Cheating at Characterisation…

No, not this Thing. This Thing is awesome and cute and more than slightly hilarious.

There’s this Thing.

It’s an irritating Thing. A far-too-prevalent Thing. I’d all but forgotten about it until recently, when I came across it again in one of the books from my TBR pile.

It sounded like a good book, so I was reasonably anticipatory as I flipped to the first chapter. It was a solid first chapter, fluffy and bright and quite a bit of fun. There were glimmerings of decent characterisation, and the setting was an interesting one with some fun ideas I hadn’t seen before.

I actually quite enjoyed it until I started seeing the Thing in chapter two. At first, it was just a touch or two of the Thing. Nothing too obvious. Just an edging here or there that could have just been a character being different. Then I got to chapter four and the Thing burst onto the scene in all its warty annoyance, unmistakable and unavoidable.

First, one of the MCs was introduced. She was a politically loud, rebellious, environmentally proactive MC, trying hard to do the right thing by sourcing ethically produced products for her store. She had a habit of talking down to anyone and about anyone who didn’t align exactly with her politics.

Okay, I thought. She’s kinda annoying, but she’s also really energetic and even if she’s a bit preachy and self-righteous, people tend to grow up. Besides which, I’m the kind of reader that can appreciate an MC that isn’t perfect. And even if I didn’t agree with the way she put across her opinions, I agreed with and could appreciate quite a few of them.

Then the main bad guy was introduced. How did I know he was the main bad guy? He was introduced as ‘ranting’ about Trump, illegal immigrants, and one or two other hot-button topics of today’s world.

I groaned. I mean, I seriously, literally groaned. Not the Thing. Please, not the Thing!

But it was the Thing. The author was introducing all the ‘evil’ or ‘unpleasant’ characters as those who held to a certain set of political views and/or ethical beliefs, while introducing all the ‘good’ or ‘right’ characters as those of (I assume) the author’s own preferred beliefs. It didn’t stop with one or two characters, and it didn’t get any better from there on in.

I haven’t seen a more egregious example of the Thing since re-reading Louise Lawrence’s Chronicles of Llandor. I loved those books as a kid. There are some books that give more with age, but those books unfortunately only gave annoyance. You knew a character was bad simply because they advocated eating meat. And you knew when a ‘good’ character was going to the bad because they would start to think eating meat wasn’t quite so bad, or that perhaps killing an enemy who was trying kill their friends wasn’t so bad.

It wasn’t so much a case of politics being included in the storyline so much as a bit of story being included in the politics. And, just as with the first book I mentioned, it was being used as a shorthand form of characterisation.

I’m not a person who thinks politics and religion and Stuff That Matters should be kept out of books. My own books are hardly free from threads and themes (though not overt ones) that tie directly back to my heritage and growth as a Christian. Of course, the odds are, if you have a differing political/religious/Thing opinion than me, I will enjoy your books less–especially if you choose to use your books to low-key preach at me. It will not, however, stop me reading your books.

What will stop me reading your books is the use of political/religious/Thing as character development or characterisation. If your character is a bad guy just because he supports Trump/supports free immigration/opposes abortion/supports gay marriage/whatever, or if you use any of these as shorthand for what a horrible person s/he is, I will stop reading. Because that’s not characterisation. That’s laziness.

Also, newsflash: people aren’t the sum of their opinions. People are a mix of good and bad, and just because someone supports the death penalty, it doesn’t mean they’re out murdering puppies in the street. Characterisation means drawing people who have a mix of good and bad in them: things they struggle with, stupid ideas they support until they know better/because they’re too stubborn to change.

Characterisation is one of the most amazing things about Lloyd Alexander’s The Kestrel. (It’s the 2nd book in the Westmark trilogy–yes, I read it first, I’m an idiot; no, I haven’t read the 1st or 3rd yet, I’m not yet ready for the emotional damage that I know is coming). The characters, each on their side of the war–at times uneasy allies, at times enemies, at all times spectacularly human–are all such a mix of good and bad. The good make bad decisions, do wrong things, experience the fallout of their wrong decisions. The bad have both good and bad parts: their opinions are sometimes morally evil and sometimes morally good. Not all the bad guys believe the same thing. The good guys aren’t all united under the same umbrella. They each have their own motivations, and it is, in the end, their actions that define how they are seen.

