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Out now!! Audio version of Roman Mask!!

 

Yes, it’s true! You can now get the Audio version of my novel, Roman Mask.  Due to the success of the book, the Publisher Tantor decided to create an unabridged version of my work.  You can buy the Audio CD from Amazon and other retailers, or listen to it on Audible, or from Apple iTunes.

Audio books, made for companies such as Audible, have become an increasingly popular way to enjoy novels.  Audio books bring their own form of magic to the literary world.  When listening to a work through a headset, it is easy to lose yourself in the woven spell of audio.  You can immerse yourself totally, through the hypnotic sound of the narrators’ voice, into the writers’ world.  Audio books are also sometimes better at fitting into our busy lives.  So if this is your medium of choice, you can now transport yourself to Ancient Rome before delving into the dark forests of the Teutoburg, by listening to my novel Roman Mask.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have my work read by Steven Crossley.  His Audiobook performances cover an eclectic range of subjects in both fiction and non-fiction, from thrillers, mysteries, classics and histories to children’s fantasy and biographies. These include works by writers such as Salman Rushdie, Pat Barker, Joseph Conrad, Oscar Wilde; and Sebastian Faulkes, Zadie Smith, Ian McKewan, Bernard Cornwell, Tana French, CJ Sansom to name just a few.

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How can I get Roman Mask on Audio?

If you want to buy the CD, the easiest way is to go to the Amazon site and purchase it.  You can here.

However, many people prefer to listen to it via subscription through Audible.  If you are not already a member, you can sign up and get 30 days free!  Then just search for Roman Mask.

Apple is also a very popular channel for Audio books.  If this is your choice, it is best to go through iTunes and search for Roman Mask.

The cover

Finally, I would like to give Tantor a big bravo for the wonderful cover they have made for my audio book.  I originally wanted to use the same cover I used for my paperback novel.  However due to the different sizes involved for Audio and CD covers, this proved impossible.  So Tantor came up with their own cover, and I am so pleased they managed (at my request) to keep the image of the Kalkriesse Mask in the design.  This mask is so important, for both my story, and the historical context of the events that surround my novel.  I think it looks absolutely amazing too.  I hope you agree?

 

War chariots!!

We are quite used to the dramatic use of ancient cavalry and horses in both historical and fantasy novels.  However, riding on the back of horses actually came quite late in history (roughly 700 BC), before then the chariot held sway.  Horses were domesticated from around 3500 BC in the Eurasian steppes and used for farming and simple wagons with solid wheels.  But we need to wait until the invention of the spoked wheel in 2000 BC before the first chariots started to appear in the Indo-Iranian cultures of modern day Russia and Kazakhstan.  Quite quickly this light vehicle, with two wheels, drawn by one or more horses, spread throughout the ancient world and dominated the ancient battlefields between 1700 BC and 500 BC.  Surely there is scope here for some fantastic historical and fantasy novels to exploit these wonders of the ancient world?  Here are a few types.

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traveltoeat.com

Hittite Chariot

The first references to chariot warfare came in the ancient Near East where forty chariots were used at the siege of Salatiwara.  The Hitties’ chariots became feared throughout the region as they carved out a large Empire through Asia Minor and large parts of the Middle East.  When conquering Kardesh a huge chariot battle is said to have taken place involving over five thousand chariots!  The Hittite chariot was different from their neighbours as their chariots placed the wheel in the centre of the chariots, rather than at the rear.  This meant they could hold up to three warriors – typically a driver, a shield man, and a spear man.

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factsanddetails.com

Egyptian Chariot

Introduced into Egypt by invaders, the Egyptians were quick to develop this new technology, and use it to further their own military success.  Unlike the Hitties, the Egyptians preferred to use the bow from the back of the chariot.  Much Egyptian art depicts great warrior kings such as Ramses II in this great pose.  The reins of the chariot would be tied around the waist of the warrior to give him free use of both his arms to draw his bow.   The Egyptians were also credited with inventing the yoke saddle, which further advanced the design of the chariot.

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elgrancapitan.org

Celtic chariot

The last great use of the war chariot was found when the Celtic tribes of the British Isles fought the Romans.  Julius Caesar describes the great skill of the British charioteers in battle, as they tried to disrupt the Romans lines.  He describes them running down the yoke of the chariot, even at full speed, in a great display of skill.  They were used once again by the warrior queen Boudicca, who paraded in front of her Iceni tribe in their great rebellion of AD 61.  The final use of the chariot in warfare, was probably in AD 84, somewhere in modern Scotland at a battle called Mons Graupius.  The Roman historian Tacitus describes the noise and rapid movement of chariots, but also makes clear that they were far less effective than the Roman auxiliaries, who were mounted on the back of their horses.   This brought to an end over two thousand years of use on the battlefield.

