Teaser Tuesday

Tis Tuesday, and time for another teaser from my latest book, Bloodlust: Red Glory

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00TGRY040

Spiders the size of sheep, almost twenty of them, came scurrying toward her, their mandibles glittering obscenely. Fiona was unsure of the breed of arachnid that she faced: the arena masters always touched up their charges to make them presentable for the audience. They were likely venomous, and this particular breed seemed to have barbed forelegs that looked like they could deal serious damage.

Fiona took in all of this in a heartbeat, analyzing the situation as Chosen Marius had taught her to do. She channelled power, drawing on the crowd’s revulsion and elation, weaving spells. When the spiders were half way toward her, looking like some dread wave of chitin and mandibles, she unleashed five screaming skulls spells.

The skulls shrieked toward their targets, burning and draining the life force of the spiders they hit, then using that life force to power explosions that sprayed flame across the advancing waves. Limbs and Chitin flew everywhere. The crowd roared and Fiona ran forward, weapons raised for the kill.

Drawing close to the remaining spiders, Fiona slammed her axe down in an overhand swipe, cutting right through one of the creatures and into the sand below. Not wasting any time she hopped forward, skidding around the axe handle, threshing through the legs of several unfortunate arachnids with her sickle, reaping limbs.

Kingsman Review

On Saturday we were a little too tired to game after a long, emotional day, and so we decided to go watch Kingsman: The Secret Service, which is getting good reviews. I have to admit that the trailer drew me in. Watching Colin Firth teaching some thugs about manners in a spectacular fashion won me over easily.

Spoiler Free

If you enjoy old school spy movies, or action movies in general, I can recommend Kingsman without reserve. The pacing is good, the action is crisp, and the characters are fun. Most fans of action movies will also enjoy it.

Here Be Spoilers

Going in, I had three worries.

The first was that the movie trailer showed off the best action scene and that the rest of the movie would be comparatively dull.

The second was that the young male lead would be annoying when paired up with Colin Firth, like some sort of idiotic Watson created to provide “street cred” for his more aristocratic, intellectual mentor.

The third was that Kingsman is a Mark Millar piece. Mark Millar is the creative force behind the comics that led to Wanted and Kickass. He follows a fairly standard formula in those pieces, taking a mundane, everyman protagonist and putting them in an unlikely situation where they blossom into a badass in increasingly spectacular action pieces. Along the way their mentor dies and the come into their own, saving the day. Pretty much standard, if well-presented, male empowerment and escapism. I was worried that Kingsman would be too similar to the other movies.

The action sequences were excellent all around, although the climactic fight did leave something to be desired. I was pleased at the pacing throughout and glad that the trailer did not give away everything.

Taron Egerton does a good job as the punkish “Eggsy” who eventually blossoms from a young punk with a broken family to a superspy. He manages to carry the film well enough enough that when Colin Firth, Samuel L Jackson, or Michael Caine were not on screen I was not immediately annoyed. Better yet, although “Eggsy” was portrayed a being lower class and a thug, he was not, at any point portrayed as stupid, nor did his “street smarts” win the day, both of which are annoying tropes. Instead he is a young man with real promise which is dashed against the hopes of poverty and a broken family, but manages to rise up with a little help. He even goes back and helps his mom. Much better than I was expecting, to be honest.

As for the third point… well… if you filed the plot down to an outline it would be almost exactly the same as every other movie based on Mark Millars work. And yet despite my fears in this regard being fully realized, I still enjoyed the movie, which is very interesting.

The thing is Kingsman manages to break the Millar formula in an unexpected fashion. Despite the underdog protagonist escaping his horrible life into this secret world of ultra-violence and awesome empowerment, this movie manages to be Charming in a way that neither Wanted, nor the Kickass series were. Here is my take on how:

