fantasy

Finished!

So today, I finally finished my current project, Happily Ever After. If you want to know what it’s about, you can read the synopsis here, and read some (unedited) extracts here and here. The manuscript is just over 107,000 words and took eight months to write the first draft.

It originally started as an idea that wouldn’t leave me alone after watching the film Mama. I enjoyed the film up until the ending, which I won’t spoil. I was left wondering how the characters were going to pick up their lives after everything that had happened. Which got me thinking. There are lots of fantasy novels about epic quests and wars and good vs evil. But I can’ recall reading one that focused on what happened after. It might say “… and they all lived happily ever after” at the end, but how true was it? Could heroes put down their swords and go back to their old lives? Could the romances forged in the fires of war survive the calm waters of peace?

The idea wouldn’t die, so I thought “I’ll just write the first chapter so I can get the characters on the page, then go back to my other project.” Which was clearly foolish, as I haven’t touched Nightingale Road since. I will go back to it, I promise! But Lavie was a very easy character to get inside, and I couldn’t put her story down. It was hard to get a story out that didn’t feel too much like a sequel to a book that doesn’t exist, and I think I’ve got quite a bit of work to do on the pacing. The first hurdle (completing the book) is done, though, and things can only get better from here. Feedback so far is very positive, and I’m looking forward to seeing what my initial beta-readers think of the completed story.

Book Review – ASPECT OF WINTER

Aspect Cover Art

Aspect of Winter by Tom Early

It’s hard enough just being gay in high school even as a senior, but Feayr (Fay) must also deal with hiding the magic of winter that he possesses. His best friend Sam (Samantha) is his only confidant, and every day that he has to pretend to be normal pushes him closer to the edge.

When Janus University, a college for teenagers with magical capabilities, discovers the pair and sends a student to test them, Fay and Sam, along with their classmate Tyler, have to quickly adapt to a far more dangerous world than they’re used to. The three friends have to survive misguided summoning attempts, ancient holidays better left forgotten, and even a first date, all while preparing for the Trials, the University’s deadly acceptance process. As they do their best to come out ahead, the trio experiences firsthand just how wonderful and terrible a world with magic can be.

Score – 4/5 Inventive and enjoyable YA fantasy coming of age story with strong characters

Breakdown:

Plot – while a fairly standard YA setup (magic, magic academy, trials and threats to be overcome), the overarching nature of the situation is refreshingly original and the  magic is consistent and well realised. The plot takes a very dark turn at the end which I would have liked a bit more fore-showing. I have no problem with the events, but it’s like taking a blow to the stomach without tensing first.

Characters – I loved these guys. I found it very easy to relate to quiet, awkward Fay who is struggling to fit in on a number of levels. He’s brave and intelligent, but takes matters too seriously and blames himself to easily. His best friend Sam is a delight. Outspoken, loyal, more than a little violent, but hiding the pain of grief from her mother’s death. And then there’s Tyler, the love interest. I found their relationship adorable, and it’s a sign of well-formed characters when I’m happy to read about the more mundane aspects of their lives as well as the plot. It was nice to have some bi characters as well as gay ones.

Writing -well-balanced and easy to read. The book flows well and Fay’s personality carries the narration well. The characters have strong, individual voices and their personalities never get muddy. I particularly enjoyed the clever use of scientific understanding to get the best out of the magic powers. I found the trials towards the end of the book dragged just a tad, but there’s nothing wrong with the writing and the action scenes are clear and easy to visualise. I just wanted to get  more of Fay’s plot a bit quicker. I also think things went a little easy for the team (up until the very end of the book, when trust me, that is no longer true), but I never felt like they didn’t deserve to win any of their battles.

You can get a copy of Aspect of Winter from Amazon

Happily Ever After – Extract 2

After defeating the last of the Usurper’s forces, Lavie joins her friend Harry and Prince Brendan for breakfast…

(Please note, this has not been edited)

They’re sitting at the small, round table near the west window. The sun streams in, as if eager to join in the meal. Harry, because manners are not catching, is speaking with his mouth full and Brendan is laughing.

I stop in the main room, just listening. Maybe I’m just tired and worn out, but I suddenly feel strangely peaceful and content. I think I can finally believe the war is over. This is how our lives should be from now onwards.

“Lavie! What are you doing standing around like a serving wench?” Harry calls.

I stalk over to the table, grabbing the chicken leg out of his hand as I do. He tries to protest but I’ve already taken a bite out of it.

“Call me a wench again and I’ll cut off your unmentionables,” I warn him, waggling the drumstick. He makes a grab at it, leaning over the table and almost sending a dish of boiled eggs flying.

“Perhaps it was best that my uncle did not join us,” Brendan comments as he butters a slice of bread.

