Welcome to Guien: The World of The Hobgoblin’s Herald

•April 3, 2017 • 1 Comment

A glimpse of the Guien map pencil work in progress.

I love maps. Ever since I read Tolkien, there’s something about a book with maps in the front, which just makes the world feel more real, more lived-in. There’s a wealth of history you can infer from just a glance at a good cartographical representation of your fantasy world.

Often you can just feel the character of a country by the geography on display. Take Mordor in Middle-Earth; a volcanic plain, hemmed in on three sides by mountains. Instantly, you think: fortress, prison, forboding desolation.

A map can also depict major historical events in the setting’s history, without having to be declarative. Look to the map of Westeros, and the smashed Arm of Dorne; the war of the Children versus the First Men is writ large across the very land itself.

When you have a new world to explore, one which exists only in a book, a map also helps orientate a reader, and place events and locations in context.

Thus, when I first began writing The Hobgoblin’s Herald, my debut novel coming out this year for Fox Spirit Books, I resolved to create a characterful and instantly recognisable map for my own world of Guien. Continue reading ‘Welcome to Guien: The World of The Hobgoblin’s Herald’


Cultural Consumptions: July(ish) in review…

•July 24, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Good day readers, friends, enemies, and the thing which lives in the loft.

I thought I would begin a new semi-regular segment here, where I give an overviw of my favourite media consumed over the month, be it books, games, TV, movies or whatever takes my fancy.

However, since I’ve not blogged in a while, I will take the opportunity to cram in my brief thoughts on a few other things I’ve been watching in the months before. I know I’m breaking the format of my blog series in the first edition, but what the hell.

Without further ado:


Game of Thrones Season 6 – I was late to the game for this, having to wait for the show to finish airing before I could buy it via Amazon, but blimey it was worth the wait. It had spectacular battles, intrigue, tragic deaths and revelations aplenty, everything I expect in a fantastic season of Game of Thrones. We’re off the reservation now, beyond the books, and here be monsters.

The Dorne storyline however almost spoiled this season, and it was mercifully only on screen for three scenes. The Sandsnakes are narrative poison, and it continues to confound me that the showrunners have changed a maligned storyline from the books, and somehow made it far worse.

I was also a little disappointed in Euron. Book Euron is like some demented Conan villain: horrendously evil but undeniably entertaining. I hope they give him more to do next season, which I cannot wait for!

Preacher, Season 1 – Speaking of demented, I have also been watching Preacher, one of perhaps the craziest show being broadcast right now. Based on the comic of the same name, Dominic Cooper and the rest of the cast of this show utterly kill it as an eccentric, stylised Texan metaphysical odyssey. Angels, demons, vampires and cowboys, this show never has a dull moment. It has a breakneck tempo, yet it doesn’t spoonfeed you the plot. The central mystery of Genesis and just precisely what’s going on is being slowly unravelled each week, and I’m loving it.

Stranger Things, Season 1 – Imagine if Spielberg in his prime had decided to adapt a Stephen King novel for TV, and you get some idea of the style of this show. The child stars are excellent, the story seamlessly shifts between a fun boyhood adventure, a harrowing story of a mother unwilling to give up on her missing child, and an excellent horror story. Stranger Things plays with all the standard 80s genre tropes, oftentimes playing them straight, which makes the scenes when they subvert them all the more satisfying. What I loved msot about this show is that despite paying homage to many eighties movies, it is not a reboot, sequel or adaptation of an existing story. It is rare to get truly good original content recently, and the Duffer Brothers show it is not only possible, it is preferable. My good friend James Fadeley has a more in-depth review of this show on his blog, so check it out.

Continuum – I have recently discovered this show on netflix, and the first few episodes have intrigued me. Loving the aesthetics of the future world, and the potential of time travel shenanigans going forward.

