Release Day Review: The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

First of all, Happy Book Birthday, Nicky! 🙂

Isn’t that cover absolutely kickass? The first time I saw it I cheered – I was one of the lucky few who got to read the book a good while ago, and the cover was ad remains (in my opinion) perfectly suited to the tale. So, you’ve got the cool mech holding a cool umbrella over a mischievously smiling little girl; you’ve got the captivating title (which does seem at odds with the cover, but isn’t; trust me on this), and you know that Nicky’s publisher, Harper Voyager, publishes some of the very best SF and speculative fiction available.

(By the by, the artwork for the cover was created by Brenoch Adams, and was designed by Owen Corrigan)

So, what did I discover in the book?

What grabbed my attention from the beginning was how well Nicky handled the balance between excellent characterization and inventive world building. Character-wise, you’re going to meet wildly different folks, from wildly different backgrounds, all exuberantly-chillingly-sympathetically written, all having their own unique ‘voice’ and their own very important place in the tale. You’ll meet a teenager on the cusp of what will probably seem to you to be an incredibly weird manhood ritual, a nail technician working in a beauty parlour with a dangerous and awesome secret, a little girl living in a township, a councilman forced to play two roles and really only enjoying one, a pop star on the verge of a breakdown, and a couple of nifty personal robots. These are the main players, and some of their connections won’t be immediately apparent, while others are connected by a very strange drug. What they do, and how they interact, is the meat of the story (as it should be), and Nicky brings them all to vivid life.

In terms of world building, I discovered a South Africa (or Azania, which could actually be damned cool, should that realize; but has no bearing on the novel) which easily overshadows the South Africa Lauren Beukes revealed in Moxyland. In Nicky’s SA, for example, you’ve got personal-assistant robots and genetically engineered and extremely cute pests – you’ll have to discover the rest. The SA of Nicky’s imagination has moved past all the trouble we’re currently having and, though not perfect, is suffused with hope and a still vulnerable trust; the cyberpunk aspects of this book are bright and beautiful and crazy and exciting, though that keen edge of danger and darkness can be sensed glinting between the details. But there are also aspects of Fantasy to this read, and those aspects have an abiding mythic feel, as if we’ve been given a glimpse of a world of gods and motivations we hadn’t even guessed could exist.

But there aren’t only wonderfully captivating characters and excellent world building in this book – there’s heart, humor, empathy, beauty and ugliness, too. And the action scenes are almost Manga-esque in the crazy-cool epicness. That robot and that little girl? You won’t believe what they’re capable of – and I mean ‘won’t believe’ in terms of, “Oh, wow. Oh WOW.”

All in all, Nicky has created not only a world I would love to read an entire saga in, but characters who feel both known and excitingly unique – if this book doesn’t completely capture you and leave you feeling a combination of excitement and utter exhaustion, then you really should dig up a mad scientist and get him to bring you back to life. At the very least, I’m pretty confident that you’ll agree with me that it’s a cool, wild, awesome ride.

‘The Prey of Gods’ was absolutely brilliant. Read it!

10/10

The book should be available almost everywhere right now (except perhaps the Moon; but Musk’s working on giving us an option to get it there), but here are the links you might need:

Amazon USAmazon UK (pre-order for the 27 July release) – Barnes and Noble

And do check out Nicky’s site, too. 🙂

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

Review: Exile and Nandor by Martin Owton

Hey folks, hope you’re all well. 🙂

Today I’ll share my thoughts on Martin Owton’s ‘Exile’ and ‘Nandor’, a dualogy which focuses on Aron of Darien.

Aron is the title’s exile, struggling to survive in a world in which basically everything except his talent with a sword and his sense of duty has been taken from him.

When we meet Aron, he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time – and pays the price for that by being pressed into the local Earl’s service, which not only launches the first novel’s plot and introduces us to most of the tale’s important players, but also gives us a good understanding of Aron. He doesn’t suffer fools, and yet also doesn’t blindly barge into situations which might overwhelm him. He can be headstrong, but also shows empathy and sympathy. He’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind getting to know, and the kind of guy who’ll have your back as your friend. His skill with a sword is cool to behold, and most of the time he knows how to navigate politics and intrigue – but his skills don’t help him when it comes to ladies. 😉

‘Exile’ gives us a good view of the world Aron lives in – a distant king who seems to not really give a damn; dukes vying for prestige and honours from said king; scattered towns filled with merchants and men-at-arms; slavers and bandits. There are also magicians, and what’s interesting is that they serve, and aren’t served – it’s a refreshing angle to read, especially in Fantasy.

And Exile also sets us up for book two’s events, in which Aron’s quest will culminate, while bringing to a close certain threads begun in the first book. The book has (and maintains) great pace, is peppered with witty dialogue and serious moments, has an important love story, and features great combat, as well as what reads as well-researched knowledge of the kinds of pre-industrial technology present in Aron’s world.

