Tag Archives: Fantasy

Latest Fantasy Fiction News February 29, 2012

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Latest Fantasy Fiction News February 28, 2012

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Starting the Editing Process for my novel Hell has its Demons

The last few weeks have been spent editing my historical fantasy novel set in the Middle Ages: Hell has its Demons. At present I am half way through reading the first draft. I am not making too many edits at the moment, unless I spot a glaring typo. This is my first time editing a full novel length story, and I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. But I have found that the most valuable thing to do is to just remind myself of what happens in the novel, what I wrote, and to get an overview of the major things that need fixing. For instance I have realised that there are a number of inconsistencies in the middle of the book – chapters out of order etc. Also there are some characters I introduce early on that die away, so I need to make a decision about whether to keep them in and develop them further in the book, or to get rid of them completely, or at least minimize their importance.

I’m enjoying this phase of the process. It’s nice to read through what I have written again as a holistic exercise rather than just reading bits and pieces here and there to check what I should be writing next. The good thing (or perhaps the dangerous thing) is that I like what I have written so far!

My experiment with writing a novel from different first person perspectives – see the Vulture posts, lead me to realize that it would be a lot of work to do this for Hell has its Demons, and I think not necessary either. My reread so far leads me to believe that the three different third person POVs will work quite well. First person POV writing gives fiction a completely different flavour, especially over an extended piece such as a novel, but I hadn’t appreciated that fully until I started writing the Vulture as an experiment. Who knows maybe I’ll take the experiment further at some point in the future, but I know it definitely has helped inform my writing of Hell has its Demons.

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The Vulture – Chapter 4

Here’s the latest chapter of the novel I’m writing occasionally at the moment. It features a fantasy creature that you could say is rather old hat. Should I be creating my own creature do you think, or is it OK to use this one? Read on to find out what I’m talking about, and please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Chapter 4 

Vulture 

My initial reaction was to laugh at the contents of the letter and then scrunch it up and use it as kindling for my fire. If Alexia, the God-Queen of Realh Dorn was desperate enough to ask for my help, then either she was mad, or she was angling for revenge. Although I lived for fighting, I was enjoying the solitude of the mountains and I had no wish to end my sojourn to entertain some fancy of that insolent, wicked girl. I had once made the mistake of honesty with her, and I had no wish to make that mistake again. She knew the truth of my wanderings and my endless quest for blood. She knew it was a thirst I could not slake. Her mother had been the first person I had ever killed (by my own hand that is – I had ordered the killing of many from afar, bodies thrown on the pyre for their thoughts and words). I realised though that my refusal to abide by her request was not born out of arrogance, but from fear. And that is what excited me. That angry, sullen, tear-stained girl was what I feared most. Her grief erupting like a raw wound from the earth had sent shivers down me and turned my boiling rage to ice. I had fled when she came into her mother’s chamber and saw me standing over the body the bloody knife in my hand.

And now here I was sitting opposite her in a comfortable chair on a balcony overlooking the Madden valley, holding a golden wine cup that I clutched with white-knuckled hand, and a sweet cake becoming sticky in my other. At least I had something to hold, if I didn’t I might have either strangled her, or clutched at the balcony railing and vaulted out into space to be dashed hundreds of paces below on the rocks of the valley.

I had been sitting there for several minutes before she arrived. She came flanked by only a notary, who sat at a small bench and table just inside the chamber behind a curtain, but near enough to hear and record her words and commands. She glanced at me as she entered, but although I stood quickly and made to put down my drink and the cake, she did not acknowledge my efforts, but instead, sweeping her skirts to one side to sit more comfortably, sat herself, and crossed her bare legs. Beautiful legs they were, smooth and lightly tanned, with a freckle or mole or two to show that she was wonderfully human. She was her mother’s daughter in looks at least, although no more timid than a tiger compared to the mouse that her mother was.

I stuttered, but nothing came, and I sat again. She looked at me, but said nothing. She looked pleased with herself. She helped herself to a sip of wine from a cup, which a servant, appearing from nowhere, poured for her as soon as she reached for it, and then she took a bite from one of the cakes, cream and a red berry jam pushing themselves from the cake sandwich. She licked the residue from her lips. Her tongue taking its time to clean her red glossed lips.

