Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Sean Gibson

This week my blog is focusing on comedic fantasy, that fantasy subgenre that is responsible for many cups of snorted coffee. I am privileged to have coerced Sean Gibson, author of several novels, including The Part About the Dragon was (Mostly) True, into joining me to talk about comedy, bard-offs, and porkchops.

Hi, Sean! Thank you for being willing to talk about comedic fantasy.

Thanks for having me, Jodie! Well, metaphorically speaking. Literally speaking, I would make a terrible supper, though I wouldn’t be half bad if consumed for elevensies. It’s the armpit of meals.

Will you introduce yourself to the readers a little and talk about your writing?

I am the byproduct of two drunk orcs making the beast with three backs following an epic rock concert. I should note that one of the orcs had two backs—despite their impulsive carnality, they were most definitely not orgy people. They later abandoned me on the doorstep of a dance studio, where I subsequently learned to shimmy for my bread on suburban street corners. I do not earn a lot of bread, for which I blame my hard-working but unimpressively concave chest.

Like David Spade, my writing attempts to be funny yet isn’t even a little funny, but it gets really annoyed and defensively sarcastic when you don’t find it funny. That said, I write both comic fantasy (mostly stories featuring Heloise the Bard) and Victorian fantasy. My most recent book starring Heloise, The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True, inexplicably garnered a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which summarized the book thusly: “Evoking the dry humor of Terry Pratchett and absurdist trope subversions of Monty Python…Gibson’s story is clever, twisty, and bursting with sidesplittingly funny one-liners. Fantasy fans are guaranteed a laugh.


Your books show a lighthearted ribbing of fantasy, and it’s very obvious that you have read (and hopefully enjoyed) a lot of fantasy yourself. What made you decide to take a comedic route in your fantasy?

Well, the dramatic stuff is really hard to write. Puns only require about 17% as much effort. Work smart, not hard, Jodie.

Really, it’s just such a fun playground to run around in. I absolutely love fantasy. It’s played a considerable role in shaping who I am as a human being, as weird as that may sound. But, it can also be utterly absurd—to quote Monty Python, “Strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government,” right?

And let’s face it: there are a lot of tropes and stereotypes conceived, developed and propagated by a porkchop of straight white guys that are in dire need of being rethought for the audience that’s reading fantasy, especially epic fantasy, today. There’s a lot to play with there, and a lot of opportunities to pay homage while lovingly tweaking and toppling conventions to try to shape something new. (A “porkchop,” incidentally, is the scientific term for a group of white men.)

You know, I do think I’ve seen “porkchop” defined that way in the dictionary. How do you manage to be funny on command? (I’m rarely funny, and never on purpose.)

I’m actually a ventriloquist’s dummy, so all credit goes to the puppeteer with her hand up my ass. It’s murder on the prostate, though.

Come on, now—you are often funny. And I know that at least some of those times are on purpose! You’re also exceedingly cool, as evidenced by the virtual company you keep.

I love that Heloise is a bard! I’m still hoping for a bard-off between her and Kvothe, but in the meantime: what made you decide to choose a bard as an integral part of The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True?

You’re a D&D aficionado like I am, so you know how fun bards are. A bard’s superpower is to make even the most mundane encounter something truly epic. I love the idea that anything can be a story with the right perspective, or at least a little creative license. Have you ever played a bard? If so, you need to share some stories!

My husband is currently playing a bard to my paladin (which I keep unintentionally playing as a rogue) and he somehow managed to convince my character to climb onto a door, which was then pushed into a swampy, noxious lake…which also happened to be the home of an incredibly cranky dragon. I kept wanting to quote the door scene in the movie Titanic. I suspect his bard is already composing songs to immortalize my character’s memory posthumously.

As for that coward Kvothe…he doesn’t have the stones. Heloise would bamboozle him faster than you can say “Skendrickian mungerswallows.” He has thus far refused to take the bait when I’ve challenged him on Twitter, though it’s possible they don’t have Twitter in Temerant, or maybe the Waystone Inn has a bad wifi connection. 

So, let’s raise the stakes: Heloise (and I) hereby officially challenge Kvothe (and Patrick Rothfuss) to a Bard-Off. Each of us has to write an epic poem in our respective bard’s inimitable style (1,000 words or less). We’ll ask the reading public to vote for which one they like best.

I’ll put up $1,000. If Kvothe’s poem wins, I’ll donate the money to Worldbuilders or a charity of Mr. Rothfuss’s choice. If Heloise’s poem wins, I’ll donate the money to the Cancer Research Institute. Everyone wins! Well, except for everyone who has to read Heloise’s poem.

I’m completely and totally serious, by the way, though I suspect Mr. Rothfuss is a bit too busy to take up this absurd gauntlet. Still, I think everyone needs to go forth and spread word of this challenge far and wide. Let’s make it happen.

Yes! This needs to be settled once and for all, and in this wager, everyone wins.

What are some obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

Comedy is so subjective, right? I mean, “A skeleton walks into a bar and orders a beer and a mop” is objectively hilarious. But, beyond that, when you start trying to be funny in a genre context while still hoping to appeal to a wide audience, it gets tricky. Unless you’re, say, William Goldman and you can call upon the awesome powers of Andre the Giant to drop mad rhymes, it’s really, really hard.

For example, there’s a scene in THE PART ABOUT THE DRAGON where the characters encounter a terrible stench and they all try to describe what it smells like, with each description getting grosser and more ridiculous. And that’s the whole point of the bit—how much grosser and weirder can each description get? It’s like a bunch of comedians doing improv trying to one-up each other, and it just keeps going until they all reach an unspoken agreement that no one can top the last one-liner. And then they move onto the next thing.

I love that kind of comedy, and I love it when it comes in rapid, non-stop waves. But, that is most definitely not everyone’s jam, and a lot of people are going to find it annoying and sophomoric at best.

So, you have to make peace with the fact that what you’re writing is really only going to land with a small subset of fantasy fans—in my case, those would be the ones who share my love of wordplay, dad jokes, scatological humor, and beating a terrible joke to death and then reanimating so you can beat it some more. 

Which, of course, is like three people, one of whom happens to be you, thankfully.

What are some triumphs?

I considered it a huge win when a reviewer wrote about THE PART ABOUT THE DRAGON, “I do not feel there was anything redeeming about this book. I can usually appreciate a good story even when poorly written but this isn’t a good story either.” (Yes, that’s an actual review.) The people have spoken—this is clearly Pulitzer Prize-caliber material.

That highwater mark notwithstanding, getting the pre-pub starred review from Publishers Weekly was huge (and hugely unexpected), as it opened some doors for the book that even a rock giant probably wouldn’t have been able to bash its way through. One of those doors was a BookBub feature in December 2021, which somehow led to the book climbing bestseller charts on multiple platforms, including hitting #1 not just for humorous fantasy on Amazon, but #1 for general humor as well. I’m sure that somewhere, P.G. Wodehouse is rolling in his grave and incredibly grateful he’s not alive to see how egregiously we’ve debased the word “humor.” We even managed to get up to #3 on the overall SFF chart. 

No one writes for chart rankings, but you do write to connect with an audience, and those things have helped people discover the book, and some of those folks have really enjoyed it. I know it’s not everyone’s jam, but I’m so incredibly grateful for those who have taken the time to read it and share a kind word or two about it. That’s really the absolute pinnacle for a writer—or for me, anyway: having someone devote a few hours of their time to hanging out in a world I created and feeling like it was time well spent.

