Best Fantasy Books Blog http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog Reviews, discussions, giveaways, and blog about everything fantasy Sat, 24 Jun 2017 12:01:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Tendrils of Darkness — Chapter 26: Late-Night Encounters http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/tendrils-of-darkness-chapter-26-late-night-encounters/ http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/tendrils-of-darkness-chapter-26-late-night-encounters/#respond Sat, 24 Jun 2017 12:01:34 +0000 http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/?p=5037 Wax Stamp 26

Late-Night Encounters

 

Zeph risked a furtive poke around the corner.

Queen Pandare and the man in gray were gone. So strange. Only hours ago, she had told him she was opposed to an alliance with Azren. But in light of what he just overheard, he wasn’t so sure.

He dismissed any notion of following them. These barren hallways offered no cover. Besides, the best way to follow someone was to know where they were headed. In this case, he was fairly certain the queen would return to her bedchambers. His hand closed around the door handle and turned. It was unlocked. In the back of his mind, he could hear Cahrin lecturing him on how he could be executed if caught in the queen’s bedchambers. If caught.

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The room was illuminated by obsidian gargoyles hovering in the corners with candles in their hands. An intricately carved molding framed a ceiling portrait of Brekad, the god of opportunity, wielding jewels in one hand and the reins of a majestic horse in the other. An oversized four-poster bed dominated the space, and two rounded trunks extended from the bottom corners of the bed like the paws of some great war cat.

Shuffling through the trunks, Zeph came up with nothing but some fine clothing and more shoes than anyone deserved to own—too stuffed with, well, stuff for him to hide in. He peered beneath the bed. Empty, save for a layer of dust. As good a hiding place as any.

He lifted the bed skirt and slid under on his back. And then he waited, passing the time by staring down at the circle of cross-hatching on his thumb. Lord Berrian had said he’d been marked so as not to be lost. If that was so, why had no one come for him? Were his parents dead, or was there a change of plans? Maybe they did not want him after all.

He ruminated on the possibilities, drifting into a light slumber until he was awoken by the door, followed by voices.

“ . . . quite impressive, really,” said the queen, stressing the word really in her southeastern accent. “Your master is well prepared.”

“That he is.” Zeph detected a slight sibilance to the man’s voice that he hadn’t noticed before. “Though he would prefer not to intervene at all. Are you certain you cannot apply your considerable womanly charms to the king?”

“You’re precious, Kreeb. You’ve seen my husband of late. He is immune to such things. He will not even come to our room at night, so obsessed he is with those stones.”

“I do not question the truth of your words. It is just what my master desires most.”

“And what I desire most is an alliance without any obstacles,” said the queen.

“Then it should be as you say.”

“Come, let us sit.” Footsteps came toward Zeph; the bed sagged. “Comfortable?”

“The game Your Majesty plays is dangerous.”

Zeph could see Kreeb’s cloak from beneath the skirt, a hardy wool meant for travel.

“What are you implying, my dearest Kreeb?”

“Only that your ambition could become a liability.”

“Ambition is the seed of power. Would not your master like an ally with power?”

The bed shifted. “Make the arrangements, and you will find having me as a friend much to your liking,” Queen Pandare purred.

The bed shook, sending a ripple down Kreeb’s cloak to the floor next to Zeph. “I am sure of it.”

That cloak. The servant of Azren was always covered head to toe. What is he hiding underneath? Zeph reached out and touched its edge. It felt smoother than he expected.

“Now go,” said Queen Pandare, “and we’ll meet again tomorrow.”

He raised the garment from the ground ever so gently.

“Tomorrow, yes, it will be as we discussed. And Your Majesty, do not let the king forget to w—”

“You think me a fool?” The queen’s tone was frigid.

“Of course not.” Kreeb got off the bed, and the cloak nearly slipped from Zeph’s grasp. One pinky still snagged its corner. “I only thought to remind you.”

“Many a man has underestimated me.”

“I assure you, Queen Pandare, I have no intention of doing that.”

As Kreeb started away, Zeph flicked his hand up. He caught a flash of something—or nothing, he wasn’t sure—except a color. Red.

Zeph snatched his hand back. Kreeb paused. Did he feel the intrusion? There were no more footsteps.

“What is it?” the queen asked.

Zeph held his breath, his heartbeat the loudest sound in the room. Finally he heard Kreeb move toward the door.

Zeph allowed his chest to rise and fall once more, pondering what was said, what could have been red, and what it all meant. Before long, he was asleep.

 

Section Break

 

Raven wandered the web-infested corridors, deep in his own musings. He was aware of a streak of pride even Azren could not destroy. It was why he despised being pitied and refused to submit to others. Though unable to remember the time before his capture, he liked to think he had principles then. That he would not have considered the path he was now set to follow.

But he was no longer that man. His pride, his pain, his passion—they all were insignificant. He lived only for the destruction of Azren and those who stood with him, though admittedly he used the word “lived” loosely. His days and nights held no pleasure, only planning and preparation. So he did what he must, pushing aside any remaining dignity to accomplish this goal.

The sound of his unflinching march through the corridors echoed, reminding of a drumbeat that still haunted his sleep. It was a dull pounding he withstood night after night during his time in captivity. His thoughts shifted to the visitor in the gray cloak, the one who had recognized him. He couldn’t shake the feeling they had once been more than mere acquaintances. It was a sense of familiarity, more than anything else, bereft of either acrimony or warmth.

What was it he’d said? Because you were lost and now you’re found. As if Raven were some pet of Azren’s who had wandered off. He fought against the idea. He had escaped from Azren’s domain. He couldn’t recall how, but he remembered the torture. He remembered the imprisonment. There could be no other explanation for his freedom.

Raven came to that same door up against the alcove. He rapped twice before entering without waiting for an answer. At a table, just as he had been earlier that day, sat the king. He glanced up, an annoyed look on his face.

Raven got down on one knee and waited until he was motioned to rise.

King Hybris’s annoyance was replaced with his usual kindly smile. “Have you come to fix stones with me?”

A fruitless endeavor. Then again, he had seen little since his escape from Azren that accomplished much. People scurried like mice, falsely believing what they did mattered in the least.

But accommodating this cloudy-minded fool could bring more profound results. King Hybris held the key to central Draza. He alone would determine if Azren wasted resources against Einor.

“If Your Majesty wills it,” Raven said without emotion.

“Ah, someone who cares about this kingdom as much as I. Take a seat. There are some pieces for you right over there.” The king motioned to a pile of broken stones.

Raven did as he was told, grabbing an armful and bringing it to the table. He toiled alongside the king for nearly an hour before speaking.

“I request a favor of Your Majesty.” The words grated on his soul.

The king finished attaching a piece to the half-complete stone in front of him. “A favor, you say? What would you ask a king?”

Raven caught a touch of peevishness in the tone. King Hybris himself was full of pride.

“Do not form an alliance with the Afflicted One.”

The king’s forehead crinkled in thought. “What is your stake in this?”

“He did this to me.” Raven pulled back his hood to reveal the deep red scars underneath. “He will do the same to your lands.”

King Hybris studied Raven for several moments before returning to his work. “It is a very distinguished face,” he said some time later.

Raven sat in silence, working on the shards in front of him. Putting a stone block together was like solving a giant puzzle. Perhaps it accomplished nothing, but the work was both calming and engaging, without hard choices to be made, only complete concentration on a matter with little scope or consequence. He finished his first block much more quickly than the king. He went back for more pieces and laid them on the table.

“Have you come to a decision?”

“Oh, yes,” replied the king. His brow furrowed as he contemplated the placement of a rock shard as if his life depended on it.

Neither of them spoke again. Raven continued to work until his second block was pieced together. By then the king had fallen asleep, a cheek resting against his nearly completed masterpiece.

Raven returned to his room. He usually waited to go to bed until he was so tired that sleep would overcome him, allowing little in the way of nightmares. Even then, they would eventually crawl inside his head, feeding on his thoughts like leeches to awaken him with a start.

Tonight, he dreamed he was at the king’s banquet table, but this time the gray-clad man was seated beside him and in place of the king sat a tall figure in a flowing black cloak, his face obscured by its hood. Instead of food, they were served cracked stones that had meticulously been pieced together. Only between the layers of rock was not the sticky white filler that Raven and the king used but thick, crimson blood.

 

Section Break

 

She led him in a circuitous route downstairs, around corners and over debris. The farther they went, the colder Daen felt. Elise stayed in sight but refused to answer any question intelligibly. She kept telling him they were going somewhere important. He marched on for what must have been hours until the landscape melted away before him. A sharp pain in his back coincided with her frowning like a child. And then she was gone.

“Yer coin or yer spleen,” said a voice from behind him.

He blinked the sleep from his eyes. He was outside, wearing little more than a linen nightshirt that reached down to his ankles. He could see he was still in the worst part of Camere, only he did not recognize exactly where.

The rain had stopped, but the ground was wet. Unfamiliarity with the area combined with the ill-lit streets would make returning to The Bed of Nails Inn an adventure. And that was assuming he could navigate through the sea of local ruffians—like the one holding a knife to his back.

He raised his hands and turned his palms inwards to show he was weaponless. “I shudder to disappoint you, but I have no coin, and my spleen will not likely fetch you the riches you seek.”

After a thorough examination of his captive and realizing how correct Daen was, the ruffian sighed in disappointment. “I don’t s’pose you have any family members who’d pay fer yer safe return?”

“Unless you plan on taking me to the Isle of Nalesc, I am afraid not.”

“How’s a hard-workin’ criminal gonna catch a break?”

“How about a break of the neck, Thelroy?” said another voice from farther behind Daen.

“L-Lieutenant Kiel. I was jus’ clearin’ the riffraff. That’s all.” Thelroy sheathed his dagger, allowing Daen to turn around.

Elandra wore a longsword at her belt, but her strawberry blond hair tumbled down her back in carefully twisted ropes. Daen found himself distracted by her beauty before forcing his gaze to his assailant, a stout little man with pudgy hands who appeared plenty well fed to Daen.

Elandra allowed a twinkle of mirth to brighten her expression. “Riffraff, eh?”

“Look at him. No belongins or nuthin’.”

“I bet you found that unfortunate.”

“Probably sleeps on the street. You wouldn’t want that.”

“No, I wouldn’t,” said Elandra. “I may just have to put him up for the night at my establishment.”

“Put him up fer the night? How ’bout poor Thelroy?” Thelroy pressed his pudgy hands to his chest. “He don’t have a room fer the night.”

“Sorry, Thelroy. You’re not so pretty. Now off with you, before I find you a room with bars.”

Thelroy looked like he was about to protest before changing his mind under Elandra’s less than forgiving gaze.

She turned her mocking focus to Daen. “Taking a leisurely walk, are we?”

He was not sure what to say, afraid either a yes or a no would make him sound raving mad.

“And without a weapon—or pants, for that matter. I thought you cleverer than that.”

“Perhaps you wish to change your assessment,” said Daen.

“What would you think if you caught me out here all alone at night, no weapons or armor to speak of?”

“I would think you either very foolish or very brave.”

“I suspect there is more to it than that.”

As there was more to Elandra than the tough warrior act she put on, he decided. “Your instincts betray you. I declare I am nothing but a brave fool.”

“My father has a saying,” she said. “‘Brave are those who confront the unexpected. Honorable are those who seek no advantage from their strengths. Greedy are those who can never be fulfilled. But a fool is just a fool.’”

“I should like to meet your father. He sounds very wise.”

“No, no he is not. He is just a fool,” she said with all seriousness. “Follow me back to the inn if you value your life.”

She started back without a look over her shoulder.

 

book-cover-with-spineReturn next Sunday to read Chapter 27: Norweegee’s Agony

Tendrils of Darkness: Book 1 of The Black Trilogy comes courtesy of a partnership between Will Spero and Best Fantasy Books. Enjoy a new chapter every Sunday available right here. 

Learn more about the people, magic and places of Draza along with a detailed map and history at TheBlackTrilogy.com. Questions and comments are welcome, email will@theblacktrilogy.com.

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5 Books To Read If You Loved Logan http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/5-books-to-read-if-you-loved-logan/ http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/5-books-to-read-if-you-loved-logan/#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 10:24:46 +0000 http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/?p=5049 Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine has been one of the highlights of Sony’s X-Men franchise. Even has the main films were not particularly well recieved, his performance has always be on this side of goodness. He’s the best at what he does, and commonly, what he does isn’t pretty. This year’s blockbuster hit Logan,  the last X- film that Jackman says he’s going to be a part of, is no different.

A pseudo-post apocalyptic tale about the elderly Logan and Charles Xavier, where they through misadventure and incredible amounts of violence, come to terms with their collective mortalities, about how they spent their lives, and what is worth fighting for. In that vein, the following are five titles, many of which will be comics, that you will enjoy if you came out of Logan wanting more.

Death of Wolverine, Wolverine created by Len Wein, John Romita, Sr, and Herb Trimpe, written by Charles Soule, Art by Steve McNiven, Justin Ponsor, and Jay Leisten

Wolverine was first published in The Incredible Hulk #181 in November of 1974. Forty three years later, the Wolverine still one of the most popular books Marvel publishes. One of the biggest plot hooks that comic writers have used over the decades is the key to most of his other abilities, that he is, due to an accelerated healing factor, functionally immortal. But what if he wasn’t? What if all that, eventually and as most things do, comes to an end?

