Monday, 15 July 2019

The Best Fantasy Series You've Never Read....

...and probably never heard of.

Recently I've been trying to become more socially active, to try and push back against the blockades that my poor mental health has put in place over the years and left me as near a hermit for practically half a decade. This means over the last two months I've been attending weekly D&D sessions organised by a local 'Guild' and a monthly creative writing group.

Both of these have motivated me in reading various articles, blog posts and other such media from various fantasy authors on the subjects of writing, worldbuilding and other internalised finesses (for example I recently looked in-depth into Sanderson's Laws of Magic on his own blog). A lot of these authors refer back to their own work and the works of other authors (often these overlap a lot when you read the different articles and blog posts back-to-back) when giving instances and examples that fit the points they're trying to make.

However, across all the articles, blog posts and even recommendation lists of fantasy series, one name has never come up, which I think is a shame: Cecilia Dart-Thornton. I discovered her first series of books (The Bitterbynde Trilogy) in 2004 in a case of sad serendipity. I was looking for a new series of books to read and found this trilogy going really cheap in a chain bookstore. The blurb on the back described a world and style of writing so different to anything I'd read before and I knew there and then that I had to, figuratively, devour this trilogy. Yet this isn't the series I want to focus on in this post.

Before moving onto her second (and so far, final) series of books, I'll describe a little more about the author herself. Australia born, she seems to have slipped under the radar when it comes to being a public figure despite her books receiving great reviews and making it onto a few bestseller lists, and after her second series of books were published, she all but disappeared; falling silent for nigh on a decade aside from a few short stories and articles published in magazines. Nevertheless, she is a consummate student of British folklore and that reflects deeply in the worlds she built in her novels, so if we are left with only these two series to her name, then they are, by sheer weight of grandeur, her magnum opus.

That would have been an excellent line to end on, however, I've yet to get to her second series of books. These hold a special significance to me as I again discovered them quite by accident. I had been made street-homeless for the second time and my access to new literature was restricted to what I could borrow from the city library. Again, I was looking for something new to escape into and there, settled betwixt other volumes was the first book of the Crowthisle Chronicles; The Iron Tree. Despite my bleak situation, I was overjoyed by this thin, angel-fingered ray of light and in between dragging myself out of the pit I had foolishly found myself in (it was a hard road, but I did get there in the end) I quickly devoured it, followed by The Well of Tears, Weatherwitch and Fallowblade. Much like her previous series, the Crowthistle Chronicles had threads of folklore expertly woven into the tapestry of her world, from mythical creatures to the use of ancient Brythonic languages. Dart-Thornton had taken what she had learned from writing the Bitterbynde trilogy and refined it tenfold.

The Crowthistle Chronicles stands as one of the best fantasy series I've ever read, so much so that it made me cry frequently, more so than any other novel or collection thereof I've read since. Its breathtaking scope is worthy of the title 'epic fantasy' and its ending left me with that hollow ache of a much-enjoyed series finishing but leaving behind a craving for more. I urge everyone who reads this to please consider my words and give the Crowthistle Chronicles a chance, you won't be disappointed.

Спасибо за прочтение

Saturday, 20 April 2019

The Unwitting Pawns of Chaos

Following on from some recent great news on behalf of a friend, I have restarted in earnest a project that I had left by the wayside for a time (mostly due to being distracted by other shiny things and mental health issues) so that we might meet on the field of battle for a spectacular clash of awesome miniatures.

Anyway, so I've been recently working on a small mortal contingent of my larger army (which will be using unit rules from the Chaos Grand Alliance lists) and have been mulling over the various background points for them. Given the general theme of my army, I had it in mind that the aesthetics for my mortals would be Brythonic from around 400AD (although my Chaos Lady mounted on a Llamhigyn Y Dwr is based on a 12th Century Welsh heroine) however, I didn't want them to have overtly blatant worship of the Ruinous Powers worn openly upon the miniatures.

When the Dark Age of Sigmar group was started on Facebook, it's chief aim was to explore those corners of the Mortal Realms not yet fleshed out in canon and to ask the question; what became of those mortals who had to survive during the Age of Chaos? The Age of Chaos lasted for centuries, with some areas more affected than others, and some lands saw vicious wars between the hordes of Chaos and the beleaguered mortal warriors before the hordes moved on to other battlefields. Of course, all this changed when the gates of Azyr reopened and the Age of Sigmar began as his chosen warriors, the Stormcast, began to 'liberate' those lands under the sway of Chaos.