‘You needed get excited, I haven’t brought you here to punish you,’ she said.

I didn’t have an answer for that. In a way I wish she had. A way to end the horror with honour was what I secretly hoped for.

‘My letter told you of my predicament and in general terms explained why I need you. I know I can rely on your loyalty, as you are the one who ultimately betrayed me, but also set me on my path to power. You have nothing to lose and nothing to gain, except the hope for redemption by serving me. No-one else in Realh Dorn has the same motivation of loyalty.’

I nodded at this, and I think I may have grunted something, but whether or not words could have been discerned I do not know.

‘Good. We understand each other. I won’t waste your time, and I can see that you fear to be in my presence greatly, or …’ and at this she leaned forward, the cut of her dress was revealing and when she put her hand on my upper thigh I could not help but …’Yes good, and you lust after me as well. Perfect.’

She withdrew swiftly into her chair and wrapped her skirt around the bare length of her legs, covering what I desired.

‘I have two simple tasks for you. One,’ and at this I could hear the notary start scribbling hurriedly from behind the curtain, ‘to form a cadre of men to lead my men. Not to act as officers, but I need an elite force that will inspire the others, that can break through the enemies lines, or seize a breakthrough in a siege. Men who will put their lives on the line to protect me. Men as much like you as it is possible to find.’

I uttered my first real words of our meeting. ‘I am no general, I am only a soldier, a sword for hire.’

‘Precisely. That is what I need, strong swords and the will to use them. Let me worry about the strategy.’

A woman leading an army, I had never heard of such a thing. My expression must have betrayed my thoughts. ‘You doubt my ability do you?’

‘I know only too well how able you are, Dorachi Sen. Your ability to kill and lay waste is legendary. But my aim is not simply to lay waste and destroy. I need power, and, I will be honest with you, you and the men you gather together will be but one part of my plan. Important though. You will show how determined I am to win at all costs. Men will follow me because of you. And who these men are, how many, and how you go about gathering them is up to you, only I require that have them assembled on the Sundering Plains by the waning of the next moon.’

I could not argue with her. She was right on all counts. I was a blunt instrument and once wielded I had only one purpose. ‘I have no pretensions of command. I made my last bad decision long ago now and I care not to repeat it. But exactly what do you want my men to do?’

‘You need not concern yourself with that now. Just gather them.’

‘But for nearly a month you will be without protection except for your household guard and the local militia, are you not concerned for your safety.

‘Men are not the great protectors that they always think they are!’ She half-sneered, half-laughed as she said that. Her face was ugly as it grimaced. My lust for her had finally died away. ‘You know what my mother taught me, that was partly how you justified killing her wasn’t it?’

I thought my heart was going to stop when she said those words. ‘You don’t mean …’ I spluttered.

‘Yes, and it is already begun so do not think that you can stop me. The old tribes of the mountains are already awakening. Down below in the valley, where a minute ago you thought of throwing yourself, the old Kra-Nog Orcs are birthing their yunguns, and from their they are being marched into the caves and fed on blood and gristle to strengthen them. The spawn take only a week to grow to adolescence, and that is as old as I need them.’

Orcs. The name was something of legend. How could she have done this? Even I thought it was impossible, and even though her mother and her grandmother had spoken of discovering the lore to do such things, no-one had thought they were serious. These creatures were of myth only. I shook my head at her. She could evidently read my thoughts so I did not bother speaking. My emotions must be like an open book to her, if she told the truth and had access to the Power.

‘I can see that you need a little convincing,’ she said staring straight at me. ‘Your incredulity is amusing, especially as the spawning of Orcs is only a beginning. But you will soon believe.’

My senses must have been distracted since I did not even hear the heavy tread of the creature until it’s paw was on my shoulder. My flesh crawled and I leapt aside. It didn’t let go and instead swung me until my back was against the balcony railing, and half of my body was hanging over the steep drop to the rocky valley floor below. I stared into that grey skinned slavering, huge-teethed maw, and shivered. I, who thought I had seen it all, began to shake. The Orc, for I presume that was what it was, stood eight foot tall, and was as wide as two well-built men, its biceps were the size of my waist. This was a killing machine if ever I saw one. And to think she still wanted me and a band of hired killers too?

