The New Wave: Fantasy Debuts in 2014

As promised in my previous article Fantasy: What’s Next? these are my most anticipated fantasy debuts coming in 2014. If you have any recommended reads for this year, please share them in the comments below. I hope you enjoy!

(These are in no particular order!)

#1 – Traitor’s Blade (The Greatcoats) by Sebastian de Castell

It’s being marketed as Joe Abercrombie crossed with Alexandre Dumas. Heroic fantasy with a streak of darkness. Plus, some awesome cover art makes this a compelling debut.

Traitor's Blade

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.

All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

Release Date: 6th March 2014

Continue reading

“King Rat” & a New Short

Today, I want to briefly talk about what I’m currently reading and also bring your attention to a new piece of flash fiction I’ve just made available here on the blog.

King Rat by China Miéville

I’ve never read China Miéville before. As a fantasy fan, I guess that should make me feel ignorant/shameful/unworthy (delete as appropriate). But you know what? It doesn’t. See, I like my fantasy quite traditional. As much as I love Mr. Grimdark himself, Joe Abercrombie, and his brilliant novels, I still need my fix of magic, quests, dragons and bearded men yelling: ‘By the beards of my forefathers, I shall have my revenge!’

Don’t get me wrong, though, I do read “normal” fiction too. Dan Brown is a guilty pleasure, I make sure to occasionally read sci-fi and I’ve dipped into William Boyd, Ian Fleming and Iain Banks. But China Miéville was an oddity. A fantasy author who doesn’t write about elves, wizards or dragons and almost manages to cross over into what you might call “literary” fiction. As a writer, I always try to broaden my horizons when it comes to reading. The more varied reading experiences I have, the more I’ll learn how to shape my own style and grow my “writing toolset”. Anyway, enough fluff, on with the post!

So, King Rat, what’s it about?

When Saul Garamond’s father is murdered in mysterious circumstances, Saul is left as the only suspect. Arrested and placed in a cell, he is rescued by a strange man called King Rat who needs his help to defeat an old enemy known as the Ratcatcher. King Rat introduces Saul to the real London, a grimy world where every rubbish bin contains a nourishing meal and where rats squabble over scraps of territory in the sewers. And then he reveals the truth about who Saul really is…

I’m about a quarter of the way through with this book and I’m enjoying it so far. It’s quite surreal, while at the same time feeling really familiar and grounded, which is a difficult thing to convey I think. The characters are all well-crafted, particularly King Rat himself. I’m not so keen on the characters/storyline of Saul’s friends, Natasha and Fabian, but I’m hoping something happens soon to draw me in (I didn’t particularly enjoy reading about Jungle music and Natasha’s vehement love of it for several pages). I need to be patient and give the characters their chance to shine, so I’ll reserve judgement on that for now.

I love the overall tone of the book and the atmosphere that the author has created around the character of King Rat, as well as his penchant for cockney-rhyming slang. I’m still a little puzzled as to how King Rat is a rat, but in human form, so I’ll read on to discover more. I may check out the New Crobuzon series at some point, as I can only begin to imagine what Mr. Miéville could do with a secondary-world fantasy.

Three Brothers: An Unfortunate Tale

And lastly, I’ve just added the titular flash fiction to the Shorts section for your reading pleasure! This was a piece I wrote a long time ago and self-published on Kindle as a bit of an experiment. Needless to say, I learned a lot about the Kindle platform, but now I want to share this story with you all. Basically, it’s a fantasy take on the tale of the Three Little Pigs and should hopefully have you chuckling and on the edge of your seat simultaneously…

Just hit the link below to check it out!

Take me to the story!

What is a (Modern) Hero?

People nowadays tend to steer clear of using the word “hero” when talking about stories, whether that’s a novel or a movie. The correct word to use is “protagonist” or “central character”. It’s funny, because back here in the real world we’re quite happy to call soldiers, doctors and teachers “heroes” (which is funny, because most people don’t actually like being labeled like that). I know that sometimes protagonists are not necessarily heroes. Sometimes the antagonist is. But the point is, where have the heroes gone?