This particular event put me in mind of several historical instances where Christians attempted to do the same, by coercion or force of arms (the Crusades and the Post-Christianity Roman era), and 'liberate' the indigenous populous from their 'heathen ways' and supplant their 'old religion'. It made me rethink the nature of worshipping the Ruinous Powers; that whilst some would give in body and soul to full devotion (such as the Bloodreavers and Kairic Acolytes), for others, perhaps in a region less riven with the corrupting influence of Chaos, the worship of the Ruinous Powers is reduced to folk-beliefs and superstitions, with the populous wholly ignorant about the true nature of Chaos or from where the roots of their 'old religion' spring.

This then could open up an interesting contrast on the field of battle, wherein the shining Stormcast are no longer the benevolent liberators, but rather a malevolent invading force bent on subjugating a mortal populous (who really don't know any better) and enforcing a change in worship to Sigmar. A rather delicious shade of grey, no?

Спасибо за прочтение

Friday, 11 May 2018

+ Inload: Wandering off the Map +

+ Inload: Wandering off the Map +

The City was in turmoil. In the past week, the so-called ‘loyalists’ to the newly incumbent ‘Sun King’ and the partisans of the deposed and renegade Houses had readily begun to tear the city apart. This was not the glorious war as seen on the battlefields of far-flung worlds, these were down and dirty skirmishes, sporadic and sudden whirlwinds of violence that culminated in the dying bleeding out in the shit and the mud. Buildings were looted and ravaged wholesale by fire so that many streets were now choked with smoke and the acrid tang of burning wood. An early autumn was already fraying the edges of summer, with the haruspices and meteorologicii predicting a bitter winter; if the fighting didn’t stop soon, the cold will claim the lives of those without shelter. Assuming the war or the eventual plague and famine didn’t first.

Baskerville leant with his back against the wall, glaring sideways into the street below through the dirt-obscured first-floor window. Thankfully, the soldiers from either coalition had yet to grace this particular borough, but they were so close now he could hear the clash and crack of their weapons from a few streets away. He cleared his throat gently, if just to remind his companion that he was still there and murmured, “We should have left this world weeks ago.”

“You know full well we couldn’t,” his companion countered in a tired feminine voice, “we were sent here to catalogue the bloodlines for the Mistress. If we had left before it was complete then all those months of research would have been in vain.”

“Given the circumstances, especially with the planetary governor supplanted, by an outsider no less, would make all our research null anyway.”

Sister Martinsthorpe sighed, conceding the point, “caught between a bulkhead and the void.”

Baskerville shifted slightly as the sound of a blackpowder rifle firing reverberated too close to their refuge, his burgundy leather stillsuit almost blending into the wooden beams behind him. An ornate laslock pistol was in his hands in an instant. Their refuge in question was an abandoned single-storey shop belonging to what they had guessed was a cartographer. The owner’s study on the first floor, where they were currently sheltered, was in complete disarray; finished and half-completed maps covered nigh on every available surface. Some of the smaller ones were rolled into pigeonholes, the larger ones crammed into upright stands. Some detailed only the districts of The City, others represented whole swathes of Cepheus.

“We can’t stay here any longer, Sister.” Baskerville rumbled.

“Here in this building, or here on Cepheus?” Martinsthorpe enquired sardonically, as she sifted through some of the more manageably-sized maps at the drawing desk. The sudden sounds of running and shouting from outside drew Baskerville’s attention away from her for a moment. The evening was drawing in, casting the study in a dull orange hue.

“Both. That red ‘X’ I put on the door will only deter looters for so long.” He finally stated. “Maybe we can last another night here, but then we will have to move on.”

“Move onto where!?” Martinsthorpe hissed sternly, slamming a fist down to punctuate her words. “With the only port offworld currently prohibiting egress, we’re stuck here. And with the war escalating, I doubt there will be anywhere safe left in The City before long. Plus our coffers have practically dwindled to nothing and since some of the Houses have been ousted, it’s becoming more dangerous to be an offworlder amongst the locals.”

“Caught between a bulkhead and the void.” Muttered Baskerville, echoing her earlier words.

“The only solution I can conceive of is to lie low until this sorry affair concludes,” she continued undeterred. “That’s not so much an issue for me as there are a few convents on the far boarders of The City, but they would not admit men under any circumstances.”