Please. Please. Authors. Don’t do the Thing. The Thing is lazy. It’s irritating. It’s Bad Writing.

It needs to die.

Leading Ladies of Fantasy Storybundle

THE LEADING LADIES FANTASY BUNDLE

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The Leading Ladies Fantasy Bundle – Curated by Charlotte E. English

You know how it goes. There’s one female character in the book, and she’s someone’s love interest. She’s given little to do and less to wear. She has no good lines, and nothing to contribute save her helplessness.

These are not those stories.

This year, I wanted to champion the kind of great, riveting fantasy which doesn’t sideline the ladies. Happily, indie fantasy has absolutely masses to offer. I’ve assembled some of my favourite books by some of my favourite authors, every one of which offers somebody memorable, vivid and real to spend time with.

In these tales of derring-do, the ladies have stepped firmly out of the background. Not every story is female-led, though many are. In some of these books, they’re taking centre stage and rocking it. In others, it’s a supporting cast of women that shines.

I have for you an aristocratic amateur sleuth and a wayward forest witch from W. R. Gingell; a top mathematician and codebreaker from Lindsay Buroker; and from Joseph Robert Lewis and J. Zachary Pike, elf ladies as we’ve never seen them before. There’s a cursed princess from Annie Bellet, a brilliant scholarly mage from Rachel Cotterill, and a cast of wizards, necromancers and dragons from Joseph Lallo. And from me, there’s a predominantly female team of wily masqueraders with a grand mystery to solve.

These books cover a range of fantasy sub-genres, from comic to epic to romantic to adventure fantasy. They’ll take you to diverse fantasy worlds, and show you how spectacular leading ladies can be. – Charlotte E. English

The initial titles in the Leading Ladies Fantasy Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:

  • Elf Saga – Doomsday (Omnibus Edition) by Joseph Robert Lewis
  • The D’Karon Apprentice by Joseph R. Lallo
  • Watersmeet by Rachel Cotterill
  • Masque by W.R. Gingell
  • Encrypted – Forgotten Ages Book 1 by Lindsay Buroker

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus five more!

  • Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike
  • Seven Dreams by Charlotte E. English
  • Gryphonpike Chronicles Volume 1: The Barrows by Annie Bellet
  • Wolfskin by W.R. Gingell
  • Decrypted – Forgotten Ages Book 2 by Lindsay Buroker

And as a special bonus for our newsletter subscribers, we’re giving away a free copy of Jo Lallo’s The Book of Deacon Anthology, which includes the entire Book of Deacon trilogy as well as Jade, a short novel set after the events of The Book of Deacon, The Rise of the Red Shadow, a prequel to the trilogy, and more! Did we mention that it’s free?

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.

  • Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now!
  • Receive extra books: If you beat the bonus price, you’ll get the bonus books!

StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.

For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook.

The Crooked Path by Harriet Goodchild: Mini-Review & Author Interview

Today I’m wishing a very Happy Publication Week to Harriet Goodchild, whose gorgeously poetic The Crooked Path is out this week! I’ve previously read and greatly enjoyed two of Harriet’s short story compilations, so when I was given the opportunity to snag an ARC of The Crooked Path, of course I jumped at it.

Harriet was also kind enough to join me today for a mini-interview, during which we discuss the links between poetry/folksong and writing, given the highly poetic feel of The Crooked Path. Keep scrolling for blurb, mini-review, and interview!

The Book

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Stories link together. What is done in one time and place spreads out across the world to shape the future: there is never a single beginning, never a simple end.

But, since this tale must have a beginning, let it be when a potter carves a creature from dreams and driftwood.

It carries him to a place where fair faces conceal foul intent, where two kings guard the firstborn tree by night and day, where only a living man’s love can undo a dead man’s hatred.

And where, if he does not go carefully, the choices made in other times and places will cost him his life.

My Mini-Review

As previously mentioned, I’ve already read some of Harriet’s work. Those were all short stories, however; and as much as I enjoyed them (and I really did, despite the fact that some of the themes were not ones I would normally choose to read), The Crooked Path is by far and away my favourite. There are hints and references to the short stories in there, too, so it’s good to read each of them.