  • Old School British Charm: I am beginning to think that the idea of the gentleman is coming back into fashion, albeit nostalgically. Call it the Downton Abbey effect if you want. The thing is in a world full of bloodthirsty, visceral protagonists someone with manners stands out. With the increasingly shrill screaming coming from 24 hour news channels I have to say having someone with a little subtlety in an action movie is refreshing.
  • The Kingsmen: The idea of the Kingsmen is very interesting. I enjoyed the little rituals they enacted and the unique ways in which they presented themselves. The organization itself is charming, especially since they did not try to gloss over the flaws inherent in a spy agency run almost like a gentleman’s club.
  • A Nod to Class Warfare: The idea of class is dealt with very cleverly in Kingsman, including references to My Fair Lady and similar works. I enjoyed the idea that the Kingsmen are a very traditional, conservative organization with all of the baggage that develops with that. I also enjoy that the main villain decides that he has to “save the earth” by engaging in eugenics along class lines without even making a big deal about it. Nicely done.
  • Smart is cool: I have always felt in many Bond movies that intelligence is presented as a form of aberration. in the newest Bond movies this very purposeful. On the other hand all of the main characters in Kingsmen, good or evil, are smart. There is little evidence of anti-intellectualism. Even Eggsy, a street thug with an attitude problem, turns out to be very smart and not just an adrenaline junky. Colin Firth and Michale Caine have the brains as well as the suits, of course. And, Samuel L Jackson, as the villain is quirky but his strange personality is presented as problems separate from his brilliance rather than the result of it.
  • Family Matters: Last but not least, they make a real effort throughout the movie to show that family matters. For me the high point of the movie is not Eggsy saving the world, it is him arriving home, telling his mom he has a job and getting her away from her abusive boyfriend. It is little family moments like this that humanize the movie and help it show a lot of heart.

In all, I enjoyed Kingsman. My criticisms are mostly with secondary characters. I felt the female characters were pretty sub-par for Millar, who is known for creating bad-ass female characters like Fox and Hit Girl. I also found the trio of upper crust students who mock Eggsy during training to be utterly devoid of personality and unworthy of screen time. That’s it. Watch it.

The Shadow Wolf Saga: Blade Breaker 1.55

HARRROOOO!

I just watched the most depressing episode of the Daily Show I have ever seen (where he says why he is leaving & the lie off). Time to chase it all away with some Shadow Wolf.

Want to read it from the start? follow this link.

Want to catch up on last week’s post? try this link.

Need a guide? I can link you to one.

Sildus let his hand fall. Nothing happened. Well. more accurately, I was not pierced by a dozen arrows from his compatriots as the assassin expected. The forest was alive with sound, wisps of cloud caressed the moon, and the leaves rustled. Somewhere close a wolf howled.

“By all means, try again,” I told him. “Maybe if you hold your hand higher.”

All colour had left Sildus’s face. His eyes were as round as a frightened colt’s. He had gone from a position of power, from hunter to hunted, in a single heartbeat. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost. Then I remembered Sapphire’s brutalized corpse, Bjorn’s mutilation, and Madame Glorianna’s admission. I wondered how many of the people he killed wore that same look before they tasted the kiss of his blade.

“You know, if you had not chased me down, I would not have acted against you,” I said. “I did not want to believe the letter. Perhaps it is simply ego: I wanted to be right about you, or at least feel justified in believing you. Or maybe I just wanted to think that the person who I shared danger with, drank with, and tasted glory with was a good man, in his own way. You disappoint me, Sildus.”

“What have you done with my men?” asked Sildus.

“Me?” I said. “Nothing. There is a reason my clan is called the Shadow Wolves.”

“What happens now?” asked Sildus, coiling like a Viper.

“You can run, and take your chances with what is out there in the darkness,” I said, meeting his gaze. “Or you can stay here and fight me. I give you my word if you kill me in battle here that you will walk away from–“

His knife, silver in the moonlight, punctuated my sentence. Even though I was expecting it, it still caught me off guard. I flinched and the knife bounced off my vambrace. The assassins of Myrrhn are taught to take advantage of speed in combat. I felt another impact against the thick mail on my ribs, then Sildus was away into the night.

I made no effort to follow. Somewhere nearby there was a sound that was very much like the cry of a wolf.

I walked slowly back to my fire on the hill. Halfway there I spotted a body. One of Sildus’s men. The big apprentice who had tried to kill me. His crossbow lay at his side. The back of his neck was a mess of blood. I shook my head and kept walking.

I was disappointed in Sildus. I wanted him to fight me. It was irrational and stupid, but it would have been a satisfying end to the affair. I would never know if he felt that I was lying about allowing him to leave or if he knew that I would destroy him in a fair fight.

I reached my camp and sat down at the fire. Dinner greeted me; a nicely roasted coney.

