Today’s guest post features an interesting look by Jon Sprunk on the origins of his new series, Book of the Black Earth. Since his first trilogy, The Shadow Saga, is one of my favourite series of all time, you’ll not be surprised if I say that I really look forward to the first book in his new series. It’s called Blood And Iron and will be released by PYR Books on 11 March 2014.
The Origins of Blood and Iron
Hello. I’m Jon Sprunk, a fantasy writer living in central Pennsylvania. I want to thank Dominick for letting me have this opportunity to talk about my new series, Book of the Black Earth. The first book, Blood and Iron, comes out this month.
The Book of the Black Earth series is set in the same secondary world as my Shadow Saga, but in a different region far to the east of Caim’s adventures. It follows three people as they struggle for freedom in an ancient land called Akeshia, where magic is worshipped and powerful God-Kings (and –Queens) hold the power of life and death over a vast race of people.
Horace is a shipbuilder and sailor who embarks on a Great Crusade for his country, but winds up shipwrecked on the shores of his enemy. Taken captive and made a slave, he discovers a hidden talent for sorcery, and thereby comes of the attention of the local ruling queen.
Alyra is a slave. As one of the queen’s handmaidens, she is lovely, intelligent, and obedient. She is also a spy in the service of a foreign government, sent to turn the greedy eyes of the Akeshians away from her homeland.
Jirom is a former mercenary turned gladiator. Dragooned into the queen’s army, he joins a group of subversive slaves who crave freedom. Yet he’s seen firsthand how the empire treats its enemies, so he must ask himself what’s worse, slavery or death.
Fun fact: The idea behind this series originated in my head more than twenty years ago.
Yep. When I started writing as a young man, I messed around with some short stories and then embarked on my first attempt at a full-length novel. It was about some good people who were lured into Hell to serve opposing demon overlords in a game of politics and war. I got about thirty thousand words into the story before it fizzled, mainly due to my own inexperience. I put the unfinished manuscript aside and moved on to other things. Then, after finishing my Shadow trilogy, I was brainstorming for my next series when I remembered that old book. The idea at the heart of that ill-fated first attempt had never left me. I didn’t go back and read the original (which probably would have soured me on the idea), but I did start plotting a story arc with the basic gist in mind.
I began from scratch. Instead of setting the action in a fantasy version of Hell, I changed it to a secondary world that combined elements from several of my favorite ancient cultures, namely the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Egyptians. I found enough parallels that mingling these cultures felt as natural as breathing.
One of the things I really wanted to tackle in this series was an original magic system. I played around with a few concepts until I hit on one that fit my world and my story. It plays on the basic “elemental” magic (earth, air, fire, and water) with a few twists of my own. Magic plays a big part in these books, so I made it a priority in my worldbuilding.
Lastly, there’s an idea at the heart of this series. A question really. What does it mean to be free? This series will explore the lives of slaves and royals, masters and servants, soldiers and spies. Throw in the presence of magic—the potential of one person to possess the power of an army—and it makes for a volatile combination. Old walls will be broken down, but new ones will surely arise to take their place.
Well, that’s a brief look at my new series. Thank you for reading.
Jon Sprunk is the author of the Shadow Saga (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master) and a mentor at the Seton Hill University fiction writing program. His next epic fantasy series begins in March 2014 with Blood and Iron. For more on his life and work, you can check out his author site at www.jonsprunk.com.
In the holy city of Othir, treachery and corruption lurk at the end of every street, just the place for a freelance assassin with no loyalties and few scruples. Caim makes his living on the edge of a blade, but when a routine job goes south, he is thrust into the middle of an insidious plot. Pitted against crooked lawmen, rival killers, and darkest sorcery, his only allies are the socialite daughter of his last target and a guardian spirit no one else can see. But in this fight for his life, Caim only trusts his knives and his instincts, but they won’t be enough when his quest for justice leads him from Othir’s hazardous back alleys to its shining corridors of power. To unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the empire, he must claim his birthright as the Shadow’s Son . . .
