhail, and Greg Schauer



We are doing something different this year. Instead of trying to grab everyone’s attention during this gift-giving season, we are having a sale AFTER the holiday.  From January 1 through January 7, all ebooks will be a mere 99 cents. So, if you’ve gotten some e-gift cards, or are just looking to treat yourself, here is your chance to score our amazing books for a steal! 

You can access the titles on Amazon by clicking on the below images. We’ll repost this when the sale goes live.


goodandevil-copy mam-proof-final New-Proof-DTF1b cover G&amp;GRed-Gold Leaf-150 lg-book-www CJcover-Mockup_lg final-esb-f2016

Solo Collections

 lamp-text-3 ancient open book with magic light and flying birds consigned-to-the-sea-2x3

Short Stories

Cover-Final-DownPlayground Fire-Cover FallofAutumnFINALebook JL-TTK-CoverFinal ebook-Final-Hourglass

NotOneWord Proof-Restavek TheOath DifferentCourage TheNatureOfMercy




Hi, everyone.

Hope you enjoyed your weekend and are rested up for the start of a new week.

Our Kickstarter campaign for new novels by Jack Campbell and Brenda Cooper is doing well at 66% with three weeks to go. We have 90 backers currently. Just 10 more unlocks the first Bonus Backer reward, an ebook copy of David Sherman’s 18th Race novel, Issue In Doubt.

Also, we have finalized our We Funded Prize pack. Here are the details.

WE FUNDED PRIZE PACK – All backers at the $20 or higher level will have a chance to win:  

  • Children of Men (Blu-ray)  
  • City of Ember (DVD)  
  • Dungeons and Dragons complete animated series (DVD)  
  • The Neverending Story 1 & 2 (DVD)  
  • Keep Portland Weird T-Shirt (actual design dependent on availability at the time the campaign completes, but I’m hoping for the one pictured here because I want one too.)  
  • J2 by Phoebe Wray (print)  
  • So It Begins, edited by Mike McPhail, with stories by David Sherman, Charles E. Gannon, John C. Wright, James Daniel Ross, Jonathan Maberry, James Chambers, Patrick Thomas, Andy Remic, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jeffrey Lyman, Jack Campbell, Mike McPhail, Bud Sparhawk, Tony Ruggiero, and CJ Henderson (print)  
  • River: An Anthology, edited by Alma Alexander, with stories by Mary Victoria, Tiffany Trent, Irene Radford, Jay Lake, Deb Taber, Jacey Bedford, Keffy R.M. Kehrli, Joshua Palmatier, Brenda Cooper, Seanan McGuire, Ada Milenkovic Brown, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, and Nisi Shawl. (print)  
  • An honest-to-goodness, one-of-a-kind Dragon for your very own


(Actual picture not yet available…dragons being elusive and all.)

We will also, as with campaigns past, have a pre-funding bonus reward level once we hit the $3000 benchmark. Details are not yet available, but I will update you as soon as they are.

If you know someone who might find this campaign of interest, please let them know. The sooner we hit this goals the sooner everyone gets bonuses, not to mention two fantastic books. We have faith we will get there, so much so that both books have already begun the editing process and POST is ready to go to production, so this won’t quite be instant gratification, but it will be darn close.

The url is

Thank you,




As a part of our Man and Machine campaign we were fortunate enough to also fund a Best of collection. We have made our final determinations and are proud to share with you the following:

The embers of war still glow as memories of strange skies over an alien landscape, light-years from home, bring back the sensations of battle; a time when personal sacrifice meant the difference between salvation for all, or total destruction.  

Gathered here is a cross-section of stories from the first decade of the Defending The Future series. Written by the known and up-and-coming in the military science fiction genre, these stories represent the fan-requested highlights from the series.


And now, we are excited to announce the stories selected for The Best of Defending The Future, in no particular order.

