Saturday, September 16, 2023

Book Review: "Curse of Shadows" by AK Wilder


Kim Falconer  is taking a well-deserved break this month, but here at Supernatural Underground HQ we're keen to celebrate her wonderful writing.

So although Kim will be back with her "More Than Meets The Eye" post series (which we've all been loving!) today we're featuring a review of Curse of Shadows, the recently released second novel in her Amassia series.

Book Review: Curse of Shadows by AK Wilder

Reviewed by Helen Lowe

I enjoyed Crown of Bones, the first book in AK Wilder's Amassia series, but I think Curse of Shadows (Amassia #2) is an even stronger story.

The author writes as both AK Wilder and Kim Falconer. As readers here will know, Kim and I both post on Supernatural Underground. So I'm signaling upfront that we are friends-in-writing and fellow bloggers, "for the record."

What The Amassia Series Is All About

In Crown of Bones (Crown), Ash and her comrades traveled far from home and discovered that all life on their world of Amassia was threatened by the return of a binary star. Now, finding and learning how to use the crown of bones is vital in order to have any hope of survival, but because of its power, a large number of players are competing to find and control it. They include nation states and mages (called savants), but also the mysterious, ocean-dwelling Mar, with both magical and military forces being deployed to find and seize the crown.

The personal journeys of Ash and her savant companions are set against this backdrop of world-threatening events. Savants gain their power from raising "phantoms" that are usually animistic in form and reflect an aspect of the savant's being, which is key to their power. Ash has been raised a non-savant and trained as a cleric, but at the end of Crown, readers learned that she is, in fact, a savant, with a very powerful phantom. One that has been deliberately suppressed by her guardian and mentor.

When the story resumes in Curse of Shadows (Curse), both Ash's phantom and her memory of its rise have been magically suppressed for a second time. The cracks, though, are showing. Marcus, Ash's  childhood friend, also has struggles of his own. He has been disinherited and exiled, yet must continue to lead their company's quest for the crown of bones. As if that's not enough, Marcus struggles to manage his phantom, which is also extraordinarily powerful.

Similarly, the mysterious Kaylin, who saved and befriended Ash in Crown, is also striving to comprehend, and either fulfill or circumvent, orders that conflict with their friendship.

The world of Amassia

Although there are other characters in their company, as well as allies like the powerful, but also changeable, Mar called Salila, the storylines (or "arcs") of Ash, Marcus, and Kaylin drive the Curse narrative.

What I Liked in Curse of Shadows

"Almost everything" is the short answer. Despite the problems they confront, returning to Ash, Marcus, and their company---both savants and phantoms---felt like re-encountering old friends. Although important in Crown, Kaylin has a larger part to play and more point-of-view time in this book, as does Salila. Both are interesting and engaging characters, but their larger roles also deepen the story and the reader's understanding of the world.

The story, too, is a really fascinating one, with its interweaving of magical, ecological, and SF-nal elements, and Curse---unsurprisingly---enlarges on the foundations established in Crown. In doing so, the author expands the worldbuilding, which was an element I particularly liked. The ecology and landscapes are really different from Western European fantasy norms, and the societies and cultures reflect a similar diversity.


Where much of Crown was a pursuit, and accordingly raced along at breakneck speed, the pace of Curse reflects the company's mission to build alliances as well as having to hunt out the crown's component bones. I like the deepening of both world and characters that Curse's storytelling focus allows.

What I Didn't Like

Well, "nothing, really." :D The only point I remain unsure of is why Ash's guardian and mentor is so determined to suppress her phantom --- which may be because I've missed a crucial detail, or because all is yet to be finally revealed in Book 3. Needless to say, when that happy day arrives I shall be eager to read on and find out more.

Ash and Kaylin


If you enjoyed Crown of Bones, or books such as Kate Elliott's Cold Magic, Brent Weeks' The Black Prism , or Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, then Curse of Shadows may also be in your reading wheelhouse.

