Friday, 31 August 2012

Review of The First Confessor by Terry Goodkind

In this self-published ebook, Terry Goodkind returns us to the New World, land of Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell, but many centuries in the past. The book is set in the time of the first war with the Old World, a time glimpsed in the journals of Kolo, found dead guarding the sliph, and painstakingly translated from High D’haran by Richard and Berdine; the time of the creation of monsters from men, when sliphs, and dream walkers and Confessors were newly birthed.

The protagonist is Magda Searus, and the book is almost entirely set in the Wizard’s Keep in Aydindril, with a few scenes taking place in the city or just outside the city. If you’ve read all the other books, you already know she is the first Confessor, so there’s hardly any suspense in it (as if the title hadn’t already given it away). Lack of suspense is a common problem in a prequel, where enough of the story is known to the reader it becomes difficult to create hooks to keep teasing the reader along. In this case, I think the book has sufficient hooks, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a compelling page-turner. 

Although we know the general outcome of this part of history (Magda Searus becomes the first Confessor), we don’t know the details, as the information known to us from Kolo’s journal is often vague on some points. So the book contains some suspense in the sense that we know Magda must be transformed, but we don’t know how, or what might happen to her along the way. In fact, one of the key plot points is that Magda is vehemently opposed to the transformation of people into something other than they were born by use of magic, and we travel with her for the evolution of her understanding.

There are a few other key characters – Prosecutor Lothain, who we already know from the Sword of Truth series is a terrible bad guy, although the reason why (to gain access to the Temple of the Winds, he must walk the Path of the Betrayer, thus betraying his loyalty to the New World) isn’t touched on in this book, and remains something we only know from The Temple of the Winds. Possibly this is because the only person who knows these details at this particular point in time is Baraccus, First Wizard – and he’s dead. 

The other key character is Merritt, whose name I instantly recognised, but couldn’t immediately place, although eventually I remembered he was the first Confessor’s wizard. Lothain is suitably detestable, and Merritt perhaps the most likeable of all the characters, although he arguably channels too much ‘Richard’. 

I won’t say I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did, but there were definite points that bogged the story down, sections I skipped or skimmed, and that’s not really like me at all. Magda consults with a spiritist, a sorceress who works with spirits, and the spiritist recounts her story to Magda – in laborious detail, spanning multiple chapters of not much besides dialogue. While it turns out the tale was critically important, I didn’t know that while reading it, and found it tedious to endure. I’m sure there would have been a more effective way to tell the story – perhaps even using the spiritist as a viewpoint character to tell parts of the tale as it happened. 

Goodkind is also known for being ‘preachy’. This has never overly bothered me, but in this book (and also The Omen Machine) I felt it became a bit laboured. We’ve heard it before. We know all the principles Goodkind espouses. I’m beginning to feel a bit beaten over the head by them. Granted, they may remain relevant to the story; so touch on them, and move on. Instead, I got pages and pages of characters spouting their ‘beliefs’ in a way that really began to feel like the author is just using the characters as his mouthpiece. I. Get. It. I’m not that stupid. Now can we please move on to something more interesting?

If anything, I would say The First Confessor is even worse in this sense than The Omen Machine. Perhaps this is because it is self-published – while Goodkind’s editor clearly didn’t do a fantastic job of reining in the author’s impulses in The Omen Machine, The First Confessor may be an example of what we get when there is no one reining them in at all!

Other issues were more minor nitpicks. The response to Alric Rahl’s solution of the devotion to protect against the dream walkers wasn’t entirely what I’d understood it to be from previous Sword of Truth books, but this can arguably be explained away by saying the histories weren’t clear. Also, a bunch of mysterious murders take place in the Keep, and I feel the potential for conflict and suspense inherent in these murders was not utilised to its full capacity. 

The story winds up by explaining some of the mysteries we were aware of from Richard’s studies into the histories and Kolo’s journals, and to this extent I was satisfied. I am a little unclear on the treatment of the Sword of Truth, as it doesn’t match my recollection of the nature of the Sword in the Sword of Truth series, but possibly that is my faulty memory. I would need to re-read the series again to double-check, I think.

Worth a read, but hardly Goodkind’s finest example. Still miles better than Soul of the Fire and The Pillars of Creation, the two Sword of Truth books I personally detest. 

