May – A Busy Fencing Hall and More Viking Gold

Book Review – Asian Monsters by Margret Helgadottir (ed)

Joanne Hall


PB, 167 pages, Fox Spirit

Buy Asian Monsterson Amazon.

Asian monsters cover Cover art by Daniele Serra

Asian Monsters is the third volume in Fox Spirit’s ongoing series of illustrated coffee-table books exploring monster myths from all corners of the globe. This edition is ably edited by Margret Helgadottir, who is a very fine SF writer in her own right (I urge you to check out The Stars Seem So Far Away), and she’s done a great job of drawing together a diverse set of stories from across the continent, from Pakistan to the Philippines. (If I have one small complaint about the collection it’s that I would have liked to see a story or two from Eastern Russia, but I appreciate that anthology editors can only work with what they get sent.)

Personal highlights of this collection (and there are many, there’s not really…

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Asian Monsters

It’s been some time since I posted, but I am going to endeavour to make a change to that. A good time to celebrate this achievement is the release of a new anthology from Fox Spirit Books, Asian Monsters.

This is the third in a series from the award-winning small press and follows on from European Monsters and African Monsters. I’m so pleased to have my story in there, and honoured to be among such diverse and talented authors of Asian descent. This is particularly exciting for me because this is the first time I’ve had an accompanying illustration for a story. The cover art by Daniele Serra is incredible as always, and the internal art is by several different artists. Imran Siddiq has illustrated for my story “Aswang”.   Asian Monsters is now available on Amazon. Looking forward to reading it!


Why I hate tournaments…

The HEMAists

… and why they are the best thing that has ever happened to my training.

By David A. Rowe

DSC_0050 Team VAF regularly competes at Longpoint every year

I hate tournaments. I really do.  I hate sloppy fencing. I hate ugly form. I hate awful judging. I hate crappy attitudes. I hate silly drama. And I really hate the politics. Most of all, I hate losing. I’ve lost because I was tired and exhausted.  I’ve lost due to bad judging. And I’ve lost because the other fencer outclassed me.

What I really hate is losing to the guy who is better at playing the game than me.  Everyone knows who I’m talking about; he’s the guy who probably never drills, has probably never seen a manual, let alone read one. He’s good because he’s an athlete.  He wins not because he is a better martial artist, and not because he has a better grasp…

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The Pen is Fightier – Fantasycon 2014

This weekend was Fantasycon, at the Royal York Hotel. Scare stories abounded in the days leading up to it about horrific bar prices, therefore caches of white wine were secured. After five and a half hours of driving it was a welcome sight, more glamorous and less bijou than the Albion in Brighton. It was good to catch up with Anne-Mhairi Simpson, Tales of Eve editor at Fox Spirit and my roomie for the weekend, and also Karen and Ewan Davies. The room was nice, very nice: all fluffy bath robes, sparkling mineral water, heart shaped chocolates and comfy slippers. They also gave us a double rather than twin beds…I later wondered if we’d ended up with the honeymoon suite by some accident.

The panel – Photo by Annie Catling

On Saturday morning I took part in my first ever panel, and it combined my two loves: fencing and writing. The title was ‘The Pen vs the Sword’ and featured Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of the Shadows of the Apt series as well as KDF member, Juliet McKenna, author and Aikido blackbelt, Clifford Beale, historical fantasy writer and former member of the Sussex Sword Academy, and yours truly. Marc Aplin, who kindly invited me to participate was not available as moderator so David Thomas Moore stepped into the role at the last minute. He did a great job, and I’m sure being a keen LARPer helped a lot. 

It was so much fun.Looking out over a sea of enthusiastic faces didn’t fill me with the dread I expected, these people were here to talk about swords and fighting, and I was happy to do so too.

Mythbusting the ‘cross’ where characters swords get stuck together and they exchange several lines of dialogue. Photo by Annie Catling

What I particularly liked was the opportunity to compare eastern with western martial arts, to tackle some of the horrid sword fighting myths and tropes that often pop up in fiction and on screen. There were also some brilliant questions from the audience at the end.  

