Today on the site we’re welcome back Ginn Hale, whose fantasy Master of Restless Shadows, part of the Cadeleonian world (but kicking off its own new series) releases today! It’s full of espionage and other courtly intrigue, not to mention magic, witches, and romance. Here are the details:
Freshly graduated Master Physician Narsi Lif-Tahm has left his home in Anacleto and journeyed to the imposing royal capitol of Cieloalta intent upon keeping the youthful oath he made to a troubled writer. But in the decade since Narsi gave his pledge, Atreau Vediya, has grown from an anonymous delinquent to a man renowned for penning bawdy operas and engaging in scandalous affairs.
What Narsi―and most of the larger world―cannot know is the secret role Atreau plays as spymaster for the Duke of Rauma.
After the Cadeleonian royal bishop launches an unprovoked attack against the witches in neighboring Labara, Atreau will require every resource he can lay his hands upon to avert a war. A physician is exactly what he needs. But with a relentless assassin hunting the city and ancient magic waking, Atreau fears that his actions could cost more than his own honor. The price of peace could be his friends’ lives.
And here’s the guest post on making choices in the world of weaponry in Epic Fantasy, complete with fabulous exclusive art from cover designer Zaya Feli!
Epic fantasy is full of weapons. Swords are particularly common. Some are imbued with specific and significant cultural meaning, such as Excalibur or Kusanagi-no-tsurugi. Others, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gurthang or Sikanda from The Never Ending Story are magical to the point of sentience, while others are simply notable for their history, quality or the use they are put to, such as Mr. Smee’s Johnny Corkscrew in Peter Pan—so named because of the way the sailor twists the blade in the wound after stabbing his opponent.
But it’s not just magical, mythical, or infamous weapons that convey information about the their world and the person wielding them. After all swords, spears, bows, guns, etc. are real tools with real histories. Everything about them—from how they’re made, how they’re adorned and who can carry them—has been shaped by particular places and times in human history.
To me as an author, this means that who I arm and how I choose to arm them can serve the story. Even when the choice of weapon might seem little more than costume to a reader, often much more thought has gone into the matter.
When I began writing my Cadeleonians series—Lord of the White Hell, Champion of the Scarlet Wolf and Master of Restless Shadows—I called on personal experience, and a passing familiarity with the history of weapon to arm my protagonists and also to personalize how and why they fight.
Since the series begins inside a military academy, it only made sense to employ weapon preference and fighting styles to characterize the students and to add depth to their duels. (Not to mention the ambushes and battles they would later be involved in.)
Slim and smart, Kiram Kir-Zaki is far more interested in his mechanical studies than swordplay, so he relies on tactics more than strength. He also hails from a different culture than his sword-swinging Cadeleonian classmates, so his weapon of choice is a bow, which offers him the advantage of distance. Archery allows him to hunt birds, while his classmates gripe about winter rations of cabbage stew. His inventiveness also means that he eventually crafts his own unique weapons to defend himself and his family of choice.
His roommate Javier on the other hand is an excellent swordsman, but because his instructors believed he’s cursed he’s forced to undergo a regime of religious penance that leaves him physically weak. This leads to his decision to forgo both shields and longer, heavier swords, as just carrying them would exhaust him. Instead he relies on a light rapier—not unlike an early épée. Of course stepping into a dueling ring armed with such a fragile-looking sword broadcasts his vulnerability. Javier’s solution is to play up his weakness—expending the minimum of his strength to elude his opponents and hold them at bay all while lulling them into overconfidence. Then, having conserved his strength and lured his opponent into the range of his shorter, lighter weapon he strikes his winning blow.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is their friend Elezar, who possesses exceptional strength and reach. He comfortably wields a longer, much heavier sword; one that readily tears through the armored enemies he faces on the battlefield. Since the majority of his fighting is done while mounted I imagine him armed with something between an estoc and a broadsword. On foot, his weapon of choice is probably something like a bastard sword, (likely a hand-me-down and quite out of fashion, but comfortable to him and a reminder of the people he’s left behind when he journeys to other lands.) That said, Elezar has also won his way through couple predicaments by employing a woodcutter’s maul—ouch!—and his coin purse.
Master of Restless Shadows introduces a new character: Sabella, who is a professional fighter. But unlike the nobles who schooled at the Sagrada Academy, Sabella’s battles are fought in dueling rings of sword houses and serve as entertainment for gamblers and the general public. Her weapon is a civilian sword, a rapier. It’s easily sheathed and unsheathed in close quarters and meant for combat on city streets against unarmored opponents. Like Sabella herself, a rapier is agile and deadly. It’s also something a rarity for any woman to possess, as sumptuary laws would normally bar a Cadeleonian woman from wearing a sword. (Though my books are fantastical, sumptuary laws aren’t. They were and are still used to suppress gender and class freedom. Fascinating historical figures like as Mary Frith (aka Molly Cutpurse) and the extraordinary duelist, La Chevalier d’Eon number among the many people who struggled to live authentically under such laws.) But since I took my initial inspiration from the real life figure of duelist and opera singer Julie D’Aubigny in creating Sabella, I allowed her to win a special dispensation to dress in men’s clothes—which includes her beloved rapier.
Master of Restless Shadows also introduces Delfia who, like Sabella, has been expertly trained in combat since childhood. But since she and her brother are assassins, it would hardly do for her to flout sumptuary laws or strut through the capitol with a rapier at her hip. Instead she carries a fighting knife, which her decorative sheath and full skirt help to disguise as a mere belt knife. And, of course, she also employs poison. Being smaller and less menacing in demeanor doesn’t make her less deadly. It does however mean that her greatest weapon is the element of surprise. (As in, ‘Surprise! That tiny jab from a lace needle was loaded with poison!’)
And last but not (I hope) least is Delfia’s brother, Ariz. He puts me in mind of a quote attributed to Confucius: Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance. In his guise as an instructor of fencing and dance, Ariz often plays down his facility for swordplay. But his grace, balance and speed as a dancer really ought to betray him, particularly when it comes to sword dancing. (Most sword dances actually began as forms of military exercise and training, so that ought to be a give away right there.) However Ariz presents himself and his personal weapons in the most lackluster manner possible. Instead of using the eye-catching effect of bluing to bring out the splendor of his heavy rapier and dagger, Ariz’s weapons are russeted or browned. This chemical process renders the flats of the blades a dull black-brown. At a glance his drawn dagger can appear to still be sheathed.
This detail, is a small one but to me it is central to Ariz’s characterization. Not only does it display just how he fights and survives but it serves as a metaphor for the man himself. That’s not too shabby of a feat for a homely sword with a deadly point to pull off.
Ginn Hale lives with her lovely wife in the Pacific Northwest. She spends the many cloudy days observing plants and fungi. She whiles away the rainy evenings writing fantasy and science-fiction featuring LGBTQ protagonists. Her first novel, Wicked Gentlemen, won the Spectrum Award for best novel. She is also a Lambda Literary Award finalist and Rainbow Award winner.
Her most recent publications include the Lord of the White Hell, Champion of the Scarlet Wolf and The Rifter Trilogy: The Shattered Gates, The Holy Road, His Sacred Bones.