Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Desert Spear

AuthorPeter V. Brett

Pages: 608
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: April 13, 2010
ISBN-10: 0345503813
ISBN-13: 978-0345503817

Interview with Peter V. Brett

When buzz first began to build about Peter V. Brett, it wasn’t his debut novel, The Warded Man (REVIEW), everyone was talking about. Rather, it was about the Blackberry-like device he wrote the majority of the novel on, during his morning commute. Once readers got their hands on The Warded Man, the seriousness of Brett’s achievement became readily apparent – not only had he written a novel during his morning commute, using little more than his thumbs, he’d written a good novel during his morning commute. A damn good novel.

The Warded Man snuck its way onto my Best Novels of 2009 list. I was taken in by the strong characters, the easy pace and the imaginative magic system. The success of Brett’s debut was a surprise to everyone, but with that success comes a lot of pressure, placed squarely on the shoulders of The Desert Spear, Brett’s second novel and sequel to The Warded Man.

The opening chapters of The Desert Spear begin on the right foot, promising a novel that is everything The Warded Man was and more. Telling the life story of Jardir, a villanous character in The Warded Man, Brett pulls back the curtain on the absolutely brutal Krasian culture. A ruthless caste system, organized sodomy and rape, friends and family pit against each other in the name of honour, Krasia makes the lands predominantly featured in The Warded Man look tame in comparison. He takes Jardir, a character easy to hate, and pits him against a violent culture, creating empathy where I never thought I’d find any.

Easily the strongest part of the novel, Brett’s prose and language evolves, wrapping itself honestly about the storytelling and bringing a maturity to the novel that sets him in line with contemporaries like Joe Abercrombie and Richard Morgan. It’s after Jardir’s tale, when the tale catches up to the familiar tale of Leesha, Rojer and Arlen that things start to go south.
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Bearers of the Black Staff by Terry Brooks

“For more than three decades, New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks has ruled the epic fantasy realm with his legendary Shannara series. With each new novel the mythos has deepened, ever more fascinating characters have arisen, and increasingly breathtaking vistas of magical adventure have emerged. Now, in Bearers of the Black Staff, the revelatory Genesis of Shannara cycle continues the evolution of the most beloved world in imaginative fiction.

Five hundred years have passed since the devastating demon-led war that tore apart the United States, leaving nothing but scorched and poisoned ruins and nearly exterminating humankind. Those who escaped the carnage and blight were led to sanctuary by the boy savior known as Hawk—the gypsy morph. In an idyllic valley, its borders warded by powerful magic against the horrors beyond, humans, elves, and mutants alike found a place they believed would be their home forever.

But after five centuries, the unimaginable has come to pass: the cocoon of protective magic surrounding the valley has vanished. When Sider Ament, only surviving descendant of the Knights of the Word, detects unknown predators stalking the valley, he fears the worst. And when Panterra Qu and Prue Liss, expert Trackers from the human village of Glensk Wood, find two of their own gruesomely killed, there can be no doubt: the once safe haven of generations has been laid bare and vulnerable to whatever still lurks in the wasteland of the outside world.

Together, Ament, the two young Trackers and a daring Elf princess race to spread word of the encroaching danger—and spearhead plans to defend their ancestral home. But suspicion and hostility among their countrymen threaten to doom their efforts from within. While beyond the breached borders, a ruthless Troll army masses for invasion. And in response, the last wielder of the black staff and its awesome magic must find a successor to carry on the fight against the cresting new wave of evil.”

A little while ago, a black and white version of this cover leaked. Now, we’ve got the final version (notice the staff has changed) in glorious colour! It’s like the 1960’s all over again.

The art, as always, is by Steve Stone.

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

As they are wont to do, Orbit Books have done a fancy ‘Cover Launch’ for Joe Abercrombie‘s upcoming novel, The Heroes. Despite my reservations for Best Served Cold, this is is one of my most anticipated novels of next year.

Still a little too obvious and gratuitous for me, but certainly a better realization of the concept first attempted with Orbit’s release of Best Served Cold. It’s reminiscent of Dragon Age: Origins. The art in the, uhh… blood, is by Steve Stone.

You might notice the map is that of Styria, from Best Served Cold, which will be changing to a map of the North once the art is done.

War: where the blood and dirt of the battlefield hide the dark deeds committed in the name of glory. THE HEROES is about violence and ambition, gruesome deaths and betrayals; and the brutal truth that no plan survives contact with enemy. The characters are the stars, as ever, and the message is dark: when it comes to war, there are no heroes…


Curnden Craw: a ruthless fighter who wants nothing more than to see his crew survive.

Prince Calder: a liar and a coward, he will regain his crown by any means necessary.

Bremer dan Gorst: a master swordsman, a failed bodyguard, his honor will be restored—in the blood of his enemies.

Over three days, their fates will be sealed.

An Abercrombie, in a comment on a recent blog post, reveals a bevvy of returning characters:

Lots of familiar faces. More so than last time, in fact. Among the central cast are Bremer dan Gorst and Prince Calder. In significant roles are Caul Shivers, Black Dow, Kroy, Jalenhorm, and Bayaz. Plus a galaxy of more minor returning players.

I’m glad to see Shivers back, as his character arc in Best Served Cold left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. More Bayaz is curious, making me wonder whether it’ll tie into the overall mythos of Abercrombie’s world a little more solidly than Best Served Cold.

