Rowena Cory Daniells

Rowena Cory Daniells has written several great epic fantasy series which I’ve enjoyed a lot. Today she’s here to talk about her King Rolen’s King series and has exciting news:

As a writer, you never know when a small scrap of information will wedge itself in the vault of your mind and one day prove useful.


Back when I first left school I had a secondhand book shop. This was the perfect environment for an avid reader. In the days when the average novel was around 50,000 words I used to read a book in the morning, one in the afternoon and another after dinner. Reading at this rate meant there were days when I simply couldn’t find a book (even in a bookstore and even with very eclectic tastes).

Faced with this dilemma I would prowl the shelves looking for obscure interesting things. At the bottom of a shelf was a stack of dusty National Geographic magazines. Long before the days of the internet, this mag took the reader into homes and work places across the world. I’ve always been fascinated by people and how they live. I guess it is part of being a writer — that drive to understand why people do what they do. And then there were the photos. Unlike most writers I’m visually oriented so the photographs and illustrations in glorious colour fed that side of me.

Back in those days I devoured all the National Geographic magazines that made their way into my shop, including old black and white copies which I regarded as ‘time capsules’. What I didn’t realise was that my search for the obscure and interesting was laying down a rich groundwork for the books I would eventually write.

Sometimes a picture was enough to inspire me. This particular National Geographic cover struck chord with me.

I only ever saw it once and didn’t save the magazine but the feel of the photo remained with me and I used the boy’s style of clothing for the Utlanders in King Rolen’s Kin. (Turns out this was very appropriate since he was a Norwegian Lapp).

Because I couldn’t remember the year or month, I thought I would never find the image again. And I wouldn’t, if I hadn’t been wandering through a thrift store with my sister. (I love thrift stores, but that is another blog post). Sitting on the end of a rack, cover out, was this issue of National Geographic. And they were selling it for only one dollar. Naturally, I grabbed it and went over to the counter where I discovered all reading material was 50% off so I reclaimed a cherished image for only 50 cents. Made my day.

Then there were the first-hand accounts that I found particularly interesting. At the time I didn’t realise that this kind of research is called going to the primary source.

Back when I was a child I read an account of how a man and his two children were walking in a US national park when a snow storm came up suddenly. He built a snow cave and the children survived. In this case there were no photos and I had to research to find out about snow caves. But the idea that you could survive extreme conditions by building a snow cave stayed with me and I used it in King Rolens Kin. When the first book opens it is midwinter and Byren builds snow caves to camp while travelling.

Snow cave from Adventure Out

The King Rolen’s Kin series covers from midwinter to midsummer so it ranges from snow covered fields where Byren skates on canals and lakes to fetch help when his father’s kingdom is invaded, to the midsummer celebration when Byren hopes to reclaim the throne.


The KRK series has had a good run since it was first released with these beautiful illustrations by Clint Langley. I was surprised and delighted when my publisher contacted me to say they were going to re-release the KRK series to launch their Solaris Classics line.

These books have touched many readers who have reached out to me. And I think this is, in part, due to my fascination with the obscure and interesting. (Here’s what Mervi thought of the first book.)

Yes, I love fantasy. Yes, I love a rollicking tale. But I also love the obscure and interesting details that stick in your mind.

I hope the launch of the Solaris Classics line will enable King Rolen’s Kin to reach new readers.

The King’s Bastard on Kindle

The King’s Bastard Solaris Classic edition


Twitter: @rcdaniells

The fourth and final book in the King Rolen’s Kin series.

Publication year: 2013
Format: print
Page count: 774
Publisher: Solaris

King Breaker continues right after the ending of the previous book, the Usurper. King Rolen’s three children continue their fight to take the kingdom from their usurper uncle. There are also two other point-of-view characters: Florin who was a major secondary character in the previous book and Garzik who starred in his own novella, the King’s Man.

In The Usurper, the eldest of the children, Byren, fought Merofynia’s king and killed him. Byren is now engaged to Merofynia’s 15-year old queen Isolt. At the start of the book, Byren and his best friend Orrade are sailing to Rolencia to take the throne for Byren’s traitorous uncle Cobalt. Byren left his younger brother Fyn in Merofynia. Fyn is Queen Isolt’s Lord Protector and he’s supposed to protect the queen and Byren’s interests in Merofynia.

Both Fyn and Byren are in a way out of their elements, although Fyn more than Byren. At a young age, Fyn found out that he can use magic, or Affinity as it’s called in this world. So, he was sent to a monastery, as King Rolen had decreed for all magic-users. However, Fyn isn’t a magic-user but a warrior monk a small ability to channel Affinity. He’s spent his whole life in the monastery and now he’s put in the middle of scheming, foreign nobles. The Merofynian nobles resent him and they also resent having just a queen. Many of them would want to see themselves as the king. Also, the local barbarian tribes think that Merofynia is weak and are attacking. Fyn is trying to unify the nobles against the barbarians. Unfortunately, Fyn is falling in love with Isolt and so his loyalty is divided. Byren, on the other hand, is a soldier and leader so that part comes to him naturally. But he’s also a good man who is trying to do the right thing and honor his promises and he’s finding out that being a king isn’t easy. He’s also never wanted to be king; his twin was groomed for that position but his twin Lence is dead. He doesn’t love Isolt, he doesn’t even know her, but he’s determined to keep his word and marry her, no matter what.

