Monthly Archives:: January 2015

Magic in the Brightmoon world

January 30, 2015 Brightmoon world, The Fire Mages, The Plains of Kallanash 3

With ‘The Fire Mages’ now out, I thought it might be interesting to look at the way magic is used in the book, and compare it with magic in ‘The Plains of Kallanash’. WARNING: slight spoiler for ‘The Fire Mages’ at the end.

‘The Fire Mages’ is set in the realm of Bennamore. Magic is invoked by the use of spellpages: a trained scribe writes out the words of a spell using magically imbued paper, pen and ink. A special script is used, with many flourishes and symbolic additions to each letter, which can subtly modify the spell, for instance to change the strength, to add constraints or expand it. The spellpage is then burnt in a crucible, with an invocation to the gods: “By the sun, bring light and fire and colour; by the moon, enable the darkness.” The Bennamorians believe that the gods are the final arbiters of whether a spell will work as intended or not.

The scribes who write the spells have no special magical talent themselves. Anyone can be trained to write spellpages, if they have a steady hand and can write accurately. Training takes place at a scribery, and there are five years of study, leading to five levels of scribe:

  • common scribe (reading and writing for the common people, not allowed to scribe spellpages)
  • transaction scribe (working for shopkeepers, inn managers and the like recording their transactions, simple spellpages)
  • contract scribe (working for businesses recording larger deals, more complicated spellpages)
  • personal scribe (working for and advising nobles)
  • law scribe (advising on the law of the whole country)

 

In theory, anyone can become a scribe to any level. There is no barrier to entry, apart from a simple test of reading and writing ability. However, the tuition has to be paid for, and each year costs twice as much as the year before. This means that the fifth year costs sixteen times as much as the first year.

There is one stage beyond that of law scribe – mage! What’s the difference between a scribe, performing magic by writing spellpages, and a mage? A mage performs exactly the same spells, but without needing to scribe them on magically enhanced paper. He or she (yes, it could be either) uses a vessel filled with magical power to enable their magic, so they just need to speak the words of the spell. The most adept can simply think the words.

They can also use the vessel in other ways, for instance, to touch a sick or injured person, and see where healing is needed, instead of guessing from symptoms. They can imbue paper, ink and quills with magic for scribes to use. They can create shortcuts for spells, for instance, a single word which enables a whole spell, but these have to be prepared in advance. There used to be more powerful mages who could create new spells, but there have been none for a long time, and the power of spellpages generally is waning; many spells which used to be effective are now less reliable.

In Bennamore, this is the only kind of magic that is recognised, and any other form of magic is illegal.

In ‘The Plains of Kallanash’, set in a different part of the same world, there are no spellpages. In fact, over most of the plains, there is no magic at all. The Catastrophe which reshaped the world so devastated that area, that magic of any sort is suppressed. Only at the Ring, surrounding the Tower of Reception, is there any magical ability, but very few people are aware of it. Most don’t even believe in magic.

But there is magic, and it’s innate – everyone has a kind of magic, a ‘connection’ to something which gives them a special affinity with that something. For most people this works at such a low level that they’re not even aware of it. They might just think they happen to be rather good at growing apples or raising pigs or working wood. Some people are aware of their connection, but it isn’t strong enough for them to do anything with it. But a few people have a very strong connection, powerful enough for them to use it. If you have read ‘The Plains of Kallanash’, you will know who has a strong connection, and how they use it!

But anyone who’s read ‘The Fire Mages’ as well may be saying, “Wait a minute, this is the same world, but it has two different kinds of magic in it. How does that work?”

That’s a good question. The answer, as so often in the Brightmoon world, lies in the Catastrophe. When the powerful pre-Catastrophe mages started playing about with forces they couldn’t ultimately control, and realised that the only way to save the world was to destroy magic, naturally they immediately started looking for ways to allow magic to continue anyway. ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ shows the results of one attempt to do that. ‘The Fire Mages’ shows another.

