Tag Archives: demons

Book Review: The Warded Man

fantasy, epic fantasy, Peter Brett

The Warded Man was released in the US in 2009, Harper Voyager imprint

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett came out in 2008 in the UK (as The Painted Man) and 2009 in North America. It’s the first of the Demon Cycle. Yes, there are spoilers.

This fantasy takes place in world that once had the age of science but something happened and demons from the core (of the world) materialized every night, bent on destroying humans. Small villages and hamlets use wards on posts and homes that keep the corelings at bay. Everyone knows how to ward, but some are better than ever. If a ward is drawn wrong, or gets marred, it leaves a way in for the corelings to destroy everything. Larger towns have warded boardwalks  so one can cautiously get place to place but pretty much the night is owned by the corelings.

The “free” cities are encircled by huge stone walls, with the streets lined with stone. Everything is warded with sigils by the guild of warders, and demons rarely get in. But still people only very carefully venture into the night. This leads to an isolated society, where travel more than a day is difficult and people must ask for succor in another place before the sun goes down. The centuries of isolation has lead to various places jealously guarding the wards they use, as opposed to sharing. News and merchandise must still get from town to town and this is left to Messengers and Jongleurs. The jongleurs bring the news and tales and a respite from the terror, with their songs and acrobatics. The Messengers are combinations of merchant, knight and postman and hardened souls used to the vagaries of the night world. They carry portable ward circles, warded shields, weaponry and a host of scars.

The elemental air, rock, wood, sand, water and fire demons. While the wind corelings seemed similar to pterodactyls they are terrifying creatures of nightmare. The story begins with eleven-year-old Arlen, a good warder who witnesses the coring of his mother. The subsequent search for healing lead him on a journey to one of the free cities where he apprentices as a warder and messenger. Over ten years pass in the span of Arlen’s life as he hones his skills, faces betrayals and alienates himself from humankind in his relentless search for the old battle wards and artifacts, and his vengeance against the demons.

Leesha is a young girl, unjustly marred by a braggart fiance and spiteful mother. She apprentices to the extremely old, cranky and mean herb gatherer Bruna. Leesha’s gains independence and eventually travels to help neighboring towns. But she runs into her own hardships and terror when she returns to help her village and the Warded Man rescues her and Rojer.

Rojer lost his family at a young age and was raised by a drunkard jongleur. With his damaged half hand he’s never very good at juggling but is a passable acrobat and plays a mean fiddle. On the road with his master they meet calamity and then Rojer meets Leesha. He has found that the sound of his fiddle can repel the demons and Leesha knows how to make a burning liquid that can injure the previously thought indestructible demons.

While these two have their own threads as they grow and learn their strengths and fears, Arlen is the main focus.He ends up in desert city Krasia, the only place where they actively fight to repel the demons. Arlen hopes to pass on his discoveries of the battle wards but is betrayed by a culture where he is considered an outsider.

Overall I found the story engaging and it kept me reading. The action is clear, but I would have preferred descriptions of the characters to come more as part of the story as opposed to exposition. But the exposition is light. Most of the logic for the warding works. Demons can’t go through stone but can go through wood. The wards have to be in a circle to work on buildings, but you can repel with a ward on an object such as a shield. The battle wards were lost because the demons had been expunged and people forgot. I just don’t quite see how three centuries can go by where people put wards on shields but never put them on swords or spears.

There are two aspects I disliked about this book; one is endemic in many medieval fantasies. Game of Thrones suffers from it as well, even if Aria and Brienneare are exceptions. But they are exceptions in a patriarchal world where women are still chattels and brood mares and expected to be good and silent wives. In many cases, these worlds are styled on our own history, if given different trappings such as species, magic or geography. But I’m getting heartily sick of the role of women always being virgin, mother, whore or sacred warrior (Joan of Arc anyone?). In this way it’s still a man’s world. While Leesha and Bruna are strong women, they don’t step outside the traditional roles. If exploring a patriarchy and the liberation of women was the goal, then this would have been more acceptable.