Harry slinks back into his chair. “Sorry.”

“Oh, don’t let me stop you. This is all very amusing. The Battle of Breakfast.” He picks a rose out of the vase in the centre of the table. “Here, I shall give a favour to the winner.”

I’m definitely tired, I decide, as the giggles bubble up from inside me. It’s been a long, long time since anything seemed this funny. As I am laid helpless by mirth, Harry seizes the opportunity to reclaim the drumstick. With a triumphant cry, he stands, one foot on his chair and eats it as proudly as if it were the heart of his mortal enemy. Brendan gives him a round of applause that only sounds slightly mocking and offers him the flower.

Yes, life doesn’t get better than this.

After that, conversation dies away while we eat in earnest. I haven’t had a full meal in days, just picked at bits and pieces. I’m used to it, snatching a bite when I can, but that means I enjoy the luxury of being able to sit down to a meal all the more.

The Battle of Breakfast is about to break out again over the last of the eggs when there is a knock at the door and Lord Vayne enters. Brendan wipes his mouth delicately and stands up.

“Uncle, I did not expect you so soon. I trust your rooms were to your satisfaction?”

He nods absently. “Yes, yes. Fine. Can we get down to business now?”

Brendan gestures to the main table in the centre of the room, and orders a waiting servant to fetch more wine. He heads over to sit down and I join him. Harry stuffs the last egg in his mouth and follows.

Lord Vayne does not look happy when we sit down, but he does not protest this time. A servant sets wine and goblets on the table and pours one for each of us. It seems strange that only a few days ago this could have been used by the Usurper himself.

“Shall we begin?” Brendan asks, looking at his uncle, who nods at the prince over his goblet. “What would you like to know?”

“Has a date been set for the coronation?”

“Not officially,” Brendan replies, “given that we only took the castle yesterday. But I think we should aim for a week’s time. It will be hard work, but I believe it is in the best interests of the kingdom for my reign to begin officially as soon as possible.”

He nods again, looking satisfied for the first time since he arrived. I see Brendan draw a breath of relief.

“We will need to discuss the details, but I agree that the sooner the better. Have you given consideration to those who stood against you and what you will do about them?”

Brendan fiddles with a ring on his finger nervously. “I have. Those who stood with the Usurper will have their land and titles stripped from them and they will be exiled from the kingdom. With the exception of Lord Wester of Ruscity, who will be given fifty lashes and then exiled.”

Lord Vayne raises an eyebrow.

“It’s a promise I made,” he says simply.

The Usurper had put a price on Brendan’s head as soon as he knew the prince was back in the kingdom. Lord Wester had been one of the most eager to claim it. We’d been hiding out in the forests, supported only by a handful of sell-swords we’d employed with money raised by selling Brendan’s books.

We’d tried to be careful, but Wester’s agents had taken Harry when he’d gone into town for supplies. By the time we’d mounted a rescue, they’d given him twenty-five lashes. Brendan had promised at the time to return the favour twice over when he took the kingdom back. I’m pleased to see he has not forgotten his word.

I think it was that incident that decided things for Brendan. He had come with us when we told him the news, but I don’t think he saw himself as a king at that point. He’d spent the last ten years studying with men whose minds were much harder than their bodies, trapped in a tower and isolated from the world. But seeing Harry’s bravery, having someone believe in him like that, galvanized him.

“What then?” Lord Vayne presses. “What of their families?”

“The next in line will be offered the chance to bend the knee and swear allegiance to me. If they do, I will permit them to inherit those lands and titles.”

“Is that wise?” I ask before I can stop myself. Brendan is too trusting at times. Bonds of blood run strong. Who is to say that these people won’t retain loyalty to their family over their new king?

“What other choice do I have, Lavinia? Chop off the heads of anyone who shares a drop of blood with them?” He shakes his head firmly. “Some of them are just children and some of those who did not support me were simply afraid of the consequences. Should I punish children for frightened adults?”

He looks round the table, daring us to contradict him. Unfortunately for Brendan, his uncle does not look impressed.

“I agree with the Lady Lavinia,” he says. I give Harry a kick under the table when he grins at me. “It would be best to make a fresh start of things, ensure your allies are in important positions.”

“There are plenty of men who have served you loyally,” I point out. “It would better to reward them, rather than appoint someone just because of their blood.”

“And what do you say, Harry?” the prince asks.

Harry, who is fiddling with the rose Brendan gave him earlier, looks up suddenly. He seems surprised to have been actually included in the discussion.

“I…I think you should follow your instincts, Your Highness,” he says softly. “I think if the king can’t trust his judgement then we are in a sorry position.”

“Thank you,” Brendan says, as if this decides the matter. “Was there anything else, Uncle?”