Meanwhile, uncle Cobalt is solidifying his hold on Merofynia and making up lies about Byren which will make Byren’s return even more difficult. We get to see his scheming at close range because of Florin. She grew up in a trade post but Cobalt had is burned down. She’s also in love with Byren and think that Byren is dead. So, she’s determined to kill Cobalt. She manages to get a post in the palace as a servant girl. She’s determined and loyal to a fault. However, she’s also tall and strong and thinks of herself as unfeminine which brings her some angst.

Byren’s and Fyn’s younger sister Piro has found out that she, too, has Affinity. She’s doing her best to help her brothers but she also doesn’t want to be a political pawn, married off to buy her brother lands or soldiers. She’s near Merofynia, with a mage Siordun.

The last point-of-view character is Garizk, Orrade’s younger brother who was presumed dead in the second book. However, as the novella King’s Man reveals, he was instead taken prisoner and ended up as a slave among the barbarian Utlanders. He managed to win his freedom and now he’s torn between he’s newfound loyalty to one of the Utlander leaders and to Byren. He’s trying to escape and rejoin Byren.

The book has a lot of characters and plot lines but they meld into a coherent, enjoyable whole. There’s fighting on many fronts and a lot of action, but also significant character development. The characters have to make hard choice again and again. Byren especially has to choose between his duty to Rolencia and the woman he loves. Several times he also has to choose between keeping his word and taking the easy way out. Except for Piro, all of the other characters struggle with divided loyalties.

We’re introduced to two new countries. One of them is Merofynia and the other is a completely new country. Merofynia has featured before as the major antagonist in the series and Rolencia’s invaders have all come from Merofynia. However, this time we get to go there and see the customs. Both of these countries are more patriarchal than Rolencia and treat their magic-users differently.

Orrade is one of my favorite secondary characters. He’s unquestioningly loyal to Byren but isn’t afraid to give him advice even when it’s something Byren doesn’t want to hear. Orrade is the oldest son of Lord Dovecote so he’s a shrewd negotiator and a diplomat. He’s also gay. When he confessed this to Byren in the first book, Byren was really uncomfortable with him but since then Byren has come to accept Orrade as he is. Orrade is also Affinity touched; sometimes he gets visions of the future.

This is mostly a satisfying ending for the series. It’s a realistic ending and so fits very well with the tone of the series. A few threads are left open for future books, though. For example, it’s mentioned a couple of times that there are more Affinity beasts than usual but that wasn’t addressed in the series. I also think that Piro didn’t get a satisfying ending and I hope Daniells will return to her at some point.

A novella set in the world of King Rolen’s Kin series.

Publication year: 2012
Page count: Kindle needs no dated page numbers
Format: ebook, Kindle. Also available in mobi format
Publisher: Solaris

King’s Man begins near the end of the first book in the King Rolen’s Kin trilogy: The King’s Bastard. Garzik is the younger son of Lord Dovecote. The Lords’ oldest son, Orrade, is a major secondary character in the series and the best friend of the main protagonist, Byren. In the first book, enemies overran Lord Dovecote’s castle even though Byren, Orrade, and Garzik tried to defend it. Byren told Garzik to light a signal fire so that others could be warned about the enemy. Unfortunately, Garzik failed and he wasn’t seen in the series again. This is his tale.

Garzik is fifteen years old and he hero worships his older brother Orrade and the king’s heir Byren. Even though he’s a lord’s son and has never done any menial work in his life, he’s a pleasant young man. He’s inquisitive, quick to learn languages, and interested in learning about other cultures. But the whole time, he’s full of guilt and shame because he hadn’t light the signal fire.

While trying to light the signal fire, Garzik and his group of soldiers run into the enemy. Garzik is knocked over the head and taken as a slave. During the voyage to the enemy city he’s sick and doesn’t even remember his name. So he has no way to declare himself a noble and maybe be released for ransom. When his head clears, it’s too late. He’s locked up with the other slaves, all male captives from his homeland. A former scribe has taken care of him when he was sick. The scribe has convinced himself that Garzik is a spy for their king and reluctantly, Garzik allows him to believe that. However, they are separated when a ship’s captain wants Garzik. He ends up being a ship’s surgeon’s helper.

Garzik is the clear protagonist here; the rest of the cast changes quickly. He makes enemies among the other slaves but also a few friends.

I felt that this story was more gritty than the King Rolen’s Kin series. In fact, I thought it was close to Daniells’ other series, the Outcast Chronicles, in tone. As a slave Garzik is often hungry and cold. His choices are very limited and he’s abused mentally and physically. He’s even gang raped near the middle of the book. Yet, Daniells doesn’t dwell on these things. They are what slaves have to endure and I think Garzik is actually very lucky to have masters who aren’t determined to abuse him constantly. In the rape scene Garzik passes out quickly. Yet, I think he should have been more affected by the rape. Right afterwards, he considers killing himself in shame but quickly decides that he has to live to escape and serve Byren. After that he doesn’t think about the rape much. Later, he even comes to admire the rapists and their culture. Although, that could be a strong case of Stockholm syndrome. I also found the raiders’ culture very interesting and wouldn’t mind seeing more of it.

