An NHS worker by day and a writer under the cover of night, Sarah Cawkwell‘s first novel The Gildar Rift was published by the Black Library in 2011. Since then, she has written several other novels and short stories set in the grim-dark worlds of Warhammer. Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising is due for release in May 2014. Other works include tie-in fiction for World of Warcraft and several original tales for an assortment of publishers. Sarah lists her hobbies as reading, writing, reading about writing, writing about reading, online gaming and writing about online gaming. She needs to get out more.
by Sarah Cawkwell
As the release date for my novel, Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising gets closer, I find myself musing on the whole aspect of writing alternative fiction. Heirs is a something a little bit different. It’s more than just an alternative history story. It’s more than a ‘what-if’ scenario. It adds in an entirely new dimension of fantasy and magic – things that absolutely, categorically did not happen. No, sir. That we know of, at least. History, remember, is written by the winners. Or the people who don’t like to own up to that bit of it that embarrasses them for any given reason.
Jaye Wells is a USA Today-bestselling author of urban fantasy and speculative crime fiction. Raised by booksellers, she loved reading books from a very young age. That gateway drug eventually led to a full-blown writing addiction. When she’s not chasing the word dragon, she loves to travel, drink good bourbon, and do things that scare her so she can put them in her books. For more about Jaye’s books, please visit www.jayewells.com.
Bathtub Alchemy: Updating Established Magic Systems
by Jaye Wells
When I set out to write my new Prospero’s War series, I had a character-a cop named Kate Prospero — and I knew she busted people who used magic. What I didn’t know was what kind of magic.
The first thing I decided was that I didn’t want my characters to be able to just raise their finger or a wand and zap people. I wanted the magic to be more physical so it could be sold like narcotics in our world. That’s where the idea to make the magic center on potions came about.
Following the last season of Doctor Who Series 6 (aired in the sates by BBC America), Stephen Moffat and the BBC announced that the new/next/2012 season would not air until the Fall. This didn’t sit well with a lot of fans of the show, including me. It felt like a really long break to take, which meant that when the show came back, it would need to rebuild the momentum from the previous seasons, and deliver some truly strong episodes to propel it forward into the 50th anniversary year.
I’m not so sure…
REVIEW SUMMARY: A long conflict between a great kingdom and a small, isolated people is the template and background for a story of love, family and duty.
PROS: Rich character based fantasy.
CONS: Central conflict revealed a bit too slowly.
BOTTOM LINE: An unusual but not unwelcome turn into fantasy from a hard SF author.
The Puzzle Lands are a small realm on the borders of a noisome and aggressive kingdom determined to bring their rule and their God to their northern neighbor. The Puzzle lands, lacking numbers, are forced to use cleverness, guile, and the natural terrain to resist being conquered by the Hetawan. The tightly knit ruling family, possessing magical abilities and talents, do all they can to keep their enemies at bay, having been bound to that service generations ago.
A prodigy at killing and war, Smoke, on the other hand, is in hiding from his family in the forest outside of the Puzzle Lands. His chance meeting with a shepherdess on the road will change him, and unwittingly bring him back to the fold of the family he has fled, for good or ill.
Once upon a time, in fantasy stories far far away, magic was a mysterious force that affected the characters and world in mostly unknown ways. If a character ever wondered how something impossible happened…magic. How’d we blip across an entire continent in mere moments? Magic portal. How does this steel sword burst into flames without melting? Magic weapon. How’d my head suddenly transpose with my buttocks? Transmorgrifying magic spell. (Or a particularly severe wedgie at the hands of a barbarian warlord.)
Nowadays, many fantasy novels have turned magic into, well, a form of science–in some ways creating a whole new form of physics or imagining alternate worlds where the laws of thermodynamics not only apply to entropy but also to the mass transference of shapeshifting dragons.
Let’s explore the properties of several fantasy novels that get downright textbook with magic systems and see which one is worth studying up on.
REVIEW SUMMARY: A mesmerizing ride through thick deceit as Martin compels you through every incredible page.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The land of Westeros is held together by tenuous peace, while turmoil shifts and boils beneath the surface. The powerful houses of old plot and scheme, a threat rises across the ocean, and an old evil stirs from its icy domain.