Exile is old school and enjoyable – it doesn’t reinvent anything, but also doesn’t need to. 🙂

9/10

Nandor, the sequel to Exile -and the book which brings and end to Aron’s tale- picks up nine months after Exile’s end; Aron returns to the family he met in Exile when he receives dire news, and decides to lead a rescue mission, which takes him and the people with him into the kind of dangerous territory only hinted at in the first book. the excellent pacing which made Exile tick along is carried through into Nandor, and the characters are really put through their paces, as they find themselves caught up in a war very few people know about. This war, which is also being fought with terrifying magic, forces Aron to make some truly difficult decisions, and no-one escapes unscathed. I was sad when I ended the book, as that meant that Aron’s adventures were done and that we wouldn’t get to explore more of the world Martin created, but you all know what they say about ‘all good things’, right?

8/10

The books are available in a variety of formats:

Kindle (ExileNandor)

and Hardcover (Exile) (as well as signed editions from Tickety Boo Press)

And do check out Martin’s site for more of his work and an exclusive short story featuring Aron.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

Review: Dinosaur Valley – The Archaeologists (Book 1) by K.H. Koehler

Hey everyone. 🙂

From time to time I’ll be posting reviews of books I really enjoyed, in the hope that you’ll also check the books out, and this is the first of those reviews.

Long before Jurassic Park was released (both the book and the movie), my parents bought a bi-weekly magazine called ‘Dinosaurs’, which explored the different species, environments, geological history and much, much more of the time of the dinosaurs – plus I got to build a glow in the dark T-rex skeleton; the parts came with the magazine. 🙂 This was when I was in primary school, and it’s what began my fascination with dinosaurs. When Jurassic Park was published, I basically lost my shit. I read the novel three times before watching the movie, and I think I watched the movie -in the theatres- close to six or seven times. I think that JP is the only movie I’ve watched more than any of the Star Wars movies – it completely blew my mind wide open.

So, any novel including dinosaurs needs big boots to fill the footsteps of JP, and while I don’t think anything like JP will happen again (even the sequel, The Lost World, was brilliant, but couldn’t really match up, in my opinion), I do expect writers to know their stuff and to be respectful (or at least cognizant) of dinosaurs and the vast body of knowledge which is constantly being added to.

Dinosaur Valley isn’t JP, but also doesn’t pretend to be, and that’s one of the reasons this novel was so cool. 🙂

It is, above all, an adventure tale, but what it also does is play with certain tropes and upend or change those tropes in entertaining ways. For example, there’s no damsels in distress – there is a gentleman in distress; and though the book is set in what could be considered the Wild West, there’s none of the stereotypical tobacco-spitting, word-drawling, answers-everything-with-a-quickdraw-standoff Cowboy / Sheriff / Desperado amalgamation (even though there is such a character; just not stereotypically so).

Being an adventure tale, it’s fast-paced and fun, with excellent and thrilling set pieces (from characters being stalked and chased by various dinosaurs, to gun fights), peopled with memorable characters keeping the interesting plot ticking along, and if you like a strong, independent female lead, who doesn’t wait for a man to save her, then you’re going to love Anna Rutherford. 🙂

This book launches the series, The Archaeologists, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next book!

9/10

You can order your copies on Amazon, and check out Severed Press’ site for more cool titles.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

My Favourite Books of 2016 – Part Two

Hey everyone, 🙂 I’m back with my second ‘Favourites of 2016’ post, and in this post I’ll be telling you about books from Alex Marshall, John Burnham Schwartz, Justin Cronin, Christopher Golden and Suzanne Van Rooyen.

A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

This novel, which kicks off what promises to be a rollicking, ass-kicking trilogy, follows a mayor’s wife on her quest for revenge – obviously, she’s much more than initially revealed. 🙂 The novel is by turns incredibly funny, brutal, thoughtful and inventive, with excellent world building and stand-out characters; multiple points of view allow the reader to gain a wide-screen (if I can use that description, which I’ve just done…) understanding of the various conflicts and story lines, while also giving us the gritty, ugly, beautiful detail we Fantasy readers crave. There’s plenty of inventive and interesting magic, battles and skirmishes (skillfully written, brutal and entertaining), and intrigue a-plenty. One also gets the sense that the world Alex has created is absolutely filled with stories we only glimpse, which also serves to make the world live and flex and breathe more deeply. Undeniably, though, the characters of this novel are the stars – Villains without being the quintessential bad guys. 🙂 Highly recommended!

If you’re not aware, Alex Marshall is, in reality, Jesse Bullington. 🙂 Order your copies here.

