Epic Fantasy Heists – The Fantasy Focus Podcast

My first ever podcast interview is now up on the Fantasy Focus website!

It was a lot of fun chatting with Jamie and a great experience for me. Have a listen as I discuss The Weapon Takers Saga and my writing journey with fellow Fantasy author Jamie Davis.

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Being the first book of The Last King of Osten Ard, a series sequel to the seminal Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.

These days references to the ground-breaking fantasy series Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams tend to be as an inspiration to GRR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. The similarities have been identified and are but a google search away. The danger is that Memory, Sorrow and Thorn becomes a side note in someone else’s chapter in the history of fantasy rather than getting chapter of its own, which it richly deserves.

To help make this point, Williams has now returned to Osten Ard thirty years later (both by our reckoning of years and theirs) with a new series.

Doing so after such a long gap brings its risks. Williams pulls it off, producing something familiar enough to feel like a continuation, but different enough to account for the passing years.

 

CHARACTERS

One problem Williams had was an inheritance of a massive cast list from the original series, combined with the need to introduce fresh characters for this one. He blends the two well, aided by the fact that he gives himself 300,000 words to do it. He avoids easy get-outs, such as having a cull of older characters in the first few pages, and is respectful of his earlier characters.

I didn’t re-read the first series before jumping in with this book, and it is quite possible to enjoy this book without having read the earlier ones. Having said that, you are a little overwhelmed with characters early on here, in a way that wouldn’t happen if it was a totally new series.

His original characters: Simon Snowlock, Miriamele, Tiamak etc — have been aged convincingly, from young heroes to weary rulers. This older cast, with their wounds both physical and emotional, combines well with Williams’ gentle, melancholy writing style.

A number of new characters are, in effect, the bad guys, and seeing their point of view definitely adds something to the tale, and is one example of Williams moving with the times in his approach to this series.

 

WORLDBUILDING

This is Williams’ strength. Of course, he is revisiting a world he created thirty years ago, but the size of it—the history, politics and religion of each culture that come together to make it a living, breathing world, remain impressive.

This level of painstaking worldbuilding is perhaps old-fashioned now, with the current penchant for in your face attitude and violence from page 1. And one issue with Williams’ style remains: the pace. Boy, I remember how slow The Dragonbone Chair was first time around. It’s the biggest barrier to people enjoying his work. And The Witchwood Crown isn’t much better—incredibly slow-build, with things only really picking up in the final quarter.

 

PLOT

Tanahaya, a Sitha, travels to Erchester, the capital of Osten Ard, but is ambushed, almost dying from her wounds. Although the humans attempt to treat her, she remains on death’s door, and why she was targeted remains unclear.

The King and Queen, Simon and Miri, have become care worn after ruling their kingdom for thirty years, and suffering the loss of their only child, John Josua. The question of inheritance looms large, as their grandson and heir, Morgan, is considered a wastrel, though there is more to this story than most characters can see. Political troubles begin to simmer in the far-flung corners of the High Ward and they must rely on their old friends to keep the peace.

Meanwhile, in the cold dark mountain of Nakkiga, Utuk’ku, the Norn Queen, has awakened. Nezeru, a half-blood Norn Sacrifice, is assigned to a hand of Norns who are ordered to leave their realm in search of dragon blood.

In truth, there must be at least twenty POV characters here, scattered across the realms of Osten Ard. I enjoy that level of complexity, but of course not everyone will. It takes a good while, but by the end of the book you can see these threads starting to come together.

 

Overall, if you are ready to get invested in a deep world and a huge cast of characters, to put in the time as the story develops, then you should enjoy this tale from a master of epic fantasy.

The Jalakh Bow – Out Now!

The Jalakh Bow is now available to buy on Amazon. The paperback edition has been released and the eBook is on pre-order, with a release date of 30th March.

Greg Patmore is again going to narrate and produce the audiobook version, and I am hopeful for an autumn release of this.

I’m excited about some promotion news coming up in April, so stay tuned for that!

 

The Jalakh Bow

The Jalakh Bow, Book 3 of The Weapon Takers Saga, has just had its cover reveal over on the Fantasy Hive — check it out, there’s a full series blurb and they’ve displayed all three books in the series – I love seeing all the books together!

 

The formal release date will be 1st April and the eBook is likely to go up on pre-order before that. The book is already up on Goodreads here. I have quite a few things planned to coincide with the launch, so stay tuned! 

I’ll leave you with the blurb for the book to whet your appetite:

 

The weapon takers have bought themselves some time to complete their quest. But when their enemies return, they will find that they have become more ruthless and more terrifying than ever.

In the steppe lands of the far north, Soren must seek out the bow of the Jalakh tribes. In Kalinth, Belwynn must face a mysterious evil disguised as a friend. And in the high mountains of his Krykker homeland, Rabigar must learn a bitter lesson: nowhere is safe.