Congratulations on such huge milestones! Of course, now I’m wondering what P.G. Wodehouse’s reaction to your book would be (I kind of think he’d like it). Do you have go-to authors when you need a book that makes you chuckle?

I don’t think writers get funnier than P.G. Wodehouse. There is no better literary cure for the blues. His writing is profound comic gold, even when I have no idea what Bertie Wooster is saying. 

That’s not to say he’s my only go-to for laughs, however—David Sedaris, Terry Pratchett, Tina Fey, Douglas Adams…even Charles Dickens…all can provide a much needed pick-me-up.

And, of course, Bill Watterson and Calvin & Hobbes never fail to make me laugh and think at the same time.

Will you talk a little bit about the recently released Dragons of a Different Tail? (I’m dying to read it.)

No.

I’m totally kidding! Fooled you though, didn’t I? 

I didn’t? Okay, fine. I digress.

DRAGONS OF A DIFFERENT TAIL is a delightful collection of 17 different dragon-focused stories that break, twist, and defy the conventions of western fantasy. I was really struggling to get any writing done during the pandemic. I used to write during my commute, but with working from home and juggling kiddos doing school from home for a year, that time disappeared and I got completely out of rhythm. I needed something to get me back in the groove, and right around the time I was really stressing about it, the publisher of THE PART ABOUT THE DRAGON, Shayne Leighton, just happened to recommend me to a lovely guy named Marx Pyle, who was working on putting together this anthology. 

I loved what Marx had in mind and pitched him a couple of ideas, one of which he liked. That gave me exactly the finite, bite-sized writing focal point that I needed to get writing again. The result was a short story called “Chasing the Dragon,” which is a Victorian-set, Holmesian-flavored story about a pair of detectives investigating a string of deaths at an opium den and finding out that “chasing the dragon” is a far more literal expression than they imagined. 

The stories in the collection are wildly imaginative and come from a great group of writers. I highly encourage you, and everyone else, to check it out! https://books2read.com/dragonstail

I am so incredibly grateful that you invited me to do this, Jodie! You make the reading community a better place with your kindness, creativity, enthusiasm, and, yes, YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR! Thank you for being such an awesome human being!

About the Author:

Sean Gibson, “author” and slackonteur, is not a professional mini biography writer (if he were, this would be much more compelling). Instead, he’s a communications professional by day, hangs out with his amazing wife, son, and daughter by night, and writes somewhere in between. He holds a BA in English Literature from Ohio Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, though rumors persist that he also attended mime school (he is silent on the subject). Sean is a fan of sports teams from Detroit, a distressingly large number of bands that rose to prominence in the 1980s, and writing in the third person. He currently resides in Northern Virginia, and, given how much he hates moving, and given that his house has an awesome library, is likely to remain there for some time.

Sean is the author of several stories starring Heloise the Bard, including the #1 bestseller The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly), the holiday novella “You Just Can’t Hide from Chriskahzaa,” and The Chronicle of Heloise & Grimple. He also wrote the Victorian-set fantasy thriller The Camelot Shadow and its prequel short, “The Strange Task Before Me.” Most recently, he contributed the short story “Chasing the Dragon” to the anthology “Dragons of a Different Tail” published by Cabbit Crossing Publishing. He has written extensively for Kirkus Reviews, and his book reviews have also appeared in Esquire.




Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Andi Ewington

This week I’m focusing on comedic fantasy, a subgenre of fantasy that will leave you in stitches (or leave you bursting stitches- maybe don’t read comedic fantasy right after a surgery). I’m grateful to be chatting with Andi Ewington, coauthor of Campaigns and Companions.

Hi, Andi! Thank you for stopping by to chat about comedic fantasy! 

Will you introduce yourself to the readers a little and talk about your writing?

I’m Andi Ewington, a writer (of sorts) based in Surrey. I’m probably better known for writing graphic novels having worked on comics such as Forty-Five45, Freeway Fighter, Just Cause 3, Dark Souls 2, Vikings, Sunflower and S6X. But recently, I’ve moved away from the panel-by-panel medium to release Campaigns & Companions, which is a step towards traditional book publishing.

In Campaigns and Companions, you show a love of Dungeons and Dragons (as well as an uncanny understanding of how pets of all sorts act). What was the genesis of Campaigns and Companions?

It sprang from a funny meme of a cat playing Dungeons & Dragons I happened across while doomscrolling through Twitter. It immediately had me roaring with laughter and ignited my imagination; I decided to switch my Twitter focus away from complaints about the daily grind of commuting and embrace pets in funny roleplaying game scenarios to the full. After that, I curated a colossal thread that went viral and quickly realised this could make a really fun book. I brought Rhianna Pratchett, Calum Alexander Watt and Alex de Campi to the project, and we all pitched it to Rebellion Publishing (who gave it the thumbs up).

What was your process in bringing that humor to life?

For me, it’s looking at the stereotypical traits that pets have and trying to put a roleplaying twist on it. For example, dogs LOVE chasing after balls—so what would be the equivalent ‘ball’ in a fantasy world? My brain usually settles on a suitably humorous answer—like a fireball. Now, we have a highly amusing scenario of a dog chasing after a fireball. From that idea, I create dialogue to fit the scene and complete the joke. It then goes to Calum, who illustrates a beautiful image that captures it all to perfection.

Do you have any pets?

Growing up, I always had cats and dogs, but it has never quite been the right time with my own family. My wife is a childminder, so it’s pretty tough to have anything with babies and toddlers running around the house too. She’s looking to change career in 2022, so who knows, maybe we’ll be able to get our first dog to join our family—I know the kids are desperate for one!

What are some obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

Remembering that humour is subjective, and what I find funny won’t always be funny to other people—accepting that is okay. I tend to focus on the idea and stay true to it. The other thing is knowing when to give up on a joke—sometimes you have an image or gif that just doesn’t spark anything; if that happens, I stop and give up trying to make something humorous out of it. I like my jokes to be explosive and immediate—if I’m not feeling it, I usually cut it.

What are some triumphs?

Having Campaigns & Companions published is a huge triumph, especially when someone takes the time to get in touch. Hearing how the jokes made them laugh is a superb feeling that’s hard to beat. Receiving pictures of the book with a cherished pet is fantastic and something that never grows old. Seeing the reviews and the book’s popularity also gives me a real buzz. Beyond this, I think seeing a posted tweet suddenly go further than my intended audience is a huge win!

How do you get into the ‘zone’, so to speak?

I will paraphrase Bruce Banner here and say—that’s my secret, Jodie… I’m always in the zone. In all seriousness, my brain is wired to constantly search for the funny in everything (just ask my long-suffering family). Honestly, I find it really hard to switch off (which comes with its own problems, especially at funerals).

I’ve had the privilege of reading some of your next project, which is both clever and hilarious. Will you talk about it a little bit?

Sure! My next project is called ‘The Hero Interviews’, a full-on 160,000-word novel that follows the adventures of Elburn Barr, a Loremaster who is trying to find out what it’s like to be a ‘hero’ (and his missing ‘heroic’ brother at the same time). Elburn is travelling the realm, interviewing a smorgasbord of characters from fireball-loving Wizards who accidentally incinerated the rest of their adventuring party to stoic Paladins who are desperate to unleash a flurry of swearwords. I like to think of it as the Dungeons & Dragons world that has gone through a high spin cycle before being let loose. There’s almost limitless potential for fun where the rules are ripped up and merged with contemporary situations to create something that should be familiar to everyone.

Thank you so much, Andi!

Andi has graciously allowed me to share the first interview from ‘The Hero Interviews’ below. It had me rolling on the floor. Enjoy!