Rick and Morty


I have binged both seasons of this most excellent cartoon from Adult Swim. Following the adventures of Rick Sanchez and his reluctant grandson Morty, this show is almost a parody of Back to the Future, but is more like a nihilistic and cynical take on sci-fi adventures like Doctor Who, showing how messed up actual adventures in space ad parallel dimensions would be. Rick Sanchez; irreverent, bitter alcoholic misanthrope, is one of my new favourite comedy characters. This show feels like a darker successor for Futurama, with an ever expanding complex backstory and mythology, alongside some interesting and surprisingly poignant family drama. Plus, it is really funny, with tons of clever little in-jokes and easter eggs for the eagle-eyed viewers. Brilliant.


Captain America: Civil War – This is a spectacularly late review, but for what it’s worth, this is possibly one of the best MCU movies put to screen so far. The Russo brothers show how superhero battles are supposed to look on screen. They give us one of the most sympathetic and surprisingly effective MCU villains since Loki, and actually improve upon their Civil War source material by contextualising it within the solid foundation of the great body of movies preceding them. Marvel have finally got a comic book continuity on screen, both film and TV, and with such strong movie behind them, I can’t wait to see where the MCU hype train goes next.

Independence Day: Resurgence – This was a disappointment. A very interesting premise, but I wish we’d seen the sequel which happened between this and the first movie. Most of the goofy charm of the firt one is lost. The quips in this are forced, and somehow the stakes seem far less, even though the alien ship is bigger and more deadly. The locusts have become another crap hollywood hive mind, and their queen is a spectacular narrative misstep in my opinion.

Star Trek Beyond:


Now if you want an actually good sci-fi movie this summer, you can’t go wrong with this. The third nuTrek movie, this one is far better than Into Darkness. Instead of pillaging story beats from old movies int he franchise, it has a new original story, which pays homage and hints at the original series, showing a love for the source material which shows it was written by a Trek fan, and not a Star Wars one as with the first nuTrek movie.

The sets and locations are beautiful and wonderfully sci-fi. You feel the scale of the starbase USS Yorktown, and Idris Elba’s villain has a good twist. The cast of the Enterprise crew finally feel like theya re gelling as a team, and the new addition of Jaylah is welcome as another female to dilute the overly male cast. There’s a touching tribute to Nimoy too, which gels neatly with the story and doesn’t feel tacked on.

The trailers for this film are terrible, so ignore them and go see the movie immediately.


Ketchup on Everything, by Nathan Robinson – A neat little horror novella, which very effectively depicts the harrowing experience of a father to an abducted child. There is a twist, which I won’t spoil, but appreciation of this novella is not contingent upon it.

Eve of War, by various


Published by Fox Spirit Books, this anthology is linked by the theme of female warriors and fighters. I’m only two stories in, and both have been marvellous. I will likely do a full review of this in a future blog, so look out for that.

The Beast Arises, by various2predatorpreyA bit of a cheat as this is an ongoing series published every month this year by Black Library. Nevertheless, I consider this series to be one gargantuan novel, told over twelve volumes, and it works really well when read in this light. It depicts the Warhammer 40K universe in a previously unknown period of its history, and is ideal for readers who are well-versed in the exisitng mythos. For those fans, I will tell you this; you have never seen Orks as scary and evil as i this series. Also, pay close attention to Drakan Vangoritch. He’ll be important in the future…

Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie – A dark and cynical tale of revenge in a hot-blooded land of warring city states not unlike medieval Italy, this is one of Joe’s brilliant standalones set in his First Law universe. Full of witty traitors and viscious psychopaths, this book is what you’d expect from Lord Grimdark himself.

That’s it for now folks. Let me know in the comments what genre media is blowing your hair back this month.

Bt for now, I must slither back into my lair, until the next time…



The Gift of Hadrborg: Politics and Conspiracy in the Banner Saga Universe.