From Breach the Hull  

  • Jack McDevitt – Black to Move  
  • John C. Wright – Peter Power Armor  
  • Lawrence M. Schoen – Thresher  
  • Jeffrey Lyman – Compartment Alpha  

From So It Begins  

  • Andy Remic – Junked  
  • Danielle Ackley-McPhail – First Line  
  • Charles E. Gannon – To Spec  
  • Bud Sparhawk – The Glass Box  
  • CJ Henderson – Everything’s Better with Monkeys  

From By Other Means  

  • James Chambers – Mother of Peace  
  • Jeff Young – Blankets  
  • Mike McPhail – Sheepdog  
  • John G. Hemry – Dawn’s Last Light  
  • Robert E. Waters – Devil Dancer  

From No Man’s Land  

  • Nancy Jane Moore – Gambit  
  • Maria V. Snyder – Godzilla Warfare  
  • Brenda Cooper – Cracking the Sky  

From Best Laid Plans  

  • Keith R.A. DeCandido – The Stone of the First High Pontiff  
  • David Sherman – Chitter Chitter Bang Bang  
  • Judi Fleming – Iron Horses


As a company we cut our teeth on anthologies. Now we are ready to graduate to something more meaty. Our next campaign begins Monday and we are really excited about it. 

>This one is for two original novels: The Sister Paradox, a fantasy offering by Jack Campbell; and POST, a science fiction dystopia novel by Brenda Cooper. You can check out the campaign in advance at


Finally, for those who haven’t heard yet, Joshua Palmatier of Zombies Need Brains started a new campaign yesterday. This one is for three anthologies, about Robots, Water, and Death. Check it out here: One day in and they are a third of the way there. There are some really awesome authors involved, like Jody Lynn Nye, Faith Hunter, Gini Koch, Misty Massey and Rosemary Edgehill, just to name a few.

Have a good night and enjoy your weekend. Me, I’m off to Star Trek Mission New York at the Javits Center. If by chance you happen to be there a well, come say Hi! I’ll be at the Quidd booth, which is #331.



eSpec Books and author Jeffrey Lyman are proud to announce the release of The Troll King, a novella-length steampunk interpretation of The Troll King’s Daughter, now available on Amazon.


Life is no faerie tale under the rule of the Troll King.

Each year the eldest sons of the conquered kingdoms must present themselves at the court of King Klamp. If they survive three days of challenges against armored ogres they will receive enough gold to buy their village. Most will be lucky to make it one hour. Given his physical challenges, Jack is not expected to last five minute.

Just goes to show, they don’t know Jack.

Please enjoy the below excerpt.

The Troll King

Jeffrey Lyman

Jack followed the forty-seven other young men across the drawbridge and into the mighty castle of Klamp the Magnificent, The Troll King. It wasn’t the scarred granite wall above, target of many catapult attacks, which slowed him. Or the heads on spikes, in a horrific row stretching to left to right across the battlements. Or even the massive ogres standing guard on either side of the gate. No, what slowed him were his twisted and uneven legs, which weren’t cooperating today.

He’d already accepted his fate, and refused to let himself cry like some of the others. He was the eldest son in his family, after all, and at nearly eighteen, he knew he had to set an example for his brothers and sisters, and for his village. Next year it would be some other boy’s turn on this drawbridge—some other eldest son.

Leaning on his stout hickory staff, making his feet move, Jack passed the two ogres all decked out in gray steel and leather straps. Jack stared enviously at the pistons and tracking gears at their knees. If he had something like that, he could walk behind the plow as well as his father. He could court one of the village girls.

Wishes were useless. Might as well wish he could fly as wish he had steam-driven legs like the ogres.

Jack passed from sunlight into the shadows of the entry tunnel, then back into the bright light of the castle’s courtyard. Crowds clustered to watch the parade of eldest sons. Guards of all shapes and sizes stood everywhere: imps and ogres, trolls, even a fair number of men. They had tried to maintain a path for the boys to walk, but with the main crowd of sons already through and Jack lagging behind, the path had begun to break down. Grieving parents who had accompanied the boys moved toward the inner gate. Jack wished his family had come, but there was no money for travel and they couldn’t leave the farm untended for days on end.

Jack hurried, using his strong arms and his staff to push his legs more quickly. A few in the crowd jeered at him, no more than normal, but most were already focused on the spectacle inside. Some of their sons would survive, some always did, and the crowds loved to bet.

Beyond the inner gate, the crowds were shunted by a truly massive ogre toward the side stairs and the upper viewing galleries. Jack looked up warily at the fat, green beast towering over him. This one didn’t even wear armor, and rested a huge maul hammer on its shoulder. Jack barely came up to its bellybutton.