Interview 1:

Dorn (Human Barbarian)

Whisper the word ‘Barbarian’, and I’d wager your imagination would instantly picture a rage-filled, muscle-bound warrior clad only in a fur loincloth fuelled by a love of spleen removal whilst drinking the nearest tavern dry. You can imagine my disappointment as I sit opposite a muscle-shy, pasty-looking individual; ‘Dorn’ is the latest ‘hero’ to step out of the Heroes Guild, a polite man who seems eager to make a name for himself within the adventuring sphere. We’ve agreed to meet at Dorn’s local tavern, the Spit & Spear, a favourite watering hole of heroes, situated in the lively city of Tronte, a settlement plagued by wannabe-adventurers hoping to be spotted by one of the Heroes Guild’s numerous ‘Scouts’.

The Spit & Spear is mercifully quiet, although I suspect the evening is still too young to attract the hardened drinker questing for the only elixir that matters in their life. The only other patrons of note are a nearby Dwarven Fighter working his way through a flagon-orgy, and a Paladin, who seems to be regaling the barmaid with his tales of adventure. The young lady is so enraptured by the Holy Warrior’s words she’s failed to notice both the Barbarian and I have been without a drink for some considerable time.
 

Me: “Thanks for meeting me—”

Dorn: “My pleasure, it’s not every day I get interviewed by a bona fide Loremaster—I suppose it’s something I’m going to have to get accustomed to…”

Me: “Accustomed to?”

Dorn grins proudly as he turns the collar of his jerkin over; I catch sight of a flash of silver—a badge sits snugly underneath, I can just make out a sword hilt etched into the circle design neatly bisecting a large ‘H’ and ‘G’.

Dorn: “I’m now officially a hero. Finally, I can follow in the footsteps of the greats, like Arin Darkblade1 and Gilva Flamebeard2!”

Me: “Erm… I guess congratulations are in order?”


 1Renowned for being the meanest adventurer in the entire realm—and I don’t mean in the ‘never buys a round of drinks’ kind of way, although I suspect he’s never bought a round of drinks in his life either. No, Arin is an eye-patch wearing hero who has completed more quests and despatched more monsters than any adventurer in living memory.

2Gilva Flamebeard is a legendary Dwarven Cleric who has stepped back from adventuring to become a hermit. As her name suggests, she sports a fiery red beard, which, by all accounts, contrasts sharply with an unusually calm demeanour for a Dwarf. Whether her given Dwarven clan name really is Flamebeard or not has been debated and argued in every tavern at some point or another.


Dorn: “Thanks! To be honest, I’m still in shock; I have to punch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.”

Me: “Don’t you mean pinch?”

Dorn: “Rogues pinch. Barbarians punch3.”

Me: “Got it—”

As if to emphasise the point, the Barbarian hits himself fully in the face—he shakes his head and looks around as if he’s just woken up.

Dorn: “Nope, it’s still real!”

Me: “You okay?”

Dorn: “Nothing a drink won’t sort out—”

The Barbarian waves trying to catch the eye of the barmaid stood behind the bar—without success.

Me: “Forgive me for saying, but you don’t look how I’d imagine a Barbarian would look.”

Dorn: “Really? What were you expecting?”

Me: “Erm…”

Dorn: “Perhaps you’d prefer it if I were wearing a fur loincloth?”

My cheeks flush red in embarrassment.

Dorn: “Sorry to dispel that particular myth, but the truth is adventuring can get awfully cold. While I’m sure it has its place, a fur loincloth is impractical on so many levels4. If you want to survive on a quest, you need to be wearing layers, lots of layers—and I don’t mean armour either.”

Me: “Forgive me, I was just expected a bit more flesh on show5.”


3Not strictly true, some Rogues have been known to punch, although I’m sure they’d prefer not to let their opponent know it was incoming. While ‘some’ Barbarians have a bad reputation of unwanted pinching, usually of barmaids’ behinds.

4I guess on a frozen adventure, the loins would be nice and warm, while the rest of the Barbarian’s extremities would undoubtedly be frozen solid—still, a warm groin is something not to be sniffed at (quite literally).

5Just to be clear, and as much as this may appear to the contrary, I wasn’t trying to encourage the Barbarian into stripping for me here.


The Barbarian gives me the strangest of looks.

Dorn: “Are you okay? Fighting while wearing just a tight-fitting loincloth is… is a little bit weird, isn’t it?”

Me: “I thought that’s the whole point of being a Barbarian? Attacking your enemies half-naked while lost in a furious battle-rage6?”

Dorn: “You’ve been hanging around with the wrong type of people if you think that’s how Barbarians dress these days.”

Me: “I’m only going by the legendary warriors from days of yore.”


I point to the wall of hero paintings on the far wall, several of which are of muscle-mountains wearing only the tiniest fur loincloths.7

Dorn: “Ha! Those old Barbarians are so out of touch with the modern Barbarians of today. Nobody wears fur loincloths anymore—anyway, I prefer to leave my family jewels to the imagination, if it’s all the same to you…”

He tries to catch the barmaid’s eye but misses once again—the Barbarian thumps the table in frustration.

Dorn: “Balls!”

I feel the need to quickly change the subject away from the Barbarian’s nether regions.

Me: “Did you always want to be a Barbarian?”

The anger-prone warrior laughs at the absurdity of my question.

Dorn: “Me? No—never in my wildest dreams! I actually thought I was going to become a Wizard.”

Me: “A Wizard?

Dorn: “I know, it’s really odd—but I was convinced to switch my focus to the Barbarian class rather than follow a wizardry one. Besides, Wizards are generally frowned upon at the Heroes Guild.”


 6A rage brought on by discovering that someone had just stolen their clothes.

7At least I ‘hoped’ they were wearing loincloths. From where I was sitting it could be mistaken for loin hair.


Me: “Frowned upon—I thought the Heroes Guild would welcome Wizards with open arms8?”

Dorn: “Seems there’s a long-running rivalry between the Heroes Guild and the Wizards Guild—in truth, they hate each other, but recently they’ve begrudgingly agreed on an uneasy peace…”

Me: “How did the feud come about?”

Dorn: “I don’t think the Wizards Guild liked it when the Heroes Guild started recruiting Wizards to their cause—it resulted in the Battle of the Blind Bowman.”

Me: “I’ve never heard of this battle?”

Dorn: “That’s because it happened one fateful afternoon in the middle of a tavern—The Blind Bowman9.”

Me: “They had a battle in a tavern?”

Dorn: “I think I may have oversold the ‘battle’ part of this story—it was more of a untidy brawl with an lot of pushing and accusatory pointing.”

Me: “Who won?”

Dorn: “Nobody, when the dust settled The Blind Bowman was no more—the entire place had either been burnt down by a spell or smashed into tiny pieces by the fist. The warring guilds realised their mistake when they couldn’t order another round of drinks—and immediately held emergency talks in the ashes of the former privy. The Heroes Guild agreed they would not add any more Wizards to their numbers; in exchange, the Wizards Guild agreed to help them recruit more non-Wizard heroes to their ranks.”

Me: “So Wizards only come from the Wizards Guild?”

Dorn: “Officially—yes.”

Me: “Unofficially?”


 8As long as they had been patted down for any concealed Fireballs first.

 9Named after a legendary blind archer who could hit any Goblin with unerring accuracy, a remarkable feat rendered useless if no actual Goblins were around to shoot in the first place.

 10I bet my family’s estate it was a fireball.


Dorn: “I’ve seen a few robe-wearing, book reading types walking around the Heroes Guild—but they could be Loremasters, I suppose11.”

