Teaser Tuesday

I always enjoy describing the secondary characters in Domains of the Chosen. One of my goals for the series is to get it popular enough to see some artistic interpretations of my characters. Bloodlust: Red Glory has tons of “gear porn” describing the weapons and armour of the new Gladiators.

Iron Lioness awaited her in the centre of the fighting grounds. An ebon-skinned Shadow-Elf, she was not much taller than Sapphire Kiss, but noticeably broader of shoulder and powerfully muscled. Her most impressive feature was a thick mane, layer after layer of pure white hair, which framed her face like a noble lion.

The Lion motif extended to her armour, a heavy harness that protected her vitals with thick iron-grey plates, etched with runes and scenes of great cats hunting and fighting. Iron Lioness bore a broad bladed falchion in her left hand, made of a black-mithril alloy, with a gold and silver lion’s head for a pommel. Her right hand was a large gauntlet, the fingers of which curved into talons. She wore a rounded buckler over the gauntlet with bladed edges, etched with a sleek lioness in a hunting pose.

The gauntlet in particular caught Sapphire Kiss’s attention. It seemed to flex and move naturally despite being metallic, seeming more liquid that solid at times. She saw no signs of plating or chain links, and wondered at what it was made from. Gladiators often had access to unusual weaponry, always masterful in construction. It was best to treat an unknown weapon with respect.

Sapphire Kiss knew that Iron Lioness was fast and strong, with elemental magic and a strong offensive technique. She was famed for using a variation of the stoneskin spell that activated upon impact, which did not impeded flexibility as much as the regular version of the enchantment. In addition during the tournament Iron Lioness had demonstrated magics that made her buckler stick to an opponent’s weapon, likely some form of magnetic enchantment.

Iron Lioness sneered at Sapphire Kiss as she closed the distance, and returned her salute curtly. Twas better than Lord Peerless’s outright rejection, at least.

Sapphire Kiss is not well liked by her more serious minded peers. I wonder if she changes that.

Hummingblade was still considering her choices when Shagra the Bloodless was called into the arena. A broad-shouldered Orcish woman, dressed in dark green armour stepped into the arena carrying a large hammer. Shagra’s head was bald and smooth and her eyes were fearsome.

Despite her reputation for mayhem, Shagra was trained as a defender. Her main strategy was to outlast her opponents, and she used a combination of heavy armour, druidic magic, and incredible conditioning to survive. Unlike Rabid Edge, whom Hummingblade had faced earlier in the tournament, Shagra did not seek to attack relentlessly and overwhelm. Instead she seemed to endure her opponents until they made an error or she cornered them, then she struck them down with a well-placed hammer blow.

The hammer in question was large, and Hummingblade suspected that even a glancing blow from such a weapon could crush her. Shagra hefted it with the easy familiarity of a Master. She did not perform any tricks as she strode across the sands in front of the cheering crowd, stopping only to give her salute.

Up close Hummingblade could see that Shagra’s armour was made of ribbed plates that slid and moved as she walked.

Hummingblade returned Shagra’s salute. Their eyes met. Hummingblade saw a grim intensity in the other woman, but detected a surprising lack of arrogance or hatred. Without taking her eyes off Hummingblade, Shagra raised her weapon again.

Shagra is perhaps the most important of the Gladiators who is not a perspective character. She is my favourite of the Death Leagues fighters, grim and unrelenting, not really worried about what people think of her.

Sand Shark’s armour was a dull golden colour, highlighted with topaz. In form and function was a standard medium harness with breastplate, greaves, pauldrons, and bracers, but it also covered the outside of his dominant arm with a plated guarde. Toothy shark’s maws decorated the plates, disguising jagged edges on striking surfaces.

Sand Shark’s greataxe came up to the Ogre’s chest, making it level with Blue Hornet’s chin. Unlike most of the weapons made for Gladiators, this axe had a wooden haft. Ironwood, a rare and expensive wood from the forests of the Trapholds and near Dun Mordhawk, could be treated and laminated to have the strength and flexibility of steel. The head of the weapon had two long straight blades, both bearded, and was capped with a spike. The axe was plain save for the runes, but imposing for all its lack of decoration.

Sand Shark, basically a throwaway from an interesting fight. I often end up using characters like this in later works.