Next up, Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz:

I’m not a fan of literary novels – a term, I have to add, which just doesn’t make sense to me, and smacks of incredible elitism. That being said, when I read something which falls into that bullshit category (which doesn’t happen often), the novel has to be accessible, and by that, I mean that I don’t want to feel as if I should be sipping a too-expensive wine while sitting in a too-expensive chair in my ‘den’. Reservation Road is a novel anyone can read. You don’t have to be part of some inaccessible circle of award-chasers to appreciate this novel. And yes, I watched the movie, years ago, but this novel… I completely forgot about the movie while reading it, and the movie was good. The novel is heart-breakingly sublime. Absolutely unflinching, incredibly emotional. It hits hard, folks – as it should. And I don’t have kids; folks who do have kids and read this might not be able to finish it, but I urge you to stick with it. Order your copies here.

Next up, Justin Cronin‘s ‘The City of Mirrors‘:

The Passage absolutely rocked me back on my heels. It is, to date, the only novel that had made me cry like a baby within the first 30 or so pages, due to Justin’s absolutely incredible prose and ability to evoke emotions. The Twelve continued the epic (and this trilogy truly is epic), ending with an incredible climax, and The City of Mirrors ends it all beautifully. What sets this trilogy apart from most post-apocalyptic Horror sagas is the sheer beauty and strength of the emotional journey the reader embarks on – as with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead graphic novels, the focus is on the characters; their dreams, their heart aches, their losses and triumphs and decisions, and how who they are and what they do echo down through the years and decades. Yes, Justin has created a world which fell to a terrible, brutal plague, but this world is as filled with beauty and love as it is with terror and grief. And I’ve never truly, deeply sympathised with the ‘bad guy’, but here, I had no choice. Stephen King said that the trilogy “will stand as one of the great achievements in American fantasy fiction.”, and I completely agree. It’s a lyrical, intense, intelligent, brutal and beautiful exploration of relationships, terror, the collapse of society and the stubbornness of true survival. Massively recommended!

Next up, Ararat by Christopher Golden:

I’m a big Horror fan, and I’m also a big fan of novels that tread different genres. I enjoy it when writers are ambitious and take chances, and where they create expectations and proceed to fulfill those expectations in ways the reader (who is also a writer, in this case) could never predict. Ararat is one of those novels. On the face of it, the novel is a story about one of the biggest finds in Biblical and proper, scientific Archeology, to what lengths the characters go to cement their place in history, and what, inevitably, goes wrong. And I don’t mean ‘inevitable’ as one of those ‘people are digging where they shouldn’t and get into shit because of it’ tropes; I mean ‘inevitable’ in the sense that things go wrong, whether between people (relationship-wise), colleagues (who disagree and have varying levels of education and study), or representatives of governments (and the complications involved when these get-togethers are further hampered by religious constraints). Yes, there’s a helluva lot that does go wrong in this novel (and, in effect, goes exactly right), but Christopher doesn’t push for disaster simply to pile up the odds against the characters – there’s reason and sense behind what happens, and varying degrees and levels of disaster, too – emotional, professional, physical, etc. Cause and effect, for sure, but injected with a healthy dose of how the myriad characters would truly react (Humans make dumb decisions for very good reasons, and the opposite also holds true). Christopher also really enjoys tropes, man – in the ‘know the rules and break them’ sense, because what I expected and predicted didn’t happen, but what does is so much better. There’s plenty of menace in this book, coupled with a slowly-creeping sense of ‘oh, shit-shit-shit’, and I’m pretty sure readers will enjoy the hell out of it. Expect to be surprised, expect to feel the cold and experience the claustrophobia and terror, and expect this book to sit in your head for a good long while. Excellent stuff! Pre-order your copies here.

Next up, ‘I Heart Robot‘ by Suzanne Van Rooyen:

I don’t think I ever read a novel quite like this before. I was expecting the quintessential and stereotypical forbidden romance, and instead, what I read was one of the best explorations of humanity (in it’s various forms) I’ve ever encountered. If you want a love story, it’s here – and it’s sweet and dangerous, fraught with mistakes and realizations, constantly tested and evolving… In other words, real. If you want an epic confrontation between humanity and what humanity creates, it’s here – but it’s not Michael Bay-here; it’s Children of Men-here. It’s subtle and powerful and far-reaching, the kind of unfolding clash which really makes you think about what it means to be human, to have feelings and an identity, to seek connection. Suzanne explores the politics behind this clash, the philosophies driving the players, the varying effects of the technology… There’s so much going on in this novel, so much that it deals with, that you’ll probably be re-reading it or, better yet, discussing it in your group after everyone’s read it. And what also helps is Suzanne’s understated, almost invisible prose – damned well written. I’m extremely jealous. Read it.

***

That’s it for now – next week I’ll have some more of my favourites for you. 🙂 Until then,

Be EPIC!

 

 

Let’s Talk About: Exposure vs What You’re Entitled To

The dreaded ‘E’-word…

The vast majority of writers write for free. Read that again. For free. Am I talking crap? Nope. Because when we sit down to write a short story, or a novella, or a novel, most of us aren’t being paid to do it. What’s truly incredible about writing is that most of us give up time in which we could be earning money to spend time doing something we might not be paid for. Ever. I’ve got a whole bunch of short stories, sitting on my hard drive, which I’ll probably never be paid for, because they’re crap. Does that mean that the time spent writing them was wasted time? Nope. Does that mean that they are valuable, in and of themselves? Of course – but not in the monetary sense.

