Understanding Red Glory

It looks like my next book, Bloodlust: Red Glory will be out in eBook format on Wednesday (or at least submitted to Amazon on that date, sometimes it takes a while for it to propagate). With that in mind, I will be concentrating on discussing and promoting the book for the next few days.

Red Glory is a return to a more unusual format. Readers of my books will be familiar with the basic structure from Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale and Bloodlust: Will to Power, where each chapter is set around a match in Gavin Valcoeur’s career in the arenas of the Domains. Red Glory follows that basic structure, with most chapters being centered around a match in the arena.

The disadvantages of that kind of structure are obvious: it requires a hell of a lot of fight scenes, and such a rigid structure can get in the way of narrative flow. However, many readers enjoyed the episodic, predictable build of the story moving from chapter to chapter almost like a TV series or a connected set of short stories. I decided to return to this for Red Glory, which is another story about the arena, but instead of following a single Gladiator, I follow six fighters seeking to win the ultimate prize.

At its heart Bloodlust: Red Glory is the story of an event. The Grand Championships themselves are a character in the story, at least that is how I see it.

After finishing Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden, I sat back and reflected on what I have wrought and written. The Grand Championships are barely covered in Bloodlust: Will to Power, despite being the pinnacle of the whole series. Gavin gets inserted into them purely through the will of the people and the manipulations of others. In the first books the readers only get to read about his involvement in a single match in the whole event, and in the interludes where Sadira fights Karmal. In retrospect those few chapters do not quite capture the epic scope of the Grand Championships.

Some events shape the societies that celebrate them. The great religious pilgrimages. The state of the Union and massive election campaigns in the states. The moon landings. The Super Bowl, The Olympics, and the World Cup. Each of these events brings the far flung reaches of the civilizations that birthed them together, uniting even the most diverse peoples for a time. They also exhibit particular characteristics. The Olympics foster a sense of fellowship through competition, bringing nations together through sport, but sometimes this competition becomes more than sport. Meanwhile the Super Bowl and the World Cup are rowdy, flashy events where the corporate sponsors are very much in evidence. These attributes give grand events a personality of sorts, which is something that inspired me in Red Glory.

I have already written of how the Great Games are a violent collision of sport, hero worship, and politics. The enemies of the Domains are humble by its Gladiators in ritual combat. The Gladiators, in turn, perform to gain the favour of the people, which is the only way that any Gifted will ever be trusted enough to join the ranks of the Chosen.

But I felt the need to further characterize the games, to breathe life into the Grand Championships. The Grand Championships are the pinnacle of the arena, an event that defines the Domains of the Chosen. Bloodlust: Red Glory is the tale of this event. The Gladiators, the Chosen, and the Citizens, victors and victims both, are caught up in the tide of feverish expectation. Like all such events, the Grand Championships take on a life of their own, crushing some and bringing prosperity to others. It touches everyone, even those who are repulsed by the vicious underpinnings of the fighting grounds. Defining this event in detail gives the reader a better idea of the culture of the Domains.

In the end I needed to write Red Glory to better define the Domains for the series to come. The Domains are modern in some aspects, and we all understand imperialism, but the bloodier aspects of the arena are harder for us to grasp. At the heart of it all lies the fear of the Reckoning, and the covenant that the Chosen made with the people of Krass to survive. Underneath all of the bread and circuses, what can we learn of them?

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Teaser Tuesday

Time for a little teaser from my upcoming book, Bloodlust: Red Glory.

The last thorn in his side over the lead-up to the Grand Championships had been trying to take control of the trade in Kirifan narcotics. These had appeared in Krass shortly after the announcement of the coming championships. The most popular of these, Greensalts, could be mixed into food and drink, and was now the drug of choice among anyone who could afford it. Corvian had given up trying to gain control of Greensalts after every person he sent to investigate either disappeared or ended up addicted to the stuff. It was better to cut his losses, for now.

The crowning use of the information had been to inform one of the Chosen. To many Chosen, nothing was more important than the Great Games. They vied against each other to influence which Gladiators would become Champions. To them, the knowledge that an unexpected Grand Championship would soon be held was worth much to them.

Corvian was a Red at heart. He’d grown up in the shadows of the East Shallows Tallhouses. His father had been a Red and his grandfather had been a Red. Corvian stayed true to his roots, even if he was now a wealthy man and the East Shallows streets were long behind him.

Of course he was also a businessman, and although he favoured the Reds for sentimental reasons, the Blues were more realistic about the value of information.

Two of the Ungifted (no magic) characters in the book are involved in organized crime. One, Corvian, comes by this as honestly as one can — it is the best way out of poverty and into wealth for him.

It occurs to me that politics and the underworld are great venues for “normal” people to gain power in an Empire where most of the positions of strength are awarded to the few Gifted who earn the people’s trust. It bears further examination, at least.

