Noor A. Jahangir's Blog
July 30, 2015
A friend of mine posed a question on Facebook about who are our favourite fictional heroes. The archetypal hero is tall, handsome, square-jawed, muscular, white and male. He charges to the rescue without a second thought and heroically goes about looking for damsels in distress and no-gooders up to no good. Think Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules marching around with or Superman gazing down on the Earth with his steely blue eyes, looking for evil-doers to lecture.
Look around in the real world and you will struggle to identify actual, bonafide heroes. Sure, there are people who do heroic deeds and are recognised for it by the media and at times given a medal or a reward of some kind, but you wold be hard pressed to name one. Take the boy who rescued another kid from drowning in a lake, or the guy who ran into a burning building to rescue a baby, or the old lady who subdued some would be robbers with her handbag. None of them are household names, or even archetypal in any way, shape or form.
In the West, our idea of heroism is perhaps shaped by the romances about chivalric knights errant (who didn’t actually exist) who rode around the countryside fighting dragons, rescuing maidens from towers, and putting down evil barons. Or maybe it goes back further to the mythological heroes that form the legends of every nation on the face of the Earth. But the real life versions of these heroes were men who murdered and butchered people without a second thought, burned villages and raped women in the name of their kings and liege lords.
People are starting to understand this better now and the heroes of old just don’t seem to cut it nowadays. Hence the numerous reinventions of Superman to make him more relevant and relatable, (from the cape wearing demi-god to the t-shirt wearing individual who is struggling to come to terms with his nerfed powers and having Wonder Woman carry him around like a handbag), and the increasing trend of swapping out the genders and ethnicities of storied heroes like Spiderman, Thor and Captain America, to provide an alternative narrative.
What a writer needs to understand is that heroism isn’t some inert quality or trait possessed by those who are genetically blessed. It is instead something much more situational; time-limited and dependant on the presence of alternatives. All the real world examples I noted earlier feature normal people going about their own business when they are presented with a situation that creates an opportunity for heroic intervention. Normally in this situation people would defer to a uniformed person to deal with the situation, or if none is present, then ring the emergency services. But if the situation is time-limited, i.e. someone is drowning, and no else is available or willing to step forth, this creates the window for an individual to carry out a heroic intervention.
Figure 1 Noor A Jahangir’s Theory of Heroic Intervention
A more recent example is the Tunisian shootings, were one individual decided to target tourists. In this situation, the hotel and resort staff noted that the shooter was targeting White tourists, and that there was no uniformed presence, and nor would the police be able to get there on time to intervene. With no other alternatives, the hotel and resort staff took it upon themselves to form a human chain to block the path of the shooter.
Figure 2 Hotel and Resort workers form a human chain, turning away the shooter
Now, think back to the rebooted Tomb Raider game, featuring a younger, more inexperienced version of Lara Croft, or Ajay Ghale from Far Cry 4. Neither of them is an archetypal hero, neither of them set out to be a hero and neither of them has any specific training. But then they are cast into a situation where the alternatives of rescue for their friends and people have diminished to nothing, and no matter how long they wait, no other help will be forthcoming. The situation is therefore perfect for them to step up and become the hero.
I tried to capture this exact situation in the Adventures of Some Kid. Zach Caan, the protagonist of the story, finds himself in some difficult situations, and in most cases, is happy for the adults to take the lead in the heroics. But time and again, he finds himself in a situation where he can’t rely on someone else to do something, and where not doing anything isn’t an option. So he takes action.
The only shared qualities of these ‘real-world’ style heroes is that they are not heroic by nature, they find themselves in situations where they feel they have no choice but to act, but importantly, never think of themselves as being heroic.
July 1, 2015
Dum and Dee, brother and sister, mutant and human, survivors of three tragedies; the murder of their father, the death of their mother and the fall of Elysium, the haven for those who society had rejected. Now they are in the care of the Mutant Affairs Council, but the only man who can really help them is Danyael Sabre, alpha empath and the most hated man in America.