At a nod the creature released me and trod slowly back into the chamber behind me from whence it came.

I took a few moments to regain my composure.

‘Yes I still need you,’ she said, again predicting my question. ‘Men will not follow that thing, and it is men I want to control. Plus,’ her face softened for an instant I think, in some sort of sadness. ‘There is the second purpose I have for you. I want you to find my little brother and bring him home safe.’

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The Vulture – Chapter 1

I recently finished writing the first draft of Hell has its Demons and I have begun the process of revising that novel. At the moment I’m doing some extra research into areas that I know I’ll need to tighten up on the second draft, but while I’m doing that I thought I would experiment with a bit of completely unplanned fantasy writing. I wrote the following this morning – no planning apart from knowing that I want to write fairly short chapters from a first POV, with chapters alternating between different characters. The fantasy setting hasn’t been worked out so may well end up being quite a familiar copy of some standard fantasy tropes, but it will be bloody and full of war and violence, that I can guarantee.

Anyone hope you enjoy the experience. I’m planning to post what I write as I write it on the blog.

Here’s the first chapter of what I have provisionally entitled The Vulture.

Chapter One

Vulture

They call me ‘The Vulture’. Wherever there is a battle in this godforsaken world then I am sure to be there. I used to be a soldier in the King’s army, but now I am a mercenary, a sword for hire. I follow the smell of blood and I glory in killing. The money is useful – whores, drink, more weapons – such things must be paid for. But I don’t do it for the money.

I do it for love.

I would like to say that this is my story, but I am a modest and an honest man, so in truth this tale is like a window open for a short time before the wind blows it in. You wouldn’t want to see it all. It would be like staring into the face of evil itself.

 

§

 

Realh Dorn was a country always at war. When it couldn’t find a neighbour to fight then its inhabitants fought amongst themselves. Names of wars such as the Eight, the Twenty, the Fifteen Years Wars had no meaning in a country like Realh Dorn. There was, long ago, a time known as the Seven Month Truce, but many people now consider that to be a tale told by old women to scare young children.

Even I found the number of battles in Realh Dorn tiresome, so in the summer of the Year of our Denial (Y.D.) 568, I decided to take a leave of absence from Realh Dorn, where I had been reaving, killing, pillaging, burning, and ravaging for three years without a break. I was tired and I needed to rest. My arm was tired. I think I had developed a sprain in it. The physician I spoke to before I burned down his house told me that the tendons in it were strained for overuse caused by the repetition of certain movements of the arm in a continuous fashion. I think he meant that I had been killing too much with my sword, and perhaps he hoped that I would save him. He was old and I respect the opinion of my elders, so I did listen to him. Instead of my sword I gutted him with a dagger that I had in my left hand. His wife and daughters were none too happy to see how I repaid him for his consultation. So they paid as well with their lives. I treated them well though. I killed them quickly and without pain, and I raped none of them. The so called regular troops of the King’s army would have treated them worse. They would have screwed their brains out and left them cut and bleeding for thieves and wolves to pick over. I may be called The Vulture, but I don’t like to pick over carrion.

I spent the summer in the mountains of Sevethlen, away from the heat of the plain. I had found myself an empty shepherd’s hut, with access to a stream, hunting, and a village not far away where I could buy bread and a little wine. I could walk in the mountains, watch the clouds roll in and raptors circle on the air currents. In the evening I would play my pipe and sink into a contented sleep when the sun went down.

So I was surprised when one day the birds I was watching suddenly stopped their graceful circling. They flapped their heavy wings in what I thought seemed like fright. Desperate to be away. And then I saw what they were afraid of. It wasn’t a bird. A flying lizard you might call it. No bigger than a hawk but I presume with an evil reputation amongst the avian community. It was flying straight for me. I could see its long head looking this way and that it’s long pointed mouth of razor sharp teeth opening and closing as if talking to itself. And then it spotted me where I stood outside my hut. I started to move back carefully, not wanting to fall over a rock, but not prepared to take my eyes of it either. I was nearly at the doorway of my hut when the thing was with me. I raised my arm to protect myself but all that happened was that I heard the heavy leathery sound of flapping wings and the thing was over me and had flown past. I looked to see if it was coming back, but it was already flying high up the slope of the mountain, and I soon lost sight of it against the grey rocks of the high cliff-face. I wondered if it nested there. I had never seen one of these creatures before, although I had heard tell of them. Some men said that the royalty of Realh Dorn and other nations in Westent kept the things as pets, and would hunt with them for amusement, although I had never seen evidence of such a thing.

