Interview with Den Patrick

Den Patrick is an up and coming debut author from Gollancz, with his debut novel out next year. But first, he has a series of novella-esque books called the “War Manuals” collectively, all coming from Gollancz and released this year. A mixture of classical fantasy tropes with Den’s distinctively dry brand of humour, they’re a must-read for fantasy fans. Read on to find out a little bit more about everything Mr. Patrick is up to in the coming months…

 

9780575132771Hi Den, and welcome to Wilders Book Review!

Hey.

So, first up, give us three words that best describe the War Manuals 

Just three? How about Fictional non-fiction?

Can you give us a little more detail on the series and how you came to writing it? 

The idea is that each book is an instructional manual from the world of Naer Evain, a classic High Fantasy world. Sebastian Venghaus our intrepid interpreter has been sent to live among the orcs, elves and dwarves respectively, in an attempt to learn their approaches to warfare.

The war manuals came about after I got talking to Simon Spanton at the Gollancz 50th birthday party. We talked about the concept and how much fun they would be to read. I was pretty shocked when he asked if Id like to write them.

The War Manuals have an unusual framework: essentially 3 short, novella-length books that each serve to fill in the details of a classical fantasy world. Is it purely an exercise in worldbuilding, or is there more to it than that?

Worldbuilding plays a part, for sure, but theres also a lot on tactics. I also made sure the world hung on the characters that inhabit it. My preferred scale is one where the reader is quite intimate the characters, so I had to really change my focus. Its not called Epic Fantasy for nothing.

The Orc, Dwarf and Elf Manuals are each narrated in very different styles. How did you go about deciding on the differences between each one, and what were some of your resources?

The voices are very much based on the characters that dictate each book. The elf character is a no-nonsense women called La Darielle Daellen Staern, a somewhat infamous legend among her kin. The orc book is based on Ur-Khagan Kani Breakspeare, who leads not just one but a handful of orc tribes. Kani is an important historical figure. The last is Sundin Hallestøm, who is a rather belligerent and outspoken dwarf drill-sergeant.

Resources included Sun Tzus The Art of War, The Hobbit, and about 25 years of various tabletop and roleplaying games Ive been a part of. I also wanted to try and put my own twist on the races. The elves have elements of Irish mythology, but also Zen philosophy. The dwarves are rooted in Sweden, as youd expect, but are disciplined like the Romans. The orcs stick a little closer to their pop culture roots, and are based on Mongol influences.

What were some of your main story and writerly influences for the War Manuals? Although theyre not novels in the 2013-June-Den-Patrick-Orcs-War-Fighting-Manual-cover-188x300strictest sense, were there any particular novels you drew influence from in creating the world?

The main thing I nailed down early on is that there should be interjections from Sebastian, the interpreter. Through these footnotes I could give a human perspective, but also a heft dose of snark and sarcasm. I think I took the idea for footnotes from Good Omens by Gaiman and Pratchett. No single novel or book had a direct inspiration, rather its an accumulation of commonly held ideas about these races. Theyre very much a part of the mainstream now, the LoTR movies saw to that.

Are you likely to go on and write some stories (be it a novel or otherwise) set in this world?

There are no plans at the moment. Ive written a few chapters and kicked around some plot ideas, so its possible a novel set in Naer Evain may appear.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author, and can you tell us a little about your first attempts?

I was working in Forbidden Planet in Southampton in my mid twenties and has just finished reading Perdido Street Station. I started writing this thing that was half Wolverine, half Bladerunner, half angsty PTSD novel. Did I mention Im really bad at maths? Anyway, it was horrible. I tried three other novels before actually finishing something, and even that was barely readable.

What kind of writer are you? Do you plot down to the last detail, or just start writing and see where the words take you? Do you have any particular writerly ticks, like specific places you work or colour of M&M?

I am horribly inconsistent, so to counteract that I plot in advance. I really like Blake Snyders Save the Cat, which is about film script writing. I set down a single sentence synopsis for each chapter, noting what sort of beat that should hit in the course of the plot.

Next I take that and expand it to a paragraph, noting which characters are present and what the consequences of that action could be for the rest of the book.

