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The Reaper Realm. Guest post by K. A. Lentz.

I am delighted to share a guest post today, from a fantasy author who has created a world, The Reaper realm, where she sets her novel Threads of Compassion. You can read about the novel in a short description below, followed by a intriguing insight into K.A. Lentz’s writing process and the inspiration behind the novel.  What is so interesting about this post was how important the characters became to her, and how she developed them.  It shows how strong the bond becomes between the writer and her characters.  I’ll pass you over to K.A. Lentz now…

Thomas M D Brooke

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The Reaper Realm: Threads of Compassion

Dominated by displaced, malevolent beings enjoying their cosmic game of cat and mouse, the realm is home to a host of unconventional elves, inventive creatures, and intriguing characters. Fantastical friends and foes alike join the group or jostle the ride in this colorfully painted world. Join Thistle, Miach, and a host of companions as they embark on a journey of love and war, discovery and loss, hoping to set right the fabric of existence.

Debut author K.A. Lentz has created a new destination for an old notion in The Reaper Realm: Threads of Compassion. Through scenes of sweet sentiment and heart-wrenching horror, we are introduced to a distorted, yet beautiful, dimension.

“Lives can drastically change in the blink of an eye. I started the day strolling through the park on my way to work as a bookshop clerk, paying my way through college. Now, I’m the only remnant of my past life, lost after a looming stranger spirited me through a portal.”

Barely a day passes before Thistle learns the world around her is far different from her own. Elves exist and might be benevolent friends or terrible foes, mere humans could be unspeakable sword-wielding horrors, and the elf whom heartlessly stole her away in the first place may become her greatest friend and ally.

The question remained; what part did Thistle have to play in this fantastical world?

Miach’s master is an unyielding tyrant, powerful and deadly. She bestowed upon him the element of air through the power of storms, ripping him from his homeland and chaining his soul to an elven body. For eight-hundred years she’s forced him to carry out her vile command without quarter; murderer they call him now, monster.

Everything changes when Miach is sent to capture Thistle, a human from the fifth-realm. This, single mission his master saw as her greatest hope now turns to his advantage, forever altering the course of events in this Reaper’s world.

You can buy this novel on Amazon.com here

K.A. Lentz

Originally, the book stems from a dream I had back in college.  From there, the story premise visited me through the years in daydreams and a wandering mind.  I had no idea where I’d start the book or who the characters would be in the end, all of that developed as I wrote the original draft.  Throughout its creation I was surprised by outcomes, I didn’t know where the tale would lead me, and cried at unexpected, emotionally charged events, fearing for my character’s survival.  If ever I came to a spot in the book where something more was needed to complete a scene, I researched it, asked questions of professionals, and even went out onto the lawn and worked fighting approaches with my husband—he always got to play the part of the hero.

My first read through I didn’t edit, instead, I focused on events, expanded scenes, and looked deeper into each character’s character: what motivates them, scares them, or might make them happy in the end.  In doing so, I retooled—or downright deleted—elements or sections to greater reflect personalities, add greater detail and magic, and “flavor” to the overall world.  This allowed me to cement specifics of the storyline and fact-check any discrepancies along the way.  From there, another four edits followed the first; one for content, another for flow, and two finalized edits before calling it done.  It seems like a lot, however, each gave me greater insight into my characters, lore, and growth as a writer.  It was a fantastic and life changing experience.  Looking forward to the next level of experiences and growth book two brings with its development.

You can buy this novel on Amazon.com here

Women who took their husband’s throne…

Sometimes women in literature are portrayed as the power behind the throne, the silent partner who advises from the shadows, or from the other side of the pillow, cleverly controlling the king by their side.  However for some women in history, this arrangement hasn’t been enough to fulfil their ambitions, and they have felt moved to take the throne themselves.  This is the case for the following four remarkable women, all who have seized the crown themselves.  What is interesting about all four figures, is the different motives and methods that each used to achieve power.

Cleopatra used her sexuality to manipulate the most powerful men of her age, whilst Margaret of Anjou’s motives were one of a protective mother and guardian of her enfeebled husband.  Isabella of France was so angered by her treatment by her husband and his mismanagement of his realm that she felt she had no choice but to act, whilst Catherine the Great took control so that reason, science, and the arts could hold sway in her adopted land of Russia.  Whatever their motives, each changed the world in a dramatic fashion, and history would be very different if not for their remarkable stories.

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pulpcovers.com

Cleopatra.

The fascination with this incredible woman has never faded over the millennia.  The descendant of Alexander the Great’s companion Ptolemy, she was fated to become the last true Pharaoh of Egypt.  She came from a remarkable family, (the full history of which you can read on my earlier post here). She had been left as co-heir to Egypt by her father Aulutes, alongside her brother Ptolemy, who she married as was expected in the Egyptian royal family.  However, despite the tradition of the female Pharaoh being subservient to the male, Cleopatra had other ideas.  She soon dominated the relationship with her younger brother and husband, dropping his name from official documents and her face appearing on coins rather than Ptolemy’s.  The eunuch Pothinus and the general Achillas assisted Ptolemy regaining control of the country and Cleopatra was forced to flee to the desert.   The story might have ended there if Egypt hadn’t become involved in the Roman civil wars that were raging through the Ancient world between Julius Caesar and his great rival Pompey.  After Pompey’s defeat at the battle of Pharsalus, Pompey fled to Alexandria seeking sanctuary.  The eunuch Pothinus persuaded Ptolemy to murder the Roman General in order to ingratiate himself with Julius Caesar.  They discovered this was a bad move when Julius Caesar came to visit Alexandria and they presented him with the head of Pompey.  Instead of being pleased he was infuriated and took control of the Egyptian capital whilst he decided what to do.  This is when Cleopatra saw her opportunity and had herself smuggled into Caesar’s presence, rolled up in a carpet.  The young Cleopatra seduced the Roman dictator and ensured that she was chosen to rule Egypt over her brother.  Caesar then defeated Ptolemy’s army for Cleopatra and placed her on the throne.  Ptolemy drowned in the Nile fleeing from the battle.

