Retribution is out in paperback mid-June, and my author copies have arrived. The edition looks lovely – the blue is extremely bold. I’d kind of wished we’d stuck with the red for the paperback of Drakenfeld, as it would have massively stood out on the shelves and looked great next to this colour, but I can’t complain.
Just a couple of reviews for Retribution, which have been floating around the web recently. The first is at Tor.com, which I like for its honesty:
Retribution is ultimately on a par with its predecessor, but it works for different reasons than Drakenfeld did. Given the ubiquity of the grim and the gritty, I was sorry to see Newton go back to the dark side after the refreshing lightness of his last. That Retribution’s plot revolves around an almost impenetrable pursuit rather than a gripping mystery is regrettable as well.
And the second over at the Hugo-nomiated Pornokistch:
This isn’t just revisionist epic fantasy, it is optimistic and, in its way, heart-warming escapism – fundamentally positing that ordinary people can make a difference. If traditional epic fantasy presents a character that the reader wants to be, the Drakenfeld series dares to present a hero that we can be: the inspirational, not aspirational. Lucan Drakenfeld battles against the worst villains in the world, and stops unspeakable horrors – and he does so by keeping his eyes open and doing the right thing. It is a fusion of the humanity of the modern crime novel with the scale of the epic fantasy. Mark Charan Newton’s hero might not be the most cinematic sort of swashbuckler, but he’s certainly one of the most fascinating to read.
With Retribution out this week, I am in other people’s internets. First off at Pornokitsch, where I kind of come out talking about the benefits of dictators:
Looking at Classical history, it was easy to see how tyrants and dictators got shit done. There was one vision (their own, no matter how weird or corrupt) and that vision continued uninterrupted and unchallenged for years. Think about the change of governments in whatever pseudo-democracy we now live in: with politicians being voted in and out, there’s a huge amount of short-term focus. Budgets are raised by one lot and slashed by another. Looking back, there’s very little coherent vision on that sort of politics.
And secondly at The Book Plank, where I am a little bit more sane:
What Lucan Drakenfeld is about? Well, both him – and the series – are experiments to see if good characters can be interesting and complex too, whilst exploring the fringes of genres: fantasy, crime and history. Retribution goes a little deeper into this, but with a much darker storyline – as I mentioned earlier it features a serial killer and attempts to look at some moral grey areas.
The second Lucan Drakenfeld novel, Retribution, is published this week. Here’s the first chapter:
Standing perfectly still, I listened to the patter of the rain, mesmerized by its cadence as it brushed the leaves of the forest. Ahead of me four children from Bathylan, each of them wearing only a pair of short trousers and a ragged old shirt, played a game around the trees. One couldn’t help but smile at the way they endured the rain. Most adults tend to view the rain as a nuisance that soaks our clothes or delays our plans. We seek shelter under arches or loiter in taverns, scowling at the sky. But not these children. For them the rain brought a wonderful new dimension to their day. The sudden deluge delighted them and their faces creased in innocent delight.
Sometimes I long to have such a view of the world again, and wonder what it might take to reclaim that perspective. But in over thirty years of life, a decade of which has been spent as an Officer of the Sun Chamber, the world has long since robbed me of my limitless optimism.
This was a beautiful forest and my time here among the low, damp branches of hazel and ash was pleasant indeed, but I needed to head back to the settlement of Bathylan before the rain gathered momentum and really drenched me.
Leaving the children to their games, I walked back towards the chasm. Standing at this precipice, my breath caught in my throat. Great heights were not an issue for me, but this enormous gap took even my breath away. A scar right through the forests and grasslands on the border of Koton and Detrata, it was a mile long and eight hundred feet wide, and an imposing sight. Down the cliff faces, birds spiralled towards their nests among the nooks, and at the very bottom, barely seen, were the white tips of a river in full flow.
The wind began to pick up, offering relief from the humidity, as I strode across one of the four wooden bridges leading to the central village, which stood atop a single island of rock in the centre of the chasm. The bridge shifted this way and that under the pressure of my steps.
Bathylan was a settlement no bigger in size than the largest and most sprawling of villas, but it had developed into an important diplomatic exchange point for trade and information. Situated on the border of Koton and Detrata, it owed allegiance to neither, though both flags could be seen on the rooftops: the black bird in profile on a yellow background for my home nation of Detrata, and the raised red stag on bold blue for Koton. Truth be told Bathylan had become an administrative island of its own, with tiny embassies and aged diplomats looking for a quiet life.
One did not settle in a place like this. It was the sort of settlement that attracted travellers, a handful of well-established traders seeking to avoid tax, or spies, for it was well plugged in to the political scene. It was always easy to tell who the agents were. They always discussed, in a nonchalant manner full of casual hand gestures, that they were travelling on business, ‘researching properties’ or ‘investment opportunities’ on behalf of someone else. Imports and exports; the old trade. I made a point of smiling and revealing my Sun Chamber brooch to them, the flaming sun. It silenced some. Others thought it an opportune moment to pick my brain on various political agendas, showing no shame in their effort to glean information from me. Despite their presence, Bathylan, with its regular thoroughfare, and a gateway to the rest of the continent, was the perfect hub to rest for a few days while waiting for further orders.