I was about to enter my hut, to fetch my stick and water-bottle as I was thinking of taking a walk up the mountainside to see if I could spot the beast again, when I saw, directly at my feet a wooden tube, no bigger than my hand. I knelt and opened the tube, which was tied with red ribbon at one end. A small folded piece of parchment was coiled tightly inside the tube. I pulled it out eventually, my fingers are not made for nimble work, and unfolded the item. It was a letter, and it was addressed to me.

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Writing Plans: Jake Savage Adventures and Hell has its Demons

I have been mulling over what to write next. Currently I have a novel that’s a Work In Progress, with the first draft nearly completed – Hell has its Demons. I broke off this to put the finishing touches to Chivalry: A Jake Savage Adventure and also to work on some ideas about how a series might develop involving the two principal characters of Hell has its Demons – Jake Savage and Roger Sotil.

I now have a good idea on paper for a follow-up tale to Chivalry, involving Jake Savage. It will be a dark fantasy tale again based in war torn Medieval France. My plan is to write the first draft of this story and another story with the same setting and Jake as a central character during the month of November. These will then get sent out for critiquing and I’ll turn once again to finishing off Hell has its Demons.

Hell has its Demons is my first novel and the task of creating characters that will work across such a large piece of work is one that I have been grappling with – indeed the characters have changed during the course of the book more than I expected. So once the first draft is nailed down, I’ll need to go back and re-evaluate the characters and determine what is going on, what stays and what goes, and what needs to be added in. I can see that taking the first part of 2012.

However, its also likely that there will be two new Jake Savage Adventures out early next year!

And hopefully with any luck I’ll find a publisher for Hell has its Demons sometime later in 2012 – that’s the plan anyway!

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Review of Chivalry at Edi’s Book Lighthouse

I always have a bit of trepidation when sending a piece of my work out into the world, so I’m very happy to report that the feedback to ‘Chivalry: A Jake Savage Adventure’ has been very positive. As well as good reviews on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Smashwords, the story has also been picked up by a popular Book Blog Edi’s Book Lighthouse. Here’s some extracts from ediFanoB’s review:

Mark Lord gives a very intense and painstakingly depiction of the horrors of war. The setting is an unexpected one and the supernatural sparkle intensifies the atmosphere a lot.

The pacing is excellent and Mark Lord does not waste a word too much. The end is a tricky one. It is not an expected one and it delivers not the 100% solution. But it is as satisfying as the story itself.

I hope there will be more Jake Savage stories (a full novel would be great) soon.
Chivalry: A Jake Savage Adventure satisfied my craving for historical fiction with a mystery touch which is taking a greater part within my reading comfort zone of epic fantasy, steampunk and space opera.

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A Song of Ice and Fire and Medieval Warfare

Depiction of a late 13th century joust in the ...
Image via Wikipedia

Although George R. R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire series are fantasy fiction, and therefore anything goes, there is no denying that it is set within a fairly strong medieval setting. The Knights, titled Ser rather Sir, ride warhorses, joust with lances, feast in castle halls etc. I think one of the strengths of the series is the setting which gets close to the feel of medieval warfare and chivalry but introduces some interesting fantasy elements as well.