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latinahilara.com

Roman chariot

The age of the battlefield chariot might now be over, but that doesn’t mean that the chariot disappeared from history.  Julius Caesar had been so impressed by the sight of the Celtic chariot in his military campaigns, that he decided to rebuild and restore the Circus Maximus in Rome.  This ancient building dated from the earliest days of the city, but after its rebuild, chariots could be watched by vast crowds of up to two hundred and fifty thousand people as they raced around a central plinth called a spina.  The turning points at each end of the spina often caused spectacular crashes and the whole spectacle was immensely popular in the ancient Roman world.   The Roman chariot used in these races, was a quadriga, so named by the four horses that drew it.  The competing chariots would try and hinder each other’s progress, particularly at the turning points.

 

Another Brick in the Wall. Guest post by Rahul Gandhi

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Today, I am incredibly happy to introduce an immensely talented young author.  Rahul has already completed three works of non-fiction, spoken at conferences for young historians, and now is about to enter the historical fiction genre with his new novel – Another Brick in the Wall. He explains in this post the motivation behind this novel and I’m sure you’ll agree, that it is a fascinating concept and a incredibly original idea.  So without further delay, I will pass you over to Rahul…

Thomas M D Brooke

rahul

J.K. Rowling conceived the Harry Potter series while on a train from Manchester to London. What has that universe turned into? A multi-billion dollar entertainment industry that includes everything from books to movies to merchandise. The only word I have for that is wow! It is amazing that a simple idea, created in the most mundane of ways, has morphed into this massive worldwide phenomenon.

I am an author, and no I am not enjoying the success of the likes of Rowling. But, I was struck by an idea which I believe is a topic that has thus far remained untouched. Where did I get it? An essay topic. The topic read: ‘the life of a brick.’ I never wrote the essay. The topic somehow stayed with me as I began to formulate questions. Can an inanimate object like a brick see? If so, what does it see? If it can see, then surely it can form opinions, right? If so, then what opinions would it make if it were in the wall of a room where a woman and her child has just been abused by her husband. The possibilities of what this objective narrator could do became endless even with the blatant absence of movement, speech and thus omniscience of the brick.

But, wouldn’t it be too repetitive if I focused on the brick’s viewpoint of one room. It would see the same constant conflict. The action in the novel would be non-existent. I happen to be an author of British history. This seemed to be the perfect solution. Why don’t I strategically place that single brick in various buildings across various pivotal moments in British history?

This opened yet another floodgate of ideas. The brick could see the Roman expansion into Britain, the barbaric Anglo-Saxon conquest, the Danish conquest, the Norman conquest, Thomas Becket’s assassination, the signing of the Magna Carta, Henry VIII’s many wives, Queen Mary’s head rolling on the castle flagstones as her hair is exposed to be a wig as it is cut off her neck, the Protestant Reformation in Britain, the Union with Scotland, the rise of the Commonwealth and the beheading of Charles I, colonisation under Queen Victoria, the two World Wars, the Cold War and finally the first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

I could go on with the ideas. I could make an epic story about the Hundred Year’s War and the War of the Roses. I could dramatize the conflict between the Lancasters and the Yorks. I could go on about how evil Henry II was and how virtuous Richard III was. Well, one of those would be wildly misconstrued. Or, I could romanticise the Virgin Queen’s wild escapades with her dashing courtiers.

This monumental idea allowed me and is still allowing me, to bring history to the masses while making it thoroughly enjoyable. However, what it has really allowed me to do is to make sharp criticisms of fundamental human characteristics like greed, power seeking, love, hatred, religion, and war.

I must admit, it has been difficult. How was I to take this brick to all the pivotal moments? How would I take it to Canterbury Cathedral, to Newark Castle, to Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle? Well, since the book has yet to release, I can’t very well tell you that. I can, however, offer a piece of advice (or a sly promotion of my other books *wink wink*): check out my books on Hitler and the British Monarchy. It will provide you with the refreshingly accurate yet surprisingly concise historical knowledge to anticipate exactly what the brick will see as well as how. These two books will be either free or on sale every Sunday and Monday until the 26th of December. This is leading to the release of my next book on the Holocaust on the 26th of December. Be sure to check this all out on my website here. Also, remember to subscribe to my newsletter to get updates on the brick’s activities in history. Finally, follow me on Twitter @RahulGandhi_18 and enter the competitions relating to the brick on my blog; you will find that I am quite responsive. I would love to get to know all interested readers and share some valuable historical insight.

Sale 0.99!!! Roman Mask Winner of Readers’ Favorite 2016 Gold Medal award.

My novel recently won the Readers’ Favorite 2016 Gold Medal award for Fiction/Action.  To mark this event, I have decided to reduce the cost the Ebook\Kindle version of the novel for the rest of the week.  The price will return to normal on Sunday, so grab it whilst you can!  This will apply to the Amazon Kindle version, the iPad version, and the Nook version which you can buy at Barnes & Noble or Kobo.

