#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 27

Full list of questions here; last question here.

Week 27 | Your favourite location in your novel

Right, so I have these Three Kingdoms. The middle one is called Alvefia with its capital city called Hallius.

Hallius is the largest and most popular city in the Three Kingdoms. A cosmopolitan hub of culture, art, and technological advancement, it sets itself apart from the rest of the cities. This cosmopolitan vibe is one that they espoused in the face of slavery: they were the first to abolish it before any of the other kingdoms. Like the British who discovered no actual law enshrined the institution, a union of artists, lawyers, and citizens created a movement that banished slavery from their kingdom. Hallius, the capital, was at the forefront of that. The size of it meant that slavers could hide in the nooks and crannies but so could escaped slaves from other lands. There was shelter here, sanctuary.

Asgard
Similar aesthetic to Asgard but less water; Hallius is landlocked and the nearest mountain would not be in sight like so. But the mix of city and nature … the *grandness* of it all.

Beyond sanctuary, it is also known as the City of Wind, not because I had Chicago in mind but because it is elevated from natural rock formations of the surrounding area. Rails run across and above the city, sending light goods and messages zipping across the city. The Mana crystallises into crystals filled with wind energy which the Helsi (the demonym of residents of Hallius) use to power their city and technology.

It also got its elevation because of what happened when the Kingdoms were split up with the Great Divide—a split of about a mile at its widest, which under Hallius it is. North and south are divided to the point where they seem to be different entities altogether. The south seeks independence from the north in the main story because they believe that the north, which seats the Crown care nothing for the south, which holds the military and a lot of the lower classes.

Hallius, even in early drafts, was a city I loved deeply. I feel in love with a place I’ll never go outside of the page. I’m still trying to build in the foods and culture of the place but it’s got a strong Grecian vibe with places like Spain and Italy also being huge influences of the presentation.

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#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 26

Week 26 | Your protagonist was born a different sex. Does your story change?

Eh, not really. My protagonist’s journey is supposed to have a parallel with the Goddess (Venus) and since Venus is a woman, that synchronicity is … useful if not essential. It’s more motif-based. As to how this hypothetical character, let’s call him Rix, would be treated … I don’t think anything fundamental would change but his dynamic with the other characters might differ. So he and Varim, for example, might have a closer a relationship. Varim would value Rix’s emotional understanding and might confide in him a bit more. There are certain things guys are more comfortable speaking to other guys about. Max I don’t think would change the dynamic.

Characters like Ayene might try to figure him out and consider him a romantic option, perhaps.

I think the biggest change might be the dynamic with Rix’s aunt, Lady Jane Syrill. Jane has a better kinship with Rixa because they share womanhood and while Jane would not be less loving towards Rix, there would be that difference, I think. Not huge, maybe not even essential, but different.

Okay, that’ll do.

 

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 25

List of questions here; last week’s question here.

Week 25 | Illustrations of three of your characters

So my good friend had an itch to scratch. He needed to illustrate this book. Before we get into the discussion of characters, I personally love his style. It’s unlike what I originally conceived in the best way: the characters have overlaps in the flavour of their personalities but the attire and general aesthetic is his own. I’m of the persuasion that the best adaptations borrow faithfully but are not overly bound by the source material: they use this new medium to do something different with the source material. I’m trying to push him into this philosophy as well: I want to see his interpretations. He’s doing well on accident!

Have a look at his process!

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On the left is Kellhein. Kellhein is one of my favoured characters who is perhaps most under-served by the text. He’s a mysterious figure, who we meet mid-way through the book. Rumour clings to him better than fact does: there are many tales of his various shapes, of being able to shift into a “six foot raven”*, that he was born from the sun, and that he is a dragon whisperer. Not much is known about his origins but his accent indicates that he comes from the land to the north, the barren continent of Volgoria, long since blighted by the Weeping God, a god of destruction. His name, translating to something in the ballpark of the “The heinous killer” indicates a rich history. His true name is unknown.