For instance, an utter noob has to begin somewhere, and while you might look back on your earliest attempts at writing and scream in horror, don’t. Comparison is an incredible teacher, folks – so hang onto those stories, even if you’re probably not going to re-write or re-visit them, because their value is incredible.

Are those stories good enough to earn you some money? Probably not. Come on, be honest. Being able to write a story (however short or long) doesn’t equate to being able to write a story that folks will be willing to pay for. I started out submitting to venues that didn’t pay a cent, because I wanted to get my work out there. I wanted my work to be seen and read. I wanted folks to know that I wasn’t just talking about a dream, but was actively pursuing the dream. And I don’t for a second regret not getting paid for those early stories, because they simply weren’t good enough.

It is, unfortunately, a realization many writers seemed to have utterly bypassed. We simply don’t start out as good writers. We start as terrible writers, and we learn. In most cases, who earns the money for teaching? The teacher. Children don’t get paid to go to school – so why should we get paid to learn how to write? Or to teach ourselves how to write?

Before you begin frothing and spitting, let me continue. 🙂

After my first couple of stories were published, unpaid (and here I focus on the monetary aspect; being given a free ebook is payment in and of itself, when you’re a noob), I began looking for venues which would pay me for a publication-accepted story. I didn’t just submit and then froth and rage when if a tale was accepted and I didn’t get money for it. Sounds stupid, right? I mean, who would do that? Submit to a venue expecting payment, without checking to see if the venue paid?

Well, I would be really surprised if this didn’t happen. After all, many, many writers can’t even follow submission guidelines, so it stands to reason that they’ll expect payment without checking… 🙂

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is this: you begin writing for free -not only for exposure, but to learn– and you gradually build up to being a writer worth being paid. That makes sense, right?

Of course it does. 🙂

So, what am I saying with this post? It’s simple, really – exposure has its place, and its uses.

BUT… (there’s always a big but)

Don’t forget what ‘exposure’ means – or what it should mean. Today’s writing landscape is incredibly, continuously cut-throat. And on many different levels. New writers are constantly trying to break into the industry, whether by querying agents, posting to wattpad (which also has its uses), self-publishing, submitting to anthologies, etc. That means that your game has to be utterly exceptional if you want to land the big deal and, let’s face it, your work isn’t. Your work has the ability to become exceptional, but no matter how many of your family or friends tell you it is, it isn’t.

The only way to get outside opinions of your work is by getting your work out there, and in the beginning, that usually means not being paid at all. Exposure. Unfortunately, though, and in most cases, that ‘exposure’ isn’t useful, is it? You’re not getting anything out of it, not even mentions in reviews (if the work gets reviewed, that is…). So, how do you go about getting ‘exposure’ while also upgrading your writing skills?

Join writer’s groups and communities where people read and critique each others work, for one; basically everyone in such a group is looking to improve, and since you’ll be ‘exposing’ your work to a wider audience and learning from their critiques and stories, that’s the kind of exposure you want. Not monetary exposure, but valuable exposure. There are plenty such groups on Facebook, and even Twitter has a groups going. The two big things about these kinds of groups are reciprocation and respect, so don’t join up thinking that you’ll get critiques of your work if you’re not willing or able to critique the work of others.

That kind of ‘exposure’ is what you should be looking for. 🙂

Getting exposure by having stories published by venues which don’t pay can also be a useful thing, though. Hear me out! Yes, you didn’t receive a cent and you signed an exclusive contract but (there’s that pesky thing again) you’re now on that specific editor’s radar. Being on an editor’s radar is extremely valuable, folks. Now, I’m not saying, ‘Keep on submitting to that editor / venue, and make peace with not being paid for your work,’ – what I’m getting at is that you should keep in mind that one editor, at least, accepted your work, remember that editor, and move on. After a while, you might see that the editor is in charge of a paying gig, and you might have something suitable to submit, and hey, if your tale is accepted, and you get paid for it, remember what led you to that sale: exposure.

Now, if you continue to submit your stories to venues which don’t offer payment, and your writing career stalls, that’s no-one’s fault but your own. If you want to get paid for your work, submit your work to venues which can pay, BUT (what an evil word, eh?) keep in mind that your work needs to constantly improve. No-one writes to the best of their ability from that first pen-to-paper / fingers-to-keyboard moment. No one.

Keep on writing, keep on reading, grow your craft, keep ticking off those levels, keep rising higher than you did before – use exposure. Don’t let it use you.

And just so everyone reading this knows: this blog post is based entirely on my experience, and no-one’s experience will be the same. Some people use writers groups and critiquing to gain exposure; others submit to non-paying venues for exposure. The kind of exposure you’re after, and what you, as a writer, seek to gain, is what’s important here.