He sped up again as a well-dressed young man in crimson velvet gestured impatiently from the door into the inner court. Jack was careful to keep his feet under him, planted as best they could, but he wanted to stop and touch that velvet. He’d never seen anything like it up close.

“You won’t last five minutes,” the young man smirked as Jack struggled by.

Jack held up for a moment, balanced carefully on his feet, and whipped his staff around into the back of the man’s knees. As the man pitched forward, Jack smoothly continued the rotation of the other end of the stick across the man’s ribs, then spun it around again and planted it before he toppled over.

“You didn’t last one minute,” Jack said to the man gasping and wheezing on the cold stone floor. He didn’t think he’d broken anything. He’d learned the hard way how to handle the boys who wanted to cause trouble, after years of being shoved and tripped and punched. And once he’d started using his staff, he’d also learned not to hurt them so badly they couldn’t work their fathers’ farms. Life depended on the harvest, and you didn’t do that to a family. Just before Jack reached the inner door of the ballroom, the young man hurriedly limped past him with a glare. He couldn’t retaliate with everyone watching, but Jack gripped his stick and touched the wall with his fingertips for balance just in case. He never took the shame of a beaten man for granted.

Emerging from the narrow entry hall like a cow into the slaughterhouse, Jack stopped, agape. He craned his head. He’d never imagined you could be in a space so large and still be inside. It was like standing in a vast field surrounded by towering trees, only the trees were stone and the sky was too. Great banners hung from every mighty column. The skins of the six kings the Troll King had defeated, along with those of their sons and their generals, were arrayed across the high walls. Stone Ribs crisscrossed the ceiling in ornate patterns. Gas flames danced in braziers along every wall. The hall dwarfed the group of eldest sons and their guards. It dwarfed the crowded galleries of spectators. It dwarfed the six captive kings—younger sons or dissolute nephews of those originally defeated six—on small thrones flanking the Troll King. It even dwarfed the Troll King himself, despite the mechanical armor that made him thrice as large as life.

Men made this? It had truly been a golden age of art and engineering before the Troll King arrived. There was even an ornate, raised pond built next to the king’s throne.

“Eldest sons,” boomed the Troll King from his throne of granite slabs, “approach. Be honored this summer solstice.”

The guards had to push and shove to get the terrified group into motion. Even then the pace was so reluctant and broken that Jack had little problem keeping up. Feet shuffled across square flagstones as broad as a man was tall. Jack kept his head high as the swelling cheers and shouts and whistles from the galleries drowned out the other boys’ whimpers. The galleries were alive with waving arms and smiling faces. Jack’s attention was pulled from the vast room by the spectacle of drunk nobles thronging the upper galleries and commoners the lower. The whole six kingdoms must be here. He’d never seen clothing in such vibrant colors, all the colors of the six kingdoms in their loudest hues. One moment he felt naked in his linen tunic and trousers, and the next he wondered how you could move with so much fabric tangling your legs and arms.

The Troll King stood and the galleries quieted. He was smaller than a grown man, misshapen, but he sat resplendent in the armor’s seat with each of his limbs sheathed in leather and black iron, riveted brass and chains, gears and linkages. His legs extended three times as long as nature had gifted him, and where his feet lay visible in tight stirrups, massive geared knees bent backward like a rooster’s. Likewise, each of the long, mechanical toes of the armor’s feet ended in sharp, curved talons. How could the six subjugate kings bear sitting next to him?

Jack, used to being far to the rear of crowds, found himself at the front as boys shoved back. He felt exposed.

“Now,” the Troll King rumbled, “you are the finest young men of your small kingdoms.” His gaze drifted across Jack and he felt himself blush. “Or you are the ones lucky enough to get chosen by your councils. You will prove yourselves in three contests over the next three days. Those who survive will be granted six purses of gold, one from each kingdom. Enough to buy your home villages.” He laughed to himself, a chuffing, grunting laugh. With a clanking clatter, his legs unfolded and he rose higher than the armored trolls standing at his right and left. “The one I deem the winner will be granted an additional boon, if you amuse me.”