Firstly, the feel of it was incredibly evocative. It took me right back to the wonder and excitement with which I used to read The Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, with its amazing illustrations and magical adventures, and The Thousand and One Nights, with its alien culture and dark outcomes.

The prose itself was nothing short of gorgeous, as expected. Harriet has only grown as a writer since I read her short stories: she is one of the writers whose work constantly leaves me acutely aware of my own lack of finesse as a writer. Poetic, but spare; not a word wasted or out of place. And every spare, perfectly balanced sentence creates another layer in the dream that is The Crooked Path.

The story? Complex but simple. It’s the faery story of the girl who betrayed her faery lover, and must go through many trials and troubles to gain him back; but yet it’s more. There is an entirely loveable male MC who is satisfying to follow along on his adventures; by turns sensible and rash, and honestly ordinary in a perilously other world. Then there’s the dark female MC who is far from perfect and knows it. Oh, I loved the melody of this book; and I felt the harmony of it deep in my bones.

The conclusion: 5 out of 5 stars. I expected it to be wonderful, but it was even better than that.

The Interview

Harriet, when did you know for certain that you wanted to be a writer?

I was on holiday…

Actually, it wasn’t so much wanting as wondering whether I could write a novel rather than a paper. Scientific prose has to be concise, clear and grounded in what actually happened; it doesn’t lend itself to flights of fancy. Eventually, that holiday, I decided to stop wondering and started scribbling in my spare time. Gradually it got better and eventually it got to the point where I felt confident enough to share it.

Oh, that is not the answer I expected from someone whose writing is so poetical! There’s certainly a clarity of language to your books, but it’s entirely evocative. Speaking of poetry, how does your love of folksong and poetry play into your writing?

The folksongs give a mood, a dominant note for a character, perhaps, or an image to play with in the text. There’s also something of the pattern of folksongs in the way I structure the prose, the use of repetition and rhythm for effect, for instance, or the way one scene echoes another. Some songs have inspired stories, though the finished tale may lie anywhere along the line from a direct retelling to a mere nod in the direction of the original. Each chapter in my books and each short story has a verse from a folksong as an epigraph. Something from that song will be reflected in the following text, and all the songs together could be used as a playlist: consider it a type of cross-form intertextuality.

The poetry is more of an ideal. In poetry, there’s no space for sloppiness of thought: every word must count and every word must fit. One can say the same of prose, of course, but the elision and compression of poetry gives it an intensity and a heightened awareness of the world that prose rarely achieves. There are a few poets – Kathleen Raine and Robert Graves first among them – whose work I consider a touchstone for perfection. Raine’s work is suffused with landscape; reading it one sees the places as vividly as in a photograph and when I was living outside of Scotland I’d read them and wallow a little in homesickness. Graves is, I think, the finest lyric poet of the twentieth century. So much is captured in so little. It was, however, another poet, Michael Roberts, whose The Images of Death supplied the theme for The Crooked Path.

Do you play an instrument/s? If so, what? If not, what instrument would you most like to know how to play?

Alas, I don’t. I had years of piano lessons as a girl but made very little progress. The fine motor coordination it requires is beyond me. If I could play an instrument then it would be the fiddle. And if I could play one half as well as Aidan O’Rourke or Duncan Chisholm I would think I played it well indeed.

Yes. Fiddle is the best (I play the violin, but this conclusion should be considered in no way biased…) Music is a huge part of my writing, whether listening to it while I write or daydreaming along to it and sparking ideas. Music or no music for you when writing?

It depends. I used to listen to music as I wrote – folk music, of course, but also classical; Bach’s violin concertos and Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony were especially important when I was writing The Crooked Path. These days I tend to write in silence. If I’m editing a scene, though, I might have a particular song on repeat to help create the mood I need. Antisocial, I know. Fortunately I can put on headphones to avoid driving those around me to distraction. Right now, that song is John Doyle’s Farewell to All That. As its name suggests, it’s inspired by Robert Graves’ biography. It seems apposite.

Ah. I, too, love to isolate myself in my headphones when I can’t listen to music aloud. If we choose to call it ‘creative’ instead of ‘antisocial’, who’s to know the difference? *nodnod* A typical writing day will be kickstarted by any one of my favourite writing playlists. For you, what is a typical writing day like?