Garzik’s homeland’s primary enemies, the Merofynians, are shown pretty much without any redeeming qualities. Except for one man, the Merofynians are greedy, prone to abusing helpless people dependent on them, rapists, and murderers. But the raiders have a quite a complex society.

The third and final book of the Outcast Chronicles.

Publication year: 2012
Page count: 559
Format: print
Publisher: Solaris

290 years ago the peace accords were signed between the True-men (whom the T’En call Mieren) and the powerful and long-lived T’Enatuath (whom the humans call the Wyrd). The two races have co-existed in an uneasy peace since then. Sometimes half-bloods (whom the T’En call the Malaunje and the humans call the Wyrd) are born to two True-men parents. According to the accords, the True-men have to give up the half-blood infants to the T’En.

But king Charald has broken the accords. He attacked the T’En Celestial City and only the cunning of the T’En’s elected leader Imoshen allowed her to negotiate a treaty. According to the treaty, the T’En and Malaunje are allowed free passage to ships which will take them away forever. However, ambitious rebel baron Eskarnor attacked the T’En. Even though king Charald’s declining mental and physical health has been kept a secret, Eskarnor has learnt of it and is taking advantage of it. Now, he has kidnapped old king Charald’s young queen and raped her. Eskarnor intends to murder king Charald and marry the queen so that he will take the throne. However, Charald’s adviser Sorne is trying his best to unite the land against the usurper baron and get the queen back safely. Sorne was born a half-blood so most of the Mieren hate him, which that makes his task very difficult.

Meanwhile, after enduring several attacks the T’Entuath and the Malajaune have finally reached the ships which are supposed to take them to safety. They have a long journey ahead of them but before that they still need to wait for the last of their own people to reach the ships. They are sailing to a temporary safe harbor. In addition to the threat of the Mieren who are anxious to get their hands on the T’En’s rumored wealth, Imoshen has to deal with the suspicions and grumpy T’En leaders who are always looking to increase their own stature – at the cost of other T’En. Unfortunately, at these critical times, their ambitions and their lack of trust to each other could be the end of the whole race.

Kyredeon leads one of the biggest warrior brotherhoods but instead of leading with honor, he keeps the less powerful warriors in line with fear. Even some of his own men have started to think that he’s corrupted in his fear and hatred. Tobazim is a young warrior who has only recently joined Kyredeon’s brotherhood but already the leader has singled him out as a threat. Tobazim has a circle of supporters but most of them are young warriors who resent Kyredeon and Tobazim is afraid that Kyredeon will kill him and his supporters.

In the previous book, Exile, we were introduced to a family of two runaway Malaunjes. The greedy Mieren killed the parents and brought the children to the T’En. Now the six children are being torn away from each other because some of them are Malaunje and some are pure T’En, and in the T’En society the T’En don’t acknowledge their Malaunje kin. However, because the kids have grown together, it hard for them to follow this rule. The Malaunje girls are also now automatically servants according to the T’En society’s rules and proud Aravelle can barely stomach that.

The third book in the series is just as intense as the others, full of action, politics, and tragedy. People will have to do heartbreaking things to save their lives or the lives of others. The book also deals with child abuse.

Sanctuary doesn’t have as much out-right warfare as the previous book but the True-men, the Mieren, are just as greedy and ruthless as in the previous books. They will try their best to rape, kill, and rob every last T’En rather than let them sail away. Some of the T’En are also misusing their position and abuse the Malaunje they’re supposed to protect. Also, some the more powerful Malaunje abuse the other Malaunje. One of the themes of the book is how power and ambition corrupts people.

The T’En culture is as fascinating as ever with a lot of internal conflict and suspicions. Imoshen has to resort to outright trickery to get the various brotherhoods and sisterhoods to work together long enough to save their race. She’s also an idealist and tries to take small steps to change the culture which divides T’En women and men from each other from birth. However, many of the people she depends on are traditionalists who would be horrified with the changes she’s dreaming about.

The characters are mostly vivid and compelling, especially the T’En. Unfortunately, most of the Mieren are left almost as caricatures of hatred and greed. Imoshen was raised outside the T’En society and sometimes she has difficult time fitting in. She’s convinced that the T’En society is limiting both individuals and the whole race from growing to their full potential. But most of the T’En don’t want to change. The young warrior Tobazim is an exception to this; he wants his leader Kyredeon deposed and a safer life for everyone in the brotherhood. Tobazim’s gift is for seeing how buildings are put together and the weak spots in them. Now, he can use his gift for people as well. For most of the series, Sorne has been torn between his loyalty to the old ruthless king Charald and to the T’En. Now, he’s thinking of doing one last service to the Mieren before joining the T’En in their exile.

Sanctuary is an intense and satisfying conclusion to the series.

The author kindly sent me a review copy.

The second book of the Outcast Chronicles.

