Eule Grey has a new FF sci-fantasy book out: I, Volcano. And there’s a giveaway!
According to ancient rhymes, the islanders of Ansar and Skarle are children of the volcano, born of fire and destined to be lovers. After the eruption, the prophecies are forgotten as all are forced to flee. Nobody cares about silly nursery rhymes now, certainly not Jalob.
When shy medic Jalob Baleine heads to war, it isn’t for romance. She only wants to help refugees who have no home or allies. Because they are kin. Jalob was born under the same glowering volcano, on an idyllic island surrounded by dolphins. Like the refugees, she fled the lava and secretly cherishes the old ways.
She falls asleep, ignoring the pull of tides, and dreams of a loving touch. Who doesn’t? And sure, maybe Jalob hasn’t felt whole for years, but war isn’t the time for fantasies. She keeps to herself and hopes someone else will sort the war out. One woman can’t heal the world. After all, she has enough to do, what with tending the sick and her supervisor, Susan, always on her back.
Then Jalob meets stroppy violinist, Corail Esplash. After an explosive introduction, they’re forced to spend time together. Stress makes them long for a reprise, and a fragile line dances between love and hate. Inevitably, the young women exchange island stories. Corail is head-strong and rude, a typical Ansar who loves to tease and be chased. And Jalob—strong, loyal, from Skarle—has such fast legs… Could the old rhymes about destiny be right? Ah, fate.
Death and war are relentless enemies, and difficult choices lie ahead. Can a shy girl rekindle the power of a dead volcano and harness the ocean? One woman can’t heal the world, but maybe Jalob is the only one who can save Corail.
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The news on TV isn’t good. Refugees march across Mainland with no place to go.
Dad sighs. “Why? What can anyone achieve by systematic annihilation? Why do some people want to own the world?”
“Supremacy?” I guess. The ways of angry people have always been a mystery to me. “I don’t understand either. Why is there so much hate?” I did world history in school and know the basics, but it doesn’t really help. There’s never been peace, despite Mainland being filled with people from all creeds. “There must be wrongs on both sides.”
Dad stirs his tea vigorously. Brown liquid sloshes over the rim. One of these days he’s going to break that mug. “I’m not so sure. It’s territorial, like always,” he says ruefully. “We should be safe.”
Mainland is more than thirty miles from where we live on the island of Farland. Our small-island laws and rules are thankfully removed from Mainland dictation and, by and large, they leave us alone. My people have a long history of looking the other way. Not very admirable, but it has its plus points.
“Yes, but what about them?” The news is full of footage of little kids and old people being carried in supermarket carts. “Will anyone help?” I lean into Dad’s solid frame, glad to be safe in our cottage. We don’t have much, but we sleep at night and have enough to eat.
I remember what it’s like to leave at midnight, knowing you’ll never see home again.
He pats my knee. “I don’t know. Macke says they’ve already started arriving in boats. Families mostly.”
“From where?” I try to think back to geography lessons and books. Although I’ve done well in medical studies, I was no good at other lessons. “From Esk? Isn’t that the nearest coast?” I love Esk. We used to row there often to spend weekends and holidays. “I hope it doesn’t get ruined by war.”
Dad tuts. “Jalob! People are much more important than buildings.”
“I know that. I just don’t get why countries can’t solve things by talking.” The truth is, seeing the refugees is more than disturbing. It’s easier to pretend all the trouble can be solved with a chat than to acknowledge it probably can’t.
“A country behaves the same as an individual,” he says. Any minute now, he’s going to bring up me being bullied at school. “When one person is stronger than the other, or maybe, angrier, more damaged, more hurt, sometimes being friends isn’t an option. You can’t have a conversation if the other person isn’t listening.”
“Friendship is a privilege, not a given right. Remember when you were at school, and—?”
“I get it, I get it. I’m being selfish. It’s just hard to imagine when you’re seeing it on TV. What even started this war? I don’t mean all the petty arguments. I mean, what was the actual cause?”
“Do you know nothing of the world? It’s your history too.”
I shrug. “I know potatoes make excellent chips and fried eggs are good to dip. What goes on in Mainland isn’t my business.” I’m uncomfortable he’s trying to make this war relevant to me. I don’t mind hearing about Skarle, but I don’t want to start thinking about boats and refugees. It’ll only lead to images of volcanoes and what happens when people can’t get away.
He shakes his head and laughs. “Always thinking with your stomach! What do you mean it’s not your business? Mainland Ansars originate from the islands.” He looks at me meaningfully. “You know—our islands. They’re different from our island Ansars, sure, and they left hundreds of years ago, but still. They’re our people, Jalob.”
