The Ballyman Waits

$24.95 inc. GST

The Mirror of Seasons 1

by: S.J. Mckenzie

294 pages
129mm x 198mm
ISBN: 9780648118602

SKU: 9780648118602 Category:


Henry Mighty and Strange Moran are concerned with keeping the pub on the isolated island of Mora running, observing proper customs at all times, and of course, saving Henry’s young and magical nephew Wayward from the Kildareen Empire.

It didn’t seem too much to ask from a pair of hearty and well-mannered wood elves. But as they drink and ponder their options, a pair of raft men are being drawn their way, the high elves are about to make their first appearance since their defeat by the Kildareens more than a century earlier, and a powerful and ambitious wizard is about to leave his plotting in the dwarven mines of Elonia and turn his attention to their little island. In the midst of it all, a strange and powerful creature known as the Ballyman is also being drawn, on his little coracle, to Mora. But will the appearance of the Ballyman save them, or bring down the wrath of the Kildareen Empire?

About the author

S. J. McKenzie is an Adelaide-based fantasy writer. He holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Adelaide with a thesis on medieval travel writing and cartography.

He is the author of the on-line collection of Celtic stories in the Blue Men, Green Women series. He has also written widely on ideas of sustainability in different cultures. Two stints living in the Pacific islands (Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea) gave him a chance to engage other cultures first hand.

Since returning to Australia he has been working on the Mirror of Seasons quartet, of which The Ballyman Waits is the first instalment.

You can find out more about S.J. McKenzie and The Mirror of Seasons at


The joys of Summerend were fast approaching, but the elves of Mora were cold at heart, for Doctor Bearing of the Kildareens had come to do his tests on the Ballykin, and no doubt young Wayward would end up on the Isle of the Notorious, like so many of the kin before him. But the longer the Doctor and his accomplices stayed on Mora, the more they became changed at heart, until soon it seemed almost as thought they were at one with the people of Isles and Sound.

What had brought about their transformation? Was it the spell Strange Moran had cast upon the chapel wall? Or was some far deeper magic at work, coming in with the eastern wind from over the horizon, from the disappearing islands of the Come and Go, or even from the Island of Dreams, that could never be seen at all?


Henry, Strange and Wayward, woodwigs to their final day, were sitting at the bar of the Bell’s Last, looking out the window at the autumn rain. It came in slantwise across the Bay of Mora, turning the water’s surface to grey, and ghosting out the few small houses on the other side. The three of them were warm from the fire, and the words that had been spoken between them were good and true; but nonetheless there was a chill in their hearts, one which could not be dispelled. For humans were coming, to take Wayward away.

‘Looks like we’ll have more rain,’ said Strange.

‘And more to follow after that,’ replied Henry.

‘And then the possibility of some sun, which would make a nice change,’ said Strange.

‘Eee, but thun’s a main god fire in placies owt,’ said Wayward.

The two men paused, nodded slowly in agreement with the boy, before draining their tiny spirit glasses and placing them carefully upon the bar. The wood of it was ancient, polished smooth over the centuries by similar gestures. There had been a place of drinking here for nineteen hundred years, and a spirit still for almost as long. They’d allowed themselves a glass or two of the good stuff, well before sundown, on account of the bad news they had received. It was doing little to lift the feeling of sorrow closing in, along with the coming winter.

Henry, Strange and Wayward were wood elves, and had features typical of that race: thick dreadlocked hair, narrow slanted eyes, and long noses that drooped down almost below the upper lip. But that was where the similarity ended.

Henry was large for an elf, almost five feet, and he was weighty about the bottom and had smallish ears and a scraggly black beard. Some people said that his mother may have been visited by a raftie three seasons before he was born, but they’d not have said it to his face.

Strange was just the opposite: a little wiry fellow of four feet. His family were purebloods, of an ancient wood elf line, the sort that couldn’t cover their whole ears with their hands, and whose hair grew green without the addition of any dye, because of all the moss in it.

Wayward was different again, a gangly stooping lad of four foot six inches, with yellow hair and fine crooked teeth of the same colour. He was a Ballykin, a child of dreams. Even at the best of times, he could be hard to understand, but when he had been dreaming well, what he said was so very difficult and wise that it had to be written down in a special book, so that one day, when the Restoration came, the high folk would be able to interpret it correctly.

On this particular occasion, however, his statement was not one for the ages, but a simple observation about the comforts of a fire in cold weather. ‘Fire as sunnis in the eyen,’ he finished.