Publication year: 2012
Page count: 509
Format: print
Publisher: Solaris

290 years ago the peace accords were signed between the True-men (whom the T’En call Mieren) and the powerful and long-lived T’Enatuath (whom the humans call the Wyrd). The two races have co-existed in an uneasy peace since then. Sometimes half-bloods (whom the T’En call the Malaunje and the humans call the Wyrd) are born to two True-men parents. According to the accords, the True-men have to give up the half-blood infants to the T’En.

Now, King Charald has broken the accords. His troops have attacked T’En estates and his army besieges the T’En Celestial City. He hates and fears the T’En and is convinced his god, the Warrior, wants him to slaughter them all. He tolerates his half-blooded first born son Sorne only because he thinks that Sorne receives visions from the Warrior. Sorne has realized that his loyalty is wasted on king Charald and has come to sympathized with the T’En. Sorne’s position as King Charald’s adviser is precarious because he is a Malaunje and many of the powerful Barons don’t trust him. Still, Sorne is now actively trying to help the T’En and Malaunje people he comes across and he even tries to warn Imoshen, when possible. However, King Charald is an old man and his health is failing. The Barons are already plotting to secure their own power after the king’s death.

Because King Charald has brought war to the Celestial City, the sisterhoods and brotherhoods of the T’En have to choose a causare, a leader who can negotiate the new accords with the Mieren King. The brotherhoods are always competing against each other for higher stature and even now they can’t unite against a single candidate even though there are nine voting all-fathers to six all-mothers. So, the sisterhoods’ candidate, Imoshen, is elected. Imoshen was raised outside the T’En society and has proven to be very powerful so she has a lot of enemies but fortunately also friends. Causare doesn’t have the power to force anyone to do what she says so Imoshen has to use all of the diplomatic skills and her gift to read other people’s emotions to do her job. At first, King Charald wants the T’En to leave forever from Chalcedonia on ships and the brotherhoods are fiercely against that. Imoshen has to remind them that if they continue to fight, the warriors aren’t the ones who will pay the price but the people on the estates and in the end the Mieren will overwhelm them with sheer numbers. But when Sorne brings word that the king intends to slaughter all of the T’En instead of letting them leave, Imoshen will have to find a way to protect her whole race.

Things inside the brotherhoods aren’t well, either. Tobazim is a young warrior who came to a brotherhood looking for stature and fame. Instead he found a place where the all-father rules with fear and honor has no place in the brotherhood. He and his closest friend will have to be careful and follow orders as well as they can.

In addition to these three, one of the point-of-view characters is King Charald’s high priest, Zabier, who is a tragic character. At a young age, he was thrust into the position of being the Father’s voice, who supposedly saw visions from the god Father. In order to keep his mother and Malaunje sister safe, Zabier had to play along. He had to serve a despotic king before King Charald conquered Chalcedonia and had to do terrible things which he has had to justify to himself. Even though Zabier and Sorne grew up together, Zabier now fears and loathes Sorne because Sorne threatens Zabier’s positions and therefore his family.

Exile also introduces a new family. They don’t live in the Celestial City; in fact the family’s adults were Malaunje lovers who ran away so that they could be together. The Malaunje have five children and their eldest son is a pure T’En whose magical gift is starting to manifest. Unfortunately, there’s no-one to teach him how to control it so the family will have to face a tragic decision: stay and let young Ronnyn’s gift possibly hurt someone or return to the City where the parents will most likely be punished and the family torn apart.

Even though the T’En squabble amongst themselves, most of them want to protect their own and the Malaunje. They also value the lives of their own people more than money or other valuables. When Imoshen realizes that the Mieren might kill her people who are still on the estates, she gives orders to pay for every live T’En and Malaunje who are brought to her. Unfortunately, in their greed the Mieren do atrocities to get as many captives as possible.

The Mieren are shown is a very bad light; there doesn’t seem to be any redeemable characters among them. The vast majority of them seem to be so greedy that they don’t think twice about robbing and killing the Malaunje and are looking forward to looting anything possible from the T’En. They are also rapists and seem to enjoy abusing women. The Mieren women feel like victims to me because they don’t have any legal rights and are so dependent on their abusing men. The queen isn’t exempt. In fact, because she is an important figure, men seem to be more eager to manipulate and abuse her. A word of warning: out of the three female POV characters, two are raped during the book.

The first book on the series, Besieged, was dark in atmosphere but Exile is even darker. The Mieren rape and kill with impunity and families are destroyed because of greed. The plot moved at a relentless pace. Exile covers a much shorter space of time than Besieged because the plot moves quicker.

Exile is an excellent and intense continuation to Besieged. Daniells is once again ruthless to her characters. They have suffered so much that I’m almost hoping for them to get a break in the last book, but that seems unlikely.

A stand-alone paranormal mystery book.

Publication year: 2012
Page count: 413
Format: print
Publisher: Destine Press

Antonia Carlyle graduated as a writer of screenplays from Collage of Arts but had no plan for her life. But after a near death experience, she’s chasing her dreams. So, she invested all her money into making a documentary about the Australian music industry. The first part would dig deep into one of Australia’s most celebrated band: the Tough Romantics. Even though the band broke up years ago, they are still famous and have a lot of fans. One of the reasons they are still remembered is that their guitarist/singer Genevieve James was murdered 25 years ago just before the band became successful. Even though a local taxi driver was accused of her murder, he killed himself before the trial and nobody was convicted.