He was at the top of the food chain in Othir. An assassin beyond compare. A dark shadow in the night. But Caim left that life behind when he helped an Empress claim her throne. But now his past has come calling again. Searching for the truth behind the murder and disappearance of his parents, Caim discovers a land in thrall to the Shadow. Haunted by temptations from the Other Side, he becomes mired in a war he does not want to fight. But there are some things a son of the Shadow cannot ignore, and some fights from which he cannot run. In this battle, all of Caim’s strength and skill won’t be enough. For none can resist the Shadow’s Lure…
The Northern wastes…
a land of death and shadow where only the strongest survive. Yet that is where Caim must go to follow the mystery at the heart of his life. Armed only with his knives and his companions, he plunges into a world of eternal night where the sun is never seen and every hand is turned against him. Caim has buried his father’s sword and found some measure of peace, but deep in the north an unfathomable power lays waiting. To succeed on this mission, Caim will have to do more than just survive. He must face the Shadow’s Master.
Blood And Iron starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea. Horace, a soldier from the west, had joined the Great Crusade against the heathens of Akeshia after the deaths of his wife and son from plague. When he washes ashore, he finds himself at the mercy of the very people he was sent to kill, who speak a language and have a culture and customs he doesn’t even begin to understand. Not long after, Horace is pressed into service as a house slave. But this doesn’t last. The Akeshians discover that Horace was a latent sorcerer, and he is catapulted from the chains of a slave to the halls of power in the queen’s court. Together with Jirom, an ex-mercenary and gladiator, and Alyra, a spy in the court, he will seek a path to free himself and the empire’s caste of slaves from a system where every man and woman must pay the price of blood or iron. Before the end, Horace will have paid dearly in both.
You can read my reviews of Jon’s first three books by clicking on following links:
And finally, check out this interview I’ve had with Jon last year.
In today’s guest post Jim Webster talks about where to get inspiration and do research when writing a SF novel. Jim’s new novel, Justice 4.1, will be released by Safkhet Publishing on 01 March 2014.
Inspiration And Research When Writing SF
“Where to get inspiration and where to do research when writing SF?”
Dominick has asked me an interesting question. I only hope I can come up with an equally interesting answer.
For me, inspiration comes from people. Stories are about people, how they interact, their frustrations, clashes and friendships. This is true pretty well whatever the genre. So the obvious place to look for inspiration is at people. For me this is not just the people I know but from people I’ve read about or had described to me.
We have to remember that people and cultures evolve slowly and continuously. But we don’t evolve in straight lines, what is unthinkable for one generation was common practice to a previous generation and may well be common practice for a subsequent generation. So we can imagine a society in the future where the population control is achieved by a large proportion of young males voluntarily entering celibate institutions. In an SF context the fun for the author comes from deciding what those institutions do. Equally we can imagine a society where having an understanding of technology is the sign of a low status individual, no person of any consequence would ever admit to understanding how technology works. Neither situation is impossible, both have existed somewhere at some time in our past.
Another theme in SF is the adoption of new technology, or at least the collision between society and new technology. How to we handle this? How should our SF culture handle this?
If we look back into our past we can see several possible responses. Offer the Greeks and Romans new technology and they were as likely to regard it as an interesting toy as they were to adopt it. They could see the advantage of some technological advances, such as better grain mills or superior iron. But labour saving devices were largely ignored because they saw no reason to save labour.
But we can also look at something more modern for a comparison. Take the replacement of the horse by the tractor in agriculture in the UK. I have an advantage when it comes to looking at the UK. My father lived and worked through the process. Here you have a totally different response to the new innovation. Because men were leaving the land anyway because of better paid urban jobs, the technology was welcomed relatively enthusiastically by the farmers.
There are ironies in the process. The horseman, especially the head horseman, was to some extent one of the leading figures on the farm. His esteemed profession gave him a respected place within the society in which he lived. When the tractor came in, these men were expected to give up their horses and adopt the tractor. Unfortunately the number of skills shared between horsemen and tractor drivers is virtually nil, and a lot of them struggled to make the change, with younger men, more flexible, more used to dealing with engines (even if only motorbikes) becoming the best tractor drivers. The arrival of the tractor produced a myriad of small social revolutions that passed unnoticed except on a myriad of farms and in a myriad of households.
When you stop to think about it, most of us of a certain age have a fine example of technology changing our lives. Stop and remember the world we knew twenty five or thirty years ago. For the vast majority of people that meant no internet, no mobile communications. I’ve still got a type-writer somewhere, and a fountain pen.