Me: “How does a Loremaster join the Heroes Guild?”

Dorn: “If you get us a couple more ales, I’ll put to good word in for you12.”

I laugh at the boldness of the Barbarian.

Me: “Fair enough—so the Heroes Guild made you a Barbarian instead? I mean no offence by this, but you don’t look the angry-warrior type. Why do you think they wanted you to become a Barbarian?”

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

Dorn: “Isn’t it obvious?”

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

Me: “Not really…”

Dorn: “They want me to revamp a Barbarian’s stereotypical image, usher in a new age of warriors who don’t go around smashing up taverns just because they’re a bit angry about poor bar service. They want me to be the face of tomorrow’s Barbarian—a thoughtful, calm Barbarian who has a bit of a sensitive side too.”

The Barbarian flexes an arm muscle. I can’t quite see it, but I don’t want to ruin Dorn’s moment.

Me: “Impressive!13

Dorn: “Yup, I’m the first in a new wave of approachable Barbarians; less rage—more brains.”

Me: “The thinking man’s warrior14?”

The young hero slams the table with his hand before pointing at me excitedly.


11 I seriously doubt any of my profession would be interested in joining the Heroes Guild—the closest a Loremaster usually gets to danger is drinking a hot cup of tea too quickly and burning the roof of their mouth. 

12If we could ‘actually’ get any service that is—the barmaid still hadn’t managed to drag herself away from the Paladin’s vicinity; if I were the Landlord I’d be asking some serious questions about her work ethic.

 13It always pays to tell a Barbarian what they want to hear—even if your whole being is screaming at you to do otherwise.

14Although I suspect Paladins will feel as if they have something to say about this.


Dorn: “The Barbarian with a heart of gold!”

Me: “Catchy. So, have you been on any adventures yet?”

Dorn: “Only the training dungeons. They’re pretty tough and can hurt if you’re not careful—I mean, really hurt. I passed with flying colours, of course. Even resisted sitting on that bloody trapped throne too, unlike the Ranger I was with.”

Me: “What happened to the Ranger?”

Dorn: “He insisted on sitting down and got his backside frozen to it as a consequence.”

Me: “That’s terrible.”

Dorn: “I know, took me ages to pull him free from it—when I finally did he had a huge hole ripped in his breeches.”

Me: “That must have been a bit awkward—?”

Dorn: “Yeah, I had to keep him behind me for the remainder of the adventure—there are some things not even a Barbarian should have to bare witness to.15

The Barbarian looks again for the barmaid, but she’s too still busy, lost in her Paladin-filled daze to notice him—I sense Dorn clenching and unclenching his fists as he slowly boils with anger.

Me: “How did you first get involved with the Heroes Guild?”

Dorn: “I was spotted.”

Me: “Spotted?”

Dorn: “Yes, you know, seen—in this place actually, which is ironic if you think about it.”

Me: “Why’s that?”

The Barbarian grinds his teeth and throws imaginary daggers in the Paladin’s direction.

Dorn: “Because I can’t seem to be seen right now, can I?! SERVICE!!


15Bare indeed!


The Barbarian shouts at the top of his voice, but he is still ignored by the barmaid currently draped over the Holy Warrior.

Me: “Who spotted you?”

Dorn: “A representative of the Heroes Guild—a Scout.”

Me: “Where were you sat?“

I look around the bar try to picture an excitable and nervous Dorn standing around waiting to be spotted by the Heroes Guild Scout.

Dorn: “Here!”

Me: “Here?”

I point to the table we’re currently sat at.

Dorn: “Well, not here exactly, more like over there.”

The Barbarian motions to a table next to us, occupied by a Dwarven Fighter polishing off his tenth flagon of ale—judging by the nine empty flagons sat in front of him17.

I find myself staring at the inebriated Dwarf as he spills more beer on the table than into his mouth.

Dorn: “That’s not the Scout, just in case you were wondering.”

I nod and turn my attention back to the Barbarian.

Me: “How did you find out about this place?”

Dorn: “I heard about the Spit & Spear from a friend. He told me the Heroes Guild Scouts frequented it—and if I wanted to be spotted, I could do a lot worse than hang around the tavern.”

Me: “What happens if you’re lucky enough to be spotted?”

Dorn: “If a Scout thinks you have potential to join the Heroes Guild, they employ a test—”

Me: “Test? What sort of test? Written18?”


16To be fair the Paladin seems to be happily encouraging this.

17I have no idea how this Dwarf has managed to get served not once, but ten times—it is a miraculous feat that should be compared to dragon slaying with only one arm…

18Which would be an overly cruel thing to do to a would-be Barbarian.


Dorn: “No—practical. Sometimes it’s a stolen purse, other times it’s a spontaneous bar-fight—whatever it is, it is always designed to test a specific attribute.”

Me: “What attribute did they test of yours?”

Dorn: “Why, my strength, of course19. Anyway, it so happened that I had struck up a conversation with the very Scout who had taken a keen interest in me.”

Me: “What are the odds? So, what did you two talk about?”
Dorn: “Oh, this and that—he seemed especially interested in my family’s estate on the far side of the Evergreen Forest. That seemed to give him confidence I had the right stuff to join the Guild. He even said he saw in me the potential to be one of the realm’s greatest heroes!”

Me: “What did you say to that?”

Dorn: “It was Bardic music to my ears20—everything I wanted was being promised to me. But at the same time, I had to make an impromptu call to the privy, so I excused myself for a moment to tend to my pressing need. When I returned, I found this brute of a Half-Orc sat at my table, drinking my ale!”

Me: “Who was he? What did you do?”

Dorn: “A stranger, it seemed, who wanted a free drink. Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing to mention this, but—”

Me: “Go on…”

Dorn: “I barely hit him. I guess I didn’t realise I possessed such strength!”

Me: “You hit him?”
Dorn: “I knocked him straight out of my seat and across the tavern—which immediately started a mass brawl with some Gnomes21 sat at the table in the corner. Once I had dealt with the Gnomes, the impressed Scout clapped me on the back and signed me up, there and then!”

Me: “And that’s when you became a Barbarian?”


19Of course…

20This depends greatly on the Bard doing the ‘singing’ in the first place, of course.

21As much as this sounds unimpressive, fighting something that stands at waist height is fraught with danger for any tall combatants.


Dorn: “He said I was a natural—that I had untapped raw power in my fists!”

Me: “—And you believed him?”

Dorn: “Why wouldn’t I? I had just seen what I could do with my own eyes! But I still held a strong desire to be a Wizard…”

Me: “I guess he explained the problem with being a Wizard?”

Dorn: “Indeed he did—we had a good chat about it, and I agreed to give up my dream of wielding magic in favour of wielding an oversized axe22. Anyway, Barbarians have better perks in the long run. Sure, there’s a clause in the contract, but the Scout said that it was just a standard—”

Me: “Wait a moment—a clause? What clause?

Dorn: “He promised me it was all just legal mumbo-jumbo—the Scout called it a ‘Death in Service’ clause. If you want to join the Heroes Guild, you have to sign the clause—no exceptions.”

Me: “What does the clause do?”

Dorn: “For me? —Nothing… but for the Heroes Guild—they end up owning my family’s estate in the event of my death.”

Me: “That sounds a tad unfair.”

Dorn: “Apparently, it’s standard stuff that every hero signs—it won’t ever happen, not to me. The Scout explained that there’s a sizeable risk in retrieving a hero’s fallen body from a failed quest, not to mention all the funeral arrangements and lost equipment, some of which are magical and very expensive—the Death in Service clause covers for all damage or any loss to property. It’s pretty thoughtful, if you think about it.”