Also, don't forget to come participate in my new book club, Club Fantasci! Our first meeting is at 7:00pm CST on 31 August 2012. You can view our discussion on our website and tweet me and the other co-hosts for discussion. Find out more about our first Google+ Hangout here

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven't already. If you're finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or subscribe to my newsletter.

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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Werewolf Origins: Stalking the Wolf

Werewolves in myth and legend were indistinguishable from wolves
Last month I talked about the origin myths behind the modern day vampire as part of my mythical creatures series (previous posts  can be found here - dragons, fantastical horses, mythical creatures of the sky, saltwater spirits - Part 1 and Part 2freshwater spirits, and spirits of the desert). This month we’re looking at the origins of the werewolf. 

The myth seems rooted in the notions of ancient man about wolves; man both feared and admired the wolf, and in some ways the wolf was the ultimate enemy man wished to emulate. Some of the earliest suspected origin myths include:
  • The Sorcerer of Trois Freres – this shamanistic cave drawing depicts the “Sorcerer”, a curious animal/human hybrid;
  • The story of Romulus and Remus, the founding fathers of Rome, supposedly raised by wolves. Apparently it seems probable there were such instances, and it’s believed tales of feral children, raised by wolves and behaving like wolves, strengthened links between wolf and human in our mind;
  • The Greek legend of Actaeon, turned into a stag for spying on Artemis bathing, and the older Akkadian legend of a shepherd transformed into a wolf by the goddess Ishtar;
  • Viking berserkers (and similar in other cultures) – warriors who went into battle berserk and ravening, mad ‘as wolves or hounds’ and biting their shields. They may have been clad in animal shirts;
  • The Lykaian Zeus – it was believed a ritual of sacrifice to this sky god involved one participant being transformed into a wolf for a period of nine years, unless they ate human flesh, in which case the change became permanent.
Links to the moon and the lunar cycle may have arisen from the behaviour of wolves baying at the moon, and the belief that moonlight robbed the human mind of reason – hence the word lunatic, from the French lune meaning moon – though it was never part of the werewolf legend that they would transform in the light of the moon. However, in these early beliefs we can see the beginnings of the werewolf legend. 

The first use of the word ‘wehrwulf’ was in the Ecclesiastical Ordnances of Cnut, a Danish king. The word appears to have been used to mean either berserkers, or wild, animal like people, in the sense that he described unchristians as wild, ravening animals. This attitude may have derived from early Christian observations of animalistic, fertility rituals and other pagan customs. Later the word wehrwulf referred to an outlaw or outcast – people associated with viciousness and bloody slaughter. 

The first written, werewolf legend appeared in Ireland. The writer was Giraldus de Barri, a churchman and Normal aristocrat, and his book was written around 1187. Giraldus may have been too credulous, accepting as truth many old tales, and he was particularly fascinated with an old werewolf tale he heard.  

Supposedly a priest and his boy companion came across a wolf in the forest, which spoke to them, saying he was a man of Clan Altan, and the clan was cursed by the Abbot Natalis. Every seven years, two members of the clan (a man and a woman) were forced to take the shape of a wolf for seven years. If they survived, they would resume human form, and two others would take their place. The wolf wanted the priest to minister to his companion wolf, who lay dying. He completed the rites without final communion, then cut through the skin of the wolf, peeling it back to reveal the face of an elderly woman; and so he offered the Blessed Sacrament. 

The tale is similar to the Lykaian Zeus myth, and also an Irish/Scandanavian tradition whee St Patrick turned rivals into wolves for nine years, and a fragmentary tale from what is now Germany, where St. Willibrod turned godless people into wolves for seven years. 

The Norman writer, Marie de France, also wrote an epic poem about a werewolf. Her protagonist, Bisclavret, is a knight who admits to his wife he is a garwaf, a man who becomes a wolf for three days each week. His wife betrayed him, trapping him in the form of a wolf by stealing his clothes, to marry a former paramour, but the treachery was later discovered by the king and the knight restored. Although Bisclavret was treated sympathetically, the writer made a point of emphasising the terrible and savage nature of the garwaf.

The later wolf-man hybrid werewolf
 In the later 16th century and all through the 17th century, belief in witches increased; one of their supposed magical powers was to transform into animal forms.  The forms they could take were endless, and one of them was the wolf. Many werewolf cases thus arose out of suspected witchcraft.