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“The classical world is brought vividly to life in this novel by Brooke, a new voice in the crowded chorus of historical fiction. Set at the height of the Roman Empire’s power, Brooke’s writing brings us both the decadence that eventually undermined and destroyed the seemingly invincible Romans, and the merciless military action that won Rome its mandate to rule in the first place.” Daily Mail – UK National Paper

“I loved this book. There’s no other way to say it. Filled with action and adventure, Roman Mask will keep you on the edge of your seat. Focused on a time that doesn’t always get a huge amount of attention in the historical fiction genre, author Thomas M.D. Brooke does such a fantastic job in drawing a picture of ancient Rome that when you look up from the novel you’ll wonder where your tunic is.” Winner of Readers’ Favorite 2016 Award for Fiction/Action

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Rome AD 9

Augustus Caesar rules Imperial Rome at the height of its power, as the Roman Empire stretches across the known world. Cassius, son of one of her most powerful families, is the personification of Rome’s imperial strength: wealthy, popular, a war hero with a decorated military career – none of Rome’s fashionable parties are complete without him – except, he hides a secret.

After his nerve is broken in Germany, the thought of genuine armed combat is enough to send him into a cold sweat of fear and shame. But this doesn’t dissuade him from living off a false reputation so he can continue a life of casual affairs, wine, and parties, as he is seduced by the many vices of Rome.

However his scandalous life is soon upset by a summons from the Emperor’s wife. It ends his happy decadent life and returns him to Germany to assist the Roman legions in their greatest ever trial, and the events that will resound down in history, in the dark forests of the Teutoburg…

Links to Buy!

Great Ancient Warships!

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What could be more exciting than ancient warships?  The great monsters that prowled the ancient seas, who spread fear and exuded power with deadly grace. Nation’s fortunes were both made and destroyed by the success or failure of their fleets, and here are a few of the types that used to rule the seas…

Trireme. 

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someinterestingfacts.net

The classic Trireme first appeared during the eight century BC, as part of the Greek city of Corinth’s great fleet.  It would take a dominant role in the seas of the Mediterranean for the next thousand years and beyond.  The name derives, not from its oar decks, although it did indeed have three, but instead the number of oarsmen lined in banks of three.  The skilled oarsmen were tightly packed, one near the base (thalamois) the next overlapping slight above in the middle (Zygios) and the uppermost (thrantis) on the upper deck.  By arranging the oarsmen in this tight formation, which was repeated down the long length of the ship, they could keep the beam of the vessel narrow, thus maximising its power ratio and keeping the design sleek and fast.  Typically a Trireme would have twenty five rows of three on each side, the one hundred and fifty oarsmen being able to propel the Trireme at an astonishing turn of speed, making them perfectly equipped to use the bronze ram mounted on the front of the vessel which they would hope to drive into the hull of an opposing vessel at the waterline.

These remarkable ships, that operated as self-propelled missiles in naval encounters, showed their worth in the Persian Wars of the fifth century BC, when the Athenian fleet of two hundred triremes decisively defeated the formidable and far larger fleet of Xerxes at Salamis and again at Mycale.

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ancient.eu

However, the sleek and fast design of these awesome weapons did have drawbacks, they were of little use carrying cargo, or transporting troops, as all the space was optimised for the oarsmen, and crucially these ships didn’t cope very well with the open sea, the lower oar ports being particularly susceptible to bad weather.

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nationsatates.net

The Quinquereme.

The Romans were so worried when they first encountered the Quinquereme, especially in the hands of their arch rivals in the city of Carthage, that they stole the blueprints for this large sea going monster, so they could copy it.  It had the same three levels of oar decks as the Trireme, however each bank now had five rowers – two on the top, two to either side slightly lower down, and the fifth at the bottom lowest level.  This gave the ship its name and needed to be far wider of beam to cater for these new rowers.  This made the ships far heavier, so they couldn’t compete with the Triremes for speed, but the extra power of the rowers meant that these ships could carry more marines, and weapons such as ballistae or catapults.  Later versions even carried giant boarding bridges, so that they could disgorge their superior numbers of troops onto the decks of the opposing ships.  This became the preferred fighting technique of the Romans, as they realised with grappling Irons they could attach themselves to enemy craft, and bring their much valued legionary marines into play, rather than rely solely on the seamanship of their sailors, and the use of the ram.

As this ship was far heavier than the Trireme, it was more stable, and so coped better with the open sea and bad weather.  However, it would be a mistake to think that the five oared vessel superseded the Trireme, as the latter was still far faster and manned by the right captain and crew, still more than capable of holeing one of the newer Quinqueremes by the use of its ram.