What is sometimes forgotten about Cleopatra was what a revolutionary monarch she was.  The tradition of the Royal household was to speak Greek and to shun the Egyptian tongue to favour their Macedonian heritage.  Cleopatra was different, and learnt to speak Egyptian and identified herself with the Egyptian goddess Isis, rather than flaunt her Macedonian family’s background.

After the assassination of Julius Caesar, the Roman world was once again thrown into civil wars that raged across the lands.  To assure her position, she once again used her sexuality and her desirability to powerful men, and aligned herself to the strongest of the various participants, Mark Antony, who she bore three children.  This should have assured her position; alas however, Cleopatra wasn’t as astute a commander of an army as she was a queen, and at the battle of Actium insisted that Mark Antony use the fleet she had paid for, when confronting the smaller forces of his rival, Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavian.  This proved to be a disaster and after the two fled the naval battle decided to take their own lives rather than be left to the mercy of Octavian.  Cleopatra ended her life by the bite of an asp, a fittingly dramatic ending to a larger than life queen who still fills the imagination as much as ever.

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wikitree.com

Isabella of France.

Daughter of Philip IV of France, sister of Louis, Philip, and Charles, who all became Kings of France themselves, her powerful family connections were obvious, but little did England suspect what they were getting when she married Edward II at the tender age of 12 in 1308.

As a very young bride to the new King of England, there was one obvious problem with her marriage:  The young King preferred the company of his lover Piers Gaveston to hers.  What’s more, Edward was proving to be a lousy King, alienating most of his Barons, and conducting a disastrous campaign against the Scots – where Robert the Bruce gave him a sound thrashing.

The Barons had enough and rebelled, but Isabella, despite finding a following of her own at court, decided to stay loyal to her husband.  Unfortunately for Edward, this wasn’t enough to save the life of his lover Gaveston, who was captured by the Barons and executed before Isabella managed to sure up support for her husband from her brothers in France.

Isabella gave her husband two sons, but the tensions in England rose, and when Edward took a new lover – Hugh de Despenser – things started to reach breaking point.  Isabella went down on her knees asking the king to exile Despenser, this he did but soon brought him back and after a victory over the rebellious Barons, Edward and Hugh ruled over England harshly taking revenge against their former foes.

Isabella started to be snubbed by the King and his lover Hugh, and Edward’s unpopular rule began to deteriorate.  The King and Hugh abandoned her in the North of England to the mercy of a Scottish army that was rampaging south – after another disastrous war of her husband’s.  Isabella was lucky to escape with her life as two of her handmaidens were killed as her loyal knights cut a path to a ship and safety.  Isabella was furious and decided enough was enough.  She left for France, but if Edward and Hugh thought they’d seen the back of her they were wrong.  She returned with an army made up of the many nobles that Edward had estranged during his reign, and several companies of Mercenaries funded by her rich relatives.

She seized control of the country and captured and executed all of the Despenser family.  Edward was forced to abdicate so Isabella could rule as regent for their son.  During her reign Isabella was responsible for finally making peace with Scotland, and settling the enmity and bitter wars between the two nations by relinquishing England’s claim over the Scottish throne.  An incredible achievement, one she managed despite the animosity of entrenched powerful enemies, who against all reason favoured war over a peace that would benefit both nations.

She ruled until her son came of age and deposed his mother to take the throne for himself.  However, she will always be remembered as the She-Wolf of France and her place in England’s and Scotland’s history secured.

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nytimes.com

Margaret of Anjou

Daughter of ‘Good King Rene’ of Anjou who was described as ‘a man of many crowns but no kingdoms’ she was married to King Henry VI of England, son of one of England’s greatest warrior Kings, Henry V.  Unfortunately for Margaret, Henry VI never inherited his father’s martial prowess and despite inheriting most of the Kingdom of France (won by his father after the battle of Agincourt) managed to fritter away his French lands by his inaction and peaceful nature.  Although interested in religion and learning, he was mentally unstable and became completely incapacitated at times – drifting off into oblivious fugue states for months, and then later in his life, for years on end.

The young bride and mother of their son Edward, soon took a more active role when the Duke of York started to sniff around the incapacitated Henry’s crown.  Due to Henry’s mental state and trusting nature, Margaret found it easy to manipulate her husband and get him to agree any decree that she wanted.

Margaret called for a great council and excluded the Yorkists from influence over the king. A conflict started, that would later be known as the ‘War of the Roses’.  I couldn’t possibly give a breakdown of the War of the Roses here as it is far too complex and too tangled a tale to cram into a few short paragraphs, but suffice to say that this war split England in two, lead to the deaths of virtually all of the main protagonists, great swaths of the English nobility and a generation of men from either side.  The thirty years of war brought England to its knees and the bitter rivalry and enmity between the houses of Lancaster and York remained  long into history.

Margaret’s involvement ended after the battle of Tewkesbury which she lost and resulted in the death of her only son.  This completely broke her, and she was placed in the custody of her former lady in waiting until her death.

So how do we sum up Margaret?  Some will judge her harshly, many powerful women in history have been (because it tends to be written by men!) but remember Margaret was only trying to protect the throne of her husband – who she genuinely loved – and also the throne for her son, the rightful future King of England.

Incidentally Henry VI was finally done away with after the battle of Tewkesbury too, but by then hardly anyone noticed.

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history.com

Catherine the Great.

Born in Germany, as Sophia, to a family of surprisingly little money, she had strong blood-ties to the ruling dynasties of Germany and an even stronger set of connections through her mother, who was well known among the wealthy royalty.

She came to the attention of the Empress Elizabeth of Russia  when visiting the country as a young girl.  She learnt the Russian language by walking barefoot at night, repeating her lessons, something that gave her a bought of pneumonia that nearly killed her.  She said later of the episode that she had ‘made up her mind when she came to Russia to do whatever was necessary, and to profess to believe whatever was required, to become qualified to wear the crown.’