I brought a bag of toys with me, from greatsword to bowie knife, and just as Clifford and I squared up to do some rapier demonstration we got kicked out of the hall. Not to be deterred, we dragged all the kit into the auditorium and invited the audience along, most of whom stayed to ask more questions and request demonstrations from the four of us. We did dagger disarms, how to tackle a choke from behind, how to wield a greatsword in a tight space, why heroes shouldn’t wear their swords on their backs when they want to draw them for a fight, the mechanics of a lunge, what to do if you can’t draw your sword in a confined space, dagger vs spear and many more. Everyone seemed to enjoy the demonstrations and discussion, and a few remained after the HOUR of impromptu workshop to study and handle some of the weapons. 

Adrian explains some basics of German longsword. Photo by Annie Catling.

I did manage to track down guest of honour Charlaine Harris the following day to apologise, as I discovered that she was being interviewed by Adele Wearing straight after we left and not only was she competing with the clanging of steel but some people were unable to get to the room due to the press of bodies watching the sword demo. So my apologies to all those affected too. Charlaine was wonderful about it though, and very approachable.

Panel done it was time to relax and enjoy the rest of the con. A nice beer and a catch up with David Murray, my coauthor, in the pub next door was very welcome. Left with lots of ideas and inspiration, writing batteries charged and ready to go. So thanks for that David. After a pork pie we went to a couple of panels: 

“Beyond Grimdark”, featured Jen Williams, Adrian Tchaikovsky, James Oswald, and Martin Taylor, with David Moore moderating. Here it was noted that Grimdark has become ubiquitous. I remember when it was called Fantasy Noir, which I prefer. I was left thinking that Grimdark reflects the morality of the characters, more than the setting. Bad things happen to good people and vice versa. Are we tired of Grimdark yet? I don’t think so. Although where Grimdark fails is when authors paint a bleak picture just for scenery rather than affecting the plot. James Oswald made the keen observation that a lot of writers nowadays have also played RPGs at some time in their life, and anyone who’s played those knows the characters rarely do what’s expected of them.

“She ain’t heavy she’s my sister” was panelled by Roz Kaveney (moderator), Anne-Mhairi Simpson, Den Patrick, Charlaine Harris and Glenda Larke. The topic being the lack of female friendships in fiction. We’ve got Sam and Frodo, Sherlock and John, Aragorn and Boromir…where are the Thelmas and Louises? It was hard to find examples that pass the Bechdel test. There were some awkward pauses where people seemed to be trying to think of stuff to say, but the sad truth could have been summed up quite simply – with the majority of fantasy writers to date being male, female friendships independent of male protagonists often just aren’t relevant to the plot. It definitely made me think about my own writing, and how to portray female interaction without it revolving around male agency.

Laura Lam reads a moving extract from False Hearts at the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club.

Later in the evening I attended the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, which is normally held in London by Den Patrick and Jen Williams. Despite living in the south it’s been impossible for me to get to these so I was pleased to listen to some readings. My favourite was Laura Lam’s introduction to her upcoming novel, False Hearts. It’s about the separation of conjoined twins, a fascinating topic in itself. Set in a near future, it deals with ideals of perfection, trust issues and close relationships. Very moving stuff. I also heard an extract from Ed Cox’s weird and dark debut, The Relic Guild. Emma Newman’s Between Two Thorns was very funny indeed and we all got treated to Emma’s superb narration skills.

Very nearly three wise monkeys. Photo by Annie Catling.

The evening was the obligatory Fantasycon disco. Each time I was asked to dance I made the excuse of needing to finish my drink first. I never found the courage in the end, and snuck outside to chat with the smokers where I was pleasantly surprised to bump into Helena Stroud, whose partner Dave Rawlings runs London Longsword Academy. Not even knowing Helena was a writer it was a great first encounter.

Sunday late morning was a good hour or so of groaning and feeling sorry for myself in a comfy chair. A full fat coke and a bar of chocolate later and I was ready to face the British Fantasy Awards. Tales of Eve and Fox Spirit were both up for nominations – Best Anthology and Best Small Press respectively. We didn’t win, but it was thrilling to be nominated, and we got the biggest cheer.

