Thursday, 22 December 2011

Michael Sullivan on Basing Characters on Real Life People || Author Guest Post

Michael Sullivan on 
Basing Characters on Real Life People 

Hello, my name is Michael J. Sullivan and I’m the author of The Riyria Revelations which was originally a six-book epic fantasy that is just now hitting the street as a trilogy (2 books in each volume) from Orbit. As part of the launch of the series, Fantasist as graciously offered me the opportunity for a guest blog, so here I am.
In coming up with the topic I thought about questions that pop up frequently in emails or when I’m meeting with people at a convention or signing. On many occasions I’ve been asked where I get my ideas for characters.

I know that everyone reads for different reasons, but for me I primarily read (and write) to be entertained. I find that I enjoy books most when I fall in love with the characters. So it is there that I always start.
The two main protagonists are Royce and Hadrian. Hadrian is a conflicted man going through somewhat of a mid-life crisis. He makes his living by operating on the fringes of society, performing tasks that nobles don’t want to dirty their hands with, but he’s not pleased with what he is often asked to do. He provides the conscience to his partner, Royce Melborn.  To say Royce has had a hard life would be an understatement. He was abandoned as a child, grew up on the “mean streets” of Ratibor, betrayed by those he trusted, and ended up losing his best friend by committing an unspeakable act (that as it turns out really wasn’t his fault). Now obviously I don’t know anyone that fits the description of these two characters, but I do find myself channeling them from time to time.  Hadrian shares my dreams of achieving some great deed, of being a hero, saving the kingdom, and winning the girl. As for Royce, he is extremely loyal and protective of the ones he loves. When my kids or wife are dealing with “difficult people” I can feel Royce bubbling to the surface. “Do you want me to speak with them?”  I ask. The answer is always a resounding, “No,” probably because they know all too well how it would go.

As for women, the three main characters of the series are Arista, Thrace, and Gwen. I see my wife in each of them.  Arista is capable and yet sometimes doubts her own abilities. She worries about whether she will ultimately triumph over whatever challenge she is currently going up against. Gwen, because she is open, honest, and loves Royce—not despite his rough exterior, but because she can see his true self. He tries to hide but she sees through it. She loves him for what he is—without any reservations. As for Thrace, I can’t go into why she is like Robin, as it would spoil a major plot point. Let’s just say she goes through a lot of changes over the course of the series and I really like seeing the transitions she goes through.
So there you have it. I might be a bit more like Royce then I let on as it is evident as I look back at this that we are both thieves. I’ve stolen inspiration from myself and my wife, and he…well he steals everything else (and sometimes the show). I want to once again thank Fantasist for inviting me over to chat…the coffee and crumb cake was great, and I didn’t even make a mess.

Theft of Swords by Michael J.Sullivan || Book Review

Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles—until they are hired to pilfer a famed sword. What appears to be just a simple job finds them framed for the murder of the king and trapped in a conspiracy that uncovers a plot far greater than the mere overthrow of a tiny kingdom.

Can a self-serving thief and an idealistic swordsman survive long enough to unravel the first part of an ancient mystery that has toppled kings and destroyed empires in order to keep a secret too terrible for the world to know?

And so begins the first tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.

Introduction:  I have known about this series for a time now because of Fantasy Book Critic i.e.Liviu’s excellent reviews of the books, and had been planning on reading the books. So when the author’s publicist sent us a review copy, Theft of Swords jumped to the top of my reading list. Theft of Swords published by Orbit Books is actually an omnibus consisting of two novels (The Crown Conspiracy &Avempartha) previously published separately by indie publisher,Aspirations Media Inc. The books are written to work as standalone volumes but have an overall broader storyline which losely joins them together to form a series called The Riyria Revelations.

Analysis: Theft of Swords is traditional fantasy in the sense that it uses many of the familiar tropes such character archetypes i.e. elves, dwarves, goblins and men; a medieval era type setting etc. But the author tries enough new things so that the plot remains fresh and engaging. First the pacing of the novel is very unlike most fantasy novels I’ve read. Events move so quickly in the first half of the novel that at first I found myself a little disconcerted, being used to lots of details relating to world building and character development. The first part doesn’t even try to do any of these things it just introduces the characters: Hadrian and Royce (who are likable from the very start) and a few others and the roller coaster ride of adventure and action begins.
Hadrian and Royce collectively called Riyria are hired on a job to steal a sword from the Royal Palace, the King is murdered and the thieves framed. So begins an adventure that takes them across the kingdom and into an ancient Prison maintained by the Church wherein lies captive the only sorcerer known to be living and considered to be extremely dangerous. This sorcerer known as Esrahaddon is also a very intriguing character but his role is larger in Avempartha than in The Crown Conspiracy.  This fast paced action adventure driven storyline makes the first part a page turner and very enjoyable but it does have its setbacks. For one the world and the characters suffer from depth issues and the rich history alluded to is not explored. But to be just one must also consider the small page count of ‘The Crown Conspiracy’. The author probably intended to focus on the action and adventure in the first novel and leave the details for the second.