•April 15, 2016 • 1 Comment

e35cde2cde451a5f3cf42b3cb90cbdec167538e3Today, my good friend and fellow writer James Fadeley has his debut novel out today; the Gift of Hadrborg, a tie-in novel to the wildly successful kickstarter for the computer game The Banner Saga 2. This is a norse-flavoured fantasy setting involving a world where the sun is frozen in the sky, and the frigid land is populated by savage humans and immortal giants with great horns known as Varl.

I am in a unique position here, as though the novel has only dropped today, I have been involved from the early draft stages as a beta reader, so I have had a chance to read the novel from start to finish, from conception to the final copy sent off to the publishers.

I do not play many computer games. Indeed, I had not heard of the Banner Saga until James showed me his work. I consider it a testament to the quality of his writing that I was fully absorbed by the setting he presented in prose, without having the prior contextual grounding in the game world. This novel works on several levels; as a newcomer to the setting, I was enthralled by the characters and the charisma between Olaf the Varl and his human charge Stefnir. A veteran of the games will no doubt find deeper meaning with the references Fadeley makes to the wider game world, which are neat for the fans but non-essential for the rest of us.

The action is brutal and calculated, and feels authentic in its vivid vitality.

I don’t wish to get into spoilers her,e but rest assured if you should buy this you will not be disappointed.

For more information, visit Fadeley’s own blog here.

Also make sure to bother Fadeley at PAX East, in Boston on April 22-24, where he will be doing signings.

Nod, A Novel: Review

•April 3, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Apocalypse fiction is a difficult genre in which to distinguish oneself as a writer. Every novel depicting the end of the world/civilisation tends to share quite well trodden tropes, which can become predictable. The gradual break down of society, degenerating into factions, with a hero protagonist who seems immune to the madness of oblivion. Mad religious cults, men become monsters, tyrannical regimes of survivors determined to maintain a facade of normalcy at any cost.

This is of course not to say these tropes and common themes are a bad thing. Post-apocalyptic fiction was and remains a ferociously popular genre of specualtive fiction, as the world of the normal and mundane is remade into fantastical landscapes where the rules of the real world are forgotten, often replaced with much more primal and fundamental conflicts.

Reading Adrian Barnes’ Nod, A Novel, I can see many of the same tropes that recur in post apocalyptic fiction, but it is how this is presented, and th eidiosyncratic style of the narrator which elevates this novel into a truly outstanding example of its genre, alongside others like McCarthy’s The Road and DeLillo’s Cat’s Cradle. In this review, I am going to examine what made this novel so good for me, and how it compares with another novel which tackles a similar plot from an entirely different angle: The Road.

Nod’s premise is a simple one. What is, suddenly, 99% of the human race could no longer sleep. More than mere insomnia, but an utter inability to even lose consciousness. This, the novel postulates, is a particularly rapid descent into psychosis and eventual death. Only the protagonist Paul, and a select group of ‘sleepers’ have the ability to rest, which puts them in particular danger fromt he resentful and increasingly deranged populace of

Barnes’ novel is a very self-aware piece, which is written from the point of view of a cynical etymologist who is well aware of the tropes of the apocalypse mentioend above, and has no allusions about the fate of his world. Barnes, through his protagonsit’s first person epistolary narrative, is able to flex his linguistic deftness and staggeringly extensive vocabulary, imbuing every chapter with obscure references and so-called ‘nod words’; words which have fallen out of modern parlance, but when brought back imbue the reader with a certain unconscious feeling of sublime unease. Words which you feel like you should know, but do not.Each chapter opens with an example of such a word, tying into the main narrative.

Paul’s main antagonist, the deranged demamgogue the Admiral of the Blue, steals Paul’s manuscript, and utilises his Nod words to conjure up a doomsday cult which raises Paul up as a prophet of the land of Nod; a world of dreams beyond the garden of Eden. The Sleeper’s dream godlen dreams of tranquility and peace, whilst the Awakened must roam this new and sleepless world like mad ghouls, clinging to whatever conspicary theory can explain the hallucinations and psychosis they feel blossoming in their minds. Like in Nineteen Eighy Four, the power hungry begin to use new words to control language, and thus control their flock, so much so the Awakened change their names according to the ‘scriptures’ of the Admiral, and conflate sleeping with contagion and sickness, the curses of demons.