Heading back to fiction, take a look at comic books and the movies spawned from them. They feature superheroes and supervillains and they often enjoy being referred to as such. The problem, I think, is that fiction has tilted towards realism and “grittiness” rather than the lighthearted, carefree (campy, even?) fun that seemed to be popular before. This means that heroes now have to have a great deal of depth and, usually, a tortured, dysfunctional past. If you disagree, look at Nolan’s rebooted Batman franchise, the new Amazing Spider-man or any modern war movie or spy thriller. These are modern heroes.

James Bond

We no longer have James Bond ordering martinis and hanging around in exotic locales in cream trousers. He’s now grim, determined, no-nonsense and very violent (not that I don’t love Daniel Craig’s interpretation). I guess it’s good, in a way. People are focusing more on story and substance now than flashiness and style. But, I still think it’s good to remember things that have fallen out of favour–one day they most likely will make a glorious return. Everything goes in circles, including the world of fiction.

Any character who goes out of their way to help or protect others is a hero. How many ordinary people do you know who would endanger their own life for a complete stranger? Any character who resists the pull of greed, selfishness and hate is a hero. Any character who’s made mistakes and has done terrible things, who can make a change and redeem themselves is a hero.

What is a modern hero? The person who decides not to be a sheep and makes a choice to make a difference. The person who stands up for what they and society really believe in. The person who is still standing after the weight of the world is piled on their shoulders.

Marvel Heroes

Next time you hear someone refer to a protagonist or central character, tell them its okay to use the word “hero”. We can always use more heroes.

I’d just like to remind you that these are just my opinions. If you disagree, agree or have something else to add, please feel welcome to drop in a comment.

My Top 3 Fantasy Reads

Here’s an idea for today. I’ll share my top three fantasy reads and give you a good reason to go and read them yourselves. Then you tell me your top three in the comments section and we’ll see if we can find some stories we’ve not tried before. I’m not going to include obvious choices like Lord of the Rings.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Dark, gritty, bloody. Written fantastically and full of action, the characters are all hugely flawed, but likable, and the story itself is intriguing. Definitely recommended.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Although it’s written for children, Sabriel (and its two sequels) are full of unique ideas and great worldbuilding. You’ll find yourself warming quickly to the characters and unable to put the book down.

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

A story based around airships, which are piloted around like something out of Star Wars. There are dogfights galore, intense ground-based skirmishes and fantastic characters to top it off.

So, what are your top three fantasy reads?

What I’m Reading – July 2012

I thought I’d talk a little about what I’m reading at the moment. Usually, I’m known for not reading much at all and taking ages to get through a book. Recently, however, I’ve decided to make amends for that and I am now reading four books!

A Game of Thrones (George R. R. Martin)

This one I keep in the living room downstairs and read whenever television is uninteresting enough to allow me. I’m currently about a third of the way through and am just finding out more about the former Hand (Jon Arryn) and his mysterious death. It’s really fantastically written and it’s going to be really hard not to go and pick up the second in the series straight away. As a writer, I try to read a variety of authors so that I experience as many styles and stories as possible. As a reader, however, I just plain love the story!

Empire of the Saviours (A. J. Dalton)

This one was given to me as a birthday gift by my lovely wife. It’s a typical epic fantasy with a young boy who must leave his parents and go out into the world to make it alone. However, there are two other viewpoint characters who really change up the formula and offer something fresh. I’m only 48 pages in at the moment, so have only read the chapters for Jillan and Freda so far. Let me tell you, Freda is really something original and different. Go and read a snippet on Amazon and see what you think.Elric of Melnibone

Elric (Michael Moorcock)

Of course, a classic tale that needs no other introduction. I loved reading the Conan stories, have yet to pick up Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and have read a lot of sword & sorcery in the form of fan fic, Warhammer novels and game-based fiction. Simply put, Elric is fantastic. Go check it out.

Pregnancy For Men (Mark Woods)

This one’s my non-fiction bedtime reading at the moment. The title says it all – it’s about pregnancy. It’s actually pretty funny and interesting. I’ll be a father in November, so I need to get this one tackled quickly!

What are you all reading at the moment? You can share your thoughts in the comments below.

Learning From “A Game of Thrones”

English: Part of the A Game Of Thrones board g...

Who would have thought not having the internet at home would be so limiting? Roll on next week so I can get my posting back on track! Anyway, today’s post is going to take two forms: a quick review/update on the book, A Game of Thrones, as I now near the halfway mark and a few points about what I’ve been able to take and learn from it.