The system of spellpages was created by mages before the Catastrophe. They ‘seeded’ the whole region where Bennamore now stands with a kind of magical power which could be easily transferred to objects – the vessels used by modern mages, and the paper, ink and quills used to create the spellpages. They invented the spells themselves, and the form of writing used to invoke them. And they made the whole system self-perpetuating, so that it doesn’t need anyone with native magical ability. Bennamorian scribes need have no innate talent for magic (although mages generally have some latent capability).

But what about Kyra? Here’s someone who clearly does have a strong innate magical ability, so how does that work?

Another good question, and here comes the slight spoiler. Even in Bennamore, everyone has a connection. That kind of magic is just a part of the human condition in the Brightmoon world, everyone has it, to a greater or lesser degree. But the only forms of magic allowed in Bennamore are the spellpages and the vessel-empowered mages. Any other kind is illegal, and the penalties severe, so those with connections keep very quiet about them.

But not all connections are to mushrooms or root vegetables or sparrows. Kyra’s connection is to magic itself. And that makes her very, very special. It’s a situation that can only arise when a child is born close to magic – in Bennamore, or near one of the many magical places pre-dating the Catastrophe – and even then, it happens very rarely. But when it does, it gives the recipient enormous power, which can be used for great good or great evil. And therein lies the story behind ‘The Fire Mages’.

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Five-Star Archives: ‘The Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss

January 27, 2015 Archive, Review 0

I thought it might be amusing to dig out some of my old reviews from the mists of time. This is one I read and reviewed in February 2011, and despite the glowing five star review, I haven’t yet got round to reading the follow-on. Hmm. Maybe I’m just less interested in wordy, doorstopper books these days.


This is a debut book, and inevitably the first in a trilogy (‘The Kingkiller Chronicles’), by this author, and it is quite stunning. It is focused quite tightly on just one character, for it is his story, told largely in autobiographical form, from the perspective of a point in his life when he is still relatively young but has already become something of a legend.
Unlike many fantasy books, the reader is not dropped headfirst into a morass of names and places and customs. Rather it builds very gently and precisely, a step at a time, as Kvothe tells his story, and the other countries, languages and beliefs are simply there, an occasional reference tossed out to whet the appetite. Because of this, the book seems quite slow to get going, and there are places where it almost begins to drag.
But about halfway through, when Kvothe reaches the University, the pace picks up and the book becomes totally absorbing and hard to put down. There are a couple of passages which are totally breathtaking, and even the slowest parts have a wonderful eloquence. There is a quite brilliant clarity in the writing, which is unusually poetic in nature, comparable to the best Tolkein passages, and infinitely better than the average for this type of work.
This is not a swords and sorcery all-action story, but nevertheless there is enough excitement to keep things bubbling along. The magic is a feature, of course, but it never acts as a deus ex machina. In fact, when it is used, it is possible to see the carefully placed trail of clues which led to it, so that we always understand exactly what has happened.
The story is complete enough to read on its own, but inevitably there are mysteries and hints about the events of the subsequent books. The author has achieved such a high standard with this first book, however, that it is hard to see how he can possibly repeat the feat twice more. If he can, the series will be quite outstanding.

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Fiction Review: ‘See You’ by Dawn Lee McKenna

January 22, 2015 Review 0

I hardly know what to say about this book. I cried almost all the way through, yet I couldn’t put it down. Actually, I laughed almost as much as I cried. So be warned – unless you’re made of much sterner stuff than I am, you’ll need a good supply of hankies nearby while you read.

This is an extraordinary book. It’s a love story, and no, that’s not a euphemism for romance, this really is a story about love. And not your conventional couple, either. Jack was raised by his best friend’s mother, Miss Margret, and returned every year to visit her and her granddaughter, Emma Lee. When Miss Margret died, the visits stopped but now Jack’s back, and finds Emma Lee still living in the same house, and raising her own daughter. Jack has some secrets to share, but Emma has a secret of her own – she’s been in love with him since she was a child.