The other aspect I really hated was the Krasians. They’re a desert nation who put no god before the Creator and the Deliverer is his prophet, where their women are veiled head to foot and outsiders are considered dirt. They eat figs and dates and dress in baggy pants. Medieval Middle East, with not even a veil to disguise it. At this point I threw up my hands. Do terrorists always have to be Middle Eastern? Yes, there are plenty of white-skinned bad guys in this book, but the thin veneer of our world’s cultures made me sigh in exasperation. I knew what the second book was going to be about. The betraying Krasians steal the magic spear and decide to take over the world, delivering people from demons but changing them into believers of the new faith. And the Warded Man must stop the holy war.

I find it annoying to have our world with just a touch of different icing for fantasies. I liked the book well enough and the overall premise of battling these corelings, but I don’t think it went far enough. I’d be tempted to read the second book but I’m not dying to. I saw enough of this world to feel I had a complete story. I’d give The Painted Man three and a half wards.

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Writing News: Story Genesis

Well, Happy New Year, everyone. I’ve been a bit slow out of the gate and just a little busy. I’ve mentioned before that I’m co-editing Tesseracts 17. Eventually I’ll post some demographics here such as how many submissions from different regions, how many men and women, poetry to fiction, ghost stories, future SF, etc. etc. I’m working on another proposal with someone and there will be more news on that once everything is confirmed.

anthology, dark fiction, fantasy, horror, writing, publishing, Deep Cuts, Dean Drinkel

Demonologia Biblica, coming in February

In the meantime, stay tuned. I have three stories coming out in February:

  • “Red is the Color of My True Love’s Blood” in Deep Cuts, Evil Jester Press
  • “Tower of Strength” in Irony of Survival, Zharmae Publishing
  • “P is for Phartouche: The Blade” in Demonologia Biblica, Western Legends Publishing

“Tower of Strength” is an alternate history tale during Biblical times, and the other two are darker tales though “The Blade” has some redemption in it. “The Blade” came about originally from an exercise. Back when I was in an offshoot, sporadic and short-lived writing group we did an exercise to write about an inanimate object. I wrote a page or two about a blade.

 

books, fantasy, dark fiction, Michael Moorcock

The Elric books, from Ace, with the covers I loved.

This was inspired in part by Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone series that I read eons ago. I love the books (I think there were six but relatively slim tomes) about an albino lord of another world, elven or elven like, who was cursed to own a blade that demanded blood. When he pulled the sword, he was all-powerful but it demanded to be fed and took the lives of many. Elric was feared and had lost those he loved. He hated the blade but was tied inevitably to it, cursed to always carry it.

It’s been a long time since I read the Elric books but they stuck with me and I had a poster for years because I loved the art on the covers. But when I wrote the exercise from the blade’s point of view (whereas Elric was the viewpoint character), I stopped after those two pages because I had no idea what to do with it. It sat for quite a few years but I never throw out those half formed ideas. Then last fall I had an idea on how to finish the story, how to take that blade’s personality and make it so that it controlled the character, the inanimate animating the animate.

Then Dean Drinkel, editor for Demonologia Biblica sent me an invite. I met Dean at British Fantasy Con in 2011. The anthology is a collection of tales about demons from A-Z. What better way to describe a blade that possesses a personality and a taste for blood. So this tale while perhaps not a demon of flesh and blood, is about a demon that does possess flesh and blood. It fit well enough for the anthology it’s almost as if a demon laid in the idea for me to finish it, just before Dean contacted me. Fairly perfect timing. I’m sure this will be available online so stay tuned.

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Book Review: The Damned Busters

Being released this month  from Angry Robot books (a UK division of Harper Collins) is Matthew Hughes‘ new book The Damned Busters, first in the “To Hell and Back” series. I know Matt as a fellow writer in SF Canada, the Canadian professional writers’ association, and have had the chance to read a couple of his stories on Henghis Hapthorn and Luff Imbry. The stories struck me as not just competently written but having a fluid mastery of language and style that leaves me thinking magic is involved. Of course, Henghis is a detective, and I find the best mystery novels are like magic in how the author worked out plot and solutions to dire murders, mysterious disappearances or misleading heists. Matt has already proven himself a master at this.

I didn’t know what to expect from the review copy I received but knew that I’d at least read a masterful story. Whenever I read any book I also look at the quality of the book and publisher. This includes the package as well as the editing. The cover is what I’d call delightful and tells me right away there is going to be humor in this story. It’s done in a cartoony or comic book style that would not work for several titles but I know this is going to include a demon and a superhero. The book is a 5×7 (or close to) trade format, not too large and bulky, and comfortable to hold in the hand.