The Review

When I first starting reading A Game of Thrones, I was a little apprehensive. I’ve read a lot of badly crafted fantasy over the years, interspersed with some absolutely brilliant fantasy. More often than not, I abandon reading a novel if I don’t feel a connection or reason to keep reading – it’s a bad habit and it’s one I’m working on breaking. Why? Because every piece of writing has the power to teach me something about my own and even bad writing is worth reading. The reason I was apprehensive to read Martin’s (George R. R.) book is because I feared it wouldn’t draw me in and I’d be abandoning it in short order, forever tarnishing me as The One Who Never Finished A Game Of Thrones. I’d be very likely torn apart, chewed up and spit out by every fantasy community on the internet.

It’s lucky, then, that I now find myself… addicted!

Why am I finding myself unable to stop thinking about Martin’s world? Is it because his plot keeps delivering and taking on new twists when you least expect it? Perhaps. Is it the rich lore and history that he’s weaved into the fabric of Westeros? Maybe. Is it the characters, with their very human ambitions, fears and secrets? Definitely.

I suppose it comes from the author having been a screenwriter, but I find his dialogue is also one of the main things that I’m impressed with. It’s not like reading a book (you know, on paper and stuff), but it’s like listening to a really good audio book. All the dialogue feels so natural and each line fits perfectly. There’s no obvious infodumps or monologues. These people are as real as you’d want and they’re just speaking how they would if you met them. This is the mark of a good author – the ability to make everything seem so natural and un-forced that you leave the real world each time you read and actually inhabit the fantasy world itself.

Hopefully I’ll make steady progress through the last half and then I’ll share my final thoughts. I’m 99.9% sure it’s going to be all positive.

The Lesson (In Summary)

  1. Direwolves hate dwarfs
  2. Dothraki are all sex, sex, sex
  3. Arya Stark is more interesting than she first appears
  4. Jon Snow shows great potential
  5. The Lannisters cannot be trusted

Here’s a list of the book’s viewpoint characters, from my favourite to my least:

Tyrion Lannister

Jon Snow

Bran Stark

Arya Stark

Daenerys Targaryen

Ned Stark

Sansa Stark

Catelyn Stark

Come on, let’s hear who your favourite Song of Ice and Fire character is!

Writing Catchup: 15th May 2012

For your pleasure today I have brought together a collection of blog posts and articles that cover everything fantasy writing related.

I will also share with you a brief update on my own writing progress. I wrote a really nice scene over the past few days which takes place in a subterranean living stronghold that is home to one of my world’s non-human species. Without giving anything away, one of the central characters arrives there after a long time away and discovers that things have taken a disturbing turn for the worse in his absence.

Here is a very short snippet of dialogue from the scene that teases at what’s going on. This is first draft quality, so be kind ;)

‘Haven’t time?’ she said. ‘You have boundless time. Why come back to this world, the place of your making, when there is so much more out there? A tree grows from its roots; it does not grow back down to them again.’

Hope you enjoy the articles below!

LFG: Groups, Bands & Fellowships in Fantasy Fiction

The Fellowship

For those of you who noticed and understood the little gaming reference in the title… grats. For those of you reading this with question marks over your head: LFG = Looking For Group. If you are still clueless, that’s just tough luck. I’m going to carry on regardless! Mwahaha!

This article is going to look at groups in fantasy fiction. By this, I’m referring to either of the below:

  • The Fellowship of the Ring (Lord of the Rings)
  • The Black Company(The Black Company)
  • The Gentlemen Bastards (The Lies of Locke Lamora)
  • The Raven (Dawnthief)

There seems to be a whole sub-genre in fantasy that consists of these sorts of stories. Many of them are not blatantly ‘group fantasy’ (i.e. LOTR) but they equally rely on the group dynamic for much of their conflict. I personally love these sorts of stories. After a while, you feel like you’ve become a member of these groups and the banter and kinship soon has you investing a lot emotionally in the stories.