The howling continued while I ate. I was on my third bite when it reached a crescendo and I heard the screams of a man. As I finished my last bite a wolf with fur like a starless night walked into the firelight. Although shaped like a noble wolf it was the size of a draught horse. It paused and looked at me before dropping the assassins limp, bloody corpse onto the ground. I gazed into its great golden eyes and bowed my head. When I raised it, the wolf was gone.

black-wolf-1600x1200

 

Lords of Khazak Khrim

Bear with me. This is the first post I have typed on my phone…

My next book, which I am currently working on, is about a war between two enormous Empires and their various proxies and opportunistic enemies.It is a more modern conflict in that it is driven by ideology and politics more Than migration, expansion, or the need of resources.

The Domains of the Chosen is an Empire based around the city of Krass, the last city to survive the Reckoning.  This event was the magical equivalent of a nuclear war, beginning with powerful spells and ending with apocalyptic storms of uncontrolled magic.  The people of the Domains survived putting aside their differences and banding together. Their union is an imperfect one, and is held together as much by magical Oaths and fear of their enemies than anything else. 

In book terms the Domains are represented by familiar fantasy races and cultures. Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, powerful mages, and even Vampires were forced to coexist in a confined space and work together to survive against tremendous outside forces. When they emerged into a post Reckoning world, they were mostly united.

The societies outside the Domains are my own creations or inspired by the odder ideas in the world of fantasy and history. The Wirn to the West of the Domains are a people who seek to finish what the Reckoning started, reshaping the world into a new form. They claim to be the children of wild magic and exhibit the ability to twist the weaves of traditional magical forms. More interestingly the Wirn have a shared consciousness which allows a remarkable degree of cohesion. The Kirifans descended from nomadic survivors of the wild magic storms, mutating and changing as they migrated to escape the dangers. They have strange eyes with slitted pupils and aquatic adaptations. Their society is based around a symbiotic relationship with the massive coral spires which they shape with their magic. 

The Vvath are a true Empire, like the Domains. They, too, predate the Reckoning. Khazak Krim was once part of a larger Dwarven Kingdom. It was a border fortress overlooking the only land route between the continents of Sudra and Ithal’Duin. When the Reckoning began the wealth of the Dwarves was a tempting target to the Gifted, and Khazak Krim quickly found itself cut off from the rest of the kingdom. They shut their doors and decided to wait out the worst.

Meanwhile the first Sword-Bearer was born. While forging and enchanting a weapon, an old smith created a strange blade. He felt odd when he made it, disjointed. It was later discovered that his spirit had bonded with the blade. Eventually they discovered the true powers of this process, including the ability to possess the wielders of the blade, and used it in their conquest. However, the immediate problem of the early Sword-Bearers was acceptance among their own people. They realized that their abilities could be seen as monstrous, or even tainted magic. So they claimed that their lore was a gift from the great forger.

The Kings of Khazak Khrim, however, are not Sword-Bearers. Knowing that they would be seen as terrible if they tried to wield power directly, the early Sword-Bearers agitated for the nobles of the Fortress to declare a new dynasty and then made themselves indispensable to the new king.

The differences between these two Empires stem from their seeds.

The City/The Fortress: Krass is a mighty city. While its walls are high and kept out the worst of the Reckoning it was always a place teeming with people and it only got more crowded. The city is a place were cultures mix and barriers are broken down and replaced. Racial and Ethnic tribalism were replaced with factional politics and class warfare. Khazak Khrim on the other hand began as a Fortress. Virtually unassailable, the Dwarves of Khazak Khrim put security above all else. They never learned to mix with other groups and emerged with a sense of racial superiority, encouraged by the Sword-Bearers who see living things as chaff.

Refugees/Military Colony: Krass took in many refugees during the early days of the Reckoning. The last of these were some of the most powerful magic users left alive, some of these had even begun the war that led to the magical storms. The multicultural aspect of Krass is not good for unity or purity of vision, but it allows the Empire to absorb new people and ideas and grow. Khazak Khrim has retained the militant mindset of the fortress. To them it is conquer, or be conquered. Strength is what keeps them safe. Enslaving and destroying other races is seen as desireable, and the Vvath employ a kill em or convert em methodology.