The Jalakh Bow continues the action-packed series, The Weapon Takers Saga. The series concludes with Book Four, The Giants’ Spear.

 

 

Beyond The Shadows

The grimdark fantasy anthology Beyond The Shadows is now live on Amazon. There’s been a great initial response to the release, with positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

There are 15 stories in the anthology, including my own, Stiff’s Standoff. I’m now a third of the way through the book myself and I’m impressed with the variety of the stories that I’ve read so far. I’m also surprised it’s such a HUGE book – I’ve taken a picture of the paperback which gets across how many words we collectively put out!

Beyond The Shadows on my bookshelf

The eBook version has a new release price of 0.99 until the end of the month, when it will go up to 3.99, so now is a great time to get it.


Bolivar’s Sword Audiobook Out Now!

Greg Patmore and Bridget Thomas have done another fantastic job with Bolivar’s Sword. They really bring the cast of characters to life and I thought it was such a fun listen. Greg was recently nominated for Best Narrator at the 2018 SOVAs and I’m so pleased I’ve got him on board for the series!

The audiobook is now available at Audible, Amazon and iTunes. You can have a listen to the sample below.

audible.com

audible.co.uk

Introducing Lothar ‘Stiff’ Sauer

When the editor of Beyond The Shadows gave the writers some direction for the anthology, he suggested a ‘grimdark’ tone. If you’re new to this term, this is used to denote the relatively recent crop of books whose characters can be described as ‘morally grey or ambiguous’; which forego the traditional good vs evil storylines of fantasy for worlds which are more realistic, or cynical, depending on your outlook. Some of the most well known writers awarded this label are GRR Martin, Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence.

While my current series has some elements of grimdark, it sits more squarely with the traditional fantasy blueprint of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. So my story for the anthology, Stiff’s Standoff, introduces an entirely new scenario with new characters. The main character, Lothar ‘Stiff’ Sauer, isn’t trying to save the world. He’s the leader of a small mercenary group (four of them, including himself) trying to make some money, competing against better leaders with bigger crews.

‘Come on, Stiff,’ said Peter. ‘There’s seven of us here. All professionals. We’ve been preparing for days. What have you got? A fat archer, a psychopath, an old man supping too much beer, and you’ve somehow blundered into a score. You’ve always been sensible. Known when to take a risk and when to back off.’

Patronising shit, thought Lothar, feeling himself rile up. Since when do I take advice from him?

‘I’ll give you 50 pieces for your trouble, Stiff,’ said Anke, making it sound generous. ‘You turn a tidy profit for a day’s work, everyone gets to leave with their reputation intact.’

Now she was doing it. Trying to buy him off for spare change. But Lothar knew something was up. He knew Peter and Anke plenty enough to tell that. Both trying a little too hard to appear nonchalant.

Fantasy characters can tend towards the heroic and the invincible. Lothar is neither – he is an ordinary man in an unpleasant world. He’s just trying to survive in it.

‘What a shithole,’ he murmured, looking around.

He saw a collection of wooden shacks, leaning against each other, on either side of the two roads that met here. The only substantial building was the church, set in its own grounds on the north-east edge of the village. He smiled to himself bitterly. Poor fuckers the world over kept themselves poor by giving all the spare money they had to the Church. It was the ultimate long odds gamble of the desperate and the hopeless.

Footsteps behind. He knew them to be Mirko’s.

‘Shithole,’ said a gravelly voice.

Lothar nodded. He considered the wooden shacks and the people who lived inside.

‘What possesses someone to decide to live their life in a place like this?’ he asked.

‘Because the place they’ve left is worse.’

To survive in this world, Lothar has developed a personal motto. Don’t get into something you can’t get out of. When temptation comes his way, will he stick to his motto and survive another day? Or will he get dragged into a situation from which he can’t escape?

Beyond The Shadows is set to be released on 5th January, featuring 15 short to mid-length stories.

Striking Out

Starting over is hard. Sometimes it’s the only option.

Since she was a young girl, Moneva has worked for the most powerful crime lord in the Empire. A chance encounter offers her a way out. Can she take it?

 

Introducing my short story, Striking Out. This is a prequel story, set five years before Toric’s Dagger starts. It’s written from Moneva’s point of view, and develops aspects of her backstory that are mentioned during the series. I enjoyed adding some flesh to these bones, and also featuring some other characters from the series in the story.

 

Moneva sighed. She really didn’t like Barissians. Some indefinable, can’t put your finger on it reason, that made her think they were all a bunch of arseholes.

 

Striking Out is not available to buy and is currently exclusive to members of my newsletter, who can download it FREE from Bookfunnel. I will also be featuring it elsewhere as a free introduction to the series.