In Death of Wolverine, Logan’s healing factor is nullified, and instead of trying to get it fixed, he accepts his fate, but when he learns that someone has put a price on his head, he runs out to find out who, knowing full well that this can, and probably will be, his last mission.

The Sound of Her Wings”, Sandman created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, and Mike Dringenberg. Written by Neil Gaiman, art by Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Robbie Busch, and Todd Klein

Of all of the Sandman characters created by the amazing Gaiman, Death has to be one of the most popular. Cosplayed at every convention worth it’s salt, one of the two characters who got their own spin offs, and is generally a very refreshing take on the personification of the end of life.

In this single issue, one of two in the original series of Sandman, Death, in her special way, talks Dream out of his stupor and gets him to go see what he’s missed since he was locked away before the start of the series. Following her as she goes about doing her job as a psychopomp, guiding the dead to their afterlife, he finds purpose once more.

Mortal Gods”, published in Unaccompanied Sonata and Other Stories, by Orson Scott Card

What if you did, in fact, live forever? Not only only were you immortal, but you carried with you the collected memories of everyone who came before you? In this short story, aliens with these properties come to Earth to find the one thing they don’t have, death. In discussions with an elderly man at the end of his own life who is convinced that death is not at all a good thing, the aliens say that human culture is “built around death”.

The man, a Mr. Craine, who says of himself “I’m about to die, and there’s nothing great about it”, does indeed pass on before the aliens, who find the whole event beautiful. Something to consider, as we think about characters who might never before had to contemplate their own mortality.

Lazarus, Created by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, Written by Greg Rucka, art by Michael Lark, Jodi Wynne, and Santi Arcas

Are you what you were made to be, or can you be more than that? Can you overcome the weapon someone had in mind for you? This and more are constant themes in this ongoing comic series. Forever is a Lazarus, a warrior who fights as a champion for her ultra rich family against the Lazari of other families who together control this bleak future Earth. The Lazari, through various advanced technologies, are functionally immortal, as if more than a few cells remain of them, they can be reborn to fight again.

But do you want to do more than this? Do you want to be more than the sword of your family? Do you want to kill and die for your family, over, and over again? Is there more to life, or are you what you were made to be? Pick of Lazarus, and find out for yourself.

What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson

Is death something to be feared, or is it something to take comfort in, for all that you have lost will be returned to you and, perhaps, you will be reborn to meet your soulmate again? Matheson, in a departure from his more common horror works such as I am Legend and work on The Twilight Zone, penned this piece a man who dies, go to one vision of a heaven, and descends into hell to save the soul of his wife who killed herself from grief.

This is on the list less because it shares a theme with Logan in and of itself, as it doesn’t. Instead, What Dreams May Come shares a feeling that I had after I, admittedly tear-streaked, left the movie, and thought about it  for a while. The movie makes you think about your own mortality, but this novel, and its film adaption starring the late Robin Williams, might ease your troubled mind a bit.

Which books do you think might be good for someone who just watched the harrowing Logan? Do you agree with my list? Tell me which five books, and why, would you suggest to moviegoers in the comments below.

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10 Things To Look Into If You Loved Watching Lord Of The Rings http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/10-things-to-look-into-if-you-loved-watching-lord-of-the-rings/ http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/10-things-to-look-into-if-you-loved-watching-lord-of-the-rings/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:07:34 +0000 http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/?p=5051 Let’s be clear, modern fantasy, high fantasy in particular,  is what it is today because of one man, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. J.R.R. and his Middle-earth has been the thing upon which much of what has come since had been inspired. There had been fantasy before The Lord of the Rings was published, of course, but nothing had grabbed the zeitgeist like it did, both inside and out of the fantasy book world. And since renowned filmmaker Peter Jackson adapted it in the early 2000’s, the adventures of Frodo, Gandalf, and the Fellowship had drawn new fans into the genre.

The following are ten titles you should look into if you are enjoyed The Lord of the Rings.

 

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited posthumously by Christopher Tolkien

After publishing The Hobbit, the publisher had asked for a sequel, and what Tolkien delivered was this. It wasn’t accepted, which lead to him writing what would become The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien had written five stories about the history of Eä, the world in which the books and films take place, and his son, Christopher, took them and edited them together into a source book of legends of the world his father created and that had inspired so many.

If you were enamored by the world of Middle-earth itself, if you want to know more about Sauron and the Ring of Power, about Gandalf, Saruman, and the Maia, or the First and Second Ages of Middle-earth, the eras before the trilogy, this is where you would get all of that information. Additionally, a lot of The Hobbit’s film adaption pulled information from here and other source material, to make enough content to turn one book into a trilogy.

The Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore

Dungeons & Dragons is maybe one of the most clear followers of the Lord of the Rings formula. Any game that has ever been played involves a group of heroes going out against seemingly insurmountable odd to do the apparently impossible. Salvatore writing his first novel in the Forgotten Realms setting of the tabletop role playing game, is no different, the first appearance of his most popular character, the dark elf with a heart of gold Drizzt Do’Urden. If you have played almost any edition of Dungeons & Dragons or any of their side products, such as board games, comic books, or MMORPG, you have heard of Drizzt.

A fully realized world, a large cast of characters, and magical items with terrible power, all of the hallmarks of high fantasy that The Lord of the Rings made famous. Any viewers of the film who want to know more about their pen and paper game’s lore would deeply enjoy these books.

Firefly, created by Joss Whedon

Whedon has created many things that fans of fantasy and science fiction enjoy today, but nothing as so short lived and revered as the space western Firefly. Though cancelled before the whole of the first season aired, it has since garnered a cult following which had earned them a movie, Serenity, a bevy of comic books, and a tabletop role playing game.

What does Firefly, a show set in a different solar system deep in the future after Earth had been abandoned, you might be asking yourself. Well, it has a group of characters each with their own rich history before the show starts, who come together to evade and in some cases thwart the plans of a dastardly oppressive government. They persist against high odds and stick together when it would be more advantageous for them to turn on each other. Sounds a lot like what the Fellowship deals with, just with fewer swords and more spaceships and Chinese swear words.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Another western-esque entry on this list, book one of King’s self proclaimed magnus  opus opens a series a that is a mix of western, dark fantasy, and horror. Soon to be a film starring Idris Elba as the eponymous gunslinger and Matthew McConaughey as the man in black.

The gathering of the ka-tet, this world’s version of our adventuring party or Middle-earth’s as well as their mission to stop a dark power from threatening the world. Inspired by The Lord of the Rings itself, it’s fully fleshed out world and harrowing adventure would be a great follow up after a viewing of the films.

Rat Queens, Created and written by Kurtis J. Wiebe, Art by Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic, Tess Fowler, and Owen Gieni

Described as “Lord of the Rings meets Bridesmaids” by the creator, Rat Queens is a hit comic book published by Image Comics following an adventuring band of bad mouthed women dealing with a plethora of threats, including the incursion of a Cthulhu-esque tentacled god and an orc invasion. Though on-going, the book has three volumes at the date of writing this, more than enough to get one going.

If you loved the comedy between Gimli and Legolas in The Lord of the Rings, want to see more strong women without bikini armor in your high fantasy, or just want something more comedic and light-hearted after over nine hours of Tolkien cinema.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Set in another of Dungeons and Dragons’ settings, Dragonlance, this follows a group of friends and warriors in a world where their gods have abandoned them, and a new cadre of entities are trying to replace them. Lauded as a part of the most important tales in the setting of Krynn, Dragons of Autumn Twilight would be a great place to start if you’re a movie watcher or a D&D player tired of the more common setting of Faerûn in the Forgotten Realms.

Of all the things on this list, not penned by Tolkien himself anyway, Dragons of Autumn Twilight might be the closest in style to The Lord of the Rings. Long quests with a party in which good and evil is clearly defined, and where the touch of darkness can be visibly seen, this is a great read if you’re looking for a slightly more modern take on the books the films were based on.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

First book of the truly huge Discworld series, set on a disc shaped world that stands on the back of four elephants that in turn stand on the back of a great turtle, is crafted as satire, of both fantasy and of real world things, a well needed breath of fresh air for a genre that tends to take itself too seriously. Specifically, as one doesn’t have to read all of the books if they’d prefer to just follow one of the main characters, I choose this book as it is also the first book following the wizard Rincewind.

Rincewind is a coward, and wouldn’t rather not go on adventures, but is forced to do so by circumstance. He lampshades many of the tropes common to fantasy, and allows us to get respite from the often tiresome ‘heroics’ of other titles. Nevertheless, though, Rimewind does find himself saving the day, and in the end, is that not what you want?

Skullkickers created and written by Jim Zub, art by Edwin Huang and Misty Coats

Another comedic fantasy title, this one a comic book by Image Comics, same publisher as the aforementioned Rat Queens, Skullkickers follows a pair of of mercenaries, doing whatever they can for bounty and glory. Film fans coming from the roleplaying world would love this title, as it is filled with the kind of hijinks that could be found in the Merry and Pippin segments of the movies or around any gaming table.

Additionally, if you come to the films for the images of combat, hundreds of orcs at the gates of Helm’s Deep and all that, Skullkickers will deliver for that as well. A dwarf with double axes and a human with a pistol, this mismatched pair get into it every issue. Collected in six trade paperbacks or three hardcovers, there is more than enough to hold you until your next rewatch.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

In the same way that Tolkien was the lord of high fantasy for his generation, Martin can and should be called that for his. By now, I shouldn’t have to tell you what A Game of Thrones or the rest of The Song of Ice and Fire series is about. It’s an award winning and wildly popular HBO series by the (mostly) same name.

Why I include it is because of it’s world building, it’s attention to the connections to all things in the world, and how it artfully juggles between all of it’s characters. If you haven’t read it, only knowing of it because of it’s recent effect on the cultural zeitgeist or from watching the show, I do implore readers of this to pick up one of the doorstopper books, there are many things that the show miss that watchers of the films who get engrossed in the high levels of details would love.

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

High fantasy novel fans might have disagreed with the above statement about George R.R. Martin. If they did, I can see them answering Robert Jordan and his The Wheel of Time series over A Song of Ice and Fire. I wouldn’t dare to put my chit down on either myself, but for those who love the adventure aspect of The Lord of the Rings but are less politically minded, not caring for the machinations of A Game of Thrones, I would suggest this book instead.

The world is huge, flavored with more Asian influences than other series, and is, of course, at peril. It has a deep history spanning hundreds of years before the first novel, and that, I think, is the key reason this novel would be popular amongst watchers of The Lord of the Rings.

The trilogy sits at nearly six hundred minutes long, seven hundred for the extended cuts. Watching them, back to back, is a staggering event that dedicated fans do yearly, but there is no reason as to why film fans can’t fill the months in between with the written word. None of the above titles are stand alone, each a part of larger series any one of which could bridge that gap. The Fellowship of the Ring is over fifteen years old now, and still as popular as ever. One can only hope that even one of these titles will elicit such enjoyment from a book minded film viewer.

Do you have a bone to pick with my list? Did I miss one of your favorite Tolkien inspired novel? Is something on this list your favorite titles of all time and want to gush about it? Either way, tell me which, and why, in the comments below.

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Tendrils of Darkness — Chapter 25: City in Mourning http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/tendrils-of-darkness-chapter-25-city-in-mourning/ http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/tendrils-of-darkness-chapter-25-city-in-mourning/#respond Sat, 17 Jun 2017 12:01:35 +0000 http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/?p=5036 Wax Stamp 25

City in Mourning

 

Selgrin couldn’t help wondering if Camere had been struck by the plague. Black flags hung upon its massive outer walls, and a zombie-like procession of city folk shuffled though the streets in dark colors with darker faces. Even the guards displayed an outward somberness, when they weren’t scowling at Sel as if he were the root of their problems.

A request for an audience with the king was met with dumbfounded stares. Pressing the matter, they were told that King Brelin was unavailable—indefinitely.

  Is Tendrils of Darkness new to you? Click here to go to Chapter 1.

So as the saying went, when in doubt, visit the spout. Which is exactly what they did, only not so directly. Daen led them down the streets of Camere, passing many a drinking spot before finally turning in at The Dragon’s Gaze.

“So you’ve been here before,” commented Sel as they settled at one of the inn’s twenty-odd tables. He figured there had to be a reason Daen had chosen this tavern over others they had passed.

Daen shrugged. “No. Seems nice enough, though.”

“It’s respectable, if that’s what you mean,” said Selgrin. “You heard about this place?”

“Not specifically.”

Sel ground his teeth together. “Look here, we took most the morning and walked halfway across the city. I counted five other taverns we passed. At least you could tell me it was time well spent.”

Daen’s eyes wandered over Sel’s shoulder. “There is someone I need to talk to.” He got up and strode toward the bar.

“Not again,” grumbled Selgrin under his breath.

“Not again, what?” asked Copius.

When a suitable lie did not come to mind, Sel told the truth as delicately as possible. “Back in the day, whenever our group split up, I always ended up with you.”

“And what’s wrong with that?”