I write fiction round the edges of the rest of my life, fitting it in where and when I can. As such, there isn’t really a typical day. If I’m lucky, I’ll get an hour or two in the evenings. Sometimes I can write a lot in that time but it’s usually only a few hundred words – I write very, very slowly, rewriting and backtracking as I find my way through the story.

Making the adjustment from being an unpublished novelist to being published has been difficult and, lately, I’ve been struggling with writer’s block. The Crooked Path was more or less complete by the time After the Ruin was published but right now I’m revising the final book in that series. Writing it was very, very hard. I ended up forcing it out, like toothpaste from an all but empty tube, gritting my teeth in face of the self-doubt that comes with writer’s block. I’m past the worst by now and thanks to a few months distance, and a couple of good readers, I can see how to revise it but it’s going to take a long, long time to see the light of day. The up side of taking the time off from writing is that I could read a lot. Reading is as important as writing as it enables one to look out rather than in.

Harriet, thanks for joining me today, and happy publication week!

You can find Harriet’s books on Amazon UK/Amazon US, and Barnes & Noble. Harriet herself, you can find on Twitter and her website. And you can get your copy of The Crooked Path by clicking on any of the links above.

Happy reading, people!

Book Launch: The Illuminator Rising by Alina Sayre

Guys, today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Alina Sayre, author of The Voyages of the Legend Series!

 

The third book in the series, The Illuminator Rising, was launched last week (for a short review of the first book on the Bookwyrms Pinterest Board, click here!) and is already receiving great reviews.
 
 
Alina is joining me for a guest post today, but don’t go away after that, because below that will be further info on The Illuminator Rising and a sight of the truly GORGEOUS cover!

Five Tips to Jumpstart Your Creativity

with Alina Sayre

When I tell people I’m an author, they often sigh and say something like, “I wish I were that creative.” I do think of myself as a creative person, but I also think everybody has a creative side—it’s not a special gift awarded only to a select few. Wherever you are in your creative journey, though, creativity has to be nurtured. Especially with a long project like a book—my latest novel, The Illuminator Rising, clocked in around 76,000 words!—it takes careful habits to cultivate a well of creativity that regenerates every day. Here are some of my favorite tips for jumpstarting your creativity.

1: Get enough sleep. Nothing good ever happens in my life without enough sleep. Including writing. It may seem counterintuitive, but I will actually get more writing done in less time if I sleep that extra hour. Really. Sleeping in is productive. (Okay, sometimes.)

2: Walk outside. Sometimes when I’m in a really intense writing phase, I feel like I’m living in a cave.  Even a short walk outside totally reorients my perspective. The exercise, the fresh air, the beauty of nature—they all combine to give me not only less anxiety, but more good ideas. At any rate, it’s a way more productive and refreshing break than wasting ten minutes on Facebook.

3: Read. Some authors are afraid of reading because they’re afraid it will subconsciously lead them to plagiarism. That can be OK, especially with books in your genre. But at the same time, reading widely can help you cultivate a rich and diverse mental landscape. Obviously you don’t want to steal the words or ideas you read in other people’s books! But sometimes just immersing yourself in the language and imaginative richness of another person’s story can inspire your own brain to generate more creative ideas.

4: Work in the same room with someone else who’s being creative. Doesn’t matter if they’re working on the same project, or even if you know them. When my writing stagnates, sometimes I get together with a group of creative friends and we all work silently around a table (taking breaks to crack geeky jokes, of course). Sometimes I head to a local coffee shop and get motivated by all those productive-looking people hammering away at their keyboards (the caffeine also helps). Maybe it’s the shame factor, or the inspiration molecules bouncing off other bodies (don’t trust me with your science class), but for some reason it works.

5: Change places. I feel like each physical location only has so much creative “juice” in it. I can write like mad at my desk for two days, then sit down the next morning only to stare blankly at the screen. Or just loathe the thought of plunking down in that chair one more time. So I switch places: the couch, my bedroom, the floor, a coffee shop. Gardeners rotate crops in their soil; why not change places to stimulate more creativity in your life?

I hope these tips help you cultivate your creativity, in whatever form it takes. The world needs to see what only you can make. Unleash your inner genius!

 

And now for the gorgeous cover of The Illuminator Rising!