Dee is determined to help her brother come to terms with his empathic powers and cure his reticence, but the Mutant Affairs Council has refused to train him, worried that he could become a high level threat like Danyael Sabre. But the Danyael Sabre that Dee remembers is the kindly man who saved them from the assault on Elysium and promised he would help Dum learn to control his powers. Dee is so convinced that Danyael is the key to helping her brother that she is willing to go against a direct order from Seth Copper, the head of the Council. She takes her brother and heads to Anacostia, the gang-crime ridden neighbourhood were Danyael works in a Free Clinic. But Dee has no way of knowing that she has set off a chain reaction that will impact everyone in Washington DC.
Dee is the main protagonist and is a human in her late teens. Her main drive in life is to protect her mutant brother, Dum, from everyone and anything. She knows that without training, Dum will be unable to live a normal(ish) life, and is determined to do whatever it takes to ensure that happens, and that one day her brother will talk again. But Dee has a dream of her own; she wants to go to College. But what she wants for herself will always come second to what she wants for Dum.
Dum has been in a catatonic state ever since Pro-humanists broke into his family’s home and forced him to shoot his father in the head. Dum is a powerful empath, so the guilt of that event has magnified and caused him to become distant and cut-off from everyone, including his sister. But Dum has his own way of communicating, and hopefully with the right help will be able to reach out and touch the world.
Jessica, despite being only 15 years old, is a Council trained alpha telepath. She has a major crush on Dum and is the only friend Dee and Dum have in the Council. Her incredible powers mean she can get away with doing anything, as long as she doesn’t directly disobey the Council’s rules. What she wants to do is help Dee look after Dum, even if that means breaking a few rules along the way.
Other characters include Danyael Sabre, who is central to the whole Double Helix saga story arch, and his star-crossed lover, Zara Itani, the world’s deadliest assassin.
This is a spin-off from the Double Helix saga and follows immediately after the events of Perfect Weapon. The plot moves along at a steady pace, but lacks the action of the main series, which is not to say that there isn’t any action in the book, just not as much as I’ve come to expect from Kerrion. What Kerrion does deliver is a more nuanced story that not only speaks to teenaged angst, but also manages to shed light on another aspect of Danyael Sabre’s scarred psyche. It touches on some darker themes and resolves one of mysteries of the series and provides an opportunity to touch base with the more established characters, making it an essential read for fans of the series, and an interesting entry point for people new to Kerrion’s world of mutants, clones and human derivatives.
June 4, 2015
Warning,: contains spoilers if you have yet to read Among Thieves (shame on you!)
Drothe ventures away from Idrecca to reconcile his friendship with Bronze Degan and to runaway from being a Gray Prince.
Drothe, is a Nose who managed to elevate himself amongst the Kin to the position of Gray Prince. In the process he managed to save the Empire, piss off a lot of people and betray his best friend, Bronze Degan. But life hasn’t gotten any less complicated. Not only is the Order of the Degans suspicious of his role in the death of one of their colleagues, and the disappearance of another, but another Degan, calling himself Silver Degan, has just set up Drothe for the murder of another Gray Prince, and threatens to turn the entire criminal element of Idrecca against him and his organisation. On the other hand, he is offering Drothe an opportunity to track down Bronze Degan and patch things up with him. But things are never that straight forward . . . especially when Drothe is involved.
In Drothe, Douglas Hulick has given us a terribly (delightfully) flawed anti-hero, who has very few redeeming qualities. He is rubbish in a straight fight, he is awful at being a leader and his friends have a habit of ending up dead or hating him. Even his sister has tried to kill him a few times. And yet you can’t but help liking the rogue, the way his mind ticks, his seemingly endless drive to see a thing through to its conclusion (even if it is fuelled by ahrami seeds) and his complete lack of sense when it comes to defending his friends. If I had to compare him to another lovable rogue, it would probably be Lando Calrissian (if Lando was crap in a gunfight). But its not only Drothe though. Hulick gives us a whole bunch of characters that not only add depth and colour to the world, but also draw you in and make you want to burrow in further.