The editing/proofreading itself is fairly clean with very few errors that my copy editor’s eye picked up. The worst though is misspelling the main character’s name on the back cover. Ouch. There are a few odd word usages such as “sneaked” instead of snuck (one is more British and one more American and since Canadian English is a bastard cross you can just read about it here), and “comix.” We use comics this side of the pond so I can only presume these are UK preferences. Yet the punctuation is distinctly the N. American style so I must presume this is the edition meant for distribution here.

Now, the story. There have been takes on making deals with the devil, with ingenuous twists and some spectacular losses. We start with Chesney Arnstruther and his accidental summoning of a demon. Accidental is new but not outstanding. Where will this go? Sure enough, Chesney, a nerdish actuary who seems to be a person with Asperger syndrome has caused a big fuss in Hell because he refuses to sign the contract or accept the deal. This causes Hell to go on strike. The first three chapters sum up nicely with Chesney, although nerdy and in love with number crunching, managing to work a deal that doesn’t render his soul to Satan. I thought this could have been a short story, or  novelette, and when you read Matt’s afterword the idea did indeed start this way.

This isn’t a bad thing at all and sums up one act within the story arc.  I should mention that Hughes’ characters have fairly Dickensian names, or those that inspire images and feelings about the characters as Dickens’ best work did. Arnstruther evokes someone who might stutter or be ardent but who is not a Trump or a Rothschild of the world. There is the televangelist Reverend Billy Lee Hardacre who is what we would expect but then much more. W.T. Paxton and his beautiful blond daughter Poppy Paxton are Chesney’s foils and possible helpers. Polly (as well as Melda McCann), true to the time-honored tradition of comic book love interests of old like Superman, joins the ranks of the names that repeat the first letter (Lois Lane, Peter Parker, Clark Kent, Lana Lang) and I believe Matt is paying homage to this, but only slightly. I must also believe that with the intelligence and insight that Hughes has given in his other stories that there’s no accident with the Dickensian touch to the names.

Hell and Satan are not that unique in their domain but some of the demon descriptions are, and there is always that touch of the Hughes’ trademark wry humor.  What happens when a mostly anti-social, highly intelligent, pretty good in the good-vs-evil fight  number cruncher makes a deal with the devil? Some would go for fame, riches, power or lust but Chesney chooses to do good as a superhero likened after his favorite comic book, about a UPS courier called The Driver.  And like most heroes, Chesney has a sidekick, a reluctant Jimmy Cagney acting, rum swilling demon named, Xaphan.

But being a superhero isn’t so easy, as Peter Parker well knows, and Chesney must face other demons than Hell’s; a possible manipulation of forces seen but not known, a disgruntled detective and two women who seem to be attracted to the hero uniform.  Chesney thinks it’s all simple and that he’s thought everything out but it gets convoluted, and one deal with the Devil can lead to tricks and traps.

Hughes’ bow to comic books is carried off well. There are also not many writers that can use the word “darkling” where it fits so perfectly, or “wuthering.” Wuthering…I  don’t think anyone has dared to use it since Wuthering Heights.  If there were any faults with this book I would say I don’t really get the title and it seems awkward. Damned, sure that refers to all the goings on with Hell. But Damned Busters? It’s a little vague. I’d also hope where this book has a strong-willed righteous mother and two rather feisty femme fatales who veer some from stereotypes that we might see more variance in  the second book but those are minor quips.

Since I”ve been “sinning” and eating cheese, which I shouldn’t I’ll compare this story to a cheddar cheese (which I do love). It’s not like Velveeta which casts aspersions on the good name of cheese. Nor is it some cheap plasticky, slightly bouncy orange-colored thing. It’s not a Kraft cheese nor one you would find in most chain grocery stores. It is a cheese of respectable lineage from a specialty shop; a tongue tingling, well-aged, firm cheddar where the cows were sung to every morning while they were being milked.  I’d give Damned Busters a solid eight cheese wheels worth of fun and entertainment. A Hell of a good read.

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What is Fantasy?