In Nod, language expands and swells with nonsense words with feverish new meanings, like the malfunctioning cells of a cancerous tumor spreading through a healthy system. We can compare this to The Road, where language seems to be failing entirely. Characters barely speak a word, and when they do they lack the context for most of their words, with the Man unable to explain his world to the Boy, his son.Even punctuation breaks down, with dialogue distinguishable from the rest of the text only through the context of the reader.

Both novels follow a father figure, desperate to shelter their children from the oblivion engulfing the rest of the world. In The Road, the Man tries to keep the Boy alive, to carry the fire on into the future, even though he himself is doomed. The fire here can symbolise cvilisation, the fire of Prometheus, preserved in the mercy of the Boy. In Nod, Paul latches onto the sleeper child Zoe, going to desperate lengths to save her from the Admiral of the Blue and the Cat-Sleepers, paramilitary Awakened with delusions of sanity and a far more clinical and insidious evil compared tot he religious psychosis of the Blue’s minions. Zoe and the sleeper children represent the future of the human race, for they will be the only survivors after the last of the Awakened succomb to their compromised immune systems and broken brains. The Sleeper children are mute, peaceful creatures, Eloi-like in their helplessness, sedated by the golden dream into a disturbing lack fo conflict. They seem every bit as insane as the Awakened, just in a different manner. Paul speculates that his efforts to save Zoe were a failed attempt to maintain his lost civilisation. Even after the end, the sleeper children will have no memory of the time before, and so our culture will die out either way. Paul ends the novel listing everything which is lost, never to return, be they good or bad.

If I was to have one complaint against the novel, it is that the Dream that all the sleepers share is never explained, or even attempted to be elaborated upon. I understand that the Dream and the Insomnia are merely a veicle in which to deliver us this plot, much like the unspecified disaster which creates the dreary world of the Road. However, unlike the Road, Nod goes into conspicuous detail about the dreams, and seems to hint that the sleepers know something Paul does not, yet we never get a chance to learn more. This is intentional I suspect, but it makes it no less aggravating for me as a reader. Intellectually, I can see their justification, but viscerally it does not work for me.

I encourage everyone to go read this novel, which I am sure will become a classic of the genre.

‘It Follows’ Review – Slasher Horror as it Should Be.

•December 14, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I know I am really late to the game, but ‘It Follows’ is an excellent horror film, which reinvigorates the teen slasher sub-genre in a way no one else has managed in a long time.

The use of wide angle panning shots really ratchets up the tension, expecially when combined with the ominous score. It makes the audience scan every scene looking for the eponymous ‘It’, like a creepy version of where’s Wally. It shares some cultural folkloric DNA with the internet horror stories like Slenderman and the Rake, but combines this with excellent sound design and cinematography.

This is the sort of horror which genuinely has an effect on me. The slow build combined with the horror from the mundane. At first the movie seems like a story about rape and perhaps true crime, but once Hugh/Greg lays down the ‘rules’ it changes tact completely, becoming a movie musing on the notion of existential dread. If I knew nothing going in, I think this wrong-footing the audience would have been very effective at scaring the hell out of them. It works on another level as a movie which articulates the horror of rape, and the lasting psychological scars it leaves. ‘It’ can be seen as a manifestation of rape and the desolation it brings upon its victims, becoming an ever present thought lingering at the back of the mind.

Horror stories in general are most effective when they are sparse. Excessive exposition is the killer of many horror stories in my experience, and It Follows sidesteps this marvellously. The beast gains no backstory, and we learn of its properties more through show than tell (and even then, the only exposition we get is from scared prey of the monster who heard it through chinese whispers, passed down between victims).