PROS: Prose; characterization; gripping politics; a world that lives and breathes; heart wrenching.
CONS: Not for the faint of heart.
BOTTOM LINE: A must-read, you will be awed by the intrigue, gripped by the passion, and amazed at the realism in this magical, epic tome.
REVIEW SUMMARY: Even infinite potential can be tempered by absolute apathy. This is an endearing tale of a boy that grows into a legend to be respected and feared.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The world turns with danger at the background, while Kvothe tries to escapes a painful past in anonymity. A twisting of fate reveals his tale and thus the story truly begins as we go back. Back to when Kvothe was a child of rare ability, growing up in a traveling troupe of performers, learning his craft. His future was before him, showing nothing but the greatest promise, living in the brightest of light. But horror unfolds, and a mythical evil takes him down a path of deep despair. When he surfaces from the darkness, the ladder before him is now ridden with splinters and razor sharp edges that threaten to cut and bleed him with every rung. He rises high and he rises fast, climbing despite the pain, battling the obstacles of everyday and of his self.
PROS: Beautiful and engaging prose; witty characters; emotive.
CONS: Incomplete — I want more…oh, wait, that’s kind of a good thing; main plot is pushed to the background; somewhat slow to start.
BOTTOM LINE: Kvothe is an incredible character, wondrous to behold. While the book may not ensnare you immediately, Rothfuss weaves you into the story slowly, until you find yourself trapped by steel bands of style, substance and wit.
REVIEW SUMMARY: For epic fantasy the Wheel of Time stands tall. This book is a solid addition to the series, but it does not stand nearly as proud as some.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, nears the last battle. To save the world he will break the seals and release the greatest evil upon the world that there has ever been. Wherever he walks, light and life push back darkness and death from the Dark One’s ever-expanding touch upon the world.
PROS: Culminating plot points we have waited eons for; every scene with Rand.
CONS: Prose; inconsistency; rushed scenes.
BOTTOM LINE: For fans of the Wheel of Time this is an obvious must-read. The only question is when and where. For everyone else, start at Eye of the World and if you’re hooked, we’ll see how long you last. This one thing I can promise you: if you make it through the slow books, you will be rewarded.
REVIEW SUMMARY: Vivid, compelling, and destructive, this book still manages to perplex; as it sometimes meanders aimlessly, like a drunk–unsure where home, or that next drink is.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Kell is a retired warrior of legend, suffering from arthritis and the sluggishness of age, until a bloodthirsty army descends upon his town to lay destruction.
PROS: Vivid descriptions; imaginative monsters.
CONS: A plot that seems to meander; inconsistent characters.
BOTTOM LINE: If you like war, monsters and conflict and can handle a healthy dose of blood, guts and sex–covering the whole thing in a viscous mess–then this book is for you.
REVIEW SUMMARY: Massive, fantastic, but sometimes overkill. Run to buy this book, but keep in mind that you will sometimes be mired in unnecessary detail.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Roshar is a fascinating land of strange cultures, animals and even plant life where magically-enhanced knights wielding fearsome Blades rule. Follow a thief, a highprince and a surgeon-turned-soldier as they go through the struggles of life to protect their family, hold together their kingdom and fight for what’s right on a path that is fraught with peril and leading to more.
PROS: Character, diversity, battle scenes, MAGIC!
CONS: Too much fluff, and too many extra pages added as a result. Book occasionally drags.
BOTTOM LINE: For those that like their books gigantic and epic, this is your book (i.e. Wheel of Time fans).
REVIEW SUMMARY: A first outing that needs to go back for directions.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Evil army of the undead led by a prophesied destroyer of all that is good, ravages the land. A small party of would-be defenders forms by chance amidst the ashes and takes their small fight to the enemy.
PROS: Symbol-based magic that manages to feel distinct.
CONS: Awkward dialogue and actions. Characters don’t remain true. I’m quickly left with a heavy lack of interest.
BOTTOM LINE: Too much packed into a poorly designed package. I am left with the feeling that many richer stories (of smaller scope) could be pulled from the framework of this and polished into shiny goodness.