Kirkus Reviews Weighs in on "War of the World Makers"

In a centuries-spanning tale of ambition, intrigue, and conflicting political worldviews, beings that exist outside the normal restraints of time fight to realize mankind's potential. Michaels writes in a dramatic prose style that successfully invigorates the novel's larger-than-life characters and situations. The diversity of settings (including Central Asian khanates, Enlightenment-era Europe, and a far-future Dubai) makes for fun and evocative reading, as do the winks at real-life history.

- Kirkus Reviews


About "War of the World Makers" and Hot Sex on Titan

"The novel is packed with a good share of strong and magically powerful women, in the roles of both heroine and villain. The landscape throws a curve every few chapters, the characters believable despite the often grand and unbelievably bizarre setting, and if you like mystery, violence, and horror-like dark literature, then you'll be ecstatic."

 - Del Sol Press

Eyes Full of Massacre and War and Hot Sex on Titan

Dressed in a black sequin evening dress that fell only to her upper thighs, and with transparent chiffon sleeves, Mandukhai looked stunning. The two of them danced slowly, cheek to cheek, on a Mediterranean blue-tile patio atop Le Petit Sanglier, surrounded by Babylon torches big as camels. Mandukhai stared into Da Vinci's eyes with her own loving eyes full of war and massacre and hot sex on Titan, and Sinatra sang, "You and I are just like a couple tots, running across a meadow ..." while he smiled at her with teeth brilliant as a sunlit glacier. She smiled back and leaned closer to gently bite his ear. Later, he knew the sex would be free fall. Float down, back up, and do it again as the wind rushed in their faces. She bit his ear, the feel of it tickling his toes, and the Dubai night turned to day, and even brighter, as if a nuclear warhead had detonated nearby. He heard a distant, echoing boom and felt a flash of heat on his skin, hot enough to singe the delicate ends of Mandukhai's hair and make his pinot noir undrinkable.


In a World of Games Within Games

AS SHE KNELT AT THE ALTAR FOR HER CORONATION in the year 1762 as Catherine II, Czarina of all the Russias, the former Princess Friederike von Anhalt felt like starting a new war. She'd already endured two hours of a five hour ceremony while wearing twenty pounds of silk coronation dress and nine pounds of Great Imperial Crown, and the excessive pomp and boredom drained her of goodness. To distract herself from the seemingly endless drone of the Russian Orthodox Patriarch as he recited Old Testament scripture, as well as the oven of suffocating heat created by a hoop dress big enough to hide twenty dwarves, she lifted the curtain on theater by replaying to herself the World Maker War--better known to her old violin-playing mentor, Lord Paganini of Saravastra, as "The War for Utopia."
    First of all, it struck her as curious and odd that despite her great powers she could not stop dying.   Her death at the hands of Eréndira Marquez, the Wizard Goddess allied with her enemy Da Vinci, was the most painful because of the many serf families, even children, whose souls were sacrificed to restore her life. Such an act of sorcerous barbarity forced a guilt she carried all her days and sleepless nights; and what did "the white knights" of war have to show for the battle? Yet another crater on Mars.
    And of course, all the needless deaths.
    For all she knew, she could be dead even now. The French philosopher Descartes, to prove his own existence in 1644, said to himself, "I think, therefore I am," and Freddie could do the same, but could she trust her "I" to be the real one?
    As she would later note in her memoirs begun many years before:
    Perhaps my own body and mind were grown from a pot by Da Vinci and I existed at the royal coronation as a living copy of my original self. Though such thoughts might result in a diagnosis of insanity, I live in a world of games within games. I am never completely sure of what I am, or the reality of where I am. I only know I must proceed as if all is real, and as if morality is within my grasp.


With Zolo's eyes, she watched him ...