On the twenty-first day of our stay I peered out from the shelter of the balcony and sighed at the continual dreary weather. At the opposite end of the garden the blue of the flag of Koton could just about be made out. Beyond the Kotonese flag were the towering, forested and fortified hills – the rolling green vista of the high country – almost lost in the incessant drizzle.
Upon discovery of a small library within the settlement, I had used its resources to brush up on my history of the nation before me. The current ruler, Queen Dokuz Sorghatan, had inherited the throne from her father, King Vehan Sorghatan, who had seized the throne in a military coup. For decades powerful rival factions had bickered over power within Koton, with no one clan ever maintaining overall control. The king’s bloody siege, known as the Night of Plunging Blades, had put an end to the matter once and for all and established him as the sole ruler. He had spent his final years in deep paranoia that someone would return the deadly favour to him. But he died peacefully two decades ago, and his only daughter, the young Dokuz Sorghatan, ascended the throne. It was claimed by the scholars who wrote lengthy pieces on Koton that the queen had since worked miracles with the nation and dragged it into the modern age, attempting to bury and rewrite the crude ways of the nation’s past – but I noted that the scribes themselves were of Kotonese origin, and were hardly likely to claim otherwise.
A figure tramped quickly up through the swamp-like gardens of the station post. As she marched along the deck her boots thudded on the wet wood. It was my companion Leana. She took the steps up towards me two at a time. Her wax coat was sodden, even though the journey to the gatehouse to check for any new messages was short. A thick leather cylinder was clutched in her hand.
‘Next time,’ she said, the water pooling by her feet, ‘you can fetch your own post.’
‘Oh come on,’ I replied, ‘it’s not that bad out there.’
As if the gods themselves willed it, a jagged line of lightning split the skies. It was followed shortly by a stomach-rocking boom.
‘Anyway,’ I continued, ‘let’s take a look at this. Hopefully, we’ll have orders to move on.’
I took the dripping tube from her and noted the flaming sun in the wax seal – an icon of the Sun Chamber.
I hastily opened it and pulled out a rolled-up letter.
‘What does it say?’ Leana asked impatiently, every bit as eager as me to have a new job.
‘At least let me finish it first. It’s from Commissioner Tibus herself.’
I do not like to leave our officers without purpose for long. With this in mind I am sending you to look into what may be a trivial matter, but it is local to your current position. We received a request from Sulma Tan, the Second Secretary to Queen Dokuz Sorghatan of Koton, to help locate the whereabouts of a senior bishop of the main temple of Koton. His name is Bishop Tahn Valin, and he has been missing for five days at the time of sending.
You are to head to the capital city of Kuvash and you will liaise with Sulma Tan directly. Please note: only liaise with Sulma Tan. Koton is not a nation that looks often for external assistance. Its people are proud and Sulma Tan may have contacted us by mistake, for a second message followed immediately after, declaring that we were no longer required. We will disregard this message – use your discretion and send word as soon as you discover what is happening. The city has an exceptional messenger service, so I shall expect frequent updates.
Finally, recent events in Tryum have, as we suspected, led to plans to press for a republic and continue without a king. The Senate is already conducting a radical overhaul of trade routes and distribution of the military. Be warned: things are not shaping up well in Detrata. The tensions are getting worse and could, potentially, represent a threat to the Union itself.
On a lighter note, of the four proposed consuls elect for the first year, one suggestion is your friend Senator Veron. I hope this amuses you as much as it does me.
I conveyed our orders to Leana.
‘About time,’ Leana replied. ‘Was there any news from Detrata?’
‘Yes, as it happens. Tibus mentioned Senator Veron.’
Leana’s expression soured. ‘Has he drowned in a sea of his own debauchery?’
‘Not yet,’ I smiled, recalling my friend’s hedonistic lifestyle. ‘It turns out he’s a candidate for consul of Tryum this year.’
‘Spirits save us,’ Leana said, incredulous. ‘How does he do it? Can you imagine him in charge of a nation?’
‘In good times, perhaps, but not in the disarray we left it.’
A royal nation without a king, heading deliberately towards becoming a republic, with a warmongering senate in control who were ready to break free from the united continent – the Vispasian Royal Union – and relive the ‘good old days’ of a conquering Detratan empire. No, that was not a good state in which to have seen Detrata. I could only hope that Veron would be a voice of reason.
We had been involved in creating the current upheaval and unrest, an act that was still playing on my conscience. We had acted in good faith and brought justice where needed – but this had been the unforeseen result. A political nightmare.
There was little we could do about it so it was best to concentrate on the job ahead.