Once Ive got my direction down I stew over it for a week or two. I like creating these a lot, if Im not excited then I know theres a problem. That said, the excitement usually dwindles about a third of the way into the actual writing and Im all Oh, crap, I hope this is going to work.

DwarvesNext year you have your first full-scale novel coming from Gollancz; The Boy with the Porcelain Blade. Can you give us a little bit of detail on that?

The Boy with the Porcelain Blade is a Fantasy novel set on the island of Landfall, in a huge brooding castle called Demesne. Lucien, the protagonist, is cast out following a rather eventful upbringing, which we see through flashbacks. Theres some swashbuckling, some horror, some romance and, well, youll have to read it to find out more.

Whats something the people reading this interview might be surprised to learn about Den Patrick?

I once did an unpaid internship reviewing Burlesque shows. The reason I mention this is because I think it’s good practice to write anything and everything. It stretches you and makes you think in new directions.

And, finally, what are you reading right now?

Ive just finished Daniel Polanskys She Who Waits, which doesnt pull any punches and is a suitably hard-bitten, Noir Fantasy.

Thanks Den!

 

Den_Patrick_6493Den Patrick’s Orcs War Fighting Manual and Elves War Fighting Manual are out now, with the Dwarves Manual out very soon. The Boy with the Porcelain Blade – 1st in The Erebus Sequence – is out in March from Gollancz. You can find Den on his website, here or follow him on Twitter @Den_Patrick

 

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

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With Promise of Blood, Brian McClellan has dragged a classical fantasy world, kicking and screaming, into the revolutionary era. Be it industrial, political, cultural or otherwise, this is no longer just another Middle Earth or Westerosi analogue – this is their future. Field Marshal Tamas has, as the book opens, essentially started the Revolution. He’s removed the king and his classically realised cabal of “Privileged” (ie: wizard bodyguards) and installed a ruling council, made up of various faction heads from each sector, with himself leading the charge. With their dying breaths, each member of the Royal Cabal speaks a cryptic message. Tamas brings in seasoned detective, Adamat, to investigate what this message means – and so, we’re off. Thrown into the mix is Taniel Two-Shot, a powerful “Powder Mage” (more on this later) who has his own part to play in events, being Tamas’ estranged son. Oh, and there might just be a few Gods involved too.

As I said above, this really is a classical fantasy world pulled into a revolutionary, 19th Century-esque setting. McClellan borrows heavily from history, particularly the French Revolution. This type of “Revolutionary” epic fantasy has been done before to different degrees – Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, for instance – but I’ve never seen an author really go for it and make every element of the setting play into the theme. This is not just a mirror image of the French Revolution in a fantasy world. The industrial revolution is felt in every area of the story, from the importance of the Printing Press to gunpowder. The implications of revolutionary actions are explored in enough depth as to make it interesting and well-rounded, but never boring; financial obligations from previous alliances, the difficulties of food rationing and the inevitable organisation of opposing royalist forces are all here. But McClellan keeps the pace moving from set piece to set piece in a novel which consistently engages with its ideas but never gets bogged down in them.

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Industrial, political and cultural. But what about the magical revolution? This is a fantasy, after all – and the magical revolution is felt just as much as the others. Like Sanderson before him, McClellan has created several different magic systems here. I’m not typically a fan of books that revolve around magic systems (the Wheel of Time may be enough for the rest of my life in that regard…) and much has been said about how Promise of Blood revolves around these systems. But they really are not superfluous. They’re never explored in extraneous detail and deus ex machina isn’t an issue. There’s the aforementioned Privileged, who are basically element wielding wizards – some are more powerful than others. There’s the Knacked, which is less of a magic system and more of an interesting added element, whereby individual, typically non-magical people have one very specific “knack” such as not having to sleep or having a perfect memory. And finally, there are the Powder Mages. Sniff a little gunpowder and you’re well on your way to manipulating bullets and blowing up barrels. It’s all very simple and very, very entertaining as McClellan uses the differences between the classical Privileged and the newer, more industrial Powder Mages, to give archaic and modern ideologies a literal counterpart on-the-page.