‘Yes, the fire,’ said Strange. ‘It is like our own little sun, that is most true. But speaking of that and then another thing, do you think the Kildareens will come over in the rain, Henry? Maybe they won’t be bothered to come until the sun is out. They are partial to the sun, I hear.’

‘Yes … it’s a sure thing they are,’ said Henry, uncertain. Strange Moran was the best distiller on Mora, and a powerful chanter too, so it wouldn’t pay to show too much disagreement with what the little fellow said. But the truth was, the letter from Jurally had been quite specific. A human from one of the Kildareen cities, a university man, was coming to see Wayward, and do some more tests on him, like they’d done when he was younger.

Of course, the letter had the Count’s seal on it, and was made to look very official. Henry had seen it many times before. When the Kildareen wizards came to do their tests on one of the Ballykin, it often ended up that the blessed child was taken away, and nobody really knew where, or why.

‘So maybe they won’t come for a while,’ Strange went on hopefully. ‘We can see out Yearsend with the boy around, at least.’

‘Yes, it’s a true thing you say,’ said Henry. ‘Only, the letter did say they would certainly be here by Saturday, which is tomorrow. But even so, it is likely that I am in the wrong here.’

‘I’ll not hear of it,’ said Strange at once. ‘Leaving aside the business of the weather, it is I who am deluded in this matter.’

‘Not at all,’ said Henry. ‘Despite the evidence of the letter, it is clear that I am utterly wrong on this subject.’

They could have gone on like that for quite some time, had not Wayward chimed in with: ‘And ‘tis ee as goodies milks fro bullsy comins!’ and begun hopping up and down on one leg.

‘Do you think that’s one for the book?’ asked Strange.

‘No, friend,’ said Henry. ‘He just needs to visit the toilet.’ He took his nephew through the cluttered kitchen and down the back stairs to the outhouse, hushing and shooshing him, and promising him a piece of liquorice if he behaved.

Strange sat for a moment and considered having another glass of the spirit. He decided against it, settling instead for an inspection of its fine gold colour. He was holding the bottle up to the light when in through the door walked Sally Reidy, shaking the water from her hair.

This young girl was a pureblood like Strange, purple-eyed and narrow-faced, with her red hair in bunches much adorned with brightly-coloured rags. She came by the hotel at the same time every afternoon, largely for the purpose of seeing her man Strange, and in particular, to look at his ears, a thing which sometimes made her giggle and fall about, because they were so fine.

This time, she paid his ears no heed, for she was in a serious frame of mind.

‘Down with that bottle,’ she demanded. ‘There’s three long-legs in the bay! You know anything about them?’

Strange peered out the window. Indeed, there were three figures in a rowboat pressing hard towards the little wooden jetty out the front of the hotel. By the size of them, it was sure they were human.

‘My last word!’ he said. ‘Here already? They’ve taken no time at all, and even less than that.’

He turned to find Henry and Wayward returning from outside.

‘Hey, but they are here already, Henry. The ‘reens are pulling toward the house, not three minutes away. Hide the lad, take him out to the woods, or let me spell him invisible. I’ll make up a story to explain it away.’

Henry Mighty shook his head. He had already thought this through. There was no point in hiding. Most of the humans were ordinary folk, with no more magic than a potato; but their leaders were wizards, and they had the magic sight. If a person had any incantation about them at all, the wizards could track them down. Poor Wayward would be an easy target for their detection, and no magic could be used to hide him either, or else the elves could easily end up on the Isle of the Notorious, or swinging from the justice tree on Jurally Common.

‘Strange, you may be right, but the ‘reens may be too clever for us,’ said Henry. ‘All we can do is hope that Wayward has seen nothing in his dreams to trouble them, and they will let him go again. Sometimes, that is the way it goes. He is a good boy, harmless as the rain, and has been graced by the Goddess. So we must hope that is the way it will go this time, too.’

‘I think you are right in this matter, as in all others,’ said Strange at once, clasping his hands in front of him. ‘I should have stayed silent. That would have been the prudent course.’

‘No,’ said Henry. ‘You spoke out of love, and the world knows your heart is good.’

The two shared a brief embrace while the girl Sally whistled a tune of friendship, and then, they turned their attention to the tall cloaked figure that was coming to change their lives, as he climbed unsteadily out of the rowboat, using his long iron staff to balance himself.