He hides this with perhaps too many layers of snark and teasing, making it difficult to take anything he says as sincere. That distance suits him just fine and his focus is on doing the right thing. For him, at least. He doesn’t prescribe to a strict code of right and wrong—at least not in relation to any nation. Rather, he stands apart, acting on his own instincts and experience. Perfunctory observation would put him as a youngish ex-general with a disgruntlement of his former sovereign.

NB: Kellhein chronologically featured in a separate story that if I were to put a time to it, is set prior to the events of Umbra. Depending on how I feel, I’ll revisit that story because I liked his dynamic with the protagonists.

(*I legit accidentally based him off of Raven: Kellhein has a Scottish accent and is mysterious and powerful just like he. Their temperament is different but stuff like being an actual raven was my subconscious feeding my creativity.)

On the right, we have Kaiyrah Halewood, who, at the beginning of the story is a newly knight warrior of her home country. Kai is a proud woman because of her incredible prowess: she doesn’t believe in harsh measures and has clear black-and-white decision trees. This can lead her astray as certain ambiguities frustrate her more than she lets on. (Her arc is defined by internal struggle, of duality, which is kind of a leitmotif of the entire series: the subtitle is The War of the Twins.) Still, she is an intensely steadfast and loyal companion to have and definitely the kind of solider you want to have in your ranks. While not the most outwardly emotional, she does have quite an intense and complex emotional landscape that she filters with what she can do for her loved ones. When she loves, she loves deeply (and the same can be said in the opposite case).

In terms of all round capability, few soldiers, even the elite, can boast the rounded nature of her skills. Her mentor, Lady Jane Syrill, spoke of her prowess and indicated that she was the quickest to learn, though confessed that she was a little disappointed that she had no particular specialities. Kai favours spears as her branch of the Army does, but she’s also proficient in bows, swords, and several types of gun. She is also an above average magus, with no special affinity for an element or magic type.

Kai’s design is an example of the artist creating freely. Again, I like the blues and the addition of the hat (which is an accidental bit of significance). I don’t usually map my characters to actors (so week 39’s gonna be fun) but I had a rare moment of clarity when I saw Thor: Ragnarok. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie  looked painfully close to at least the type of character Kai is visually.

She’s also one of the most consistent characters in terms of who they were when I conceived of them ten years ago (!!!) and who they are now. That suits the woman Kai just fine.

Where they’re both standing is a place called the Fortress at Iverfau, during the last third of the book.

And finally, one of my own sketches of my “protagonist“, Rixa:

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I think her expression is a paradigmatic Rixa expression: a little worried or nervous, but earnest.

Rixa I say is one of the characters I have the most kinship with. She’s much shyer than I am, probably a bit smarter too, but she has very good intentions and an unwavering will. Her shyness could make you miss the fire in her spirit but it exists and is her guiding force—her armour against a cruel world. Rixa’s parents left her up for adoption by her aunt, Lady Jane Syrill, for undisclosed reasons: her mother to the neighbouring country of Tymbroia which is feuding with her home country Onzaria more and more; her father went to the far northeastern reaches of Delaria to become a politician. Neither chose to write her or, if they did, the correspondences never made it to her. This is something that hurts her deeply but in a way that she rarely would admit to openly, not even to herself. Despite her hurt, Rixa remains a very authentic soul, who is very loving and supportive to who she is closest to. She has a natural curiosity for all things and particularly loves plants.

A shyer Rixa is a late-game addition; Rixa was a lot haughtier but also more gregarious in the original draft. Also, a fun bit of trivia: Rixa and Varim were to be a couple and an early version of Umbra tried to pay homage to that. The characters they became meant that this particular avenue didn’t make much sense so it’s something that got scrapped altogether. Still, the more you know.

Okay, that’ll do.

 

 

 

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 24

Full list of questions here; last question here.

Week 24 | A minor character is now your protagonist. How do they fare?

Depending on which minor character we’re talking about, we have a variety of outcomes that include tragic or brutal. Let’s have a look see. I’ll take it for granted that the War of the Twins—the Three Kingdoms versus their southern invaders the Anzori Empire—is an inevitability.