Book 3 ebook cover, Amazon, medium res

Synopsis of The Illuminator Rising, Book 3 of The Voyages of the Legend:

 

Driven from their home island of Rhynlyr, Ellie and her friends must solve a riddle to find the survivors of the Vestigia Roi. But instead of a safe haven, they discover a hopeless band of refugees paralyzed by fear. Strengthened by new allies and new gifts, the crew of the Legend faces dangers like never before. Can they escape being shot out of the sky, falling over the Edge of the world, or being engulfed by urken armies long enough to rally the Vestigia Roi? And can they rekindle a fire from the ashes of the One Kingdom before Draaken takes over the world? 

 

Advance praise: 

“…a thrilling read…[Sayre] has a flair for being able to capture the interest of a reader and hold onto it.” 
-Readers’ Favorite, 5-star review

About the Author:

Alina Sayre

Alina Sayre began her literary career chewing on board books and has been in love with words ever since. Now she gets to work with them every day as an author, educator, editor, and speaker. Her first novel, The Illuminator’s Gift, won a silver medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, and all three books in The Voyages of the Legend series have received 5-star reviews from Readers’ Favorite. When she’s not writing, Alina enjoys hiking, crazy socks, and reading under blankets. She does not enjoy algebra or wasabi. When she grows up, she would like to live in a castle with a large library.

 

Links: 

Book Launch: MEMORIES OF ASH by Intisar Khanani

Release Week Blitz: Memories of Ash (The Sunbolt Chronicles #2) by Intisar Khanani with Giveaway

MoA RWB

 

Hello readers! Welcome to the Release Week Blitz for

Memories of Ash (The Sunbolt Chronicles #2)
by Intisar Khanani

Fantasy lovers, this one’s for you! Love magic, look no further!
And you definitely need to check out the awesome giveaway found below.

 

Happy Book Birthday Intisar!

Let’s celebrate everyone!!

 

MoA Cover

 

In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.

add to goodreads

Title: Memories of Ash
Series: The Sunbolt Chronicles, Book Two
Author: Intisar Khanani
Cover Designer: Jenny Zemanek
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: May 30, 2016
Publisher: Purple Monkey Press

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Kobo

 

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excerpt

“It needs a meal,” the mage says, voice rasping, “and it won’t be me.” He yanks me off balance. I cry out, jerking away from him and lashing out with my glowstone. I manage to smack him hard across the face, but then his boot comes between my feet. For a sickening moment I teeter on the edge of the stairs.

Get back!

I barely register the words ringing in my mind before the mage shoves me, hard. I swallow a scream, throwing my arms up to shield my head as I fall. I slam down the stairs, bouncing toward the mass of tentacles.

Feet first—get your feet first!

I follow the shouted advice mindlessly, twisting my body as I come to a stop amidst a tangle of three or four great tentacles.

Don’t move.

Someone is talking inside my head, and it’s not me. Somehow, that’s almost worse than lying surrounded by the talons of a nightmare monster. Almost.

 

OTHER BOOKS IN THE SERIES:

 

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The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.

When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.

add to goodreads

 

About-the-Author2

Intisar Khanani

 

Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters.

Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s current projects include a companion trilogy to Thorn, following the heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles, an epic series following a street thief with a propensity to play hero when people need saving, and her nemesis, a dark mage intent on taking over the Eleven Kingdoms.

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter

 

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Complete the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win!

 

Multi-Author Kindle Giveaway

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Guest Post & Excerpt From A.F.E. Smith, Author Of Darkhaven

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This week it’s my pleasure to introduce you all to A.F.E Smith! No doubt you’ve already heard of her: her fantasy novel Darkhaven is being released July 2nd, and is already receiving some very impressive reviews. Not only that, it has one of the loveliest covers I’ve seen in a while. So without further ado, here is A.F.E. Smith with an excerpt from Darkhaven and some accompanying murderous thoughts…

Darkhaven Excerpt, and Accompanying Murderous Thoughts…

When W.R. agreed to let me loose on her blog, I asked her what kind of post she’d like. An excerpt? An article?

Either would be great, she replied (thus demonstrating a touching but misplaced faith in my abilities). It’s totally up to you.

And so, since everyone knows I’m hopeless at making decisions, I present to you my one and only excerpt-article of the tour. Here’s the start of chapter 2 of Darkhaven, followed by a few relevant thoughts. Murderous ones, obviously.