Peter Stubb, the werewolf of Cologne, Germany, was said to transform via witchcraft. He was tried in 1589 for a variety of crimes, including witchcraft, incest, and murder. He allegedly transformed by use of a magic belt, which was never found. He was sentenced to horrific tortures, followed by death by decapitation.  Around the same time, several Frenchmen were also tried for lyncathropy. Stories circulated, fuelling the werewolf panic. Several of them were burned alive, usually for crimes of witchcraft and heresy. Some may have been cannibals. 

In 1697, Charles Perrault, a collector of such supernatural tales, published a collection of folkore tales, including one wolf-themed one which caused a stir. It was about a pretty young girl who journeys through a dark wood to take some groceries to her grandmother wearing a red cloak. Yes, Little Red Riding Hood contributed to the werewolf legend, although in this original version there is no happy ending. Since the girl experienced no surprise at a talking wolf, it was suggested it was a werewolf, which she met first in human guise, then in wolf guise when it devoured her. The Grimm version, published in 1812, has the more satisfying end.  The story played its part in keeping the wolf, and the werewolf, prominent in the rural mind. 

Despite later attempts of scientist and psychiatrist to explain the 16th century werewolf cases, including Freud’s own theories about sexual abuse, the werewolf continued to hold a dark fascination – so much so that when cinema became popular in the early 20th century, and Dracula and Frankenstein were big earners at the box office, the film industry searched around for a new horror – and found the werewolf legend. With no well-known book for the movie to be based upon, the studio had to ensure the movie could stand on its own. 

The screenplay of The Wolf Man passed off certain inventions of the writer as gypsy tradition, such as limiting the werewolf to Eastern Europe (consistent with the vampire and monster movies), and the werewolf used no magic to transform himself, but was transformed unwillingly by the rays of the moon. Another invention was the notion a person could be ‘infected’ by the werewolf’s bite, which had no precursor whatsoever in the folklore, and the use of silver to kill a werewolf. The film also originated the concept of the werewolf as a human-wolf hybrid. While the folklore reflected a transformation completely into a wolf, indistinguishable from others of the species, now the werewolf as we know it was born. 

So while the werewolf has roots in very old folklore and legends, the modern-day werewolf, made popular in film and TV, which changes at the full moon, infects with its bite, and is susceptible to silver, is almost entirely a construct of the film industry.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven't already. If you're finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or subscribe to my newsletter.

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Source Material: A Field Guide to the Creatures That Cannot Rest In Peace - Encyclopedia of the Undead by Dr. Bob Curran 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Next Big Thing

I was tagged by author Goran Zidar to do the Next Best Thing Challenge. I don’t often participate in memes, but occasionally, very occasionally, I’ll be interested enough to join in. This, I think, is my first for the year – and it’s already August! When, pray tell, did that happen?
Here’s how it works:
  • Answer the 10 questions below
  • Spread the fun and tag other writers to participate.
1. What is the title of your book / WIP?

Deathhawk’s Betrayal.

It’s about – you guessed it – betrayal. Lots of it. ‘Deathhawk’ comes from the diminutive ‘little hawk’ applied to the protagonist by her enemy. More than that, and I’ll spoil something. 

2. Where did the idea for this book come from?

Oh, boy, complicated! Way back in the 90s I had an idea for a story that evolved into a trilogy. I’d written the first two books when I had it assessed and the feedback was I’d used the wrong POV character! It was suggested I switch from Kain to the woman, Silair. But – but – but! I wailed. It’s not her story. I couldn’t bear the idea of rewriting from her perspective, though once drawn to my attention I agreed with the problem. I resolved to find another solution, but recognising I was too close to the story, I set it aside and began something else.

That something else wasn’t Deathhawk’s Betrayal.

A few years after that, I wanted to start a new story. I landed on the character, Astarl, from the original story, and whom the editor said was ‘interesting enough in her own right to have her own story’. So I wrote one.

And that is Deathhawk’s Betrayal.

In the process, I solved my original POV character problem, too!

3. What genre would your book fall under?

Adult High/Epic Fantasy

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Aargh, what? I have no idea. Just hold on a minute while I think about it, OK?

Astarl – Emilia Clarke - she's got the right kind of deceptive fragility to her appearance.

