Just a word to those of you fond of my Wizards and Tom & Laura books.
The months May, June and July were very productive for me.
May/June I wrote Wizards III in which we find out what Jake promised the Wizards of Valhalla to get the power he needed to defeat Bronwyn. Naturally, his new wives are not amused and they decided (well, Esmeralda decided) that he should be forbidden any sex with them.
When we join the story, he has been celibate for nearly a month. This will have severe repercussions, but his main problem is that Jenny wants to come home and he doesn’t have any money in Wales. No sooner does he come up with a solution to that than he finds he is Public Enemy Number 1 across the whole multiverse, and everybody is out for his blood.
From then on, it all gets worse and much more complicated.
In June and July, I wrote Tom & Laura III and I’m really pleased with the way it turned out. I conceived Tom & Laura as an adult series, but I started the series while they were still thinking a little bit like kids (well, Tom was.)
This time they have grown up and are adults. Nearly a year has passed since the last story and Laura has been imprisoned by the army for refusing to kill people, Sir Ernest Trelawney has been fired from his post as Director of MM3 and is about to get married to his secretary, while Tom is in the army and has been posted to America as a Healer.
Wizards III has been through a second edit and should come out in the next few months. Tom & Laura III is a longer book and I haven’t decided whether to edit it now or write another book. Time is limited because I also have to work at something other than writing to live and I have recently received a couple of contracts.
But you will see them both before year end, I’m sure.
What can one say about Garth Nix? Bestselling and award winning children’s and YA author who is highly prolific and amazingly inventive. Worse than that, he has the temerity to be younger that me! I ought to hate him, but as a matter of fact I’m a big fan.
He has stepped into SF once before with Shade’s Children, but for me, this is his first major foray into the world of SF and what an excellent one it is too. I have always found the difference between ‘older YA’ and ‘adult’ confusing and if this isn’t adult SF I don’t know what is, though its protagonist is young.
A Confusion of Princes takes us through the three deaths of Khemri, a prince just entering adulthood, where being a prince is nothing like you expect. Khemri has been born (and partially constructed) into an Empire spanning a big chunk of the galaxy. Though we meet some aliens, this Empire is about humans who originated on Earth and have spread. It is run by a mysterious overmind and an emperor who is never seen.
There are millions of princes and they control the Empire on the Emperor’s/Overmind’s behalf. Every twenty years a new emperor is chosen from a thousand princes.
Khemri is arrogant and has been fed a bunch of lies from birth. Now, as he reaches adulthood he discovers that the other princes will try to either kill him or make him their allies.
I was particularly impressed by the use of science. This is a well thought out universe where biological, electronic and psionic technologies are used to enhance and control humanity. In fact, unenhanced humans are cannon fodder to be used at will as concubines and other forms of mind controlled slaves.
To tell any more would be to deprive the reader of lots of fun, so I will leave the story there and let you find out for yourself.
This book is dedicated to two groups of people, the game design industry because the universe described is also a game, and the SF writers Robert Heinlein and Andre Norton. The fascinating thing for me is that this novel is a blend of those two writers. The struggle for survival and humanity is pure Heinlein and this book could have easily been another of his novels. The use of technology and the biotech is pure Norton, as is the subtlety. By accident or design this book takes the best of both writers, while remaining very much a Garth Nix novel.
The only negative I have is that the book is a little bit too much like a game in places. I salute Mr Nix for his attempt to reel in the gaming generation to books. I do hope they come because this is very much a book worth reading. I’m hoping for a sequel.
I bought Department 19 on holiday a couple of weeks ago from one of those shops selling hardbacks cheap. I have just published a book, London Gothic, on the subject of spies, vampires, secret organisations and as this book covers those same elements I wondered how they might compare.
Mr Hill’s book was published in 2011 and there are two sequels out now. I expect he wrote the book after I wrote London Gothic, which dates back to January 2009 in first draft, so there is no way we could have influenced each other.
I enjoyed this book tremendously despite some gaping holes in character motivation and plotting (though these might be resolved in the sequels). In essence, 16 year old boy (Jamie Carpenter) discovers that his father fought vampires and died a traitor when he is flung into the James Bond style world of Department 19, dedicated to protecting the world against the supernatural. Great stuff.
Mr Hill borrows from Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley to populate his story. Using the characters from Stoker’s Dracula and the Monster from the Boris Karloff version of Frankenstein. Each to his own and those books are well out of copyright so I have no problem with this. I think it’s a great shame he didn’t use Shelley’s Monster, but I suppose the idea of using other people’s characters is that they are in the public consciousness and it is the Monster more or less in his most famous characterisation on film (complete with neck bolt) that Mr Hill uses.