What I loved most was that the characters felt real. They talk to each other as if they’ve known each other forever, and have their own shorthand. There’s no cringey dialogue where the writer is trying to clarify something for out of universe observers. For instance, I didn’t realise one of ‘It’s’ forms was Jay’s father until I spotted a framed picture of said dad on a mantlepiece after the scene. I also loved how the characters are rarely stupid and avoid most of the formulaic slasher victim pit falls that spoil less ambitious horror stories.

It Follows is a timeless classic which I actually found a bit unnerving, which is a rarity with me and horror movies.

*(aided by its anachronistic technology. Everyone drives old cars, have ancient monochrome tellies, the cinema has an organist, the internet doesn’t seem like it is a thing, yet kids have cell phones and compact clam-shell e-readers? Not sure if it is the eighties or the future, and I don’t think it matters ultimately)

Redblade: A BL shorts review.

•October 10, 2015 • 1 Comment

Redblade is one of the Black Library’s new short story ebooks, telling the tale of the former Blood Claw Drenn, and his clashes with authority during a campaign against orks amongst the floating lightning refineries of the gas giant Theron.*
As with much of Black Library’s fair, this story is not really forgiving to newcomers to the Warhammer 40,000 universe; you better know what a Howling Griffon and an auspex is going in, and whilst we do get some interesting tidbits of information about Fenris from MacNiven, we do not get much in the way of introduction to the 40K elements, and nor would I expect there to be on this product, targeting Space Wolf and ork collectors specifically.
My favourite aspect of this story is really the setting and backdrop to the action. MacNiven is given a chance to show us some unorthodox and spectacular scenery, and he delivers marvellously. I also always find the Adeptus Mechanicus a welcome addition to any story, with their with a unique diesel-punk aesthetic which is quintessentially 40K to me. The Magos with his dead face is a wonderfully ghoulish image to conjure.I don't trust this dude. Look at that expression. He looks like he's smelt an ork fart from forty thousand leagues away.
The action throughout this short tale is frenetic and furious, though at times it threatens to turn the tale into more of a battle report than a self contained story, and I personally thought the duel was a little too convenient of an out for Drenn. MacNiven succeeded in creating quite a piece of work in Drenn; an insufferably arrogant upstart with no respect for authority and with valour where common sense should be. I liked that the author has his older Space Wolves acknowledge the absurdity of such a pup of a wolf giving himself the moniker ‘Redblade’; I was having horrible flashback to GRRM’s Darkstar, but mercifully Robbie sidestepped that potential nonsense. I think Drenn as a character would benefit from a novel-length work, in order to grow into a better-rounded individual. I also think it would give MacNiven a chance to show off his own vision of the 40K universe on a wider, less narrowly-focussed lens.
It is hard writing to such a tight brief, and MacNiven performs admirably.
As a side note, that cover art is… different I suppose. Not massively keen on the strange ‘bloated head’ Red Claw on the cover. That’s not how I pictured Redblade personally; we’ll just assume it is one of his facially-challenged pack-mates shall we?


*(I kind of wish this story was part of an anthology, instead of being sold as a single short story. I would work best as part of an ensemble I think. I jsut dislike the format BL have chosen, which has nothing to do with the author of course, but it is always a little vexing when I feel the format doesn’t serve the story as it should.)

What I am looking forward to most about Star Wars: The Force Awakens

•September 5, 2015 • Leave a Comment

If you have been on pluto for the last few years, you may be unaware that there is a brand new star wars film coming out in December. I decided I wanted to do a blog post on this subject, but was initially hesitant because, frankly, everyone is already discussing the films in painstaking detail. I feel sure, for instance, that whatever I have said here has already been extensively discuss on one of the many fan sites and discussion forums dedicated to star wars, like theforce.net, stardestroyer.net, and the various sci-fi forums of this great spider’s web of electronic fanboy elation.

Nevertheless, I endeavour to elucidate here my personal reasons for being very excited about this new franchise, and why I do not feel any trepidation for this series going forward.