Talking about the world, whilst the book opens in the familiar baroque European locale of Idrecca, we are soon treated to the burning deserts and domed cities of the Despot of Djan, which resemble a fusion of Arabian and Persian culture, or at least a Orientalist, romanticised version of what that might look like. Nevertheless, the descriptions and writing is so vivid that you can practically smell the aroma of spices mixing with the sewage on the street. The fight scenes are expertly choreographed and retold in blow by blow detail, illustrating Hulick’s love for swordplay.
The plot is as deliciously twisted as Among Thieves, with so many surprises that even a jaded reviewer would struggle to call out what’s going to happen next. The pacing is handled expertly so that you never feel that the story is getting overly long, if anything, I found myself mournfully staring at the blankness of the inside cover. The writing, the plot and the characterization in Hulick’s books are what will no doubt secure his position as one of the greats of Fantasy fiction, and I look forward to the treats and delights that he will no doubt have in store for us in his next book.
May 28, 2015
Sawyer Jackson discovers that the world is a tapestry version of the matrix and that he is the One, destined to defeat a dark Lord.
Sawyer has been raised by his grandparents and kept away from others. Aside from one traumatic experience during his childhood, he has lived an otherwise mundane life. But one day he discovers that there is a pattern to reality, a knotwork of interconnectivity that he can manipulate. But his discovery has set off alarms across the omniverse. Imp like creatures, called inks, are hunting him. Sawyer and his grandparents must leave home and go on the run, traversing between the Layers of the omni. The only person who can help them is a man who has lived longer than any other person, the Exemplar known as Xander Travel.
Whilst the overall plot may not be the most original, the characters are likable and at times interesting. Sawyer is a rather laid back teen who doesn’t seem too fazed by the huge changes and challenges in his life. The problem is that his development from being a regular kid to “the One” seems to happen in the space of a short chapter. Suddenly he is manipulating the fabric of the universe as if one epiphany is all it takes to master the art. His grandmother is a master Teth, and although we are reassured that she is an all round badass, her abilities aren’t even in the same league. Xander Travel is supposed to be the Gandalf/Morphues of the story, though he hints at either having met the Doctor (Who), or maybe is the Doctor.
Where this book does stand out is in the world building. There is a clear sense that the lore extends beyond the scope of the book, with a thematic terminology that gives the book Its unique flavour. Of course it’s all linked to knotwork, but you get used to that real quick.
The pacing and dialogue is decent throughout and there was only one real bugbear with the structure of the novel. The main confrontation happens slightly prematurely and is somewhat undersold by the author. Then, confusingly, we are treated to an information dump narrated by
one character to tie all the loose ends. When I turned the last page I was surprised that it had ended without any real sense of closure.
Overall, this is a pleasant enough read with a decent amount of world building that will entertain young adult readers. It will appeal to readers who like books that resonate with Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. There are already a number of sequels available too. But if you are looking for originality and a satisfying read, perhaps you should look elsewhere first.
May 6, 2015
A quick insight into how to create friction/tension between characters using what is happening in scene from the Read to Write Stories blog (authors, I recommend following this blog).
Originally posted on Read to Write Stories:
What Burns Away, the debut novel by Melissa Falcon Field, has been called “thrilling” and “perceptive” by Tin House executive editor Michelle Wildgren.
In life, people tend to work together. At weddings, when the crazy uncle is drinking too much and telling offensive jokes, the rest of the family negotiates this behavior gently, distracting the uncle and muting him. Everyone is on the same page. If life didn’t work this way, we’d spend all of our time screaming at each other. In fiction, however, characters shouldn’t work together, at least not all of them. When a scene gathers momentum and begins to take on rules for how to act, a character needs to refuse or fail to play along. That friction between character and scene can be a great source of tension.