“Yes. What consideration have you given to the matter of marriage?”

I get up and hurry round the table to help Harry, who is choking on a mouthful of wine. Brendan looks furious, his brows drawn together in a frown.

“It may surprise you, Uncle, but that has not been foremost on my mind recently,” he snaps. “I have been more concerned about restoring my kingdom and fighting for my life than considering eligible women.”

“Then perhaps it is time. The kingdom needs an heir.”

“The kingdom does not have a king yet!” Brendan retorts.

“I see. Well, I can tell your mind is made up. Perhaps we should continue this when you are more willing to listen to advice.” He gets up and strides away from the table before the prince can say anything else.

Brendan sighs and turns to Harry.

“Are you all right?”

“I…I’m f-fine,” he gasps. His face is as red as the wine and there are tears running down his face. I give his back an extra hard slap, which earns me a glare from both of them.

“He’ll live,” I say.

“Do you think I am being unreasonable?” the prince asks, reaching for his wine. “Should I just bow down to my uncle’s judgement? That’s clearly what he wants.”

“Maybe he’s testing you?” I suggest. “Maybe he wants to know that you can stand up for yourself and your decisions. You spent more time with him at Whitecastle. Was he like this then?”

We’d suffered badly at the hands of the Usurper’s men at that time. Both Harry and I were injured and spent much of the time in the castle’s infirmary. By the time we had recovered enough most of the plans had been formulated.

“Not quite this bad,” Brendan admits. “I think we agreed on more back then.”

There’s an uncomfortable silence between us. Harry is still toying with the petals on the rose and Brendan appears to be focused on his goblet. All the earlier frivolity has faded. I stand up.

“If you’ve no further need of me, Your Highness?”

He waves his hand dismissively. “No, please go on. I’m sure you have things to do, Lavinia.”

I don’t, but I feel like I’m getting in the way if I stay here. I head down the tower steps, wondering what to do with myself. For the first time in a long while I am clean, well-fed, and unhurt. I feel no need to go and train. I should probably be resting my body after the battle this morning, but I don’t want to go back and have Squeak start pumping me for information about my former glories.

There is one thing I am curious about.

The steps down to dungeon don’t look much better in daylight. They’re steep, damp and dotted with green moss. At the bottom is a dark, yawning maw that seems to repel all light. I shiver, but press on downwards.

The pool of torchlight reveals Linton is on duty again.

“Sir,” he greets me.

“Pulled the short straw again?” I ask with a grin and he nods.

“Still, it’s not so bad. At least he’s quiet and undemanding.”

“He doesn’t cause any problems?” Somehow this makes me more nervous than if he was rattling on the bars and cursing constantly.

“No. He barely seems like the tyrant who murdered the royal family, does he?”

“Never forget who he is, Linton,” I warn him. “I know he won’t.”

I make my way down the damp passage to the last cell. Unpleasant puddles dot the ground and I do my best to avoid them.

“Lady Knight, you’ve come to visit me again.”

It’s a step up from Lady Lavinia, but not much of one. “I wanted to tell you that the last of your forces have been defeated.”

He raises one pale eyebrow. “Really? I wasn’t even aware there were any left.”

“A small unit camped out at Oker’s Pass. Their commander slit his own throat rather than kneel to his rightful king.”

“Ah, Moisas,” he says with a smile. “He was indeed a loyal man. But truly loyal men, the sort who will do anything for you, do not tend to be intelligent men. Have you noticed that? You can have undying loyalty, or you can have intelligence.”

I think of Harry, his back ripped raw by the lash, asking me through bloody lips if the prince was safe. I wonder if I could have done it. If they caught me, would I have been able to hold my tongue as the leather bit through my skin and into my flesh?

“You agree with me, I see,” the Usurper says softly. “The question, good knight, is which one are you?”

Happily Ever After – Extract 1

Lavie is sent to investigate an enemy camp, without being noticed…

(Please note this has not been edited.)

Leaving the horses hobbled and a man with them in case we need to leave in a hurry, we move closer. The pass is a narrow gash between two high hills. It extends about a mile and a half before opening out, and is only wide enough for three horses abreast at the narrowest point. The hills rise above, steeply at first then level out for a bit, giving a good space to place archers. It’s the ideal spot for an ambush.

I send the two remaining men to get as close to the camp at the pass entrance as they can, but decide to climb up to the ridge myself. There are fires starting to appear both on the ground and either side so I know need to be careful. I suspect we have the larger army, but without surprise we will lose much of that advantage.

Sometimes I wonder about myself. About how easily all of this comes to me. I might have shunned needle work for beating on Harry as a child, and my courtly manners consisted mostly of remembering to say good night to my husband before going to bed, but I was still raised a noblewoman. There are times when I wake up at night and wonder where this person has come from. It’s not that I hate what I have become, quite the opposite.