As I left a very smartly dressed American gentleman came and shook my hand, and said that the sword fighting panel was ‘the highlight of the weekend’. I thanked him, tried to read his name badge but it was tucked behind his lapel. Yes, this was one of those terrifying moments when you realise the person you are talking to you is important but you can’t quite put a finger on why. “I’m terribly sorry,” I said, not wanting to offend “but what’s your name?” He drew up to his full height “My name,” he said “Is Larry Rostant.” Only the bloody guest of honour and cover artist GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, to name but a few. Face, meet palm.

It was very well run, and the new venue was great. I’m very grateful to Lee Harris and the organisers; to Lydia Gittins, Chloe Yates, Marguerite Kenner, Alasdair Stuart, Ruth Booth and all the Redcloaks, AKA Team Awesome, who made the magic happen. I made lots of new friends, and met several online buddies for the first time. Looking forward to the next one!

It all ended on a very sad note, however. Graham Joyce, billed as the Master of Ceremonies, was unable to attend due to his health, and I was deeply shocked to hear of his death yesterday after a long battle with cancer. My memories of him are alternately hilarious and touching. He was a very cheeky soul and a brilliant, engaging writer. I’m honoured and glad to have spent some brief moments in his company.

Edgelit2 – Cupcakes and Bowie Knives

Last weekend I spent at Edgelit2, a SFF writing convention at Derby Quad. In the lead up to the event I was pleased to find fellow writer and fighter Jo Thomas would be there. She suggested we had a spar and I couldn’t resist (there died my attempt to travel light). On arrival I soon found the Fox Spirit skulk, er, skulking in the shade with cool drinks. It was great to meet up with everyone, some for the first time in the flesh. Tweetups are rather like your imaginary friends coming to life, wonderful.

Emma Newman‘s workshop: how to overcome your fear of writing, was great. In all honesty I didn’t think it applied to me all that much, I have no trouble throwing words down on paper. But it did get rather deep and interesting and I had my Damascus moment when I was in there. It was a real wake up call and has made me feel a lot better about my own writing process.

After this, with a full 4 hours of sleep, half day of travel and not enough to eat under my belt, I attended a joint launch: Spacewitch, an exciting new publishing project from Del Lakin-Smith, and also Fox Spirit’s booklaunch for Noir Carnival. There were two tantalising readings from Chloe Yates and James Bennet. I gorged on nibbles and some uh-may-zing cupcakes from Muthafudger. With my much-fondled contributor copy of Piracy in my hand I got some signatures, and was asked for mine on several occasions – a very pleasant trade.

The Fox Spirit Skulk – Photo courtesy of Geraldine Clark Hellery

Lunch was two bags of crisps and a pint of cider shandy (you can see the nutrition kind of going in a downward spiral, I didn’t want to miss anything), chewing the fat with Celyn Armstrong, Jen Williams, Andrew Reid, Adele Wearing, Jo Thomas and Adam Christopher. Soon after I attended a panel called Digital Age: How Has the Internet Changed Writing?
with Andrew Hook, Emma Newman, Adam Christopher and Jennifer Williams. The path of publication took up much of the discussion, mostly in emphasising that no two writers reach that stage in the same way. Emma, Jen and Adam all followed non-conventional routes that circumvented the slushpile. When the topic became Twitter, things got fascinating: by the degrees of separation involved and how social media has completely changed the way readers and writers interact. It was an interesting talk, but the room was very warm… and I hadn’t had a lot of sleep, and…

Photo courtesy of RJ Booth

When I woke up I went for a nice lunch with the Fox Spirit team. We later headed back for the rambunctious and raucous raffle hosted by Sarah Pinborough and Conrad Williams. I didn’t win anything but the prizes were all completely covetable, even if I will not be able to look at some of the titles in quite the same way ever again.