“I’ll be fine,” he said reassuringly. “I can disappear into the masses much easier without having to chaperone you.”

“You’ll have to try and stay out of the city, Stretton,” Martinsthorpe stated firmly. “Our Mistress was insistent upon being clandestine and it’d be far too easy to get caught up in these events. Find somewhere remote to sit this out, somewhere like….” She paused and shuffled through the maps again. “….ah, Cauldshollow, a small fishing village it seems, a few miles south of the Gerasene Caldera…”

Baskerville noticed Martinsthorpe had drifted off again into thoughtful silence and raised an eyebrow as she shot up off her chair and stalked over to the solitary bookcase that groaned under the weight of several heavy encyclopaedic tomes. She selected one from the middle and returned to her seat, flicking through a number of pages before settling one and reading aloud;

“The Gerasene Caldera measures thirty miles in diameter and has been dormant for over eight-thousand years, yes, this could work,” Martinsthorpe muttered to herself before slamming the book closed with a muted thump. “Stretton, I need you to be at Cauldshollow within three months and wait for the falling star; I’m bringing our Mistress to Cepheus.”

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Sculpting Tutorial - Ruffs

Wow, okay, so I've been asked to make a tutorial on sculpting ruffs (well, actually I offered to see if there would be any interest and people said yes) after posting some recent photos of my nascent Chaos Cult for Necromunda.

So yeah, what follows is only the way I do it, there are others who probably sculpt ruffs differently, but this is the technique I use.

Step 1 - Choose your weapons

The tools I use to sculpt ruffs are; A single-edged sculpting blade (GW make their own, but this one is from a set bought at Hobbycraft about ten years ago and the head is about a third smaller than GW's). A scalpel with an unnotched blade (mine is a Swann-Morton, but any scalpel with a straight-edge should be fine). Finally, a cone-headed silicone sculpting tool in a 0.5cm nib (I picked these up in a set of five for a few quid on eBay and they are magic as they have more give on them than their metal counterparts allowing for a 'softer/smoother' sculpt), but if you don't have one, it's not a vital necessity.

Step 2 - The putty

Lately, I've been using an amalgam of greenstuff and Milliput (sculpts like greenstuff, but cures rock hard like Milliput). Don't worry if you don't have Milliput to hand, you can just use greenstuff with the same effect. If you fancy trying your hand at Milliput for the first time when trying this, a note of caution; Milliput is an IRRITANT, when handling it in its raw form (before it has cured fully), ensure that you wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. Do NOT touch any 'soft' body part (eyes, lips, tongue, armpits, genitals, butt crevice) before you have washed your hands. Do NOT eat the Milliput in it's raw form. Keep away from children.

Firstly, make four equal sized balls of the epoxy (yellow and blue for greenstuff, yellow and grey for Milliput). Mix them together separately and roll them into two roughly equal tubes. Leave them to settle for a minute or two before twining them and mixing them together (you may want a little water to lubricate this part) until you get a uniform pale green. Leave it to settle for a further twenty minutes.



Prepare your helpless victim (freshly decapitated before preparing the putty). I drilled a hole though roughly the centre of where I plan to pin the head to. I always superglue bits together, even if they're plastic as I find it less messy than poly cement (that's just a personal preference). However, it is worth marking the centerpoint and you'll see why in a moment.

Step 3 - The rough

Roll your putty out into a short, fat sausage and then wrap it around in a small doughnut, using the drill point as a central marker. Using your sculpting tool, square off the doughnut, so that it looks more like a Polo Mint, making sure the inner circle is also squared off and roughly equal around. Let it settle for five minutes or so, so that it can retain it's shape a little better. For the next part, I used my cone-headed silicone tool, but feel free to improvise. Gently push the putty towards the center, leaving a little of the edge remaining, until you have create a small concave bowl, with the pin hole as the center. Again, leave it to settle for about five minutes.


Step 4 - The ruff (part 1)

From this point onwards, the only tool I used was the scalpel, but feel free to improvise as needs must. Using the scalpel, gently mark out the four compass point to the center. You don't need to push hard, you don't need to reach the bottom like you're cutting cheese, you just need to gently score the surface, pushing very lightly towards the center-mark. Then follow onto scoring the center of each quarter. Then scoring the center of each segment again. And again, scoring the center of each segment for the final time, until you're left with what looks like an upside-down mushroom. Some of you may not feel comfortable with the final round of scoring, don't worry, it doesn't need to be perfect.



