Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Environment - More Than Meets the Eye


Dune by Frank Herbert - Novel Poster 1965

Today I want to explore the impact environment can have on a story. From subtle to profound, I think you'll find there is more than meets the eye...

First off, think of stories like Dune, Frank Herbert's SFF novel recently produced as a Netflix Series. I mean, Dune! The storms that cover rich resources, the sandworms that devour all and pose a constant risk to life and limb?

Or maybe you remember the dangers on Pern, the planet where 'threads' fall from the sky and like acid, devour anything organic. Anything!

The White Dragon - art by the Unicorn Lady

You might say the environment, in these cases, takes the lead role in the plot, culture and potential outcomes of a political or simply survival nature. 

If you still aren't convinced, try a hypothetical scenario that involves a team of scientists colonizing Jupiter. There are, of course, issues of atmosphere, gravity, temperature and distance from the home world. But what if the colony landed more than five hundred years ago...

BEFORE the storm - now known as the 'red spot' - developed? That red circle turns out, for real, to be ten-thousand miles wide and gaining velocity over the centuries. Suddenly this story has a built-in antagonist to rival the sandworms on Dune or the deadly Thread on Pern.

Jupiter's Red Spot data collected by NASA's Juno spacecraft
Two recent YA Fantasy books released in May give further examples: Sara Beth Durst's The Lake House and Zena Shapter's When Dark Roots Hunt

The Lake House, as per the blurb:

Claire’s grown up triple-checking locks. Counting her steps. Second-guessing every decision. It’s just how she’s wired – her worst-case scenarios never actually come true.

Until she arrives at an off-the-grid summer camp to find a blackened, burned husk instead of a lodge – and no survivors, except her and two other late arrivals: Reyva and Mariana.

When the three girls find a dead body in the woods, they realize none of this is an accident. Someone, something, is hunting them. Something that hides in the shadows. Something that refuses to let them leave....

Can I say right away that the writing is brilliant and...it's scary. Very scary! 

Part of what makes it so is the environment - the huge, murky lake surrounded by endless, dark and thick forest. Not a soul in sight.. but did you hear that? It would be impossible to achieve the intensity in, say, a populated city or suburbia. The environment here holds sway. 


When Dark Roots Hunt has a sense of foreboding and dread to it as well. From the back blurb: 

Don't go out onto the lake. Wyann trees search the shallows to spear passing prey with their roots. Giant water-ants hunt anything that moves on the water-skin. Sala's village survives hidden behind a wall of poisonous ivy, because everyone agrees: don't go out onto the lake.

But when her village refuses to listen to sense, and continues squeezing beautiful pond-bred 'keeiling' fish to death for their precious saliva oils, Sala has no choice. She will risk it all to prove herself one last time, else leave everything behind for the dark shaded swamps beneath the towering hillfarms of Palude.

At least that's the plan before a strange comet crosses the night sky, throwing her and her pet pointer into a race through wyann-infested swampland to unearth long-hidden truths and stir rivalries into a terrifying conflict set to change the world of Palude forever. Sala must do whatever it takes to face the truth of who she is: to save her village, to save her family, to save herself.

If only they had listened.

This story is compelling, impossible to put down, and as you read, you quickly find that the environment is as much a key to the mysteries as the people who try to survive it.

I invite you to consider the environment in a new way as you read, to see if it too is a character with needs and wants and calamity to offer. 

If you find one or two outstanding, I would love to hear about it!


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 out in 2024

Kim can be found on  AKWilder TwitterFacebook and Instagram

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

"Listen with your Heart" and other great mentor lines

 Meeting the Mentor 2.0

Meeting the Mentor is a phase in a hero's journey where the soon-to-be-Hero, who has just faced a fear and RUN the other way, needs a little encouragement to take the first step on their journey. 

Honestly, who doesn't need a little encouragement, but this one will hit the hero in a very specific way. 

The mentor is person/object that helps ease the fear of the hero that made them refuse the call in the first place. This could be through  knowledge of the new world to combat a fear of the unknown, giving the hero confidence to overcome feelings of inadequacy, or giving them hope that they can survive the trials by serving as an example.

And its not a LOT of support- they don't ever give them the answers- they only give them enough to make them take that first step on their journey.  

   Do we really need to analyze how Grandmother Willow, Miyagi, Keating, and Yoda served as mentors to their potential heroes? Didn't think so.
In romance novels, especially our near and dear paranormals, the mentors for the heroes are pretty obvious. In Diaries, it was Iris, the very old and very sassy former Prima of Dallas. But my main character, Violet, actually ended up being a mentor for her romantic lead. He needed an example of someone living a life they loved enough to fight for. When he got over his fear of disobeying orders, he fought to create a life he wanted to live. And then the smooching ensued.

