Rowena Cory Daniells

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.

This is the first book in a new fantasy trilogy. The next parts will be issued only a month apart which is a good thing because the King’s Bastard ends in a cliffhanger.

The author kindly offered me a review copy.

Rolencia and Merofyn are two kingdoms which are separated only by the Snow Mountains. Thirty years ago they finally made peace by marriage. Rolencia’s King Rolen married the then eight-year old Merofyn’s princess Myrelle. Rolencia has grown complacent and rich during the peace.

Now, their children are growing up and trouble stirs again in Rolencia. The twins Lence and Byren are respected warriors and their young brother Fyn is an acolyte who is about to become a monk. Their tomboy sister Piro is thirteen and already her parents are considering a political marriage for her.

Lence Kingheir is the first-born and the heir to the king. Byren Kingson is happy with this because he doesn’t want to become a ruler. When a renegade Affinity-user foretells that Byren’s going to kill his twin and become the king, he’s horrified and determines to undermine the prophecy. However, Byren’s best friend Orrade has been seriously hurt and the seer agrees to heal him. Unfortunately, when a person who has been tainted with Affinity, heals another, that other person might get Affinity as well. And in Rolencia the only fate that an Affinity tainted person has, is to go the monasteries and serve their country. Renegades are put to death or banished. To Byren’s horror, Orrade starts to show signs of having Affinity. Also, Orrade confesses that he is lover of men.

Byren is becoming very popular among the Rolencians and Lence starts to resent that. Also, it seems that they both are interested in the same young woman. A rift is growing between the twins. Sometimes Byren wishes that his life was as simple as Fyn’s or Piro’s.

The younger brother Fyn Kingson has Affinity and he was sent to the Halcyon monastery at the age of six. The monks are supposed be holy men dedicated to serving the summer goddess Halcyon who is the maiden, the mother, and the crone. However, inside the abbey the monks, acolytes, and even the masters vie for power in cruel ways. The current abbot is a just man but the faction against him is growing. Fyn is also bullied by four boys. His family wants him to become a weapons’ master so that he can lead the warrior monks on his brothers’ side. However, he’s gentle and detests violence, and would like to become a mystic but he knows that his Affinity isn’t strong enough.

Then a Renegade Power-worker prophesy that he will have to flee for his life and that worship of the goddess Halcyon will cease. Sometimes Fyn wishes his life was as simple as his brothers’.

Piro Kingdaughter is a tomboy but the Queen Myrella is determined to make a proper lady out of her. This means knowing the laws of the land, speaking three languages, and knowing the court etiquette all of which Piro resents. She’d love to go hunting or fighting like her brothers. She also has a huge secret; last autumn she discovered that she has Affinity. The female Power-workers are sent to the abbey of Sylion who is the cruel god of winter and snow. Piro loves summer and life, and she doesn’t want to be carted off to the abbey.

Then, she’s betrothed to a warlord whom she dislikes at first sight. Boy, does she wish her life was as uncomplicated as her brothers’!

To complicate matters more, Illien, Lord of the Cobalt House, comes to the court of Rolencia. Illien is Byren’s cousin and his father had been a royal bastard, but he’s now welcomed. He brings a tale of woe with him but soon, the royal siblings start to suspect that he’s scheming against them.

There are many familiar elements in the book: magic, which is illegal except when it’s tightly controlled, royal heir and his siblings, a tomboy who is supposed to act like a lady. And of course, the prophecy. Yet, Daniells tells a entertaining story at a fast pace.

The pacing was very good and really sucked me into the story. Pretty much the only time it didn’t work for me was near the end where Byren goes out on skates to deliver an urgent message to the Halcyon abbey. Except that in the very next chapter there’s a cut to the abbey where a rider has already brought the message. Then we return to Byren who is still trying to deliver it.

There’s a clear bond of love between the siblings and their mother. King Rolen is unfortunately a more remote figure. Yet, Fyn, Piro, and Byren are ready to sacrifice their careers or even their lives to protect their siblings and it shows in their interactions. They can also be angry with each other. Because of the tight bond between then, it’s painfully clear that Lence has been left out or he has distanced himself from the others. Unfortunately, I found it a bit unbelievable how far he was willing to go in the end.

All three are perhaps a little too do-gooders for real-life. Piro with her fears and naive selfishness is perhaps the most convincing character.

The world-building is very good. In Rolencia people with Affinity are feared and put to abbeys but apparently in other countries they aren’t treated that way. King Rolen’s father and brother were killed by a renegade Power-worker so he made harsh laws for them. There are also Affinity beasts such as manticores and unistags which were a nice touch.

Rolencia and Merofyn apparently have the most fertile lands while the warlords of the other places have more barren lands. There are also the Utlanders who live on barren islands and raid Rolencia every now and then.

The whole story happens in the middle of winter and the characters are almost always moving in deep snow or skating across frozen lakes.

This was a highly entertaining book and I’m looking forward to continuing the series.

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