After some time to refresh at the bar, Ruth Booth and I then made our way to the quiz. All other times I’ve attended these things at cons I’ve been a poor team member, with little knowledge on the subject matter. We joined forces with Anne Lyle, Gaie Sebold and David Gullen to form ‘The Cardinals Blades’ (at Anne’s suggestion owing to our mutual preoccupation with sharp lengths of steel, David being our nominal Cardinal). Imagine my surprise when we came second, and divvied out a lovely set of signed books as our prizes.

Photo courtesy of RJ Booth

The rest of the evening was passed in the hotel bar, I would have stayed out later but I remembered that I had a fight in the morning and made my excuses. Carousing can go too far you know. Sunday morning Jo and I found a nice duelling ground by the canal and spent a while getting back in touch with our inner smallswordists. I’ve been on the bench for a while with tennis elbow so that’s about as much as I can bear on my right arm at the moment. We later switched to bowie knives (my preferred weapon of the two I have to say). I was thrilled when Ruth Booth came along to watch, and even agreed to an impromptu lesson. She picked up a lot very quickly and seemed to be enjoying herself, she’s looked into HEMA classes near where she lives so I wish her all the best if she chooses to pursue the practice.

Jo and I – Photo courtesy of RJ Booth

It’s a great con, just the right size and period of time. The venue was really comfortable and easy to navigate, within easy reach of the station and nearby hotels. Friendships were made and renewed, plus I got some fighting in for the first time in weeks so I was very happy.

Edgelit3? I certainly hope to be there.

What’s changed?


Not blogged for a very long time, I apologise for that. The upside is that I actually have something to talk about, and seeing as this is a place to talk about meeee, indulge me for a few moments.

Fighty Stuff


Yes that’s me with the medal and the sweaty fencing hair and the stupid grin. In fact two, yes, two bronze medals are now mine and shiny and on a shelf keeping each other company. I won these at SWASH earlier in March.

‘What is SWASH?’ I hear you say. Its an annual event held at the breathtaking Royal Armouries in Leeds each year by the British Federation for Historical Swordplay (BFHS). It’s a two day event with classes, tournaments, talks and many opportunities to get up-close and personal with many beautiful weapons and historical treatises, most thrilling of all being the MS i33 – the oldest martial treatise known. The building itself is impressive – a huge glass tower filled with weapons that ought to have the sign ‘Break glass in case of zompocalypse’.


What did I win them for? One was third place in the inaugural women’s longsword tournament. It was a lot of fun and Tracey Walker made a great mini documentary of the competition here. I enjoyed all my fights, particularly the punch landed on (another) Fran after she swiftly disarmed me in a grapple.


Incidentally, it was fantastic to finally meet up with fellow fencer and Fox Spirit author, Jo Thomas. A lovely person, and I hope to see her again soon with either sword or pen.

The second bronze medal was in the rapier tournament. You may notice Pim in the top photo with me, also with a silly grin. He won gold, natch, but I had to face him in the semi-final. It’s an interesting way to work through marital tension, battling in public, but we did okay. So very pleased with myself over that, and it’s given me much more confidence in my fencing. It’s also made me want to try even harder next time I compete. There are so many fencing events this year it’s difficult to choose between them.


Another facet of Historical European Martial Arts has drawn my attention, fast-forwarding three hundred years from the Elizabethan era to the Edwardians. I’ve joined a study group focusing on Bartitsu. This is a fascinating martial art, made famous in the Sherlock Holmes stories by Conan Doyle.

The ‘original MMA’, it combines pugilism, fencing, jujitsu and savate to create a formidable defence against assorted ruffians that prowl the streets in the dead of night – at least that’s what Bartitsu was developed for. They were dangerous times, and gangs of thieves preyed on lone pedestrians. 

It is also a ton of fun, and very varied: you might be punching someone in the face, jabbing them in the throat with a stick, or choking them on their coat. In a few weeks time I will be leading a class on parasol (it being the most fencing-like of the techniques). Don’t be fooled, the humble brolly is a devastating weapon.

