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[GUEST POST] Gail Z. Martin (WAR OF SHADOWS) on The Hero’s Journey and Coming Home

Gail Z. Martin writes epic and urban fantasy, steampunk and short stories. She is the author of the Chronicles of the Necromancer series, the Fallen Kings Cycle series and the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga series of epic fantasy books, as well as the Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy world and coming in 2015, Iron and Blood, a Steampunk novel, co-written with Larry N. Martin. Gail is a frequently contributor to US and UK anthologies. She also writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures. Find her at, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on, at blog and She leads monthly conversations on Goodreads and posts free excerpts of her work on Wattpad. An original novella set in the Deadly Curiosities universe, “The Final Death”, is available free on Wattpad

You Can’t Go Home Again

by Gail Z. Martin

Homecomings in fantasy tend not to work smoothly. Consider both Bilbo and Frodo returning to the Shire, which while much-beloved no longer felt like home. Luke Skywalker doesn’t have much need for Tatooine once he hits the big time, and Alderaan’s explosion left Princess Leia a permanent ex-pat. Harry Potter can’t go back to his real home, and doesn’t want to return to Privet Drive.

Not only does fantasy—especially epic fantasy—often focus on the hero’s journey (emphasis on ‘journey’), but home in many stories isn’t just where the heart is, it’s where the rot is. Hunger Games, Harry Potter, the Harry Dresden series, the Secret Histories series all have heroes who come from really dysfunctional homes where going back either isn’t possible or isn’t pleasant.

War of Shadows, the third book in the Blaine McFadden/Ascendant Kingdoms Saga series, tackles its own dysfunctional homecoming. In Blaine’s case, powerful magic and no-holds-barred warfare have destroyed his home kingdom of Donderath, sundered the bonds that allowed mortals to control magic, killed the leadership, screwed up the weather and blew up or burned down the infrastructure. Blaine returns from exile in a far-north prison colony to do what he can to fix the magic, and gradually is drawn into a much larger and more dangerous game.

Yet while Blaine is focused on restoring magic and reinstating the rule of law, the sense of an uneasy homecoming is never far away. Blaine and his convict friends had made their peace with remaining as colonists in arctic Edgeland before the Cataclysm destroyed their homeland. Blaine had created a new home and a decent life with good friends in exile, so coming back to the kingdom that exiled him and the family he believes have forgotten him is a difficult decision.

Part of what makes homecomings difficult is that the past we remember can never be recreated. People change, countries advance or decline, economies shift, landscapes are altered, and memories are faulty. If your past was pleasant, and you want to return to it, even your best visit will be different in many subtle ways. If your past was unpleasant, and you are forced to confront it, the reality is never clear-cut.

In Blaine’s case, the kingdom of Donderath will never be exactly as it was. Neither will his manor at Glenreith, or the people he left behind. As he increasingly realizes, not only did they change in the interim, but so did he. Blaine was nothing special when he was exiled. When he returns, he may be the only one who can fix the magic, and Donderath’s best hope for rising from the ashes.

Blaine left a prosperous, powerful kingdom with a strong monarchy, international trade, advanced infrastructure, and magic both small and large on which its people depended for convenience. He returned to a broken, burned and flooded ruin that was leaderless, impoverished, famine-stricken and isolated, besieged by monsters, marauders and uncontrollable magic. Every action he takes, every decision he makes pulls him in that much deeper and binds his destiny with that of his homeland. And saving the kingdom that once tried to execute him just might be the death of Blaine yet.

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