So how do you identify mentors in your own life? How do you find the courage you might need to say ‘yes’ to your calling?

Listen. Listen to what people have done in their lives, read what people have to say about their experiences (yes- this means a few non-fictions every now and then). Remember that each of us is on a journey. Everyone has had a dark moment, a moment of resurrection, has refused a call. Listen to their stories and learn from them. Everyone is a potential mentor, a potential guide. And one person might have that one kernel of truth you have been looking for to take the next step in your journey.

Now this doesn't mean that you should let just anyone talk your ear off. But remember Mr Miyagi was the maintenance man. Mentors can be found in unexpected places. You just have to be listening and don't let fear get in the way. 


Amanda Arista  


Monday, May 1, 2023

Celebrating The "Band of Sisters" in Fantasy

I loved reading fantasy and science fiction from an early age, but even when quite young, I couldn't help noticing that it was so often boys and men that went out and had the adventures, while women mainly stayed at home. 

Eowyn, an outlier in the LoTR 'verse

This was certainly true in classics such as Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, where Eowyn is very much the exception that proves the rule, as exemplified by both Arwen and Rosie Cotton's part in the story. Similarly, in A Wizard of Earthsea, the reader learns early on that "weak as women's magic" has a companion saying, "wicked as women's magic." Unsurprisingly, women do not play a large part in the subsequent story.

Arwen - a far more traditional heroine
So although I encountered many fine examples of the "band of brothers", any sisters at all, let alone bands of 'em, were in short supply.

Then, to my considerable delight, I encountered Patricia McKillip's Heir of Sea and Fire (1977), where a "band of sisters" comprising Raederle of An (the titular Heir), Tristan of Hed, and the ruler of Herun's heir and personal guard (all women) embark on a journey to locate Tristan's missing brother, who is also Raederle's love interest. They are very much a "band of sisters" and the friendship between them is the heart of the book. It's a tale I loved on first reading, which has since become an "old book friend."

The 1980s was distinguished by many fine books in which women writers and characters began carving a place in speculative storytelling. Bands-of-sisters remained relatively rare, but Barbara Hambly's The Ladies of Mandrigyn is an outstanding example. Their city has been captured by an evil and extremely powerful wizard, and all the able-bodied men enslaved in the nearby mines. Failing in their attempt to hire a mercenary army, the ladies resolve to rescue the men and free the city themselves -- and start by kidnapping a mercenary captain to train them for the task.

Granny Weatherwax & Co...
I believe The Ladies of Mandrigyn remains one of the finest examples of women's friendships and bands-of-sisters in the genre, but it's not entirely alone among 1980s fiction. In 1987, Terry Pratchett, published Equal Rites, which introduced Granny Weatherwax and paved the way for the sisterhood-of-Grannys, who remained Discworld's preeminent band-of-sisters until 2003, when they were joined by the Monstrous Regiment -- of women, of course!

My other, favourite band-of-sisters from that era are found in CJ Cherryh's Chanur novels (science fiction), which span the decade from 1983-1993. As a reviewer (correctly, imho) said, "...These swaggering, vain, tough-talking Hani heroines make Chewbacca look like a pussycat."

Unquestionably, Pyanfar Chanur and her Hani crew are tough in action as well as tough talking. :-)

Although fantasy and science fiction now offer an array of female heroes, and a degree of women's friendships, as well as bands of diverse buddies, the band-of-sisters is still not common. 

Aes Sedai: Red Ajah
First published in 1990, Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) introduced readers to the Aes Sedai mages and the Aiel's warrior sisterhood, the Maidens of the Spear. Relations among the Aes Sedai are both fractured and fractious (although that is arguably true of birth siblings, including sisters), but both sisterhoods remain core to the fourteen-book series.

More recently, Tamsyn Muir's Locked Tomb series has something of a "band-of-sisters" vibe, especially in the latest book, Nona the Ninth, in which the majority of the main characters are female. There's also the core band of Nona, Camilla, and Pyrrha, to aid my case. :-)

In my The Wall of Night series, female characters are always central to the story, and in The Gathering of the Lost (Book #2) a band of young women must set aside their differences and work and fight together to survive.

I'd love to know if you have  a favorite band-of-sisters, especially in more recent fiction. If so, please do share in the comments! 


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