The Giants’ Spear

 

It’s finally here! The end of the series!

Here’s the cover for Book 4 of The Weapon Takers Saga. The official release date for the eBook is 15th November, but it’s already available to buy on pre-order. What’s more, the price will be set at $/£2.99 until release day.

Feels weird to be saying the series is over, but looking forward to finding out what everyone thinks of it.

Visit The Giants’ Spear on Amazon

 

When Fantasy Ruled the Charts

Mention fantasy inspired music now and, if anything, you probably think about a niche genre of heavy metal. But once upon a time, in a land not so far away, fantasy was a major inspiration on some of the music that troubled the charts, and on their artwork. Here are some of the albums, all released between 1967-75, from an era when fantasy ruled the charts.

1973. An iconic album cover featuring mystical sites on earth, Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes, was written at the high point of progressive rock-a genre full of complex lyrics and music that was well suited to literary ideas. This is a concept album inspired by ancient hindu texts. Ridiculed by some for its pretension, you don’t get music like this in the charts any more. Key track: The Ancients/Giants Under the Sun

 

1969. Led Zeppelin II by Led Zeppelin, complete with a steampunk style cover featuring German WW1 fighter pilots. The moment when Led Zeppelin first mix their folk blues music with mystical storytelling. No doubt much of the link between heavy metal and fantastic themes can be traced back to this album. Key track: Ramble On

 

1972. Demons and Wizards by Uriah Heep. Another prog rock cover, combined with heavy music inside. This record is full of fantasy influenced songs. Key track: The Wizard

 

 

 

1968. This debut by psychedelic outfit Tyrannosaurus Rex long held the record for the longest album title: My People Were Fair and Had Sky in their Hair…But Now they’re Content to Wear Stars on their Brow‘. Full of Marc Bolan’s whimsical lyrics, this album was always going to be fantasy influenced when the bongo player was called Steve Peregrin Took. Key track: Dwarfish Trumpet Blues

 

1967. The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion by Scottish folk duo The Incredible String Band was one of the classic psychedelic albums. Key track: Mad Hatter’s Song

 

 

 

1968. A Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd. The last Floyd album featuring Syd Barrett, it retains his interest in fairy tales and fable. Key track: Let There Be More Light

 

 

 

1975. Warrior on the Edge of Time by Hawkwind. Really, any Hawkwind album would do. What makes this one stand out is the fantasy style cover – and the fact that many of the lyrics were provided by Michael Moorcock. Key track: The Wizard Blew His Horn

 

1971. Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by The Moody Blues. A great cover, this is prog rock with some mystical elements. Key track: Emily’s Song

 

 

 

What do you think? Anything missing? Any more recent music deserving of a mention?

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

Bolivar’s Sword eBook Out Now – 0.99

So, Bolivar’s Sword has now had its eBook release and will be 0.99 on Amazon for the first half of July until it goes back up to 3.99. The first reviews are also now in and seem to have settled on a 4**** average on amazon.com – see here. It feels good having a couple of books on sale now – hopefully the next one won’t take a year!

I have also started a kindle countdown for Toric’s Dagger, which means that it will be available at $0.99 for a week too, but unfortunately only on amazon.com (US Amazon).

 

Fantasy Maps

Like a lot of fantasy series, especially those set in a secondary world, my books will include a map. It is a map of the continent of Dalriya, where the series is set. Above you can see the full version, designed by Streetlight Graphics. Maps and fantasy series go hand in hand—so much so, that for some it has become a cliché. Joe Abercrombie made something of a punk rock statement by not including maps in his First Law trilogy. You can read his opinion piece on the question of maps on his website, here. For Abercombie, it seems to boil down to maps ‘getting in the way’ of the characters and their immediate story. And it has to be said, Abercrombie does character and story extremely bloody well.

I, however, am in the pro-map camp. Here are my musings on it.

 

Maps and Readers

When I read a fantasy book, I like to have a map to refer to, certainly when the action takes place over a large area. When I read Lord of the Rings, I pored over the pull-out map. I remember vividly, too, the detailed maps in David Eddings’ Belgariad series. They made these worlds more alive and made the experience of reading the book more immersive. If I had got my ruler out and started measuring how far the characters walked each day, tabulating my findings into a spreadsheet, then yeah, maybe that would have been a distraction. But I didn’t do that. Honestly, I didn’t. But I like maps. I like historical maps. If I’m playing a boardgame, and the board is a map, you can be pretty sure I will be sitting there as happy as a pig in muck.

BUT. Some people don’t like maps. They might sneer, or at the very least raise an eyebrow. Thing is, people who think a map is horribly clichéd, probably aren’t going to like my series anyway. It’s a fantasy series, and has a good portion of that genre’s tropes in there somewhere. Ergo, I don’t have to worry about such people. For those who do enjoy the genre, chances are they’ll appreciate a map. And anyway, it comes free. You don’t HAVE to look at the bloody thing, do you?