Also taken up running. I’m trying to get my fitness up to help with the fencing, and just so I can be a bit more healthy. On the days I’m not fighting in some form or other (it’s been five days a week in some cases) I try and get a twenty minute run in. So far my enthusiasm for this has not waned, and listening to music helps a lot.

Lifey stuff

I’ve got one child in school and the other in nursery every morning now so it’s opened up a bit of free time. Oh yes, writing time, of course. Ideally that would be the case, and a lot of the time it is, but no, time to get a job. When I left work five years ago I was working in an office, and whilst I had lovely colleagues, I can’t say I’ve missed being there at all in the time since.

Perceptions altered, priorities shifted, I am now a gardener, and really enjoying the fresh air, the smiley passers-by, China Mieville on my iPod and dirt under my fingernails. I’m no Rachel de Thame, but I can dig and I can pull up weeds and I can cut grass. Life is good.

Geeky Stuff

I had a brilliant time with several buddies from fencing school at the Scifi Weekender in Wales. We packed swords and managed to get in a bit of practice each day, as well as enjoying all the cosplay, panels, signings, swag and merriment. Just as I was packing to head out, however, I got a tweet from Paul Cornell asking if I would mind being timer/scorer for the Just A Minute game that he was hosting. It has become a tradition at these events, last year’s panel included Joe Abercrombie, Sarah Pinborough and China Miéville. My mind squirmed, it backed away in terror. ‘you can’t do this!’ it screamed, ‘it’s too scary!’.

So I said yes.

I thought ‘to hell with it’ and agreed. I was a bag of nerves leading up to the show, especially seeing the vast room that held the audience, the stage etc. But I just told myself it would only be keeping score, I probably wouldn’t even be visible.

Then I was led out, alone, into the glare, centre stage, to faces. You know, people.

It was terrifying.

Emma Newman, Paul Cornell, Gareth Powell, Stacia Kane and Chris Brookmyre who were the actual authors that everyone had come to see, had every right to be nervous, but they were funny and brilliant and before long I was just enjoying the spectacle along with the crowd. At the very end Paul was kind enough to ask me if I had any work out at the moment, and I proudly flew the Fox Spirit flag for a couple of seconds.


After that I relaxed, met up with loads of tweeps, drank, ate too many sweets and boogied with giant robots, zombies and superheroes. Definitely going again next year.





Writey stuff

Hang on Fran, isn’t this meant to be a blog about, you know, writing?

*Sips wine, looks around*

Hmm? Oh, yes, that. Well I haven’t slacked on that account – two stories with the fabulous Fox Spirit books are coming out very, very soon:

Piracy – a Fox Pockets anthology edited by Adele Wearing (who never seems to tire) inImage which I have a short tale about bloodthirsty buckaneers on the high seas.









ImageTales of Eve – An anthology edited by the wonderful Anne-Mhairi Simpson, who is also a damn fine author. The brief is a reverse-Pygmalion, where women create their ideal man. My short story is about the power of wishes.









And the Magnificent Octopus? David and I are still chiseling, buffing, rearranging and sanding its edges. Things take time, but we’re getting there and I’m enjoying the process.

Talk to me, what’s new in your life? I want to know.

This time last year…


It’s quarter to ten, I’ve had a few glasses of white wine, I said I would do another blog post before the year was out, so here it is. Let’s visit my former self in 2011, pondering what she would aim for in 2012:

Complete editing on the novel and submit to agents

This turned into a rewrite, and I have one scene left to go. If I push it I might squeeze it in before the chimes of midnight. The submitting will have to wait though.

Submit and become published in an anthology

I made the grade. A very proud moment when my first short story got published in Tales of the Nun and Dragon. Watch this space for another coming out soon from Fox Spirit Publishing.

Enter Rapier 2012, Swordfish and Fightcamp tournaments.

I did all three – 5 competitions in all – and I had tremendous fun. Goal for 2013 will be to move a bit higher up the rankings, that’s going to involve a lot of focus and training, as well as dealing with my mental attitude to fights I think – I just don’t get worked up enough.