The second novel allayed my fears by doing exactly this. The starting act of the novel reveals some bombastic information about Royce’s character and throughout the novel much of the World’s history is revealed through a number of interesting POVs including Esrahaddon’s. The villainous dwarf Magnus and his obsession with Royce’s dagger is a fine addition. The church troubled by Esrahaddon’s escape escalates its plans for finding the Emperor. Our heroes find themselves on a monster hunting expedition in the unlikeliest of places. Some very interesting facts about the elves are revealed which increases the potential of the series. The author does a very good job at adding depth to the series in this novel but what is extraordinary is that the pace remains steady and the plot flowing throughout. Because of the second book the main characters rose from interesting but almost unknown to ultimate badass. The death of one of the major characters was unexpected and shows that the author is not shy about taking harsh decisions.  Mr. Sullivan slowed his pacing slightly to do all this but the result was an overall rise in writing quality and a truly epic feeling.

 Conclusion: Overall, Theft of Swords is an excellent book it is extremely fast paced and a very quick and entertaining read. The characters, world and storyline it develops are one of the best created in fantasy literature and from here on it can only get better.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Prince of Thorns By Mark Lawrence || Book Review

"Before the thorns taught me their sharp lessons and bled weakness from me I had but one brother, and I loved him well. But those days are gone and what is left of them lies in my mother's tomb. Now I have many brothers, quick with knife and sword, and as evil as you please. We ride this broken empire and loot its corpse. They say these are violent times, the end of days when the dead roam and monsters haunt the night. All that's true enough, but there's something worse out there, in the dark. Much worse." 

Once a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg's bleak past has set him beyond fear of any man, living or dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father's castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him. 

Prince of Thorns is the first volume in a powerful new epic fantasy trilogy, original, absorbing and challenging. Mark Lawrence’s debut novel tells a tale of blood and treachery, magic and brotherhood and paints a compelling and brutal, sometimes beautiful, picture of an exceptional boy on his journey toward manhood and the throne.

Introduction: Prince of Thorns is the first book in The Broken Empire series, it is a debut by British author Mark Lawrence. The book has been hailed as one of the finest debuts of this year. It is revenge driven epic fantasy, and has a rather brutal and gritty atmosphere.

Analysis:  Prince of thorns focuses on the central character Prince Honorous Jorg whose life has been shaped by the murder of his family and his need for vengeance. Jorg is the heir to one of a number of realms the rulers of which all have a claim to the title of Emperor of the Broken empire(since the series name The Broken Empire). The struggle between the numerous players for the title of Emperor forms the broader story arc.  Jorg will do whatever it takes to get this revenge, he will lie, cheat, steal, murder and betray anyone and everyone as long as it gets him closer to his goal. At barely ten years of age he intentionally falls in with a very nasty breed of criminals and so begins his long road to vengeance.  The writing in the first person POV of Jorg really brings out Jorg's character and the motivations behind his actions. Some people may find the brutality and viciousness of this character odd or unsettling for a kid of merely 10 years of age but I think the author does a very good job at the characterization.

“You soon learn there’s no elegance or dignity in death if you spend time in the castle kitchens. You learn how ugly it is, and how good it tastes.”
 For a person whose whole life revolves around the gruesome murder of his loved ones, his sociopathic and murderous qualities are perhaps justified. Also the author succeeds in making the reader question whether Jorg with his desire for murderous repayment for the death of his loved ones is truly the evil one or others who coldly trade away their deaths are more deserving of being called so.
“War, my friends, is a thing of beauty. Those as says otherwise are losing.”
 Jorg's companions are a particularly nasty outlaw group. I found myself especially enjoying the tid-bits the author added as introductions to a few of Jorg's roadside companions, these provided some added insights into the cuthroat nature of Jorgs companions and how the savageness required to survive, shaped Jorg's personality.

“Brother Roddat stabbed three men in the back for each one he faced. Roddat taught me all I know about running and about hiding. Cowards should be treated with respect. Cowards best know how to hurt. Corner one at your peril.”