I read the hardcover edition, 403 pp, published by Entangled Teen in December 2022, which was a gift from Kim (the author.) My only regret is that I haven't managed to read it and post here a whole lot sooner, because I feel the book merits the attention.


AK Wilder
About The Author

Kim Falconer, currentky writing as AK Wilder, has released Crown of Bones, a YA Epic Fantasy with Curse of Shadows as book 2 in the series. Currently, she is working on the third book, out in 2024.

Kim can be found on  AKWilder TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Throw the bones, read your horoscopes or Raise Your Phantom on the site

Friday, September 1, 2023

The "Band of Brothers" -- A Few More Fantasy Favorites!

So far this year I've talked bands of brothers -- and sisters -- and how they lie at the heart of the Fantasy genre, as well as scooby gangs, the much-loved bromance, and sister acts. Last month, I also honed in on when brotherhoods and bromances go bad -- and although not nearly so many, they're definitely there in the genre.

Brothers in arms
This month, I'm going to share a few more favourite brotherhoods and where to find them, i.e. characters and books I have not yet mentioned in any other context. My plan is to feature some older and newer titles, starting with a subtheme of bridges...

The Bridgeburners that is, in Steven Malazan's Gardens of the Moon, which is the first book in his ten part series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. The series has a ker-zillion characters and many bands of brothers, of varying degrees of hero to anti-heroism, but Captain Whiskeyjack and the Bridgeburners are my favourite. They're a very-rough-around-the-edges company of veterans who have been assigned a suicide mission to destroy infrastructure inside enemy territory. For my money, they're a quintessential "brotherhood" in the best epic style. If that kind of storytelling is your jam, I don't think you'll be disappointed. 

The Bridge crews, or Bridgemen, in Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings, Book One in the Stormlight Archive series. The Bridgemen are slaves, whose job is to carry wooden platforms (bridges) to wherever the armies they serve are fighting on the Shattered Plain, enabling the fighters to bridge the chasms that criss-cross the terrain. A former soldier called Kaladin turns his crew into a well-disciplined tight-knit band, which eventually becomes the personal guard of the army's overall commander -- although there's a lot more to it than that, of course!

Another of my favorite bands is the following that Hari (Harimad-Sol) pulls together in Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword. Perceiving a gap in her country's undermanned defenses against a demonic foe, Hari defies her leader and cobbles together an unlikely "band" of allies, comprising personal friends, enemy soldiers (think British soldiery like the Corp of Guides in colonial India), and legendary archers -- as well as fighting cats and warhounds.

No one does a Band of Brothers / Scooby Gang quite like Tamora Pierce, but the first I encountered was Alanna and her friends in The Song of The Lioness quartet. Alanna's 'gang' comprises Prince Jonathan and their page and squire friends, who grow up to become a true "band of brothers", fighting and serving together. It also includes less likely allies such as George Cooper, the Rogue or prince of thieves, and Sir Myles, a scholar knight. 

Although the star-crossed romance between Karou and Akiva is the heart of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone (and the subsequent books in the trilogy of the same name), I've always liked the brotherhood between Akiva and his fellow seraphs, Liraz and Hazael -- especially when his love for Karou tests their warrior bonds.

When it comes to sisterhood, it's hard to go past Naomi Novik's A Deadly Education, and sequels in the Scolomance series. El, Aadhya, and Liu, and later Chloe, form a tightly knit unit to try and ensure their own survival and that of their fellow students. It's a kind of counter-culture on Harry Potter and Hogwarts, but in a world that is far darker and more dangerous from the outset.

From older titles to new, one with blue in its name but none -- so far as I know -- borrowed, if you haven't read 'em all already, I hope you find something to like. :-)

I'll be be back again on 1 October. In the meantime, read on! 


About the Author

Helen Lowe is an award-winning novelist, poet, and lover of story. With four books published to date, she is currently completing the final instalment in The Wall Of Night series.

Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we.


