Saturday, June 24, 2023

Styling Characters in "The Heir Of Night"


Kim Falconer
I loved Kim Falconer’s latest “More Than Meets The Eye” post on Styling Characters so much I asked her if she would mind if I did some spin-off posts on styling characters in my own The Wall Of Night series. And was even more thrilled when she said “yes”!

The Styling Characters premise 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.

All of which has inspired me to take a closer look at how I’ve styled characters in The Wall Of Night books. I intend looking at each book separately, starting with (yes, you’ve got it!) Book #1, The Heir of Night.

For those who may be less familiar with the story, I’ll start with a brief outline of: –

The Wall of Night World and Opening Story Premise

The Heir of Night takes place on the Wall of Night that gives the series its name. It’s not an actual wall, but a storm-blasted mountain range that forms a physical and psychic barrier between the world of Haarth and the all-destroying Swarm.

The Wall is garrisoned by a warrior society called the Derai, which holds itself distinct from the rest of Haarth. At the time the story opens, the Derai are further divided by the legacy of a civil war that decimated their fighting and magical strength.

Fortunately, the Swarm has been dormant for some time, but there are signs it may be rousing again…

USA: current

Styling Characters in The Heir of Night


Regulars here will already know (of course!) that the main character is Malian, the titular Heir of the warrior House of Night. She’s young when the story begins, with her character still being formed, but here’s what a reader gleans in the opening sequences:

Malian is adventurous and daring enough to scale the heights of a long-abandoned hall. Her clothes are not described in detail at that point, other than to mention that they’re “grubby”, but the activity implies practicality.

Soon afterward, she must dress for a feast, at which point her “grimy” and presumably comfortable, clothes must give way to “an elaborate black velvet dress” (black “because” Night, just in case you were wondering ;-) ) with a “gauze collar that stood up like butterfly wings on either side of Malian’s face” – and a train that Malian describes as “restrictive.” She goes along with it, though, because the formality is part of what it means to be Heir of Night.

USA: original cover

What I hope I’ve managed to establish through the opening scenes is both Malian’s innate daring, but also that she is serious about her responsibilities and duties as Heir. The other nuance is that Malian’s preference is for less restrictive clothing, where it doesn’t matter if she gets dirty. All characteristics that underpin her personality through books #1 to #3.


Kalan is al-most as important as Malian to The Wall of Night series. When we first meet him in HEIR, he is an unwilling novice priest. So unlike Malian, his garb is not a matter of choice, but “…the gray-blue robes of a temple novice, robes that were patched and far too short at wrist and ankle.” What I hope the brief description conveys is that Kalan is at an age when he is growing fast, but also a certain neglect that fits a larger picture: both the role of novices in the temple hierarchy, but also the status of priests in the larger warrior society.

UK/AU/NZ: current

Haimyr the Golden

By contrast with Kalan’s drab apparel, the minstrel known as Haimyr the Golden lives his sobriquet. He not only has golden hair and eyes, but wears golden clothing with “sleeves flared wide … scalloped and edged and trailing almost to the floor” that cast “a fantastic shadow to either side.” The golden clothing is sewn with “tiny golden bells” so that he moves amid a constant shimmer of sound.

Clearly, Haimyr the Golden is not keeping a low profile, despite being one of the few non-Derai living on the Wall of Night, amid a notoriously xenophobic society. He is the Earl of Night’s minstrel, which implies privilege, but even so…Revealing, don’t you think?

UK/AU/NZ: original cover

When To Style

Styling is like any other aspect of story, which is that the telling thereof should only convey detail that matters. As Kim references in her Styling Characters post, it can highlight the character’s "personality, background, and place in the world."

It can also highlight points-of-interest or difference for readers, such as between Malian’s inclination and her duty, or Haimyr’s flamboyance in a hostile environment. In the case of Kalan clearly outgrowing his novice uniform, styling suggests a picture (i.e. background) beyond immediate events.

Yet for active warriors like the Earl, his honor-guard captain, Asantir, and rank-and-file warriors like Sarus and Garan, Kyr and Lira (to name only a few), their armor is so uniform it only merits mention to highlight events or a change in circumstance.

Artist's depiction of the Wall of Night. Credit: PJ Fitzpatrick

For example, when readers first meet the Earl and Asantir, their clothing or armor is not mentioned. When the story rejoins them, some time later, both have been in battle. The Earl’s “black armor …[is]… hacked and dented and the pressure line from his helmet still livid across his forehead.” In Asantir’s case, readers can assume armor in similar condition from the circumstances, but the salient detail is that she has a “bloody wound” to her shoulder.

When a character is decidedly not uniform, however, styling plays an important part in underlining difference. Haimyr gets a more detailed treatment for that reason, and so, too, does Rowan Birchmoon of the Winter People.