Now if you thought a love story between a fifty-something man and a thirty-something women might feel a little odd, don’t worry, it all feels totally natural and beautifully real. Jack and Emma are not extraordinary people, they don’t have unusual talents or great wealth or outstanding beauty. They’re just ordinary folks who live ordinary lives in an ordinary town, yet their story is anything but ordinary.

This is the author’s debut publication, but it’s as fine a piece of writing as I’ve seen anywhere. This is the south, and the dialogue and the tiny nuances of southern life are a pleasure to read, so evocative you could almost be there. Even for me, a Brit, that slow way of life wrapped itself around like a warm blanket. Here’s Jack telling the preacher there’s going to be a wedding:

Jack found Brother Fillmore out back, shooing two half-grown hogs back into their pen. He was the only man Jack had ever seen who could work outside all day and have his overalls as pressed and clean as when he’d put them on.

He was a slim man, just a bit shorter than Jack, but his dignity and bearing always made him seem larger to Jack. He had to be over eighty, though he looked much younger, and he’d lived alone since his wife had passed, back in the nineties.

He didn’t seem all that surprised at Jack’s news, but Jack didn’t recall ever seeing him surprised.

“Well, Emma’s needed a good man to give her some direction for some time,” Brother Fillmore said. “She’s not meant to go it alone.”

“Yes sir,” Jack said.

“How long have you been home, son?”

“Just a little while,” Jack said.

“You’ve not been living in sin ‘til this time, have you?”

“No sir,” Jack said. “No sinning at all.”

“Well, I’ll be pleased to join you in celebrating,” Brother Fillmore said. “I’ll need to come up with an appropriate gift.”

“No gift necessary, sir,” Jack said. “Just bring yourself; bring a dish if you like.”

Brother Fillmore pointed his cane at the smaller of the hogs he’d just penned. “That one just tore up all my Black Krim tomatoes,” he said. “I’ll bring him.”

How can you resist? Highly recommended. Five stars.

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Fantasy Review: ‘To Whatever End’ by Claire Frank

January 20, 2015 Review 2

This is an unusual book in a couple of ways. For one thing, the main protagonists are a happily married couple. When Daro is kidnapped, Cecily sets out to find and rescue him. No, no, that’s not the other unusual thing. Surely it’s not unusual for a woman to rescue a man?

The second unusual thing is that this story is set some years after a major upheaval in the kingdom. The old king was overthrown and his son and heir killed in a bloody war which Daro, Cecily and their friends helped to orchestrate. The first section of the book, where we meet the companions in ones and twos, and they mull over the previous events and remind each other of this or that close shave or dramatic moment, made me wonder if I’d strayed into the second part of a trilogy. Actually, no, this is the first part. But dammit, that sounds like an interesting adventure they had. I’d really like to read about that. It’s not until this story starts to take off that I stopped yearning to hear about the war.

The plot, as already mentioned, revolves around the kidnapping of Daro by people who appear to have almost impossibly powerful abilities. It took a while to get to this point, but the getting there was not uninteresting. The contrast between Daro and Cecily’s present rustic retreat and the grand city of Halthus, where Cecily is part of the nobility, makes for an interesting introduction, and there are plenty of neat little details along the way that made me smile with pleasure. This is an author who knows how to get the world-building right and drip-feed snippets of information at just the right moment.

But then Daro is whisked away, and the section of the book that deals with what happens to him was, for me, a highlight. His interactions while in captivity came to life and crackled with tension in a way that the more routine city-based scenes never quite did. Partly this is (perhaps) because civilised cities, even magical ones, don’t quite have that fantastical allure for me. And partly this is because Cecily spends a great deal of time sitting around unable to act because – well, reasons. It makes her seem quite passive at times, although when she does get a chance to act, and she and the gang sally forth for an encounter, she more than makes up for all the waiting.

A very small niggle: when Cecily and pals do get an idea of what to try next, it seems to come out of the blue. Sometimes it’s more a chance piece of information, or pure instinct, that drives things forwards. I would have liked a little more deduction, and less randomness, but it wasn’t a problem.