Selgrin sighed. The sad part was that Copius didn’t know. “Well, nothin’, really.”

“So then why did you say ‘not again,’ like you’re stuck with a donkey while everyone else got horses?”

“It’s not you, specifically. It’s just that for some reason when we’re together, things . . . occasionally . . . go wrong.”

Copius pushed the bridge of his glasses up to his brow, a habit Selgrin noticed from him when he was becoming irked. “Like what?”

“I dunno. People get angry and throw stuff at us, if we’re lucky, or chase us with weapons if we’re not.”

“I don’t remember things going so badly,” said Copius, clearly in denial.

He tried a more conciliatory stance. “Maybe not so badly. I’m probably exaggerating a bit. Why don’t you just order us some drinks?”

He held up a hand to the barmaid, who shuffled past as if he were an inanimate object. She stopped at a nearby table, taking their order then detoured to service a second group before returning in his direction.

“E-Excuse me,” Copius stammered. Once again, she took no notice and made her way to some newly seated patrons. After several long minutes of leaning in close, talking, and laughing in a show that more than just drink requests were being taken, she started back toward their table only to do an about-face when hailed by yet another apparently thirsty customer.

The frustration seemed to hit a nerve in Copius. Putting two fingers in his mouth, he let out a loud whistle.

“My lady!”

Selgrin hadn’t known he had it in him.

The barmaid turned around, looking quite put out. “If I were a lady, sure as the pits of Cauldra I would not be serving a bunch of drunken idiots. Try that again and I would just as soon pour spirits in your lap than in your cup. Now what do you want?”

Copius turned red in the face. “Um, well, m-m-maybe a cup of your best . . . water.”

“Water?” she smirked. “I’ll give you a flagon of our home-brewed ale. It’s mostly water anyway.” She left before he could respond.

Selgrin glared at Copius. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about.”

“At least I got us some drinks.”

“Correction: you ended up ordering ale for yourself.”

“Oh my. I’ll get you one, too.”

Sel grabbed his wrist as he prepared to hail for service. “Don’t worry about it, Cope. I wasn’t thirsty anyway.”

When the barmaid returned several minutes later with two flagons, Selgrin was pleasantly surprised. “Enjoy,” she said snidely.

He took a deep swig of ale, then blew it back out. “That’s terrible.”

Copius wiped sprayed mead from his cheek. “Mine’s not so bad.”

“Hey, barmaid,” called Selgrin roughly. “What’s in this stuff?”

She sneered over her shoulder. “It’s specially made for your kind. Drink up, worm-face.” The group she was serving laughed heartily at her comment. It had been a long time since he’d heard that particular slur, which referred to the way a dogar’s face was always changing like mud, a good home for worms. He bit back a retort. No use getting into a brawl over bad ale and name-calling. It would only sully the dogar reputation further.

 

Section Break

 

The tall, muscled bartender looked like he might have been a formidable combatant in his younger days. He was gathering drinks onto a barmaid’s tray when Daen approached.

“What can I do you for?” he asked in a raspy voice.

“A drink for a weary traveler.”

The bartender drew him a couple of pints from a wooden barrel behind him and shoved it in front of the sentinel. He was already moving on when Daen continued. “A flagon of ale is a sight for sore eyes.”

The barkeep spun on his heels and made his way back to Daen. “Just keep your hands off the wenches or sore eyes is all you’ll have.” His voice was serious, but not threatening.

“Have no worries with me, friend. I see you are not one to be trifled with.”

The barkeep glanced warily in both directions, then leaned down close to speak with Daen. “I haven’t had a visit from a brother in some time. What’s your name?”

Their practiced back-and-forth was used to identify members of The Watchers, a secret guild of sentinels that spanned Draza, operating inns and taverns and keeping their ears to the ground. Daen figured this tavern likely to be a Watcher-owned establishment, given the name; they always chose something having to do with eyes or seeing.

“Daen,” he replied. First names was a matter of policy.

“Mine’s Felr.”

Daen kept his expression neutral, divulging no signs that anything more than a casual conversation was going on. “I have information for you. And I was hoping you could share something with me.”

“That’s the way it generally works.”

Although their voices were already hushed, Daen brought his next words to little more than a whisper. “Azren the Afflicted is alive.”

Felr stepped back with a smile on his face as if the joke was on him. When Daen did not share in the humor, he leaned down again. “You serious?”

Daen nodded. “Not only that, but he has been stirring up the dirt of late.”

“Is he fixing for war?”

“I cannot say for certain. All we know is that he is spreading coin around and allying himself with the dogar.”

“Stinkin’ shape-shifters.” Felr spat behind the bar.

Daen took a big slug of his ale as he shuffled to his right to block Felr’s view of Sel. “My companions and I have come to Camere to warn His Majesty, but King Brelin refuses us an audience.”

“It’s a bad time you’ve chosen, my brother,” Felr said solemnly. “Our beloved queen has gone missing, twelve days now. We’ve all but given up hope.”

“Tell me the circumstances of her disappearance.”

“She was off hunting in the outskirts of the Padorn Woods.”

“Does the king not hunt with her?”

“The Bear was with his troops,” Felr said. It had been some time since Daen had heard the king called the Bear, as in the Bear of Durfolk, of which Camere was its capital. “It’s not unusual for Queen Terenda to go without him. Born to hunt, that one was.”

“So it would have been easy to lie in wait for her.”

Felr cocked his head thoughtfully. “I suppose, but you can’t blame the Bear. That type of thing isn’t expected in Durfolk. Even our bandits wouldn’t try something that brazen.”

But Azren would. If Azren meant to take central Draza without force, abducting the queen would fit the bill. “What about a search party?”

“Half the army has gone looking for her. So far, all they’ve found are the skewered bodies of her escorts. The city is in mourning, and the Bear, I hear, is a wreck. If there was anything the king loved more than battle, it was her.”

“You talk as if she is dead already.”

Felr gave him a solemn look. “It’s been twelve days. What do you think?”

Daen nodded gravely. “Felr, I need to speak with His Majesty, or at the least get him a message. Do you have any ideas how I could do this?”

“Try the Duchess of Merlow. She is a favorite of the king’s.”

Daen knew of her. “Lady Elandra, the king’s niece?”

Felr let out a long chuckle. “You better pray she never hears you utter the word ‘lady’ when speaking of her, or you’ll end up with a gutful of steel.”

“I shall watch my tongue in her presence. Where can I find her?”

“Lately she has been doing drills outside the keep with her men at dusk. Though I am not sure she will be in any mood to talk.”

Daen pushed back from the counter. “Thanks for the information.”

“Likewise.”

As he slid into his chair back at their table, Copius was finishing the last of his ale and commenting how this tavern brewed an especially good variety.

“We should leave,” he announced. He was hoping to vacate the premises before Felr noticed their dogar companion.

“Did you get what you came here for?” asked Selgrin.

Daen nodded. “I can promise you it was time well spent.”

“I might have said the same if I’d gotten something suitable to drink.”

Daen pressed his half-finished flagon into Sel’s hand. “Here, have mine.”

“At least there’s that.” Selgrin downed the remaining ale in one giant chug.

 

 

The weather continued to worsen as they loitered in the failing light outside the keep. The clouds darkened and the temperature dropped precipitously, threatening a storm at any moment.

True to Felr’s word, a cluster of guards arrived just before dusk with the duchess at their center. Their faces were exposed revealing grizzled veterans with the duchess seemingly a child in their midst. She was clad in the same plate armor as her cohorts, except for the silver pattern of a regally crowned hawk, the royal crest of Durfolk, which adorned her breastplate.

The guards clanked violently in practiced union as the duchess bellowed marching orders. Daen motioned for the others to wait while he approached.

“Duchess,” he called. The squad continued without hesitation. “Duchess!” He positioned himself in their path, figuring he’d force her to recognize him. “I come with a warning from the Council.” The armed guards came straight at him, threatening to drown him in a sea of steel. He gritted his teeth. “Azren lives!” he shouted.

A thunderous echo of ringing steel sounded as the patrol made a hard right directly in front of Daen and came to a halt. The Duchess of Merlow faced him. She was extremely young with high cheekbones, a dimpled chin, and a nose that rose ever so slightly at the tip. She probably would have looked beautiful if she smiled. Right now she wasn’t smiling.

She sized him up with one cool glance. “Where are you from?”

Daen did not expect that question. It would have been safer to lie, but if she sensed he was not being forthright, they’d never see the king. “I—I hail from Nalesc.”

“Repeat what you said about Azren.”

“I have a warning from the Council: Azren is alive.”

She did not flinch. “Prove your allegiance.”

When Daen walked out on the Alliance, he’d left behind the silver medallion marking him as a member, so he had borrowed Selgrin’s to present as proof.

She gave it a cursory glance. “Come to The Bed of Nails Inn tonight. If the information is worthwhile, I will pass it on to the king. Now go—and do not speak of this in the meantime.”

“Thank you, my lady—I mean, Duchess.”

A scowl crossed the Elandra’s face. “Next time, do not stand in our path, or you may find yourself trodden like the cobbles in the street.” She called out an order to her men and they marched once more.

 

Section Break

 

The Bed of Nails Inn was by no means respectable. It resided in an area of the city where derelict streets had turned to little more than dirt ditches, and the buildings rose haphazardly from the mud. Two hulking men in heavy wool cloaks took their weapons at the door.

Inside, broken chairs and tables were piled in a corner, and the place smelled as if the floors had been scrubbed with cheap ale. A group of city guards occupied one of the handful of usable seating areas. The duchess sat at another, wearing a blue doublet and breeches made for a nobleman, her strawberry blond hair tied back and tucked into the neck of the doublet. Even dressed as she was, Daen had to admit she looked quite fetching.

“Take a seat,” she ordered.

“Duchess Elandra, I am Daen Cernver. These are my companions from the Alliance, Copius Crux and Selgrin Nalestrad.”

The duchess frowned at Sel. “I see the Council recruits are . . . diverse. In the future, you will not address me as Duchess and never as Lady Elandra—either plainly as Elandra or Lieutenant Keil, if you prefer.”

Copius gave a good-natured snort.

“Do you have a problem with that?”

He shook his head furiously. “N—No, L-L-Lieutenant Keil. Not a problem, I mean.”

“Good.” She then yelled toward the kitchen. “Where’s that cheese I ordered?” A barmaid rushed from the kitchen carrying a small, round plate with about thirty chunks of cheese, each stuck with a tiny wood pick for easy eating. She set it nervously on their table before rushing away.

Elandra gave a satisfied smile. “Now, tell me about Azren.”

Daen was about to reply when a raucous roar erupted from the other occupied table. The largest of the men was standing with a pitcher of mead held high in each hand. He emptied both pitchers simultaneously onto his face and into his mouth, matting his red beard and making a mess of the floor.

“Hey!” barked Elandra. “Someone’s got to clean that up, you know.”

One of the big man’s drinking mates rose to give her a conciliatory bow of the head. “Sorry, Lieutenant.”

“Sheesh.”

Daen noticed weapons bristling from the other patrons. While he did not begrudge them their weapons, he couldn’t help feeling vulnerable. Even the duchess had a dagger tucked into her belt. In Daen’s experience, there was nothing more dangerous than a short-tempered woman with a weapon.

Elandra followed his eyes to her knife. “What are you looking at?”

“Your dagger,” he replied. “It seems rather unfair that we are the only ones unarmed here. We are liaisons for the Council, not a band of criminals.”

The duchess snorted. “Hey, Bartolo,” she called, “this guy thinks he should be allowed a weapon in here.” A couple of laughs from the warrior’s table told Daen he wasn’t getting his hand axe back any time soon. “My inn, my rules.”

“And quite an establishment you have,” he said drily. He had had enough of this. They were here to warn the kingdom and save lives, yet so far they’d received nothing but threats and suspicion.

Elandra pulled her dagger out in a flash. Daen and Sel leapt to their feet, sliding their chairs back. Copius looked up anxiously, his cheeks filled with cheese. Those at the nearby table became uncharacteristically quiet. Hands rested on pommels.

Elandra stuck the dagger point down into the middle of their table. “How’s this? Now my weapon is fair game to all. Should any of you be up to the challenge, try grabbing it. If you beat me to it, you and your friends can stay the night here at no charge.”

Daen skipped a jibe about the value of her proposition. Instead, he gave a nod of respect. She was more warrior than duchess. While not completely at ease, he took his seat, as did Sel.

The door to the inn opened and a chainmail-clad soldier entered—clanking with weapons, of course.

“Ren, come join us,” Elandra called. “Have some cheese. The monk here seems to be enjoying our hospitality. All of you, the cheese is on the house.”

Copius’s face turned pink.

Ren approached with a relaxed gait and a warm smile, taking care to make eye contact with Daen and the others. “You need to watch El. She’ll give you the cheese for free while charging you double for the drinks.” Putting his hand to the side of his mouth as if to block her from hearing, he whispered loudly, “Though to tell you the truth, I never trust the food at a place where the rats outnumber the patrons.”

Daen couldn’t have agreed more. Elandra rolled her eyes.

Ren’s arrival and carefree manner had cut the tension in the room. “I’ve been looking for a bit of news to break this waiting game. Could this be true that Azren has returned?”