Previous Posts:

February: Honing in on 2021Celebrating the "Band of Brothers"
March: Celebrating the "Band of Brothers" in Fantasy #2
April: Celebrating the "Scooby Gang" #3
May: Celebrating the "Band of Sisters"
June: From Band of Brothers To Bromance!
July: Sister Acts: from the "Band of Sisters" to True Sisterhood
August: When Brotherhoods -- and Bros -- Go Bad!

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Gossip - More Than Meets the Eye


“You do not know me, and rest assured, you never shall.” — Lady Whistledown in
Netflix Bridgerton

Today I want to examine gossip by exploring its link to storytelling. Yes, even Fantasy Fiction can utilize this age-old human proclivity to talk about others behind their backs. Some novels even have plots that revolve solely around the revelation of such unverified "truths".

For the purpose of this post, I am defining gossip as talking or writing about other people's business in a sensational, judgmental and/or unverified way. In writing, it's easy to see the usefulness of this tool, but the question is, why do we do it in the first place? What's the fascination? 

Why We Gossip

Samantha Holder from the International University of Florida says, "Gossip has served as a survival tool since prehistoric times. In fact, the citizens of Ancient Greece relied on idle talk and rumors to determine which members of their community could not be trusted."

René Magritte - at the Atomium in Brussels, Belgium

But why?

Evolutionary biologists tell us that, as humans, we are hardwired to connect with a social group of up to 150 individuals. From where I'm sitting it seems like a lot. I sure don't have that many people in my life. 

I mean, how would I keep track of such a large clan?

One of the ways our ancestors managed to connect with so many others was to know their business. In other words, to gossip about them. By doing so, according to research, earlier humans reinforced community bonds, stimulating the prefrontal cortex (our ability to form complex relationships). All this was done by sharing information and expressing feelings. The results was to better understand the current social order. 

Add to all this, gossiping can light up the pleasure centres in the brain. ie, it's entertaining and fun. At least, it can be.

Gossip in the Modern World

With nuclear families, isolation and city dwelling vs agrarian communities, contemporary humans are hard-pressed to feel connected to 150 important others, save through a wider, parasocial circle. This includes politicians and leaders, celebrities on the big screen, small, and heroes in the sports/science fields. 

And of course, there are content creators on YouTube to follow. :)

When we talk about or gossip about these others in our life, we are fulfilling our drive to stay connected to the clan. 

Basically, we gossip to survive.

Gossip in Storytelling

Given this history, it seems quite natural for fictional characters to gossip about each other. When authors write such scenes, it  can provide the reader with one of four things:

Information (What's happening)

Insight (Why it's happening)

Interest (Entertainment!)

Instinct (Who the character really is)

As Cynthia Ozick says in The Novel's Evil Tongue:  Gossip is the steady deliverer of secrets, the necessary divulger of who thinks this and who does that, the carrier of speculation and suspicion. 

In this capacity, gossip becomes one of the writer's best tools. 

By using gossip in dialogue and plot, authors can inform the reader of many things without bogging down the narrative in information and description. As well, this kind of dialogue can help readers draw their own conclusions as opposed to being spoon-fed the story one bite at a time. 

Alice Sun can turn invisible, and oh
the secrets she learns.
Gossip can also introduce topics and ideas about the plot and characters without the use of backstory. To top it off, gossiping characters show something about themselves without needing the author to spell it out.

Here's an example from Crown of Bones

From Marcus's POV, he and his company ride through the rolling hills of Palrio on a dangerous journey to the Isle of Aku. Belair, an unknown peer who has just joined them, strikes up a conversation with the reluctant Marcus. 

Note what you learn about all five characters discussed in this snippet without even trying.


“They’re adorable,” Belair says, nodding to Samsen and Piper as they ride ahead, out of earshot.

“I guess.” Adorable? Why are we talking about this? 

“There’s a story there, I’ll wager.” Belair sounds more than a little curious. “She’s older than him, right?” He asks of Piper, but his eyes stay on Sam.

“I... ” I’d rather discuss anything else, training on Aku, his warrior phantom, navigating these enemy lands. 