One thing Mr Hill does brilliantly is write historical drama. The sections set in the past, while being backstory, positively sing. He captures the 1890’s brilliantly. Much Kudo to him for this.
Jamie is a little too wish-fulfilment for me. In the Horrowitz mould of boy agent, Jamie is just too good, too fast. I would have preferred him a little less capable and a little luckier, but the story zips along very enjoyably.
In London Gothic, Peter Craig (18) has been trained as a spy his whole life by similarly clandestine branch of the UK secret service. However, they aren’t the slightest bit supernatural inclined, economic espionage and agent provocateurs is their style. Peter isn’t quite human and he is the culmination of centuries of evolution that make him a natural at all forms of deception. But he isn’t as good as he thinks he is and I bring the whole thing down on him like a pack of cards at the end.
What Peter and Jamie do share is a supernatural girlfriend and for me, Department 19’s Larissa is the highlight of Hill’s book. Tough, sassy and a little bit malevolent, Larissa is the best character, gets all the best lines and makes the book come alive. She is the vampire with a heart, though why she is motivated the way she is, is never properly explained.
In London Gothic, Sal Dark plays the same sort of role, though she is also comic relief (and sexual relief) for the story. She isn’t a vampire though and, like everyone else in the book, most of what she tells people is a lie.
Department 19 is a straightforward good guys against the bad guys, though Hill does introduce some contrary elements that make his vampires far more than one dimensional. London Gothic is about some slightly bad guys against some other bad guys, and some other bad guys etc. Peter’s self created role is to prevent genocide and get everybody around the table to talk. In this, virtually everyone opposes him.
I liked Department 19 enough to buy the first sequel. If you like violent Vampire stories with a superb female companion helping the hapless hero, you’ll like it too.
If, on the other hand, you like violence and sex with much darker heroes and a convoluted plot, you might prefer London Gothic. I would recommend you buy both :-)
My books often contain characters who might be defined as strong women. In fact, I like a balance of the sexes in my novels, so there are very few of my novels that lack that element. I was trying to work out where my influences were the other day and was struck by how few of them came from the novels I read as a child.
The first strong female character that features in my consciousness was Cathy Gale, the original television female Avenger. I remember Honour Blackman (who played the part) giving an interview where she explained that she complained to her husband that it was the usual screaming female part and he suggested she played it as if she was a man. She went on to say that once the writers got it, her storylines became much stronger. When she left the series, Emma Peel was created in the same mould and a legend was born.
In children’s books there was ‘George’ from the Famous Five and Darrell Rivers from the Mallory Towers books, both written by Enid Blyton. After those I’m damned if many others come to mind, perhaps Monica Edwards’ books about Tamsin and Rissa. There were more such characters in children’s books published after I grew up. Phillip Pullman, for example, has made a hobby of it.
There were strong female characters in comic books and adult fiction. Wonder Woman specialised in making men look stupid as opposed to looking at her breasts. Patricia Holm in the early Saint books and the incomparable Modesty Blaise come to mind in adult novels. I have a deep suspicion that Modesty Blaise was the core model for Buffy, who essentially created the mould for all future television fantasy females. Yes, Joss Whedon, it’s your fault.
The essence of a strong woman in fiction is that she must never be a man in disguise. She acts with her heart as much as her head and is emotionally intuitive. She is more into vengeance than men, but is equally more forgiving when the crime isn’t against herself.
My writing career started in verse and it was there that I created Jalia al’Dare. Adrift in a sword and sorcery world she is perfectly adapted for it. She started killing people in her early teens and never has a moments regret about it. If someone attacks her, she will kill them without a second thought, even if the one attacking her is a child. I teamed her with Daniel, a young man always willing to give someone a second chance, but brutal when he has no choice. With time, they rub off on each other and Jalia uses the mantra ‘What would Daniel do?’ to curb her instincts. Daniel becomes inured to making terrible life and death decisions because he knows he will always be more merciful than his other half.
Women, and especially girls, need to be empowered in western society. Our stories should not portray them as weak, because if that is what they are told they are, then that’s what they will become. And it is a man’s world they live in, make no mistake. Girls are emotionally vulnerable and some men love to exploit them before they get old enough to know better. Unlike boys, they do not seek to form gangs that offer them some protection from exploitation.
So I like to create strong role models in my stories. I don’t claim it’s easy to be strong and many of my female characters have been damaged or abused in childhood. That is often the motivator that makes them strong, able to be tough because they have suffered from being vulnerable.