Now, groups in fantasy, the way I see it, are usually defined by ‘jobs’. Just think of the Fellowship of the Ring. If we had to categorize the members in terms of traditional fantasy roles, we’d do it like this:

  • Gandalf – Wizard
  • Boromir, Aragorn, Gimli – Warrior
  • Legolas – Ranger
  • The Hobbits – Warrior/Rogue interchangeably

You may disagree with the roles above, but the general consensus is usually the same. The way I see it, there are these types of ‘epic fantasy’ which involve a lot of roles together and then there are others where you just get a group of mercenaries/thieves and they all inhabit a very similar role.

Names

Some authors go with giving their group members realistic names with regards to their fantasy world. Others go with nicknames or ‘squad names’. Some examples are The Unknown Warrior, Sergeant Whiskeyjack and Croaker. I’m not sure which I prefer; a mixture of both maybe? Giving a character a nickname makes them instantly memorable, but it can also have the effect of making the characters appear two-dimensional and lacking, unless the author takes steps to develop them well.

Banter

The dialogue between members of fantasy groups is perhaps one of the key things that fixates a reader so aptly. It’s not an easy thing to pull off easily, as good banter and heart develops when people have been together for a long time and they’re used to each others’ company. To emulate that as a writer means that you need to really know the characters in the group and make sure their personalities bounce off one another.

The Quest

Nothing can wreck a story like the actual story itself. It doesn’t matter if a fantasy group is the best one ever put together, if the plot sucks and they have no real reason to be together, then it’s going to be a failure. What would the Fellowship have been without Frodo and the Ring? Would Boromir’s death have been as heart-wrenching if he hadn’t first tried to take the Ring and then realised his weakness? The concept that the story revolves around is the key element and it should be fully conceived before doing anything else.

I’d be interested to get all of your thoughts on this subject. So…

What do you think about groups/teams in fantasy fiction? What do you think makes them connect so well with readers? Do you have any favourite quotes you want to share?

Reading: An Uphill Struggle

I enjoy reading. I really enjoy it. If I didn’t enjoy it, I would never have started writing fiction. If I find a good book that grips me and I do nothing else but read for a few days, I can blaze through it without much effort. The same goes for writing a good chapter; if it fits together nicely, it goes down on paper/screen very smoothly and quickly. It’s like a well-made flat-pack chest of drawers; it takes some time and effort, but eventually you’ll end up with something good.

The Wise Man's Fear
Image via Wikipedia

At the moment, I’m kind-of reading two novels: The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss and Moonraker by Ian Fleming. I am enjoying both of them a lot, though I will say that Dr. No, in my opinion, is a better Bond novel than Moonraker. However, the problem is arising that I never seem to have time to read them. I have the stories stored up in my head quite nicely, so I can grab either of them and read a few pages when I fancy. The other day, I managed to read about 30 pages of The Wise Man’s Fear in one evening (which is a lot by my standards). A few days later, I managed to read 1 page.

The cause, I think, is that I have too much ‘stuff’ to do. Currently, I’m in the process of preparing for my wedding this year. I also recently purchased Star Wars: The Old Republic for the PC and Alan Wake and Sonic Generations for the Xbox, which now sit atop the stack of uncompleted games left from before Christmas (Skyrim, AC: Brotherhood, Orcs Must Die! etc.) On top of this monumental stack of gaming gold, I’m also trying to write a novel and short story. This is all on weekends and after work. Sometimes, I feel like going for a walk or heading into town for a look around and all of the above gets neglected. Most of the time, I’m enjoying time with my wife-to-be (arguably the best use of my time). It’s a lot of ‘stuff’, I know, but it’s all what makes life interesting and keeps it fresh.

So, my (belated) new year’s resolution is to make more time for reading. There it is. If I don’t finish at least one book this year, then I fear all hope is lost. That’s all for now, thanks for reading.

Watch and Learn

I noticed today that the way living creatures learn something is by watching another make a mistake/succeed first. Otherwise, it’s trial and error. In a way, this is like writing. You read something, you think you might want to have a go. So you come up with an idea and try to write it. Sometimes it goes OK, but usually it doesn’t. So you go back to reading for a while and a few novels later, you try your hand at writing again. It goes better this time, but still nothing fantastic. After some years of studying your favourite authors and picking up helpful tips from various places along the way, you finally end up with the skills needed to write something resembling readable fiction. The learning process never ends, but you get better each time you practice. Interesting to think about, I think.