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navistory.com

The success of the Quinquereme soon opened up the ambitions of rich and powerful Romans, and these ships began to be scaled up, by adding more rowers, allowing ever larger vessels to take to the seas, such as the Hexareme (six rowers in a bank), Septireme (seven), Octeres (eight), Enneres (nine).

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davinddarling.info

The Liburnian Bireme.

Named after a tribe from  Illyria, which first used these vessels, it was a wonderfully versatile ship.  Fast and light, what it lack in rowing power – only having two levels of rowers – it made up in manoeuvrability.  With only up to fifty rowers per ship, it meant that there was also room for cargo, or marines.  The ship still carried a ram at its prow, and was still a deadly opponent to its larger cousins.  In fact, the use of the larger ships began to come to an end after the battle of Actium due to this ship.  Mark Antony’s fleet, made up of many six’s (Hexareme) and eight’s (Octeres) – bought at great expense by Cleopatra – were soundly outmanoeuvred by Octavian’s forces, whose fleet was comprised of the Liburnian Biremes.  The smaller Liburnians managed to set fire to Mark Antony’s great lumbering vessels, with the use of fire arrows and throwing flaming pitch at them.  From this point on, the Liburnians became the mainstay of the Roman fleet, the Triremes or larger Quinquereme being held in far smaller numbers, typically as flag ships of various provincial fleets.

Who sailed them?

Who were the oarsmen to the ships of the ancient seas?  I’m guessing that some of you out there are presuming it was slaves that rowed the Roman warships?  Well, actually no, it wasn’t.  Initially the Romans tried manning their warships with galley slaves, but after being soundly thrashed by the superior seamanship of the fleet of Carthage, in the early Punic wars, realised this wasn’t such a good idea.  They learnt their lesson, and from the second century BC onwards, the Romans oarsmen were hand-picked men who could be trained in rowing.  Admittedly, the odd criminal was sentenced to serve in the fleet as a punishment, but the vast majority of oarsmen were freeborn and highly skilled rowers.  They also were trained to fight in case their vessel was ever boarded or they needed to board another’s.  So the Hollywood image of rows of chained slaves rowing whilst being whipped by an overseer is erroneous.  There was a “Hortator” who banged a drum to urge on the oarsmen, and they were encouraged to sing in tune with the rowing strokes.

The skill of the oarsmen was such that the lighter Triremes or Liburnians could display incredible dexterity, turning breathtakingly tight angles as one side of rowers banked their oars so the other side could assist the quick turning of the ship.

Features of the ships.

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ancient.eu

The Ram.

The early rams were simple pointed devices that speared an opposing vessel.  However, it was soon recognised that this could lead to the rams becoming ensnared by the timbers they pierced.  So over time the ram evolved, first becoming blunted at the end, and then adopting three pronged horizontal vanes, alongside one vertical one, that was designed to force the planking apart of the enemy vessal.  This made the rams far more efficient and deadly, whilst lessening the chance of the attacker becoming trapped in its victim.

Towers.

On the larger ships it was common to find timber towers, covered in thick canvas, that could protect archers, or ballista.  The larger vessels even mounted catapults that could be adapted to fire the Harpago (hook) that embedded itself in the enemy ship or deck, and could then be hauled in by the attached rope by the sailors.  Then the marines could board the enemy ship.

Sails.

In addition to the oarsmen, the ships were equipped with a square sail that could be taken down and stored in battle conditions.  In the early vessels this would have been made of papyrus or flax, but later was made from thick linen, often tinted brown with oak tree bark.  The ships also commonly had a small foremast and sail.

Decoration.

The early Greek warships were usually black, due to the water proofing pitch used in their construction.  However, the later Roman warships were commonly painted blue and followed the Greek tradition of painting large eyes over the ram on the prow – an intimidating sight for anyone.

Ships would have two wooden figures mounted on them, the first on the prow that represented the name of the ship, such as Parasimon (seahorse), Aquila (eagle) or a figure that represented a Roman virtue, such as Pietas (duty), or Industria (fortitude) that were common ship names.

On the stern, overlooking the deck, would be the tutela – the god that protected the ship, such as Minerva or Mars.

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ancient.eu

ROMAN MASK. 2016 Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal winner for Fiction – Action

My book ‘Roman Mask’ has won an award!  Hooray!

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My novel has won Readers’ Favorite 2016 Gold medal award for Fiction – Action!

Reader’s Favorite has become the fastest growing book review and award contest site on the Internet. They have earned the respect of renowned publishers like Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins, and have received the “Best Websites for Authors” and “Honoring Excellence” awards from the Association of Independent Authors. They are also fully accredited by the BBB (A+ rating), which is a rarity among Book Review and Book Award Contest companies.