It seems to me that this issue is ongoing. We are all responsible for changing the society we live in. Some years ago, my eldest daughter was attacked by a handbag snatcher outside a railway station. She looked pretty weak and vulnerable as she was dressed for an interview at the time. She responded by kicking him in the back of the leg, leaving him writhing in agony on the ground while she used her phone to call for the police. They arrived promptly, and when they stopped laughing, arrested the guy. But that’s one thief who will never look at a woman as a victim again.
My kind of hero.
Mariah Mundi and the Ghost Diamonds
GP Taylor is an interesting writer. I read his first book Shadowmancer and its sequel some years ago and admired his impeccable use of language, while at the same time finding the bleakness of his vision somewhat off-putting. Taylor writes meanest of spirit and darkness of soul better than any writer I know.
I might have left it at that except that I came across the first of the Mariah Mundi books in a discount bookstore a couple of months ago and enjoyed it greatly. As a writer of young adult fiction, I have trod within the same territory; Victorian steampunk adventures in which magic vies with gothic technology to take centre stage. I was captivated by the relationship Mariah (who is a boy btw) forms with the girl, Sacha, and wanted to read more.
Mariah Mundi and the Ghost Diamonds is the second story in the trilogy and is a worthy read. Taylor doesn’t disappoint in either language or storyline. This is a truly exciting adventure. You should buy and read it.
I was a little disappointed by the way Sacha is little more than a cipher in this novel. She was stronger in the first book and I love strong female characters. (I’ve been accused of creating a lot of them.) But that aside, this is an excellent read and well worth your time.
There are currently three novels in the Magic Series that cover the lives and times of the children of James and Ezekiel Howard as they struggle with their legacy of guarding the Source.
The Source is the hidden main character in all the books. I never describe it directly and its nature is both enigmatic and far from human. It provides the threats and the means to overcome them. It is the core of the universe I created for the books.
There are many things I have yet to discover about the Source, in part, that’s what makes the books interesting to write, because only by writing them will I come to know and understand its nature. This is what we have discovered so far.
Sometime around 4000 years ago, the brothers James and Ezekiel carried the Source out of Mesopotamia and over many decades brought it to the British Isles where it has remained ever since. The brothers were princes and had made the choice to serve the Source for the rest of their existence. The prize was immortality, but the penalty was that they could never sire children. They traded their humanity for a noble cause.
The Source imbues precious metal and stones that stay close enough to it with magical power. This takes a long time, decades, centuries or millennia in some cases. The magical energy fades slowly with time and use when removed from its influence.
Since the brothers took the task of guarding the Source it has required them to sell the magical things it creates. Such powerful objects command high prices and this is how the brothers were able to make a living. Over generations James and Ezekiel created a network of trustworthy people to dispose of their magical product.
In the hands of a human, the magic trinkets confer a single ability linked to that person’s heart’s desire. But the brothers had spent so much time with the Source they were no longer human and were magical in their own right. Magic objects in their hands became sources of energy or, if the object was specially designed, they could be used for one specific purpose, such as stopping time.
In 1920, James and Ezekiel moved the Source to a suburb of London in a house designed for them. James used his magic to create six ‘house protectors’. They were supposed to be simple creatures with just enough intelligence to carryout their assigned tasks. But James let the heartache inside him for children drive their creation. When the Source saw that James did not have enough power to complete the task, it gave him the power to finish the job. Thus were born the Dees, and in particular the last created Dees known as Glass. She was much more than the Dees were supposed to be and the Source became fascinated with the promise she suggested.
The Source does not tell anybody what to do and seems uninterested in the evil that its magic does in the world when it gets into some people’s hands. But it does offer choices and sometimes indicates it is pleased with the choices made.
James leaves the house to follow his desire to regain the humanity he has lost and Ezekiel becomes a virtual recluse, though both continue to sell magic objects out into the world.
It seems the Source was interested in what the children of its guardians would be like. Circumstances conspired to give them children, though Ezekiel would never know of the existence of his son. In both their cases, magical power in the hands of human women who desired children would overcome the changes the Source’s magic had wrought in them. Their children would inherit the magical gifts of their parents, though because they had never been near the Source they would need magic objects to use them.
And this is not to forget the Dees, who were in every way the children of James, created from his blood.
When the story starts in The House of Silver Magic, the Source has allowed choices to happen that result in the deaths of James and Ezekiel. The old making way for the new as enemies gather at the door.
This is the World of The Magic Series.