MARGARET OF ANJOU DID NOT ALLOW ZOLO TO KNOW of the Princess von Anhalt's tremendous suffering at the hand of Zoltan Gur, for if he even suspected, he would certainly hurl himself bravely at Gur and lose his life.
     A house prisoner in the Duchess of Suffolk's castle in 1474, just outside London, Margaret of Anjou, former queen of England, delighted in helping Zolo and Lord Paganini as a Mother Yarrow. It not only allowed her to atone for past crimes (many of which were savage), it also provided a glorious freedom and power far beyond the limitations of her real flesh.
     Margaret sipped her tea and viewed worlds beyond imagining, far beyond those of an ordinary queen. She traversed the sands of other planets, fought new battles with tremendous powers as her "will to magic" and connection with the Tao became realizable through the implanted yarrows of Lord Paganini. No struggles for personal gain as in the old days, only struggles for something bigger, enough that she felt redeemed in the eyes of God. Best of all, she lived many years as a Mother Yarrow without ageing more than a few minutes, or less, in Suffolk's castle.
     Holy Mother! If her English enemies knew of her heroic travels, they would kill her out of spite and envy. In truth though, if she told them, all would believe her mad.
     With Zolo's eyes, she watched him go about his business in that Prussian castle three centuries in the future. So dark and haunted, those Prussian castles. She was often tempted to turn Zolo's eyes as she wished, though in truth, she could not. A good thing too! Her friends had always accused her of wanting too much control. Lord Paganini, the creator of her Mother Yarrow self and her physical embodiment within Zolo, limited her to responding at certain critical times, to influencing events, or Zolo's wishes only when serving a greater purpose. Such was the will and wisdom of the ancient World Maker Paganini, and she respected him, even feared him. Stubbornly, Margaret argued from time to time, but always gave in. She would never risk not being a Mother Yarrow, despite the darkness that lurked at the rim of her consciousness like a stalking demon.


The Empress Arrives in Prussia

"THE ROYAL RHINOCEROS DANCE" SHE CALLED IT. Freddie often compared the counts and barons, and other nobles to a herd of bloated rhinoceros--men or women, it made no difference. All of them so shallow and selfish. They never stopped croaking like mating frogs about their awfully boring lives and social position relative to the royal courts. They loved their French too, even though the French scoffed at them behind their backs. Fools, all of them! So intolerable. But now, on this day, she welcomed the distraction as she walked through the main hall in Bärenthoren castle (busy as a Sunday main street in Paris) towards the Great Hall where all present would jostle and puff and climb over themselves for a chance at fawning over Empress Elizabeth of Russia.
    Freddie would stoically endure the many flattery rituals because it all served as more distraction, for the apparitions of recent had both depressed and disturbed her. Memories of the Vermeer girl, that horrible vision of her older self near death, those insane machines ... It must be as her darling Babette said, likely a witchery or curse of the castle seeking a hold on her mind. What other explanation could there be? She was not going mad. No. And if drugged she would still be seeing the visions, unless of course, the drug had ceased its work. If mad by other means, why would she be perfectly fine now?
    Fine, yes, except for the memories.
    If only a doctor or magician could drill a hole in her head and extract them. Or burn them out? Perhaps Mirza Yesun Temur himself, the infamous Mongol spell crafter of Empress Elizabeth, might do the job.
    Though the Mongol devil might replace them with something far worse. 
    She saw him yesterday, late, only a glimpse after he and the Empress arrived in that massive black Berlin carriage. Like everyone else, she’d heard the rumors spreading like dark plague all over Europe that Temur was the real mastermind behind the Russian throne and Elizabeth only a puppet. Many claimed him more ancient than The Great Wall of China, and said that he presided over the burial of Genghis Khan himself, putting to death all those who witnessed it so they would not reveal the location of the Khan's sacred necropolis.
    Prior to the arrival of these powerful beings, Freddie had dressed barely in time. Under the glare of her mother, she stuffed and groaned herself with Babette's help into a full court outfit--the kind she so hated. Whenever she wore it she felt like a cross between a peacock and a frilly doe. The ridiculously big red hoop skirt forced her to go down the castle staircases sideways, one careful step at a time, and with every five steps she took, her mother barked at her from behind, "Damn you three times, Freddie! Be quick!"
    Once positioned in the courtyard to formally greet Empress Elizabeth, what happened next became an event she would never forget.
    From the carriage, the Empress slowly emerged into the sunlight, her huge blue eyes flaming with command. Nothing could resist her dominance. Were the very walls of Bärenthoren  expected to forget their masonry and bow to her? The walls remained aloof, of course, though all beings of flesh and blood demonstrated obedience. The assembled Prussian nobles from over a hundred miles around in their long coats and powdered wigs, the noblewomen in their frills and jewels and hoop skirts; Princess Johanna and Freddie's beloved father, Prince Christian (lately returned from a hunting trip), as well as the Bärenthoren chief servants, stewards, butlers, valets, and maids in their finest blue-and-gold livery, all ranks displaying themselves in one long line full of bow and curtsy as the mighty Empress of Russia stepped down to the stone and continued to command with her big flaming blue eyes.
    Freddie silently watched those royal eyes as they moved, imagining a grand symphony of music reaching thunderous climax, but then an unexpected thing happened. The eyes of the Empress suddenly found a curious object to rest upon, to fixate upon. The entire crowd in the courtyard glanced sideways, straining without actually turning their heads to see who the almighty Empress of all the Russias stared at. And those with a view could plainly see the target:
    The Princess von Anhalt.
    The eyes rested on her, only on her.
    Freddie gasped in the light of the royal glare. The eyes bored into her like the points of a hot lance. The entire courtyard full of nobles and servants spoke not a word (they did not dare!), and Freddie sensed the crowd growing more nervous as the stare continued.
    Why is she staring at me like that? Am I supposed to fall to my knees? 
    The eyes and face of Empress Elizabeth inhaled Freddie, long and deep, as a person might breathe in a few gallons of fresh air after confinement in a stale cabin. The princess felt embarrassed and looked down. Other eyes glanced from her to the Empress, cautiously curious and growing fearful; and at the same time, Freddie's fingers began to hurt, as before. She knew something lay hidden in that carriage, yet to emerge into the sunlight.
    An evil thing.
    Even so, her patience had come to an end.
    Enough is enough! And my fingers are pricking again. At least if an apparition appears, everyone will see it this time.
    Freddie swallowed and steeled herself. Glancing up, not wishing to appear afraid, she avoided the eyes of the Empress and focused instead on her curly locks glimmering in the sun like burnished gold. It reminded her uneasily of the Vermeer girl. Was there a connection? The Empress wore a crème silk dress with a low neckline woven in gold thread, a tight bodice, and draped around her shoulders, a gold silk cape, the black wings of the Russian imperial eagle flaring out on either side and caressing her shoulders.
    Finally, the Empress walked forward, towards Freddie. The entire courtyard perfectly silent, not even a breath. Freddie bowed her head and curtsied as the Empress came near to her and said, “You are Princess Fredericke von Anhalt, n’est-ce pas? I would know you anywhere. Please, rise and lead me inside to the castle. I must speak with you.”