The nurse: This unnamed nurse appears but twice in a place called the Fortress at Iverfau. He’s a pretty unassuming dude so there’s potential for some interesting diplomacy. His experience in medicine offers him a unique perspective of conceiving both sides as people to be reasoned with, not mindless savages as either dogmatically espouse. There is potential that this dogma will get him captured or killed, for fear he is “weak” to deal in a bipartisan manner. But there is a possibility that he could be a diplomat to steer through an uneasy peace.

Lord Raymos Heidell: On a list of characters that are likely to get cut, Ray is a lord from Onzaria and brother to a great warrior, Lady Tanya Heidell. Ray is a bit more advanced in years now and what he lacks in battle-readiness, he makes up for as a tactician. He would try to make a hearty offensive against the Anzori through uniting some disparate houses of the Kingdoms. Ultimately, their might would prove too great and he would likely be killed.

Carlos and Corolla: Twins, aged 13. Smart kids but kids nonetheless. A war is no place for children. Tragedy.

Omreyn du Reic: Leader of the Wolves of Reic, a brutal order based around pack loyalty and non-negotiable ideology. His strength and conviction might be lauded to begin with but prove too much for some who do not enjoy his love of bloodshed. Potentially captured to deescalate situations or offered as a prisoner in exchange for a ceasefire.

Lord Ralph Syrill: His ambition and hubris would be his downfall as he misjudges his enemy because of his admittedly impressive progress technologically speaking.

 

We can go on but it’s not great. It’s great for the actual protag, but their mission is such that they are not enmeshed in battle, but away from it. I am operating that her quest does not exist at all in these counterfactual situations.

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie [3.5/5 stars] (May Review)

So last month I dunno what happened. Just the one book, it seems. I was in a bit of a slump.

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Revenge is a dish best served cold. It will leave you cold long before all of it is meted out. This is the story of Monza Murcatto, Serpent of Talins, great warrior mercenary of the Grand Duke Orso.

Maimed in betrayal, Monza sets out to get revenge on the seven men that betrayed her and so lies a bloody, darkly humorous adventure across the country of Styria.

The book takes place during political upheaval, helped in part by Monza and her band of misfits. The politics were in general interesting but I think their late introduction hampered the story a bit, perhaps in part because the perspective characters weren’t enmeshed enough in them.

Abercrombie’s experience in television is clear as each part is episodicso it keeps its focus but it overall felt a bit frayed because it was doing the work of multiple books. This could be two books of stuff. I respect the commitment to the standalone, though, don’t get me wrong. I think the number of persons for revenge are too numerous but maybe that is part of the point—revenge is never as satisfactory as you think it is up conception.

Characters were the usual Abercrombie flavour—idiosyncratic, violent, and not heroic, a blend of old (from The First Law trilogy) and brand new*—the best of the new going to Friendly, hands down. Abercrombie seems to like inversions of tropes and characters. What’s interesting is the idea of character regression contra to standard-fare character progression. That’s very Abercrombie. Very Grimdark. Nicomo Cosca sums this philosophy (?) up well by saying people change for the better or worse, but sometimes they change back. There’s a brutal tragedy inherent in this world that makes the character’s journeys heartbreaking. Good characters get corrupted and don’t get what they might deserve. Sometimes awful people do. The world itself is extremely grey and bleak. It makes it exciting and upsetting in near enough equal parts.

There are some character revelations that are haunting and sad, adding to that emptiness that I almost entirely attribute to Joe Abercrombie.

I will be revisiting Abercrombie again but not soon. He is not easy emotionally. No idea how I got through The First Law trilogy so quickly. Oh wait, because they’re fucking excellent.

*Did you know that this is not the first time Monza has appeared in The First Law canon? This is the first time Monza is a perspective character, hell even her first appearance, but she gets an offhand mention in Before They Are Hanged. Finding that out, I can see the overarching story that Abercrombie is telling across multiple books that really fleshes out the world. There are seeds of things to come and I can’t wait for more.

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 23

Week 23: Top five quotes from your book

List of questions here; last question here.