The Weird lived up to his name. Even his armour was unusual: he wore a hood, for one. Most Gladiators who covered their face did so with an armoured helm or a decorative mask. Admittedly, Fiona had considered wearing an executioner’s hood as part of her garb early in her career. Her red hair was too much of a crowd pleaser to hide, however.

Aside from the hood it was difficult to tell how much of The Weird’s attire was armour and what was clothing. Gladiator armour was strictly regulated in both coverage and weight, and the Deliberative checked each fighter’s armour and their weight before every match. The Weird’s clothing was made up of stripes of grey, brown, and black, woven with plates of dull grey metal that appeared and disappeared as he shifted.

The Weird’s staff was a hand longer than the quarterstaff Fiona had been practising with, but otherwise unremarkable at first glance. The man himself was like his weapon, tall and lean, though not so thing as a light fighter would be. He sized her up as she approached, dark eyes surprisingly human despite the hood and strange costume.

After she finished saluting the crowd, Fiona raised her weapons to The Weird. He returned her salute, raising his staff with one hand, showing proper sportsmanship.

The Wierd is my best concept fighter in the book, although also I introduce light magic, a shape-changer, and even a Gifted Fologi.

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Image Change: A New Cover For Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving! I am full of Turkey and pie, and generally pretty zonked. Domains of the Chosen Book Four is moving along nicely, and in preparation for wider release Dan and I decided to redo the cover of Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale to match the more popular style of Bloodlust: Will to Power.

Domains of the Chosen Book One. Original Cover.

Domains of the Chosen Book One. Original Cover.

This is the very first cover that Dan designed for Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale. It is a little blurred out because of a custom re-size, but you can see the important details. The cover works quite well, especially on trade paperback. At the time we were happy with it. It is distinctive, it does not prejudice the reader with images of the characters, and it conveys meaning to anyone who reads the book.

Some people like it, some people did not.

For Bloodlust: Will to Power I let Dan have a freer hand. This is what he came up with.

The Nearly Complete Cover for Book 2. Points to anyone who can spot the differences.

The Nearly Complete Cover for Book 2. Points to anyone who can spot the differences.

This style is less metallic/shiny, and more grainy. Lookt at the lines on the Lion’s mane and the Scorpion. It is one of the Woodcut styles that Dan has developed over the years. People really loved the final version of this cover. Most importantly it looks good as a thumbnail, a full size image, and a physical image on a paperback book. After some thought, we decided to change the cover for book one to emulate this style.

The Retouched Cover for Bloodlust: A Gladiator's Tale.

The Retouched Cover for Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale.

Not only does this cover emulate the style of the Bloodlust: Will to Power cover, it also has a few changes for clarity.

  • The sub-title has expanded. A Gladiator’s tale is now bigger and more readable.
  • Domains of The Chosen: Book 1 is now on the cover, clearly calling out that the book is part of a series.
  • The texture of the cover is more visible. Dan was disappointed that black leather texture he used did not pop on the original cover. He added a digital light source to make it more visible at the top, fading down into black at the bottom.

Not bad, eh? If you prefer the new cover and have an ebook, just update the version via amazon (why it does not prompt you to update is beyond me).

Cheers, and happy Turkey day for my Canadian friends.

Domains of the Chosen Facebook Ad

My Domains of the Chosen series is three years, and three novels old. Readers who enjoy superheroic action, strange monsters, explosive magic, and political intrigue should definitely give these books a try. Read the excerpts on Amazon or try my free short story, Bloodlust: The Great Games, on Smashwords.

Click on any of the books to follow a link to amazon.com.

Domains of the Chosen book one.

Domains of the Chosen book one.

Bloodlust follows the career of Gavin, an unlikely Gladiator, and five friends.

Bloodlust: Will to Power

Domains of the Chosen book two.

The second Bloodlust novel follows the six Gladiators as they seek their place in the world, leading up the Grand Championships.

Bloodlust TSM cover

Domains of the Chosen Book Three

The Shield Maiden takes the action outside of the arena, following a former Gladiatrix as she enlists in the Legions to uphold a family legacy. Hi folks, I’m promoting this as a facebook ad, let me know what you think!

The Cover, In rough

After a long day I had Dan’s first full draft of the cover for the Warbound: The Shield Maiden waiting for me!