Achieve Laureando status

I passed. In my fencing school this is the ‘intermediate’ level of competence, there’s only one more to go after that and it’s spadaccino, swords(wo)man. That’ll be a way off from 2013 I think.

Get fitter

This went on the back-burner after a bout of illness, and I found it very hard to get back to my former level of fitness. I really need to develop some good habits and will try to be a lot more active in 2013. I’ve taken up the million steps challenge (not man brave enough to take on the million words) with a few other writer buddies, so that’s something. I’ve still got my fencing which is something I actively enjoy, perhaps some sword-based fitness training is in order.

Write every single day

This too, was less than daily. I’ve spent a lot of time editing which I guess doesn’t count but I will start another good habit: always have a short story in the pot perhaps, just to keep me scribbling.

Read more books, especially non-fiction

Yes, and no. I read around eighteen books this year, that’s a lot for me. I read slowly and always have more than one on the go (ten at the last count). Most of them were SFF but I did manage to get some non-fiction and other genres in as well. It’s really hard when there’s so many great books out there though, especially ones in a series (GRRM, Abercrombie, Aaronovitch, Cooper, Lyle). In 2013 I will try and alternate.

Help other people to achieve their goals, whether it’s writing, swordfighting or anything else that I can assist with.

This I can definitely polish my halo over. In April I was introduced to the founders of Esfinges, a group for women in HEMA, and have kind of become the non-official gopher for Europe. I’ve been doing my utmost to get women talking about swordplay, and to get them involved and interested in this growing martial art. So far it’s been very successful and we have over two hundred and fifty members world wide. Writing wise I’ve been critting for friends and giving advice where I can. This is a difficult one, as I’m sure a lot of authors suffer feelings of inadequacy to some degree, especially un/newly published ones, and we don’t want to feel that we’re giving advice that we’re not qualified to distribute. So I just try and give as honest an opinion as I can, and hope it helps.

In 2013 I will be trying to get some events organised for Esfinges and meet people face-to-face that want to take up HEMA. It should be exciting. Writing wise I will just continue to be as available as I can, help friends out, as I have been helped countless times.

Put our regular content

*Looks awkward, studies shoes*

Well, not exactly regular, but as I said this time last year I don’t want to put in irrelevant waffle. I do only post when it is worth doing so. Given that a lot of the time I am editing and drafting, that I have little advice to give as I’ve not been in this game long enough and I’m finding out for myself, I think that’s forgiveable.

For 2013 I should have more writing-related news to post about, as well as all the usual swordfighting shenanigans. A happy new year to you all, I hope it brings you what you need and deserve most.

My Top Reads of 2012

Inspired by the recently agented Jennifer Williams AKA Senny Dreadful, I thought I would dust off the blog and post about the top five books that lit my fire this year. I have the obligatory year in review post coming up too so yes you could say my posts are like buses.

Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper

This is the last book I listened to on Audible. It’s book two of a fantasy secondary-world quadrilogy called The Wild Hunt. The basic premise of the world in which the tales are set is that there is a ‘hidden’ world beyond a veil, a barrier between them, and that this veil is under threat. Should it break bad things will happen.

I read book one, Songs of the Earth, on my Kindle and I found it to be a solid, well written, fantasy tale but I just didn’t get enormously excited about the plot or the characters. Amazingly for a mid-series novel, where we normally just get a load of filling before the big showdown at the end, Trinity Rising instead got me enormously excited, about everything. We follow some great characters, from all sides of the good-evil divide, the writing is as elegant as in the first book, but the themes are a lot darker and grown up. There is the elf healer Tanith from the first book, along with Gair from book one, sulking over his lost love. Both of them are thrown into different environments so we get to see different sides of them. We also meet Savin, the antagonist who was vaguely distant in book one, and see what an evil and twisted git he really is. Interestingly the plot is non-linear and doesn’t follow immediately on from the last page of Songs, we see particular events again from other points of view, which certainly makes them much more interesting. The best bit for me was a new character, Teia (apologies for the spelling, I didn’t see it written), similar to Gair in that she has  hidden talents for magic, a chosen one, but far more interesting to me for the cultural setting and the situation in which she finds herself – pregnant and ostracised from her tribe. She is a young tribeswoman of the plainsfolk – a kind of Sami/Viking/Mongol people – being oppressed on every side, at one point even her family are forced to reject her.