When I started writing I wanted to make something that was as smooth a whole as possible, something that couldn’t be broken into excerpts or quotes. I did not think about quotability so finding them for this week was a pretty trying task. Here are the five that sum up some of the ideologies and themes of the characters.

“To protect those who were dearest to her. That was why she decided to become a soldier. To protect those who could not defend themselves, to make sure no-one felt what she and her friends felt all those years ago. Rixa had helped shape her resolve through the simple act of showing kindness. Kindness would propel her to do the right thing.”

— Dame Kaiyrah Halewood reflecting on her duties as a soldier

Less a quote and more a profession of holy virtue in this world:

“The Goddess gave us a gift to use Balance with careful precision, not for personal gain. That is why there are so few magi who can wield it. Selflessness is a demonstration of holiness.”

— Duchess Alayna of the Duchy of Tymbroia 

 

“Not every denial of fighting is cowardice.”

—Captain Roxanne Arlein, of the Pilgrims/Lion’s Brigade

 

“Right now, fight for your comrades: your brothers and sisters that have returned to Artelia’s womb and died by nameless northweil—those that mock and offend us at every turn of the way. Fight for the dead and the fallen, the ill and infirm. Do not fight for honour, fight for death!”

—Respen del Anzor, General of the Anzori Army’s rallying cry

 

Every mistake is a lesson, and every lesson a road mark on your path of improvement. Become greater than your mistakes: they are only failures if you allow them to crush you.”

—Luce dal Reine, lieutenant general of the Anzori Army

 

 

Next question.

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 22

Week 22 | What you find easiest / hardest about the writing process

Full list of questions here; last question here.

I think the act of writing is not actually strenuous to me. I’ m relatively fast so in a day I can get pretty decent word counts. Typically. My biggest vice is regularity. I have difficulty sustaining momentum when I stop writing. When I fall off, it can take months to climb aboard again. That’s why things like NaNo are a boon to me: this concentrated time to write a large amount of words is stimulating to me. Stressful, but stimulating.

I am what has been known as a burst writer, and so outside of the NaNo months I struggle to write with consistency. I’ve mentioned it before various times but I’m trying to cultivate good habits so I’m not wholly reliant on the respective writing month challenges to bulk up the word counts of my multiple (and increasingly larger) books.

I mentioned in Week 16 that last month I wrote to a time goal (amount of hours in a month) as opposed to a specific word count goal as is the norm for November. I’m trying to implement that more naturally. I really believe that I once I move along I’ll be back again but I’ve slowed. There’s nothing more for me to do but push ahead. It usually starts very slowly but unknots over time.

As a bit of a bonus, I suspect editing would  be a challenge for me. I’ve never really edited a book properly before—the odd scene certainly, and short stories as well, but not an entire work. I usually go straight for a redraft. The reason is that I haven’t felt like the ideas and plot threads are at a point where I can just revise them. After my next iteration, however, I will work over it instead of abandoning the previous version for an updated one. There are things that I want to add in to the main narrative but not change the overarching story. Texture, mostly. The reason I think it’ll be challenging is because it’s a new skill to me. But it’s one I need to develop.

 

Next question.

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 21

Full list of questions here; last question here.

Week 21 | An interview with your villain

This comes with a caveat: I have no villain in Umbra. The real villain is ideology and how people use it to distort reality but that’s too abstract and maybe a bit pretentious. What I do have is a morally complex (or so I hope) antagonist, Respen del Anzor (born Bolvin). He is on a mission for the Empress Kolvious, a foreign woman who united the disparate races and lead the charge to abolish slavery in the south, someone with whom he reveres. She is also a character who is absent from the present story. Without getting too much into it, their lives have been intertwined for many years. This is an interview between the two, where she basically asks him to lead her armies.


Kolvious stood with her arms folded in front of her, looking through her large window, that overlooked silently gushing waterfalls that curved around the rear of the castle. Observing her child, the place she won. The place she called home at long last. The baby blue slash of the royal road and the city that stretched on her right seemed to shine in the late afternoon sun. If she were to open her window just a fraction, she would hear the bubble of the water, the cries of people in the streets, motors, and laughter. Her subjects happy and most importantly free.