His left arm, with an elbow near at his natural hand just as the mechanical legs were knee-hinged at his feet, ended in a wooden cudgel embedded with iron spikes instead of a hand. His right arm ended in a mockery of a hand, each finger a knife blade. The knives clattered restlessly and tiny puffs of steam continually erupted from the armor’s joints.

Those nervous knives rose delicately and tapped a measure on the Troll King’s armored chest. There was an occasional wet splash from the raised pond beside him as something breached the surface and then subsided again. The king leaned down and brushed the reflective water with the bare tips of his finger-knives, trailing ripples as everyone watched, mesmerized. Jack jumped along with everyone else as the king drove his knives down through the surface up to the wrist of the armor.

He swiveled back to his audience and raised his grotesquely elongated arm, lifting a large fish on the ends of the blades. Jack thought it looked like a carp, but it was mottled with brilliant golds and ivory whites. Then the king tugged his flesh-and-blood arm out of the armor and yanked the fish free. He bit deeply into its side.

“Even though they are my beloved pets,” he said, chewing, “they exist for me to eat. Remember that.” He tossed the fish onto the floor and shoved his arm back into the harness of the armor.

“I have had suits of armor made for you,” he continued. “Three suits, one for each day of the challenge. Tomorrow you will be released into the King’s Wood to be hunted by my hungry ogres, also in armor.” Faces drained of color. No one wanted to face the ogres, their hunger was legendary. “Different challenges will greet you on the later days. Some of you will survive, many will not, so try to enjoy yourselves.

“Let the feast begin!”

Cheers from the galleries greeted his pronouncement.

The group of boys was quickly divided into six, one group for each kingdom, and seated at tables in a side room of a more modest size. The feast was greater than any of them had ever seen, though Jack knew that quite a few of his companions, as eldest sons of their villages, had some money. But village wealth was not city wealth, and meat was reserved for holy days in the villages. Jack dug into a great slab of pork with fervor.

He had hoped the six kings might appear to offer a benediction, and he wanted to see his king in Taurriggen blue up close. Instead they endured a steady stream of lords and ladies and merchant princes sizing them up for the betting. The lords bore the same look on their faces as his uncle did when sizing up dogs at the dogfights. Who’s fastest, strongest, hungriest? Some boys huddled over their food, heads down, others preened at the attention. Jack watched everything. A lady in flouncy Adhenion yellow could barely fit her skirts down the aisles between tables, while the lady in narrow-cut, Ghurian white behind her looked annoyed. An elegant, young woman in brilliant green with long, thick, chestnut hair stood by the far wall, her eyes far away.

One of the ogres clomped by in steam-armor, pounding the floor in wheezing, piston-driven steps, its bald head nearly touching the high ceiling. Flouncy yellow struggled to get out of the aisle while green’s expression turned fierce and angry. She watched the ogre pass and then caught Jack looking at her. She turned and walked from the room at a controlled pace. Jack watched her go and then looked at the ogre. How fast could they run in that kit? They’d beaten the armies of men when the Troll King arrived from the west, but those knights had been running at the ogres, not away.

He jumped, startled, as someone tapped him brusquely on the shoulder. It was an older lord in a teal-checkered waistcoat with broad lapels and high collar. “Excuse me, boy.”

“I’m Jack, son of…”

“Do you think you’ll last more or less than five minutes?” The man held up a gold pocket watch on a chain. He smelled of sweet liquor. “I need to place my bet.”

Jack glanced at the two bemused men standing behind and then back to the lord. “I plan on winning.”

The man stood and barked a loud laugh.

“Oh,” said Jack, faking a smile, “then by all means bet everything you have that I’ll trip in less than a minute.”

“Cheers.” The man raised a pretend-glass and staggered off.

“Don’t mind him,” said one of the other two as they started to follow. “He gets excited during these games. It’s all we’ve got.”

The gas lights along the walls burned with a steady, sulfurous light, so unlike the warm tallow candles of his mother’s table. Jack watched the trio go, disliking everything about this cold stone place and the notion that these were just games.


eSpec Books is proud to announce our newest electronic release, Down on the Playground, by Jeffrey Lyman.


It is now available Amazon.

We hope you’ll add it to your GoodReads list.