Aldenon – Dominic Rains - something of the darkly exotic handsomeness I allude to him.

Jeharv - Alan Rickman - totally got the voice for it, and can pull off sinister.

Danek - Jeremy Renner - I can see him pulling off Danek's unique brand of evil-behind-bland.

5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

When everyone she loves betrays her, Astarl must decide the cost of her loyalty.

6. Is your book published or represented?

Nope – I’m still finishing final edits, then I’ll start querying. 

7. How long did it take you to write it?

Yikes, how do you define write? Here’s the timeline:
  • Wrote 1st draft – Feb 2009 – April 2009
  • Second draft – May 2009 – Sept 2009
  • Critique group – Sept 2009 – Feb 2010
  • Hiatus – Feb 2010 – April 2011
  • Further four drafts – April 2011 – Nov 2011
  • Rewrote Chapter 1 – Jan 2012
  • Beta readers – Feb 2012 – July 2012
  • Final revisions – July 2012 – ongoing. 
 8. What other books in your genre would you compare it to?

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Astarl is a bit like Vi – except damaged in different ways. Neither of them would handle the same situation in the same way. 

9. Which authors inspired you to write this book?

No one inspired me to write this book, specifically, but my inspirations are Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, Terry Pratchett, Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks. 

What inspired me to write this book was what I perceived as a lack of satisfying strong female characters in the genre.

10. Tell us anything else that might pique our interest in your book.

Anything? Hmm… I follow Terry Goodkind’s lead in doing absolutely terrible things to my characters, and then forcing them to rise to the occasion. The Black Moment is pretty terrible. Honestly, I couldn’t really think of a way to make it worse. But don’t worry, things do get better!

Oh, and I had to research how to kill a man with one blow to write this story. 

Although neither of those might pique your interest, depending. 

You’ve been tagged to join in the fun:

If you missed it, check out my guest post on POV Rules and when it's OK to break them here

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven't already. If you're finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

Don't forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

New “Club Fantasci' Speculative Fiction Video Book Club

I’m co-hosting a video book club. Me. Wow. 
The book reviewers are David Lowry, author Dionne Lister, entertainment personality and model Shannon Million, and of course myself! 

Club Fantasci launched August 1, 2012, and is designed to help bring great books and great authors more exposure to the world at large. We are taking the stigma out of speculative fiction!

The book club will select a book each month for review, and the reviewers will then meet via G+ Hangout once a month to discuss the literary merits of the book – and we’ll be doing more than just telling you we liked or didn’t like the book. In an entertaining way, of course. So it's just like an offline book club... except online... with wine... and stuff.

The first G+ hangout is scheduled for August 31st 7:00pm EST./CST For those of you in the southern hemisphere, that’s 1 September 10am AEST. So if you fancy joining us, go pick up this month’s book, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and we look forward to seeing you there. 

You can learn more about us by:

Joining our group on Goodreads
Liking our Page on Facebook
Checking out our Website

And here’s a little more about Club Fantasci and what we hope to achieve:

We want to expose you to the full gamut of the speculative fiction genre, including science fiction, hard SF, militaristic SF, high/epic fantasy, dark fantasy, dystopian, cyberpunk, steampunk, space opera, paranormal, urban fantasy, SFF romance and erotica, and everything in between.

We want to educate readers on good writing in speculative fiction, entertain with witty banter, and above all have a fantastic time. Fiction need not be literary to be well written, and good writing need not be boring or mundane! We promise you we’ll do our best to bring you a good book every month, and if not, we’ll tell you why it’s not! For a bit of light fun, we’ll also be featuring a wine of the month and picking a song that best fits the book.

Club Fantasci will introduce the “Wine of the Month” and each of the reviewers will pick music they feel best represents the current “Book of the Month.” So bring your book, keep that wineglass topped up, and don’t forget your iPod!

The “Wine of the Month” for August is a 2011 “Suited Muscat” from Sort This Out Cellars Winery in Las Vegas, NV.

Alternatively, you can connect with the reviewers
The Lowry Agency:
Dionne Lister

Shannon Million

Ciara Ballintyne

You can read the official press release for the launch of Club Fantasci here

If you missed it, check out my guest post on POV Rules and when it's OK to break them here

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven't already. If you're finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

Don't forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!

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