A knock at her door drew her out of her reverie.

“Enter.”

Her personal guard bowed. “Respen del Anzor, Your Eminence,” they said through a deep bow.

“Excellent, thank you,” she said with a smile. They bowed again as Respen del Anzor stepped in. The guard stepped back and closed the door.

“I swear, the whole ‘not having your back to the ruler’ is one holdover that will probably outlive me.”

He bowed low, hand on his heart. “Your Eminence, they do not know how to behave around royalty still.”

“That bastard the former king will haunt me forever, it seems. And none of ‘Your Eminence’s, please. I need to not feel like I’m in court.”

“O-of course, y—” Rather than come up with a viable substitute, he stopped dead and he let out air.

Kolvious couldn’t stop the laugh that bubbled out from her mouth. “Oh Respen, forgive me. I have put too much on you so quickly. Call me Kolvious.”

“Bu—”

“It isn’t my true name, it is my title. Honorific enough, no?”

He nodded with clear reluctance.

Respen was a tall young man with slightly hunched shoulders: he hadn’t yet grown comfortable with his height. He had jet hair that tumbled to his shoulders with one side shaved a little and he had a forelock with multicoloured beads enclosed around it. His clean-shaven face revealed his young years but his brown eyes were serious and hard.

It both heartened and saddened her.

“I’m sorry about your brother,” she said, sinking into her high backed chair, she gestured for him to sit. Respen seemed so focused on being seated in the chair on the opposite side of the desk that Kolvious almost missed the pained flicker on his face. “He was a good man.”

“No doubt the one you would prefer lead. Now your armies have no leader and murmurs of succession ripple across them all.”

“I won’t lie to you now. You deserve that much, if nothing else. Your brother was amongst the most capable fighter I had the pleasure to stand with—even including the warriors I fought with from my birthplace.” She sat back, elbows on either arm rest. “So right to it, then. You are my man. You linger in your brother’s shadow and that is halting your progress.”

He raised his eyes. “You mean for me to lead?”

“I do.”

“That’s absurd. I cannot possibly. There are—”

“Respen.”

“I could draft a list of the best five who are fit to lead before me.”

“I know every name on that hypothetical list.”

“But—”

“Do you know why I am choosing you?”

“I … ” He seemed to really consider it, shaking his head. Goddess, I have to really push him, don’t I? Faith in all but his own strength. Poor thing. She rested her arms on the desk and leaned forward.

“There was something you said to me a while ago: the sword carries not just the weight of its metal, but of the lives it could potentially claim. It is because of this thinking that I am picking you. I do not need a solider, I need a leader. Leaders are decisive, but most crucially thoughtful. I need that. On the battlefield you and Aurelia have unrivalled precision and execution but it is your compassion that I value. I have the throne but still there are some who are closing in and would happily garrote me for this chance.”

“They mean to lay to waste all you have built. None has unified the disparate Anzori races before.”

She held up a finger. “Actually I am the first in one thousand years but yes my foes are problematic.” Her smile deepened. “But again, you are showing me why you’re an obvious pick.”

“Bu—”

“Don’t make me have to order you.”

“I understand.”  He hung his head, one used to the burdens of leadership without him even realising, perhaps. Head heavy as if wearing a crown.

“I appreciate that I am asking much of you. To lead is to stand alone. You don’t need to answer immediately.” He stared at her. “But let me ask you: why is it that you became a soldier? Why pick up the sword at all instead of a teacher or an activist? Maybe an artist.” At a moment of consideration, she added, “I ask, you ask. How’s that?”

“Very well, Kolvious.” He took a moment to think, face locked in a frown. “In truth I wanted to join my brother. My father didn’t give much room to be anything more than what he said to be. It was the ultimate betrayal to be a solider against the king he lost his sense of self to bow to. I hated him for it. That is why I did I what I did to him … I do not have the diplomatic skills to be an activist, maybe not even a good heart but I can clash blades. I will let those who are fit to do that use their voice as a weapon. They have true strength. I wanted to be something that meant I didn’t sit idly by. My words might not be a strength, but something in my actions did. I could not sit still while fellow magi were being oppressed, stomped underfoot for the regime of fear.” He gave her a look. “That is satisfactory to you, isn’t it? You like how I think?” Rather than joy, he seemed agitated.