This level of dedication worked on the Empress, and she chose Sophia to be the bride to her son Peter.  Her name changed to Catherine on her betrothal.  The marriage wasn’t a happy one, not only did Peter take a mistress, he also drank to excess and held a famously abusive personality.  This didn’t sit well with the cultured and intelligent Catherine who was drawn to a cabal of political groups opposed to her husband – ironically enough, she was introduced to this group through her friendship with her husband’s mistress’ sister.

When the Empress Elizabeth died in 1762 Peter took the throne and the Royal couple moved into the Winter Palace in St Petersburg.  As Tsar it wasn’t long before her husband’s eccentric and ill thought-out policies alienated most of the nobles in Russia, and the group Catherine had aligned herself with started to plot against him.

When Peter took his holiday in Oranienbaum, leaving his wife in St Petersburg, things came to a head.  Forces loyal to her husband arrested one of her co-conspirators so she appealed to the Ismailovsky regiment stationed near her to protect her from her brutal and unpopular husband.  She then had the Orthodox Church, who she’d developed a strong bond with as Empress, declare her the sole sovereign of Russia.  When her husband returned from holiday she had him arrested and forced him to sign a document abdicating the throne.  Eight days after signing this document Peter was dead, and although historians can find no evidence that Catherine had a part in this, I think it’s obvious that she must have.

Catherine had shown herself to be both ruthless and determined but her long rule of Russia is remembered as the Golden age of the Russian Empire.  She established its position as one of Europe’s great powers, defeating the Ottoman Empire at its borders, whilst turning St Petersburg into a centre for the arts and learning.  Catherine was a great proponent of new thinking and ideas, championing the smallpox vaccine by inoculating herself, her son, and several members of her court after smallpox killed 20,000 in Siberia.  This led to inoculation being taken up in a Russia.

By the time of her death in 1796, The Russian Empire had expanded beyond measure and she’d dragged Russia from a backward improvised nation to one in the centre of European and world affairs.  It is perhaps unsurprising that she was also one of the few men or women to have ever have been awarded the honorific ‘The Great’.

 

 

 

 

Flesh and Spirit, Breath and Bone, by Carol Berg.

Flesh and Spirit

A few months ago I wrote about the novel Transformation, by Carol Berg and I emphasised the strength of the characters in her writing.  For regular followers of this blog, you will know that it is characters that I feel are the key to good writing, and for me at least, the most important aspect of a great novel.  In this novel, Flesh and Spirit, Carol Berg once again shows she is masterful in creating brilliantly realised personalities, but this time she has been even more ambitious than usual.  This is because she created an angry young man, who at times is very hard to empathise with, and makes for a very unusual lead character in a set of novels.  This is both brave of Berg, and clever, because her creation Valen, is the perfect foil to tell this complex tale of family rebellion, bloodlines, and magic.  It covers topics not normally associated with fantasy novels, such as drug addiction and family resentment, as Valen runs from the family life that has been ordained for him by his blood-ties and prophesy – his diviner mother even predicts the manner of his own death.

An enchantment based addiction, that turns pain into pleasure, goes a long way to almost destroying Valen.  It is to Berg’s credit, that she manages to keep the readers empathy to Valen throughout these difficult chapters of his life, and the use of Valen’s sharp edge manages to keep us intrigued in this tale that is told through the eyes of this unconventional man.  While often angry, he also has a strong wit, and a likeable way about him, even if he sometimes drains your patience by his behaviour.  I found myself really liking him, despite his flaws and it is possibly these same flaws that make him such a well-defined character.

The story itself is also a great tale, and centres on a secret form of magic involving cartography that can revel secret folds of lands, or places that are otherwise missed between the boundaries of different worlds.  This plays into most fantasy reader’s love of maps and reminds me of the post I wrote a while back on the different maps of fantasy worlds.  I loved this tale and couldn’t get enough of it, and once again Carol Berg has reminded me why she is one of my favourite fantasy authors.  If you like your characters to be slightly unconventional and shady too, this book might appeal to you…

Breath and Bone

The story starts with the novel Flesh and Spirit and continues with the book Breath and Bone.  It doesn’t appear to be available on kindle or ebook which I think is a great shame as I think this will prevent many readers finding out what a great writer Berg is, but if you want to order the first paperback of this series, you can here.

Fantasy warriors – Those who follow another path…

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Orc.  From The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Where else to start than the mythical warriors of Middle Earth, that we meet in the writings of Tolkien.  The term Goblin and Orc are actually synonymous in the world of Middle Earth, however Tolkien tended to refer to them as Goblins in The Hobbit, whereas by the time you reach The Lord of the Rings, the term Orc is more common.

In Middle Earth, before the Dark Lord Sauron, there was Melkor – Sauron’s one time master.  It was Melkor who bred the first orcs, by corrupting enslaved elves, by the slow arts of cruelty and his malignant magic with which he infused his dark will.  This is because evil in Middle Earth isn’t capable of true creation, and so the orcs were born as a cruel mockery of the elves who they had first descended from.  The orcs then bred and multiplied in vast numbers, disgorging from the lands of Mordor to swamp Middle Earth with their cruelty and spite.

Grotesquely malformed, squat bodies, with longs arms and crooked backs, and misshapen fanged faces.  They are a worthy foe of the free races of Middle Earth.  Armed with scimitar and shield their great strength and ferocity, aided by their cruel and wicked nature make them opponents not to be under-estimated.  They often poison their blades and barb their arrows, so don’t expect any form of gallantry from these evil and cunning soldiers of darkness.

There are many forms of orcs in Middle Earth, and they commonly fight and war amongst themselves, only the strong will of a leader such a Sauron or Saruman (who created his own form of Half-orc called the Uruk-hai) can control them.

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Trolloc. From the Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan.

Half man, half beast, the trollocs were created by the forsaken Aginor during the war of shadow.  He combined human’s with the genetic makeup of several different animals, to create a force of formidable soldiers, to overwhelm the forces of light.