It was a complete surprise, as I never even considered myself being an award winning novelist.  So how did this come about?  Well, when I released Roman Mask just over a year ago, I decided I needed to get an impartial review from a world recognised body, who are known for complete impartiality and honest reviews.  So despite a lot of nervous trepidation, I submitted Roman Mask to Readers’ Favorite, and was delighted to receive 5 stars!

As my novel did well, I was given the option of submitting it to their International Book Award Contest.  This features thousands of contestants from around the world. In addition to reviewing for some of the biggest names in the literary industry, as well as first time independent authors, the award contest has featured entries from NYT best-sellers, as well as celebrities like Jim Carrey and Henry Winkler.

And my novel came in first place for Fiction – Action, giving me the much converted Readers’ Favorite Gold medal you see here! How exciting is that?

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If you want to read what Readers favorite said regarding my novel – here it is:

Roman Mask by Thomas MD Brooke is a fascinating work of historical fiction. Brooke uses artistic expression to create a fictional historic account of the battle of Teutoburg. The battle that proved that Rome was not invincible and Germany would not simply bow down to Roman rule. Brooke is a fluent and eloquent storyteller. He illustrates the trauma of battle in his main character, Cassius, who displays all the symptoms of modern day PTSD. As a reader, I became emotionally entwined with Cassius; his fear, inner turmoil, his search for courage and love, his heart and soul injury as a result of betrayal were all depicted with extreme sensitivity. All of the characters were brilliantly written; they grow, evolve and intersect with each other masterfully.
The setting captured the essence of the ancient landscapes of the time period. The images revealed the collision of Roman civilization and Germanic tribal rule. What intrigued me the most was the theme of the narrative – living a lie is easy when hiding behind an illusionary mask. Both the protagonist, Cassius, and the antagonist, Julius, are written as testimonies to this deceptive idea. In all reality, living a lie is not easy at all. Furthermore, once the masks are removed, the truth is exposed. Cassius sums it up poignantly: “I forgot who I was, and I’d rather be the man I am now than go back to living that lie.”

If you would like to more information from Readers’ Favorite, or want to read their full reviews for Roman Mask, you can find their site here.

Great Fantasy Prophecies.

Prophecies can add a fascinating plotline to a novel, giving the book depth, mystery and intrigue.  It also instills the story with a great sense of importance – as if the ages were just waiting for this one conjuncture of events, or particular character to come to prominence.  It can sometimes be found in historical novels, but it is fantasy writing that the use of prophecy is far more common, becoming almost an art form in itself.  Many readers may think that creating a fictitious prophecy would be straightforward, but it certainly isn’t, and it is especially difficult if you wish to imbue it with a high level of mystery and complexity.  After sprinkling prophecy throughout Game of Thrones, George R R Martin said ‘Prophecies are, you know, a double edge sword.  You have to handle them very carefully; I mean, they can add depth and interest to a book, but you don’t want to be too literal or too easy…’ www.adriasnews.com

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escume.deviantart.com

George R R Martin, Game of Thrones

So let’s look at how a few fantasy authors have handled prophecy and look at their different approaches to this aspect of their writing.  As I’ve already mentioned George R R Martin, let’s look at his prophecies that come in the form of prophetic dreams in Game of Thrones.  The first example comes from Daenerys Targaryen, at the start of the series, when she is often beaten by her brother, Viserys.  This is what she dreams…

“Her thighs were slick with blood.  She closed her eyes and whimpered.  As if in answer, there was a hideous ripping sound and the crackling of some great fire.  When she looked again, Viserys was gone, great columns of flame rose all around, and in the midst of them was the dragon.”

Daenerys becoming the mother of dragons is first foretold in this passage, and from that starts the remarkable journey of Daenerys as she first marries the great Khal Drogo, who rids her of her troublesome brother, and she goes on to become the conqueror queen with the aid of her three dragons – birthed in fire after the death of her husband.

Another of Martin’s prophecies comes from Bran Stark who foresees the impending war with the Lannisters, that will tear the Seven Kingdoms apart.  He has a dream showing his father and sisters…

“There were shadows all around them.  One shadow was as dark as ash, with the terrible face of a hound.  Another was armoured like the sun, golden and beautiful.  Over them both loomed a giant in armour made of stone, but when he opened his visor, there was nothing inside but darkness and thick black blood.”

You will notice that Martin’s prophecies are quite dark and graphic, not sparing the reader from the violence that makes up much of his story, and is a suitable accompaniment to his great series.  However his grim and brooding visions are not the only way to go, as our next example shows…

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legendoftheseeker.wikia.com

Terry Goodkind, Sword of Truth series.

By winter’s breath,

The counted shadows shall bloom.

If the heir to D’Hara’s vengeance

counts the shadows true,

his umbra will dark the world.