Ash, who rides on my other side, clears her throat. The sound is a familiar one. It’s her way of telling me to be nice to our new company member, no matter that I resent him.  

I nod my head toward the healer. “Ten years ago, when Piper was sixteen, she’d just earned her orange robes…”

“That’s young.”

“It is, and well deserved. Anyway, she was in the hills behind Baiseen, gathering herbs when a band of Gollnarians cornered her.”

“They were far from home.”

“A scouting party. She was badly outnumbered.”

His brows lift. “What happened?”

“Samsen, thirteen at the time, was hunting nearby. He heard the fight and sent his phantom in.”


“Golden eagle, talons like grappling hooks. But by the time Samsen reached her, his phantom was pinned under a Gollnar winged-demon, and Piper was at the bottom of a ravine, her snake chopped in half, going to ground.”

           How did they survive?” 

“He doesn't like to talk about it, but from what I gathered, Sam stayed in phantom perspective, in spite of his wounds. Fought them off. Killed or cut up every last one. By then, he was bleeding so badly he nearly died.”

Belair rests his eyes ahead as his face reddens. “Truely bonded to each other then?”


          “Ahh,” he exhales as if impressed and disappointed at the same time. “So be it.”


This snippet of gossip doesn't just reveal more about the characters, but it helps Belair, the new member, catch up to his companion's history and adjust how he might fit in. 

Like gossip in the real world, it allows him to feel more connected. 

How about you? Have you noticed this aspect of dialog in any recent reading? 

And authors? Have you consciously used gossip to shed light (true or false) on a character or situation?

I'd love to hear about it! 

Let's gossip!



Kim Falconer, currently writing as A K Wilder, has released Crown of Bones, a YA Epic Fantasy with Curse of Shadows as book 2 in the series. Currently, she is working on the third book, out in 2024

Kim can be found on  AKWilder TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Throw the bones, read your horoscopes or Raise Your Phantom on the site 

    Tuesday, August 1, 2023

    When Bands -- & Bros -- Go Bad

    This year, I've been honing in on the importance of "bands of brothers" and Scooby Gangs in the Fantasy genre and storytelling, along with their natural subsets, the bromance and sister acts.

    The archetypal "band of brothers"

    Today, though, my focus is when bands go bad and found "brother-or-sister-hoods" can't survive the pressures of time or subsequent events. (By way of shorthand, I'm refering to "brotherhood" and "bromances", as the most well-known terms, but I'm including all bonds of intense friendship and loyalty, including "sisters" and "sisterhoods", within their use.)

    Quintessential "scooby-gangs"

    The whole notion, and magic, of the "band of brothers" is founded on diverse people in extreme or extraordinary circumstances, forging unbreakable bonds. We want to believe in that dream, but real life has habit of testing friendship, loyalty, and good faith -- and what can't be broken outright, may be eroded over time and by competing imperatives.

    Then there's the bromance...

    Competing and corrosive forces can stem from political, cultural, or religious loyalties, which were not at the forefront when the brotherhood was formed, but which reassert themselves afterward. Obligations of family and community, especially where these must be protected from adverse circumstance, may also undermine bromances and brotherhood loyalties. In other cases, money and advancement may be enough to undermine bonds that once felt strong enough to endure forever. 

    ...and "sister acts"

    "Needless to say", perhaps (since in fantasy we're largely having fun with the heroic and the magical) bands and "bros" that go bad are comparatively few in fantasy storytelling -- but still there to be found!  

    In an earlier post, I discussed the bromance between Rodrigo Belmonte and Ammar ibn Khairan in Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan. Their story is a classic example of how a brotherhood-in-arms that makes the heart beat faster, cannot withstand the pressures of subsequent political events, underpinned by national and religious loyalties that not only place them in opposing camps, but eventually, in direct conflict with each other. To uphold their brotherhood, Rodrigo and Ammar would have to abandon families, land and position, and go into exile -- a collective and cumulative cost that proves too high.

