And another post already! It’s only been a month or so since the last one. I am really getting the hang of this whole writing fast thing. (Looks shifty).
So I’m currently reading an epic fantasy novel, the third in a series by Brian Stavely.
If you like brutal action, grimdark philosophy and tortured characters then I would recommend this series. It’s well written and explores complex themes of faith, rulership, war, family, psychology and the nature of divine beings. The bad guys are intelligent and so fiendishly manipulative that you will find yourself struggling with a creeping sense of paranoia as the series develops, wondering if every action the viewpoint characters take merely plays into their enemy’s hands.
The setting has some unusual elements that keep it from being a cookie-cutter fantasy setting as well. There are no wizards or ‘magic-users’ as such; instead there are ‘leaches’ who wield magical or psychic powers like telekinesis and fuel their abilities by drawing arcane strength from something within the world such as fear or metal, (this is called a leach’s ‘well’). They’re sort of fantasy X-Men really as they are born with their abilities and each leach has a different ‘well’. The setting’s non-human race are interesting because they are different to humans in a profound way that has more to do with their minds than any physiological difference.
So there’s good stuff here. And if you’ve run out of books by Steven Erikson, Ian C. Esslemont and Joe Abercrombie to read then this series would be a pretty good next step.
But read their stuff first. In particular I consider Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen to one of the greatest fantasy series ever written. Why not give it a look? https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55399.Gardens_of_the_Moon
That being said; like many epic fantasy series Stavely’s work has begun to bloat so much that the hardback edition of the current book could be considered an offensive weapon. I have to say that I’m struggling to finish it so that I can return it to the library and move on to some shorter, less epic but more original books.
Also, having established that this series is worth reading; I feel entitled to call shenanigans on one aspect of Stavely’s world-building.
So, the Annurian Empire which dominates this setting has an elite military unit called the Kettral.
Trigger Warning. Spoilers below.
Here are all the advantages the Kettral have over other military forces in the setting.
- They have the best training in fighting and tactics. They’re like modern Special Forces. They are matched only by some death cultists and some sociopathic monks; neither group is political as such. No other nation has soldiers as good as the Kettral. The elite bodyguards of the Annurian Emperor are not as skilled as the Kettral. Annurian legionaries are less skilled than a 12 year old Kettral cadet.
- They are further enhanced to potentially superhuman levels by having drunk from the eggs of a monstrous species of predators called Slarn. (Charming). This makes them faster and stronger with better reflexes and the ability to see in the dark. I believe that their other senses are also enhanced. No one else has access to any mutagens.
- In a cheeky nod to the Malazan Book of the Fallen the Kettral have access to ‘munitions’ i.e. military explosives. No one else has explosives. No one else has gunpowder. Even the regular Annurian army does not seem to use explosives for siege warfare, (in contrast all Malazan forces use munitions). So the Kettral have grenades and can undermine and blow up bridges and castles while other military units are lucky if they can field trebuchets or crossbowmen.
- They ride huge flying predatory birds. No one else has flying mounts. So they can outpace and outmanoeuvre, (not to mention mangle), everyone else. Also this means that the Kettral can drop explosives on enemy ships, armies and fortifications more or less with impunity.
- And remember those leaches I mentioned? Guess where all leaches in the Annurian Empire end up, (barring the ones that are executed for being leaches). That’s right, the ranks of the Kettral. Rogue leaches do exist but no other military unit revealed so far has access to fantasy X-Men or any other kind of magic.
So the Kettral are a Captain Planet style amalgamation of the powers of the SAS, Bridgeburners, Witchers, Convokers and to a lesser extent the X-Men. That is a little OTT Mr Stavely.
(Anyone who knows what all of those groups are, please award yourself some kind of gold star for advanced geekdom. Give yourself a silver star just for having heard of the Convokers).
I believe that there is some justification for this in the setting. My memories of the first book are hazy now but I think the idea was that the Imperial Family concentrated all of the advantages they could get into a single unit so that that unit would be unstoppable. This allowed them to dominate a large empire because no rebellious client-king or over-ambitious garrison commander would stand a chance against the Kettral.
This doesn’t explain why the Kettral haven’t just taken the Empire over themselves though. IRL elite military units and castes had a habit of taking over the empires they served given half a chance. The Roman army replaced quite a few Emperors. Samurai ruled Japan for hundreds of years while keeping the Imperial Family as pets. The Mamluks just made themselves sultans and kings in a lot of places and they started out as slave-soldiers. None of those groups could have dropped bombs on their respective capitals or melted an Emperor’s face with their mind.
(I should point out that while Kettral characters feature heavily in this series there are other viewpoint characters and the series is not about the Kettral having everything their own way by a long chalk).
Don’t be put off; it’s still a decent series.
Last time I promised, (threatened?), to talk about the TV series I’m looking forward to this year.
Number one on the list is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. While this isn’t a fantasy or sci-fi series as such I would absolutely recommend it to any geeks and to anyone who likes their humour a little surreal and off the wall. It’s not a perfect series but it is a great series.
Kimmy Schmidt is an incredibly naïve and indomitably upbeat almost-30-something determined to build a new life for herself. She doesn’t know much about the modern world because as a teenager she was kidnapped by a mad preacher and kept in a bunker for 15 years being told that the world had ended. She moves in with a wildly over-dramatic and self-centred gay African American singer-actor called Titus Andromedon who initially works as an Iron Man impersonator. Is this starting to sound weird yet? It gets weirder. It’s also brilliant.
Examples of just a few things which happen in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
- Kimmy becomes convinced that ‘Troll the respawn Jeremy’ is the modern way to say goodbye.
- Titus creates a one man show based around memories of his past life as a Geisha.
- Two characters attempt to murder an experimental robot because it keeps outshining them.
- Titus and Kimmy’s landlady Lillian handcuffs herself to a bulldozer to prevent gentrification.
Perhaps I’m not really explaining this very well. Perhaps you should watch this trailer instead to get a better idea of what the show is about. https://youtu.be/mNKEKlXY3Z4
Kimmy Schmidt is made by Netflix. I don’t consider the selection of shows and films available on Netflix in the UK to be worth paying for every month. But when Kimmy Schmidt Season 3 comes out in May I’ll be buying at least a month’s subscription.
Also looking forward to Iron Fist on Netflix and American Gods on Amazon.
I’ve already gone on too long so I won’t talk about my sources of inspiration, or other cool TV series or any of the other books I’ve been reading in this post. Judging by how many pages this post has taken up those topics could easily stretch to another half-dozen posts.
I do have a bit of writing news to share before I go though.
I’ve hit the 50, 000 word mark for the first draft of A Day in the Lies of Inari Meiwaku!
If you know what I look like then please imagine me doing the Happy Dance.
If you don’t know what I look like please imagine Inari doing the Happy Dance.
If you don’t know what Inari looks like please check out the drafts of my first couple of chapters on Inkshares. https://www.inkshares.com/books/a-day-in-the-lies-of-inari-meiwaku/book_segments/chapter-1-6f4b3e (See how good I’m getting at the soft-sell? I’m cunning like an immortal fox-spirit).
Bye for now.