She smiled and gave no answer.

Respen exhaled softly and cast his eye about the room, settled on the wall to his right, at the paintings of landscapes and oceans with moody black cloud overhead.

“Y—Kolvious, why don’t have paintings of yourself?”

“A painting? Of myself? Oh, that’s much too gaudy for my taste. Why waste time in having 20 foot painting of myself around the palace? If I want to see myself, I’ll look in a mirror. Would you have a painting of yourself commissioned?” He shook his head. “Precisely. I think my lack of commitment to decorum unsettles my enemies, keeps them sharp.

“Some would cling to the old ways, though.”

“Indeed, some would. What say you, Respen?”

“This land has long been in need of reform.”

“Good answer!” She grinned. “Your new question, young solider.”

“Why not wait? You just called me young.”

“Oh, I’ll wait. But I want to mould you first. You’ll still need to learn more about terrain, tactics, strategy, but you’ve picked up the basics already.” She raised her arm to the right, at the shelves that stretched across the walls, lined with books, ladders on opposing sides slanted on them.

“I’ll do it.”

“Hm?” His eyes were scanning the bookshelves as well.

“With conditions.”

“Ooh a proposition.” She leaned her elbows on the desk and rubbed her palms together.

“We have regular sessions like this. Where you teach Aurelia, too.”

“Where we chat? She considered. Fascinating. I can do that, Respen del Anzor. I would like that very much. Why don’t we start now?”

“I do not know much philosophy. And she does not know the Anzori tongue as well as she would like as well.”

“Of course.” She nodded thoughtfully. “Language lessons I can do. Philosophy is fine. Tell me, what do you do when not on campaign?”

“I take walks. Usually with Aurelia, but sometimes with Telwyn as well. On other days we eat food. She does not like spice but I love it—at least a little per meal. It makes finding food we both like a challenge. And you?”

She smiled, knowing young love when she saw it. “I read. But I walk too—in secret, of course. I like the wooded path by the waterfall. It’s a scenic route and ends up with one of the best views on the city for miles. Why walks?”

“Silence. You do not realise how loud battle is—how loud city life is until you are away. It makes me feel like a person again.”

“Interesting.”

He looked up to her head. “Is the crown comfortable?”

She leaned back with a laugh. “Goddess, no.” The smile dropped from her face as soon as it appeared. “But that’s how I prefer it. You weigh the weight of lives with your blade, I with my crown.”

His eyes widened a little with reverence. The faint traces of a smile touched at her lips as she watched him. They continued long into the night.


So you see, those two have a vested interest in each other. Kolvious sees a sort of child in him, one that she never had. I’d continue but it’d get far too long. Let me know if you want to see more; I quite enjoyed writing from Kolvious’ perspective.

April Reviews

Another month, another batch of literature. Mostly comics ahead since April was Infinity War month and my brother is also on a crusade to make comics a staple of my literary diet.

First up, Clint Barton’s Hawekeye.

Hawkeye Volume 1: My Life as a Weapon written by Matt Fraction, art by David Aja and others [4/5 stars]

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Everybody’s least favourite Avenger is an interesting guy. Good at heart but a bit of a mess. Sometimes he just wanders around aimlessly, not even pouring the coffee in his mug correctly. But he can’t stand injustice, and that will make him jump headfirst into action. This is what makes him a hero. Captain America is clearly an influence for this:

“Cap … he makes you want to be better”

I rated it 3 stars initially but an extra star for Aja’s brilliant art that adds to an ultimately very human tale. What it lacks in the hyper detail common in comics, it makes up in incredible structure: from the colours to the panels. It invites the eyes to follow its lurid journey. Seriously, the characterisation is interesting enough but the art is truly brilliant. It’s hard to describe but there are few times when Hawkeye nocks and then shoots an arrow and the flow of these motions is great. It’s very difficult to describe and is emblematic of optimised artistry that you need to see it in action.