Antonia manages to find the members: Arthur, who used to write lyrics, is now a politician, Tucker has a successful career as a singer, and the lead singer Pia is a movie actress. Arthur seems willing to talk to Antonia and he has a surprise, too. It was said that there was a witness who could have exonerated the taxi driver. Through Arthur, Antonia gets in touch with the old witness, Joe, who is a writer. Joe has been working on a book about Genevieve’s last week alive and he’s willing to give it to Antonia but only one chapter at the time, as Joe is still revising it. Joe says that the book will reveal the real killer.

Antonia and her sexy and talented director Monty have moved into the house where the Tough Romantics lived during Genevieve’s murder. Antonia is starting to hear things from the past and dream about Genevieve. Things go downhill when Antonia’s abusive ex-husband smells money and shows up.

The investigation into Genevieve’s murder is rather different that usual because it happened 25 years ago and there are no direct witnesses to question. Arthur was out during the murder and the rest of the band are reluctant to talk about it. Antonia’s only direct information source is Joe’s book. About every other chapter is from Joe’s book. It describes the seedy side of Melbourne, St. Kilda, where the young band members lived. Pete O’Toole, the taxi driver, lived next door from the band members and strikes up a friendship with Genevieve. O’Toole tries to keep himself apart from the world of prostitutes, pimps, and drug dealers but he cares about the people and is reluctantly drawn into their world while trying to help them. O’Toole is a painter but he hasn’t had an inspiration for a long time. Now, he’s finally getting it back. O’Toole is also not from St. Kilda so he sees things as an outsider.

Antonia is a flawed character. When she was young, her mother die of an overdose. Her mother had also been hearing voices and Antonia is terrified that she will go crazy, like her mother. She divorced her ex several years ago but she still has the scars; while she’s very good at her job, she thinks that she’s otherwise worthless and is scared of letting anyone get emotionally close to her. When Monty starts to flirt with her, she doesn’t believe that he’s actually interested in her. She’s also determined to do the documentary her way and not let others to dictate to her, not matter how famous or rich they might be.

For most of her life, Antonia didn’t believe in the supernatural. However, after her near death experience, she has started to feel and experience strange things which she can’t deny.

Monty is a tall and very handsome black man. He was in the Collage of Arts at the same as Antonia and they had several courses together. Still, Monty is seven years younger than Antonia and she’s very reserved around him. Sometimes Monty baits Antonia verbally but most of the time he’s supportive.

Joe is dying of liver cancer and he’s determined to get his side of the story on paper first. His book is written in O’Toole’s point-of-view and in first person. Joe interviewed O’Toole about his experiences and wrote about some of them even before the band came into O’Toole’s life. In these chapters we get insight to the band. They were very young and just on the edge of success. However, the chapters focus more on the other people on O’Toole’s life. The atmosphere during these chapters is quite different, more somber and gritty, but it works very well.

The pacing of the book is very good. Even though the crime is decades old, there’s still a sense of urgency that kept me reading.

The author kindly gave me a review copy.

The first book in an epic fantasy series. It’s pretty dark so I’m adding this book to the RIP.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 670
Publisher: Solaris

290 years ago the peace accords were signed between the True-men (whom the T’En call Mieren) and the powerful and long-lived T’Enatuath (whom the humans call the Wyrd). The two races have co-existed in an uneasy peace since then. Sometimes half-bloods (whom the T’En call the Malaunje and the humans call the Wyrd) are born to two True-men parents. According to the accords, the True-men have to give up the half-blood infants to the T’En.

Sorne is king Charald’s eagerly-awaited first born son and heir. However, when Sorne is born a half-blood with six fingers and toes, red hair, and dark eyes, the king of Chalcedon is bitterly disappointed. The king wants to kill the boy, instead of giving him to the T’En so that as few people as possible would know about his shame. But high priest Oskane manages to save the infant’s life by suggesting that Oskane could take the child, hide him, and study him so that the True-men could find out any weaknesses the half-bloods have. The king agrees, but orders his young queen poisoned so that he can marry again and produce heirs without tainted blood. The queen was Oskane’s kin and Oskane had arranged the marriage so he feels responsible for the infant and the queen’s death.

Oskane, his aide, and a small group of servants travel to a abandoned place. On the way, they encounter a young woman being chased by a mob. The woman has given birth to a half-blood and the people in her village are furious. Oskane takes the young woman and her family with her. So, a king’s son and a carpenter’s son grow up together, both hated half-bloods, while Oskane dreams of revenge through the boy Sorne. In order to help the two half-bloods to become strong and resist the temptation of their magical gifts, Oskane beats them every day starting when they’re just five years old.

400 years ago a covenant was done between the male and the female T’En. According to the covenant, both sexes lived separetely in their own sisterhoods and brotherhoods. All pure blooded T’En children must be given to the sisterhoods to raise. Girls would never see their fathers again but the boys would return to their brotherhood when they turn seventeen.