    Bromance and the band-of-brothers lies at the heart of David Gemmell's heroic fantasy. It's what Julia Cameron would term his "vein of gold" -- but in the Knights of Dark Renown he explores what happens when a band goes bad. The core of the story is that the loyalty and comradeship we laud in the band and bromance ideal can fuel evil when it overrides or trumps the values of good, e.g. justice, truth, compassion, and moral integrity. 

    Similarly, in The Poppy War trilogy by RF Kuang, the bonds Rin forms with her fellow students, particularly Kitay and Nezha, and with the band of disparate characters that later follows her, cannot withstand the forces of self-interest and personal ambition, class and political conflict, juxtaposed with the lust for power. In The Poppy War, every band that forms dies in infancy, if not stillborn, and the twin deathblows are always treachery and betrayal.


    Another take on bands and friendships that fall (far) short of the ideal, can be found in Joe Abercrombie's Half A King (The Shattered Sea #1.) Adverse circumstances see the protagonist, Yarvi, become one of a band of disparate (motley) refugees and escaped slaves fleeing across country in deep winter. Survival dictates they work together, and adversity forms bonds -- but the reader holds few illusions they will survive ambition, self-interest, and the gift of Yarvi (and others) for deception once the band rejoins civilization. And so indeed, by and large, it plays out...

    Reality overcoming or eroding bonds of friendship, failed brotherhoods, and broken dreams: there is -- and has to be, imho -- a place in contemporary fantasy for the flipside of the "band of brothers" ideal.

    But next month, I promise you, we shall return to happier themes. :-)


    About the Author

    Helen Lowe is an award-winning novelist, poet, and lover of story. With four books published to date, she is currently completing the final instalment in The Wall Of Night series.

    Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we.


    Previous Posts:

    February: Honing in on 2021Celebrating the "Band of Brothers"
    March: Celebrating the "Band of Brothers" in Fantasy #2
    April: Celebrating the "Scooby Gang" #3
    May: Celebrating the "Band of Sisters"
    June: From Band of Brothers To Bromance!
    July: Sister Acts: from the "Band of Sisters" to True Sisterhood

    Sunday, July 16, 2023

    Desire - More Than Meets the Eye

    Lucifer asks what we truly Desire. 

    Goals, Motivations and Conflicts

    You've probably heard about character goals, motivations and conflicts, or GMCs. They are the cornerstone of strong writing, making the story ring true no matter the genre - Fantasy, Historical Thriller, Romance, Crime ...  

    We are told that each main character, be they 'good' or 'evil' should have solid and believable GMCs, but looking deeper, we find that there is more here than meets the eye. We find out what it is that truly DRIVES them.

    Enter the root of it all - DESIRE

    It may not be obvious what that desire is, at least at first, but it is at the center of every thought, action and deed of all characters.

    Lilith from Diablo IV - Does she want to destroy the Sanctuary or save it?
    Either way, the core desire is to be eternal.

    Why is Desire so Important?

    From the Uphandashads it is said, 

    You are your deepest driving desire. 

    As is your desire, so is your will. 

    As is your will, so is your deed. 

    As is your deed, so is your destiny.

    You are your deepest driving desire...

    Desire motivates intentions, goals, actions and outcomes, for the protagonists AND antagonists (and for  us regular folk too).

    Susan Sarandon in Enchanted

    Good vs. Evil Doesn't Live Here

    Some stories might rely on ideas like good vs evil to bolster their character's goals, but desire knows no such division. It is pure, in and of itself. The desire to 'feel safe' may translate into actions that seem to others as good or bad, worthy or unworthy. But these subjective notions are value judgements, not truths.

    Take the example of the goal to win love. If it is driven by the desire to feel whole and complete, then the goals might seem like striving to connect, helping others. Take for example Snow White and her care for the dwarves and the woodsman's cabin. But if the desire is perceived as a liability, it could result in a character who plots to eliminate rivals, like the 'evil' witch with the bright red apple. 