German cover

Like Haimyr, Rowan Birchmoon is not Derai – but she is the Earl’s consort, which is significant given Derai society. She also hails from a very different region to Haimyr, with a significantly different culture. Styling can definitely assist the reader to grasp those differences, which is why it’s highlighted when Rowan enters the story:

Malian was struck again by how alien her father's consort, the Lady Rowan Birchmoon, looked ... Pale brown hair hung down her back in a long braid, with pieces of shell and small feathers plaited into it; her long tunic and leggings of supple white leather were embroidered with beasts and birds. There was usually a white hound running at her heels, or a spotted, tuft-eared hunting cat pressed against her legs. Tonight, Malian saw with a pang of envy, it was one of the feather-footed hounds.

Full, original cover art: USA

And then, of course, there are the bad guys…They’re a shadowy force in The Heir of Night, with as many demons and monsters as more human-style antagonists. Even when the warriors are encountered directly, they may only be partially seen, whether because of circumstances or their sorcery (or both.) So when Kalan first glimpses a Swarm strikeforce (at night, in a poorly lit corridor) details are fragmentary (unlike Malian studying Rowan Birchmoon in a brightly lit hall):

They were clad in black, but he could make out sword hilts and the keen, flame-shaped heads of spears … their helms were crowned with horn and talons like were-beasts, quite unlike anything used by the Derai.”

The bestial helmets reinforce their Swarm origins, while the partial detail is true to the circumstances but also intended to help build mystery and menace – although, as always, readers are the final arbiter as to whether or not an author’s styling has succeeded. :D


I’ll be back soon with Styling Characters in The Gathering of the Lost. In the meantime, I hope I’ve successfully illustrated Kim’s view that costume and style are an important element of storytelling.

And of course I'll also be back on 1 July with the next post in the Band of Brothers' series --- I wouldn't miss it! :D


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.


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

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Styling Characters - More Than Meets the Eye


Costume and style can situate the reader in time, place and era.
 Mulan (Yifei Liu). Photo: Jasin Boland. © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. 

Character Clothing as Depiction

Costume and style reveal much about a character and for many authors, utilizing this technique comes naturally. But in writing workshops and critiques, costume design is often overlooked. I thought it would be fun to explore the ins and outs of this topic today. There is definitely more here than meets the eye.

Think about it. If a picture equals a thousand words, then how much are those images created in the reader's head? It's the perfect opportunity to portray the character's personality, background, and place in the world. Also consider what they keep close to hand, a bag of bones, weapons, books, quills, and potions. All can say more about who they are, without having to tell a thing. 

When a character walks onto a scene wearing armour and backing firearms, we know
they are ready to fight. A Mandalorian and droid 

Rank and Power

In my Amassia Series, for example, savants who raise their phantoms wear robes, the colours of which portray their advancement and skill level. Marcus explains it like this:

        "Each banner represents a savant's robe color: brown like the earth for the potentials who come in hopes of raising their phantoms. Then comes blue for young students who stay on .... Green, like me, for those graduating to the next level. Yellow for the successful initiates who've made the journey to Aku. Orange for the upper echelons of mastery. And red for the High Saant who leads us all.... actually, not all. The black-robed Bone Throwers are a clan unto themselves..." - Marcus Adicio Heir to the throne of Baiseen.

With this hierarchy in place, whenever we meet a new character we know by just looking at them if they are savant or non-savant. If the former, we also know their level of training without adding another word to the scene. It frees up space to notice other significant aspects without getting into a long and heavy backstory about how they grew up and where they fit in.

Note how style here confers rank and level of confidence.
 Adjoa Andoh as Lady Agatha Danbury in episode 102 of Queen Charlotte:  Netflix

Personality and Mood

Depicting style also gives the writer an opportunity to utilize what the character is wearing from the start, and contrast it when necessary. So when heavy boots come off, fancy dress is replaced by pants and a button shirt tied in a knot at the waist, or a formal suit is exchanged for PJs, it is telling. Of I should say, showing...

You can also use clothing to portray a deeper backstory and set your character apart. In Curse of Shadows, for example, Ash, who is non-savant, is set apart when she busts out her favourite lavender and black-lace dress. Earlier Marcus recounts having it made for her because her guardian is too auster to consider it. Marcus hides the truth by saying it was left behind by a delegate's daughter and he hopes it will fit.

It's a little Easter egg that pops up later, something the reader knows but Ash does not. Not just a warm moment, but an insight into Marcus's heart as well.

Characters may dress differently for the same event, telling volumes about their intentions.

Contrast for the Win

Another example is how Netflix' Lucifer situates all the ensemble cast in the same workspace, an LA precinct, but each of them wears very different costumes. From human souls to angels to demons and the Devil himself, their get-up offers a view into the characters' goals, desires and means to achieve them. 