So if you want to describe and understand the future, I’d suggest the best place to look is the past.
It’s a good place for inspiration.
Jim Webster was born in Barrow in Furness on the 24th March 1956, the same day that Devon Loch fell at the Grand National and Dick Francis turned his attention to writing. With a teacher for a mother and a farmer for a father, Jim was thus able to read before going to school, could drive a tractor by the age of eight and was feeding calves somewhat earlier than that. Jim’s been farming since 1975 and milked twice a day, at least 290 days a year for the next thirty years. Since then, he’s farmed, written freelance and acted as a consultant, sometimes managing to do all three in the same day. Jim is happily married since 1985; his wife Brenda and he have three daughters scattered about Northern England.
He has held sundry community positions, including chairing the local Police Liaison Committee, chair of the county branch of the Country Land and Business Association, and has written more articles on wargaming and military history than he can count and is a Church Warden. He is immoderately proud of the fact that he has no CV, having been self-employed his entire life.
When a journalist is shot down in a backward area of Tsarina, Haldar Drom of the Governor’s Investigation Office is sent to investigate. He uncovers a hidden medical facility dedicated to the production of Abate, a drug used for population control, as well as evidence of the implantation of pre-created embryos in women brought to Tsarina for the purpose. He also discovers a deeper plot with far reaching political ramifications. A senior member of the Governors family, Doran Stilan is running a personal feud with the major pirate/Starmancer Wayland Strang. Indeed he begins to suspect that Stilan may even be angling to take Stang’s place.
The medical facility is destroyed after it is attacked by mercenaries hired by Strang, and Drom has to travel off world to untangle the treads of the conspiracy.
Arriving back on Tsarina, he has to deal with a failed Starmancer attack, punish the guilty and arrange for Doran Stilan to get what’s coming without undermining the position of the Governor. To do this, he’ll need skill, know-how and a whole lot of luck to ensure that the guilty face justice.
Author Gail Z. Martin
Number of pages 640
Publisher Solaris Books
Publication date 05 February 2007
The comfortable world of Martris Drayke, second son of King Bricen of Margolan, is shattered when his older half-brother, Jared, and Jared’s dark mage, Foor Arontala, kill the king and seize the throne. Tris is the only surviving member of the royal family aside from Jared the traitor. Tris flees with three friends: Soterius, captain of the guard; Carroway, the court’s master bard; and Harrtuck, a member of the royal guard. Tris harbors a deep secret. In a land where spirits walk openly and influence the affairs of the living, he suspects he may be the mage heir to the power of his grandmother, Bava K’aa, once the greatest sorceress of her age. Such magic would make Tris a Summoner, the rarest of magic gifts, capable of arbitrating between the living and the dead.
The Summoner is the first book in The Chronicles of the Necromancer and Martin’s debut novel. It tells the tale of prince Martris Drayke, who is forced to flee his home when his brother murders their entire family. Drayke escapes the attempt on his life and, together with a few childhood friends, he sets out to avenge the deaths of his parents and sister. He has to learn to control his growing powers as a summoner and hope that his friends will not leave him when they find out that his powers are more dangerous than they seem at first sight.
The Summoner is a classic coming-of-age tale with an original lead character. Martris Drayke isn’t a farm boy who will become a reluctant hero who has to fight the bad guy. He’s a summoner, and possibly even a necromancer, which gives Martin some very interesting possibilities to develop the tale. And those possibilities are the main reason why this tale is above average of most of the classic epic fantasy tales, because Martin does a great job in writing down Martris’ doubts and self-reflections.
But that brings us also to the main problem I’ve had with this tale: I found it hard to connect with the other characters. I’ve thought hard and long about why I think about this tale this way, but I can’t find anything. The writing style is very good, the storyline is interesting (only the beginning needs some spicing up) and the characters aren’t less interesting than other characters in other epic fantasy books, but I still can’t seem to find a satisfying explanation for the fact that I feel this way.
Yes, it is a slow going storyline, but that also isn’t the reason. Like I said above is the tale of Martris interesting enough to keep on reading. And luckily I did just that, because when I came to the second half of the book it became way more interesting. And although there isn’t much action in the ending, it was that part, and in particular their time in Westmarch, that was the best part of the storyline and it makes me look forward to the second book in this four part series.