The Chosen/The Sword-Bearers: The people of Krass had the foresight to see that the Chosen would be needed to undo the damage of the Reckoning and hold back any tainted creatures that made it over the wall. They made a compact with the very people they feared the most to ensure that they all would survive. The Chosen are bound to them by oath, although they lack unity and vision. The Sword-Bearers were united in their need for secrecy and have a common vision for the Empire. They believe in strength and authority above all and seek to secure their Empire at all costs. Because of the powers of the blades, they are able to take over the bodies of potential foes, often conquering an enemy simply by giving them a blade as a gift.

The Krassian Empire and the Empire of the Vvath are both huge, sprawling affairs. The people of the Domains believe in freedom and prosperity, but are still nationalistic and often violent depending on which group of Chosen is calling the shots. The Vvath are more careful, but their system of morality is repellent, involving racism and even slavery.

To be continued…

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: Blade Breaker 1.54

The Shadow Wolf Sagas is my current serial, updated every Thursday.

Obligatory link to the first post.

Need to catch up? check last week’s post.

And, of course, who can forget the guide.

Madame Glorianna’s letter implicated Sildus in the death of Sapphire and Bjorn. This was dangerous knowledge. I was confident that I could take him in a fair fight. For all his skill, he was only mortal, while I was Twiceborn. But Assassins are not known for fighting fair, and I had no way of finding him to strike first. I feared, too, that he might attack my friends; he killed his own lovers, after all. I needed to find a way to avoid that.

In the end, I ran. I fled Myrrhn quickly, leaving word for anyone who asked that I was headed out of the city for business in the South. It was a lie, a poor excuse that fooled no one. It was also a ruse: I wanted Sildus to chase me. I made it look like I was really heading North, to tell Harald’s sons of Sildus’s treachery and gain support.

I made my way on routes less traveled, rugged places far from civilization. I skirted Nordan lands, but sought out the deep northern forests. So far from the city my senses sharpened, becoming accustomed to the woods once more. I no longer needed to block out the noise and smell of the crowds. It was a shame that I was being chased. The night sky full of stars and the smell of fresh meat roasting over a fire brought back memories of happier times. I could not allow myself to be lulled, however, for my adversary had already fooled me once, tricking me into thinking he was innocent in my own den.

When I was certain he was near, I gradually picked up the pace, heading for a trading camp used by the Sea Wolf clan. I camped half a day from the port, on a rocky hill, surrounded by tall pines, waiting until it was dark to pitch my tent and begin to gather wood for a fire. I did so casually, as If I did not sense anyone nearby, but I was never far from a weapon and I wore as much armour as I could get away with.

I must have done a good job because Sildus elected to let me see him instead of striking from hiding. Despite the fact that he had a half-dozen men with him, taking position all around my camp, it struck me as an act of supreme arrogance. No doubt he thought me weak, having gained my confidence and watched me run from him. Maybe he just wanted to gloat.

I smelled him coming. It was tense, waiting for him to attack. I dropped the wood I was gathering as he stepped out of the shadows, trying to act surprised.

“Hello Ragnar,” said Sildus. grinning broadly. “You left Myrrhn in a hurry.”

I shrugged. I could hear the sounds of movement in the woods, within bow-shot. A wolf howled nearby, its call taken up by a pack not far off. Sildus frowned at the interruption.

“You left the letter behind, Nordan,” said Sildus. “You were right to run, but stupid to think that you could fool me with a false trail.”

“Why are we even having this conversation, Sildus?” I asked. “Why not just kill me?”

“I wanted you to know just how badly I have beaten you,” said Sildus. “And I wanted to see the look in your eyes when I told you that I am going to do to your friends what I did to Sapphire and Bjorn.”

“Your cruelty is your undoing, Sildus,” I said. “Had you just killed them, I doubt Madame Glorianna would have told me about your involvement.”

“I fail to see how that is to my detriment,” said Sildus. “After all, I now get the joy of killing you. A Twiceborn should give me some real sport before he dies.”

“I grow tired of your words, coward,” I said, looking him in the eye. “Let us see if you can make them into deeds.”

Sildus smiled and signaled his men.

Tuesday Teaser

As you can see on the sidebar, my latest creation, Bloodlust: Red Glory has been released.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00TGRY040

Here is a teaser from the book to wet your appetite.