In terms of character here, there are three main point-of-view characters. Field Marshal Tamas, Investigator Adamat and Taniel Two-Shot. Each have their own sub-plots that link in with the other to form the main plot of the novel. It’s one which is best left for the reader to discover for themselves as I was left gasping for breath every other chapter. At different stages in the novel I enjoyed each of the main three characters. They all feel well realised (Tamas in particular has history, and you can read it between the lines). There is a fourth point-of-view character, Nila, who I’d have liked to have seen a lot more of. The lack of female characters in the roles of protagonists is a bit disconcerting and is something I’d hope to see expanded in the next book. The cast of side characters are excellent – Olem being a particular highlight – with one seemingly minor character (Vlora) having what feels like her own story off-the-page. Again, this is something I’d like to have seen more of as so much of the main character’s motivations relate to her, but yet she’s rarely seen “on-screen”.TheCrimsonCampaign-400

Promise of Blood really did live up to my expectations. It’s a frantic read that whole-heartedly leaps into its premise without short-changing the reader. This *is* a book that takes the framework of epic fantasy and does something exciting with it. For a debut – something I keep having to remind myself of – this is an assured and accomplished epic fantasy novel. I’ve become a little disillusioned with magic-heavy epic fantasy recently, but Promise of Blood has instilled faith that it can be done well alongside a plot which is engaging, satisfying and, beyond anything else, entertaining. The Crimson Campaign can’t come fast enough.

Reviewed by: Doug Smith

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

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In Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, we are introduced to a world where life as we know it has been forever altered by Calamity, the bright red sun or comet became a permanent fixture in the sky. Since it’s appearance, the other change to the world was Epics. People that suddenly have a variety of unique powers that all defy physics, explanation or understanding. The common thread these Epics have, besides the scientific implausibility of what they can do, is their disinterest and mistreatment of humans.

Our story centers in just one city of what is now known as the Fractured States. Newcago , which pre-Calamity, used to be known as Chicago, is a place void of light, happiness and normalcy. And this is one of the better towns. One epic, Nightwielder, keeps the city in perpetual darkness. Neither sun nor star shines down for the people of Newcago.The reigning Epic, Steelheart has the ability to turn materials to steel and is ruthless, he will kill on a whim, he’s impervious to fire and bullets, and any other weapon that a human would have access to.

Our protagonist David has been planning (obsessing about) revenge for 10 years, since he was just 9 years old. Living underground, an orphan and happy to be raised as a child laborer at a factory, he has been waiting for his chance.

15704458Which brings the question, how do regular people fight to take back what is theirs when they are up against the impossible? How can someone fight against Epics that have the ability to turn anything to steel or darken the skies day and night. How do you hurt a creature that is essentially a Super-Villain when you have no powers of your own? This is the dilemma that our characters face. I particularly like this premise for a YA book. It’s not only an insanely paced page-turner of a story, this is also an empowering tale for people (particularly young adults) who maybe feel either complacent or discouraged about their current position in their world. There is always cause for hope. There is always a solution for change. You just have to stand up and do what you can to make it happen. In this story, there is also hope for good epics and hope for a way to defeat the evil ones. Just because all Epics that they have seen have been evil, does that mean that there can never be an Epic that could bring good?

But I don’t want to get too deep here. Because while there are lessons to be had, this ultimately an insanely thrilling action packed book. The suspense was unbelievable. I really enjoyed the protagonist’s adventure and highly recommend reading this if you are looking for a an edge of your seat action-packed story.

Reviewed by: Lisa Taylor

Upcoming: The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

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For seventy years they guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable friends, bound together by a shared fate. Until one night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart.

But there must always be an account… and the past has a habit of catching up to the present.

Now, recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism, – a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms, of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields – to answer one last, impossible question:

What makes a hero?

 

I’ll be reviewing this soon and I can’t wait. The cover is stunning, the synopsis is enticing and by all accounts, Lavie Tidhar (who I’ve never read) is pretty fantastic. Very excited.