Melissa Falcon Field’s novel What Burns Away has this tension in spades. You can read the opening of the novel…
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April 24, 2015
A Viking girl raised among Native Americans must overcome her desire to have a family of her own in order to fulfill her destiny.
Greeta has known all her life that she is different. Her pale skin, blue eyes and blonde hair sets her apart from her darker skinned people, the Shining Star Nation. Then one day a series of events change her life. First, she sees a square sail on the horizon, then catches Wapiti, her childhood companion and love, talking disparagingly about her, and that there is a secret that her family has kept from her and finally, a strange shaman called Shadow has come to claim her. Suddenly she feels unwelcome in her village and accepts the Shaman’s offer to show her how to Dreamwalk, hoping that it will help her achieve what she wants most in life, to have a family of her own. But things don’t always go to plan, and soon Greeta finds herself lost and alone in unfamiliar lands.
Greeta, short for Margareeta and also known as Dragonfly amongst the Shining Star Nation, is the main character and perhaps the only one that is fleshed out properly in this story. Greeta comes across as being very naive and unrelentingly fixated on getting married and having children. This is perhaps because she has grown up in a village were that is all that is expected of its women, despite her mother having been a blacksmith and/or warrior. Other characters include her father, uncle and aunt, who are portrayed as being overly protective and loving, but not much else. Shadow the Shaman seems interesting to start off with, but then has very little exposure in the plot. In fact, the only other major character seems to be Fenhurst, another Northerner who has come to the Americas, looking to establish himself.
What drew me to the novel is its setting. There aren’t that many Native American fantasy stories in circulation (or I’ve just not come across them). I thought this would be something like Pathfinder or even Pocahontas, but this was not the case. The plot instead revolves around Greeta being exposed to the bigger world and coming into her own, which involves Dragons at some point. My major bugbear with this book is the way that significant plot moments are occasionally glossed over or rushed, leaving a sense of dissatisfaction behind.
This book could have been much better if the author had taken the time and care to explore the characters a little more and milk the high drama moments to best affect. As it stands, Dragonfly is a pleasant read but needs to be stronger to draw me back in to read the books that have preceded it and the ones that will likely follow.
April 7, 2015
A mutant with telekinesis fit only for carnival tricks joins forces with a mercenary to keep a chemical weapon out of the hands of a shady genetics company and a South American cartel.
Sophia Rios is a first year nursing student, who makes ends meet by working as a bar maid. She is also a mutant, with the ability to nudge and manipulate things, but not much else. One evening, whilst working at the bar, she spots her favorite customer, Kyle Norwood, a trim military type of guy with rugged good looks, but has a bad habit of ignoring her signals. What Sophia doesn’t know is that Kyle is a mercenary working for Three Fates, a company founded by international assassin, Zara Itani. Kyle is there looking after two geneticists who are meeting a potential buyer for their new research. Unfortunately, it turns out that the buyers are a Colombian drug cartel known as Rue Marcha, and just to make things more difficult, the IGEC (International Genetics and Ethics Council) agents are there to bust the Rue Marcha. During the inevitable shoot out, one of the geneticists is shot, but before he dies, he injects Sophia with a microchip. Suddenly, Sophia finds herself a person of interest for both the IGEC and Rue Marcha. Lucky for her, Kyle Norwood is on hand to protect her whilst she works out what is so important about the chip in her arm. Trouble is, she likes Kyle and he hates mutants.
Carnival Tricks is a spin off story from Kerrion’s Double Helix mutant saga and as such, takes place within the same world of mutants and derivatives as the original series. Two of my favorite characters, the alpha empath, Danyael Sabre and Zara Itani also make a few cameo appearances, as well as Xin, the NSA analyst, but for most part, the story follows Sophia and Kyle. Whilst this best serves the purpose of the story, I would have preferred a lot more of Danyael and Zara, with their star-crossed lovers from polar opposite attitudes to life. That’s not to say that Kyle and Sophia aren’t bad characters, far from it; Kyle is a former military man turned mercenary who finds himself attracted to the small but determined Sophia, but he dislikes the fact that mutants and derivatives have an unfair advantage compare to regular humans. Sophia is plagued by the brutal murder of her parents, and although feels out of her depths, is determined to get to the bottom of why a drug cartel is interested in genetic research. In many ways, they are similar to Zara and Danyael, but are paler shadows of those two characters.