We packed our few belongings, and I purchased a long wax coat – similar to Leana’s – from the village store. After settling our bill with the guest house, we set out towards Koton and a city that may – or may not – need our help.
Well, they’re now in and still on pre-order, with a publication date of October 23rd. They look pretty striking – you don’t really see that many blue covers around in the genre section, so hopefully it’ll sit out nicely on the shelves. There’s another nice illustrated map inside as well.
That’s the sixth mainstream novel I’ll have published to date, seven books in all…
Back from holiday (photos to come later this week, once I’ve caught up with chores). But a quick note to say that the Lucan Drakenfeld short story, “The Messenger”, is now up for sale on Amazon Kindle and other ebook shops. If you’ve never read the Drakenfeld books it’s a good chance to see what they’re about. If you have read the first one, then this adds a fraction more depth
It can be read in isolation as a taster of the series, or to add depth if you’re already a fan of the book. In fact, the events of “The Messenger”, which concern the attempt on the life of a young prince, are referenced within the first novel – for those keen-eyed readers among you.
The story will be released some time in August. I’ll know more soon, and will update accordingly, but keep an eye out for it.
Having just solved a difficult case in his home city of Tryum, Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld and his associate Leana are ordered to journey to the exotic city of Kuvash in Koton, where a revered priest has gone missing. When they arrive, they discover the priest has already been found – or at least parts of him have. But investigating the unusual death isn’t a priority for the legislature of Kuvash; there’s a kingdom to run, a census to create and a dictatorial Queen to placate. Soon Drakenfeld finds that he is suddenly in charge of an investigation in a strange city, whose customs and politics are as complex as they are dangerous.
Kuvash is a city of contradictions; wealth and poverty exist uneasily side-by-side and behind the rich façades of gilded streets and buildings, all levels of depravity and decadence are practised. When several more bodies are discovered mutilated and dumped in a public place, Drakenfeld realizes there’s a killer at work who seems to delight in torture and pain. With no motive, no leads and no suspects, he feels like he’s running out of options. And in a city where nothing is as it seems, seeking the truth is likely to get him killed . . .
That picture’s from Empire online, which has been decorated rather nicely in Drakenfeld paperback colours. Advertising aside, there’s an interview with me over at Fantasy Faction – the questions being asked by fellow fantasy scribe Juliet McKenna. I talk about history, books, writing etc.
You’re absolutely right, and women were far more powerful in history than we tend to believe. Figures such as the legendary Empress Theodora of the Byzantine era are among the most interesting and powerful characters in all of history, for my money. Women had pretty much equal rights to men during Anglo Saxon Britain, something conveniently forgotten by those who make claims in their own work that it’s just how things were for women. Imagine what life would be like if it wasn’t for the Norman conquest and those rights hadn’t been taken away?
With Drakenfeld Newton moves in a very different direction than his previous series, but the world and characters he creates are instantly compelling and very entertaining. I loved the details Newton inserted into his world building, such as the graffiti everywhere and the political structures not just of Tryum, but of the Vispasian Union over all. Drakenfeld is a wonderful start to the series and I can’t wait to read Lucan and Leana’s next adventure later this year in Retribution.
What with it being paperback release week, I’ve a few things out and about online. The first is a guest post at SFX Magazine, where I talk about The Fantasy Of Ancient History:
Imagine the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Imagine he’s going to write down what life is like for the British people. (If you’re reading this in America, try this with Mitt Romney instead of Dave.) Imagine Dave is trying to paint a vivid picture of British life, and also that he was going to write down what ‘great things’ he’d done for the country. Now imagine that, in a thousand years, historians were going to read Dave’s great writings, along with Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and other wealthy members of the Cabinet, and these writings were going to inform the people / robots of the future that this is what life was really like for people in 2014.
There’s an interview with me at A Fantastical Librarian:
Investigators are a great way of exploring a secondary world without info-dumping on the reader. A detective will get to meet a wide array of character classes, and get a first-hand look at the underbelly of any world you create. I love creating worlds and I’ve found that investigators are, for me, the best way of painting a great picture for the reader. I also like the ‘engine’ of a crime novel, more so than, say, a quest (not to say it’s bad, this is merely my preference). With a mystery there’s an inherent narrative drive to keep the reader turning the pages. No matter what kind of writer you are, you still want readers to follow to the end.
And on UpComing4Me I talk about the story behind Drakenfeld:
I’m most passionate about writing when I’m annoyed with something. For Drakenfeld, I had become a bit annoyed with various discussions of fantasy books. I had noticed a trend, in very broad and casual terms, that people were beginning to associate the level of violence and ‘grit’ in a fantasy novel with how good a book it was. That dialogue in certain quarters, subconsciously or otherwise, was being dismissive of fiction that did not have much in the way of visceral action. ‘Grimdark’ characters could rape, murder, and revel in it – and that was being deemed as mature fiction. As grown up.
Which is plainly crap.