Imoshen is a full-blooded T’En girl, born to T’En father, who is the leader of his brotherhood, and his Malaunje lover. Her father has raised her in secret with the hope that Imoshen would give birth to a powerful child who would break the covenant between the T’En brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Imoshen is raised on an island with only a few servants and without any knowledge of her culture.

Both Sorne and Imoshen are outsiders in their own cultures, and so they are a great way to introduce the cultures to the reader. Sorne knows that his culture despises half-bloods, like himself, but he doesn’t have to face that fact until in his adolescence, while Imoshen is thrust into the scheming and oppressive culture of the T’En almost without any knowledge about it. They both see the unfairness of their cultures and idealistically want to change them. Both are also flawed characters, especially when they get older and are scarred both physically and mentally by their experiences. The book follows them from birth to young adulthood.

We also follow a couple of other point-of-view characters. Vittoryxe is an ambitious young T’En woman. She wants to become the leader of her sisterhood, the all-mother, and will scheme and plot to get there. Unfortunately, she also expects everyone else to be a schemer and a liar, and treats them accordingly. Graelan is a young man who has just returned to his brotherhood, head full of battle and glory. To his shock, he’s trust in the middle of brotherhood scheming. Oskane leaves his familiar life at forty-five to raise the king’s half-blood son and to teach him humility and piety. However, Oskane still thinks of Sorne as a pawn and not a person who might want to do something else with his life than be a spy or avenger.

The book has a very complex world. The True-men have six different kingdoms and they each seem to have somewhat different culture, and different religions. They also have different languages. However, we don’t see much of them. Chalcedonian and T’En culture are the important ones for the story.

The T’En, or T’Enatuath as they call themselves, have been divided on gender lines to brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Every T’En has supernatural gifts and they believe that the male and the female gifts react badly to each other. The male gifts, and the males themselves, are seen as aggressive and dangerous. The male gift can taint a female gift, making the female addicted to the male gift. The female gifts are powerful in another plane but leave the female incapable of defending herself in the real world, and thus dangerously vulnerable to both the male T’En and the True-men. The half-bloods, called the Malaunje, serve the T’En in the brotherhoods and sisterhoods. Even though most T’En are born to one half-blood parent and one T’En parent, T’En don’t acknowledge the blood relationship to the half-blood. Also, in the T’En culture same-sex partners are commonplace. Each brotherhood is lead by an all-father and each sisterhood is lead by an all-mother. Each leader has two close confidantes and advisers: a hand-of-force and a voice-of-reason. Each clan has also a gift-tutor who is appointed by the previous gift-tutor. It seems that in a brotherhood, an all-father is replaced by assassination, outright murder, or by political scheming. In the sisterhoods, an all-mother usually steps down when she’s old and appoints the new leader, which usually means political scheming. I found the culture fascinating.

The T’En call the other plane the empyrean plane. The people with powerful gifts can project their minds to that plane but the plane is full of dangerous beasts. Unfortunately, the beasts can sometimes come to the real world on their own and so the T’En women must fight them. Sometimes a frightened or inexperienced T’En can also project herself accidentally to the other plane.

Besieged is centered on political scheming and interpersonal relationships (most of them are dysfunctional in one way or another). Families play also a large part; who should you give your loyalty and why. There’s also some interesting commentary on religion. The True-men of Chalcedonia worship the Seven; Mother, Father, and their five sons, and some characters claim to be able to talk with them. However, it’s clear from the start that they are lying. Religion seems to be pawn in political games or a exuse for people to justify their actions.

The book has a rather dark atmosphere with entire races hating and persecuting each other, children dying, and women being just pawns in political games. Oskane is a particularly dark character; he spends over a decade of his life raising two half-bloods but he always despises them and doesn’t see them as real people.

Yet, the characters have families and loved ones whom they defend and protect. Often enough the family isn’t by blood but by adoption. Both Sorne and Imoshen are curious people who want to know more and do what’s right.

There are lots of plot twists and some of them are down right brutal.

Today I have a wonderful guest post from Australian author Rowena Cory Daniells:

Are we Hard-wired for Violence?

Years ago I read a book by Barbara Ehrenreich, titled Blood Rites. One of the things that I found fascinating was the concept of violence as a communicable disease. If you were peaceful and you came up against a violent people, they either wiped out your village (and all your genetic off-spring) or you became violent in self-defence, in which case you were now primed to use violence to protect those you loved.

Which brings me to zombies… stay with me, I do have a point.

I was thinking about the popularity of Zombie movies and TV shows. I used to think it was because zombies were already dead so you could kill them without guilt. But after reading an article the other day I think that is only part of the appeal.

It all boils down to survival pure and simple. Them and us.

Modern life is too complex. People feel like they are a very small cog in a very large machine and they can’t affect things. Politicians and big business prove corrupt and no one seems to want to make the ‘brave’ decisions that our world needs.

Bring on the zombie apocalypse and suddenly, life is simple. Protect the people you love, food and shelter. Wipe the board clean to start again and maybe this time we’ll get it right.

After we’ve wiped out all the zombies, (they’re dead already remember so we can shoot them without guilt) we can start again, so get out the machine gun and mow down those zombies.