They vary greatly in appearance, depending on which animal they inherit the closest bond with.  Some have the long muzzle of wolves, others the beaks of birds, or the snouts of rams or goats.  Generally far larger than men, and physically stronger, their intelligence tends to vary as much as their appearance.  Some have the power of speech, whilst others can only squawk , growl, or grunt at one another.  Often what is most disconcerting about the trolloc is their too human eyes, which appear so unnatural peering out of their beastly faces.  The cowardly and violent nature of the trolloc made them poor soldiers initially, until a rare form of trolloc started appearing, roughly only one in twenty coming out as something far more terrifying, called a myrddraal.  These were then used to control the other trollocs.

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obsidianportal.com

Myrddraal.  From the Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan.

To control the trollocs, we have the myrddraal.  In appearance they look like a tall human with grey pale skin, and a terrifying gaze from an eyeless skull.  The stare of a myrddraal alone can induce paralysing fear amongst their foes, and the trollocs they herd are also terrified of their unnatural offspring.  Myrddraal have the ability to link with a band of up to five hundred trollocs (known as a fist) and bend them to their will, so the trollocs become a much more effective fighting force, with the cold intelligence and discipline of the myrddraal guiding them.  This has the unfortunate side-effect of all the trollocs dying if their myrddraal is killed.  But this in no easy feat to achieve, as each myrddraal is a master with the long serpentine blades they carry, and do not die easily, even if dealt many blows that would certainly be lethal for human opponents.

The fact that approximately 5% of trolloc offspring result in a myrddraal, has led some to conclude that this in some way is linked with the ability to channel.  This is due to that ratio being the same proportion of humans born with the ability to channel and draw power from the source.

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Parshendi. From The Stormlight Archives, by Brandon Sanderson.

Okay, I think it is possibly a bit unfair to list the parshendi in this list of vile and villainous creatures, but the parshendi of the shattered plains make an intriguing enemy to the lords of Alethi.  The parshendi have red marbled skin, and strong muscular bodies.  The bodies are covered in what appears at first to be armour, but on closer examination turns out to be a shell like carapace that grows from the parshendi themselves.  They have the ability to change form when they are exposed to one of the magic infused storms that rage across the shattered plains.  The forms are as follows – warform, workform, mateform, dullform, nimbleform, and stormform.  Each form has different characteristics that are useful for different tasks.  However, originally the parshendi had no control over which form they take when exposed to a storm, it being completely random.  However, their war with the humans changed this when they discovered that capturing ‘spren’ the magical spirits that inhabit the world, could allow them to control which form they take.  The war was started when the parshendi hired a shin assassin to kill the Alethi king, however the human’s discovery of Gemstones on the shattered plains – and the human’s insatiable greed for them – possibly means that the parshendi got more than they bargained for.

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abandonerealms.com

Joining.  From The King beyond the Gate, by David Gemmell.

The ancients devised wondrous machines that could cure all forms of ailments, injury and disabilities, by fusing the strength and vitality of wild animals to their human hosts, curing terrible afflictions and permanently fixing broken spines and twisted limbs.  The ancients knew the importance of making sure that it was controlled carefully, to make sure that the beast bonded to the human was never able to take control, and that the human always was always left as the dominant will.  Alas, centuries later, that wisdom is lost, and the ancient machines – when discovered unexpectedly – are used to join all manner of beasts to the once human hosts.

At first these cruel experiments are only used in gladiatorial shows, being the by-product of unfortunate criminals being joined with animals leaving them completely brutal in nature, ignorant of their former existence, and as wild and vicious as the animals they were bonded with.  However, soon the twisted and insane emperor realises that he can dispose of his enemies in this way, and the forces that oppose him.  Forming an army of joinings unbeatable on the battlefield through their strength and ferocity.  Their only weakness: a strong reminder to the human host of their former lives, so that they can once again remember who they once were.

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White Walker. From Game of Thrones, by George R R Martin.

Whilst the great families of Seven Kingdoms squabble over the right to hold the Iron throne, an ancient evil is beginning to awake far to the north, beyond the Wall.  Eight thousand years have passed since the winter of the long night, when the white walkers last travelled south, killing all in their path, and then terrifyingly raising those same dead to fight by their side.

The white walkers have the ability to freeze everything they come into contact with, and matching swords with them with anything other than Valyrian steel or dragonglass will leave opponents blades shattered – and a living death as a reanimated corpse, likely to result.  They are distinguished by their bright ice-blue eyes that shine from their frozen faces, something that their re-animated corpses share once risen.

Eight thousand years before they had been driven back, into the lands of always winter, by the first men and the children of the forest, by using dragonglass and the magic of the children.  The Wall was then constructed to protect the realms of the living, with the Nights Watch as guardians, protecting all from the grip of the forces of winter.  Alas, eight thousand years is a long time, and the Nights Watch isn’t what it once was.  Will the families of the Seven Kingdoms wake up and realise their peril? Who knows, but either way, winter is coming….

 

 

The Rebels of History….

What is it that makes someone rebel against insurmountable odds? When an occupying force or despot King or Queen holds complete power over you, why do some still somehow find the power to say no, and rebel against their all-powerful overlord?

Sometimes the reason can be the sheer brutality of their rulers, whilst others are inspired by an idea or a fierce sense of independence.  Either way, they are a constant presence throughout history.  Some were successful, most were not, but they left an indelible mark on history to inspire others.   Here are a few of my favourites…

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Bessus.  Alexander the Great is possibly the greatest conqueror of all time, he swept into Asia defeating the Persians at Granicus and Issus, before driving into the heartland of the Persian Empire and crushed the vast Persian host at Gaugamela.  After taking the Persian capitals of Susa, Persepolis, and Babylon his complete dominance of the ancient world seemed complete.  However one man thought differently, Bessus, a one-time ally of the Persia Emperor Darius.  Darius was fleeing Alexander, but was murdered by Bessus who then declared himself Emperor of Persia and fortified himself in his mountain stronghold in Bactria (modern day Afghanistan).  Alexander pursued him, intent on killing this pretender to his throne, and took the greatest army of its day into Bactria.  However, what he found in Bactria was a very different type of foe, as its inhabitants employed guerrilla tactics against a superior force – possibly for the first time in recorded history.  The Ancient historian Plutarch described the Bactarian warriors as a hydra-headed monster, as soon as you cut off one head, three more would appear in their place.  It started a military tradition in this region, that has thwarted many super-powers over the millennia: The British (19th Century), the Russians (20th Century) the Americans and allies (21st Century).   Alexander eventually caught up with Bessus, put him to death and managed to pacify the region.  But this was only achieved by building countless fortresses, and leaving a sizable occupation force that persisted in Asia for centuries – and why many Afghans still show the signs of Hellenic heritage in the colour of their eyes and fair skin.