    Relationship to Desire

    The GMCs will depend on the character's relationship to their desire. Do they accept and honor their deepest driving desire or do they push it away? Does the desire embarrass them? Uplift them? Enrage them? Do they even know what it is? This is where the true conflict of the story grows. The author may not make such truths obvious, but the scenes will infer them, even if they keep us readers guessing.

    Take for example Arthur Conon Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. His main character's goal may be to catch criminals and solve crimes but his desire is found behind the cerebral challenge. The puzzle. The chance to 'solve' the problem. The deeper desire may be safety, achieved by discovering order in the chaos.

    A modern take on Sherlock and Watson

    Intention and Obstacles to Desire

    In a Master Class on scriptwriting, Aaron Sorkin said the pace of the story, the authenticity of it, depends on two things: intention and obstacle. He gives the example of a road trip across the States. The intention is to get from New York to LA in a car. That's the goal, motivated, perhaps, by a meeting, audition or interview. But the desire? The fuel that drives everything forward? That might be the burning desire to expand one's horizons.

    And for the story to work, there has to be an obstacle. They can't just get in the car and three days later arrive in LA on time. There must be challenges along the way. 

    Maybe they only have two days to make it there on time. Or maybe, they don't have money for gas. The car could break down. They could even be abducted by aliens. Obstacles to achieving desires will keep the story, and characters, going.

    In Crown of Bones, Ash's true desire is to experience communion with 
    her phantom, the one she can never have...

    Goals Change; Desires Remain the Same

    A character's goals may change through the story as they grow and evolve, but the driving desire is like a core value. It remains the same. 

    Again, in Crown of Bones, Marcus's goal is to control his phantom, but his true desire is to be worthy. Once he can control the phantom, his goal shifts to leading his companions back to Baiseen in time to protect the city. Once the city is safe, his goal is to collect the remaining whistle bones.... and on it goes but the desire, for him, is to achieve a sense of worthiness. That never goes away.

    As Willa Cather says in the Song of the Lark, “The world is little, people are little, human life is little. There is only one big thing — desire.”

    So tell me, do you know what you truly desire?



    Posts in the 'More Than Meets the Eye' Series

    Book Titles

    The End



    Styling Characters



    Kim Falconer, currently writing as A K Wilder, has released Crown of Bones, a YA Epic Fantasy with Curse of Shadows as book 2 in the series. Currently, she is working on the third book, out in 2024

    Kim can be found on  AKWilder TwitterFacebook and Instagram

    Throw the bones, read your horoscopes or Raise Your Phantom on the site 

    Thursday, July 6, 2023

    Styling Characters in “The Gathering of the Lost”


    Last week, inspired by Kim Falconer’s recent  More Than Meets the Eye: Styling Characters post, I took a closer look at styling characters in The Heir of Night (Heir).

    The premise of Kim’s post is that a character’s depiction through “style”, whether clothing or arms, can provide insight into their personality, as well as their part of the story’s narrative arc, or their current mood and motivation.

    In last week’s post I also addressed “When to Style”, which I won’t repeat here, so you may like to click back if you’re new to this post series or just want to refresh.

    Styling Characters in The Gathering Of The Lost

    Today the spotlight’s on Book #2 in The Wall Of Night series: The Gathering of the Lost (Gathering.)

    USA: Current cover

    Last week, I set the scene with a brief outline of the Wall of Night environs, which is where the chief part of the Heir action takes place. In Gathering, the scene shifts substantially, to the Southern Realms of the world of Haarth – chiefly the city state of Ij, in the region known as the River, then farther south to the independent Duchy of Emer.

    Although the story still follows the central characters from Heir they’re operating in a very different environment, which opens the door to styling changes – both for the characters that readers already know, and when new characters and settings are introduced.

