My Favourite Books of 2016 – Part One

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

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‘:

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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‘:

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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.

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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. πŸ™ 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‘:

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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. πŸ™‚ In my next post I’ll be sharing my thoughts on work from Alex Marshall, John Burnham Schwartz, Justin Cronin and Christopher Golden. πŸ™‚

Until then,

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.Β  Gimme a lollipop. Please? I tried. πŸ™‚

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 guaranteeΒ  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. πŸ™‚

And Be EPIC!