So, don’t knock exposure. Use it to grow and learn.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

My Favourite Books of 2016 – Part One

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well, and that 2017 has been good to you so far. 🙂

I’ve been busy editing novels and writing them, plus we had an internet-outage that lasted just over 6 weeks… I was, understandably, pissed off.

Anyway, that’s all done with, and I thought I’d kick off this year (in the second month of the year, no less…) with a post of books I read during last year (which aren’t many) and why I enjoyed them.

Let’s head a year back, to Weston Ochse‘s ‘Halfway House‘:

Halfway_House-423x628

Now, first of all, Weston is a damned deserving winner of the Bram Stoker Award. He writes Horror that clings like the odour of a three-weeks unwashed body… I read Halfway House a little more than a year ago (and received it to review from Weston some time before that), and the novel is still fresh in my mind. It’s the kind of tale that works on many different levels, and for many different reasons; it’s a story of emptiness-filling, primarily, but it’s also a story that looks at the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, the lives of surfers and the homeless, grief and how differently everyone deals with it (or tries to), and much more that I hope you’ll discover on your own. Here’s a link to order the book.

Next up, Jon Sprunk‘s ‘Shadow’s Lure‘:

Shadows-Lure_cover-199x300

Shadow’s Son‘ was a damned good debut – Jon managed to not only keep the story tightly character-focused, but also managed to bring in interesting world-building, magic, politics and damned cool combat. So, I was a bit worried that the second book in the trilogy wouldn’t be able to build on the first – but it did, and kickassingly so. Caim is tested even further – not only physically, but psychologically, and we find out more about his world and the various cultures and factions wrestling for dominance. We also find out more about Caim’s companion (surely one of the most mysterious characters in the trilogy), and events push toward a satisfying and hard-hitting climax, which not only ties up some of the story lines and mysteries from book 1 and 2, but also preps the reader for what’s coming in book 3, ‘Shadow’s Master‘, which I still need to read. These books are truly cool, fast-paced and clever, and I can tell that Jon really enjoys playing with the expected tropes and putting his own spin on them. Highly recommended for anyone who loves Fantasy. For more info, and to order the books, follow this link.

Next up, Karen Miller‘s ‘Star Wars: Clone Wars Gambit: Stealth‘, the first book in the Gambit duology, and sadly, not Canon.

Clone Wars Gambit 1

The fact that Karen is a damned good writer and storyteller doesn’t have to be discussed or explained; her Empress trilogy really impressed me, and (as I’ve said to many people) The Falcon Throne is, in my honest opinion, better than what GRRM has given us with ASoIaF. And Karen has written more than one Star Wars novel (The Clone Wars: Wild Space, was her first) and I really enjoyed what she did with Obi-Wan and Bail Organa, but damn, in Stealth, Karen really opened up – I haven’t read any other Star Wars novel which so deeply explores and explains the characters of Obi-Wan and Anakin. Not only is the tale fast-paced, with great action scenes, thrills and intrigue, and true Star Wars-moments, but Karen managed to make it really clear why Obi-Wan and Anakin respected and trusted each other so much, as well as showing us the depth of their bond. When I finished the book (and I still have to read Siege), I was struck with an incredible sadness, because the betrayal’s of Revenge of the Sith hit harder than even George Lucas could achieve (and I’m a huge fan of GL). I kind of wanted to somehow travel to Obi-Wan and Anakin and beg them to disappear, to leave the war and everything else behind. 🙁 Damned good book, and right up there with Star by Star and Traitor. To order the book, follow this link.

Next up, Greg Rucka‘s ‘Alpha‘:

Alpha

Greg first came to my attention with his runs on Batman and Detective Comics, which I enjoyed immensely – so I was really interested to read one of his novels, and I wasn’t disappointed. Alpha stars Jad Bell and follows his efforts to take on a group of damned dangerous terrorists who take over the US’s biggest theme park – not Disneyland, but a fictional stand-in, which serves just as well. Greg managed to balance a racing plot with political intrigue, hectic action and surprises, while putting his hero through his paces. Plenty of thought went into how a terrorist attack on a theme park would unfold, and it’s obvious, too, that Greg knows combat and weapons, too. Alpha is a quick read (these action thrillers usually are), and resolves the plot while opening up the main character, Jad, to a world of danger he’s just beginning to find out about. I have no idea when I’ll read the next book, Bravo, but it’s definitely on my list. Order the book at this link.

That’s it for part one. 🙂 In my next post I’ll be sharing my thoughts on work from Alex Marshall, John Burnham Schwartz, Justin Cronin and Christopher Golden. 🙂

Until then,

Be EPIC!

Pre-Release Excerpt: A Song of Conflict – A Mahaelian Chronicle Tale

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well. 🙂

Tomorrow is the official release day for my second Mahaelian novelette, A Song of Conflict. I decided to release it after Conviction’s Pain has the story in Conflict takes place at the same time as the events unfolding in Conviction’s Pain. And since a bunch of you might be finishing up the second novel this weekend or next week sometime, I thought I’d tempt you with something new – a bit shorter. 😉

Read below for a taste of A Song of Conflict. 🙂

***

This is where it happened,” Daergan said, pointing at the barren stretch of earth. “Do you see?”