“We were hoping to speak with His Majesty,” Daen said carefully. He did not wish to offend this Ren fellow, but their information was meant for the king. Confiding in the duchess was one thing; telling some random swordsman was quite another.

Elandra patted Ren’s chain mail with a calloused hand. “I don’t think you know who you are seated with. Let me present Renaldo Delawi, the captain of my uncle’s guard.”

Daen could have kicked himself. The duchess would not have invited just anyone to sit with them. “My apologies.”

“No worries, friend. It is common for those who see my scrawny bones to assume I could hardly be a seasoned warrior.”

A seasoned warrior. Renaldo was one of the most famous battle masters in all of Draza. Men journeyed from the far reaches of the Western Kingdoms to train with him. And here he sat, jovial and humble.

“To answer your question, yes, this information has been verified, though we are not sure yet the extent of Azren’s plan,” said Daen. “What we know is one of his minions visited Lord Berrian offering a generous gift for the lord’s silence. More worrisome, we traveled to Feralintero and discovered that the dogar people have allied themselves with Azren once more.”

“Figures,” said Elandra.

“Any news from Einor?” asked Ren.

“Not yet. Our companions went to speak with King Hybris while we proceeded south.”

Ren pressed his lips together in thought. “What do you think, El?”

“I think I can’t wait to march up north to the Blighted Lands and put Azren in the ground for good this time.”

“He may just bring the war to us.”

“Perhaps he already has,” Daen said.

Elandra’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean by that?”

“Only that the queen made herself an easy target. If one were hoping to disrupt this kingdom, it would be no difficult matter to abduct Her Majesty.”

“A point worthy of His Majesty’s attention,” said Ren.

Elandra called over to the table of warriors. “Hey, Uncle. I have some people here I think you should meet.”

If Daen had been surprised at the revelation that Ren was the famed Renaldo Delawi, the news that King Brelin was in the room left him speechless. The giant who had chugged two pitchers of ale at once rose from his seat and approached with a loud belch. He was wide-bodied, with an untrimmed beard and a garden of overplanted hair sprouting from his head. The reek of stale ale emanated from him like fish in a Nalescian shipyard.

“Whayu . . .” He stumbled forward and nearly crashed on top of them, swaying as he took stock of the newcomers.

“Uncle—”

The king’s clouded eyes brightened in recognition. “Worm fae!” he roared as he lurched at Selgrin. Long past mere inebriation, King Brelin missed his mark by a wide margin, bouncing off the table before landing on his back. His attack had come so suddenly and gone so far off course that Selgrin hadn’t moved from his seat.

“Perhaps now is not such a good time,” said Ren, as he helped one of the king’s drinking mates lift the liege lord from the ground with a grunt. “I did not realize he was so far gone this night.”

The king turned to Ren’s voice. “Drgar! Kitha drgar.”

Ren slipped beneath King Brelin’s arm like a crutch. “Come on. Let’s get you into a soft, mite-infested bed.” He winked at Elandra. “I expect this is how you like your customers: too drunk to complain about the vermin.”

“Watch it, Ren, or I’ll send you out to pay for your own mite-infested bed.”

The excitement faded as the king was guided upstairs.

The duchess looked far from apologetic. “Even sober, my uncle is not fond of dogar.”

“And why is that?” asked Daen.

“It goes back to a time when my uncle was but a boy. His older brother, Galor, was held in higher regard than any prince before him. Galor was tall, with the face of a champion and a keen military mind. Not to mention none could hold a sword against him. As admired as Galor was by the people, it was my uncle who loved him best.”

She toyed with a wooden pick from the cheese. “After a particularly bloody campaign against Azren and his allies, Galor returned wounded. When he recovered, all seemed to be well. Then one day in the Great Hall, his father approached and stabbed him through.” She took a deep swig of ale before continuing. “Galor had been heavy on the red wine that night, very unlike him, because for whatever reason, wine—even a pint—would lay him up for days. It was then the king knew him to be false.”

Daen saw Selgrin sit up taller. “Prince Galor was replaced by a dogar?”

“Sure as my sword is sharp. The king was furious. He swore an oath against all dogar and made everyone who worked or stayed in the keep prove they were not one. Four more of the worm-faces were found and slain that night. And the dogar have not infiltrated our city since.”

The vehemence with which Elandra told the story left little doubt as to her feelings about the bloodletting. “The people of Durfolk—and especially my uncle—have not since forgiven the dogar for taking away their prince.”

No wonder Selgrin had received such a cold reception in Camere. But what stayed with Daen was the inescapable dread their suspicions created. Who knew how many dogar had really been at the keep? Maybe more than the four executed. Maybe less. A chill coursed through him. The dogar were proving some ally indeed for the Afflicted One.

Silence hung over the group, aside from Copius’s chewing.

Elandra slapped the table. “Monk of The One, you chew louder than my uncle drinks, and that’s saying something.”

“W-w—m.” Copius gulped whatever remained in his mouth.

Poor guy. He was useless around women and not much for confrontation. Combine the two . . . Daen didn’t have to imagine.

Copius’s eyes swung to the middle of the table where the last piece of cheese rested without a pick. A look of defeat overcame him. It was obvious he had been hoping to stuff his mouth as an excuse to stay out of the conversation.

Luckily, Elandra moved on from her sport. “More ale and cheese!” she shouted over her shoulder before turning back to the companions. “I have extra rooms if you three want to stay under the same roof as the king. It’ll keep you dry, and I guarantee it’s the safest inn you’ll find in Camere.”

She cast a glance at the dagger in the middle of the table and then to Daen. A playful smile crept across her lips.

They both reached for the weapon—and came up empty.

What in the high king’s name? Copius had the dagger in his hand, already spiked with the last piece of cheese. He dropped the cheese into his mouth and smacked his lips.

Daen had seen him do this before, to move with such speed that an enemy could not follow it with his eyes. But to use the ability to acquire cheese—really, Cope?

“Hey,” barked Elandra, before softening her tone. “You’d be a useful ally on the battlefield.”

Copius chewed, unable to reply.

“Or at a feast,” said Selgrin.

The joke was greeted with an uncomfortable quiet until the duchess split a grin and began to chuckle. Her laughter was contagious. Loosened up, they had their fill of drink while reminiscing about rosier times. And because of Copius, the rooms were free of charge.

 

book-cover-with-spineReturn next Sunday to read Chapter 26: Late-Night Encounters

Tendrils of Darkness: Book 1 of The Black Trilogy comes courtesy of a partnership between Will Spero and Best Fantasy Books. Enjoy a new chapter every Sunday available right here. 

Learn more about the people, magic and places of Draza along with a detailed map and history at TheBlackTrilogy.com. Questions and comments are welcome, email will@theblacktrilogy.com.

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10 Books You Would Enjoy If You Love Game Of Thrones http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/10-books-you-would-enjoy-if-you-love-game-of-thrones/ http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/10-books-you-would-enjoy-if-you-love-game-of-thrones/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 07:48:28 +0000 http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/?p=5055 Game of Thrones has taken over the world, and has lead to a renascence in fantasy in pop culture generally in the last six years. It’s sort of amazing, as it is one of the first American television shows to outpace the source material from which it is based, if it isn’t the first. This is common, however, in anime, where when it gets past wherever the manga leaves off, either because the series was canceled before the story ended or because the anime just released quicker, doesn’t matter. Generally the anime will just make up the story from there on out, and go off it’s own direction, which is where Game of Thrones stands out for fantasy television and book fans alike. It has outpaced its source, and with the help of author George R.R. Martin, will be continuing with a general idea what will be happening in the final books, probably years before they are published.

For years now, fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire series has lorded their advance knowledge of the heart wrenching moments over uninitiated television only fans. Ned Stark, the red wedding, the list is long, but the tables have turned, and while book lovers fill the comments of any of Martin’s Facebook posts with demands for The Winds of Winter, television vans will get, at least, a version of some of those stories in the show.

Game of Thrones returns for it’s seventh season on Sunday, July 16th, and no one knows when The Winds of Winterwill drop (though Martin has said that it will be this year, but he also said he thought that last year as well), but until then, here are ten books that share themes, subgenres, and the general je ne sais quoi that made A Game of Thrones and all of A Song of Ice and Fire remain a hit with readers and huge television networks for over a decade.

The Eye of the World, By Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time book 1

What can one say about The Wheel of Time that hasn’t been said? It is the one of the hallmarks of high fantasy, a guide to how to build a huge and colorful setting, how to manage a huge cast of characters, and tell a tale in rich detail. Door stoppers all, Jordan, and later Brandon Sanderson (who is on this list for his own original work later) after his death in 2007, has spent over two decades delivering amazing fantasy.

In this, a group of friends and partners, under threat of an evil force, go on a quest to save and defend a place of great power after numerous other trials. If you loved the multiple storylines of Game of Thrones and are looking for an actually completed series while you wait for Martin to complete his, or for the next season to start, The Wheel of Time’s fourteen book is not one to miss.

Gardens of the Moon, by Steven Erikson, Malazan Book of the Fallen book 1

This ten book series of door stopper epic fantasy was born out of the author’s tabletop roleplaying game, and is one of my personally favorite titles. This opening salvo alone has over ninety entries in its dramatis personae alone. Many of these character follow us to later books, though the second and third, Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice respectively,  take place at roughly the same time, and the fifth, Midnight Tides takes place an untold number of years prior to the first book on in a wholly different part of the world. Feels almost ASoIaF levels of complexity right?

That’s all before you get the politics of an empire in decline spanning three continents dealing with war from without and within and the machinations and threats of evil gods. If you enjoy big sword and sorcery battles, world building on a truly global scale, mind boggling numbers of characters, and multiple storylines all running concurrently, this series is for you.

Horus Rising: the seeds of Heresy are sown, by Dan Abnett, The Horus Heresy book 1

Let me start with saying that, forty books by multiple authors  in, this series that forms a lot of the backbone of the tabletop minifigure wargame Warhammer 40,000’s canon is still going strong, with more books on the way. But this is where the story starts, ten millenniums before where the game’s setting is, in a world that mirrors the dark and gritty fantasy world of Game of Thrones.

The Imperium of Man seeks to make humankind the dominant force in the galaxy and bring together the disparate human worlds together under the emperor. Meanwhile, forces from within and interdimensional eldritch beings from without plot to twist or destroy this plan, setting the stage for a massive and bloody civil war that has captivated fans of dark science fantasy and tabletop gaming a like.

Fables, created by Bill Willingham and Lan Medina and written by Bill Willingham, various artists

Yes, Fables is a comic book. Comic books, as fantasy fans all know, is a completely valid and cool way to tell a story, and besides, it’s was completed in 2015 after being in publication for thirteen years, so you can read it straight though like any other series.

Fables does something I personally love, taking well known public domain characters and telling new stories with them, especially when those stories are darker and filled with more intrigue than their originals. Willingham in this Vertigo comic takes such characters as the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White, Cinderella, and Goldilocks to tell stories that are completely for a more adult audience, featuring violence, redemption, and a great war against an ever present threat.

The main series is 150 issues long, spanning twenty-two trade paperbacks, and has ten spin off comics and other related media, such as prose stories and the Telltale Games title The Wolf Among Us.

The Black Company, by Glen Cook, The Black Company book 1

If you have even put a toe in the waters of dark or military epic fantasy, you have at least heard of The Black Company. It’s just one of those series that are a tent pole of the genre and rivals A Song of Ice and Fire for it’s complexities and scale.

Following the eponymous mercenary company in the service of a tyrannical empress fighting against rebels trying to set themselves free from her yoke, you can’t help but think of a little blonde Baratheon and his problem with upstart kings, except we are supposed to be rooting for the imperial jack boot in this grim tale.

Simmerly to Martin, Cook in this series is hailed for realistic, down to earth characters that act much like the common person would, were that common person was a mercenary being paid by a sorceress queen with a cadre of mind controlled wizards anyway.

Into the Darkness, by Harry Turtledove, The Darkness series book 1

If you’ve tuned into the History channel on any given day, you know that there is still, a generation later, huge amounts of interest in the events of World War II. Into the Darkness is another sign of that. The names have been changed, as well as the characteristics of the nation’s people, and there’s dragons and behemoths instead of planes and tanks, magic instead of technology, but it’s a fantasy retelling of the war. Even the major battles in the series match up with WW II ones.

Game of Thrones is infamous for it’s giant battles, filled with hundreds of extras and the sheer amount of choreography that had to take place to film it all, as well for the political machinations between nation states all around the world, and Into the Darkness brings you that sort of feeling as well, real stakes, be it wildfire or the idea that the other side is sacrificing POWs to fuel their magical weapons.

Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn series book 1

Following a young girl’s life through a city as she becomes part of a plot to overthrow a mad god-emperor and learn to wield her powerful metal based magic, you can’t help but think about the misadventures of young Arya Stark.

Though most of Vin’s misfortune happens in the time before the novel begins, follower her go from lowly thief to a leader of a rebellion is thrilling for all of the people who deeply enjoy watching Arya go from impetuous little girl to a strong willed and powerful young woman.