The Winter Kingdoms, the world in which this series takes place, is an interesting and richly developed world with a classic magic system of dark magic that corrupts a man when used too much.
The most interesting part of Martin’s world development is the religion. This religion consists of only one goddess, but divided in eight aspects, each with its own church and followers. Four of those aspects are dedicated to the Light and the other four are forming their counterparts, dedicated to the Darkness. This religion system gives Martin interesting possibilities and she takes full advantage of this.
And since religion and the goddess are forming a big part of the storyline is this particular aspect of the tale the part that was most enjoyable.
The Summoner is an interesting start of a series that has great potential. Not all of this potential has come out the way it could be, but it’s still interesting enough to keep on reading and looking forward to book two.
With an enjoyable lead character and an interesting world and religion is The Summoner having enough pluses to overcome the main issue of not feeling enough connection with the side characters.
So, for my conclusion I can say that The Summoner was an enjoyable first book in a series that shows great potential.
In today’s guest post Dave Hutchinson talks about his favourite places in his new novel, Europe In Autumn, which has just been released by Solaris Books.
My Favourite Places
I suppose my favourite setting in Europe In Autumn has to be Kraków. I first went there in 1991 or thereabouts, not all that long after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and I fell in love with it the moment I set eyes on it. It’s a wonderful city, the people are brilliant, the food is very, very good. I keep going back to it in my stuff; a chunk of my first novel, The Villages, is set there, as is at least one short story that I can think of.
Poland in general is a great place. I love the Poles, even as they infuriate me. I suppose I’ve been going there long enough now, and love it enough, to bemoan the creeping colonisation of the chains and franchises. The opening of the first McDonald’s in Warsaw was an event that made the national news, but I’m afraid my heart sank when I saw it. You can still not get a proper sausage roll anywhere in Poland – something I plan on remedying at some point in the future – but you can buy a Big Mac. That bothers me, obscurely.
After Poland, there’s London. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with London. I was born in Sheffield, but I’ve been here for around thirty years now, and I’ve managed to come to an accommodation with the city. I’m very fond of its history and development, and the fact that it throws up weird little stories. I’m less fond of its transport system and the way it’s run. I busted up my knee a few years ago, and when it was better I started walking a lot, and I was surprised to find that London – the bits everyone knows, anyway – is quite a small city, easily walkable if you’re not in a big hurry and you don’t mind making an effort. I’m enamoured of the London Underground, but we miss so much by travelling on it, odd little corners and stories which make the place unique.
Finally, I guess, there’s Lahemaa, the national park in Estonia. I’ve never been there, but I did quite a lot of research about it while writing the book, because I wanted to make the descriptions of the place sound at least vaguely right. I think I managed to do that, and in doing so I became rather fond of the place. I really would like to go there, one day, and see if it matches my image of it.
Dave Hutchinson was born in Sheffield in 1960. After reading American Studies at the University of Nottingham, he became a journalist. He’s the author of five collections of short stories and one novel, and his novella “The Push” was shortlisted for the 2010 BSFA award for short fiction. He has also edited two anthologies and co-edited a third. His short story ‘The Incredible Exploding Man’ featured in the first Solaris Rising anthology, and appeared in the 29th Year’s Best Science Fiction collection. He lives in north London with his wife and several cats.
A fractured Europe, a cook-turned-spy, a mighty web of espionage – but what happens when conspiracy threatens to overwhelm even reality itself?
Europe in Autumn is a dystopian SF espionage thriller that evokes the Cold War novels of John Le Carré and the nightmarish world of Franz Kafka, taking place in a war and disease-torn Europe of hundreds of tiny nations.
Rudi is a cook in a Kraków restaurant, but when boss asks him to help a cousin escape from the country he’s trapped in, a new career – part spy, part people-smuggler – begins.
Recruited by the shadowy organisation Les Coureurs des Bois, Rudi is schooled in espionage. When he is sent to smuggle someone out of Berlin and finds a severed head inside a locker instead, a conspiracy begins to wind itself around him.
With kidnapping, double-crosses and a map that constantly re-draws itself, Europe in Autumn is a modern science fiction thriller like no other.