Aedral, seven moon-cycles old and tall for his age, stepped forward and peered into the open space. The shadows of the Monument covered the ground in thick, jagged, slats that seemed to reach toward each other. As if the ancient, Wielded Elvayn trapped within those jagged, arching rocks were still straining to move, to break free. Aedral was about to say as much to his father, but decided to remain quiet. It was early morning, the sun’s glow having just crested the horizon, and all around them lay a heavy layer of silence; better to observe the solemnity he was expected to than to wonder aloud about the jagged pillars surrounding them.

Aedral ignored the biggest of the looming rock-pillars. He knew it was his imagination, but he was sure it was staring at him. Regarding him with thousands of years of anger and malice. It knew him, even if his father didn’t.

“Soon,” continued his father, “the First Disciples and the Holy One will be released, and this place will become the site upon which the true destiny of our people shall be built.” He gestured around at the monuments, whose shadows had begun to slowly turn with the sun’s movement. “These pillars will form the center of the Seed House, and it will be Wielded outwards until it covers even the ground that the City of Traitors held, so long ago.” Aedral noticed a fervent light in his father’s eyes, as if they were lit from within with the visions of future grandeur he was trying to share. “The Seed House will be the beacon that stands in the middle of the new city, waiting for us to return from our journey to rae’Fallo.”

Tuning out his father’s words –for he had heard them many times before- the young Elvayn sneaked a glance at the ruins of the first city his people had ever Wielded. Very little remained, since most of the surviving structures had either been razed or removed, but it seemed that the earth remembered that ancient battle.

In places the ground was barren and dusty –where Wielders had stood and drawn upon the energy at their feet until nothing but lifeless soil remained- and great depressions marched off into the distance, some small but many large enough to swallow five or six men, as if massive fists had struck out in unfocused anger. He tried to imagine what that day must have been like, wondered what had truly happened, and failed every time. According to the histories were taught, the succeeding battles to take the remaining cities had been brutal and vicious, too, but every story he had ever heard or read seemed to agree that this first battle of the Traitor-War had been the most brutal.

It was just too … large for his mind to comprehend. The destruction and death, the broken family-cells, the shortages of food and shelter. More and more he was beginning to agree with his mother.

Nothing warranted the doling out of such pain and misery. Nothing.

“And we shall return in glory and triumph,” his father continued. “In our lifetime will this occur, Aedral. Do you understand? You will witness the unveiling of our destiny.”

Aedral looked back just in time to meet his father’s gaze and he fought to maintain the connection, and the illusion that he was his father’s son in more ways than just biologically. He wanted nothing more than to run to his mother and take her far away from this place, to finally join the Circle and to take his place among the men and women who remembered the truth, not the manufactured and carefully maintained lies that had been fed to them over the generations.

“Come here,” Daergan beckoned, undoing the buttons of his black jacket before lowering himself to his knees beside one of the Monument-pillars. Aedral joined him, careful to maintain a ‘reverent’ air and to copy his father’s posture. When his father bent at the waist and lowered his head to the ground, Aedral followed suit, and their foreheads made contact with the earth at the same moment. Aedral expected a shock of contact, the Holy One reaching out with His thought-voice to acknowledge his presence and his genuflection, but once again nothing happened. Perhaps there was some truth to what was said – that the Holy One waited for each new Disciple to reach the correct age before the first Communion took place. He almost wished he had a headband such as his father wore, to somehow buffer the contact with the ground. This place made his skin crawl.

Aedral would rather that the Communion never occurred – he was sure that his thoughts would be laid bare; his motives and the motives of the Circle discovered in that instant. It was difficult to disbelieve the stories of Communion he had heard when almost everyone he came into contact with on a daily basis shared his father’s fervent loyalty, and his father wasn’t the only person who had said that they had heard the Holy One’s thought-voice.

Bent now as he was with his forehead touching the very ground upon which the Binding Chorus had been unleashed, Aedral was suddenly thankful that his ill-advised attempts had failed. He hadn’t told his mother what he’d done, and he hoped the others would keep quiet, too. The threat of Judgement would serve to keep their mouths shut, at least until the night of their Internment, but after that? Who could say? He hoped to be on his way to the Circle long before the ceremony began, because the fact that he had lied to them would be revealed – that he had told them that he had heard the Holy One’s thought-voice when he hadn’t.

Aedral didn’t want to be here with his father, not like this and not now. The Internment ceremony was days away, and as soon as they were done here he would return to his mother and try to convince her that they had to leave as soon as possible, that lingering was courting discovery and that … that he was afraid.

“You must remain prone during the Internment,” his father was saying, his voice muffled against the dirt. “From the moment the ceremony begins until the Holy One releases you, understand? To break contact is an act of terrible disrespect, an act that will taint our family’s honor for generations.”