Furies of Calderon, by Jim Butcher, Codex Alera book 1

What happens when a Roman legion vanishes from Earth and reappears on another world where there are elemental spirits that help you do magical tasks? You get the Codex Alera from the well known to the urban fantasy scene Jim Butcher. Parallels abound between this and Game of Thrones abound. Wall between you and barbarian people in the frozen north? Check. War again a completely alien force? Check. Politics and magic that mirrors real world things? Check.

Game of Thrones has a lot going for it if reading about medieval European style battles is something that catches your fancy. If it does for you, or if you like a coming of age story about a young man with unique powers trying to save his nation from threats within and without, Furies of Calderon is for you.

Mage’s Blood, by David Hair, The Moontide Quartet book 1

What if there were two nations separated by a sea so rough and tumble that ships don’t exist that can safely cross it? What if, for two years every dozen year, the sea level falls to reveal a bridge that connects the two lands? What would that bridge be used for? Commerce? Culture? Conquest?

The Moontide Quartet is commonly compared to A Song of Ice and Fire for obvious reasons. The world building alone is monumental in scale, and how it mirrors real world cultures without being offensive. There is also how it doesn’t shed away from lurid descriptions of sex at all, but all in all, Mage’s Blood and all of The Moontide Quartet brings you all of the feels that Game of Thrones does so well.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch, The Gentleman Bastard Sequence book 1

Most of the list, thus far, has focused on the big battles and the politics of nations, and titles that would be great for people who enjoy that sort of thing. The Lies of Locke Lamora is not a book about that. Instead, it is great for readers who enjoy the interpersonal politics of Game of Thrones’ King’s Landing, the play between Varys and Littlefinger, of Tyrion trying to talk his way into and out of trouble.

Locke is a leader of a group of thieves in this fantasy version of Venice, and in this opening salvo, he interacts with government official, terrifying mages, and another criminal trying to conquer the underworld. Schemes inside of schemes abound in this novel, and if you like the battles of wits that Game of Thrones delivers, sometimes better than their prose sources, this is something you should check out.

The seventh season of Game of Throne starts on Sunday, July 16th. Did I miss one of your favorite reads that gave you those Westerosi feels? Think one of my books exemplify what it like to play the Game of Thrones? Let me know that, or your list and why, in the comments below.

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7 Books To Read If You Loved Supernatural http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/7-books-to-read-if-you-loved-supernatural/ http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/7-books-to-read-if-you-loved-supernatural/#respond Tue, 13 Jun 2017 07:23:10 +0000 http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/?p=5057 The longest running American fantasy show, Supernatural combines urban fantasy with the feeling of life on the road and small town americana. Borrowing from the mythologies of multiple cultures,and then in a more recent shift, a focus on Judeo-Christian came to rule the series. Regardless of if they are monster of the week or fighting with/against angels and demons, it is clear that this band of brothers has captured the hearts and minds of fantasy fans. This is seven books, prose and graphic novels, you would enjoy while waiting for it’s thirteenth season to begin on Thursday, October 12th, at 8PM Eastern on The CW.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Currently adapted into a television show of the same name on the Syfy network, this novel from 2009 is a more adult take on the magical school urban fantasy genre that has been so popular since the wild success of Harry Potter. But don’t think that it is childish at all, as this tale of high school students going to a college of magic has many adult themes, to the point that the television show aged up the characters to graduate school students for its rendition.

If what brings you to Supernatural is the interactions between characters and the deep mythos of the universe, this first book of this trilogy would be an exemplary read until Supernatural come back onto the air, and if there’s still more time, I would suggest checking out the series on Syfy as well.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

A mix of the hardboiled detective and urban fantasy genres, paired with the wise cracking but eminently capable protagonists who aren’t afraid to play in the gray area between perfectly good and evil to do the right thing, The Dresden Files would the next logical step for viewers trying to get a fix of fantasy detectives between seasons. With fifteen novels and more short stories and comics, there is more than enough Dresden works to tide one over.

Much like Supernatural, The Dresden Files turns from a monster of the week series about the eponymous wizard detective dealing with various supernatural problems in modern day Chicago, pivoting to a larger arc as the series moves on, dealing with some of the same themes of mythologies and riding that line between doing something perhaps morally wrong for the right reasons, as well as complex family relationships, The Dresden Files could be the series for you.

Ghost Riders: Heaven’s on Fire, written by Jason Aaron, art by Roland Boschi, Ghost Rider created by Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, and Mike Ploog

The only thing as American as killing monsters and fighting angels in an Chevy Impala is doing so on a Harley. Marvel’s iconic damned biker Johnny Cage, as well as his little brother Danny Ketch, in this finale of a longer run, take on a renegade angel who has taken control of Heaven, and to stop him, they most find and protect the Antichrist. Those who are caught up on Supernatural might have a feeling of deja vu.

If hard hitting and nearly nonstop action, sexy femme fatale side characters, and badass American monster ass kicking is why you watch Supernatural, you will enjoy this six-issue run of Ghost Rider.

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

Bounty hunting the supernatural for the alternate history Cincinnati police, Rachel Morgan is a witch who runs an agency helping with mundane and the magical, in a world where instead of the Americans and Soviets working to get to the moon, they made genetically engineered foodstuffs that mistakenly killed off most of the human race, thus exposing the nonhuman and magic users. Four decades later, the world is as it is, gritty detective noir like some of the best episodes of later seasons of Supernatural.

Mixing the sassy first person magic detective, interplaying with non-human partners and romantic interludes, and threats both small and large are things that The Hollows series and Supernatural handle in a very enjoyable way. Additionally, completed with thirteen books and connected short stories and graphic novels, there is a lot there to enjoy with a conclusion so viewers aren’t waiting for another book.

Gotham by Midnight, written by Ray Fawkes, art by Andrea Sorrentino, The Spectre created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily

DC’s Gotham City, a mix of the darkest parts of Chicago and New York City, has a precinct thirteen, where the strange cases go, more strange than the Gotham Police can handle, more strange than the Batman himself could deal with. In that precinct is a squad that includes a scientist, a nun, and the enigmatic GCPD detective Jim Corrigan, who has a secret, he is the host for the spirit of divine vengeance, The Spectre.

Supernatural is more than just monster hunting and a band of brothers, sometimes it deals with darker themes, of if killing a monster, like a vampire, who doesn’t kill people, but who might, the right thing to do, or is it vengeance. This is some of the struggles Jim deals with, keeping The Spectre at bay, as it doesn’t see shades of grey, just black and white. If you enjoy morality struggles, this would be a pair of graphic novels for you.

Death Vigil, created, written, and art by Stjepan Sejic

Empowered by the Grim Reaper herself, members of the Death Vigil are people choose to fight an eternal war against evil necromancers and the Lovecraftian horrors they are trying to unleash onto the world instead of passing on when they themselves died. Supernatural fans might feel a bit of deja vu for this storyline as well, but unlike the Reapers in the show, these warriors fight for the side of good.

Much like the Winchesters and their ragtag band of hunters, the Death Vigil are a makeshift family, proof that the ties that bind are as much about those to whom you are connected to by blood as well as those who you choose to live and, possibly, die for.

Guilty Pleasure by Laurell K. Hamilton

One of the trope setters in the modern urban fantasy genre, Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series features the same kick ass action and monster slaying that Supernatural fans love so much. Blake raises the dead, kills vampires, and helps the police with the magical threats. This soon also pivots to following Blake’s steamy relationship.

The show has over its many seasons put a spotlight on the brother’s sordid relationships, for better or worse, as well as their teaming up or fleeing various law enforcement agencies. For more mature fans of the show, Anita Blake would be a good interlude between seasons.

Since 2005, Supernatural has been filling the screen with some of the best urban fantasy television yet. It has a dedicated fan base, and unlike other shows, it replies to some of the more outrageous things the fans talk about on screen. But even so, there is only so long a show can go on each season, and viewers need something read while they wait. The thirteenth season of Supernatural starts at 8PM eastern on The CW on October 12th.

Was this list informative for you? Will you be reading or have read any of the books I’ve mentioned? If so, what did you think? Did I miss something big you think readers of the site would enjoy? What would you suggest Supernatural fans would enjoy reading? Let me know your list, and why you picked them, in the comments below.

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Tendrils of Darkness — Chapter 24: A Discussion About Death http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/tendrils-of-darkness-chapter-24-a-discussion-about-death/ http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/tendrils-of-darkness-chapter-24-a-discussion-about-death/#respond Sat, 10 Jun 2017 12:01:15 +0000 http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/?p=5034 Wax Stamp 24

A Discussion About Death

 

Zeph found the Great Hall not nearly as grand as its name. It was more of a mezzanine, with doors on each side and a single long table set near the wall. He had the feeling a Greater Hall lie somewhere in the castle, but given the limited number of guests, this provided a more intimate setting. Bordering the room, was a waist-high railing, arching majestically to reveal an atrium below. A smattering of torchlight illuminated small shops in the atrium, already closing for the evening.

  Is Tendrils of Darkness new to you? Click here to go to Chapter 1.

Zeph and the others were shown to a table set with fine pewter plates and goblets. Few servers attended the guests, and there was no pantler to deliver the bread and no steward to watch over the staff. The king himself carved the meat. The menu featured regional Embian dishes, a stark contrast to the exotic delicacies they had enjoyed at Duradune. His Majesty was the first to taste, and while it turned out the meal wasn’t poisoned, Zeph found the flavors altogether ordinary.

Not so ordinary was the seating arrangement. It wasn’t every day you sat next to royalty. Zeph had the honor of being seated to the right of the queen, and Cahrin sat to the left of the king. The only other guests were several less-than-notable visitors who seemed to have dined in the Great Hall before.

Queen Pandare was not what Zeph had expected. Half the king’s age, if that, she tossed back flowing hair the color of red wine with a deep, throaty laugh she was not afraid to use. She wore a white gown with wide, open arms and a neckline that formed a low-cut V that clung to her curves.

“So tell me,” she asked Zeph in a thick southeastern accent, “what does the Council have you do?”

“This and that,” he responded evasively.

“Can you give me an example of ‘this or that’? Stuck in this keep all day, I must live vicariously through the few visitors we receive.”

“Since you insist, I’m often asked by the Council to eliminate certain individuals.” He was anything but shy about his profession; in truth, he reveled in the shock factor.

“Really?” She rubbed her hands together. “That could come in useful, I would think. Do you ever take any side jobs?”

Side jobs. It turned out he was the one who was shocked.

She gave his chin a stroke. “I am joking, my darling. You’re so cute with that look on your face.”

Zeph shook off a tingling sensation. “This can’t be all so boring, especially with Azren calling.”

“Oh, I suppose—though I cannot believe my husband is even considering an alliance.”

“So you’re advising the king against it?” The wine he sipped had a musty aftertaste that reminded him of the dust-caked tapestries.

“Wouldn’t you? Azren is at the root of our current crisis. During the Great War, my husband’s grandfather chose a simple truce. We would not attack Azren’s forces, and he would leave Embia alone. And look where that got us. The other kingdoms were not so happy with our arrangement. After the war, they sent their most powerful water elementalists to dry up the river Yute where it passed by this beloved city. Without the river, there were no fish and no more trading partners. It was like taking a dagger through the heart—which I imagine you know something about.”

“Actually, I don’t tend to aim for the heart. It’s not such a big target, at least in those I kill, if you catch my drift. I like to slice my targets across the neck”—he made a motion with his table knife—“maybe tear open their gut, or stab them through the eye, preferably while they’re sleeping and can’t fight back.”

Queen Pandare laid down her fork with a horrified look. “If you say so.”

“I definitely do,” said Zeph. “Everyone thinks killing someone is so simple, like trimming your nails. Turns out most people don’t want to die. It would surprise you the fight they put up, and that’s if they’re alone. Sometimes they have a bodyguard or three with them. Then things get interesting.”

“I see.” The queen took a sip of wine, regaining her composure. “May I ask why you do it?”

“I’m ordered to, of course.”

“I meant why do you choose such a profession? Even if it’s for good reason, you’re ending a life forever. Don’t you feel remorse for those you kill?”

“Not in the least. Their death is not my doing. Don’t get me wrong, I may do the deed, but the goddess Dela spun their life’s thread long ago.”

“So if you took mercy on your intended victim and decided not to kill him, he would die by some other means?”

“Yes—and no.” Even to Zeph’s ears, Carc beliefs could be convoluted. “I’ll put it this way: If I were to spare his life but his life’s thread was at an end, it is unlikely the job would have been assigned to me in the first place. But if I was ordered to complete the assassination yet I decided to let him live, it would be because his thread continued.”

“Interesting.” She tapped her finger thoughtfully against her pewter goblet, then tossed back the rest of her wine in a single gulp. “So the very nature of your success proves the victim was meant to die.”

“Precisely.”

“What a wonderful way to think about death.”

“It’s just how I was brought up.” He had a flash of prune-faced Darseer Orsey in theology class droning on about how a person’s thread length determined a thousand outcomes while he and Baldric colluded in the back.

“At least you do not have regrets killing someone.”

“Regrets, no. But I do sometimes feel sorry for those who cared for the victim.”

“Like a grieving wife?”

Or an orphaned child—just one way the Carcs ended up with recruits. “Um, sure. Though I’d imagine the types that I kill bring more relief than sadness.”