Me: “I see—what else did the Scout say?”

Dorn: “He said he had never seen such a natural athlete—the complete hero he called me! Said he wanted to send me on a category five23 adventure after I had completed all my training dungeons!”

Me: “What’s a category five adventure?”


 22The weapon of choice for any self-respecting Barbarian—closely followed by a heavy fist…

23I’m not sure what this means, but the fact there are four categories before it cannot be a good thing.


Dorn: “Only a quest meant for the hardiest of adventurers—certain death assured24!”

Me: “Aren’t you worried? You might, you know—die?
Dorn: “Nah, you’re talking to the realm’s next greatest Barbarian25, I laugh in the face of death—”

Laughter breaks out from the barmaid sits in the Paladin’s lap; Dorn suddenly kicks back from the table and stands with purpose and drive.

Dorn: “Although the Guild’s next greatest Barbarian is STILL thirsty. Time I finally got that drink—wait here, I’ll be right back.”
I watch as Dorn the Barbarian storms over to the Paladin and the barmaid to make his displeasure known. Not wanting to be caught in the middle of the approaching Battle of theSpit & Spear, I decide to leave this interview post-haste26.


 24See, I was right!

25The realm’s last greatest Barbarian was Thrull the Bitter, who expired after a fight with a group of drunken Gnomes and ended up ironically bitten in the groin and bleeding to death—perhaps not quite the glorious way he had imagined moving on to the Great Beyond.

 26I did leave a polite note explaining my sudden departure, blaming it on a sudden urge to drink elsewhere—specifically, a place with good bar service and less chance of seeing spilt blood…

About the author:

Andi Ewington is a writer who has written numerous titles including Campaigns & Companions, Forty-Five45, S6X, Sunflower, Red Dog, Dark Souls II, Just Cause 3, Freeway Fighter, and Vikings. Andi lives in Surrey, England with his wife, two children and a plethora of childhood RPGs and ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ gamebooks he refuses to part with. He’s usually found on Twitter as @AndiEwington

Andi is querying right now. Interested publishers can reach him at butwin@me.com or on Twitter as @AndiEwington.

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy

This year, I want to talk about some of the many types of fantasy you can find (I have a post about fantasy subgenres which can be found here). I think when people hear “fantasy”, their mind immediately goes to serious epics with swords, magic, and dragons. While I happen to love all of those things, there are many ways to tell a story. For the first of my Fantasy Focus series, I want to take a look at comedic fantasy.

 Irreverent and witty, fantasy comedy often takes a humorous look at the fantasy genre, either creating new and entertaining fantasy worlds that focus on humor, parodying common fantasy tropes, or even poking lighthearted fun at specific works of fantasy.

Here is a list of some of side-splitting authors and some of the books they’ve written, in case you’re looking for suggestions on where to start! This is by no means anywhere close to a complete list of fantastic comedic fantasy authors that can be found, so please chip in with suggestions!

And keep your eyes open: there will be guest posts throughout the week featuring some of the greats in comedic fantasy.

Douglas Adams– Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

D.B. Bray & Wahida Clark- Loners: A Humorous Dwarven Adventure Fantasy

Adam Jacob Burgess- The Actum Tempus Saga

Claire Buss– The Roshaven series

Andi Ewington– Campaigns and Companions: the Complete Role-Playing Guide for Pets (with Rhianna Pratchett); The Hero Interviews

Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett– Good Omens

Sean Gibson– The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True; Dragons of a Different Tale (one of a collection of short stories)

William Goldman– The Princess Bride

Kevin Hearne & Delilah S. Dawson– The Tales of Pell series

Diane Wynne Jones– Chrestomanci series

Bjørn Larssen– Why Odin Drinks; Creation

K.R.R. Lockhaven- The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex: The Self-Proclaimed Greatest Dragon in the Multiverse; Zoth-Avarex’s Escape Plan: A Pick-Your-Own-Path Experience

Christopher Moore– Fool; Shakespeare for Squirrels

M.J. Northwood– Game of Gnomes: The Necrognomicon

Terry Pratchett– the Discworld series

Robert Rankin– The Brentford series

Echo Shea– A Tinfoil Hat of My Own: A Tale of Friendship, Bikers, and Werewolves

Keith Tokash– Iliad: the Reboot; Odyssey: the Reboot: A Hooligan’s Tale

D.H. Willison– Tales of Aravia series; Hazelhearth Hires Heroes

Witchy Witches of all Kinds

Witches in literature have changed quite a bit over the years. From the sinister and mysterious, to the flat-out evil; from the magic-for-good to the naturalist who is one with nature, you can find a book for every type. I am far from an expert in the inclusion of witches in books, but I’m a reader so I have my own experience with witches. Here are a few books with witches of different sorts.

Evil Witches:

These are the ones that often look like hags, live in huts in the middle of nowhere, have a penchant for eating naughty kids, or just like to cause trouble.

Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm- I just had to include at least one Grimm story and this one fits the bill.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare (I would argue that they are bit more like the Three Fates, but…)

The Witches by Roald Dahl- Well, this book is terrifying.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum – Here for obvious reasons.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis- This book contains one of, if not the most evil witch I’ve read in a book to date.

Good witches: The term “good” is subjective, especially when it comes to magic users in books. Still, I think the witches in these books can at least fall vaguely in this category.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling- Without getting into the author at all, Hermione definitely qualifies as a good witch.

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow- No spoilers given.

Small Place by Matthew Samuels – She’s technically good. Okay, she has some questionable anecdotes but for the adventure in Small Places, she is considered good.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede- I loved these books when I was younger! Morwen the witch is the least witchy witch ever and it’s fabulous.

Witches as naturalists: I’m seeing books that are going this route more and more often lately. While I don’t have quite as many titles for this section, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include at least one example.

Wildwood Whispers by Willa Reece- This book was wonderfully written. The prose was gorgeous and flowed beautifully.

It’s complicated: These books have witches that aren’t witches, witches as representative of other things (such as women’s rights), and other complex females characters with more than a hint of magic about them.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow- This book is brilliant! It follows three witches who are, more importantly, three women in search of respect and freedom. This book is chock full of fierce, justifiable anger and I loved it.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller- I’m pretty sure that, by now, the hysteria that gipped communities during the Witch Trials is well known. I remember seeing this play and being fascinated.

The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore- This one was a bit harder for me to get into, but I enjoyed it once it got going.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice- What can I say? It’s Anne Rice. That means the trilogy is incredibly complex, incredibly messed up in parts, and incredibly engrossing.

Time to add to my already-teetering tbr list! What else should be on this list?

Three Years and 695 Posts Later…

Image Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Once upon a time, there was a socially awkward, book-obsessed nerd. This nerd (let’s call her Jodie, shall we?) loved to read. I mean, loved it! Her house was filled with books, her mind was filled with books, and she loved talking about books with everyone she knew. Now, every main character has a flaw (or two, or three) and one of Jodie’s flaws was that she had a hard time not talking about books. This could easily make her an incredibly annoying person to be around. Fortunately, she happened to know a wise wizard. This wizard (also known as her husband) suggested a magical cure to Jodie’s fatal flaw: start a book blog!

Now that we’ve all learned why I am not an author, let me sum up the rest of the story: today is my third blogging birthday. After nearly seven hundred posts, let me share a bit of knowledge with you: I am not an expert. At all. What I am, though, is grateful. I was completely surprised to realize that blogs don’t have to exist in a vacuum. I’ve met some amazing people and read some incredible books thanks to book blogging. I’ve been fortunate to have authors and publishers trust me to review their books, and I’ve tried genres that I didn’t even know existed a few years ago.