 

Maps and Writers

Perhaps more important, is the use of a map for a writer. I have no doubt that Joe Abercrombie has a map or two in his draw somewhere, even if he chose not to feature them in his book. Why? Because the secondary world he created was so believable, he must have spent some time thinking about how it all worked. When a writer hasn’t given it much thought, it becomes all too obvious to the reader. That’s when a fantasy fan might sneer, or at least raise an eyebrow.

And that is the connection between fantasy and maps. The fantasy author has had to create a whole new world as a setting for their story. As well as great characters and plot, fantasy fans want to see great worldbuilding. Having a map in front of me, made me ask some questions of the world I had created.

How long will it take my characters to get from A to B? Will they have to cross a river, or go through rough terrain, to get there?

What kind of government does this country have? What kind of religion? How many people live there? How wealthy are they? What do people do for a living?

What kind of relationship does this country have with its neighbour?

What is the history of this continent? Presumably, three hundred years ago, the map would have looked different?

This can give your world the illusion of reality, and allow your reader to enjoy the story. Not that your reader wants to, or should be told ALL of these things. They need to have the sense that there are answers to these questions, without being told all the boring detail. That would certainly get in the way of the story.

 

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Tigana is a classic, stand alone fantasy novel by one of the greats of fantasy fiction. It is named after a province in the mythical Peninsula of the Palm.

 

Characters

Kay uses multiple points of view in this story, meaning that we look through the eyes of a number of characters. This allows us to follow events across the Palm, from a number of perspectives. I tend to enjoy this approach to fantasy writing and the author handles it well. Most of the characters we follow are exiles, of one kind or another, from Tigana: Devin, young and green; Catriana, equally young but more mature; Dianora, whose story is largely separate from the other characters; Baerd, her brother, full of anger and purpose. Interestingly, their leader, Prince Alessan, is never used as the POV by Kay, leaving him more mysterious and remote, which I think was a good decision. We are even treated to the POV of one of the main adversaries, Alberico of Barbadior, which Kay seems to enjoy writing. The characters are well drawn, with clear motives and backstory. They are also complex: the heroes make morally dubious decisions to get what they want, and the villains can be sympathetic, too. I found I cared about the characters. Having said that, when the book was finished, I didn’t find myself missing them, which can happen with my favourite books.

Worldbuilding

The story is set in the Palm, which is geographically an upside down Italy. Like medieval Italy, it is divided into different, disunited provinces. At the beginning of the story it has been invaded by two different foreign powers, Ygrath and Barbadior, who have divided the Palm between them. The world feels real, with a history, culture and religion of its own. Each province has its own unique characteristics, which inform much of the plot. All this world-building is done with a light touch, so that it never intrudes too much on the story.

There is magic in the Palm, but no great magicians. This explains how the antagonists, Brandin of Ygrath and Alberico of Barbadior, were able to conquer it in the first place. It also helps the reader to root for those struggling for independence, since they are underdogs for this very reason.

Style

Tigana is an effortless read and Kay writes with a sense of poetry, like the earlier fantasy writers. It is, therefore, different to the more modern trend of gritty writing which can make it feel more dated than it is in some ways (it was published in 1990). This sense of poetry and magic pervades this novel, reminding me of classic Arthurian literature. It means that the world is perhaps not always logical or realistic—that’s OK, though—it’s a fantasy novel.

Plot

The story is centred on the fate of Tigana, one of the provinces of the Palm. It has been cursed by Brandin of Ygrath, as punishment for its resistance to his invasion. We focus, therefore, on the efforts of the heroes, mostly exiles from Tigana, to save their homeland. The themes of duty, of belonging to a place or people, are therefore very strong. None of the heroes are ‘super’ heroes, with extraordinary magic or martial skills to help them. Indeed, many of them are most proficient at making music. Neither do they have an army to help them. This fact is both a strength and a weakness of the book. It means that we root for them, as underdogs. However, in order for them to achieve their goals, we have to swallow a fair amount of dubious plotting. The route to victory, apparently, involves years of wandering around carrying out complicated/pointless acts of rebellion, or, conversely, huge acts of self-sacrifice. There is no conventional rebellion or civil war here; neither is there ever an outright attempt at assassination of the two wizards by the heroes. This is despite the fact that other attempts at assassination make it seem eminently achievable. This lack of realism in the plot was the one thing that made me harrumph while reading. Having said that, this is pretty standard fare in the fantasy genre.

Conclusion

This is a really good book, still loved by many, that has stood the test of time. It doesn’t have the complexity of some fantasy epics, but we are so used now to fantasy stories as trilogies, if not longer, that this is a somewhat unfair criticism. In Tigana, Kay achieves in a single novel what many authors fail to do in a series. If we are to judge it against other single, stand alone fantasy novels, then it is up there as one of the best ever written.