So writers, be sure you are giving your characters the style that most brings the story to life, and readers, I would love to hear your favorite costumes, from books or films. Costume design is, after all, one of the Academy Awards, an essential part of storytelling.

* * *

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 site 

Thursday, June 1, 2023

From "Band of Brothers" — to Bromance!


My premise, of course, is that the bromance is both integral to, and a natural extension of, the "band of brothers" in Fantasy. :-)

The great film bromance...

The bromance is the platonic friendship between two companions, often from diverse backgrounds and usually part of a larger band, who are brought together by (usually adverse) circumstance and sworn closer than brothers. Once, we would have said "blood brothers", but it's the same idea.

Steve Rogers & Sam Wilson: definite bromance territory

And no, to be a bromance, it can't be a romantic relationship. The whole idea, imho, is the celebration of friendships that are forged in adversity and as strong, if not stronger, than romantic relationships.

Merry & Pippin -- partners in crime

Starting with the most classic of examples, The Lord of the Rings, has both the nine "companions of the Ring" and several "bromances" within it:  Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin, and Gimli and Legolas — and no, I'm not mistaken about the latter pair!

Legolas & Gimli -- the book bromance

Although the bromance was Legolas and Aragorn in the films, in Tolkien's book it was definitely Gimli and Legolas. In many ways, they're the most archetypal of the bromances, because of the longstanding schism and mistrust between elves and dwarves, which the friendship between the two surmounts.

Frodo & Sam
I hesitated over Frodo and Sam, because Sam is Frodo's servant, whereas a "bromance" implies a relationship between equals. Their friendship grows far beyond a master/servant relationship, though, and into one of equals in spirit, deeds, and fact. I believe Tolkien may even have said that Sam was the 'true hero" of The Lord of the Rings -- but I feel all the nine companions deserve that accolade. :-)

When it comes to Fantasy bromances, I can never go past Tenaka Khan and Ananais in David Gemmell's The King Beyond The Gate. Although a band of rebels forms about them, their experience, fighting abilities, and longstanding friendship are its core. And at the end, Tenaka sets aside his ambition (which is considerable), and sense of destiny, deferring both for Ananais's sake.

Another of the great bromances, but also one of the most tragic, is the close friendship and sworn brotherhood of Rodrigo Belmonte and Ammar ibn Khairan in Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan. In a culturally and militarily divided realm (think the Moorish and Christian kingdoms of Spain), they serve together as mercenaries when both are exiled from their home realms. Later, events and prior loyalties see Rodrigo and Ammar on different sides, similar to Cuchulain and Ferdia in Irish legend (the Ulster Cycle.) 


A comparable "sistermance" (a female equivalent of "bromance" apparently) are Tarma and Kethry, swordmaster and sorceress respectively, in Mercedes Lackey's Vows and Honor series. Formerly part of the Sunhawks mercenary band, they travel the realm of Valdemar and set wrongs to right.

More recent Fantasy examples include Marcus and Belair in AK Wilder's AMASSIA trilogy. Both are savants and the heirs of neighbouring realms, but are thrown together in a way that doesn't encourage friendship. However the subsequent quest-journey tempers their relationship into personal loyalty and an unwavering alliance -- within their larger "band", which is desperately trying to stave off catastrophe for their world.

The Amassia series

Dev, a caravan scout and onetime child-thief, and Kiran, an apprentice blood mage, are the protagonists in Courtney Schafer's Shattered Sigil series. Although from very different backgrounds, Kiran is on the run for his life and initially only Dev has the wilderness knowledge and skills to get him to safety. As the dangers that surround them both intensify, their growing friendship and loyalty to each other become the rock against which their enemies founder.

In T Frohock's Los Nefilim trilogy, the primary bonds are those of family, between the protagonist, Diago, and his husband Miquel, and son, Rafael. Conversely, the relationship between Diago and Guillermo, the leader of Los Nefilim, is not without tensions. Nonetheless, their friendship has been tempered across lifetimes and their fraternal loyalty is also one of the story's primary, and most enduring, relationships.

And yes, bromances are also found in my The Wall Of Night series. :-) In Book Two, The Gathering of the Lost, the close friendships between Audin and Hamar, Raher and Girvase -- all part of a larger band of young knights bent on winning renown and glory amid darkening events -- are definitely bromance territory. 

In Daughter of Blood, the battle-forged friendship between the Storm Spear, Kalan, and Tirael, a prince-captain from an opposing house is unquestionably a bromance -- to the extent that they fight side-by-side to defend a bridal caravan, and Tirael swears brotherhood to Kalan when events separate them again.

Although these are just a few examples, I know there are many more in the Fantasy genre -- and would love to discover a few of  your favorites via 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
May: Celebrating the "Band of Sisters"