In the world of writing and reading there are genres and sub-genres. Some (though possibly not all) of those genres are: romance, literary, horror, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, mystery, mainstream, slipstream  (or cross-genre),western (though mostly defunct these days) and a host of others. There are many sub-genres and some people will debate that they are genres in their own right. It gets confusing and there is a grey line between some.

For the world of fantasy, some of the sub-genres are: dark fantasy, magic realism, mythological, sword & sorcery, high or medieval fantasy, heroic fantasy, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, etc. Your mileage may vary. First fantasy is a story written in a world or time that is not now or historical. However, it also has a fantastical element, something that is more than the world we know. It could be magical creatures (vampires, fairies, hobbits, unicorns) or it could be a form of magic or a system/organism that works differently. Angels, people who can disappear at will, who move faster than normal, who must eat rocks, who can transform themselves or others, sentient planets, mystical vessel, curses and blessing, gods, carnivorous trees, firebreathers, aquatic being, winged creatures, etc. All these are fantasy. But fantasy can also be a bit less than this. It can be the world of today but there are ghosts and that’s it. I’ll briefly define the sub-genres.

  • Dark Fantasy–this could really be any of the above elements but with a darker mien than the regular tropes. In other words it has a horrific or tragic element. Now many of the fantasy novels being published could also be labeled dark fantasy, and really dark fantasy is the new label for horror. Horror fell out of favor with mainstream publishers years ago and it was better to label something fantasy or thriller. So dark fantasy will deal with the shadow side of the world and its characters far more. Beings might be abused and die and inevitably there will be dark forces that can prevail. Lord of the Rings could be dark fantasy but is usually just labeled fantasy. It falls in a number of categories. The Princess Bride would be fantasy or humorous fantasy if you need to define it more.
  • Magic Realism–often this is Latin American writing, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works, but many other people write it as well. It is surreal and very much in the modern world that you and I live in. There may be no sense of wonder because the one aberrant thing is either hidden to most people or possibly known by everyone but taken as commonplace and their part of the world. It could be a woman having a conversation with an angel or one that I read, about a boy born a centaur who goes through his life trying to have a surgery to correct this condition. Magic realism will have a heavy focus on the human condition.
  • Mythological–this may take place in the historic past, the present or the future. It could involve gods or other mythological beings. It could be based on a creation or destruction myth. Basically all those ancient tales of gods are the first fantasy, except that the people of the time believe them and they were the religion. But the story of Gilgamesh and other adventure tales were pretty much your first fantasy stories.
  • Sword & Sorcery–pretty self-explanatory. Usually set in pre-industrial times or on other worlds, often medieval but could be Renaissance, Hun, Pictish or a hundred other times and place. S&S involved magic and fighters, and yes Lord of the Rings is sword and sorcery as well.
  • High or Medieval Fantasy–these will involve grand adventures and epic scale battles or fighting the forces of good and evil. High fantasy isn’t always medieval but it is often enough, Katherine Kurtz’s books are an example of medieval fantasy. It’s your basic feudal systems, rulers, battles and perhaps a few wizards and dragons thrown in though what these creatures or their abilities will truly be will differ. Yes, Lord of the Rings fits in here too.
  • Heroic & Epic Fantasy–I’m lumping these two together though they could be defined as slightly different, where the first could be about a solitary hero and the second would possibly cover years and countries and a group. But that’s not necessarily true. These two will have heroes, those who sacrifice themselves or their way of life for a greater good, who will battle against great odds and their actions will change much of the world as they know while changing themselves as well. Again Lord of the Rings is also heroic and epic. Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks write this style of fantasy.
  • Urban Fantasy–takes place in our modern world or one similar but could have bike riding elves, troll waitresses, fairies selling drugs or whatever. The example I gave is kind of cliché now but it all depends on the story and how it’s written. It can also involve someone who sees creatures feeding on the souls of others, or a particular breed of magical being living in Hawaii. But mostly urban fantasy is…urban.

These definitions are by no means complete or absolute. Others will interpret the sub-genres of fantasy differently. Some will count alternate histories and steampunk under fantasy and it may well have fantastical elements as well as historical and scientific. Hence why we have grey boundaries to the genres. I worked in a bookstore for years specializing in the speculative genre and I still couldn’t keep them straight.

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