I have noticed a fair bit of discouragement lately from bloggers (I’ve been discouraged myself). Imposter Syndrome seems to be rearing its ugly head a lot. So, here is a short sampling of some of the amazing reviews that have caused me to spend way too much money on books. This is nowhere near a complete list, but you all rock. If you happen to find yourself on this list, please consider adding your own list of book bloggers who have added to your reading enjoyment.

Beforewegoblog’s: A Deadly Education

The Book Pyramid: The Bard’s Blade

Off the TBR: The Half Killed

Plot_Head on Fanfiaddict: Of Honey and Wildfires

The Irresponsible Reader: Highfire

Ben Wablett :We Men of Ash and Shadow

Kerri McBookNerd: Little Thieves

Paul’s Picks: Two Like Me and You

Fantasy Book Nerd: The Swordsman’s Lament

Al Wrote a Book: Ashes of the Sun

Sword and Spectres: Orconomics

Sue’s Musings: The Goddess of Nothing at All

Beneath a Thousand Skies: The Thirteenth Hour

I Can Has Books: How I Live Now

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- What You May Have Missed

I was joined by several excellent authors, to talk about any possible connections between great fantasy writing and table top roleplaying games. I’ve gathered the posts here, so you can easily find any that you may have missed.

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs-Zack Argyle

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs-Geoff Habiger

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Dorian Hart

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Rowena Andrews and Jonathan Nevair

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Dan Fitzgerald

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Thomas Howard Riley

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Jeffrey Speight

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Ricardo Victoria

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Rob Edwards

TTRPGs that are Based on Books

From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Discworld

I had a hair-brained idea for my blog: a discussion on magic in fantasy! Not just in one fantasy book, but across the broad spectrum that is my favorite genre. Of course, there is absolutely no way I could do something like that justice, so I put a call out for bookbloggers and authors to lend their unique perspectives. They have shown up in a huge way to kindly share their time and opinions.

Author and Youtuber Rob Edwards sharing his thoughts on a big addition to fantasy: Discworld. You can hear his discussion on YouTube.

Rob Edwards:

Look, there in the dark. 

That shape.

It’s hard to judge size when the only comparison available is an endless stretch of inky dark nothingness, but the shape is huge. Beyond huge. Huge, and moving. Huge, moving and, on reflection, not just one shape, but a compound, complex set of shapes. Flippers. An impossibly vast shell. And standing on that shell, four elephants. Perched on their backs, it can only be…

Shape, then, is the wrong word. This has every appearance of being a place; more geography than geometry.

And this is a place steeped with magic. The sort of place the word “steeped” was made for. A place left to soak in an octarine infusion, like a tea bag left in a cup so long it… 

This metaphor is getting away from me.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is quintessential gateway fantasy. It is a place of wonder, a place of life, of humour, sharp satire, beguiling stories, larger than life characters and a whole lot of magic. Both in the world, and the way it is described.

And yet, while there are multiple volumes about the Science of Discworld, if there is such a treatise on the magic of the Disc, I’ve not encountered it.

So, what then can I divine about the Discworld’s magic system? This is my interpretation based on many rereadings of the series, but only recent revisits of Eric and Reaper Man. 

Three fundamentals drive all magic in Discworld: Purpose, Personality and Belief.

Magic wants to be used. We see it time and again across the series, from the single spell that Rincewind learned, to the magic of Moving Pictures and the mysterious globes in Reaper Man. Magic once manifested, needs to fulfil its purpose. 

It is something that the Wizards and Witches appreciate. The more senior the Witch or Wizard, the more power they have access to, the less likely they are to use it. You don’t claw your way up the hierarchy of the Unseen University without learning a healthy sense of self preservation, and an appreciation that wotting things man was not meant to wot of, is just not the done thing. Much better to have a big dinner and then a long nap instead.

Which is not to say that Witches and Wizards are fakers incapable of magic. There are plenty of examples in the books where both engage in activities which can only be described as magical. But there is always a risk in the act, the chance that the Wizard or Witch might get carried away. Sometimes literally. The Dungeon Dimensions and the terrible horrors which live therein are always waiting to take advantage of the unwary. We see several times in the series what happens when magic is unleashed too freely. Calamity and Chaos are never far away.

With purpose, oftentimes, personality follows. 

Death is the prime example of this. He is an embodiment of the most fundamental aspect of life, he has purpose to which he must attend, but more he has, he is, a personality. One of Sir Terry’s greatest creations, in fact, and one of the most beloved characters in the franchise. Which is weird when you think about it. He’s not the only example, though. The Hogfather, the Tooth Fairy all fill similar roles. And it’s not just the anthropomorphic aspects of reality that end up with personality. Almost anything infused with magic develops personality eventually, like Rincewind’s Luggage.

The final pillar of magic in Discworld is belief. Most obvious in the case of the Disc’s pantheon of gods, large and small, sometimes all that is needed to manifest something magical is enough belief. Pratchett lays it out specifically: the existence of gods does not result in belief in them, belief in gods results in their existence. Again though, the use of belief in magic is not limited to the gods. If you come in the door marked wossnames, that means you get treated as a wossname, right?

At the end of the day, Discworld is not the sort of series to have a regimented magic system. Instead, it’s a tool that Pratchett uses to fill a need in the story, a useful tool that can fit many shapes. Still, if the specifics of magic are malleable, I think it’s clear that the principles that underpin it are consistent.

About the author:

Rob Edwards is a British born writer and content creator, living in Finland. His podcast, StorycastRob, features readings from his short stories and extracts from longer work. He writes about coffee, despite not drinking it, spaceships, despite being down-to-earth, and superheroes, despite everything.

His debut novel, The Ascension Machine was published in 2020. His short stories can be found in anthologies from Inklings Press and Rivenstone Press.

A life-long gamer and self-professed geek, he is proud of his entry on wookieepedia, the result of writing several Star Wars RPG scenarios in his youth.

Links

Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/StorycastRob

Check out his Podcast: http://storycastrob.co.uk/

Or YouTube: Rob Edwards


For more from this series:
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Coldfire Trilogy
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Magic for Mercenary Kings
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Weather Warden
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- And Now This
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Blood, Fire, and Death
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Teaching Physics to Barbarians

From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Teaching Physics to Barbarians

During this weeklong discussion on magic in fantasy, we’ll be talking about the truly fantastical magic system. But there are also magic systems that I like to think of as “reality-adjacent”, ones that have a basis in the scientific. After all, things that seem completely normal to us now would seem completely inexplicable and magical to people from, say, the 1400s.

The magic in The Wolf in the Blood fantasy series by author David McLean falls into the second category. I’m happy to be able to get a close look at how “realistic” magic operates in his books.

David McLean:

Teaching physics to barbarians – magic in a really real world

How real is your magical world? If it’s wholly fantastic, great! Magic can just exist. It’s not necessary to look behind the curtain. It can just be so, and you can write about how it’s used, not why it works.

But if your world intersects with the modern, real* world, I think you have to keep it real. 

I write ultra-naturalistic fantasy – a world recognisably our own, working in the same way, but with magic and monsters. This is not a novel idea. But for magic and monsters to exist in a really real world and not be rendered hopelessly implausible by physics, you have to think through how the universe works on a fundamental level. This is great fun. 

I’m not a physicist, and I didn’t fancy writing a textbook on if-magic-was-real physics. So I came up with some basic rules to apply in my books.

Let’s science! 