Joe also updates us on the status of the novel:

I’ve just started the final part of five, and hope to have the whole first draft finished by the end of April or thereabouts. There’ll then be a period of heavy cutting down and revision in which I’ll bring the earlier parts of the book into line with how my sense of it has developed as I’ve gone along. Part of the charm of writing standalone books is that you can revise the whole thing in one go, and you’re therefore free to plunge ahead to the end, and see where you stand without worrying too much about the start. The downside, of course, is that the start then needs to be whipped into line in quite a big way. Certain themes have emerged as important and need more emphasis in the earlier sections. Certain characters have proved important and need to be fleshed out earlier on. Others have proved unimportant and need to be cut, particularly since it’s an epic kind of affair with a whole lot of characters, and a bit of simplification wouldn’t hurt. The personalities of the central cast and the methods for their writing have developed over time, and so they need to be brought into line and made consistent. The secondary characters need to be given more focused personalities, styles of expression, physical characteristics that can quickly distinguish them and lodge them in the reader’s head – particularly important when there are so many to keep track of.

This is the bit of the process I most enjoy, in fact. Taking something that’s a bit of a mess and sharpening it up, cutting it down, refining and improving it, drawing out the central points and cutting away the superfluous ones (hopefully). Taking the uncut gemstone and polishing it to a brilliant diamond, you might say. Or at any rate a flashy zirconium. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the way it’s going. A few months ago I was concerned that it would end up really long – quite possibly my longest book yet. It’s drawn together a bit towards the end, though, and I’m intent on pruning it down as much as I possibly can in the editing, hoping to bring it in somewhere around the 210,000 mark. Still considerable, but not quite up to Best Served Cold or Last Argument of Kings, which were both around the 230,000.

Encouraging news. Every writer’s different. As someone who’s just moving on to the revising stage on my own work-in-progress, it’s encouraging to know that writer’s like Abercrombie refine their novels so heavily after the first drafts. There’s certainly a level of polish in Abercrombie’s novels that hints towards a very serious level of polishing and revising. Though his characters might hate to hear it, those novels are a labour of love, from the sounds of it!

The cover of the 2011 A Song of Ice and Fire calendar

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Ted Nasmith (along with Alan Lee) defined Middle Earth for me. The images he crafted had as much an impact on my young self as Tolkien’s words, and helped to utterly immerse me in a Fantasy land like few other books have achieved. To say my love for Middle Earth extends beyond the man who wrote the books would be an understatement.

The back of the 2011 A Song of Ice and Fire Calendar

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To see Nasmith turn his eye towards Westeros, the world of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, is an absolute fangasm. I haven’t needed a calendar in years, but one this pretty might just find its way onto the wall of my office.

Gardens of the Moon by Steven EriksonThough he has no website of his own, Steven Erikson is in the midst of blogging over at Life as a Human. In the latest in his series of articles title Notes on a Crisis, Erikson digs deep into his craft.

What’s neat is that he does so by taking an excerpt from his upcoming novel, The Crippled God, the final volume of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, and breaks down what one short scene can reveal about the structure and thought process necessary to build a much (much, much, much) longer piece of fiction.

In a general sense, I write elliptically. By that I mean I open sections with some detail I want to resonate throughout the entire section, and through the course of writing that section you can imagine me tapping that bell again and again. Until with the final few lines, I ring it one last time – sometimes hard, sometimes soft, depending on the effect I want, or feel is warranted. It’s become such a habit now that I often do it without conscious thought.

On a most basic level it shows up in paragraphs (and no, there’s nothing unique to me in any of this). Look two paragraphs upward on this screen. The opening line talks about multiple points of view; the last line describes the many ways of seeing the world. But that last line isn’t just reiterating the first one. Something is added (in this case, a personal comment on my desire to experience every one of them). It’s probably the only structural lesson I learned in school that I still use on occasion – the whole introductory and concluding sentences to frame a paragraph.

Anyway, extrapolating this pattern is how I write — within a scene, from section to section, from chapter to chapter, from novel to novel. While the narrative infers something linear, as in the advancement of time and a sequence of events, in fact the narrative loops back on itself again and again. And each time it returns, the timbre of that resonance has changed, sometimes subtly, sometimes fundamentally.

I read somewhere that Scott Bakker has recently complained that I’m repeating myself in my series, but he’s missing the point. It’s more that I return again and again to particular themes, from as many perspectives as I can. Maybe it still rates as a flaw in my writing, but it’s also my whole point in writing. Forget the conceit of hunting for the right answers – let’s start with trying to find the right questions. Personally, I doubt I will ever get past that stage; for me, the more ways I discover of looking at something, the more humbling the whole exercise becomes (Think you got the answers? Sorry, don’t believe you. Never will).

Elliptical. Looping back. It can be an image, a detail of setting, a mood or flavour, a particular action, or an idea. There’s countless ways of coming round back to where you started, and I admit I like the sly ones, though sometimes it pays to be more obvious.

Erikson’s comments on Bakker’s observations are interesting (in no small part due to the fact that Erikson was a large influence on Bakker first being published), and reveal a little bit about why his series encompasses ten massive volumes. As he says, some readers consider this repetition to be a flaw in his writing (which is somewhat my issue with the Malazan books, though I’ve only read two); but if it’s the point he’s trying to make, then how does one judge whether the Malazan books are a success? Do you care if he achieves his personal goals of recursive reflection if it gets in the way of proper storytelling? Do you like his novels because of the themes and the similarities in the characters’ internal battles? Or do you like it because even the weakest of his characters could rend the world in half on a cranky day?

Whatever the case, Erikson goes into a fairly in-depth analysis of the excerpt, picking apart the structure and language he uses and gives rather lucid and insightful consideration to the nitty-gritty decisions made by writers almost every day. Will it be useful to everybody? Maybe not, Erikson has a very defined style. But it’s certainly a revealing look at the process behind one of the most complex, convoluted and, well… huge fantasy series on the market today.

You can read the whole article, and the excerpt, HERE.