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Arminius.  The Romans thought they were finally on the brink of pacifying the new Roman province of Germany for good.  They had everything on their side, the greatest army of its day; unstoppable in the field through their military discipline and sophisticated war tactics.  They also had managed to help place one of their own, a German prince educated in the Roman fashion who had served with distinction in the Roman legions, as King of the Cherusci – one of the largest German tribes.  What could possibly go wrong?

What went wrong was that the German King Arminius who’d been placed at the head of the Cherusci nation with the help of Roman gold, was in fact a viper.  As they’d taught him all they knew, he knew exactly how best to beat the Romans.  He orchestrated a brilliant ambush in the Teutoburg forest, utilizing Roman-style fortifications and battle tactics to help defeat and destroy three entire legions in possibly Rome’s greatest ever defeat at the height of her power.

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knowledgeoflondon.com

Boudica.  One of the hardest lessons for all Empires to learn is that after the conquest is completed, it is always best to rule with a conciliatory hand, and to try and rule with consent rather than with the iron fist.  The Romans were normally quite good at this, coming up with the Pax Romana the Roman peace that typified the Empire at its height.  However, they sometimes forgot this lesson with disastrous results.

Queen Boudica was married to King Prasutagus, King of the Iceni and a vassal to Rome.  On his death he left the Roman Emperor co-heir to his Kingdom along with his two daughters.  However, the Roman governor Paulinus wasn’t content with half a kingdom so he had his widow Boudica publicly flogged and her two daughters raped.  This act of barbarity (and stupidity) led the Iceni, Trinobantes, and many other British tribes to Rebel against Roman rule.  With the fearsome Boudica at their head – tall, fierce eyed, wild red-hair that fell to her hips – they tore through Roman Britain, routing a Roman army and destroying the Roman settlement of Camulodunum (Colchester) which was inhabited by the families of retired Roman veterans.  They stormed and burned Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans) after the defenders fled.  Rome finally confronted Boudica in a showdown in the midlands of the country.  Boudica exhorted her massive army to great bravery by riding before her host before the battle in her chariot, escorted by her defiled daughters.  However, the superior battle tactics of Paulinus who chose a narrow gorge, and a forest at his rear, to protect his flanks, was combined with the tight discipline of the Romans and they destroyed the Iceni army.  80,000 British men, women, and children lay dead after the battle and Boudica herself took her own life by poison rather than be taken alive by the Romans.

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keirmartland.wordpress.com

Salah al-Din.  From the moment that Pope Urban II declared the first Christian crusade to reclaim the Holy land in 1096, Christendom and the forces of Islam were at war.  By 1099 the Kingdom of Jerusalem was formed, and under Christian control.  However, this long war was far from done.  Salah al-Din, known as Saladin to his Christian enemies, won his reputation by bringing Aleppo, Damascus and Mosul under his control until his eventual confrontation with the Christian forces at the battle of Hattin in 1187.  He was aided by his brilliant cavalry, the most famous of which were the Mamluks.  They were Turkish slave-soldiers purchased as young boys from Christian or Pagan regions, and trained in the art of cavalry warfare, taught Arabic, and encouraged to convert to Islam.

The battle of Hattin was decisive in his favour, capturing King Guy of Jerusalem.  Salah al-Din took control of Jerusalem and many of the crusader held kingdoms but Christendom wasn’t ready to give up control of the Holy Land and so another crusade, this time under Richard 1st “the Lion-heart” was formed.  The conflict lasted another 100 years as the fortunes of each side ebbed and flowed, but by 1297 when Acre fell to Muslim forces, the crusades could be said to be done.

Robert the Bruce_bbc.co.uk

bbc.co.uk

Robert the Bruce.  People my wonder why I have choosen Robert the Bruce as a Scottish rebel, rather than William Wallace who started the revolt against Edward I of England’s overlordship of Scotland.  But I think William Wallace had had enough praise in recent years with Mel Gibson’s (vastly inaccurate) film of his life.  So I think it’s important to recognise the role Robert the Bruce played in giving Scotland their independence.

Although Robert the Bruce supported Wallace’s rebellion, after it failed, Edward I didn’t confiscate his lands, and instead Bruce became a guardian of Scotland in Edward’s name.  However, Bruce argued and then killed on of his fellow guardians – John Red Comyn and found himself on the wrong side of the law, being pursued by Edward I and excommunicated by the Pope.

Bruce crowned himself King of the Scots in 1306 but after a defeat to Edward I at Methven, he was forced to flee to an Island off the coast of Ireland.  His wife and daughters were captured and imprisoned while his brothers were executed.  Whilst in hiding, Bruce allegedly was inspired by a spider that refused to give up making its web despite adversity, and this gave Bruce the strength of will to return to his homeland.  Bruce began a very successful guerrilla war against the pro-English forces, and when Edward I died, to be replaced by his far weaker and less capable son, the war began to turn in Bruce’s favour.  After taking several English fortresses and rendering them useless to the English invaders, Bruce met Edwards II’s forces at the battle of Bannockburn. The Scots won a resounding victory and Edward II fled the country.

Bruce took the final English stronghold in 1318 and when Edward II was deposed by his own wife Isabella in 1327 the English finally renounced their claim to the Scottish throne.