It’s consistent with general relativity. For it to be otherwise is universe-breaking. In my world, magic appears to be a fundamental interaction, like electromagnetism. It’s the force which changes other forces. If this sounds unlikely, bear in mind scientists discovered a new fundamental force just this year (probably). Magic has time translation symmetry (it always works the same way) obeys conservation of energy (you can’t create it or destroy it, only transform it) and is subject to entropy (actions have irreversible consequences). It affects thermodynamics (fireballs), evolutionary biology (dragons), gravity (massive flying dragons) and spacetime (wormholes and time travel). 

Everyone knows. You can’t casually slide fantasy into the gaps of the real world like a dudebro into your DM’s and expect no one will notice. How do you hide how the universe works? Humans understand physics at a deep level which far surpasses the ‘mystic scrolls of wisdom tropes of fantasy (I am not putting down mystic scrolls – you do you, scrolls). Even in a hellish dystopia where magicians are routinely wiping minds on a planetary scale, all it takes to know is looking and everyone can. The logical contortions are too great to sustain that narrative in a really real world. I do feel that if magic was real, Richard Feynman would have written an amusing book on the subject. So no need for secret wizard school, Harry. 

It’s weird and unsettling. The universe is strange, man. However strange your magic system is, quantum mechanics has it beat. Science grapples with the deep profundities of existence, including ethical and moral questions about free will and agency as inferred from physical laws. I’ve applied these to my world. So magic is a force, but it may also be sort of sentient and vaguely malevolent, with limited agency and unknowable desires. Using magic is profoundly invasive. It never helps. It only hurts.  

It’s accessible (but dangerous). Anyone can use gravity. Jump up and down – you are a puissant gravity user. But defying gravity is hard (song lyrics have misreported this). So it is with magic. In the in-world olden days, magicians of towering supremacy tried to bend it to their unconquerable wills, and sometimes succeeded but often failed. But so could anyone. The consequence of failure is pain – it consumes their energy and scars them with a biting rust. People understand it according to their lights – I set my third novel in 51 BCE. It features a Roman legionary, an Irish druid, and a Sri Lankan princeling. None of them could know about relativity or quantum anything. Consequently, they treat magic as, well, just that. And that’s fine. You don’t need to teach physics to your barbarian, after all. But even modern people will have different views. Magic? It’s all a conspiracy, my dude. It said so on The Magic Channel, it must be true… 

About the author:

David McLean is the author of three books – THE WOLF IN THE BLOOD (2018), THE WOLF CURE AND OTHER STORIES (2019), and THE NINE WIVES OF RANDAL RHIN (2020), published by Swordsaint Press in the UK. You can buy them on Amazon and read free chapters and stories on his website. His next book, FOX SILVER, will be out in early 2022. Follow @SwordsaintPress on Twitter.

For more from this series:
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Coldfire Trilogy
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Weather Warden
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- And Now This
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Blood, Fire, and Death
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Teaching Physics to Barbarians

From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Weather Warden

This week Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub is being joined by a great group of bookbloggers and authors, discussing magic systems in fantasy books. This is such a huge subject and there are so many books with killer magic systems!

Author Rachel Caine has created some incredibly distinctive magic systems in her books. Tabitha from the excellent blog, Behind the Pages, has offered to talk a little about the magic system in Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series.

Tabitha:

When I found out Jodie over at Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub was doing a project based on magic systems I had to join in! Unique magic systems are a key element to the fantasy books I truly enjoy. While characters certainly play a large part in what I love, I need the magic system to be a worthy component as well. Today we’ll take a look at the magic in the urban fantasy Weather Warden Series by Rachel Caine.

Little do people know, there is an organization of magic users taming the wildest of Earth’s natural disasters. The Wardens Association is made up of people who have abilities to manipulate fire, earth, and the weather. But the magic they use has to be executed carefully, or the disasters they try to quell can become phenomenally worse. All those natural disasters that have happened at devastating proportions? Someone made a mistake and manipulated the wrong molecule.

The magic in the Weather Warden series leans more towards a soft magic system. While it’s based on science, manipulating molecules, and meteorology, there are fantastical elements as well. Each warden generally possesses one of the three abilities. Those who possess more than one are rare and often more powerful than the wardens who possess only one. If you possess more than one, chances are you’ll have a target on your back as well. The Wardens Association doesn’t like what it can’t control and views people with too much power the same way it views a devastating storm. They need to destroy them before they can no longer be contained.

As long as you fly below their power radar, the Wardens Association will take you in and educate you on taming the Earth. Unless of course, you can’t even control your singular power. They will magically neuter you if you prove inept. Most likely this will turn you into a babbling incoherent person they then put into a hospital to live out the rest of their lives.

But what happens when the Earth throws a particularly nasty disaster that even the combined power of the wardens can’t handle? Well, that’s where the Djinn come in. Djinn are creatures of fire that are manipulative and spiteful. Though I can’t say I blame them, as most people who encounter a free Djinn try to immediately bind them into servitude. 

The Wardens Association keeps Djinn trapped in bottles to help amplify their own power when needed. The Djinn are little more than slaves to most. Tools to be used then stuffed away, even though they have thoughts, feelings, and emotions just like any other person. And those wardens who show they will play nice with others, rise up in the ranks of the association and earn themselves their own slave to use.

It’s a twisted world and oftentimes the main character, Joanne, battles with what is morally right and wrong. As much as the wardens help people by taming the Earth, they can be pretty corrupt. But it isn’t just the wardens you have to watch out for. Sometimes, natural disasters are caused by demons trying to enter our world.

What is your immediate thought when you think of demons? It’s probably something along the lines of what traditional stories paint them as. Horns, pitchforks, nasty creatures that are some combination of human and animal. In the Weather Warden series, demons are like a parasite. They leech onto wardens, draining their power from the inside out. Sometimes the victim doesn’t even know it until it’s too late. And as the demon leeches a person’s power, it also begins to corrupt their very being. Turning them violent and unpredictable. 

The problem is with demons, they won’t leave a powerful magical host. They sit and squirm, growing until they can no longer be contained by the body they’ve taken over. To say letting a demon fully manifest is a disaster would be putting it mildly. The amount of magic and power released by a demon is catastrophic and just about the world ending.

I love the Weather Warden series. The use of magic is so original and refreshing. The way Joanna can manipulate the molecules around her and change the atmosphere is fantastic. Not to mention the constant twists and turns that are thrown throughout the series as the use of magic by the main character evolves. It is definitely one of my favorite urban fantasy series. And I highly encourage you to give it a try!

About the blogger: Hello everyone! My name is Tabitha and I run a review blog called Behind the Pages. It’s my little corner of the internet where I geek out about books. I’m an avid fantasy reader, but dabble in other genres from time to time. Book blogging has allowed me to connect with so many other people who love reading as much as I do. I hope you enjoy this snippet of my bookish thoughts!

Find Behind the Pages on her blog: Behind the Pages

For more from this series:
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Coldfire Trilogy
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Weather Warden
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- And Now This
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Blood, Fire, and Death
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Teaching Physics to Barbarians

From Merlin to Mistborn- Magic for Mercenary Kings

This week, I’ve gotten the opportunity to hear from some excellent bookbloggers and authors about magic in fantasy. I have yet to read The Mercenary Kings by Nick Martell but Fantasy Book Nerd, bookblogger extraordinaire, has succeeded in moving it up my massive tbr with his explanation of magic in Martell’s books. Check it out below!