“Indeed.” Queen Pandare was not looking at Zeph anymore. Her eyes had turned away in contemplation.

 

Section Break

 

Cahrin spent the evening trying to persuade King Hybris that an alliance with Azren was fraught with risk. So far, she might have had better luck convincing the mountains to bear fruit.

“When my people sided with him during the Great War,” she said, “he used our armies as a buffer against his enemies. They were the first to die and the last to be left on the field when he retreated. Few of our warriors made it back alive.”

“Delightful,” replied a ruddy-faced King Hybris for the fifth time since dinner had started. Apparently, inebriation stoked his sense of optimism. “Your people experienced the glory of battle without having to march all the way home.”

She longed for someone to share a spiteful offhand comment with. Regrettably, the only companion near enough was Demetrius, who was deep in conversation with a comely noblewoman.

“Perhaps your eminence would like to experience the glory of battle without having to walk back to his bedroom,” she replied, smiling as if she had offered the king some sweet plum pudding.

“Yes, yes,” he agreed, infuriatingly, as he slopped more wine into and around his mouth.

But it was the arrival of the king’s latest guest that set her blood boiling.

The man in the gray cloak was escorted to an area not far in front of their dining table. Cahrin was tempted to fulfill her grim oath that very moment, with everyone watching. She clenched the hunting knife hidden beneath her dinner attire, releasing it when Norweegee poked his head out from her pocket. She gave him a pat. We will have our revenge—just not now.

“Your Majesties,” said Cahrin’s nemesis in a dry, squeaky voice she knew all too well. At King Hybris’s prompt, he rose and continued. “I present you this gift from my master, Azren.” He reached into the folds of his cloak to produce a golden circlet studded with gemstones. It shone in the torchlight, casting a gleaming yellowish halo.

“Delightful,” exclaimed King Hybris, placing it on his head as if Azren had anointed him.

Cahrin’s bowels twisted in disgust.

“And for Her Grace . . .” The man in gray presented a bracelet encrusted with diamonds. Cahrin had never seen such exquisite jewelry.

The queen gasped, eyes widening. She regained her poise before speaking. “Azren is most gracious. But he must understand that no amount of glitter could sway our decision.”

“Of course. My master awaits the king’s answer on the morrow.”

“And he shall have it,” said the queen.

The emissary was just beginning his farewell bow when he paused, his head tilted toward Raven. “What an unexpected surprise. The master will be pleased.”

“Why is that?” Raven’s smooth baritone voice was the polar opposite of his antagonist’s.

“Because you were lost and now you’re found.” And then he bowed so deeply, starting with Raven but rising toward the king, that Cahrin wasn’t sure how he kept his balance. Walking backward, the despicable little man left the chamber.

Regret washed over Cahrin. She had lost her chance at exacting vengeance on the one who had ruined her life. What a coward I have become. Not so long ago, she would have stuck a knife into his gut and not thought twice about it. These ghasiv ways she followed weakened her, she was sure of it. There would be another time, she consoled herself, and then she would not hold back.

Her thoughts were interrupted as Queen Pandare rose. The guests followed suit.

“I’m afraid I must part this lovely company,” she said, pursing her crimson lips. “It seems a queen can never get enough sleep.”

The king scraped his chair backward, nodding. “Mysstones await,” he slurred. He moved behind chairs, bumping into his guests on his way toward the door.

Cahrin crossed the room to the railing and stared without focus down at the atrium below. It was peaceful, and outside of a smattering of torches, darkness prevailed. The scene reminded her of times she stood on the edge of Ked’coon watching the last of the day’s light disappear. Will I ever witness such again?

If only that man in the gray cloak had not shown up in her homeland, everything would be different. Instead of living in prisons of stone built by ghasiv, she would be walking the pristine peaks of Ked’coon with Pa’hu, her dirksa, by her side. A mixture of feelings welled up inside her: hatred for the servant of Azren who had done this to her; scorn for the ghasiv who pervaded her daily existence; and frustration with the Great Owl God, Ofunu, for not guiding her wisely.

Absorbed in her own thoughts, she didn’t notice Zeph until he sidled up beside her. “You look as if you’re about to pounce on some poor mountain lion,” he said.

“Any nearby prey would do.”

He coughed uncomfortably. “What’s the verdict with the king?”

The king? Just another drunk, self-centered ghasiv. “His Majesty was too full of spirits to have any meaningful conversation. Speaking of mountain lions, Queen Pandare’s paw marks are all over you.”

“Few can resist the Greymoon charm.” Zeph ran a hand through his unkempt hair.

“Yes, the way you chew with your mouth open is truly irresistible.”

“Who would have thought that table manners were the way to a Northerner’s heart?”

“It is one of the few things I have picked up from the ghasiv I’m rather fond of.” It bothered Cahrin that manners mattered to her. When you were starving among the frigid peaks of Ked’coon, nobody cared about table manners.

“Which explains why you’re so fond of Demetrius.”

“He’s all right, I supposed.” She glanced over at the young lord, still deep in conversation with the lady of distinction. “At least he picks his teeth after eating, rather than saving it for later, as is present company’s preference.”

“Hey, you never know when you might be hungry later.”

“Though I wonder if he’s too much like his father. He speaks of grand plans, but I’ve yet to see action behind his words.”

“Demetrius is a better man than Lord Berrian. He means what he says—it’s just hard to be taken seriously when you have such clean teeth.”

“Possibly, or perhaps he just hasn’t been given the opportunity to prove himself.” She gave Zeph a wry smile. “We can’t all charge headlong into everything without a second thought.”

She meant it as a jibe, but in that instant, Cahrin wished she had some of his careless gusto. If she had, she certainly wouldn’t have let the charcoal-cloaked man leave the dining hall alive.

Zeph raises his chin in pride. “I didn’t think you noticed.”

“It’s hard not to. Some would call it—”

“Bold and daring.”

“I was thinking along the lines of reckless and altogether foolish.”

“At least I’m not a coldhearted ice witch.”

Her eyes welled up unexpectedly. Not that she cared what Zeph said about her. No, it was that servant of Azren. Like the scent of the wind after a bloody raid, he had brought with him a somber reminder of loss. She clung to the railing for support, attempting to hide her face by peering down at the atrium.

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” said Zeph, putting a comforting hand on her back. “We were just going at it like usual, I thought.”

She brushed away his touch. “It’s not you. It’s that man. All I could think of is how I want to strangle him with that gray cloak of his.”

“I could make arrangements,” said Zeph.

Please do, she almost said. “That’s something I need to handle myself.”

“Okay. But if you change your mind, remember, I am qualified.”

“I know,” she said, her mood easing. “Now if you will excuse me, I would like to be alone for a time.”

“Oh yeah, of course. I understand.”

She reached out and clasped his arm. “Thank you. It was . . .”

“Delightful?”

She laughed and then sniffled. “Really now, Zeph. Just when you were getting on my good side.”

“And here I didn’t even know you had a good side,” he said in an amiable way.

She released his arm. “You should go. But thank you, truly.”

“My lady.” He gave her a flourishing bow before spinning about.

She left the Great Hall with the full intention of going to her room. Then she recalled what Lord Berrian had said about delving into the history of the Gems of Tazanjia. Perhaps she could learn their story and for once not be such an ignorant Northerner.

Unfortunately, like many ghasiv structures, she found the keep’s design confounding. After wandering aimlessly for far too long she came across the mustached Bentar.

“Would you be so kind as to direct me to your library?”

“Certainly, my lady. Follow me.”

He started in the direction she had just come from, walking stiffly in his armor and clanking with each step. “I heard what you said earlier about why you’re here.”

“It seems our warning falls on deaf ears.”

“Do not look badly upon our king. He too knows the ways of Azren. It is for the sake of his subjects he considers such a truce. You have seen our struggle for stone, but even food is hard to come by here. The dirt is not much better than No Man’s Land for farming. People crowd into structures wherever they can find four walls and a roof. And the winters are very, very cold. We lost a dozen from frostbite this past winter.”

This talk of hard lives among the ghasiv made her want to sneer. They suffered nothing like what her people went through every day. A dozen dead in the winter—her clan would rejoice. They should try sleeping in a hastily constructed shelter in the middle of a snowstorm with hungry, desperate animals waiting outside for them to let their guard down.

Bentar continued. “King Hybris believes the riches Azren promises could stop all the suffering.”

“Then he is a fool.”

If Bentar was taken aback by her words, he gave no indication. “Many of us are hesitant to put our lives in Azren’s hands. Yet we do the bidding of our liege lord. It is his decision to make.”

“But you are one of his people. His Majesty would want to hear your voice.” Yet even as she said it, she was not so sure. She remembered how King Hybris had treated Demetrius’s impertinence. How would he react if a simple guard confronted him? In her clan, Schie Bura listened to the counsel of any, although like the king, his decision was final.

He stopped in front of a doorway. She could see rows of books on the other side.

“I was hoping,” he said, “that you might lend your voice to the cause.”

And have the king belittle my people’s deaths again? Certainly not. But looking up into Bentar’s pleading eyes, she realized he had already placed his faith in her. “I will do what I can.”

“Thank you, my lady.” Bentar smiled beneath his bushy mustache. “I’ll leave you to your reading.”

She stepped inside, immediately overwhelmed. Never had she seen so many books. Master Ulfin’s collection had comprised a single bookshelf. She still remembered her first attempt at deciphering the strange characters. It had taken countless hours and an inordinate amount of patience from Master Ulfin.

She wandered among the rows. Glancing at a spine or two at a time, she tried to get her bearings, to determine how everything was organized. Was it in chronological order? It was hard to tell; she knew so little of ghasiv history. Some shelves were sorted alphabetically yet grouped another way as well. Perhaps by category?

The furthest part of the room held several tables and chairs. Beyond them, in a reading nook inset into the base of a grand window, sat King Hybris, gazing outward. Startled by the king’s presence, she failed to take a knee as she approached. His Majesty gave her a glance before returning his focus outside.

“What do you see?” he asked.

A clear view of No Man’s Land spread before them like a beach with no waves. To the northwest, she could make out Riverrock Crag, crescent-shaped ridges that hid the Blighted Lands and Azren’s domain. Towering above it to the north stood pinnacles of ice and rock—Ked’coon. Her heart rejoiced and crashed in the same instant. She missed the pristine peaks, but she knew she could never return.

“I see despair,” Cahrin whispered.

“You see true,” replied the king, but he was not looking into the distance. He looked downward into the city itself, drawing an imaginary line from west to east with a finger. “The walls were once this high and as white as pearls. She would sit here, my queen, for hours on end and watch the sentries roaming the ramparts. She called them our cloudwalkers.”

Cloudwalkers. Cahrin bet the ramparts had not reached one-tenth the height her people regularly camped. And unlike these guards of Einor, the men and women of the Clan of the Owl enjoyed no reprieve from their constant state of vigilance. “It must have been quite a sight,” she managed politely.

“Now look.” He pointed at a crumbling section of the wall. “It cowers down, old and fragile, barely able to stand. In not so long, these walls will be stripped bare, and when its walls go, a city is no more.”

He spoke clearly; the effects of the alcohol had ebbed. This was her opportunity to say what she wished.

“Nothing lasts forever,” she blurted. It wasn’t exactly the gentle cajoling that may have been needed, but it was the truth. King Hybris had little hope of saving Einor. It was dying, and allying with Azren would only hasten its demise.

“That is what I thought as well.” He stared with mournful eyes. “I told her this, my queen. I was young and foolish. She proved me wrong, that she did. It turns out there are a great many things that last forever. Love, for one thing, and every other deep desire and tenacious feeling that permeates our core. It’s what makes us who we are. It’s tied to a past that even time cannot obliterate. To be sure, time muddles the mind, softens the pain—it’s the great flask of wine always at your lips, sipping away. But the passage of it can never completely erase a memory.”

Which is what Einor will soon become. “The elders say that the mountains themselves cannot outlive time.”

“It is not until one gets old himself does he realize the wisdom age brings,” said the king. “Do you know what soars without wings, crawls without knees, deadens without killing, is infinite, and yet cannot be amassed? Time.”

She nodded somberly. Lost time away from her people—this, she knew well. “Your Majesty.” She squatted down to his level. “Azren cannot help this city.”

“But can his wealth keep ruin at bay at least for another generation, until perhaps a new savior comes along?”

She tried to answer, but the king held his hand up in protest. The discussion was over. “You did not come to the library to speak with an old fool about the inevitable, did you?”

She had not. And she had done her part, lent her voice as Bentar had requested. King Hybris wanted no more of it.

“I’m here to find information on the Gems of Tazanjia.”

An eyebrow arched. “The Gems of Tazanjia? That’s an archaic topic. Are you looking for something specific?”

“Anything specific, I would say.”

“Council business, I presume?” He rose.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

He appeared disappointed that she did not elaborate. “You know the legend, I gather?”

She shook her head.

“In that case, I’ll attempt to enlighten you.” He stood and began to stroll through the library. She had no recourse but to follow. “The Gems of Tazanjia were purported to be powerful relics that would drive Azren and his allies from our lands during the Great War.”