    "The Heir Of Night" map: artist, Peter Fitzpatrick

    Since there are a lot of characters, those mentioned are only a selection, not a comprehensive list. :D

    The Heralds of the Guild: Jehane Mor and Tarathan of Ar

    The Guild of Heralds operates throughout the Southern Realms but is most prominent on the River, where it originated. Heralds always ride in pairs that between them possess powers of finding and concealment, and who appear to have a symbiotic bond, chiefly evident by their practice of speaking with “one voice.” They carry dispatches, but also function as emissaries between rulers and the various states of the Southern Realms.

    Full UK/AU/NZ cover

    Being an “order”, although not a religious one, the heralds wear what is essentially a uniform. Accordingly, their style was established from the outset in Heir, when they arrived on the Wall with a secret message for the Earl of Night, and does not change in Gathering:

    They were both of middle height and clad alike in grey, their long cloaks cast back. A badge pinned each cloak on the left shoulder and a dagger was sheathed at their belts. Both their faces were drawn and weary, their clothes mired from the road…”

    Heralds spend most of their time traveling, so in terms of styling choice, their clothing was always going to be in the grey or brown spectrum, i.e. to attract less attention in wild and lonely places, as well as blending with that “mire from the road.” Since brown is perceived as rustic in styling terms, and the heralds are emissaries as well as messengers, that made grey the logical choice.

    When the heralds first appear, they are only carrying daggers, but it’s clarified in Gathering that they go armed when traveling beyond the River. In Jehane Mor’s case, that’s still only with what a Derai warrior (Tirorn) calls her “toy knife”, but Tarathan carries a pair of short, curved swords strapped to his back” and also uses a horseman's curved bow.”

    As noted last week, styling should only convey detail that matters to the story. In the heralds’ case, their grey garb reflects their calling. The style of Tarathan’s weapons is also noted for a reason, which (I hope!) becomes clear once his backstory is revealed.

    Original US cover

    The Patrol and Aravenor

    One reason heralds do not go armed on the River is because “the peace of road and river” is maintained by the Patrol. When first met, very early in the River narrative, readers learn only that they are a “mounted unit” and “silent behind their visors.”

    Soon after, the heralds meet the Patrol captain called Aravenor, whose face is also covered by “the trademark visored helm.” At this point, it’s also disclosed that “the Patrol never revealed their faces, or entered a town or city, or stayed in any of the inns along the main road.”

    It’s the helms, though, that lead a young woman in the neighbouring realm of Emer to speculate that, “…the Patrol are really demons bound to the River’s service and that is why they never show their faces to anyone.”

    In terms of the Patrol’s styling, the helmets are the chief focus because of the associated secrecy. Although because they’re a mounted force, it’s not just the riders that go armored, but the horses as well:

    “…the first of the of the riders emerged through the fog. The heralds saw the horse's head first, splitting the white air, its ears forward and nostrils flared. A second later the spiked helmet of its rider appeared, turning slowly in a sweep of road and wood. The visor was lowered, concealing the rider's face, and the horse too was armored, its breath curling through the metal chanfron as it walked forward. Together, horse and rider looked like some beast of ancient legend—or something altogether stranger, a shape of night itself emerging from the mist.”

    The styling, together with the fog, is partly scene setting for what’s currently afoot, partly reinforcing the armed strength of the Patrol (which is important to this part of the story) – but also underlines that the Patrol is one of the great mysteries of the River lands.

    The "blue" UK cover


    From the River, the story shifts to Emer, in particular its wild and dangerous northern march (Normarch.) Emer is known for its heavily armored Emerian knights (think Burgundy in the mid-to-late Middle Ages) but one of the first characters readers meet is a hedge knight called Raven.

    Hedge knights are effectively swords-for-hire. They may serve a ruler or lesser lord for a period, but are not retainers. As such they follow conflicts where extra swords are needed, and some may also pursue the tourney circuit in the hopes of prize money. When hedge knights come together as a company, they would definitely be termed mercenaries, but as the “hedge” suggests, most spend a great deal of their lives on the road and live rough while doing so.