A MAN WHO LOOKED LIKE A DUCK WITH A DROOPING BEAK faced Freddie in the main castle doorway off the courtyard as she escorted Babette back into the castle. Though she could hardly call him a man. More of a boy. His face very pale and slack, long soft nose, small dark eyes--an ugly face with a look of stupidity about it. He wore a purple velvet waistcoat, a white shirt beneath, and a big gold chain hung about his neck. He carried a riding crop in one hand, and his breath reeked of alcohol. He stared at Freddie's clothing with his drink-glazed eyes, saw her white riding pants and high leather boots, and he sneered. Apparently, women dressed in such a fashion greatly offended him. He next turned his gaze to Babette and sneered again. Apparently, the site of a servant offended him also.
    He raised his riding crop to rest in his other hand, and said to Freddie with a voice that sounded like a Russian woman with nasal blockage, "What means these pants of yours? Are you a servant here, or an elected king of peasants?"
    "I am who I am, sir, and my pants are not your concern," she answered in a forceful way, attempting to put the little ass in his place. Freddie was determined to get around him without haste and escort Babette to her bedchamber. Whoever he was, he must be the son of a Russian noble, though she'd never seen him before. The droopy duck face lifted his riding crop and smacked it into the palm of his hand, staring at Freddie with theatrical anger. She laughed to herself, but watched him with a cold face.
    Does the ass pickle desire to strike me?    
    "What are you about with that crop, sir?" Freddie asked.
    "I have been lashing my hounds!" he exclaimed, his stinking alcohol breath punishing her while his eyes brightened with the announcement, as if the memory of lashing hounds excited him. "I court marshaled one and hung another from the walls for disobedience."
    "Why would anyone favor the harming of animals?" she asked him, her tone a mixture of disgust and curiosity. She noticed the head of a toy soldier sticking out of his waistcoat pocket.  
    Is the ass pickle playing with toy soldiers also?

Only my memoirs hint at the true insanity ...

      (From the lost memoirs of Catherine the Great in her youth)