Anywho, onwards:

  • Female characters in abundance:

From looking at the cast list alone, we can see TFA contains more prominent female characters than the previous six movies combined, rather than a single female who has to shoulder the entire responsibility for the female voice within the movie. What’s more, we have four very different roles for these characters. Leia is royalty and a political leader, Rey is a backwater scavenger, Maz is a fricking space pirate (who may or may not also be a former Jedi Knight) and Captain Phasma is a tough high-end military commander. Also, she is to be the first Star Wars Villainess to be depicted in live action.

I have hope that each character will get her chance to shine, and will be handled well. This trend seems to continue into Rogue One, with the main character also being female, and I think it is high time this happened. The cartoons have been doing this for years, and it is great to see that the films will finally catch up.

  • Andy Serkis and his mysterious mo-cap villain:

I have loved Andy Serkis is almost everything he’s ever been in, and his work for motion capture is nothing short of amazing. With the money behind the SW sequels, and with his innate talent for the art form, I have a feeling Snoke, whatever he eventually looks like, will look fantastic. Supreme Leader Snoke, meanwhile, is intriguing me no end, for his voice in the trailers sounds ancient, and the fact he is being mo-capped suggests to me he is something more than merely another Palpatine or Tarkin (or even Thrawn). This is going to be something which an actor cannot portray in prosthetics, so I’m excited by the possibilities.

I am going to theorise that he is some ancient monster the First Order stumbled across, and subsequently installed as their commander in order to unite them against the New Republic and the Resistance. If Palpatine is Blofeld, Snoke would be Mumm-Ra. I hope.

  • Kylo of the Knights of Ren, and his renegade saber:

So far, everything I’ve seen and heard about Kylo and the knights of Ren has been promising, if tantalizingly vague. I won’t be speculating too wildly here, as I risk getting excited by a notion I entirely created myself. However, I will comment on his frankly awesome light-longsword. I love the crossguard, I think it opens up an entirely new way of fighting with a lightsaber, allowing pseudo-longsword fighting techniques and new ways of countering a normal saber. But more than that, I like the fact it looks like a cobbled together mess. Also, I like that the crimson blade is a fiery, flickering chaotic nightmare, spitting sparks and smoke as if it is made of raw, uncontained plasma fire (I suspect the reason in universe is that the containment field of this sword is not as good as a true lightsaber’s, and thus his is glitching and dangerous).

It looks like a half-forged sword draw smoking from hell’s own forge, and I think it will continue to look wicked on the big screen. It also hints at the character of Kylo himself; a reckless, impatient and violent man, who is heedless of consequence and while he seems to be a Vader fanboy, I reckon his personality will be much different to Vader.

  • Rogues, bounty hunters, pirate and a return to the Outer Rim:

One of the major aspects of Star wars (especially in the original three) was always the wacky aliens and the great variety of strange factions and lawless elements we saw demonstrated. Jabba’s Palace, the cantina, the bounty hunters from Empire; they were ancillary to the central story, but star wars would have felt sterile without them. Just from some of the set pictures at ‘Maz’s Castle’, we have already seen a wide variety of physical aliens and awesome, inventive prosthetics and puppets of aliens on display. My favourite is the fabulous red ray-headed guy in a cape (check out the Vanity Fair photo shoot to see him. He’s there and he looks glorious).

Anyway, with the Full Force Friday toy reveals expanding upon the detailed world-building of Jakku’s aliens, and the hints to the Guavan Interstellar crime gang, I feel JJ Abrams is returning to the badlands, the realm of outlaws and rogues which we all loved about the OT, and where Han Solo was really spawned.

I just hope the new series gives us new Han Solos and Boba Fetts to be enchanted by.


Let me know some of the things you are looking forward to in the new Star wars saga below, because I know I’ve only scratched the surface here. I could go on for many, many pages, but brevity is sometimes best, and so I will leave this post here as a springboard to further discussion.


Thanks for reading.