Relics of war—no wonder PIKE wants them. “Why haven’t I heard stories of the gems from my people? Surely such mighty weapons did not go unnoticed.”

“That’s because they were never found—or needed, as it turned out. Once the seer Kalendistrafous made his prophecy about the gems, he began attracting followers in droves to his cause. Azren was winning the war, and people were desperate to cling to whatever hope they could find, even a false one. But after many fruitless months of searching for the gems, the fortitude of Kalendistrafous’s followers began to wane.”

As he spoke, he scanned texts on the shelves while wearing a thoughtful expression. “The seer himself had all but given up. By then, he had amassed an impressive force of able-bodied men. He decided to turn them over to an apt military strategist named Geldrich the Glaive, who led them in a decisive battle against Azren. There are many who say this battle was the turning point in the war.”

“Do you have any books that elaborate on the seer’s prediction?” She hoped that’s what the king was looking for.

“You won’t find such details in any history books. Historical records shy away from anything that does not directly bolster the genius of our generals or the bravery of the foot soldiers. But I believe I have something you will find interesting—somewhere.” The king continued his search, sweeping texts to the side, even standing on his toes to feel the top of shelves. Finally he turned to her. “I was so sure I had it, but it seems to have disappeared. Like stones from the city, they vanish one after another, and who knows where they end up.”

He clapped a hand over his mouth. “My stones,” he cried, muffled. “I must tend to them at once. A king’s work is never done.”

And with that he spun about and left Cahrin alone in the library.

 

Section Break

 

Zeph made sure not to step on any cracks in the stone on the way back to his room lest he end a life prematurely, according to the old gypsy proverb. Not that he believed in such things. Death came only at the end of one’s thread, over which Dela had sole mastery.

Or so he had been taught.

Darseer Caspar’s revelation that Azren could disrupt the threads had sent ripples of doubt through his core. Zeph had always believed Dela to be the caretaker of life and death, the most powerful of the gods. Why could she not simply cut Azren’s thread and be done with him?

The ramifications gnawed at him. It was he who had suggested they warn the kingdoms of central Draza, putting them in direct conflict with Azren—a dangerous proposition, to be sure. Demetrius especially should be at home, warming himself by the fire, instead of following them on this fool’s errand.

Zeph skipped over a large crack. The simple children’s game was good for his dexterity. He upped the difficulty by increasing the number of cracks he had to leap over with each step. Soon he was jumping five at a time, then eight, and fifteen, until he failed and started at one crack again. He grew so absorbed with this game he stopped paying any attention to where he was going, thinking only how he could break his personal record.

After about twenty minutes, he was exhausted. He had also lost track of where he was. As he tried to retrace his steps, he heard the heavy accent of Queen Pandare from around the bend.

Finally, someone I can ask for directions. He rounded the corner, anticipating seeing the queen with the king. Queen Pandare was leaving her bedchamber, but it was the little man in gray who accompanied her.

Zeph ducked back behind the corner he’d come from. Now what would those two have to talk about?

“And that is just the beginning,” came the dry, squeaky voice of Azren’s emissary.

“I see why your master holds you in such high esteem, Kreeb,” replied the queen.

Their voices faded as they drew farther from Zeph.

Now that, he thought, was a fair amount more interesting than hopping cracks.

 

==> Continue Reading Chapter 25: City in Mourning

 

book-cover-with-spine

Tendrils of Darkness: Book 1 of The Black Trilogy comes courtesy of a partnership between Will Spero and Best Fantasy Books. Enjoy a new chapter every Sunday available right here. 

Learn more about the people, magic and places of Draza along with a detailed map and history at TheBlackTrilogy.com. Questions and comments are welcome, email will@theblacktrilogy.com.

 

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7 Things To Read If You Loved The Hunger Games http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/7-things-to-read-if-you-loved-the-hunger-games/ http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/7-things-to-read-if-you-loved-the-hunger-games/#respond Thu, 08 Jun 2017 11:45:35 +0000 http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/?p=5059 Dystopian young adult novels have become all the rage, the most popular of which has been Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series of books, and later, films. A dystopian future former America where the rich and power rule over an disenfranchised populace from afar, enforcing their will with jackbooted thugs and a spectacle called the hunger games.

Super violent, terribly bleak, and garish with neon colored point, these films and books are amazing and were a hit with teens and adults alike. The following are my seven choices of things you would like if you loved watching or reading The Hunger Games.

Battle Royale by Koshun Takami

Of course, this is on the list, and if I put it on the list, I have to start with it. They are super similar in theme, detail, and ideas, that is to be sure, and rather than expound on the controversy, I would rather talk about why this is a great book.

Published in 1999, this book has been turned into a manga, and then a cult classic film, all about a group of schoolchildren who are kidnaped and taken to an island to battle to the death. With a huge cast of characters, bloody combat, and themes that would make anyone with anti-government feelings heart swell, this Japanese novel is the closest to The Hunger Games on this list, which is the source of all the hullabaloo about it. Perhaps, when you read it, you can decide on the theories yourself.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

A staple in many English classes, this award winning dystopian novel has been read by millions, and was turned into a movie in 2014. If you had gone to middle school some time after 1994 or have kids who have, you have at least heard of this novel, if not had read it yourself.

It tells the story of a young boy who is not like the rest of the people in the deeply regulated place where he lives, craving more out of life. He gets chosen to be a “Receiver of Memory”, someone who remembers how everything was before society changed to the homogenized, secure, if not bland, world that it exists now. Along the way, he learns of terrible truths that he must wrestle with. If you want young adult/children’s dystopian fiction, The Giver is one of the best examples of the genre.

Neon Genesis Evangelion, created by Gainax, directed by Hideaki Anno, produced by Noriko Kobayashi and Yutaka Sugiyama

The second Japanese title on this list, this hallmark and deconstruction of the mecha genre helped to popularize anime abroad in the 90’s, a time when it was in a slump, perhaps making way for the some of the successes that the industry holds today. Apocalyptic setting meets giant mecha on monster fights, with a healthy dose of conspiracy, teenage angst, and Judeo-Christian mythology, Evangelion, or Eva as it is known by fans, is one of the most influential animes in history.

Following a young boy pushed into a not-so-secret organization to pilot biological machines called Evangelions to fight monstrous creatures known as angels. Wracked with depression, self doubt, and fears of rejection, the teenaged Eva pilots struggle against angelic monsters, but their own demons as well, something viewers of The Hunger Games might just love.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Children seem to always been the weapons of dystopian future governments, don’t they? At least this one has some justified reason of doing what it’s doing, after being attacked twice by an insectoid alien race called “Buggers”, the government of earth sets up an academy for young children to train to become military leaders in the third invasion they think is on coming.

Child warriors in a technologically advanced but dark version of a future earth? Sounds like this best selling and award winning novel, which has been the inspiration for a movie and multiple comic adaptations, is a great next read if you just read or watched The Hunger Games.

The Running Man by Stephen King, under the pseudonym Richard Bachman

Another dystopian America, another deadly game, this time people willing sign up to run around the world, get as far as they can, hunted by law enforcement officers and bounty hunters paid for by the channel themselves. Every hour you survive and every hunter or cop you kill, you earn money, but everyone is out to get you, from the local beat cop to the fan of the show who wants to see the current contestant killed up close.

In a world of incredibly and increasingly sanguine competition based reality shows, both The Hunger Games and The Running Man aren’t all that far from the mark. Point of fact, on the streaming service go90, there is a competition show called The Runner, in which teams of “Chasers” have to track down and find a “Runner”, both of which have to complete challenges to earn money. That sounds a little similar…doesn’t it? Just with a little less killing.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The world has ended, and it’s everyone for themselves. The majority of people would kill you for the shoes on your feet, or the clothes on your back, or, perhaps, the flesh on your bones. This is the world that Pulitzer Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy puts forth. The world is dying, if not already dead, and there are fewer and fewer things are around. Gas, canned goods, game, ammunition. This isn’t a world in decline, it’s already fallen.

So, put yourself in the games, forced by powers you have no control over to fight and kill or die, what would you do with that much desperation. What would be okay with doing, and what would you do anyway? How do you live with yourself after, and are you still the person you think you are.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

What would happen if you left a bunch of boys to their own devices without any supervision of any sort? Would you trust their civilized upbringing, such as it is anyway, would keep them orderly, or would you expect them to devolve to violence and savagery? You have probably heard of this famous novel, you know what, in this example anyway, happens.

In The Hunger Games, there are parts of Panem that not only submits children to the murderous games, but trains them before the picking ritual. How much does civilization have to devolve for people to want to compete in a meat grinder like that, to want to kill for glory? How much would it take for us today to be reduced to that?

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

I had to save the very best in the genre for last, didn’t I? This book is the hallmark for dark future Earth’s, many of it’s ideas, tropes, and even it’s phrasing have entered the collective unconsciousness. It is really easy to say that nearly every book published since with a dystopian feel can say that it was inspired, intentionally or otherwise, by this novel.

The government is always watching, they shape the minds of all that live within their borders as to control every aspect of life, forcing their people to live in squalor while pretending that all is well, and moreover on the rise. The Hunger Games does this with it’s visions of the districts and the capitol, using entertainment to placate the later while viciously keeping their jackboot on the throats of the former. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a must read if you loved The Hunger Games or any other thing on this list.

Dystopian fiction is a deepening genre right now, and with all three of the films, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay out, they are a great entry into the genre. These books and anime are all amazing, and I would suggest them to anyone as related media, but do you agree? If not, what would you include? Tell me if you would replace any or all of my list with your favorite media, and most importantly why, in the comments below.

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Tendrils of Darkness — Chapter 23: The King of Broken Stones http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/tendrils-of-darkness-chapter-23-the-king-of-broken-stones/ http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/tendrils-of-darkness-chapter-23-the-king-of-broken-stones/#respond Sat, 03 Jun 2017 12:01:11 +0000 http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/?p=5029 Wax Stamp 23

The King of Broken Stones

 

The sun was drooping toward the horizon when the crumbling spires of Einor, the City of the Gods which once epitomized the wealth of all of Embia, came into view. Zeph brought his horse to a standstill and gazed upon a city he found far from awe-inspiring. The others continued at a more deliberate pace, as if they were approaching an ancient monument.

It had been two days since they had split up, and Zeph was dying from lack of conversation. He could do without food and water for a time, but this . . . He had begun to wish Kynar would overtake them. At least then he would have someone to speak with.

  Is Tendrils of Darkness new to you? Click here to go to Chapter 1.

He had tried engaging with Raven several times, but tree shrubs offered better banter. And while Cahrin and Demetrius were trading stories like reunited kin, Zeph felt uncomfortable adding his voice without telling Demetrius about his treachery—and he didn’t dare do that with Cahrin present.

“Why is it called the City of the Gods?” he overheard Cahrin ask Demetrius.

“It was the first city to host a temple for each of the five main gods. That was back when there were those who still worshipped the God of the Dead—and of course before anyone had heard of The One. Though some claim its name comes from even earlier times when it was the grandest capital in all of Draza. Even the gods would have chosen to live in Einor, ‘where the gates were made of gold and the walls were powder white limestone.’” This last part, Demetrius spoke in a rhythmic melody.

Such words could hardly describe the city now. An unkempt and broken road led toward walls so caked in grime it was as if they were diseased.

Zeph gave out a low whistle. “I’d heard Einor had fallen on hard times, but I’ve seen shipwrecks in better condition.”

“And to think,” said Demetrius, “this city was once considered so imposing that during the Northerner Assault it was left alone.”

Cahrin met this last comment with a bitter retort. “What you call the Northerner Assault, my people speak of as the Blood of the Ghasiv Raid. Though the lies you use to describe it make it appear hardly the same.”

“Then please, grace us with the truth,” said Demetrius.

Cahrin’s eyes hardened as she retold the story. “Northerner warriors surrounded this city in such numbers that only the begging of the king kept them from razing it to the ground. Emissaries brought gifts and spoke of friendship. After much discussion, my people accepted the peace offerings, and the raiding party moved on to Camere. But once engaged in battle there, the king of Einor sent his men to attack the Northerners from behind. Caught between armies, our warriors had little chance. They were butchered without mercy. Thus we named this place Asormo, the two-faced city.”

“That was long ago.” Raven’s voice sounded distant, as if he was recalling a memory. “Now the city is nothing more than a rotting corpse lying in an abandoned graveyard.”

“You speak unkindly,” said Demetrius.

“All those who have served Azren will see their world crumble before them, your father’s included.” Raven nudged his horse ahead.

Zeph grabbed hold of Demetrius to keep a fight from ensuing.

“What is it with him?” asked Demetrius.

Zeph shrugged his shoulders, not sure himself. “I’d say he’ll warm up to you over time, but that’s the friendliest he’s been since I’ve known him.”

“He reminds me of a white wolf,” Cahrin said, “one moment hiding itself within a patch of snow and the next with its teeth clamped around the neck of its meal, all for the sake of survival. Though I suspect he is far more dangerous than any wolf.”

The road led to a large opening in the walls where city gates must have once stood. Zeph was surprised to find no guards to question their right of entry or warn the king of an approaching threat.

“I see now the major drawbacks of having gates of gold,” he said drily. If it had not been so tragic—or so true—the comment might have elicited a chuckle.