Empire In Black And Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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There’s taking the classic tropes of epic fantasy and putting a new spin on things, and then there’s Empire in Black and Gold.

For those that don’t know, in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series, humans are divided into a host of different races or “Kinden”. Each one is linked to a different insect. There are Beetle Kinden, Ant Kinden, Wasp Kinden and more. They each have different physical and mental attributes which link in with the relevant insect, so Beetle Kinden are hard workers; they can fly, but only a little. Ant Kinden are great warriors, particularly as an army, due to their hivemind-like way of fighting. Wasp Kinden are great physical fighters who can fire stinging flames from their hands. If all that weren’t different enough, Tchaikovsky has also created a setting which is quite unlike anything else in epic fantasy. This is no medieval analogue; instead, we have an industrial setting, with steampunk-esque machinery and gangsters roaming the city-streets. And to highlight the importance of modern industry in this world, Kinden are either “Apt” or “Inapt”. An “Apt” Kinden, such as the Beetles, can understand complex machinery and technology but have no belief in magic or faith. An “Inapt” Kinden, like the Dragonflies, believe in magic first and cannot comprehend even the most basic technological mechanism.

All this sounds like a lot, and whether it works depends on the usual staples of any good story: plot and character.

empireThe basic plot of Empire in Black and Gold follows the Beetle Kinden, Stenwold Maker and his attempts to convince the rulers of his home-city of Collegium that there is a vast and bloodthirsty enemy coming from the North to conquer them: the Wasp Empire. As the novel opens we see Stenwold many years earlier in the city of Myna as it is besieged by the Wasps; we see firsthand the scale of destruction they’re willing to impose to get what they want. The narrative then jumps forward to an older Stenwold, now training his own group of wards who will be pulled into the next war with the Wasps.

There’s no denying Adrian Tchaikovsky has created one of the most original and captivating settings I’ve ever read in epic fantasy. I wasn’t sure about the Insect-Kinden idea going in – so much so that I put off reading the novel for a long time. But it really does work. It makes for a gripping read where everyone has genuinely different abilities, social (and cultural) ideals and varied ways of looking at their world. The Apt and Inapt thing threw me a few times (much moreso than the Insect-Kinden) as I just couldn’t quite grasp that anyone would find using something as basic as a lock on a door so baffling. It makes for an interesting idea: a direct antithesis between the old (magic) and the new (technology) but didn’t always work. I imagine it could be something that may become of more importance later in the series.

The characters in Empire in Black and Gold are really quite fascinating. Due to the differences between each Kinden, there are empire1relationships and character traits which are very unusual and Tchaikovsky does an admirable job of relating them to the reader. Although Stenwold is very much a central character, his four wards – Cheerwell (Beetle), Tynisa (Spider), Salma (Dragonfly) and Totho (Halfbreed) are the real agents of the plot. Tynisa in particular stands out as a particularly strong character, her plot becoming entangled with Stenwold’s in the most surprising way. Salma and Totho get short shrift, with the focus remaining mostly on Stenwold, Cheerwell and Tynisa but they remain interesting enough that I expect some great things in Book 2. The side characters also standout here, with two in particular being elevated to main cast status (no spoilers) and having many of the most memorable scenes. Perhaps the most interesting is the main antagonist who gets a significant chunk of the book to explain his actions within his own POV. He’s definitely more anti-hero than villain. The main issue I had beyond some characters being served better than others, was that often Tchaikovsky headjumps within scenes. One moment you’re in Stenwold’s head, the next in Cheerwell’s and it can be a bit jarring.

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The plot definitely uses many of the classic tropes of epic fantasy (group of adventurers must stop encroaching evil with help of wise old mentor) but it really is just a setting-off point. The Shadows of the Apt series looks to be doing what it wants, when it wants. The absolute last thing I can say for Empire in Black and Gold is that it’s conformist, because it just isn’t. This is original and superior epic fantasy that deserves a wide audience. The action is breathtaking, the story is surprising and there’s 9 more books of this to come. I’ll be reading Book Two, Dragonfly Falling, as soon as I possibly can. An excellent read.

Reviewed by: Doug Smith