Book #1 House of Silver Magic – In which the children of James discover their destiny.
Book #2 Sapphire Magic: Breaking Glass – In which the most human of the Dees is given a terrible choice
Book #3 Gold Magic: Terror in Mind – In which Ezekiel’s child must save London or die trying.
Sapphire Magic: Breaking Glass is the second book in the Magic Series. In House of Silver Magic I established that James and Ezekiel Howard built the house in 1920 and lived there together until the start of the Second World War. They had lived in the British Isles for at least four thousand years, having brought the mysterious Source with them from Mesopotamia
James created the six Dees as house guardians. They were designed as simple creatures that would be happy with their lot. Confined to the house, they had their own pocket universes to keep them amused when they had no duties to perform. But the Source intervened when he created Glass and alone of the Dees she became almost human. Though reflecting light like mercury in the human world, in her own world she looked like a pretty teenage girl and longed to cross the boundary and explore outside.
In Silver Magic, James’s children are pitted against those who used the magic the Source created for evil. Any precious metal or stone left in the house became magical and the Source encouraged the sale of those items out into the world. In humans, each piece would grant (in part) that person’s strongest desire. The Dees were convinced that silver did not work for them because they had tried it and nothing happened. But then, they had no desires at the time except to guard the house.
When Glass is gifted a Sapphire ring, she finds she can leave the house through reflections and is drawn to a special mirror in a mansion many miles away. There she slowly loses her powers as a Dees and becomes a human, filled with teenage emotions and desires. The Source, which is a subtle and sneaky entity, had sent her there to protect it and to make the choice to become human or remain Dees.
This time the guardians of the Source must confront big business. They face powerful men who can manipulate the world without magic, but will use it as they use everything; as if it is their God given right. We meet old villains and friends from Silver Magic as Glass struggles to figure out what it is to be human and what it means to fall in love.
Jalia on the Road is the first of a series of novels that follows the adventures of Jalia al’Dare and Daniel al’Deggar as they travel to the great but fading cities that dot the world of Jalon.
Jalia was educated in the best school in Bagdor. Daughter of a wealthy businessman, she socialised with the sons and daughters of the nobility. Born of a mysterious blonde mother, her sudden death turned Jalia wild and uncontrollable.
When you are born lucky and naturally gifted, it inevitable that people will start to hate you. Add exotic good looks and a tendency to go looking for trouble to the mix and nothing good can come of it. When her father dies on a mission to make a fortune out of borrowed money, there is nobody she can turn to but herself. It’s inevitable that she’d end up on the road.
Daniel’s father was the greatest swordsman Delbon had ever seen, captain of the King’s Guard and highly respected. When Daniel is born he abandons his calling to begin life anew as a farmer, a life which allows him to devote much of his time to training Daniel in the martial arts. But farming is backbreaking work that Daniel’s older brother, Yousef, loathes. When there parents are taken by sickness, Yousef sells the farm to start a new life trading the Golden Triangle and Daniel tags along.
Fate has nothing to do with what happens next. The world’s most famous prophet, some says Jalon’s only true prophet, takes a hand in the game from beyond the grave. A promise made 800 years before is carried out by the most dangerous of the Fairie and a dagger already enchanted is changed in its purpose. Not even the Fairie know what they have done with that simple act.
That change saves Daniel’s life and put him on a collision course with Jalia al’Dare. The two will start off as acquaintances and end as lovers, if Daniel can survive knowing Jalia, that is.
Jalia does things because she can while Daniel does things because they are right. He tempers her ruthlessness with compassion; she forces him to take a stand where his instincts would be to walk away. Individually, they are formidable, as a team they are unstoppable.
So if you like your adventurers adventuresome and have ever wondered what the Three Musketeers would have been like in a world where magic lurks in small but powerful doses then the Jalia stories are for you.
Come and join Jalia and Daniel as they change the world they live in, one villain at a time.
Jalon is a big place. For reasons that won't become clear for eight or nine books, the people of Jalon are entirely unaware of the country of Nord. Much of the continent is frozen tundra to the North. Jalon is a continent, make no mistake. It's enormous.
I've been building Jalon for more than six years and I haven't finished yet. This map is itself out of date but it does give some idea of the size and complexity of the place.
My newly published novel Gally Delbar, Healer takes place in the Autumn(Fall) and Winter of 1162 AM. (The new year starts in Spring in Jalon in the city of Delbon.) AM stands for After Magicians btw.