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flinttowncouncil.co.uk

Owain Glyn Dwr. He was descended from the former Princes of Powys, but despite being of grand Welsh heritage Owain Glyn Dwr didn’t begin life as an obvious candidate to spark revolution against the English crown that ruled Wales in the fifteenth century.  In fact he fought for many English wars against the Scots and served in the English fleet.

However, when Henry IV of England seised the throne from Richard II, forces moved against Owain.  Not one to be pushed around, Owain declared himself Prince of Wales and led the great Welsh revolt of the 1400’s against Henry IV’s rule.

A brilliant commander he initially only united a small band of followers, but his successes led to the revolt spreading throughout Northern and central Wales.  Great victories followed at Mynydd Hyddgen and Bryn Glas and led to the revolt uniting the whole of Wales, as seasoned warriors returned from fighting England’s wars to stand for Owain and Wales.

Eventually however, Owain’s lack of a naval fleet and any artillery of note, prevented him from taking many of the vital English fortresses along the coast.  These fortresses gave the English King the upper hand, and forced Owain into hiding.  He then disappears from history, despite many vast rewards by the English king for his capture.  He was never betrayed or captured, leading to legends that he will at one time return….

 

Somewhere to write…

So far in this blog I’ve written a few articles on the process I use when I write, the aspects of writing that are important to me, and also how I avoid issues such as writers block.  This time I want to discuss WHERE I write.  This may seem strange topic, as everyone’s situation is different, and a where a writer lives should never be a hindrance to writing – after all, most of my writing is done from my South London flat which is hardly exceptional.  However, sometimes London doesn’t provide the necessary inspiration, or the peace and tranquility to write my best work.  It may be because I am approaching a particularly difficult section of a novel, or I just feel flat and not in the correct frame of mind.  In these situations there is just one place for me to go, and that is my family’s cottage in Northumberland.  Far from the nearest city or town, the cottage truly is isolated in the Cheviot Hills, alone on a hilltop miles from the nearest village with only a church and graveyard for company next door.

Many writers have somewhere special that they can go to when they write, it may be secluded like mine, or a favourite holiday destination, or even just a particular library or café they use.  Each writer is different, but I would like to explain why this particular cottage in Northumberland is so special to me, and why it will always be the place I go to when I need an added boost of inspiration.

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My cottage is old – very old.  The sharp eyed amongst you may believe you can date the cottage by the 17th Century doorway and lower ground floor windows.  However, you’d be wrong, because these were later additions to the building.  Originally there were no windows on the ground level, an outline of a stone staircase and doorway are still visible at the back of the hours and this used to be the only entrance to the building.  This design is consistent with that of a Peel tower, one of the many small fortresses that were necessary along the English-Scottish border, in order to repel invaders come to rustle each other’s sheep or cattle.  In fact, old maps my grandfather researched, found evidence of a building on this site as far back as 1253, so the foundations of this place at the very least are of an age dating back many centuries.

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The hostility between the Scots and English over the centuries cannot be over emphasised and the lawless nature of the borderlands are still shown in the out-buildings of the cottage in the form of arrow slits in order to keep their neighbours out. This also required the old house to have very thick walls, thick enough to repel a forced entry. These walls incidentally come in very handy keeping the ferocious Northumbrian wind at bay.

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However, the problems for the inhabitants of this house in the past didn’t only come from the Scots.  When England turned protestant in the 16th Century, the borderlands were slow to take up with the new faith, meaning that the catholic priests often had to hide from protestant soldiers that came looking for them.  These hiding places came to be known as priest holes, and this cottage is full of them.  There is one burrowed into the thick walls of the building….

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and another secret room that originally could only be entered through the above secret tunnel, that you got to via climbing through the fireplace and up the chimney.

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We also have plenty of family emblems, such as the family’s crest of my mother’s maiden name, Catto, which was that of the Scottish wild cat.

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Plus some pictures of worthy Brooke’s and Catto’s from the past.

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But as well as being a very historically significant house, it is also charming and lovely, somewhere to curl up in front of the fire when you want to take a break from writing.

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But most inspiring of all, is the view.  Every day waking up to see this – it can’t help but inspire you to write.

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Even if you might need a companion to keep you safe from ghosts from the graveyard next door…

 

 

 

The characters of Game of Thrones are what make it..

What makes Game of Thrones such a fascinating and exciting series, in both the books and the TV series, is the vast array of brilliantly conceived characters, with unique backgrounds and complex personalities.  A great lesson, to anyone wishing to write a novel, is to look at the great breadth of characters, and how the story comes alive due to their differing nature and personal values. I couldn’t possibly describe them all, but here are a few.

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Daenerys. One of the most intriguing characters in Game of Thrones is the exiled queen across the sea, who we follow as she builds support in foreign lands in the hope of one day reclaiming her rightful crown of the Seven Kingdoms.  The reason she is so intriguing is seeing the progression of her character.  She moves from naïve young girl, being advised by Sir Jorah, through a young marriage to a Dothraki Khal, and into a regal and valiant queen capable of both great empathy with her subjects and terrible wrath with those who cross her.  A Great example of how a character can develop through a series of novels, as the events of her story change and mould her.

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John Snow.  The lot of an illegitimate son or daughter in Westeros isn’t an easy one.  Even the names they take in the Seven Kingdoms reflect the status of their birth – Rivers for those born in the Riverlands, Stone for the Eyrie, Flowers for Highgarden, Sand for Dorn, and importantly for the storyline, Snow for those born in the North.  John Snow is the illegitimate son of Eddard Stark, the one reminder to the world that his father wasn’t quite as honourable as he appeared.  Brought up in Winterfell, he signs up for the Nights Watch rather than face the scorn and injustice of life in his father’s service.  The storyline of John Snow is slightly separated from the rest of the Seven Kingdoms as he serves his watch on the Wall and combats the Wildlings who live beyond it and the increasing menace of the terrifying White Walkers, an ancient evil that has returned to the land North of the Wall.  John’s story is intermingled with his own story, as he contends with the bigotry towards his birth and his own personal battle to remain faithful to his vows as he falls for a Wildling from across the Wall.