I think that’s what scares me most.

I shake my head and push the thoughts aside. Now is not the time to be dealing with them. I concentrate instead on scrambling up the rocky hillside. It’s not difficult, as long as I pay attention, but there’s the risk of breaking an ankle if I don’t watch my footing.

I can see the glow of a fire on the ridge, above and to my right. I can’t get much closer without risking myself, but I want to be able to bring back something useful to Brendan. Keeping close to the ground, I push on a bit higher, until I can crawl out to the edge on my belly.

The camp lies sprawled below me. Judging from the fires, I can tell their numbers are small, probably less than half ours. But that’s all it would take to hold this place for a while. Trenches have been dug at the far end and filled with sharpened logs to stop charges, and in the growing gloom I can see large boulders on the ground that must have been pushed from above. I suspect that, come daybreak, a greater number will be up on the walls, ready to harass with arrows.

I have to admit, I am impressed. I can’t think of a single thing I would have done differently of it were me in charge down there. I take another look, committing the camp, its layout and defences to memory. Fortunately all their traps lie facing the pass. There is nothing that will prevent us riding straight into their backs come dawn.

Satisfied, I crawl away and start to make my way down the hill, just as the man is making his way up. We both stop, face to face, too shocked to respond. I notice one hand is still fumbling on the laces of his britches and I almost laugh. This man is going to die tonight because he chose the wrong moment to piss.

I react first. I have no armour, no weapon beyond my dagger in order to move as quickly and quietly as possible. Stepping forwards, I shove one hand across his mouth. Before he can react, my dagger is in the other hand and at his throat.

“Not a sound,” I murmur. His eyes go wide, and then he nods, very slowly.

Cautiously, I take my hand from his mouth. When he doesn’t do anything stupid, I move behind him, keeping my blade on his throat. I push him gently with my free hand down the slope. It’s an awkward, clumsy manoeuvre, but I need him as far away from his companions as possible.

We are almost at the bottom when he stumbles over a rock. I fall forwards and he rolls away. Cursing under my breath, I launch myself at him as he opens his mouth to yell. If he gets a single sound out we are lost. My heart beats rapidly in my chest, and I’m afraid that the army will hear it, even if I do manage to silence the man.

I can feel him drawing in for a yell as I land by his chest. My elbow strikes out and I catch him just below the jaw. Instead of a roar, what comes out of his mouth is a wet choking sound. I slam my hand over his mouth again.

“That was the last mistake you will ever make,” I hiss.

His eyes beg me for mercy, but there is too much at stake for me to spare his life. My hand goes for my dagger and I curse again as I find the belt empty. It must have fallen from my grip in the struggle. No matter. There are plenty of weapons.

It only takes a moment of fumbling on the grass before my hand closes over a suitable rock. I bring it down three times, hard on his temple and watch the light go out of his eyes. I drop the rock and sit back, breathing heavily. And then it hits me. I’ve made a stupid mistake. Even if I have silenced this man, he has comrades.

And sooner or later they are going to come looking for him.

THE FALCON QUEEN

Synopsis:

They say that endings are just new beginnings and that could not be more true for Lavie Streaver. A noblewoman turned knight, she and her childhood friend, Harry, have fought long and hard to survive, raise an army and set the rightful heir, Prince Brendan, back on the throne. Enough blood, sweat and tears have been shed to drown the kingdom thrice over, but the war is finally over.

If the fates had been fair, their story would have ended there and they would have earned their happily ever after. But Lavie is struggling to settle down in a life without an enemy to fight. Harry finds his dreams of the future aren’t matching with the reality of it. And Brendan discovers that heroes don’t make good kings.

As the cracks begin to appear in the kingdom, and their friendship, Lavie finds herself turning to an unlikely source of help – the man they worked so hard to defeat.

Status:

In progress.

Reviews:

I love your descriptions, they have this mastered way of being written that makes me nod my head and say “Yes I get exactly what you’re showing me.” Your dialogue is superb as well. I feel as though they’re real conversations going on and not as though I’m in a novel. – Soufflegirl6, Figment

Amazing! The action packed from the very beginning was absolutely astonishing! “We tear into it like suckling pigs.” Nice use of figurative language. – Sam Lively, Figment

I enjoyed the action. You pull the reader in right away, taking no time to jump into the plot. It grips the readers easily. You have a very descriptive style, but not so much that its overwhelming. Just the right amount. While I usually have a hard time reading fantasy, I found myself moving onto the next chapter without hesitation. It’s definitely a piece I’ll come back to when I have more time. – Ashley Kowitz, Figment

Where to read:

Figment – the first chapter is up, still under the old title of Happily Ever After .