  1. Henry Mighty, proprietor of Bell’s Last Hotel.

    For a human, Mr. McKenzie has done an admirable job of telling the story of how the elvish folk of Mora stood up to the might of the Kildareen Empire. Indeed, the songs of our victory would be sung until the last ringing, except that we can never speak of the matter, lest the Kildareens find out what actually happened.

  2. Doctor Jonas Bearing, Emissary of the Kildareen Empire.

    This account of events on the island of Mora is wildly inaccurate. In particular, I would protest that the Kildareen Empire is portrayed unfairly. Our rule is for the benefit of all subjects, whether human, dwarf or elf.

  3. High Lord James Faraday of Kildare.

    When we get our hands on this writer calling himself S.J. McKenzie, we will extract from him what he knows, and the identity of his sources. I swear we will put an end to these slanderous lies concerning magic more powerful than our own.

  4. Tina Morganella – author

    There are wood elves, high elves, humans, ballykins and of course The Dreamer. There’s royalty, scandal, and an epic battle scene. There’s a bit of romance! Lots of magic, of course, and lots of humour, perhaps surprisingly. Ultimately, The Ballyman Waits is one of those books that pitches good against evil, and all of those ingredients together make for a fine read. Perhaps the most enchanting element of the book is the wood elves’ story. They are so innocent, so beautifully drawn and articulated, that you’re immediately on their side. Their simplicity is thought provoking. You want to be friends with them, you definitely want to drink and feast with them, and you really really want them to win.
    What’s key in any genre is storytelling. The Ballyman Waits weaves a number of stories together from a number of different perspectives and points in history, so that at first, perhaps you don’t quite know your bearings. But the storytelling is confident and bold, and to me that was part of the interest in reading – not knowing how things would come together and where I would find myself at the end. This is a powerful, thought provoking fantasy and it’s exciting to know that there’s more to come!

  5. Phil Bell (verified owner)

    The Ballyman Waits is a surprising and captivating novel from S.J.McKenzie. The story is set in a well-crafted fantasy world that puts a new slant on established tropes such as elves, wizards and trolls. This world provides the setting for an intriguing story that plays out to a climactic conflict while also exploring cultural differences and the different kinds of power.

    For much of the book, the plot progresses in three separate story arcs. The key arc follows a village of wood elves on the island of Mora, as they deal with the unwelcome arrival of three humans. The humans are wizards and they represent the Kildareen Empire, which has sovereignty over the island though with little day-to-day involvement. The purpose of this new visit is to identify magically-gifted young elves and take them away. One lad, in particular, has caught their attention.

    One of the delights of the book is observing the culture of the wood elves and the approach of their society to discussing and dealing with issues that affect them all. McKenzie has devised an
    internally-consistent and delightfully quirky set of cultural traits for these elves. As we observe their interactions we gradually come to understand the quiet wisdom of these folk and to see how it is overlooked and dismissed by the more dominant race. This is all presented with a wry humour that remains through the climax of the book, even as we discover some of the power that lies hidden within these simple villagers.

    A second arc follows a pair of raft-men, again presented with humour and providing a glimpse of a quite different subculture. One of the raft-men is having dreams that are tied to the fate of the wood-elves and will eventually lead the raft-men to Mora.

    The third arc follows a self-important Kildareen wizard and gives an opportunity to understand more about the empire and its dealings with the other races. This wizard will also have a hand in the final drama of the book when the three story arcs come together. This drama will involve the race of high elves, ancient rulers of this land, as well as the mysterious ballyman who appears at first in dreams but will have an impact on reality.

    I found this book a confident and accomplished first novel. McKenzie has spent time cross-culturally in the Pacific islands, and this has equipped him to develop realistic and interesting
    societies very different to the dominant cultures of our world. I particularly enjoy the dialogue of the wood elves and how we are drawn into an understanding of their ways. The Ballyman Waits is definitely a rewarding and entertaining read.

  6. Claire Belberg – author of The Golden Hour (verified owner)

    Delightful! McKenzie has created a world with a rich sense of history and culture, and gives us charming, quirky characters. These magical wood elves, high elves, dwarves and humans are not quite like any others I have read. The plot was a bit of a mystery at the start as I was catching on to the lingo and the culture, but it moved quickly and kept me turning those pages eagerly. There was plenty of action and humour, and battle scenes which were also highly original and entertaining. I’ll be buying this novel for gifts this year!

  7. John (verified owner)

    Wow! I cannot recommend this one enough!