Other Stories by Jeffrey Lyman

Fire-Cover                                 FallofAutumnFINALebook


Lord of Fire, Lord of Wind  

Fall of Autumn


We haven’t had one of these in a while. Releasing tomorrow, Down on the Playground by Jeffrey Lyman, one of the authors in our eSpec eShorts series of releases.



Elsi fears for her own sanity as she comes to grips with horrors both seen and unseen. How much of what she faces is in her own mind and how much of that will it take to destroy her? Some forces are better left alone, but Elsi isn’t given a choice. Sometimes you have to stare into the face of madness to find your own strength.


Elsi Latchka curled up at the head of her assigned bed, knees drawn up, headphones on, Iron Maiden loud, eyes closed. Not moving. Hoping her cocoon of darkness and white noise would hold. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t drown out the uneasy chattering of the dead. The voices grew louder every day while the doctors purged her system of old medications.

She hated the drugs and hated that she needed them, but she desperately hoped the doctors would find a new, working combination soon so she could go home. She had voluntarily come to the hospital after freaking out at work, but she didn’t like being here longer than she had to.

She was twenty-five, with deep-set eyes and a shock of black hair that betrayed her Slavic ancestry. During the last five years of being in and out of hospitals, Elsi had vacillated between believing in ghosts and believing they were paranoid hallucinations. She was perfectly sane when she was on her drugs. She could hold down a job and keep an apartment. When the drugs inevitably lost their efficacy, she saw and felt things no one else did, thing that could see her back. Then she didn’t believe they were hallucinations. Every night she stared at the ceiling in the dark and told herself it wasn’t real.


We are proud to announce the release of Jeffrey Lyman’s eShort, Lord of Fire, Lord of Wind, a tale of faith and courage.


A monarchy deposed. A city besieged. It is whispered in the streets that the salvation of the people lies in the chosen one…in royal blood. They lay their hope on Rhex, their warrior prince, returned from exile wielding the power of a FireLord. But how brightly does his flame burn? Even as he retakes the city, the winds of war howl at his heels.

In the shadow of her brother’s glorious return, Juliana, the crowned princess, gathers her tattered dignity around her and climbs from the mews where she has been trapped in servitude. Humble, but determined to regain her honor, she resumes her place at her brother’s side. Through adversity she found her inner fire, but will she—and her city—rise from the pyre or learn what it truly means to burn?

Now available on Amazon.

About the Author

Jeffrey Lyman is an engineer in the New York City area. His work has appeared in the anthologies Sails and Sorcery from Fantasist Enterprises, New Blood from Padwolf Publishing, and Breach the Hull, So It Begins, By Other Means, Best Laid Plans, and Dragon’s Lure from Dark Quest Books. He was co-editor of No Longer Dreams and all four volumes of the award-winning Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series. He is a 2004 graduate of the Odyssey Writing School, and won 2nd place in the fourth quarter of the 27th Annual Writers of the Future Award.


We are proud to announce the release of Jeffrey Lyman’s eShort, The Fall of Autumn, a tale of steampunk ingenuity and courage.


So many lives are changed or lost as one by one the ancient bridges fail, succumbing to time and attacks by horrific beasts from inside the trans-dimensional gates. Just one bridge remains—Autumn—and should it fall all connection between the far-flung cities will be lost, sundering families and leaving the populace bereft of resources.  Can Julia Destora, a visionary engineer and cool hand with a multi-barrel flechette cannon, rediscover the secret of the gate’s geared technology before the final bridge falls? As she helps defend Autumn, the memories of those left behind, her mother’s death, and the teeth scars across her own body feed Julia’s resolve. 

Now available on Amazon.

About the Author

Jeffrey Lyman is an engineer in the New York City area. His work has appeared in the anthologies Sails and Sorcery from Fantasist Enterprises, New Blood from Padwolf Publishing, and Breach the Hull, So It Begins, By Other Means, Best Laid Plans, and Dragon’s Lure from Dark Quest Books. He was co-editor of No Longer Dreams and all four volumes of the award-winning Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series. He is a 2004 graduate of the Odyssey Writing School, and won 2nd place in the fourth quarter of the 27th Annual Writers of the Future Award.