Aedral almost voiced his frustration aloud at that moment, swallowing back the groan of frustration. He knew that his father wasn’t an evil man; Daergan had never shown anyone disrespect, had never been callous or unthinking, had always been gentle and respectful toward his wife. He wasn’t like some of the others, those who treated the Traitor-born with scorn, insulting them and even assaulting them on occasion. He followed the laws and had never once misused them. But it didn’t change the fact that he was on the wrong side, and that someday Aedral would have to face his father, stand firm as a member of the Circle, and possibly Sing against him.

Better that outcome, he remembered his mother telling him, than the complete destruction of the Circle. We must stand, Aedral. We cannot falter.

“I won’t bring dishonor upon us, Father,” he said, his voice also muffled by the ground inches from his lips. The soil was warm, its musty odor filling his head. The effects of Wielding left an indelible mark on the earth, something that no-one should have been able to dismiss. But it happened; the minds of the loyal focused so intently that such a simple thing as the difference between the scents of live earth and dead earth completely escaped them. Such an obvious thing. He was sad that he was lying to his father by saying those words, but it couldn’t be helped – his choice had just been made anew, and it seemed to him that the price he might one day have to pay to ensure that balance returned was something he could live with.

Aedral sensed the motion of his father rising and lifted his head from the dirt before rising to his feet, secretly happy that he wouldn’t have to genuflect like this again. He felt his father’s hand on his shoulder and turned to face him.

“I am proud of you, Aedral, and so is your mother.” He smiled. “You will become a great Disciple – you are already a worthy son.” He squeezed briefly, as close to showing affection as he ever came, and said, “Return to your mother. I promised her that I would not keep you long.”

Aedral nodded at his father, relief spreading through him in a wave, and when he turned away from the Monument he was walking slightly faster than what he intended. He felt his father’s eyes on him and refused to wonder what was going through the man’s mind.

***

Click here to order your copies from Amazon, and here from other online retailers. 🙂

Until tomorrow,

Be EPIC!

Battles and the Fantasy Author, or ‘How I Made Battles Work For Me’

The first time I tried to write a battle scene I really had no idea what I was doing.

That scene, unfinished and unfocused, was supposed to be a small bit of back-story for what would eventually become Betrayal’s Shadow, and followed a general and his troops on their last fruitless charge.

It was fuckin’ glorious. Useless, but glorious. Blaze of … erm, glory, and all that. Swords raised and “Charrrrgge!” and hooves thundering into the rising dust cloud and echoing screams… Glorious but useless.

Why? I had no idea about tactics. There was no reason for the battle. It wasn’t personal. And I was trying to open a story with a battle. In short, I’d seen a couple of cool battles on the big screen, and wanted to write what I had seen and make it Fantasy.  Gimme a lollipop. Please? I tried. 🙂

And that scene (hand-written, I might add) is still shoved in somewhere among all the other scenes and bits of stories I’ve written and not used. I realised, too, that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. And so I embarked on The Quest to Learn How To Write Battles.

Helluva interesting and useful quest, let me tell you.

I read up on the Roman legions and how they fought, the different kinds of battles they fought, how their forces were divided up, which units were employed for quick, hard strikes and which units could take masses of punishment. I read books about ancient battles, the commanders on the field, the tactics they employed. I read up on castles (the different kinds) and forts and trench warfare. I played games like Rome: Total War (the first game). And I was trying to fit in everything I was learning to what I was writing.

Didn’t work. Doesn’t work that way.

Why? Because what I realised (and it should have been obvious, like punch-to-the-head obvious) was that I was writing Fantasy and that I was trying to write a battle, in a secondary world, between two factions which don’t exist (the one being non-human and having no use for armour or weapons), using real-world or historical methods of warfare.

What I came to realise is that my world and the battles taking place in my world have to make sense to my world, the characters inhabiting it, and their abilities and equipment. For example, I couldn’t have soldiers standing in a phalanx (no matter how much I wanted them to stand in a phalanx and how cool that imagery would be) because my soldiers and their enemies don’t use shields, for one. (why they don’t use shields ties into the world-building and the specific cultures). So, no phalanxes.

There were a couple of other things I wanted to use and never did – I did use siege warfare (in Betrayal’s Shadow, for a specific plot-important purpose) and I haven’t yet written a full-scale battle (because I’m keeping that back for the third book), but there have been a couple of fights and skirmishes throughout the first two books. And in those battles / skirmishes, I wrote them to suit what was happening in the world.

For example, undead hordes charge knights, and the knights are used to melee combat, so a quite a few die or are bitten before they figure out that it would be inadvisable to try hand-to-hand or melee combat against the things – and then they learn to use crossbows and fire.

Or knights up against creatures twice their size, ferocious and blazingly fast – no hand-to-hand there, either, and even stepping up to meet such a creature with a sword will practically guarantee  a brutal, painful death.