The very act of violence can be hypnotic, as Jeff Sparrow puts it in an article in the Overland ‘the attractive power of deadly violence itself.’ In When the Burning Moment Breaks: Gun Control and Rage Massacres, Sparrow said:

‘Much of the most overt writing about the pleasure of violence, about the attraction of war, emerged from the First World War. Indeed, the outbreak of the Great War led to mass celebrations, in almost all of the combatant nations. How to explain that enthusiasm?

… historian Eric Leeds explains, ‘It was commonly felt that with the declaration of war, the populations of European nations had left behind an industrial civilisation with its problems and conflicts and were entering a sphere of action ruled by authority, discipline, comradeship and common purpose.’ The pleasure of war represented, in other words, an indictment of the peace that it shattered.

Peace meant that men and women were atomised, alienated and alone, impersonal cogs in the gears of industry; war offered an organic collectivity in which there would be a meaningful place for everyone. Again and again in the literature of 1914, you come up against a perception of modernity, with its factories and its technology and its bureaucracy, as soulless and anti-human: a world that was ‘old and cold and weary,’ as Rupert Brooke says. Battle, by contrast, was thought to restore the values of an age that was passing, understood (in idealised terms) as honour and purpose and camaraderie.’

And it is these very traits which fantasy is famous for. It has been suggested that people turn to fantasy because of its purity of purpose. In a fantasy epic you will find a battle good against evil. In fantasy the smallest of people (the orphan or the hobbit) can make a difference. But fantasy is also evolving.

In a post on Fantasy Faction Douglas Smith writes about the popularity of gritty fantasy.  He mentions authors like Abercrombie and multi-layered books, movies and TV shows like Breaking Bad and Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Douglas says: ‘I personally read all kinds of fantasy – the “Farm boy versus Dark Lord”, the “bunch of heroes on a quest”. But I am consistently drawn back to (gritty fantasies). I don’t expect these stories to drop the classic concepts in fantasy, but rather take them and put a new spin on them. For me, these authors are keeping the fantasy genre fresh and exciting – they are touching on concepts which are important in a real-world way.’

All of which brings me back to my original question. Are we hard-wired for violence? As a student of history, I find the same problems arising generation after generation. What is this fascination for power? Why do people fear what is different? And why is violence so much easier than negotiation?

In my new trilogy The Outcast Chronicles, I created a world just so I could explore these questions. There are a minority gifted people, who those without gifts fear. Power attracts the ruthless, who would be classified sociopaths by today’s standards. Poor Sorne is born a half-blood mystic so his father, the king, disowns him and rears him to be a weapon against the mystics.

But the mystics aren’t ‘noble savages’, they have their own problems. Rivalries between the males and females lead to paranoia. When Imoshen is born to the leader of the brotherhood, he hides her meaning to use her against the sisterhoods.

Sorne and Imoshen have to examine their world and their places in it and ask themselves what they really believe and what they value. Is violence the only way?

Rowena has a copy of Besieged to give-away (world-wide) to one lucky commenter.

The give-away question: What’s your favourite zombie movie or TV show and why?

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This is the last book in the King Rolen’s Kin epic fantasy trilogy. The author kindly gave me a review copy.

The Usurper continues right after the Uncrowned King ended. The three point-of-view characters are far from each other.

Byren is struggling to find experienced warriors who could fight for him and win back Rolencia. Instead, he mostly gets women, children, and maimed men. The Merofyinas have started to cut off Rolencian mens’ right hands. Byren is also struggling to feed his growing group of people while fighting the invaders. He has no choice but to ask for help from one of the warlords who used to be loyal to Byren’s father. Unfortunately, the warlords respect power and Byren’s group doesn’t seem powerful.

Fyn Kingson is aboard the sea-hound ship Wyvern’s Whelp. The sea-hounds are the equivalent of privateers in this world and the ship’s captain, Nefysto, seems to have some allegiance to Ostron Isle which is a third big power in this world. Fyn’s trying desperately to find a way to help his brother against the invaders. However, he can hardly help them alone. So, he just might have to look for more allies. Also, the sea-hounds respect fighting ability. Fyn has been training as a warrior monk but he hates violence. Still, he has to defend himself when needed.

Piro Kingsdaughter is masquerading as a maid and she’s now a slave to a Merofynian Power-worker, Lord Dunstany. She has started to like and even trust the Power-worker a little. However, Overlord Palatyne claims her as his slave and then gives her to Merofynia’s Kingsdaughter Isolt. Lord Dunstany has no choice but to agree. However, Dunstany orders Piro to spy on Isolt. Piro decides to spy but on her own behalf and so that she might be able to avenge her family.

Some new characters are introduced in the book. The most prominent of them is Isolt who is only thirteen but already well versed in court intrigue because it’s all she has ever known. However, she turns out to be a bit more complex character.