Ours? From what I remember, island Ansars certainly didn’t belong to anyone.
“Mm. I know that much.”
Ansars fascinate me. Since I can remember, I’ve had a crush on an Ansar—Berl. Fish and frogs, is she gorgeous! Tall, slim, messy long hair, and full of cutting sarcasm. Everyone fancies her. I’ve always kept out of her way. People like that don’t want to associate with the likes of me.
On the last night of our final school term, students had been allowed to gather. She’d got out a guitar and sung all night. It was spellbinding. I waited until everyone had left, just to watch her pack away. Just to make the evening last a little longer. Maybe I hoped she might talk to me? Skarles and Ansars have a long history. And, like Dad says, we come from the same place.
Berl noticed me, standing by the big oak tree. She sauntered over and looked me up and down. “You’re massive. Are you Skarle?” she asked.
“Um. Yes. I mean. I was. Until the volcano. Yes. Um.”
“Um? What are you, a bee?”
I thought she was going to be rude, like she normally is. When she kissed and started touching me, I actually thought I was drunk and hallucinating. It was the best night of my life.
When she unbuttoned my top, I was so excited I didn’t know what to do, so I just watched her do it.
Being tall, big, and clumsy, I’m all the opposites to her. I could probably have lifted her up with one hand if I had wanted to. That night, though, I hadn’t felt very strong at all. She took my top off, unzipped me, and then squeezed and prodded at me. I didn’t know what it was supposed to feel like. Even now, I’m not sure I liked it that much.
Then she walked off, like nothing had happened.
Didn’t answer any of my messages afterwards. I suppose one day, I’ll stop thinking about her and wishing for what can’t be.
Dad gets into his stride. “Over the years, they’ve become undesirable in Mainland. I suppose that’s the word. I don’t know how it started, but Mainlanders started squeezing them out. There were protests, but nobody can stand up to an army. Looks like they’ve ordered the Ansars out of eastern Mainland. But why? Those poor people have to live somewhere.”
“It’s really worrying. Are Ansars safe here in Farland?”
“Are you thinking about that girl?” Dad pats my knee. “She’ll be fine. Mainlanders have no jurisdiction here.”
“You know who. Berl.”
“Oh! Hah-hah. I wasn’t thinking about her. I’ve moved on,” I lie. “Haven’t seen her since college.”
“She isn’t worth the time you spent pining,” Dad says. “Didn’t have the decency to answer your calls.”
“It’s fine. I couldn’t care less.” I’m absolutely not going to talk about dates with my father. “We can’t just watch.” I nod at the TV, wanting Dad to stop scrutinising me. Sometimes I think he reads my mind. “We have to help.”
Watching Ansar people in trouble is different to seeing Farland folk in trouble. I’d still be upset, but this is more. It’s not like watching people fight and knowing you can step in and help. It’s more like, I’m in the fight and on the losing side.
“Actually—” He starts to speak and then turns away, biting his lip.
“It’s just. Well. The International Agency is asking for medics to volunteer.” He speaks slowly, like he might be already regretting it. “It’s nothing. Forget I said anything.”
“Doctors, nurses, anyone medical. All those people walking miles need medical treatment.” He shakes his head and sighs. “The camps must be crying out for help.”
It’ll be another two months before I’m a qualified medic. I haven’t considered doing anything except work at the local hospital and stay with Dad.
“Oh.” I speak fluent Ansar and am used to working with all kinds of people. Theoretically, I could offer. “Do you think they’d accept me? I don’t have any experience except college. I expect they’ll get a lot of applications from some great medics. They don’t want someone like me. I’m sure there’ll be others who can do it better.” Like always.
“Jalob,” Dad tuts. “Why do you have such little confidence in yourself?”
I wait for him to say, Believe in yourself; you’re a great girl, so I can nod without having to answer. He doesn’t though. He waits for me to speak. I blush up like a big red stupid letter box. “I dunno” is the best I can manage. “Stop looking at me.” I stand and head for my bedroom.
“Jalob,” Dad calls.
I lock the door and flop onto my bed. I can’t stand another round of Dad therapy. I hear the words, but they just bounce off my skin. I wish he was right—that I’m a great person who only needs a chance to prove myself.
Truth is, I’m just me. When has that ever been good enough?
Eule Grey has settled, for now, in the north UK. She’s worked in education, justice, youth work, and even tried her hand at butter-spreading in a sandwich factory. Sadly, she wasn’t much good at any of them!
She writes novels, novellas, poetry, and a messy combination of all three. Nothing about Eule is tidy but she rocks a boogie on a Saturday night!
For now, Eule is she/her or they/them. Eule has not yet arrived at a pronoun that feels right.