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Cersei.  The beautiful twin of Jaime Lannister, who married Robert Baratheon to become the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.  Seemingly she has it all, looks, wealth, three beautiful children all with the same golden hair to match her own (and her twin brothers!).   However, appearances can be deceptive.  Her cruelty and arrogance mask a very unhappy existence as Robert’s queen, due to her drunken and often abusive husband.  Her decision to seek solstice in the arms of her own bother lead to the events that will ultimately tear the Seven Kingdoms apart.

I like Cersei.  When you think of the scheming characters or treacherous betrayals that make Game of Thrones so intriguing it is Cersei who springs to mind.  Her beauty is only matched by her cruelty and ruthlessness, and her hatred of her younger brother Tyrion only adds to her appeal as an arch villain.

 

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forums.penny.arcade.com

Eddard. When you first start the Game of Thrones series – either the books or the TV adaptation – it is easy to think that the story will go along the normal traditional path you’d expect of good triumphing over evil.  Eddard is the honourable, honest, and decent man who is prepared to do the right thing in order to serve the throne and the realm.  Surely his inherent good and strong heart will ultimately prevail against the villainous plots of the conniving Lannisters?  When King Joffrey chops Eddard’s head off in King’s landing we realise that this story is not about to go along traditional paths.

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Joffrey.  King Joffrey, the (supposed) son of King Baratheon and Queen Cersei is the king everyone loves to hate.  He is more than just mean and cruel, his arrogant malevolence and spiteful nature merely mask his own stupidity as he proceeds to alienate more and more of his allies who helped put him on the throne.  Impossible to like, Joffrey makes the perfect evil and loathsome King.

SansaStark_en.wikipedia.org

en.wikipedia.org

Sansa.  Oh dear, Sansa, awful Sansa.  Everyone hates reading these chapters.  Boring and wet, Sansa Stark is also annoying and stupidly sides with Joffrey and Queen Cersei against her own family.  She belatedly learns the error of her ways when they chop her father’s head off, but it’s a bit late by then.  Gradually she grows a backbone through adversity, but still remains annoying at times.  Works as a good foil to all the nastier, crueler characters that surround her, showing that you still need a balance between light and shade.

JaimeLannister_en.wikipedia.org

en.wikipedia.org

Jaime. Jaime is one of my favourite characters.  This is quite surprising considering that when we first meet him he is caught having sex with his sister and throws a young child out of a window, crippling him for life.  Known as the Kingslayer for dispensing with the last king whilst serving as a member of the honoured Kingsguard.

However, despite Jaime’s many crimes he begins to grow on you.  The clever way that Game of Thrones is written means you learn the motives behind his king-slaying and soon his misunderstood life begins to make sense.  He is both funny and charming, and wins you over with his bouts of heroism and occasionally glimpsed honour.  The path of redemption is often a long hard road, but a fascinating one for all that.  It just shows that there is always two sides to every story.

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Tyrion.  Has there ever been a more surprising character to become the readers and viewers favourite?  Tyrion a dwarf, nicknamed the Imp, is clever and shrewed, he is also funny and his sharp wit is a constant companion as he plots his way through the series.  It is impossible not to root for him as he successfully defends King’s landing at the battle of the Blackwater and leads the defenders with supreme courage.

Tyrion is a wonderful example that heroes come in all shapes and sizes and that writers needn’t concern themselves with common conventions on how a hero should look.  Tyrion is never able to be a great swordsman like his brother, and yet he strides through the novels becoming the character that most readers look forward to reading most.

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gameofthrones.wikia.com

Tywin.  There can’t be many more menacing and terrifying characters as the head of the Lannister family.  He doesn’t intimidate by acts of petty cruelty (like Joffrey) or imposing skill at arms (Jaime) but by his authority, imposing intellect, inherent seriousness, but most of all by his colossal force of will.  A brilliant character in the novels, he is taken onto a new level by the brilliant portrayal by Charles Dance in the TV series.  Impossible not to get the shivers when thinking of him.

 

 

 

 

An interview with Thomas Brooke, author of Roman Mask

I’ve appeared in a interview on the website womanontheedgeofreality.com

Linda Parkinson-Hardman

Thomas Brooke lives in London where he works in the exciting, and sometimes crazy, fashion world.  He is also a committed writer and he spends as much time as he can in his beloved Northumbrian hills. Roman Mask is Thomas Brooke’s second novel and is set it classical Rome.

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The amazing Game of Thrones TV series: This changes everything.

Whilst travelling in Australia back in 1999, I started reading the first novel in the series of a Song of Ice and Fire.  This novel was of course Game of Thrones, and I knew straight away that this book was something that went beyond any normal fantasy epic – this was excitement bound up with characters of rare depth and intrigue, and a story of such magnificence that it could rise to the top of the fantasy genre.  Little did I expect back then however, that Game of Thrones would change the rules in how we now define commercial success.

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However, when I first heard that HBO were going to make a TV adaptation of one of my favourite fantasy series, my overwhelming thought was not one of enthusiasm or anticipation, instead it was trepidation – please don’t let them mess it up!  Why the lack of faith?  Apart from the obvious fear that they might try and dumb it down or water down the more shocking bits (Ha! If anything, they made it more shocking!) my reticence was due to a number of factors.  Firstly, how could any TV series possibly capture the sheer scale and magnitude of Games of Thrones?  The gigantic castles, the armour, the costumes, the number of sets needed would be astronomical, even in our CGI aided days.  And yet they managed it and I don’t think anyone could have possibly done it any better.  They captured the heart of Westeros so completely that as soon as I now hear the opening title sequence to the show I’m instantly transported into George R R Martin’s marvellous magical realm.