One aspect I really liked about this book is the beautifully worked out magic system. I can’t profess to understand all the nuances, but there’s a lot of subtlety to it. Magic users are called Wielders or Shapers, depending on whether they can manipulate energy or matter. There are various different types. Cecily is an unusually strong Wielder, trained at the powerful Lyceum to enhance her capabilities even more than normal. I loved the way she could Push or Pull – making someone fall over by Pushing their knees, for example – and she also has Awareness, so she can feel where rooms and people are in a building, for instance. Such a useful ability to have.

The other main characters have Wielder abilities too, and sometimes it felt as if they were only there to conveniently make guards run away (by filling their minds with fear, another cool ability) or pick a lock. The rest of the time the companions were mostly cannon fodder, or foils to sit round a table discussing The Situation with Cecily (there was a lot of discussing went on). I confess that I got them muddled up a great deal, but that’s just me.

Eventually the plot blossoms into the expected big confrontation. The battle scenes in the book are done superbly. I’m not a big fan of magical battles, as a rule, but here I always knew exactly what was going on, and who was doing what to whom.

The ending – I’m not going to say anything about the ending, except that the author has set up one of the cleverest lead-ins to the next book that I’ve ever come across. Can’t wait to find out how this one gets worked out. Recommended for fans of traditional epic fantasy who like an intriguing magic system. A good four stars.

Footnote: the author’s husband is a Lego enthusiast, so he made some models of locations in the book, which you can see here.

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‘The Fire Mages’ still at a special low price

January 17, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages 2

Just a reminder that ‘The Fire Mages’ is still available at the new-release price of $0.99. To buy, click the link in the box at the right, which takes you to your local Amazon. You have a few more days to buy before it goes to the normal price of $3.99. If you’ve already bought it – thank you! Please tell your friends about it, too. And if you’ve read it, an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads or your blog would be very much appreciated, to help other readers decide if they would enjoy it.

The book has had a few reviews already. Here’s a snippet from the first to hit Amazon.com:

“The main characters were more authentic than I think you usually get in fantasy stories, but just like Robin Hobb, Ross is a master at crafting authentic characters. This story had everything I look for in a fantasy novel with action that kept the pages turning and a main character that I was rooting for from page one.”

You can read the rest at Amazon.

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For fans of libraries…

January 10, 2015 General 0

wouldn’t this be an astonishing place to read in?

This is the National Library of Prague. Lots more amazing libraries at BoredPanda.

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‘The Fire Mages’: now available!

January 10, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages 0

My new epic fantasy ‘The Fire Mages’ is now available to buy at all Amazons!  The first review at Amazon.com starts: “I could not put this book down. The pacing was perfect and kept me engaged from beginning to end.”

For the next two weeks it will be priced at just $0.99 (regular price $3.99), so this is a good time to pick up a copy. The paperback is also available, at a regular price of $11.99, but Amazon is offering it at $10.79 at the moment, and if you buy the paperback you get the ebook for free. If you have a subscription to Kindle Unlimited or Prime, you can also borrow the book for free.

‘The Fire Mages’ is an epic fantasy coming of age adventure with (naturally!) a bit of a romance. It’s 150,000 words, or 386 pages. Here’s the blurb:

Kyra has always been drawn to the magic of spellpages. She is determined to leave her small village far behind and become a scribe, wielding the power of magic through her pen. Halfway through her training, she has a mage as patron and her ambitions are within her grasp. But a simple favour for her sister goes disastrously awry, destroying Kyra’s dreams in an instant.

Devastated, she accepts an offer from a stranger to help her find out what went wrong. The young man sees growing power within Kyra, potentially stronger than spellpages or any living mage. The answers to unlocking that power may lie within the glowing walls of the Imperial City, but its magic is strong and the unwary vanish without trace on its streets. Thirsty for knowledge and desperate to avoid another accident, she feels compelled to risk it.

While she focuses on controlling her abilities, a storm of greed and ambition boils up around her. Kyra is a pawn in the struggle for dominance between unscrupulous factions vying for rule of her country. Trusting the wrong side could get her killed–or worse, the potent magic she barely understands could be put to unthinkable evil.

