March Madness

First of all, an update on the writing. I have sent book one of the new series to my beta readers and received feedback so that is due another final edit before it’s ready. I have also made a decent start on the first draft of book two, so I am still hoping for a late spring/ early summer release of the new series.

Meanwhile, I’m running a limited time promotion on The Weapon Takers Saga. You can get Toric’s Dagger free from the 2nd-6th March on Amazon with reductions in all territories on books 2 & 3 (the price varies on this). This has been a good way to attract new readers in the past, so spread the word if you can!

Valour by John Gwynne

Valour (The Faithful and the Fallen, #2)Valour by John Gwynne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s no doubt that John Gwynne is delivering for fans of epic fantasy with this series, hitting many of the tropes we have come to expect from the genre.

His main achievement, I think, is in creating a work of breadth and depth, with a substantial number of character povs, while keeping a frenetic pace. The book is well plotted and full of action scenes, with individual fights and large scale military engagements occurring regularly. The author knows his stuff when it comes to medieval warfare. Altogether, this is no mean feat.

Of course, all of which means other elements are, almost inevitably, less sharp. The characters are all solid and likeable but there are few that climb above their fantasy standards: the prophesied young hero, his sword mentor, the wise woman, the gang of loyal family and friends. I’m not criticising – all the characters serve their purpose, they carry the storyline and have allowed Gwynne to finish what is an epic story. We have an overarching good v evil storyline, with an interesting range of characters on the ‘bad’ side. The worldbuilding is developed but the author hasn’t bitten off more than he can chew. We have human kingdoms and giant kingdoms, all quite similar, creating a believable Dark Age style world without the need for more complexity. Magic is a half way house between being mysterious and having a system: perhaps not totally pleasing either ‘camp’ but probably not putting off many either.

So I guess I’m saying that so far, this series doesn’t try to do many new things. I’m not sure I’d give any one element 10/10. But nor would I give anything less than 7 or 8. Readable, exciting, fast-paced, huge in scale, diverse characters, a believable fantasy world – for this reader and I would have thought most fans of the genre – Valour delivers.

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End of 2019 update

This is a nice moment to look back and forwards at my writing plans.

Publication of my first series, The Weapon Takers Saga, is drawing to a close. All paperbacks and eBooks are released, including the boxset of books 1-3 which has hit the Amazon bestsellers ranks over the last 2 months. The release of the audiobooks will also be finished soon. Greg and Bridget have completed production of books 3 & 4. The Jalakh Bow audiobook is already released, and The Giants’ Spear is signed off and should be available on Amazon and Audible over the next few days.

Writing such an epic series has been a gargantuan effort for me. It’s been exciting to think about what other projects to turn to next. I’m not short of ideas. But I decided I wanted to write something a bit different and less complex, while staying in the fantasy genre. I’ve therefore decided to go for a series of shorter, humourous novels, centred on the character of Og-Grim-Dog, a three headed ogre. I’ve finished the first draft of book one. It will need some work doing to it, but the story feels more or less there. I would also like to finish the first three to four books in advance and then release them within a short time frame of each other, rather than have readers waiting ages for the next one. I will post updates on progress when I have them.

Meanwhile, there are two days left of my competition to Win all the paperbacks of The Weapon Takers Saga – enter over on KingSumo.

Well, that’s it for now, I’m looking forward to 2020 and I wish you a great year ahead.

 

What is a weapontake?

My fantasy series is called ‘The Weapon Takers Saga’. The general meaning of the title references the quest that the heroes take on, to find and ‘take’ the seven weapons of Madria. I thought it might be enlightening to explain what the word ‘weapontake’ means in a more specific, historical sense.

I begin the final book of the series with an epigraph from Tolkien’s Return of the King:

‘The king with his guard and Merry at his side passed down from the gate of the Burg to where the Riders were assembling on the green. Many were already mounted. It would be a great company; for the king was leaving only a small garrison in the Burg, and all who could be spared were riding to the weapontake at Edoras.’

The meaning Tolkien uses here is derived from a Viking term – vapnatak – for a meeting where weapons are taken. This could be seen as a muster of the fighting men from a particular region; or perhaps a meeting where the brandishing of a weapon entitles you to have a vote or say in the outcome of a legal dispute.

The term survives to this day as a unit of administration in those parts of England that were heavily influenced by Viking settlers and rulers – Yorkshire and the Five Boroughs, known as the Danelaw. In this region, counties were subdivided into wapentakes, whereas in the rest of England the term used was hundreds. Whether in wapentake or hundred, the people of the area would gather at a local landmark, such as a river crossing or large tree. Here they would discuss issues that affected them and be addressed by the representatives of the government of the day – be it Viking warlord or English bishop.

Well, I hope this little lesson is of interest to those who enjoy language and history, as well as helping readers of my series understand the use of the word, and the reason behind my choice of epigraph.

The Weapon Takers Saga is now complete!

It’s release day for the eBook of The Giants’ Spear, which means that The Weapon Takers Saga is finally complete.

It’s been a huge journey, dipping my toes into the world of publishing back in 2017, and finally completing my four-book series this year.

The box-set of books 1-3 is doing well so far, hitting the top of Amazon’s hot new releases charts in several categories.

It’s not the end, either. I have plans for a new series next year. But for now I think I need to take a moment and appreciate what I’ve achieved. Writing my own fantasy series has been a long held ambition. At last, I can say mission accomplished.

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?

Autumn Update

Wow, time flies, and I note that I haven’t added a new post to the website in a while.

I have been busy, though. The big news is that I have finished the final book of my fantasy series, The Giants’ Spear. This series has taken so much of my time and effort in recent years that it’s strange to say it’s over. When I say it’s finished, I’m talking first draft, so there’s still work to do. I think fans of the series will find the ending suitably epic. At the moment it’s come out at around 110,000 words, so exactly the same length as books 1 & 2. Odd, how 3 of the 4 books have ended up the same length like that.

The aim is to get it published by the end of the year. As a way to introduce new readers to the series I will also be releasing an eBook box-set of books 1-3 (cover above). The release date for this is 28th October.

There is more news to come and I will aim to update the website with it. If you would like more regular updates you can subscribe to my newsletter, which gets emailed once or twice a month.

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.