The First Image (note the brightness of the purple)

The First Image (note the brightness of the purple)

I like the composition, but the purple struck me as too intense. After discussing this and a few other changes with Dan, here is the second iteration.

The Second Draft

The Second Draft

Compare the two. I find the second more to my liking. I suggested a few more changes, which are not on this version. Mainly positioning font stuff. In all I am very happy with it.

Teaser Tuesday

Standard_Rough1

A rough mockup of the cover for Warbound: The Shield Maiden.

A month from today I hope to release the digital version Warbound: The Shield Maiden (and sell lots of copies!). I am nervously setting about preparations, editing, minor re-writes, creating glossaries, and writing appendices. The cover is coming along nicely — see the above mockup — and I think the book is nearly up to standard. I just hope that fans are willing to follow me as I transition from the fighting grounds to the battlefield.

That said, here is another teaser

All around them chaos swirled, the disciplined ranks of the First and the Eighth having broken apart as the two Warbound crashed and thrashed. Vintia barely noticed now, her eyes were on Bosh.

“You’re done now, girly,” said Bosh. “Ain’t nothing for you to hide behind.”

“Come finish me then, scum,” said Vintia, squaring her shoulders and drawing her long shock stick into a classical fighting stance, grip held out from her body at waist height, tip of the blade angled up to point at Bosh’s throat.

A white liveried medic dragged at a moaning body near them. Vintia kept her eyes on Bosh. He met her gaze, gathering himself like some great cat, and sprang. Her sword flicked out, lunging. Bosh twisted, even in the air. Vintia never saw if her blade connected. Bosh’s fist hit her in the midsection. She felt her feet leave the ground. Her armour absorbed most of the force but she lost her breath for a heartbeat. That was all Bosh needed. His arms coiled around her and he bore her to the ground. By the time Vintia could react it was too late. The back of her head slammed into the dirt with a crunch. Bosh’s fist smashed into her mouth. Once. Twice. She tasted blood. Tried to struggle. Vintia blocked his third punch but his other hand was now around her throat. The law of strength was in full force. She tried to hit his joints, to loosen his hold, but Bosh punched her again. She felt one of her teeth hit the back of her throat. The world went steadily darker, but she kept struggling. Bosh kept grinning. Vintia reached for her magic. Maybe she could break the restraints…

“ARMS GROUNDED,” The First Shield’s voice boomed out.

Bosh’s Fist slammed into Vintia’s face one last time. She clung to consciousness as the massive Warbound stood up, laughing. He raised his arms and laughed, walking back to his own lines. Cheers were erupting from all over the field. 

Bosh is an interesting character to me. I added him partly to act as a counterpoint to Vintia, and partly because I was watching HBO’s Rome (yes, very late) and enjoyed the idea of a Titus Pullo character — a brash, crude, bullying, but ultimately effective soldier. I think he adds some personality to the Ninth Legion. I hope you do as well.

Cities in Fantasy: Decay and Ruin

A ruined Toronto...

An example of a modern city, decayed…

I just finished watching the final episode of True Detective (season 1, I hope they make more). I enjoyed it immensely, and felt it was a worthy end to a good series. I might write a review of it, but only after I have had some time to mull it over.

One of the artistic flourishes that I really enjoyed in True Detective were the amazing shots of decaying urban areas. This dovetails nicely with what I wanted to write about tonight, the use of decaying and ruined city-scapes in Fantasy.

As Fantasy broadens, branching out into regions far removed from its pastoral, feudalistic roots it is inevitable that it will cover urban themes. Some of the best writing in Fantasy these days including such diversity in tone as Jim Butcher, China Mieville, and Neil Gaiman.

I like the idea of using cities in Fantasy, and this includes ruined and decaying cities — cities that have been abandoned, are falling apart, that are trying to reclaim lost glory, or are slowly being overcome by nature themselves.

This is a separate idea from corrupt cities, a more common trope in pastoral Fantasy, where  all urban areas are seen as havens for moral corruption and generally a blight upon the world. If the first thing that pops into your mind when you think fantasy city, is thieves, then you are familiar with this 😉

When I think of decaying cities, I think of urban areas where the sense of community has been fractured. Places where the will to keep the complex systems required to advance and grow a great urban area has been lost or subverted. This is something that we are certainly familiar with in western culture, where many of our cities have started to show infrastructure decay. Decaying cities make for a great atmosphere in a Fantasy novel — that tension of a civilization that is between renewal and ruin and the dynamics of the people who live with it.

