Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest by Jennifer Paxton

One of the great things about my Audible subscription is the access that I have to The Great Courses series of lectures. The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest by Jennifer Paxton gave me that deep dive that put so much into context. Plus, it gave me oodles of jumping-off points for further research that I heartily recommend to any author looking for fresh material to mine, whether you write fantasy or historical fiction. I can see where George RR Martin gets so much of his inspiration – and that's only England. I can imagine that the rest of Europe must be equally fascinating, and I don't think there are enough hours in the day.

As the title of this series of lectures suggest, we really do get an overview of some rather exciting times in the British Isles that seem, over the years, to have acted as a magnet for waves of invasion, with the resultant cultural stewpot that has had such a massive impact on world history (while giving a good idea as to why England has ended up being such an aggressive colonial power).

What I liked about Paxton's delivery is that she will hit the pause button to go in depth into certain topics – I particularly liked her exploration of chivalry. She also gives a great explanation on how the monarchy was set up, and how its relationship with the nobles played out. We see, also, a glimpse into English legends, such as King Arthur and Robin Hood, but I will admit that the plethora of kings and queens with their names and the complex interrelationships got a bit dizzying – fascinating, but something I'd need to return to with more focused looks into particular eras.

Paxton is personable, easy on the ear, and she takes a vast and daunting subject and presents it in a way that is easy to understand. If you, like me, are looking for an overview of an era that will set many events into context, then I reckon this series of lectures is a great place to start (especially for those of us who've been drawn into the subject thanks to series like Vikings and The Last Kingdom on telly).

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

The Serpent's Quest has arrived

Before what I now fondly call the Great Panini, I laboured under the assumption that 2020 was going to be my year. I'd seen the release of my first traditionally published novel which had gone on to win an award or two, and I was due to appear at a few Comic-Con Cape Town panels, as well as a bunch of literary festivals. Go me. Then not. But let me backtrack a wee smidge.

October 31, 2019, Toby and I were sitting in the hotel lounge after we won our prizes, and we struck on the bright idea to collaborate. We had these grandiose ideas of a trilogy we could quickly put out. But even the best plans sometimes make detours (as we were to find out), and those three books quickly became four, and then five –The Splintered Fool series. 

Which we pretty much wrote during lockdown, and kept me sane as all my carefully laid plans turned to ashes, and then continued when the world slowly slid back into some semblance of regular abnormality. (Is there even such a thing as a New Normal? Ugh, I hate the term.)

I am now inordinately pleased to say, that after half a decade of hard work, writing, revising, editing and doing all the icky production stuff I won't bore you spitless with, we've got book 1, The Serpent's Quest, now live. It's available in paperback and ebook. Go get your copy now.

If you, like us, are a huge fan of adventure, magic, quests, elves, dragons... Maybe with a spot of tomb-raiding with a side-order of dastardly pirates, we've got you covered. Oh, and mad gods. Or, rather, a mad god.

Toby has this to say, "When I consider what makes me happiest about having written The Serpent’s Quest, I’d have to say: seeing a vision fulfilled. It’s hard to believe it was almost five years ago that Nerine and I began discussing a collaboration. 'We’ll write a book together' became three… then five… books, as we unspooled the narrative we’d so casually discussed, exploring realms that became more substantial the deeper we delved. I’m proud to say, we let our characters lead us and never stinted in telling their story. There was no knowing, when we planted those first seeds, that they would grow so far beyond our wildest expectations, but now I look back in wonder. For all the words we crafted, there are few to express the profound satisfaction of seeing the first book released, or the high hopes I have for those to follow."

And I'll close by saying, this work has been a lot rather like me and Toby were storytelling to each other as we went along. We're both huge fans of gaming and ttRPGs, so much of that sort of energy went into the narrative. I'm also pleased that I've had one of South Africa's top comic book artists, Daniƫl Hugo on board to assist with the cover art. Collaborations with him are always excellent, as it's as if he possesses an advanced degree in mind reading to fully get what's going on in my head.

What's next? We'll be typesetting book 2 next, and book 3 is currently in its last revision stages. Alas, I do not possess an army of clones, but we can confirm that the entire series has been written. We promise there is no GRRM The Winds of Winter scenario threatening to unfold here.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Inheritor (Foreigner #3) by CJ Cherryh

It's probably going to take me forever to finish reading all the books in CJ Cherryh's Foreigner series, of which Inheritor is book 3... And for the sake of those who're not conversant with the world, I'll keep this review short and try to give general points.

Human ambassador/diplomat Bren Cameron continues to be adrift in Atevi society, which is, as always, a potentially lethal minefield for those not adept in the subtle power dynamics of a non-human civilisation. And that's the mistake many humans make when interacting with the Atevi – they simply don't have the hardwiring to understand core human concepts like love or caring. Atevi social dynamics is primarily focused on power and associations of individuals to others and groups that hold power.

In learning an intricate language that is has complex mathematics embedded in its linguistics, Bren finds himself even more alienated from human culture and meaningful interaction – a position which is made even more precarious as factions within the minority human community are viewing him as a traitor while certain groups within Atevi society would gleefully see him dead, too.

The planet's power dynamics have been thrown completely out of whack by the arrival of the human space ship, with the spacefaring humans in dire need of supplies they can only obtain from the planet. We see human and ateva alike vying for primacy in a new space race, as the Atevi assimilate human technology that might make them all but unstoppable if they gain interstellar travel. 

Added to the mix are two human diplomats from the space ship who are now negotiating on the ground – for people who've known only the confines of life on board a vessel for generations, the adjustment to living on a planet is traumatic. 

Cherryh does a deep dive into interpersonal relationships within a distorted, multicultural society in a complex, nuanced way, which may make this a trademark slow read, but as always, she subtly works to pull the rug from beneath your feet near the end, with sudden, frantic action that had my heart racing.