Plot wise, its standard Kerrion fair, which means lots of tension and drama, with the action always on boil. There is a lot of good interplay between the lead characters and some sexual tension, which helps keep an interesting dynamic going between them.
This isn’t a full blown Double Helix novel and never pretends to be. What you get is an expansion of the world of Double Helix and a few more characters to the stable of beloved characters introduced in the main novels. Carnival Tricks is an interesting side show that will keep you hungry for more mutant high jinx from Kerrion and in the mean time gives the reader a quick fix of Danyael and Zara goodness.
Carnival Tricks launches on 7th April 2015, and is available in various formats. In addition, there’s a link at the back of the book for the Kindle Fire HD 6 giveaway, which starts on April 7th, so don’t discard your book when you’re done. You’ll want that link to take part in the giveaway!
March 2, 2015
Originally posted on James Cormier:
Mark Lawrence, renowned author of the excellent The Broken Empire series, starting with Prince of Thorns, has rounded up ten of the most popular fantasy book bloggers on the web and convinced them to participate in a review contest featuring exclusively self-published fantasy fiction. You can read the details of the contest here, but it’s very simple: you submit your finished book, the bloggers get the chance to decide if they want to read it, and then they sponsor or “publish” it to the next round. It’s essentially a bracket system, resulting in a final ten novels that will be reviewed by all ten bloggers. This is an incredible opportunity if you’re a self-published fantasy author: a bestselling, traditionally published author is giving you the opportunity to get your work in front of a group of respected book reviewers. As Mr. Lawrence said himself, “you can’t buy better publicity…
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February 18, 2015
A long lost princess turned assassin returns to her kingdom to protect her sister.
The Amaskan Order is an ancient and secretive society of assassins, trained from childhood to serve justice to those who are beyond the law. Master Adelei is the Order’s best assassin, but she is plagued my memories of a stolen childhood and the ghosts of past victims. Then Adelei is given a job that threatens to shake her training and her sanity to the core. She has been tasked to return to her childhood home, to the father that sold her to the Amaskans for a treaty, to protect her soon to be wed twin sister, Princess Margaret Poncett of Alexander. But Adelei’s journey back gives rise to information that threatens to overwhelm her and shake her hard held beliefs to the core. Can she hold it together long enough to uncover the truth behind the rumors about her sister’s intended, Prince Gamun of Shad, that he may be the serial killer and defiler of young girls, known as the Monster?
Master Adelei, a.k.a Princess Illiana Poncett, is portrayed as a 20 year old who has spent her entire life suppressing a part of herself so that she can do her job to the best of her ability. Yet she is conflicted, something Raven Oak draws the reader’s attention to during the very first assassination that we come across in the book. Adelei is assured in the fact that her target is fully deserving of his punishment, yet she questions the method she has been asked to employ, and even her role as executioner, whilst being annoyed with herself of not having delivered the death as slowly as requested. She is constantly battling her natural feelings for her birth father, whilst trying to justify her love for the man who raised her as an assassin, but kept key truths about how she came to live amongst the Amaskans. Then we have Ida Warhammer, think Briana of Tarth from the Game of Thrones, but slightly less manly looking, who currently works for King Leon of Alexander as his spy master but was formerly an Amaskan and had a hand in the Adelei’s kidnapping. Even the King and the antagonist, Prince Gamun have two sides to them, the former slips between being a king and a father, and the latter, being a charming prince and the slimy psychopath. Everyone seems to be struggling to keep in check the various parts of their identity, which comes across as a one of the story’s leading themes.