A good thing for individual books over the crossover comics: you get better characterisation. Clint and his partner Kate Bishop have great (non-sexual!) chemistry and there are some real laughs to be had at their sort of dysfunctional family sort of relationship. If you’re looking for a character-led superhero story, look no further.

 

The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan [4/5 stars]

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Gotta read The Wheel of Time, baby! A worthy sequel to the brilliant The Great Hunt and I’ll give you one reason: Matrim Cauthon. Mat spent the first two books ill (for Plot reasons) so it’s not until this episode that we get a glimpse into his character. The loudmouthed, gambling, hero the cast don’t deserve is a treat. It leads me to wonder why he waited two books to have Mat properly introduced, y’know? But Jordan is the master of “Things That Don’t Seem Important But Definitely Are” so we’ll see.

Jordan made an interesting step in this book: have the main character have a goal that is specific to him but not have him as a featured perspective. Rand has very little “screen time” and that gives room for other characters like Mat, Perrin, and Egwene to develop, to the book’s credit. Rand’s absence drives the plot and adds a much-needed dynamism to the book, if the plot points are bit clumsily handled. Rand is absent until essentially the end, seen only in the occasional glimpse and dream. For me, this reads like the twin of the former book, The Great Hunt which begins quite slowly but speeds up to explore various different avenues leading to an explosive finale. There were some nice twists along the way and the worldbuilding remains stellar if there are some character missteps (I was always on the fence with Egewene but she is definitely worse in this book).

With this, I will be taking a short reprieve from The Wheel of Time. Baby.

Infinity Vols. I & II: written by Jonathan Hickman, art by various [4/5 stars in total]

 

So of course in the week leading up to my viewing of Infinity War, I read the comics! (I was basically told they were mandatory reading by my brother in his continual efforts to make me read more comics.)

So Jonathan Hickman has the impossible task of uniting Marvel’s mightiest heroes against their (so far) mightiest threat: the Mad Titan Thanos. This is done to mixed degree. The first volume felt very fragmentary and the sweeping scope was interesting but frustrated clarity and made continuing almost not worthwhile. I would rate it raw a 2.5-3 stars (out of 5), with a bump of a star for the gorgeous art. The second volume ties the threads together much more satisfyingly in some genuinely moving scenes to a pretty shaky but deserved 4 out of 5 stars.

The Thanos in these comics is the Thanos that has been teased and shown in snippets across the MCU but wholly differs from the film version, which is the better presentation, for me personally.

As a relative noob to comics, I wouldn’t recommend this either. A lot of this relies on pretty deep knowledge of the comic universe. Hickman in general does a good job but there’s so much lore that it requires a good search to understand if one is unfamiliar with the wider continuity. Some people are fine to do that but I am not, in general.

Note on reading habits: I’m going to need to curate my reading habits more. My comic habits are being largely shaped by my brother who hands me what he’s read but I think I need to look into stuff for myself. He has an income so that is part of the reason why this is, so this will serve as a sort of note for when I start having one too. I want to read non-superhero stuff. I think that’s what I need to reignite my passion for the medium.

 

 

 

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 20

Full list of questions here; previous question here.

Week 20: Tell us about … religion in your book

Okay, so I thought long and hard about this because the religion of the book ties intimately with the meta-story of all the books set on my fictional world of Delka but it’s also linked deeply with the setting of this book, Umbra, and its sequel. To understand religion’s spread you have to zoom out a bit.

There are two goddesses, Venus and Artelia, that effectively govern the world of Delka. They were assigned a task by their father to look out after it in his absence. Since the dawn of time, the goddesses and their ilk have battled with their opposites, entities now known as Zekk. The goddesses dealt with the creation energy Mana while the Zekk dealt with an energy that at its heart is deconstruction of existing stuff, Umbra. Neither the goddesses nor the Zekk can dominate as it would cause chaos for the universe, but the Zekk don’t care and want to rule. A finely tuned balance between the two is mitigated by dragons which are celestial beings in this universe. They curb either’s powers with the third and final energy Balance, or sometimes Spirit. The short version of this story is that the goddesses make a deal with the dragons to help them stop the destruction-loving Zekk and seal them away. The result of this comes at a price: Venus must give up her eyes and Artelia must have dominion over the Umbra to maintain the balance of the universe.