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‘The Fire Mages’: coming soon!

January 4, 2015 Current writings, Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages 1

‘The Fire Mages’ will be published this Friday, January 9th! An early Goodreads reviewer said:‘This is one of the best epic fantasy books I’ve read in a long time and I don’t say that lightly.’ To get your copy as soon as it’s released, you can now pre-order at Amazon (the link takes you to your local store). For a limited time, it will be priced at just $0.99. And it’s available right now as a paperback, priced at $8.39 (buy the paperback, and you can get the ebook free!).

ETA: As part of the pre-release build-up, Enchanted Blog Tours arranged a cover reveal party for me – a dozen blogs, all showing the cover and blurb. Karen, at ‘Karen Writes Stuff’ (great name for a blog!), got quite excited about it. Thanks, Karen, I think it’s an amazing cover too (designed by Streetlight Graphics).

‘The Fire Mages’ is an epic fantasy coming of age adventure with (naturally!) a bit of a romance. Here’s the blurb:

Kyra has always been drawn to the magic of spellpages. She is determined to leave her small village far behind and become a scribe, wielding the power of magic through her pen. Halfway through her training, she has a mage as patron and her ambitions are within her grasp. But a simple favour for her sister goes disastrously awry, destroying Kyra’s dreams in an instant.

Devastated, she accepts an offer from a stranger to help her find out what went wrong. The young man sees growing power within Kyra, potentially stronger than spellpages or any living mage. The answers to unlocking that power may lie within the glowing walls of the Imperial City, but its magic is strong and the unwary vanish without trace on its streets. Thirsty for knowledge and desperate to avoid another accident, she feels compelled to risk it.

While she focuses on controlling her abilities, a storm of greed and ambition boils up around her. Kyra is a pawn in the struggle for dominance between unscrupulous factions vying for rule of her country. Trusting the wrong side could get her killed–or worse, the potent magic she barely understands could be put to unthinkable evil.

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Happy New Year!

January 2, 2015 General, Writing musings 0

The turn of the year is a time for looking both back and forwards. This is probably the forty seventh you’ve read, so to keep it brief, here’s a quick summary of my year:

Memorable events of 2014 (good and bad):

  • I published a book! ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ went live on 12th September 2014. [Kind of a roller-coaster, but mostly good]
  • I learned that when you spend time writing, you get less reading done. [Bad]
  • I taught myself the 400 steps necessary to obtain an EIN from Uncle Sam to avoid withholding tax on my book royalties (ha! If only…), which involves dancing naked with unicorn feathers and the sacrifice of one’s first-born (sorry, James, but needs must), not to mention visiting the American Embassy in London, which is almost as far from here as it’s possible to get without falling into the ocean. And then the system was changed so I didn’t need to do any of that. [Which is good, I think; well, very good for my first-born, obviously]
  • I learned that I have a lot of kind online friends who went out and bought my book, and posted nice reviews. You lovely people. [Good]
  • I learned that I will never get rich by writing books (but I kind of knew that anyway). [OK]
  • I discovered that Australia in November is a very pleasant place to be. And the wine is awesome… [V. Good]

Coming in 2015 (maybe):

  • Another book! ‘The Fire Mages’ will be published on 9th January 2015. You can now pre-order it at your local Amazon.
  • And another! ‘The Mages of Bennamore’ will be published late spring 2015.
  • And yet another! ‘The Mines of Asharim’ might possibly round off my first year as a published author by appearing in September 2015. If all this sounds too prolific for words, bear in mind that in the year and a half I spent editing and polishing Kallanash and inching towards publication in a three steps forward, two back manner, I wrote another two and a bit books. So I kind of had them lined up, waiting.
  • On the reading/reviewing front, I’d like to reduce my backlog of books somewhat, and not just by shuffling them from the to-read shelf to the to-read-sometime shelf on Goodreads. You know, by actually reading them. But I just keep getting distracted by all the shiny new books…

I hope you all have the 2015 you want.

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