Florin, the tradepost keeper’s daughter, is a major secondary character in this book. She’s apparently the only Rolencian woman who is willing to take up arms to defend her country and the men resent her for that. Expect that one of the warlords, who rules her own land next to Rolencia, is a woman and it’s apparently a well-known fact that among the people of the spars the women fight alongside the men. I would have thought that Rolencia was in such dire straits that any person, a man or a woman, willing to fight would have been welcome. Byren is attracted to her and so wants to protect her. She doesn’t want to be protected. Unfortunately, this makes her a poor soldier because she can’t be trusted to obey orders to stay out of anything dangerous. Byren also suspects that his (gay) best friend Orrade is in love with her which causes even more tension between the two friends.

This book has more sexism than the previous ones; the men want to protect any woman they know personally and unfortunately, that “protection” is exactly the kind that robs women of independence and any real choices in their lives. Fortunately, the women won’t have any of that. Also, there’s a weird sexual double standard; previously Byren has been only too happy to bed any willing woman (or so we are told, it wasn’t shown) without any strings attached, but now he thinks that when a man has sex with a woman, she’s now “claimed” by him and therefore his property. This doesn’t even have to really happen; it’s enough that he thinks that a man has “taken” a woman and therefore the woman is now out his reach.

There are a few romantic subplot is the books, as well. Unfortunately, they are of the kind which could have been resolved quickly if the characters just sat and talked for five minutes instead of going around moping and assuming things.

The pace is again fast and furious, and the book is quick and easy to read. There is a lot of fighting and courtly politics, although this time in the Merofynian court.

Unfortunately, there’s only one unexpected twist in the book (which I did rather enjoy) but Daniells handles the classic epic elements competently. However, most plots are left unresolved and everything is wide open for sequels.

This is the second book in the epic fantasy trilogy the Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin and continues immediately after the first book ended. In the middle of winter. And we aren’t talking about “oh, we might have a few snowflakes here and there” wimpy winter but a real winter where you have to walk knee-deep in snow and can freeze to death if you don’t know what you’re doing. You know, the kind of winter my native Finland has.

Byren Kingson, now the Kingsheir, is racing towards the Halcyon Abbey. He’s determined to prove his loyalty to his father by leading the famous warrior monks to victory against the invading Merofynian soldiers. On the way, he stumbles upon a Merofynian Power-worker and his party, and decides to kill him and free his child slave.

The third Kingson Fyn is an acolyte in the Halcyon Abbey. The king has send word that he needs the warrior monks and they left. Too late, Fyn realizes that the letter was a fake and the warrior monks have been led into a trap. The abbey is invaded and it’s up to Fyn to lead the young boys to safety through a secret passageway.

The Kingsdaughter Piro’s situation isn’t much easier. Although the 13-year old girl is in the capitol, the new Lord Protector has declared her a traitor and offers a modest sum for her capture. Therefore, she has dressed as a maid and is trying to find a way to free her mother, the Queen, whom the new Lord Protector has imprisoned. Her father King Rolen is sick and possibly under the influence of magic, or Affinity as it’s called here, so unfortunately, he isn’t able to help. To make matters worse, the Merofynians attack the capitol.

This second book is just as well paced and action-packed as the first one, the King’s Bastard. The plot has a lot of twists and turns. There isn’t as much fighting as in the first book but there are chaises, both on horseback and on knee deep snow, escapes, people hiding, eavesdropping, girls dressed as boys, and other fun stuff. There’s also a twist involving the Affinity beasts and I’m interested to see where it’s going. However, there’s no resolution in the book, just like in the first book; all three books seem to be one long story.

Even though the book revolves around war, it’s not really grim or gritty. There isn’t unnecessary gore or fights. On the other hand, there isn’t as much political intrigue as in the first book mainly because the characters are mostly hiding and not in a position to engage in intrigue. This is very likely to change in the next book, though.

We get a glimpse of how magic is handled among the Merofynians. In Rolencia, people with Affinity are forced into a religious, chaste life in the abbeys. This seems not to be the case with Merofynia. The conquering Overlord has an old, noble Power-worker who doesn’t seem to be a monk or a nun. There’s also a blind Seer but she’s only seen briefly.

Throughout the book, the POV characters find out that members of their family are likely to be dead. Byren grieves for them but the other two seem to shrug it off easily. Of course, they don’t have much time to think about it and if it’s repetitive it would get boring. All of them suffer from survivor’s guilt, Byren possibly more than the others.

Byren seems to be the most reflective of the three characters. He doubts his own abilities and constantly waffles about how he should treat his best friend Orrade. He found out in the previous book that Orrade is a lover of men and in Rolencia that’s synonymous to a traitor because in the past there was a conspiracy to overthrow the king. The most famous men in the conspiracy were lovers of men, called Servants of Palos, so now it’s “common knowledge” that they are all traitors. (This is, by the way, a classic scapegoat behavior which is, alas, common to humans everywhere.) On the one hand, Byren still cares about Orrade and considers him a loyal friend but on the other hand, he doesn’t want anyone to think that he’s a lover of men.

Fyn is depressed because he feels that he has let down all of his friends when the abbey fell. He froze during the battle and regrets that.

Piro is mostly concerned with staying alive and free.

Both Byren and Fyn have young children to protect. This is quite different from other epic fantasy where the traveling companions tend to be, if not all warriors, at least adults capable of taking care of themselves.

All of the characters end up in quite different places than where they were at the start and I’m curious to find out how the tale ends.

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