If he counts false,

then his life is forfeit.

 

You can see that Goodkind’s prophecies come in the form of complex riddles, that the reader can try and decipher, with varied levels of success.  This particular prophecy is forked and says that the ‘heir to D’Hara’s vengence’ the sinister Darken Rahl, could either take over the world through the choice he needs to make, or forfeit his life.

What makes Goodkind’s prophecies interesting, are that some lines are easy to decipher, whilst others are more obscured, meaning that you only truly understand the full prophecy when the story reaches its climax.  This is important for great prophecy writing – give the reader enough to be intrigued, but not enough to tell them what’s going to transpire, you don’t want to give the game away too early.

This complex problem may explain why some prophecies are not revealed in their entirety at the start of a novel, or series of books, instead coming to light piece by piece, as the characters in the story reveal more of what is to be foretold.  This is the technique used in my next example…

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wallpaper.metalship.org

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time series.

Yet one shall be born to face the shadow,

Born once more as he was born before, and shall be born again without end.

The Dragon shall be reborn,

And there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth at his rebirth.

In sackcloth and ashes shall he clothe the people,

And he shall break the world again by his coming,

Tearing apart all ties that bind.

Like the unfettered dawn shall he blind us, and burn us,

Yet shall the Dragon Reborn confront the Shadow at the Last Battle,

And his blood shall give us the light.

Let tears flow, O ye people of the world.

Weep for your salvation.

 

The full Karaethon cycle prophecy is far too long to write here as it goes on for multiple pages, but it centres on the rebirth of the man known as the Dragon.  The man who’d once defeated the Shadow, but in his madness afterwards, destroyed the great civilisation he’d created – a time called ‘The breaking of the world.’

The early passages of the prophecy foretell his rebirth, but as you can tell from the small excerpt shown here, also foretell him destroying the world once again, before he can face the Shadow once again at the Last Battle.  Unsurprisingly, the people of his world are not sure whether his coming should be something they should celebrate or dread, as the prophecy is very clear on the destruction he will bring, despite the eventual salvation he offers.

Much of the prophecy is ambiguous and its meaning clouded, so you’re never quite sure how it will come to be fulfilled, but gradually through the series (which is also of an epic length) the passages come true as yet more is revealed.  It is a great example of prophecy being done well, but to see prophecy at its best, you really need to go back to the beginning, and the book that started the fantasy genre, I’m talking about Tolkien of course…

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twitter.com

J R R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost,

The old that is strong does not whither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring,

Renewed shall be the blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be King.

 

The first thing to notice about this poem, is the quality of the prose.  With the greatest respect to the other great writers used as examples in this article, it is clear that Tolkien’s mastery of poetry was on a far higher level.  His passage manages to conjure thoughts of times lost, and hope being renewed.  It foretells the Return of the King of the West, the Dunedain Aragorn, who goes by the name Strider in the first of the books, and is far more important than his appearance would suggest.

I think it is a wonderful poem, and a beautiful example of Tolkien’s effortless master of the English language.  It shows how fantasy writing can be greatly enhanced by prophecy, but also shows the level of care and work needed by aspiring writers if they are ever going to achieve the spine-tingling sense of portent that a great prophecy produces.  Prophecy needs to be treated with care and attention, as it can be the making and breaking of a novel.  As George R R Martin’s fantastic character, Tyrion Lannister says in Game of Thrones, “Prophecy is like a half-trained mule.  It looks as though it might be useful, but the moment you trust in it, it kicks you in the head.”

 

 

Ancient Weapons of War!

It is great to have a castle, or large fortress, to set a scene in a historical novel.  The high curtain walls, the gatehouses, the murder holes and cunningly placed arrow slits.  All give the writer great scope in describing formidable bastions that appear all but impossible to penetrate.  However, history teaches us that the appearance of impregnability can be illusory, as ever since people started building walls to protect their buildings, others have been devising ways to get in – by fair means or foul.

Ancient siege weapons – the Greek Catapult.

When I started writing my first novel on Alexander the Great, I spent plenty of time researching the early catapults that Alexander used in besieging the many cities of Persia, in his conquest of the Persian Empire.  I proudly presented a long chapter to my father (who was helping me edit the novel) which held long explanations of the mechanics of the engines, describing them in great detail.  My father promptly put great red crosses through all the pages and scribbled “Too much information!!”

It was a great lesson for me as a writer, and taught me that historical detail should always be added subtly to novels, and not forced upon the reader in an endeavour to cram all the writer’s knowledge into the work.  When writing a historical novel, it is paramount to remember you are a writer first and foremost, and not a teacher.