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My second worry was based around the characters.  The reason I enjoyed the novels so much was that the personalities of the main characters were so well defined and described, and I worried they wouldn’t survive the transition onto the screen.  It is the age old worry of any adaptation, that your favourite character might not be shown how you originally imagined them and that this may in some way shatter your own immersion in the story.  I shouldn’t have worried, the casting was inspired, characters such as Daenerys, John Snow, Jaime and Cersei Lannister are captured so completely and perfectly that I now can’t imagine them in any other way.  As for Tyrion and Tywin Lannister, well I can only say that Peter Dinklage and Charles Dance did such an incredible job in portraying them that they have become the embodiment of brilliantly realised fantasy characterisations.  No mean feat considering that Tyrion was considered most people’s favourite character in the novels and therefore the expectations were that much higher.

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My third worry is the only one that still bothers me, and that was that the novels are still not finished.  At first this wasn’t too much of a concern as they had so many novels and material to get through that George R R Martin should have had plenty of time to finish the books first.  After all, for all the brilliance of the TV series, the books will always be the real place where Westoros resides – it’s just because in books your immersion can be so much greater as you learn every detail, thought, and motive of each twist and turn in the story.  I hadn’t realised however, how much of George R R Martin’s time would be taken up working on the TV adaptation.  So much so that the TV series is set to overtake the novels and that the final climax to the amazing story will be shown on screen first.  This I think is a shame, and I did feel a little betrayed when I heard the news.  When I first started reading the books, I began to think that at one time they would become a fantasy literary classic that could be mentioned in the same breath as The Lord of the Rings.  But will the last novels even be written now?  Who really knows, and even if they are, will the same amount of work and attention be put into them as the earlier novels that so completely managed to capture my imagination in the first place?

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But I don’t want to throw cold water on what is a brilliantly actualised television series, the sort of televisual feast that I could have only dreamed of growing up.  It has been so successful that countless millions of new fans have been brought over to the fantasy genre, fulfilling the long held wish of mine, that finally people wake up to fantasy and realise the amazing talent and brilliance of fantasy authors throughout the world.  It has become the new benchmark for success and it shows that the mass appeal of fantasy novels no longer has any boundaries.  It’s been wonderful to watch this series unfold before me, I just wish he’d finished writing the books first….

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Next week, I will wrap up my Games of Thrones series with a breakdown of my favourite characters from the series and my thoughts on them.

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Game of Thrones: What makes the novels so good?

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Gravitas – One of the problems that fantasy novels often face is that books from this genre are not taken as seriously as novels from other genres.  This is completely unfair and does a disservice to a great and vibrant genre that has so many fantastic and imaginative authors.  However, as unfair as this may be, this reputation still persists.  Game of Thrones doesn’t suffer from this prejudice as much as some novels however.  So how has George R R Martin managed to gain gravitas from a cynical world?  The answer in part is due to the complex family histories and rivalries that course through the books, so reminiscent of the power struggles of Medieval Europe, such as the War of the Roses in Medieval England.  The Wall is clearly identifiable as an extreme version of Hadrian’s Wall, and the tourneys and heraldry of the knights are believable because they are so recognisable from the history of our world.  The complexity and research put into these books are so rich and thorough that it can’t help lend the world of Westeros depth and authenticity.

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picture from deadgrotty.tumblr.com

Realistic Magic – Fantasy novels are so appealing because authors can imbue their worlds with magic.  It opens up a primeval part of us that desires the raw power and mystery of the arcane arts.  However, how well this is done is often either the making or breaking of a successful fantasy novel.  The magic of Game of Thrones is clever, realistic, and believable.  It is often subtle, such as the burning of leaches, engorged with king’s blood that puts a curse on the false pretenders to the throne of Westeros.  However, it can also be more overt, such as with the dragons of Daenerys, either way, the magic is treated with respect and never becomes over the top or seem ridiculous.  Magic depicted with a soft hand is often the stronger for it.

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picture from pondly.com

Spectacle – Before he started writing Game of Thrones, George R R Martin had a career script writing in Hollywood, often being told that budgetary constraints prevented his more outlandish and spectacular ideas making the screen.   Therefore he decided to write a set of novels, where his wildest imagination could run wild without the least consideration to cost or practicality.  In fact, he claimed that when he wrote Game of Thrones it was with the intention that any film adaptation would be completely impossible – which of course is ironic, looking at the success of the television adaptation (more of that next week).  Either way, the sheer scale and grander of the castles, armies, and cities of the Game of Thrones world is breath-taking as each castle outdoes the last in terms of majesty and scale.

George R R Martin also knows how to write fantastic scenes of spectacle such as the unforgettable tourney scenes when the great knights of the seven kingdoms meet on chargers and match lance against one another.

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picture from theinquisitiveloon.blogspot.com

Sex – okay, the sex in the books is nowhere near as pronounced as in the television series, but it still plays a massive part in making the series so exciting.  It isn’t just that the sex scenes are well done (which they are) it’s the fact that sex plays such a central role in the politics between the warring families (and within those same families) running through virtually every plotline and subplot.  Sex in Game of Thrones isn’t just about titillation and a few racy chapters, it’s about power and how sex can be used for good or ill in a complex game of strategy and domination.  It’s a very sex obsessed world we live in, why would George R R Martin’s be any different from our own?

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picture from buzzfeed.com

Unpredictability – from the first novel, when they chop off the head of Ned Stark, you realise this is a very different series of books from what you’d normally expect from novels of this type.  The shocks keep on coming, with the Red Wedding, and the string of patricides and regicides.  No one can really predict how it will end, as no one can know with complete certainty who will be left standing at the end.

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Picture from buzzfeed.com

Characters – finally we come to the real strength of Game of Thrones.  As great and powerful as all the other factors are in making the books compelling, it is the characters within the story that make it really come alive.  Each character is well thought out, with strong characteristics, have fascinating back stories and real, genuine, personalities of their own.  The clever writing style, that changes the point of view each chapter between the various characters, gives the reader a thorough insight into each characters motives and ambitions.

It just shows, the secret of great writing isn’t really a secret at all – its still, and always will be, about the characters.

Next week I will discuss the television series, what the legacy of Game of Thrones may be, and how its success may have changed how we view fantasy novels.

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picture from hdimagelib.com