Here are a couple of  examples of the use of decaying cities in Fantasy

  • Grundoone, the city under siege: This one was from a Fantachronica campaign. Grundoone was an old city, once the capital of a prosperous land. However, a great rent appeared in the earth, and all manner of foul creatures spilled forth. They ruined the land and attacked the city. Grundoone survived, partly because the citizens of the cities made a bargain with a cadre of Vampires to pay a blood tax in return for their assistance in beating back the war. The city, however, in constantly under siege, and over the years almost everything has been sacrificed in the name of creating a more defensible environment. Great villas have been replaced by narrow, orderly houses protected by immense walls and impressive watchtowers. Once welcoming gates are now defensive mazes, while farmers markets and bazaars have long since become armories and drill yards. Of course, the city survives partly because of the influx of crusading knights and partly because some people would much rather pay a tax in blood than in money (you know who you are!).
  • Urumquatal, the jungle-eaten city: Urumquatal is an ancient city that was once the heart of a great empire. History rolled on and Urumquatal lost its preeminence. It did not fall into ruin, however, and continues to survive to present day. The city is populous and bustling, but the outer wards are starting to give way to nature as the aggressive growths of the jungle encroach, eating old stone and overturning less popular statues, and the cobbles of roads that are rarely used these days. Rats and worse thrive in these places, giving the city a worse reputation than it deserves, something the current residents feel touchy about. They do their best to stave off the jungle, but Urumquatal is not quite important enough to regain its former splendor.

Ruined urban areas are also interesting settings. Pastoral Fantasy often has ancient ruins showcased as part of the idea that the past was somehow purer and more glorious than modern day, but urban fantasy can go far beyond that tired old trope. Ruined cities can act as a warning, a preview of the consequences of failure. Ruins can also acts as a place of gestation where the death of one civilization gives rise to another.

Here are a couple of examples of the use of ruined cities in Fantasy

  • Bogrut’s Nest, formerly Daigara: Bogrut led the sack of Daigara twenty years ago. As he was taking the city the great ogre chieftain noted the magnificence of the place and ordered that any human who could show their worth should be spared. This diminished the bloodbath somewhat, and provided the Ogres with a swath of highly skilled ‘helpers’. Daigara has truly been destroyed, looted, and despoiled. The great temple dome has been toppled so that Bogrut’s son could build himself a throne. The statues of the founders have been melted down to provide metals to equip the ogres with new armour and weapons. House and buildings have been demolished and rebuilt for new occupants, who have learned much from the dead city and are ready to show the world…
  • Glimmerlight: Hundreds of years ago Glimmerlight was once a massive city, powerful and populous. All of that changed in a single day — the eruption of a massive volcano buried the city in ash and mud. Few of the residents escaped. Glimmerlight now attracts monsters, who lair in the ruins, and adventurers who seek the treasures that still lie somewhere in its depths.  Gold, gems, trades goods, and many other objects wait for those who can find their way in through old sewers and tunnels built by previous expeditions. More importantly, the wise know that deep within Glimmerlight lies an important and well protected library containing magical lore that has long since been lost to the outside world….

Weapons, Swords in the Middle Ages, and Oakeshott

I recently read an article about the dominance of the sword in the middle ages, or more precisely, that of the Oakeshott XIIIa type sword (this link describes the sword, it is not the article that annoyed me). The XIIIa is a ~37-40 inches long,  with a wide blade, a more rounded (spatulate) tip, and a 6-10 inch grip, and weighed 3–4 pounds (when plain). The offending article annoyed me for the following reasons:

  • It claimed that this sword was the dominant weapon of its time.
  • It claimed that this type of sword is under-represented in fantasy.
  • It ignored the fact that Oakeshott created his system to combat this kind of generalization.

First off, for those of you who have not heard of Oakeshott, he is a key figure in changing the way modern historians, hobbyists, and writers see swords (useful link, if you wish to get into it). Before Oakeshott, medieval swords were often seen as massively heavy, brutish weapons and Knights were seen as clumsy, if invulnerable warriors. TH Whyte’s Arthurian series has a bit of this. Oakeshott’s contribution was to catalog and categorize, and then to point out that from a data driven perspective that the sword changed greatly over the Dark Ages and the Medieval period, mirroring the constant changes in armour as well as local battlefield conditions. His conclusions were  that the idea that Western swords were clumsy weapons was not at all based in reality and that there was no such thing as a single dominant sword type. Just look at an abbreviated picture of the sword types he categorized.