Step 5 - The ruff (part 2)

Next, you will want to push at the edges of your mushroom with your scalpel, using the scoring on top as a guide. These will form the top-down ripples for your ruff. You will want them to join up with the scoring on top, but not all the way to the bottom (see photo). Repeat this all the way around the ruff, tidying up where you see necessary. This final part is the most tricky of the lot, as you need to score the bottom-up ripples of the ruff. Repeat the procedure as before but inversely (so start marking at the bottom to near the top - see photo).

Finally, tidy up as you see necessary and once you're satisfied with the end result, leave to cure fully overnight. Hope this helps!

Спасибо за прочтение

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Hobby Goals for 2018

INQ28 - Finish writing up the setting and building/painting the miniatures for the INQ28 game.

AOS28 - Finish building and painting my Huntsman crew for a game in the future. Convert and paint up a warband for Shadespire.

Frostgrave - Finish at least three more of my Elven Exiles.

Necromunda - Paint up my Giger-Spyrers. Paint up both my Beastman Bounty Hunter and my Pit Slave. Convert up the new iteration of my Goliath Gang (Pandemonium Riot). Finish sculpting my special character.

That's it! Nothing too taxing for this year to fit in with my diet and lifestyle changes.....

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

The Iron Sleet Invitational - Take Two

Well, I managed to get four of my squaddies ready for the Iron Sleet Invitational, but I was delayed with the officer for lack of a torso. Anyway, I was kindly given a week to finish him and retake the photos for the Sleeters big reveal. Despite a couple of modelling dead-ends and a minor design shuffle, I got him finished in record time (well, a personal best anyway).

I decided that a mounted officer was the way to go, so I packed his horse with the same distribution of equipment seen on the cavalrymen in WW1. The steed is also wearing a style of gasmask seen in the latter months of the war (which covered the muzzle, but didn't include glass lenses for the eyes). I've already talked about the differences in swords between officers and NCOs, so whilst my sergeant has one forged in their thousands on an assembly line, my lieutenant one bespoke, crafted by artificers (although it is his father's sword - my lieutenant is young, given his commission by virtue of his family's social standing; the Thorn Moons is his first field of battle).  

I remounted my boys on a 1912 copy of the Kings Regulations that I found in the depths of my library for added flavour.

Спасибо за прочтение

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Iron Sleet Invitational

It's about time I wrote something about it seeing as I've been beavering away at my guardsmen for a goodly fortnight. The Sleeter's terms were simple; to explore the nightmarish future of the 41st Millennium through the eyes of the humble guardsman. It certainly is an interesting proposal and one that I've seen interpreted a number of different ways by other modellers. Some have chosen to focus on a cohesive look for their regiment, whilst others have gone for a riotous band of individuals.

I'd like to think that I've gone for the middle ground with my interpretation; a cohesive look for my regiment and adding a smattering of individual touches. Another thing I noticed when I first started was that the feudalism aesthetic was flavour of the month, so I had to rethink my approach. In the end I went in a direction I'd gone before; the WW1 aesthetic.

For me, the first World War is perhaps the closest real life event we have that mirrors what war is like in the 41st Millennium; they had vast advances in technology but their military tactics hadn't really advanced much since the Napoleonic era. I've also read it described as the most brutal war mankind has ever fought, not to mention the accounts of the veterans who described trench warfare on the frontlines to be the closest thing to a genuine hell on earth.

I did not seek to glorify the nature of that war in my aesthetic, nor caricature the very real nightmare those veterans suffered in those four hellish years, but rather hope to present these two theme in a very visceral way. However, it has occurred to me only now that the deadline is upon us, that Remembrance Sunday is just around the corner.

So it is that the Albion IV 'Iron' Corps, 27th (Mercia) Division, 94th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Battalion, Y Company march to war in the Thorn Moons. As one of the first field armies of the Imperial Crusade into the Crataegus Fragmentum, they were also one of the first to make planetfall into the meatgrinder. These five represent perhaps the last of the Albion IV, cut off from their own, they can only hope to regroup with a friendly force before they're all lost.....

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labours of the day-time;
They sleep beside the Emperor's Throne.

Спасибо за прочтение