However, my clumsy attempt to give prominence to these weapons wasn’t without reason.  When we think of Alexander the Great today, we tend to think of his vast land battles in which he led his Macedonian army so courageously, such as  Issus or Gaugamela.  But in his day, what Alexander was most famous for, was storming walls, and taking fortified cities.  The reason for this was Alexander the Great was the first man to truly achieve this repeatedly.  Up until Alexander came along, the chances were if you built a thick enough wall around your city, you’d probably be safe.  Alexander changed the rules, and warfare would never be the same again.  Alexander used a variety of rams, and covered siege towers, that he used to directly assault walls, but normally he’d weaken them first, using the latest technology of the day – the catapult.

A few hundred years earlier, the Phoenicians had devised the first great composite bows that could fire bolts much larger than your normal bow and arrow.  The composite bows would be made from two materials, one that was very difficult to compress, such as horn, and the other half something that was very springy, like yew.  The horn would be bound to the inside of the yew, and together they would make an incredibly powerful bow that could be drawn with the help of a lever.

However, by the fourth century BC, and the time of Alexander, this technology had moved on with the torsion engine.  A thick cable of sinew was wrapped around a lever and repeatedly twisted, building up a great amount of energy before being released without breaking.

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This combined with the composite bow, made for a very powerful machine that could shoot either bolts or rocks, which were flung at the walls and could reduce all but the strongest walls to rubble.

 

Roman

When the Romans brought the Greek states into their Empire via conquest, they also inherited the Hellenic torsion technology and like most things they came across, they developed and improved it.  The Roman Ballista was one such machine that was powered by two horizontal arms which had been inserted into two springs of sinew that were tightly wound by the use of a winch.  These came in a verity of sizes, the smallest used to hurl rocks or bolts over the city walls, whilst the largest could hurl projectiles that weighed three talents (approx. 80 kg or 175 pounds) and be able to destroy most obstacles that lay in its path.

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They also developed other uses of the torsion technology such as the Onager that’s kicking action resembled the wild ass it was named after, and the self-loading Polybolos that could fire a succession of smaller bolts repeatedly.

After being assailed by such weapons, the opposing city or fort could normally be forced into surrender, but if necessary the Romans were prepared to assault the walls themselves with a variety of Rams.

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Medieval

After the Roman Empire fell, and the world slipped into the dark ages, most of this technology was forgotten for a time, and clever siege engines and sophisticated catapults disappear from history for several centuries.  Competing Kings would prefer to put their faith in god, rather than rely on technological solutions.

However, with the onset of the medieval age, and the upsurge in Castle building and formidable thick walls, something more tangible than blind faith was needed to prise them open.  Small scale catapults or ballistae were no longer going to cut it, for this you’d need something larger – much larger…

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The Medieval Trebuchet.

The concept of the Trebuchet is actually very simple, a large counterweight is attached at the end of a long lever.  Attached to the long lever, is a sling, so when the counterweight is allowed to fall, the energy is transmitted into the end of the throwing arm and the projectile is sent skyward with great force.  The ancient Chinese and the Romans had used this technology previously, but by the medieval age the weapons were growing in size, so that vast stones weighing over 1000 kg could be hurled at enemy castles, at a range of 300 meters.  The cycle rate was also impressive, a rock capable of being launched every 15 seconds.  These weapons were so effective that they lasted well into the 15th Century, despite the introduction of gunpowder.

 

Malazan Book of the Fallen

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Some stories just cannot be told in one book.  Many historical and fantasy epics span several volumes, taking well known characters through countless adventures, as the twists and turns of their stories unfold through multiple novels.  Sometimes starting such a long journey can be daunting – do I really want to commit myself to such a long story?  When will it ever end?

However, recently, I began to miss the involvement such an immersive story gives you, so decided to start Steven Ericksen’s long fantasy epic – Malazan Book of the Fallen.  The story starts with the novel, Gardens of the Moon.  Just reading this series is an ambitious project as it spans nine books and promises to take up a lot of my time.  Now I should point out, that at the time of writing this, I’ve just read the first of these novels.  So I’m unqualified to speak on the series in its entirety, but I was pleased with the start that Gardens of the Moon has made in taking me into this journey.

The world we find was once dominated by the elder races, of which there were four, who were imbued with vast magical powers, enough to challenge the Gods themselves.  However, the remorseless march of time has wearied the elder races, and they have largely withdrawn from the world by the time we join the story, leaving lesser mortals to take over the lands.  We enter the story on the continent of Genabackis, as the Malazan Empire starts its campaign of expansion against the Seven Free Cities.  We join a squad of soldiers, as they prepare to assault one of the cities and bring it into the Empire.  However, all is not what it seems, and soon their loyalty is tested to breaking point in a tale of intrigue and betrayal.