***

The first thing they must have seen when they broke down Florentyn Nightshade’s door was the blood. Spattered across the walls, pooling on the polished wooden floorboards, dyeing the sheets to deep crimson: it didn’t seem possible for all that blood to have come from a single man. Not that there was much left in him. He lay sprawled on his back, bleached to bone white like driftwood left too long in the sun. The only colour in him was the night-dark hair that proclaimed his lineage, and the gaping hole where his throat had been.

Myrren stopped just inside the door, pressing the back of one hand to his mouth in a vain attempt to suppress the bile rising in his throat. The thick, metallic odour in the room was horribly familiar, but for a moment he couldn’t place it – and then when he did, he wished he hadn’t. It was the smell of the slaughterhouse.

He turned his head, searching the faces of the three or four Helmsmen crowding the doorway behind him.

‘Where is Captain Travers?’ he asked stupidly, as if that were the most important question. But he wanted Travers to be there. Travers was in charge of the Helm, and the Helm had clearly failed in their duty.

‘Called away to the cells, my lord,’ one of the men said – which reminded Myrren all over again of Ayla. No doubt Travers was currently learning of her escape. Yet now all Myrren’s anguish over that seemed trivial and irrelevant.

‘Then you tell me, please,’ he said. ‘W-what happened?’

‘We don’t know, my lord.’ Myrren couldn’t put a name to the speaker; the watching Helmsmen were all alike with fear. ‘A maidservant tried to deliver his breakfast, but found the door locked. She knocked and got no answer. And then …’ He swallowed. ‘And then she noticed the smell.’

Myrren nodded. ‘So she sent for you. I see.’

His gaze settled briefly on his father’s body, then shied away again. It was a good thing he hadn’t eaten this morning; as it was, the scant contents of his stomach were rapidly congealing into something cold and nauseous.

‘Did – did anyone try to revive him?’ It was another stupid question, given the state of the body, but it had to be asked.

‘I checked his pulse,’ a different man said. His striped sleeve was stained with a rust-dark smear, as though he had wiped his bloody hand on it. ‘But there was nothing …’

‘No. Indeed.’ Myrren could hear his own voice becoming ever more clipped and precise, a counterbalance for the tumult of emotion inside him. ‘So, then – so –’

‘We’ve had the physician to him, my lord.’ One of the Helm came to his aid. ‘He thinks it happened between seventh and eighth bell yesterday.’

Seventh bell A presentiment formed at the edge of Myrren’s thoughts, but he pushed it away.

‘So someone broke into Darkhaven last night,’ he said. ‘Crept to my father’s room, picked the lock, then relocked the door behind him after doing his murderous business – all without being seen by any of you?’

‘No, my lord,’ the Helmsman said. ‘He couldn’t have left through the door. Not with it locked from the inside.’

***

And so the investigation begins! But why murder?

When I first started writing fantasy, I was – quite naturally – influenced by the things I’d read and seen. And the things I’d read and seen tended to be of the classic good vs evil kind: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia. Of course, the problem with good vs evil narratives is that they present one side of a conflict as entirely disposable. It doesn’t matter how many stormtroopers or orcs get killed. They’re bad guys. They’re faceless.

So when I first started writing fantasy, I would have my hero get into fights and kill a bunch of people, because those people didn’t matter. They were just the opposition. (Strangely enough, this attitude characterises pretty much every political debate I’ve ever read on the internet.)Scavenger_day09

Yet as I grew older, and perhaps a little wiser, I became increasingly aware of the price of a life – human or otherwise. Writing fantasy in which the hero mowed down row after row of interchangeable bad guys didn’t seem quite so appealing. And it’s probably because of that shift in attitude that I turned to murder.

That might sound counterintuitive, but I think it’s because when murder is made the focus of a narrative, death immediately becomes a weighty, significant thing: a thing that has consequences and requires answers. A man investigating a murder is perhaps the opposite of those trigger-happy heroes of my early writing. He is taking a single death and resolving to bring the person responsible for it to justice.

Of course, when the murder victim is his father and the chief suspect is his sister, that makes things a little more complicated …

Darkhaven BlurbCover_image_DARKHAVEN_AFE_Smith

Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.

When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

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Author_photo_DARKHAVEN_AFE_SmithAuthor biography

A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.

What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.

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