Both Gladiators were lathered in sweat and bleeding now. The crowd was excited, hearts pounding from the relentless action. If other matches that the audience had seen were like stately waltzes then this was a loud and energetic folk dance, all drums, shouts, and rapid rhythms.

Frustrated, Rabid Edge pushed forward again, lifting his cleaver to attack. Hummingblade, reading his stance, realized that he was trying to feint, to lure her into reacting. Quicklings are vulnerable to such manoeuvres, often defeated by their own lightning reflexes. Hummingblade, however, was observant and cool-headed. She saw his trick and responded with a fake movement of her own.

Rabid Edge’s hookblade flashed out. Hummingblade stopped short and whirled, bringing her little greatsword down. The little Gladiatrix timed her slash perfectly, and the blade dug into the flesh just beyond his vambrace. There was a splash of blood.

As you can see I had fun with the arena names again :)

Blowing Your Own Horn: The Self Promotion Thing

CASTLE UNDER SIEGE-ILLUSTRATION

Trebuchets or Towers today boys?

My new book, Bloodlust: Red Glory is out as of last Wednesday, so I am knee-deep in self-promotion. Today I started three seperate Facebook campaigns, one linking to the new book, one linking to Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s tale, and one linking to my author central page, which is looking rather snazzy, actually.

These follow a small series of ad I have placed with various sites that specialize in promoting eBooks, mostly lower budget stuff. I can’t quite justify the cost of Bookbub yet.

The basic goal is, as always, to get my books out into as many hands as possible, hopefully running up the lists in Amazon.

My big failure thus far is not getting Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale perma-free on amazon. This is apparently quite effective according to several of the authors that I talk to who have transitioned to writing full time in the last year or two. The loss lead on the first book in a series is made up for by a very large boost to sales in subsequent books. Apparently there are quite a few websites catering to eBook enthusiasts that automatically search out and link perma-free books, which act as an advertising catalyst of sorts. In my case, getting Amazon to drop the price down has been met with silence, thus far. Sadly KDP only gives me 5 free days out of 90, which does not seem to do it. Mind you I miss out on even those five days, by being off KDP to try to get Amazon to price match. Charybdis and Scylla :P

Of my other efforts the Facebook adds already look promising.

  • Pricing is reasonable. You can set the price for your ad to as little as 1$/day and still get a decent theoretical reach.
  • You target the adds based on what people like. For Bloodlust I am trying the conjunction of people who “like” Fantasy Literature, Gladiators, and a few other key terms. I could have targeted base on similar authors, or even activities that people engage in. With each modification I add it shows me an estimate of the reach, making it easy to estimate the crossover appeal of various “likes”. If it isn’t just smoke and mirrors, then it is a lovely system.
  • The metrics tracking is very good. It shows the number of licks, and breaks down how much you are paying per engagement.  Previously people have complained about fake engagements, with artificial clicks, but in my case I can easily compare the clicks to sales on my page to gauge the effectiveness of the add.
  • Facebook saves each campaign, the terms, and the audience you were targeting, making it very easy to iterate on effective campaigns. If these ads pay off for me, It will be very easy for me to recreate that success and ramp it up. It is a flexible, intuitive system, and if it actually works I will gladly put more money into it.

Of course, this is the first time I have released a book at this time of year. Do people buy books on Valentine’s day weekend? I have no way of measuring that against previous successes and failures until the data is in.

Self-promotion is the bogeyman of self-published authors. Some are brilliant at it. Most of us would rather just be writing though. Traditional publishers could easily make the case that they offer a much better promotional machine that can free up an author’s time, but all of the Fantasy authors that I follow who are traditionally published engage in a heck of a lot of of self-promotion. Patrick Rothfuss, Brian McLellan, Mark Lawrence, and Micheal J Sullivan seem to put a lot of effort into getting the word out there. The cynical side of me wonders if their publishers are riding their efforts ( and those of their fans), while the rational side of me puts forth that they would not stay with the publishers if they did not feel they were getting their money’s worth.

I don’t like blowing my own horn. But the reality of self-publishing is that I have to, at least until I have a legion of fans to help out with that. In that regard perhaps the best advertisements that I tried this time round were free books to a few new beta readers, and to a fan who asked me for a copy since Red Glory was hard to get at a reasonable price in his country. Only time will tell I suppose.