“Every brotherhood has a pecking order. With brothers like mine you don’t want to be at the bottom of that order. You’re liable to get pecked to death. Brother Jobe had just the right mix of whipped cur and rabies to stay alive there.”

“Assassination is just murder with a touch more precision. Brother Sim is precise.”

The secondary characters do not receive too much character development aside from these occasional bits, and it really is a shame since a number of them are interesting, likable and badass. I was especially disappointed by the author’s treatment of the Nuban, the enigmatic tribal warrior could have been fleshed out and developed so much more. Makin, Jorg’s champion is arguably the only other character who received a bit of real attention so readers can have some understanding of his personality. But given the breakneck speed and continuous action one can really forget these lapses and enjoy the ride.

Prince of thorns covers a lot of events and places in a rather small page count. This does not allow the author to delve too deep into the world building. There are references that give us an indication of the rich history behind the world as it stands in the present, but overall it covers a rather small portion of the World, the author has created for this series. The world from what little has been revealed is post apocalyptic, it is a time when humanity is thrust back development wise after some major catastrophe ended a much superior and technologically advanced civilization. In the present the world could be described as medieval era with some structures and other remnants from the technological age. The appearance of references to Plato, Socrates, Nietzche, Sun tzu, Shakespeare, and even Jesus made for an interesting and original addition, since many fantasy novelists refrain from mentioning people an events from the real world.

Prince of thorns is not a very large book and what it lacks for in size it makes up for in pace, the pages whirl past while reading. The book is packed with action and suspense,the atmosphere created in the novel is suitably grim and for the first three quarters the novel was one of the most engaging I've ever read. The author writing in fluid and flowing prose takes the reader into the darkest recesses of the human mind which is a disturbing yet entertaining journey.  The sword and sorcery type action was vivid and non-stop, and the hero although a tad on the evil side was one I rooted for.

But I had a number of problems with the last quarter of the novel. Although these problems didn’t quite cripple my enjoyment of Prince of Thorns but did cut down on the immense potential and expectations I had developed for the book.  Firstly, the author seemed to be in a hurry to get to the finish line as if he was getting out of pages to write on. The last quarter could have achieved so much more and been so much more meaningful had it been fully developed and taken up the necessary space to achieve this. Second, his use of timely good-luck to bail Jorg out of impossible situations in quick succession really agitated me, since it made things appear contrived, contrary to how believable things were before. There really could have been so many other more entertaining/roundabout ways of dealing with those situations.

Conclusion: Even though there are number of flaws one can pick out from the last quarter of Prince of Thorns, the fact remains that it is a very enjoyable book and one of the year’s better debuts. The flaws felt more pronounced because of the immense expectations it developed earlier, this by itself is an indication of the author’s talent and potential for the future. It will certainly be interesting to see where Mr. Lawrence takes this series in future installments.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Returning After a Period of silence || What's Up

Well, we've been really busy, with exams and a whole lot of other not so entertaining stuff going on. But the important thing is, we're back to blogging with a new zealous feel coursing through. I've been reading and have a couple of reviews planned, coming up soon.

I finished reading Theft of Swords, our first review copy granted by the author's publicist. I wasn't quite convinced by the first part, however, the excellent second part won me over and possessed the "wow factor" that makes reading fantasy such a pleasure.  I am already hungering for the second book, Rise of Empire. I planned on reading and posting a review of Theft of Swords by the end of November, but with the busy schedule and all... Anyway, enough excuses, the review will be going up on December 22.

Also, I've been going head to head with Prince of Thorns and damn would I not want to go head to head with its fourteen year old,  homicidal maniac of a protagonist. Seriously, its some really grim and sinister stuff but I am enjoying it, somehow I am feeling a bit mischievous myself these days, so its right up my alley.   The review will be coming up soon, probably before that for Theft of Swords.

And there's Skyrim. The game I've been waiting for all year. I must admit I am a bit in love, certainly addicted. This one has been eating away at any spare moments I might have had for other activities including reading and blogging. This game is just so HUGE, I have invested a whole load of (massively entertaining) hours into this, but have hardly gone through a third of the game. Maybe even less. Even now, trying to stay away from the game is physically painful. Perhaps that's what it means to be going through withdrawal. Anyway, this marvel, deserves a  a bit of writing space on the blog, with my views in greater detail.  But it'll probably take some more time for me  to get through the whole game, and I want to experience it all before I put it down in words. 
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