Their world is very different from our own, as mages of extreme power war against one another, pulling power from their particular ‘warren’ of magic, that represents the source of their craft.  Different mages have different talents and can draw from different sources, so Erickson’s novel gives us a very varied array of magical powers, that are almost limitless in number.  These are complicated further by the remnants of the Elder races, who occasionally make an appearance, with their vast arcane knowledge.  Those without the aid of sorcery are hardly defenceless however, as some are armed with swords made from the rare otataral ore, that can deflect the influence of magic – which I thought was a neat counter-point to the otherwise all-encompassing power of the mages.

The story is fast paced as we are introduced to a whole host of characters that I am guessing will play an important part in the story to come.  Each one is well thought out with their own back story and personality.  The first book culminates in a vast convergence of power at the city of Darujhistan, where competing forces wrestle for mastery over the great city, the jewel of Genabackis.

I’m not sure how many of you wish to embark on such a long journey with this series, but judging by the first novel, it won’t be a boring ride…

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Picture from the-Void.co.uk

Magical Swords

What is it about magical swords and fantasy fiction?  The concept of such weapons seem perfectly natural in a fantasy realm, and they feature as a centre point to many classics of the genre.  They fill readers’ minds with wistful thoughts of holding such weapons themselves, and being able to smite adversaries with the ease of the heroes (or villains) who wield them in the books.  Despite the regularity of such swords turning up in fantasy novels, the idea never grows tired, as a succession of authors have invented new modifications or types of mythical blades, seamlessly interweaving new flavours of mystery and interest into the forging of their weapons.

The list of them all would be endless, so instead I have just a few of my favourites.

Excalibur – numerous authors.

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Where else to start but the mythical blade of King Arthur, King of the Britons, and one true King of its shores.  Also referred to by its Celtic name, Caliburnus, it is interwoven into the legend of King Arthur almost as strongly as the Round Table, or Merlin the Wizard.  It was said that only the true king could draw the weapon from the stone which Uther Pendragon drove it into on his death.  Many tried, but only his son Arthur, hidden from his enemies by the sorcerer Merlin since birth, managed to pull the sword free and went on to rule  Camelot for an age.

On his demise, the sword was returned to the Lady of the Lake, to once again await the true king, who will come when the land was once again in dire peril.

Narsil – The Lord of the Rings, J R R Tolkien

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The sword of Elendil, that was wielded by Isildur, striking the finger and Ring from the hand of the Dark Lord Sauron, shattering in the process.  The Ranger Aragorn held the blade and re-forged it at Rivendell, renaming it Anduril – The flame of the West.  Argorn used it to identify himself as the heir and rightful King of the West, something that proved useful in convincing the shades of the men of Dunharrow to fulfill their vows and come to aid of Minas Tirith.

Tolkien showed with this sword, that is isn’t just magical powers or traits that make a sword (although the sheath that Legolas gave Aragorn for it meant it stayed ever sharp and unbreakable) but also its history, its own story, that makes a sword special.

The other magical blade in The Lord of the Rings, was named Sting.  It didn’t have quite as spectacular back-story, but it did glow when orcs were near, and showed its worth against the giant spider Shelob when Sam drove her off by poking holes in her.Glowingsting2_lotr.wikia.com

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Shardblades and Honorblades – The Stormlight archive, Brandon Sanderson.

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The Shardblades of the Stormlight Archives are truly awesome weapons, cutting through armour and other blades as easily as a knife cutting through butter.  Their wielders dominate the battlefield, being able to cut down anything in their path.  The only objects that can resist their destructive power are other Shardblades or the equally impressive Shard-plate that can resist several blows from such weapons before dismantling.

Originally these weapons were the preserve of the Knights Radiant, ten mythical orders of knights that kept justice in the world of Roshar.  However, the Knights Radiant, for reasons unknown, left the world and abandoned both their armour and the mighty blades – leaving them to be picked up by less virtuous and worthy recipients.  Due to their power, the holders of these weapons soon became the land’s nobility as the weapons were passed down from father to son.

However, Shardblades are not the ultimate weapons in Roshar.  These are Honorblades, which were held by the Heralds, the ten demi-gods that each order of Knights Radiant followed.  Only ten ever existed and they are far more powerful than Shardblades, being able to destroy Shard-plate, and imbue the wielder with other powers.

Otataral swords – Malazan book of the fallen, by Steven Erikson.

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pinterest.com

The last one I would like to discuss are the dark swords, made from Otataral ore, that appear in Steven Erikson’s excellent series based in his realm of the Malazan Empire.  These swords have the ability to nullify magic, and are therefore carried by individuals who are adept at being mage-killers, redressing the balance of power in his novels, which otherwise would be completely dominated by the all-encompassing power of the mages.  I think it is an interesting twist on the magical sword, opening up new avenues of stories and conflicts of power.  It just shows that although magical swords in fantasy novels are nothing new, there are always ways of adapting this idea, and coming up with ways of making it original.