    I really, really enjoyed this book.

    At first, I was worried by the number of characters and several storylines – but McKenzie paints a wonderfully rich, funny, and thrilling adventure that leaves no character neglected nor storythread abandoned. Quite a feat!

    The Elves, Dwarves, and stupid humans all have distinct histories and motivations – without falling into the GAME OF THRONES-esque histrionic nonsense. Which means the story moves forward without pretense or over-detailed bull-larkey.

    The action is clear and unmuddled by overly cinematic abstractions. The battle is well fought and I never questioned what was happening or how. Rather an impressive trick considering the number of fronts the battle was pitched.

    The Ballyman Waits fits nicely into the timeless fantasy canon, unaffected by cliche or fad. Given the chance, McKenzie’s work should endure and find a wide readership.

  8. Andrew Lynch (verified owner)

    This is a gripping fantasy story about how the inhabitants of a small island and some friends join forces to fight against their exploitation by tech-head imperialists who despise their ancient magical culture. Moving, funny and cleverly plotted, with a darker side of dreams and danger.

  9. Thomas Wissler for Mythprint – Quarterly Bulletin of the Mythopoeic Society (verified owner)

    The wood elves are happily living on an island in an archipelago on the outskirts of the human regime on a small misty island named Mora. There, the elven protagonist Henry Mighty is busy keeping his pub running, as it is a gathering point for the elven community to eat and socialize together. This includes taking care of his young nephew, Wayward. However, this all changes as some human scholars from the technocratic Kaldareen Empire visit the island to conduct experiments on Wayward, as young elves possess the ability to enter a mysterious dream world. These dreams are prophetic, but difficult to interpret, as it is a land separated through another dimension. This dream world connects Wayward with a half-elf named Malacorn, a raft-man who travels to and from various islands in the archipelago who is also have strange dreams. Meanwhile, the high elves are preparing to make their first appearance in over a century. Using this dreamworld, Wayward is calling to the Ballyman, a being who can travel through time and space to fight back against the oppressive human empire. The cultural aspects of the different races of creatures are drives the plot. The Kildareen’s Wizards are focused, intellectual, and organized. The culture has a clear command structure of powerful wizards and leaders at the top, flowing down to less powerful wizards who do more busy grunt work. This is in stark contrast with the elves, who are much more relaxed and focus more on living in the moment. The elves’ stature differs from the Tolkinien elves, and instead lean towards traditional elves: small statured creatures with an affinity towards nature. As such, the magic and culture of the elves is steeped in folklore, spoken word, hexes and curses. This makes their magic, and their interactions with hostile characters, take on a more natural form such as poisoning, a run of bad luck, or inclement weather. The magic of humans, on the other hand, is cold and intellectual, and is described manifesting as shimmering blue light. This magic focuses on direct influence and power such as creating a shield, a destructive beam, or teleportation. While there are other fantastic races such as trolls and dwarves, they do not have any magical abilities. These differences in culture and use of magic make the humans, despite being the obvious antagonists in the story, the ones who are more active and move the story along to its climax. The elves themselves are more concerned of the day to day minutiae of their lives rather than seeking vengeance. They come across as very hobbity compared to any other race in the story.

    While the premise of the book is interesting, there are some weaknesses in the story. As it is part of a four book series, some characters who are introduced in the story do not develop and continue the overall plot. This can make the plot appear out of focus, as chapters dedicated to developing characters for later books seem out of place in comparison to the story arc. This is a good book for people who enjoy a slower paced young adult novel with traditional fantasy archetypes. This book does not have the grand fantasy style of Game of Thrones, but rather a smaller and more intimate style without the titillation of excessive violence and sexuality written in. McKenzie has written is a good founding for future books as well as an interesting fantasy land whose themes will hopefully be expanded in future releases.

  10. Morton Benning

    Finally, a book that feels Tolkien-esque without feeling like the writer was trying to be Tolkien. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and am very keen to see how the next in the series builds on it.

    The Ballyman Waits is book one of the series entitled Mirror of Seasons, and it tells the story of the down-trodden wood-elves, following the defeat by the humans of the Kildareen Empire of their High-elf kin, and of the other-worldly Dreamer of Bally, who might be the only one who can change things.

    McKenzie has created some wonderfully interesting and relatable characters and a world that feels as though it continues on after the book is closed. The downside for me now is that I have to wait until the next one is released to find out what happens next.

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