 

Fuck thinking things through. Fuck always being in control. Fuck being patient, waiting for the right moment. And fuck Salvinus. She was going to kill him, here and now.

 

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The Chronicles of the Black Gate: Books 1-3 by Phil Tucker

So here I’m reviewing a pretty well known and widely read series, The Chronicles of the Black Gate by Phil Tucker. In particular, I bought the eBook ‘box-set’ featuring books 1-3 of 5, which the author offers for an incredibly competitive price and is therefore a great introduction to the series. Having finished Book 3 I am therefore half way through the series, but I thought I would drop a review at this point. I may do a follow up post when I complete the series. The short story is, this is a great series with a wide appeal.

 

Characters

We follow the point of view of a number of characters throughout the series, with a chapter devoted to each one, reminiscent of A Song of Ice and Fire. Asho, depicted on the cover of the first book, The Path of Flames, is a Bythian, a white haired slave race.  He has left his underground homeland to become a knight, but does not fit in, is treated with disrespect and has an XL size chip on his shoulder. Kethe is the daughter of the baron Asho serves, who wants to break with social convention and train as a warrior; Iskra is Kethe’s mother. Audsley is the unathletic, studious ‘magister’ who works at the same castle. Indeed, all of the main characters are already quite well intertwined at the beginning of the story, all except for Tharok. He is a kragh, an orc/ogre type creature, with ambitions to unite his race and take on the humans.

There is a real blend and variety of characters here, Tucker does a great job of getting the reader inside their heads early on. You have warriors and non-warriors, older and younger, male and female, different classes etc. It’s great for readers like me who enjoy the variety, and even if you don’t, I would expect most readers to find at least one character they root for. Some of the backstory is quite dark, and I would certainly define the series as epic fantasy with grimdark elements.

All in all I liked the characters, the author does a good job of developing personality while also allowing the plot and action to develop at a nice pace. Personally, I enjoyed the Tharok chapters, perhaps because they were a bit different, but also because his storyline is separate for so long, it felt like a nice change of pace/scenery when he came along.

 

Worldbuilding

Tucker really knows his genre and he does a good job of fitting all the pieces together, not a straightforward task when you write fantasy. The world he creates is highly original. The different parts of the world are connected by magical gates – aka solar or lunar portals. My understanding is that these gates are required to travel from one region to another, though I never quite got a grip on the geography so I could be wrong. The humans are therefore divided into different regions, and each has a different role to play in the Ascendant Empire – Bythians are slave labour, Ennoians are the warriors, Aletheians the elite, Noussians scholars etc. Not only that, but there is an important religious element to this structure too, so that when you die you pass from one stage to another – a higher stage if you have lived your life well, a lower one if not, i.e. some form of reincarnation. An interesting aspect to this is the reader is never clear how true this really is – is this belief system purely fictional, half true or not.

Magic is linked to this worldbuilding, so that some characters appear able to use magic because they are connected to the White Gate (think: heaven), the top of the structure, others because they are connected to the Black Gate (think: hell). Once a character has this magic they become pretty awesome overnight – their swords light with fire, they can do 20 somersaulting back flips in a row etc etc. During the book some of the characters transform in this way into ‘superheroes’, far superior to ordinary humans.

Magic and religion are therefore central themes, and the series has a distinctive setting. As a reader I was left with slightly mixed feelings – the setting was memorable, but I wasn’t always able to fully suspend my disbelief.

 

Plot

Circumstances force Iskra on a collision course with the rulers of the Ascendant Empire. She is supported by her knights (such as Asho and Kethe) and other allies, though they face overwhelming odds. Audsley begins to learn the secrets of the portals, and finds out that there is a corruption at the heart of the Empire. Meanwhile, Tharok finds an iron circlet that gives him the ability to plan a strategic course of action that could unite the kragh under his leadership. Should that be allowed to happen, the Empire will face a far greater threat than Iskra’s small band of rebels.

Each character ends up being given a distinct challenge or storyline, which sees them working alone or together at different points in the series, and in different locations. Tucker does a great job of linking all these storylines together, like a juggler – he never drops a ball, and thus weaves a truly impressive fantasy tapestry together. There are moments, I think almost inevitable if you are going to write something on this scale, when you would like things to move a bit faster. But at the end of Book 3, it all comes together with a climactic crash.

 

 

Overall, as I’ve suggested, this series ticks most fantasy readers’ boxes – epic in scale, though certainly not hard to get through; an original setting, with a hint of mystery; and engaging characters. I would thoroughly recommend!

 

 

 

Beyond the Shadows Cover Reveal

Very excited about my involvement in the Beyond The Shadows Fantasy Anthology. I have contributed a short story to the collection, which is due to be released early in the New Year.

The cover design has just been released so I wanted to post it here so people can get an early view. It’s pretty cool, right?

I’ll be posting more information about my story and the anthology soon!