In the Three Kingdoms, the story goes that essentially Artelia ate the Zekk to gain their power and overthrow her sister Venus and become the dominant force in the universe. In the process, Venus lost her eyes. Artelia was thwarted and cast down to service the “impure” Umbra as a result. This feeds into the culture of the Three Kingdoms from idioms/curses “Artelia take your eyes” for expression of extreme distaste, right the way up to their perception of other cultures. The subtitle of Umbra is “The War of the Twins”, which refers to the twin goddesses. The Three Kingdoms (colloquially known as “Volgorian” because that is the language they speak, though they have no official demonym) worship Venus, while the Anzori Empire to the south worship Artelia. Both view the other as “savage” because of their worship of the opposite goddess. The most abundant energy type there is Mana, while Anzor’s most abundant energy source is Umbra.

In Anzori faith, Artelia is the wronged heroine of the tale who was banished by her sister who was jealous of her gifts, claiming that Artelia was conspiring with the Zekk for dominion. So shamed was Venus of her crimes, she could not bear to see it and her eyes failed as a result. Dominion over the Umbra means responsibility of dead things and the afterlife. Anzori culture almost uniformly has a deep respect for the dead and the ritual for the dead. Life is suffering, Artelia suffers to see people suffer, but to maintain balance she must not interfere directly. But that does not mean she can do nothing. The way they see it, their restless souls need to be guided to the Undying Lands where Artelia resides who will watch over them eternally.

A priest of Artelia’s religion believes that because of our souls were part made by Venus, the “Tyrant Goddess”, they know restlessness and wickedness. They must devote themselves to guiding their souls to the Undying Lands peacefully without the turmoil, else they cannot be admitted and will wander forever. Many different cultures across the Empire represent faith differently but many express it through hair and ornamentation: men and women both tend to grow their hair long, wear beads, and feathers. Death rites are commonplace services a priest would offer as well as to follow the precept of seeing good in all. They see their mission in putting people on a righteous path. Some might need more help than others. Unfortunately, I have done a great disservice to the Anzori Empire and this religion as of yet is unnamed. You can mark this down as something to flesh out in the redraft. I was speaking with my friend about how underdeveloped religion is and I mean to do it justice, especially with future books.

The Three Kingdoms’ dominant religion is Seinism. Its origin is not commonly known to the average denizen there. The names of most of the countries derive from the major tribe/clan/ethnicity/delete as necessary that lived in the landmass to the north, Volgoria. So Onzarians are descended from the clan of Onza, Tymbroians from the Tymbros, etc., etc. Seinism derives its name similarly. Their clan was a minority and often looked down upon.

A cruel queen, Veena the Unjust, did not like their traditions and banished them to the lands south of Volgoria. The lands south (modern day Three Kingdoms) were supposed to be barren and uninhabited so her ambition was to ship them away and let the emptiness of that land do the job of ridding them of the Seins once and for all. She gave them little food and many starved or jumped overboard to give the others a chance. The few survivors were shipwrecked on the northern shore of modern day Delaria in the northeast of the Three Kingdoms, and brought to their capital at the foot of a mountain. It turns out a flourishing culture already existed, one of abundance. The prominent members of the clan were asked about their home but they decided not to speak of it, calling it a foul and ungrateful land* instead electing to speak only of their own traditions and teachings. These were well-received by the locals and the Seins, these strangers from the north, were viewed as very special, prophets from heaven. Their message spread orally but soon people began to scribe down these teachings and Seinism was formed. That’s about as far as I’ll go as this is getting on a bit. Seinism actually has a much darker underbelly to it that I won’t go into. But yeah. The theme of the series is about perspective and how culture shapes your beliefs. Building a robust religion and culture will be integral in selling this idea.

 

*Their desire for vengeance would see this foreign nation, known as Erebia, stretch out to the southern tip of Volgoria, but not much further than that.

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