Fantasy Book Nerd: When I was asked to do this by Jodie, I have to admit that I had to wrack my brains for a maximum of about two seconds before I knew what I wanted to discuss. And that was Nick Martell’s magic system, which I have found to be one of the most fascinating magic systems that I have read recently.

Now, I know that Nick Martell has only released two books in an ongoing series, but with both ‘The Kingdom of Liars’ and ‘The Two Faced Queen’, the magic is developing in ways that I didn’t expect.

For those of you that have not read these books, I will try to avoid spoilers because as I said the story is still developing, and no one likes spoilers. 

Right, before we go anywhere let’s first look at the word ‘magic’! What does it actually mean? 

There are many definitions of the word. The Collins English Dictionary describes it as: –

  1. The Power to use supernatural forces to make something happen, such as making things disappear or controlling events in nature.
  2. You can use magic when you are referring to an event that is so wonderful, strange, or unexpected that it seems as if supernatural powers have caused it. You can also say that something happens as if by magic or like magic.
  3. You use magic to describe something that does things, or appears to do things, by magic.
  4. If you refer to the magic of something, you mean that it has a special mysterious quality which makes it seem wonderful and exciting.

    Hmm, all of these definitions of magic apply in fantasy fiction really don’t they, each and every one, and they are prominent in each of the magic systems that I have read.

Prior to discussing the magic in the books of Nick Matell, let me tell you a little of the story for those that don’t know it. The main focus of the book is Michael Kingsman, the disgraced son of the king’s right hand man, David Kingsman who was executed for killing the king’s young son. 

That is about as much as I am going to tell you about the plot. 

I have found in fantasy books, there are many ways that magic systems are introduced, some authors will describe how their systems work in one go and will give the information in one long exposition, and others will drip feed the system throughout the book as the story demands,and it will be used as a device to move the story along.

Fabrication,the magic system of The Kingdom of Liars comes in many forms, such as light and dark fabrication. Additionally, the magic can take different forms and be individualised to each person, with the effects of the magic having a different effect on those that use it. As the story progresses, we learn that there are Lightning and metal fabricators. 

In Nick Martell’s books, the power of fabrication is primarily used for militaristic purposes, and most of the characters (especially if they are from the lower classes)  strive to get into the Fabricator  army, or in guard service. At this stage of the books, it isn’t described as being intrinsic or part of the essence of the world like in some other fantasy systems. 

Now, when describing magic systems, they can effectively be placed in the soft magic/hard magic camps. Depending on the author they can fluctuate between the two on a literal spectrum and can have as many or few rules as the author sees fit.

You all may have heard of a relatively unknown author by the name of Brandon Sanderson (yes, yes! That was a terrible example of sarcasm) who puts forth that there are rules in relation to magic systems.

(I have no doubt that someone will have mentioned the difference between the soft and hard magic camps. But just in case they haven’t, here is a quick recap).

Soft magic follows very few laws. However, there is a law attached to it, in that if it is used to solve problems, in a deus ex machina kind of way, it can diminish the impact of the magic system.

However, with hard magic there are explicit rules for the magic system and the characters do not step outside the boundaries.

Additional to this, there is the middle ground, in which the author designs a set of rules, but they are fluid as the story progresses. 

(If you want to read these set of essays on the rules of magic, then I suggest you go to Brandon Sanderson’s website and have a look, they are all  rather good pieces, and I attribute all the words above to those pieces)

Looking at Nick Martell’s books, the magic system in there definitely falls into the hard magic camp, (now please don’t quote me on any of this. This is conjecture on my part). Throughout the book, most of the characters can only have one fabrication (although, there are exceptions to this rule, but it is very rare). The magic is based on tangible things in nature i.e. elements, such as lightning, metal, smoke, fire, light, dark etc. and they may take on certain characteristics of the said fabrication. For instance, if you are a metal fabricator, you can alter your body to be hard and impervious to damage. However,it doesn’t make you impervious to everything as  this can be negated by a lightning fabricator who could use your body as a conductor for electricity or maybe throw you in a pool of water, in which you sink as if you are heavy, like metal. 

From the outset, Nick Martell is applying rules to the magic system. This obviously has an effect on the reader, as it is applying boundaries and laws and also giving the reader a limit as to what magic can achieve, thus making the reader more involved with any plot developments that may arise.

However, when you look at Nick Martell’s magic system, it is not just the ‘what can the magic system actually do’ point that makes it interesting, it is also the ’what can’t it do, and the effects that it has on the user’ that elevates it’s wow factor.

In his essay on the second law of magic systems, Sanderson identifies that limitations are greater than powers. He then goes on to discuss that in the Wheel of Time,Robert Jordan introduced one of the greatest costs to any magic system, in that men who use magic lose their sanity, thus increasing the jeopardy when using a magic system and has ramifications on the story and the characters..

Similarly, in Nick Martell’s magic system, he introduces a significant cost to the use of magic. The concept is introduced in the early stages of the book when Nick Martell highlights that the use of magic leads to the user losing memories. This could be some simple everyday memory. However, this is not the only cost. In some instances it can leave the user blind, because they have ‘forgotten’ how to carry out this intrinsic task. And if there is a constant use of magic, the user is at risk of becoming something called ‘a forgotten’ which is basically a fantasy representation of Alzheimer’s, where the person loses most functional skills, in addition to their memories. This weakness of the magic system introduces some pretty large ramifications to the story in that it introduces a significant element of risk and thus reducing the use of magic as a ‘deus ex machina’ plot device.

In the second of his two books, he expands the magic system to include other races in the world and differing systems. However, again, he introduces cost, and I have to say that in this instance, the ramifications are more visceral in that the use of magic comes directly from the infliction of pain, and this pain comes from the user in order to access magic. So, the user may break their own fingers, or use other instances of pain. However, either way there is a cost that can have a permanent and lasting damage to the magic user.

As you can see, this gives the reader the sense of jeopardy and brings to the fore that magic cannot solve all the problems that Michael Kingsman comes across, thus having to force him to use other methods that he may have at his disposal, such as his wits, or other tools. 

Now, we come to the final bit of the magic system. How does the magic system develop and grow? 

Relating this to Sanderson’s third law of magic, Expand what you already have before you add something new. .

Throughout both Kingdom of Liars and The Two Faced Queen, Nick Martell is constantly evolving the magic system. In the first chapters of The Kingdom of Liars we are introduced to just the two fabrications – Light and Dark Fabrications. However, as the story progresses and the main character is attempting to find his own power, we are introduced to the other facets of fabrication, and that people have other abilites beyond these two powers. We learn that there is lightning, metal and a plethora of other interesting things. And then we come to the second book, The Two Faced Queen, again the magic system is expanded with the introduction of other races and cultures. But not only that, there is the big expansion of the magic system, and when I say big, I mean big. However, I am not going to tell you anything about that – major plot spoiler!  However, the expansion of the magic system with the other cultures is relatable as it is building on to a similar concept used by Michael and the other characters in the book.

Right, there you have it. My ramblings on Nick Martell’s magic system. I hope you enjoyed it and please check out the other contributors on this week of magic systems..

About the Blogger: Fantasy Book Nerd here! As you can see from the name, I might have a bit of a thing for fantasy. 
I know, shocking isn’t it? I don’t know what gave it away!
Anyway, if you liked what I wrote, you can find some more reviews on www.fantasybooknerd.com. Don’t be scared, I don’t bite, and neither does Frank – The skelebog jester who guards the site.
Oh, and I also occasionally post on Gingernuts of Horror.

For more from this series:
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Coldfire Trilogy
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Weather Warden
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- And Now This
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Blood, Fire, and Death
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Teaching Physics to Barbarians