   Niccolo and I argued last evening while I attempted to relax at Big Sur and watch the Golden Hind sailing south. I love Mother Yarrow Maria, and her presence is a reassuring one, though annoying at times. She can keep no secrets, because Niccolo will not have it. I reminded him that I died after confronting Da Vinci, and in effect, he had been the one who condemned me to that fate. My youthful and naive self was killed by Eréndira, sent by Da Vinci, and all because of Niccolo. She and I might still have failed to kill the pompous God One on Mars, but at least those monsters Eréndira and Mandukhai would not have been present. And as I consider it further, 'God One' is an appropriate term for the likes of Da Vinci, for like an Old Testament Jehovah he brings wrath and manipulates whole nations, laying waste without conscience. Most strange though, this time travel business, especially when one considers the way in which the altered past can suddenly inflict guilt and other terrible memories never before possessed.
    I know that as Czarina I will raise a feudal Russia from the muck of ages, and do many good things to alleviate the people's suffering. This future I see for myself, but at what cost? Who can possibly understand what I must endure? I read about myself in books, in libraries and other places in future years, though only my memoirs hint at the true insanity of life with Peter. Though I find it still unbelievable, I am now one of the four most powerful beings on this obscure planet at the rim of a petty galaxy, and yet I must endure an infantile hell created by a moronic fool. Only my escapes in time at the request of Saravastra and Niccolo provide any relief, and the adventures I experience, however fruitless or meaningful, are well received by me. Anything is good substitute, even Virgin Mary torture when compared to the maddening presence of "the whelp" as so many call him.

Do World Makers really die though?

     (From the lost memoirs of Catherine the Great in her youth)

     Do World Makers really die though? Niccolo and Da Vinci, and others, have been alive since the Bronze Age, and yet, I know my Asian predecessor was turned to salt and digestion at the hands of the Dio Soldati. So many things I do not fully comprehend. I do not even know why or how I became a World Maker. I still do not understand Ahriman, or the real substance of his being. At times I consider him a dark illusion created by Da Vinci and Niccolo to frighten me. I doubt this is the case though. He is our source, our father in a manner of speaking, as Niccolo says, but what does that really mean? Am I not born of my mother and father, or was I placed in a demon womb by Ahriman, or born of an unholy union of a thing inhuman with a human? I cannot say. I do not doubt my wicked mother would consent to uniting with a demon if the prize were sufficient, and often, I believe she was truly sired by one. Whatever the real truth, I desire to know the nature of Ahriman. He is evil, most certainly, far more evil than Da Vinci. My senses alert me to this, and Mother Yarrow Maria knows it also, and Niccolo avoids me when I seek more information about him. 
    I might aria this Ahriman into a reality I can witness, though I fear such a thing, deep and colder than I fear the potential of my last day. This fear is like an instinct I cannot avoid or deny, and perhaps Ahriman himself placed it within me as a clever mechanism to prevent my searching, thus enabling his mystery to continue without respite. One day, the truth must come out. Perhaps, on that day of knowing Ahriman, I will be powerless and driven to leap from the cliff by Niccolo's mechanical pets, or perhaps I will know nothing at all, and be driven to my death regardless. Or perhaps, such a thing will not happen. Regardless, I fervently wish to know, one way or another, so that I may prepare myself.

Donned a golden codpiece ...

      The actors, however, were determined to correct this mood. A half dozen of them blew into big black serpents--musical wind instruments covered in black leather and looking like slithering snakes. They blew and tooted and the remaining actors, at least twenty, skipped and marched. Freddie watched them while finishing her soup and straining awfully hard to remain polite to the young noblewomen to her left and right: Princess Hermine Reuss of Greiz and Princess Théodolinde de Beauharnais. Both were seated by Princess Johanna to "provide fitting company" but in reality to torture Freddie. Hermine wouldn't stop whining about her "scratchy bodice" and "the smell of serf" on the soles of her feet, while "Théodo the Terrible"  as Freddie nicknamed her, blathered on and on about Prince Whoever of Whatever and how rumors said he often donned a golden codpiece etched with a Zeus hurling lightning bolts.
    "Perhaps, dear Théodo, this cod-piece Zeus of might hurl a bolt at Hermine's feet and burn the smell of serf from them?" Freddie said. Both princesses stared at her as if she were impossibly difficult, for they wished only heaping doses of astonishment and sympathy for their petty ills and ambitions. Nothing else would do.

Festering and growing in roots of European shadow ...

    He flashed Freddie a brief smile, turned and walked towards a nearby group of white-wigged noblemen who stood chatting. One of the noblemen, a German baron with a thick gold chain about his neck and a face like an otter, saw Zolo coming and gruffly shouted at him, "Hurry up you wretched little wogger!" Whereupon the other noblemen turned their heads and jeered at Zolo.
    Wogger? Those hateful bastards.
    A word used to humiliate the servant class. An English term given to an ill-fated group of serfs who rebelled against their masters ten years ago in Russia, joining with Cossacks from the north, and raiding farms owned by nobility. They spread revolt until brutally put down by the Russian royal army. Thousands of serfs died before the cannon's mouth. More thousands executed, their families sold or imprisoned, or starved to death. It all reminded her of Rome's servile wars, the greatest of all led by a rogue gladiator named Spartacus. Many whispered that the woggers had formed a secret society, festering and growing in the roots of European shadow like mushrooms, collecting muskets and wogger swords and conspiring at more bloody uprisings.
    Might that not be exciting?