Oakeshott Types.

Oakeshott Types.

Let us take a closer look at the XIIIa

an Oakeshott XIIIa from tinkerswords.com

an Oakeshott XIIIa from tinkerswords.com

Does this sword shape and size look underrepresented in fantasy fiction? NOPE. Moving on then.

Not only were there many types of sword, but knights used all kinds of weapons (and also crazy armour, too, but we won’t get into that). In fact some had squires to carry around extra lances and extra weapons for them. I am briefly going to go over some of the more common of these weapon types and why they saw use.

The Spear (and lance): The spear is by far the most under-represented weapon in modern fantasy. Don’t even get me started on this. Every Knight worth his salt would have at least a lance or some sort of spear to use from horseback, often with spares in case they broke on the charge. The Spear was likely the one weapon every knight would have at least one of on the battlefield, if only in lance form. It was also the most common footman’s weapon. Spears offered great penetrating power with the tremendous force concentrated on the smallest area. They also offered great reach which was imperative for both charging (hence the lance) and receiving a charge. I would place my bet on spears being the greatest casualty causing battlefield weapon of the middle ages (somewhat behind trampling and suffocation in actual casualties caused though), and possibly the the greatest casualty cause knightly weapon as well. Spears survived the middle ages and even outlived swords on the battlefield as the bayonet. The downside of a spear is that once an opponent is past a certain point, it becomes difficult to wield against them.

Spears and lances.

Spears and lances.

I’m going to stay away from polearms for now, although my favourite weapons are probably the swiss halberd and the bardiche.

The Flail: The Flail is a hard weapon to write about. We know it was difficult to use well, but it was not uncommon and had a brutal reputation. Jack White’s Uther is the only character I can think of in Fantasy that uses one of these. Too bad: they almost belong in a grimdark anti-hero’s grasp… We do know that flails were used to strike around shield edges and could work up quite a bit of force whirling around. Hard to describe them in a novel though…

A flail of the mace and chain/ball and chain variety.

A flail of the mace and chain/ball and chain variety.

The Warhammer: As plate armour became more common, knights needed better tools to break it open. The warhammer provided a handy set of tools to do just that. Bash the plates out of shape and finish with the spike if need be. Much like a sword, the warhammer could be used when a spear was no longer at optimal range,  bashing the brains out of footmen right through their helms and crushing other knights. The warhammer is another under-represented weapon, but maybe that is because in early editions of D&D it did crap damage 😉

I just like this one.

I just like this one.

The Mace: While the spear does not get its due as a knightly weapon, the mace is outright bloody ignored. I rarely see them in movies, despite the fact that they were so well loved that they appear throughout the period in a stunning number of forms. Flanged maces were created to puncture and crush armour, and ball maces were just nasty. Both existed as shorter footmans weapons that could be used very close up and longer horseman’s versions. Maces were often completely made of metal, and these were far more durable than swords. An added bonus of the mace as a knightly weapon is that it rarely got stuck in a wound. Ceremonial maces are still common in our Parliaments.

Flanged Mace

Flanged Mace

Ball mace, spiked.

Ball mace, spiked.

Axes: Axes were a more common weapon than many realize, able to work up tremendous cutting power. Axes were favoured for their ability to hack apart shields better than any weapon. They came in a very wide variety as well.

Even in this ridiculously brief and overly generalized discussion of medieval weaponry I think we can put the idea that any sword type dominated the middle ages to rest. Oakeshott created his categories so that people could discuss the incredibly wide variety of bladed weaponry that fell into and out of use throughout the middle ages. He did not create it for people to narrow it down into sword X is better than sword Y in internet fanboy arguments.  If there were a dominant family of swords this variety would not have existed, nor would maces, axes, spears, lances, and other weapons been nearly as common. Fantasy writers owe mr Oakeshott a debt of gratitude for showing us that the medieval sword, and indeed all medieval weapons and armour were more than just the clumsy implements those damned fencers told us they were 😉

Finally, let us not forget that Knights wielded a huge variety of weapons, and many of them had the money to afford a tool for every occasion.