    Clearly, Raven’s styling needs to reflect the hedge knight lifestyle, so here’s how he first appears:

    "The rider … looked decidedly shabby in an old-fashioned ringmail shirt beneath a patched tunic, and the pot helm on his head had clearly seen better days."

    A little later, the character with him (Carick) decides that, “…the shabbiness of Raven's first appearance did not improve upon closer inspection. The old-fashioned sark had been mended with horn and bone in places, and his cracked leather gauntlets, like the helmet, had definitely seen better days. Carick noted other signs of the disreputable as well: the tattoos glimpsed between the edge of the knight's sleeves and his gloves, the fetishes of bone and feather tied as a crest to his helmet—and horses that answered to a whistle.”

    Full US Cover (Original)

    Sufficient, I hope, for readers to glean that Raven may be a companion of dubious provenance. He’s very handy in a fight, though, as Carick learns soon enough.

    Styling Armor: Audin; The Lightning Knights; Asantir

    The Emerian narrative centres around knights-in-training, melees, battles, and a grand midsummer tournament, so armor and weapons play a  major part in styling the story. As with the Derai warriors in Heir, given readers know this is a militarized society, a certain amount can be taken for granted except when detail matters to the narrative.

    For example, one of the knights-in-training is Audin, nephew to the Duke of Emer. In general, this is not emphasized, but when conflict comes, Carick notices “…the black oak of Emer on his jupon, set within the oak-leaf circlet of the ducal house.”

    The fact Audin’s style includes a jupon also tells readers interested in such things a great deal about the style of armor that he—and by implication his companions—are wearing.

    Similarly, when the young knights arrive at the tourney, styling in armor and weaponry is utilized to emphasize difference (a use also noted in last week’s post) when they meet the unknown Lightning knights:

    “Kalan took in details without seeming to: blue-black armor beneath a long black surcote, and gauntleted hands resting on the pommel of a tall, two-handed sword. The guard’s visor was open, but he wore his mail coif in the Ishnapuri fashion, veiling the lower part of the face, so that Kalan could detect little of his features. He did not think that the man was Ishnapuri, though, despite the coif.”

    UK release poster

    Kim’s originating post points to styling conveying information about a character’s “background and place in the world”, as illustrated by the heralds’ greys, Raven’s rough equipage, and Audin’s jupon.

    In the section of the book that briefly returns to the Wall of Night, readers re-met the Honor Captain, Asantir – who has been promoted since the events in Heir. Now she’s the Commander of Night and this is reflected in her styling:

    “Asantir’s clothes and armor might still be plain black, but Night’s winged horse insignia on her breastplate gleamed with gold, ruby, and diamond. Even the cuffs of her gauntlets were worked with gold thread—necessary, Garan knew, for the prestige of Night…”

    Returning to Malian

    I did promise to return to Malian, when I discussed her styling in Heir. In particular, I noted that “Malian’s preference is for less restrictive clothing, where it doesn’t matter if she gets it dirty” and that I was “pretty sure” that preference would continue.

    At one point, she “smooths the worst of the wrinkles out of her clothes and combs at her hair with her fingers.” Later, when preparing for action, she pulls out “her last clean shirt and hose.” The shirt and hose, “…as well as the sleeveless tunic she pulled on over the top, were black, but of everyday fabric.”

    Still doing it plain and practical, in other words. Although Malian chooses apparel appropriate to the circumstances, her choices also convey a great deal more than meets the eye, including that clothes are not important to her.

    Next time, we’ll see if that still holds true in Daughter of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three.) Meanwhile enjoy the Styling Characters fun – I hope it offers some insight into the style options for revealing character and nuanced storytelling.


    About the Author

    Helen Lowe is an award-winning novelist, poet, and lover of story. With four books published to date, she is currently completing the final instalment in The Wall Of Night series.

    Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we.


    Previous Posts

    Styling Characters: More Than Meets the Eye (Kim Falconer)
    Styling characters in The Heir of Night (Helen Lowe)

    Note: This post also features on my "...on Anything, Really" blog today.