Really enjoyed this, was left in tears at one point. Definitely looking forward to the rest of the series.

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

I’d heard lots of good things about this, and lots of bad, but bad in a good way such as the protagonist is a horrible bastard who does terrible things. That sounded perfect to me and I was not disappointed. It’s the first in a series called The Broken Empire, all told in the first person by the titular Prince Jorg. We meet him in a very unprincely situation with a gang of cutthroat mercenaries who he, at only fifteen years of age, manages to bring to heel as together they sack a small town. We soon learn that it’s all part of a greater plan, and in flashback we discover why Jorg is who he is, what he has suffered and lost, and what he plans to do – become king, and eventually emperor. A typical ambition realised and told in a very original way. Every character is fleshed out, every setting is distinct, but the best thing has to be the snappy dialogue and Jorg himself. I look forward to following his exploits.

Red Country by Joe Abercombie

As everyone probably knows, Joe Abercombie likes to take fantasy and dress it up in unusual ways. Red Country is no different and it views fantasy through the filter of a western. Not a genre that has seen a lot of popularity in recent years, but Abercombie makes it work with huge success. No high noons, shootouts or  sheriffs, this is still the First Law setting and is about exploring unchartered territory, tracking loved ones across pitiless lands and settling old scores . . . and knives, you can never have too many of those.

Several familiar faces rear their heads, but most are new, wittily and sharply drawn as always without ever falling into caricature. The protagonist is a feisty young woman called Shy South who sets off with her stepfather to retrieve her kidnapped younger brother and sister. Do things work out okay in the end? That’s up to the reader to decide I suppose, but things are never what  they seem in these stories, which is why I love them.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

I had been looking forward to this for a while as it takes us out of the quasi-medieval Europe of typical fantasy and takes us to quasi-medieval Arabia. Like me, Saladin is an unabashed D&D geek and I was keen to see the monsters and settings that would be brought to life from Arabian folklore. It did not disappoint, the ghuls were truly terrifying, the magic internally logical and yet still magical, and best of all the protagonist was an overweight old man. Not your standard fare. In fact three of the main characters are well past their physical peak and the youngsters are often the sullen voice of reason. But it all works, splendidly so. Another one to follow up in 2013.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

I have to say, after this monster of a tome, book two in the Kingkiller Chronicle, The Wise Man’s Fear, had a lot to live up to, and it fell short of the mark for me. That doesn’t stop me admiring this vast debut of Rothfuss – it is another twist on fantasy delivery – fantasy as an autobiography.

The protagonist Kvothe is a bard and magic user, depicted in layer upon layer upon layer of story, so that we can’t see where the truth ends and the legend begins. We start in the present, through the eyes of Chronicler, the man who is transcribing the story, then we enter the tale itself as Kvothe tells it to him in reminiscence. Parts are missed, embellished, switched back to, interrupted. Other characters step in with their version of events. We follow him from a blissful childhood, discover everything about all the people around him, to the streets where he scratched out an existence as a beggar, and eventually to the University where his prodigious talents earned him great fame and  also countless troubles. His search goes on and on, pulling the narrative as he hunts some strange creatures that destroyed his loved ones, but this is essentially a device to keep up momentum. It’s a vast world, with hundreds of little side alleys to explore. Rothfuss is a master storyteller, and I hope that book three returns to this form.

So Many Fishies: Perspectives on Swordfish From a Newcomer

This weekend we travelled to Gothenburg, Sweden for a huge HEMA event called Swordfish. I meant to write a review but as Delia Hamwood has done such an excellent one I will steal hers – check it out

So Many Fishies: Perspectives on Swordfish From a Newcomer.

via So Many Fishies: Perspectives on Swordfish From a Newcomer.