Jalon has a long history. The Magician Kings (six families with magical power) ruled Jalon for 1527 years by their calendar. By the time they found themselves in a genocidal war with the Fairie (1524 M) there were hundreds of thousands of people in those families. It was the Fairie that were intent on genocide and they succeeded. Within three years all the Magician Kings were dead bar two, one in hiding, the other hidden by dark magic.
Jalon collapsed in chaos, millions died and the country reverted to a small number of ancient cities and scattered villages. The cities were too far away to wage war on each other and besides which there were few diseases, lots of land and no population pressure. Trade between the cities only continues because each has particular products the others need.
There are two trade routes still open and these are widely separated. The Golden Triangle is the first, running between the southern cities of Delbon, Bagdor and Enbar Entar. Each leg of that journey is hundreds of miles long. The second route is the Northern Passage, Ballis to Ranwin by the River Jalon. Ranwin to Telmar by the Magicians Road (Built by magic and still in one piece) and Telmar to Slarn by the River Jalon again. The river is no longer navigable between Telmar and Ranwin.
In 265 AM Jalon's only true prophet was born. He foresaw (and he could see past, present and future all at the same time) that Humanity, Fairie, Dragon and the Giants were doomed to extinction. But since he could manipulate the future by changing the present, he set up a chain of events that would bring Daniel and Jalia together as well as moving Gally to Delbon. If all the triggers (including the immortal dragons) played their parts to perfection, the world might yet be saved. Over 800 years later Daniel and Jalia meet and the story begins.
This is fantasy on an epic scale. Around half a million words have been written so far and one of the books has just been published. I hope the others will follow soon.
I’ve recently published two books, The Spellbinder and its sequel Scotland Hard, which are set in an alternate Victorian world. The Spellbinder was the first novel I wrote, though the version on sale has been through significant changes since that first draft. It was inspired by my poem ‘Spellbinder’ which you can find in the poetry section of this site.
The poem forced the setting, it had a Victorian gothic feel to it and I searched around for an appropriate time period for the book, finally settling on 1860. It was late summer when I started writing the novel so that became the time of year.
I knew what Spellbinder’s did from the poem; they could transform one thing to another by writing a spell on paper. If the paper was torn or when the spell wore out it would burst into flame.
This period of history was highly militarist. The British were building an empire, mainly because it made business easier. They had a certainty about their actions and their right to do whatever they wanted reminiscent of the Roman Empire at its height. Victorian Britain was not a nation given to introspection. If magic could be proven to exist then the Victorians would utilise it as if it was a technology. Some people think the science comes first, but this is a fallacy. Engineering happens first from applying observations and then scientists work out how the engineers are doing it.
I had always been fascinated by the fact that Isaac Newton only published his work under duress (usually to stop someone else claiming to have discovered something he’d worked out years before) and he was known to have carried out work on the mathematical nature of magic. This work was destroyed after his death by his vicar. What if it hadn’t been destroyed?
Thus I conjured up the idea of Military Magic, a retired Colonel discovering Newton’s hidden works and seeing the military potential in them. I set this back sixty years before the story starts as I wanted magic to be an established thing.
Magic was bound to give the British a major advantage both in conquest and technology. I set the Empire and its works about twenty years ahead on 1860, though in narrow areas many more years ahead. However, a lot of historical events and people remain accurate to history.
I created a set of magical abilities and introduced the rule that any individual could only have one ability. (A rule I immediately broke because I like my worlds to have surprises).
Setting magic up into the Victorian power structure was a fascinating exercise. The Admiralty would normally have taken control, being the senior service, but my Colonel was an Army man and so I concocted a deal where Military Magic had independence within the War Office.
Naturally, even if a country didn’t have much in the way of magic, the response to the British use of magic would be to create an arms race. A Steampunk world of inventions combining the Victorian aesthetic with ahead of their time technologies.
Laura doesn’t know how to use her powers effectively and she’s far from certain she would want to even if she could. She’s incredibly powerful at the same time as being totally vulnerable. All through these books she’s a target and barely seen as human by those who wish to exploit her, friend and foe alike.
Queen Victoria ushered in an era of sexual prudery that was as intense as it was hypercritical. This was in response to the sexual liberalism preceding her reign. I decided that these attitudes had not made it to the country in my world, while being the norm in the cities and large towns. Thus Tom is a proper Victorian, believing the propaganda while Laura is sexually liberal, having been brought up in the country. This creates tensions between them, especially in the second book.
The Victorian era for me is the era of the gentleman spy, the world of Conan Doyle and Dickens, a period of high adventure and brave action heroes. That was the world I wanted my creations to run lose in. I think I succeeded.