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.

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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?

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