However, there are a couple of things that have niggled me while reading A Clash of Kings this week. Both are two do with the practicalities of warfare:

  1. Cloaks! The city watch of King’s Landing are called the gold cloaks and the queen’s guard are the red cloaks, king’s guard are the white cloaks and then there’s the black cloaks of the Night’s Watch. This doesn’t work for me. When have you ever seen medieval knights (in pictures from the Middle Ages, not modern day films) running and riding around with cloaks on. Think about it for a second if you were fight with shield, lance, sword, warhammer or whatever, the last thing you need is a cloak getting in the way. Maybe on the march these would be worn, but they would hardly be the main motif. More probable would be a badge, like the livery badges worn by soldiers to denote their affinity in the middle ages. Famously Richard II’s men had a white hart badge for example, while John of Gaunt’s men wore a double SS badge which could be on their sleeve, chest or collar even. A surcoat over an armoured coat would also be quite common and might give a more prominent single-colour effect.
  2. Siege Engines! Renly Baratheon has a massive army that he is taking north to besiege King’s Landing (probably impossibly large by the way at about 100,000 men, but that’s another matter). And along with his army he bringing a whole load of siege engines including a huge siege tower. If you were marching anywhere along roads that probably weren’t going to be the best would you build your siege engines first and then take them with you? What would probably happen is that siege engines would be built when the siege happened. Either from locally sourced materials (very eco-friendly) or very possibly from pieces the army transported in wagons. Imagine getting a large siege tower to fit down a tree lined lane somewhere in the countryside or through a town with buildings leaning over into the road. There is evidence that favoured siege engines like the trebuchet that Prince Louis brought from France to besiege Dover Castle, were transported. But I think it is very likely that it would be brought in pieces and then put together at its destination. I know Renly’s supposed to be a bit dim, but that dim?

To me these are partly historical errors (which could be excused because it’s not historical fiction), but also logical errors. Cloaks in combat don’t work so why call your elite fighting unit by that epithet, and massive siege engines are just going to be very difficult to transport fully constructed.

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Favourite Fantasy Fiction Characters: Logen Ninefingers (aka the Bloody Nine)

This is the start of a regular series of posts about favourite characters from fiction. First up one of the vividly realised characters at the centre of Joe Abercrombie‘s First Law Trilogy.

Logen Ninefingers (aka the Bloody Nine) is a mercenary and ex Northmen military leader. He’s a berserker with a brain, and as his name suggests is missing one of pinkies. Abercrombie seems to have a thing for physical impairment (see the next instalment in this series – answers on a postcard if you can guess who it might be!). Perhaps it’s a symbol of his characters being damaged goods psychologically as well as physically. Logen starts the trilogy as an outcast from the North and also from the mercenary band that he used to lead, but he ends up a hero and reunited with his old comrades that he used to lead. For me there are three classic Logen moments – one at the beginning of The Blade Itself, where he looks like he’s a gonner – disappearing down a muddy slope if memory serves me right, the second is a Helms Deep style affair where he and his old comrades and a small makeshift army defend a wall at the end of a mountain valley against superior numbers – very Gemmell this I think? Then lastly he fights the demonic champion of the new king of the north, and goes into a berserk killing frenzy as he does so.

I like him because he’s a classic hero – brave and strong and good at what he does. But he’s not cheesy and predictable – he is hated by his former comrades and he is very much an unwilling hero as well at the beginning of the trilogy.

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A bit about the Characters in The Easy River to Success

The main character of The Easy River to Success is a government minister by the name of Benetus. This character is a Machiavellian type who has used cunning, his way with words and also a bit of magic to gain prominence at court. I really wanted to steer away from the cliche of having a warrior or ‘good’ guy as the main subject of a fantasy story. I just think that such an approach is a bit hackneyed now. Although the setting is still the pseudo-medieval one you might expect I thought it was more realistic to actually give the stage to a pen-pusher rather than a sword-wielder, as even amongst the governing classes by the late middle ages most men would be engaged more in administration than in warfare.

His character is also loosely based on that of Piero della Vigna, the first minister to the Emperor Frederick II, about whom I am currently writing a novel – see Stupor Mundi. I see both Piero and Benetus as characters with a great degree of internal conflict. On one hand they demonstrate loyalty to their sovereign, yet they are also accused of treason and using their position to their own ends.

Other characters in the story include:

  • Arax – a demon with whom Benetus makes a dangerous pact
  • The King – mostly in the background, but based also on Frederick II. The king’s  conflict is with the theocratic government of Belgania, much in the same way as Frederick fought with the Papacy.
  • Flacio Abs – the kingdom’s treasurer and a friend of Benetus.
  • Fanis Poll – a political rival of Benetus and a high-ranking priest. He is the main antagonist of the story.
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