Conditions inside the city were no better. The buildings, made from the same stone as the outer walls, had turned a sickly grayish-brown from decades of neglect. Zeph tried to imagine how magnificent it might have looked, the smooth bone-white stone accented with blue-tiled roofs and spires shooting up a hundred feet into the sky.

Today, one of the spires was without its pinnacle, and another had been stripped down to the height of the outer wall. Stone appeared to be a rare commodity in Einor. Storefronts and even homes were missing sections of walls. In some areas, all that was left were ruins: a fallen door, the remnants of a fireplace, broken chairs.

The keep rose above the city center like flames above blackened wood, Einor’s last line of defense. Zeph found it daunting in the same way an ancient suit of armor could be. Before them the main avenue bent around a massive dried-out fountain, stripped of stone to its base and surrounded by the temples from which the city got its moniker.

The first stood simple and square, though the craftsmanship left no doubt it was the work of rogroms, masters of hewn rock. A giant spool was engraved above its door and two carved needles framed the entrance to the temple of Dela, goddess of destiny. While the structure itself was dirty, no stone had been scavenged here.

“I guess you don’t mess with the temple of a god,” Zeph said.

“Apparently not everyone feels that way,” replied Demetrius.

Next to Dela’s temple, a building with its entire roof made out of carved coins symbolizing Tymius, god of fortune, seemed to be missing its homage bowl, torn from its place atop a pedestal.

“Maybe when things are bad, you figure it can’t get any worse,” suggested Zeph.

“Could be,” said Demetrius. “Then again, they say Tymius rewards those who test their luck. Perhaps stealing the bowl would curry favor with the god.”

“Huh.” Zeph wished he had contrived such a ploy. “You might be onto something.”

He stumbled as he entered a quarry as big as any temple. Nearby, an ancient scavenger bent low, dragging his beard through a graveyard of stone scraps.

“Goznedra,” said Raven in his deep, expressionless tone.

Of course. What now was nothing more than rubble had once been the temple of the god of the dead.

The old man saw their approach and screeched. He held a skull above his head with an arm that looked like a brittle branch. “The Fallen God will rise again.”

Zeph realized the stone that crunched underfoot wasn’t stone at all but bits and pieces of skulls once used to build the temple.

They continued onward through streets nearly empty save for the professional scavenger plying his trade with a pickax and hand cart used to cull any stone bigger than a fist. Shockingly lacking was the presence of any peacekeepers. No wonder the streets were bare at night. Without guards, residents enjoyed little protection.

As they neared the keep, Zeph half expected to walk right in, unhindered. However, two armed sentries stood at the entrance with worn leather armor and unpolished scabbards at their hip. Though straight-backed and alert, they appeared startled by the group’s approach.

“What’s your business?” asked one with a brown, bushy mustache.

“We’ve been sent by the Council of the Alliance with a message for the king,” said Zeph, showing his medallion.

The guard examined the article closely. Either he knew the mark of the Alliance well enough to identify a fake, or he was curious what a genuine one looked like. After a few moments, he appeared satisfied. “This way.”

He led them through passageways lined with tapestries beneath vaulted ceilings. Colored swags spanned the corridors, which at one time might have appeared elegant. Now thick dust caked everything, and the spiderwebs were as numerous as the cracks in the stone floor. Zeph felt as if they were inside a mausoleum rather than a dwelling for the living.

They came to a halt not in front of any grand, antiquated entrance chamber, as he’d expected, but at an unassuming door nestled inside an alcove. The castle guard rapped twice. After no answer, he stuck his head into the room.

“M’lord, I have visitors from the Alliance to see you.”

A muffled voice came back, and the guard pushed the door open to reveal a mostly barren room, save for a pile of broken stones and a table where an older man in sleepwear—presumably the king—was seated. On the table in front of him was a small block of grayish-brown stone, similar to what Zeph had seen outside in the city, surrounded by broken pieces of various sizes. The king was fitting the pieces onto the block using a jar of pasty-white substance as filler.

The guard allowed the group to enter and stood by the entrance to keep watch. Zeph was appalled at the lack of security. They hadn’t even been asked for their weapons. Zeph could have cut the king down before anyone stopped him—and he was tempted to try just to see what might happen.

All of them except Raven knelt. His Majesty took no notice and continued to work on his stone puzzle, leaving the newcomers stranded on their knees. After a twenty count, Zeph cleared his throat. King Hybris placed a shard of rock into a broken section of stone and examined it critically. This time, Zeph made a guttural sound, still eliciting no reaction outside of a look from Cahrin to behave.

“My liege,” said the guard, coming to their rescue.

“Yes, Bentar?”

“Those from the Alliance . . .”

“Oh yes. Send them in,” he said, not taking his eyes away from the stone he was working on.

“They’re here, m’lord.”

The king looked up in surprise. “Oh, so they are. Please rise. I apologize for the lack of formalities. If I had known, we could have met in better quarters.”

They stood, awkwardly crowded in the small room.

Demetrius brushed stone dust from his knees and cleared his throat. “King Hybris, I am the son of your vassal, Lord Berrian, and a member of the Alliance. My companions and I are here to issue you a grave warning: Azren has returned.”

The king cackled. “Indeed.”

He went back to piecing together the block in front of him.

Demetrius attempted once more. “Your Majesty, did you not hear my words?”

“Young man, Azren had been in contact with me for some time now.”

“And?”

“There you go.” King Hybris fitted a fragment into a shallow chasm of the stone. Turning his attention back to Demetrius, his eyes narrowed. “Is it for a lord’s son to ask that question of me?”

Demetrius lowered himself to a knee once more. “Apologies, my king. I took leave of my senses.”

“No apologies needed, young man.” King Hybris hid a broad smile in his silvery beard. Zeph thought he looked the type to make a popular ruler under better circumstances. “In answer to your query, I have no love of Azren. Yet he offers me a large sum of gold crowns—enough to rebuild my kingdom. And all he asks for in return is an ally in principle. I need not fight with him, just not against him.”

Demetrius rose at the king’s signal. “Have you considered asking the Four Realms for support?”

“There was a time when Einor served as the vestibule to the civilized part of Draza, and the other kingdoms would donate gold crowns to help with its defenses. But ever since Embia’s truce with Azren during the Great War, our status has declined to that of an outcast. The Five Realms have become the Four Realms, and we are left to wither away.”

Zeph had always gotten the impression that Embia was being punished and would someday be brought back into the fold. “Couldn’t you send an emissary to plead your case? I mean, if they knew Azren has returned, I’m sure they’d want to help.”

“The chasm between ‘want’ and ‘would’ is not easily crossed. With the Western Kingdoms marching on Nastadra, a third of Draza will be at war, and the other realms will be too busy taking sides to worry about anything else.”

“So you’ve made up your mind?”

“I have not. Not yet, anyway. It is true that my kingdom needs coin, and Azren is flush with it. But to make an alliance with the Afflicted One—he’s what got us into this mess in the first place. Now I’m sure all of you are tired from your travels. Bentar will find you rooms. Please join me in the Great Hall for dinner this evening.” The king made a dismissive motion, his eyes returning to the stone before him.

The group had already begun to follow the guard Bentar when Zeph paused.

“King Hybris, may I ask a question of Your Majesty?”

“Yes, yes,” said the king, distractedly.

“What exactly are you doing?”

“Oh, this.” He patted the slab in front of him. “As you’ve likely noticed, Einor has a shortage of these stones that once made our city grand. The supply still exists, of course, but we no longer have the means or the men necessary to retrieve it. So my people borrow or take from their neighbors. Some of the existing stones in Einor have fallen into disrepair, such as this one. But every stone counts. We must rehabilitate them so they can once more be put to good use. Each of us should do their part.”

As they left the room, Zeph mumbled to Cahrin that the king must be off his block. A quick elbow to the gut silenced him for the rest of the walk.

But his thoughts lingered. If King Hybris really was as mad as Demetrius said, was it safe to dine with him? Maybe he’d poison the lot of them and offer their corpses to Azren as a show of good faith. He supposed he’d find out soon enough. As Leopald, the Carc poison master, would say, when it comes to eating and drinking, be courteous and wait—better to go hungry than be first to take the bait.

 

==> Continue Reading Chapter 24: A Discussion About Death

 

book-cover-with-spine

Tendrils of Darkness: Book 1 of The Black Trilogy comes courtesy of a partnership between Will Spero and Best Fantasy Books. Enjoy a new chapter every Sunday available right here. 

Learn more about the people, magic and places of Draza along with a detailed map and history at TheBlackTrilogy.com. Questions and comments are welcome, email will@theblacktrilogy.com.

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Five Things to Read or Watch If You Loved Westworld http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/what-to-read-or-watch-if-you-loved-westworld/ http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/what-to-read-or-watch-if-you-loved-westworld/#respond Thu, 01 Jun 2017 04:29:48 +0000 http://bestfantasybooks.com/blog/?p=5021 Last year’s HBO Westworld, an adaptation of a film by novelist Michael Crichton (The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park) from the 70’s, hit the ground running, drawing in many into its sci-fi western world.

Many have even said that it might do for science fiction media what Game of Thrones has done for fantasy. A strong story with an interesting mystery, which I will try to not to spoil here, the show has left many scratching their heads, and wondering at the nature of what makes a person a person, and what is real.

The following five titles, be they books, comics, film, or television, also play with reality and other themes that Westworld uses to charm us all.

 

1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

I’ve seen Blade Runner. You’ve probably seen it. Everyone within sight of these words has probably seen it.

This is what, for the most part, it was based off of. In a dismal future of 1992, or 2001 depending on which edition you are reading, most of the world’s animals are gone, most of the population has moved off of Earth to protect the species, and human looking androids exist.

The protagonist is a bounty hunter tasked with the hunting down and killing, so coldly referred to as retiring, rogue androids.

The lines between who is human and who is not is blurred, and the ethics of killing things that you couldn’t, with real certainty, tell wasn’t human. And besides, if these machines move and act to defend themselves and preserve their own existence, that at least makes them sentient, and thus, perhaps…people. Right?

 

2. Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow

Originally a manga, this iconic tale has been told and retold many times since it was first published in 1989.

Through its various iterations, one core concept remains, how much does the body have to be organic for it to be a person. If the machine considers itself a person, if it has thoughts and emotions and the personality of a person, is it not that person?

These themes get more complex when you introduce a world where hackers can break into that machine.

If you can’t trust in the security of the machine, how do you know what you’re doing is what you want to do, and not the will of some shadowy outside force? That sort of existential horror is something I felt in my first viewing of Westworld as well.

 

 

3. The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People (by Matthew Graham, directed by Julian Simpson)

Doctor Who series six episodes five and six respectively.

What if you could make avatars of yourself to do hazardous work, keeping your real body relatively safe from harm?

Your avatar will be you, think like you, have your memories, and act just like you would, but will be turned off when the job is done, turning back into amorphous goo when you’re finished, or when it becomes damaged in such a way that would kill you.

But what if this avatar was sentient, what if it remembered all the times it, you, died? What if, after an accident, they become separated from you, operating independently from you. They remember everything you remember. They think like you, look like (for the most part) you, and can predict your actions because, of course, that is how they would act as well. What makes you the real you, what makes the biological you more deserving of your life than this doppelgänger?

This two-part pair of episodes of one of the most famous science fiction shows on television in the world explores many topics, and though this is towards the middle of the season, the serialized nature of the show doesn’t really demand that you watch anything else to get the meat of the episodes, and is available on Amazon Prime Video.

 

4. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

What happens when the machines we make turn against us? I mean, this is a pretty popular question in science fiction, see

I mean, this is a pretty popular question in science fiction, see The Terminator, The Matrix, I, Robot, Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse, or Michael Crichton’s (who wrote and directed the film Westworld was based on) Prey and many, many more.

But Ellison in this horrific short story takes this to an extreme, to a point in the future after the machine controlling the world has killed all but four people, and has been torturing them for who knows how long.

How much of that is that cast of humanity’s just deserts? Hubris is sort of the name of the game in that subgenre, so some of this is our chickens coming home to roost, but where is that line between that and torment, justice and evil?

Hubris is sort of the name of the game in that subgenre, so some of this is our chickens coming home to roost, but where is that line between that and torment, justice and evil?

 

5. The Dark Tower by Stephen King

Considered by King himself to be his magnum opus, this eight book series is his longest and, in my opinion, most involved work. Interweaving fantasy, horror, and western tropes, as well as many references to his earlier works,

Interweaving fantasy, horror, and western tropes, as well as many references to his earlier works, The Dark Tower the story of a group of people brought together through fate to take down a powerful foe.

It’s difficult for me to think about a modern series that unabashedly captures the western feel like both Westworld and The Dark Tower, while serving other genres as well. Additionally, it will soon be a film, starring mega star Idris Elba, scheduled currently to be released in August.

Additionally, it will soon be a film, starring mega star Idris Elba, scheduled currently to be released in August.

 

 

 

 

 

Which media would you suggest for fans of Westworld as we wait for season two to drop, which will be sometime in 2018. Do you agree with my list? Which things would you suggest instead? Tell me which things, and why, in the comments below

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