What I’m getting at is that the storyteller needs to remember to tailor the battles to the story, and not tailor the story to a battle you really want to write.

The next lesson came easily enough: make it personal. I wasn’t playing Rome: Total War – I wasn’t directing soldiers on a screen. I was writing a battle scene, with characters I knew and had created, to tell a story. Writing a battle scene from the Rome: Total War viewpoint might be good to showcase tactics, but it’s useless for characters.

So I went into the battle and tried to remember that the guy trying to survive has no idea what’s happening around him; he just knows that he’s fighting, that he doesn’t want to die, and that if he stops to think about what’s happening to his friends, he’ll die.

It’s personal, and earn-numbingly loud, and dirty, and terrifying. At least, it was for my characters. It had to be. Because if it wasn’t, I realised, what was the use? Why have battles? Well, I’ve yet to encounter High, Heroic or Epic Fantasy which doesn’t have battles, but the point is that a battle has to matter, it has to have significance, and it has to have costs.

Now, I don’t pretend to know anything about writing battles. I won’t even pretend that the battles I’ve written are particularly good, or cool, or whatever, so don’t read this post as advice. You’ll learn what battles mean to your story in your own way, in your own time. You’ll learn how to suit battles to the story you are telling, and you’ll learn why those specific battles are necessary to your story. Allow yourself to be open to that process, to let it happen, and not to force it.

Enjoy writing your battles, and remember to keep them personal for your characters, and the folks who enjoy your tales will enjoy your battles. 🙂

And Be EPIC!

 

 

Release Day! Conviction’s Pain – Book Two of The Mahaelian Chronicle

Hey everyone. 🙂 The day has arrived, and my second novel (which is two more than I once thought I’d ever be able to write) is available across Amazon. 🙂

Avidar and its people are reeling in the aftermath of a deadly attack.

Alun Dronald, now Lord General of Avidar’s armies, must contend with a murder investigation, political games, and growing religious fervour, while Del’Ahrid, seemingly the most powerful man in the kingdom, plans his next move.

Elsewhere, Brice Serholm serves an enigmatic, powerful being with direct ties to the growing conflict and its ancient roots, while Khyber, the only free Elvayn, makes a discovery which could put an end to millennia of war and strife.

The Mahaelian Chronicle continues.

And the true enemy will finally be revealed…

Click here to order your copies. 🙂

If you’re one of those readers who hasn’t yet read my work, here’s the low-down:

A Song of Sacrifice is a prequel and takes place approximately three thousand years before the first novel, Betrayal’s Shadow; it’s a quick read, just over half an hour, and can be read either before BS or after it. 🙂 Click here to order your copies.

The beginning of a conflict which will change two worlds…

When Ordaefus, Song Priest of the Elvayn, discovers that his people are capable of a new, incredible ability, his brother, Mahaelal, believes that this new way is wrong – an affront to the very foundations upon which the Elvayn built their civilization.

And when war breaks out, both brothers must make a choice – do they fight to protect what they believe in, or surrender, and exchange freedom for restriction?

What choice do they have left, when all choices lead to destruction and death?

Betrayal’s Shadow is the first book of The Mahaelian Chronicle – where it all began. 🙂 Click here to order your copies – also available in hardcover and paperback.

My first novel, and the first in a trilogy.

Betrayal casts long shadows – none know this better than Brice Serholm.

As a decorated general in the kingdom’s elite Blade Knights, Brice had to overcome the taint of treason and betrayal to attain his rank. When Brice and a force of Knights are sent on a mission to investigate claims of rebellion in one of Avidar’s provinces, their ship is magically attacked, and the resulting investigation tests every oath Brice swore before his king.

Meanwhile, an inhuman infant escapes the capital’s Slave-Hold, the king’s mistress comes into possession of a unique dagger, and Del’Ahrid, the king’s most trusted First Advisor, begins to question everything he built his honour and life upon.

Events are in motion that will test every man, woman and child – and a conflict is coming that will shake the kingdom to its very foundations.

So begins the Mahaelian Chronicle.

A Song of Conflict is the second Mahaelian Chronicle Tale, and takes place concurrently with Conviction’s Pain – so spoilers abound for those who haven’t read Betrayal’s Shadow or Conviction’s Pain! Click here to order your copies.

Three thousand years have passed since the Seeds fled the Elvayn homeworld.

Elvayn society is strictly controlled by Mahaelal’s Disciples, and any dissent is punished with Judgement and death. But there is hope, in the form of a secret society called The Circle, and in the choices of Aedral, the son of a Disciple.

Ancient secrets will be revealed, and far-reaching choices must be made, even as two worlds teeter on the edge of total chaos.

And the Mahaelian Chronicle continues…

There we go, folks; everything you need to know. 🙂 If you do decide to give this South African writer a chance, I can only hope that you enjoy what you read. 🙂

Happy Book Birthday to me! 😀

Be EPIC!