After Breaking Bad, it seemed natural to have one of these Characters introduce a new Drug to Krass.

Structures and Systems: The Grand Championships in the Domains of the Chosen (part one)

One of my favourite subjects to write about is how systems, especially broken or corrupted systems, can define a character or a conflict. My favourite example is Javert from Les Miserables, an unrelenting, scrupulous Paladin of an utterly dysfunctional system of Law.

In my next Domains of the Chosen novel, I am delving into how the systems that have evolved around the Grand Championships of the Great Games can draw a series of characters in and change their lives. The novel begins with how these people react to hearing that the event will take place, their feelings, the plots they hatch, and the hopes they have and follows them through to the end.

For those of you who have not read my books, the Great Games are a mixture of bloodsports, magic, and politics, and the Grand Championships determine who is worthy to join the Chosen, immortal rulers of the Domains. (You can read a bit about the Great Games in my free short story.)

The Grand  Championships are a huge event, on the scale of an Olympic games or the Fifa world cup. They are usually held every fifty years, but if a Chosen dies they are the tournament is held sooner to find a replacement. In my new book, a Chosen has died very soon after the previous  tournament was held, and everyone is caught off guard and left scrambling as the new Grand Championship is held. Over the years tradition, politics, corruption and plain old opportunism have led to an elaborate set of mechanisms surrounding the games. Let me break it down:

The Core of the Grand Championships (the basic system)

  • Location: The Grand Championships are held in the Grand Arena of the city of Krass, only during the summer. Krass is the Capital of the Empire, an enormous port city analogous to New York/Rome/London as the focal point of a dominant power. The Grand Arena seats over five hundred thousand spectators, a truly fantastic amount of people crammed into one place. This last part is more important than you might think, unless you understand food services, event planning, or sewage. Since the event is always held in the same place, the Grand Arena is the focal point of the Games, almost a place of pilgrimage for true fans.
  • Selection, Part One: Before the event is held the Gladiators must be selected. Selection begins with fans from all over the Domains coming for the cast their votes for their favourite Master Rank (50+ fights & 10 ranking tests passed) Gladiators. The Hundred Gladiators with the most votes make the short list. It is important to note that this is at least partially a popularity contest. A skilled, but boring Gladiator will often lose out in the voting to a fighter with a more compelling story or more fan support. This works to Gavin’s favour in Bloodlust: Will to Power, one of my earlier works.
  • Selection, Part Two: The short list of one hundred Gladiators picked in the open vote must now be narrowed down to fifty fighters. The voting for this part of the selection is limited to members of the highest Popular Assembly and the Council of the Chosen. The politics and horse-trading at this stage is intense, as each faction tries to find the candidates that have the best chance of winning while trying to sabotage the efforts of rivals both in and out of their factions. They must do so without annoying the people as a whole, who will riot if a big favourite is dropped from the shortlist.
  • The Planning and the Parade: Once the final selection is made and the event is booked, preparations for the Grand Championships begin. The people of the Domains are so mad for the Great Games that work more or less ceases, especially in Krass, around the time of the event. This means that anyone doing anything important, such as shipping ammunition or even waging war, must plan around the Grand Championships or suffer some disruption. The event itself begins with an enormous day-long parade winding through the streets of Krass and ending in the huge parade ground in front of the Grand Arena. The Logistics of this parade are impressive, and also surprisingly important (more on that in part two)
  • The Qualifying Round: Most of the matches fought in the Grand Championships are against other Gladiators. However, many fans consider the very essence of the Great Games to be their favoured fighters facing ferocious monsters. Also fifty is an unwieldy number for a single elimination tournament 😀 Thus every single Gladiator must face off against a monster in the qualifying round. The devil is in the details in this round, where some competitors might end up facing tougher monsters than others and the scoring system is often criticized.
  • That One Little Wrinkle: The rest of the Grand Tournament is surprisingly simple. The remaining Gladiators face off against each other in single elimination matches. However, various exceptions and rules can change the nature of each match. A Gladiator can declare Ut Nex before a match, forcing his or her opponent to agree to fight to the death or forfeit the match. Some Gladiators use this as an intimidation tactic, although you can see how it might backfire.
  • That Other Little Wrinkle: It is not impossible that someone is killed or drops out of the Tournament. If this happens a new Gladiator is taken from the selection. Often this causes a riot, and the Gladiator added to the tournament is sometimes picked just to appease the rioters. Sometimes the riots are goaded on purpose for just this reason.
  • Cheating, and Exploits: It is very hard to just cheat at the Great Games, especially at the Grand Championships. But, with so much riding on the line, it is more than worth the risk. Illegal weapons, bribed officials, banned substances, and everything else you might think of can and will be tried. Much worse than overt cheating, however, are those who exploit the rules of the arena to their advantage. More on that in part two.

Stay tuned next week when I will cover the rest of this subject, going over the corruptions and unforeseen changes in this system.WillToPower_Icon