    A silvery light glowed into being, somewhere high above her. At first, she thought it a moon. Then she noticed, it sprouted legs. Upon closer look, she realized it to be the silver face beetle of Zoltan Gur. It filled the air with a moon-silver light and revealed her to be standing in a cavernous room, one at least three times larger than the Great Hall of Bärenthoren castle.
    She glanced around for Gur but he had vanished. To either side of her she saw what appeared to be soldiers on horses. Lines of them facing her, hundreds in rank after rank:  Mongol warriors of polished stone wearing moon-gleaming iron helmets with pointed tops, white tufts of horsehair flowing from the peaks, and their bodies fitted with thick, brown-lacquered armor. All carried round wicker shields and gripped tall lances that pointed to the ceiling. Each shadowy face though was different, as if each possessed the soul of a dead warrior, a real man who lived and died in that savage age; and in that eerie light, the hard and violent faces of those long dead Mongols, hundreds of them, all seemed to stare at her.
    Would they charge and impale her if she made the wrong move?
    Next, she heard a sound, like a small stone striking iron in the distance. She looked across the lines of Mongol cavalry statues, and raising her eyes, saw a figure seated atop what appeared to be a throne. It towered above the statues, set upon a tall marble dais. The figure was sheathed in golden plate armor, head to foot, and rising high in the moon-silvery darkness beyond, a terraced hill, like a black staircase for giants, and on each terrace, the glitter of countless objects.
    Then she understood.   

By the pricking of my fingers ...

    Her eyes peered into the shadows. At first, she saw nothing, but her fingers suddenly felt as if tiny needles pressed into them. She knew it to be sign of supernatural evil lurking nearby, her fingers pricking on other occasions whenever demonic spirits wandered the halls of Bärenthoren castle seeking redemption or revenge.
    By the pricking of my fingers, something wicked nearby lingers.  
    The only object that demanded her attention near the George III globe was the painting her mother had purchased from Augustus of Poland only two years before in 1741—a work by the Dutch painter Vermeer entitled, Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window. Nothing unusual there. But then, about to turn away from the painting and search further, Freddie noticed a frighteningly odd thing:
    The image of the girl in the painting had vanished!
    The princess blinked ... Nothing changed.
    Only a dark silhouette remained, and she believed it a trick of light. Or was she going mad? She knew of elixirs that tortured the victim’s mind with apparitions before they died. 
    Are you trying to poison me now, mother?
    Before she could consider it further, she heard the titter once more, cold and low, poking out from that dark corner just below the painting … and something moved, I know something moved. Fight or flight, Freddie? She saw a roundness, a vague shape take form, and she imagined a head nearly a foot above the floor.
    But no, it wasn’t her imagination.
    The shape floated towards her out of the shadows, slowly, and what emerged into the light appeared like nothing she had ever seen: a thing so twisted, so out of place in her world, in any world dreamed by women or men or God that it made her doubt her own sanity even more.
    The upper body of the unholy thing hovered in the air above the floor without legs or support, drifting into the light. Freddie recognized the muddy blond hair pulled back from her forehead, the thin coils of curl, the colors of the old dress, and that face now dour and smirking at Freddie, as if it knew a dark secret or a wicked event that would soon harm her more than she could imagine.


Their oaken false teeth clacked ...

    Just as certain diseases have varying effects on their victims, so too the being radiated an evil that touched people in different ways. Two of the castle valets, men of hard and gray age, shook so hard their oaken false teeth clacked like wind shutters in a storm. One of the younger maids began to sing, words that sounded to Freddie, at a distance, like lines from an Italian opera. Something by Pollarolo? While another maid nearby shrieked in a savage, curse-like alien language no one understood, flinging words like "Ho dah, ha dibah!," at no one in particular, the maid right beside her slapped her own face as if fighting herself. A German noble, the Duke of Mecklenburg, clutched at his chest with a groan and fell to one knee just as a stunned castle guard dropped his musket to the ground, causing it to fire with such a loud report that it slammed the courtyard walls and broke two giant windows. And as the glass crashed loudly to the stones and the smell of gunpowder bit their nostrils, the assembled servants and nobles, mouths hanging open, instinctively stepped back. All of them knew this emissary from Hell to be the legendary spellcrafter and royal puppet master: 
    Mirza Yesun Temur.