The story is set in a continent known as the Little Dozen Kingdoms of Boahim, which is policed by the Boahim Senate, an all powerful group of elder politicians that even the Kings of the Little Dozen fear. There is an exquisite map of the the Little Dozen in the book drawn by the author herself to help the reader get to grips with the storied land. Alexander and Shad are two of the larger and most powerful nations in the Dozen, and therefore a peace treaty between the two secured the stability of the Boahim states. The Amaskans are a secret order that live under the protection of the King of Sadai. The Tribor, a death cult of killers act as the rivals of the Amaskans, tarnishing the reputation of the Amaskans and terrorizing the kingdoms. Whilst there is no mention of dragons or other folk, there is a system of magic in Raven Oaks fantasy world, with mystics being able to wield different levels of power and based upon which deity they worship.
The writing is handled well with the dialogue functional and the plot focused, despite the various identity crises, political intrigues and general twists and turns one would expect. At times the prose flows beautifully granting the reader strong images of the world Raven Oak has brought together, whilst keeping me rivetted to the storyline. There is a breadth to the story rarely encountered in books published independently or by a small publisher and will leave you no doubt breathless and wanting more. Raven Oak draws on the power of themes found in fairy tales we’ve all grown up with, and weaves them into a powerful tale full of violence, emotion and anguish, whilst delivering a powerful and well held together story. This is a book I’d happily recommend to my kid sister and to anyone else who’s interested in fresh and powerful storytelling.
January 27, 2015
Humanity has fled Earth on slaved super-ships known as Eden, unable to die, unable to flourish, ruled over by a benevolent AI. Into this strange half-life comes Harbinger, a man out of time and out of place.
Arc and the Human Council rule on Echelon, where life is idyllic and carefree. Any who disagree with the rule of Arc are banished permanently to the Under. Many of these are criminals, but some like Leema and Argus are political dissidents, who work tirelessly to bring down the wall that separates the two ships. They discover an unopened pod within the bowels of the Under, containing what appears to be a human that is not on ship’s roster. Further investigation reveals that this person is more than just human. He is the key to bringing down the barrier that separates the two ships.
The man in the pod is known only as Harbinger and is characterized as a man out of time, with 21st century sensibilities and in awe of this new world and society he finds himself in. He is inquisitive by nature and has a strong morality. It is these two qualities that guide his actions and his ultimate decision to take a hand in the future of Eden.
The setting is as bleak as any post-apocalyptic world, but possesses a few unique qualities. For one thing, the book is set in two ships, docked together in deep space. The interior is made to look like an old Soviet city in the Under and Rome at his height in Echelon. Humanity is kept perpetually alive by nanotechnology. Echelon is rich in resources and in the Under is impoverished. Hardly any of it feels like the inside of a spaceship.
To start off with I found the writing style a little annoying, specifically in the way sentences were structures and the word choices. The premise isn’t that unique either, bearing some similarities to the Divided Worlds books by Imran Siddiq. Despite that, I found myself coming back to the book, perhaps due to the oddity of the world design, or the Buck Rogers style man-out-of-time character, I’m still not sure. But trust me, it gets more interesting as you progress. This is a dystopian novel in every sense of the world and this carries through into its plot and the fate of the characters. Even when the character seems to be serving his purpose, more questions arise than answers, down to its ‘twist’ ending.
Having read it, I was left with a sense of disquiet, like a wound that is almost healed but still itches like crazy. I’m not sure I want to return to this world, and I’m not sure that I enjoyed reading this book. What I am sure of is that I’m still thinking about it. Perhaps that is because it resonates with the situation in the world, specifically the way the Palestinians and been walled off from Israel and Egypt, or the way our world operates with the privileged enjoying the bounties of the world and the under-privileged trying to scratch together an existence.
This might not be the most exciting or enthralling book you will read this year, but it certainly is a thoughtful one that will leave you reflecting on the injustices of our society.