Guien Lore Snippet: The Mesmer Storks of the Warden Mountains

•May 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment
[Note: Hello again my friends. To continue my recent series of blog posts, below is another piece of background lore for Guien I have only managed to touch on in the main narrative of the upcoming Eater of Names, written in an in-universe style. Hope you enjoy!: ]

 

The Mesmer Storks of the Warden Mountains

By Lady Betheny Agredda of Old-Hold

 

Squeamish Katahian noblewomen, afraid to explain to their over-sheltered offspring the illicit vicissitudes of the sexual act, explain the origin of babies with the fairy tale of infants being delivered to expectant parents by white feathered storks. Setting aside the infuriating ignorance this seeks to promote in the young, I would wager none of these parents are truly aware of the origin of this myth. If they did, I imagine their soft hearts would be quite horrified…

… Thus I will explain this origin here. For the purposes of education of course. From what sources I can gather, this myth is a corruption in the tales of the Mesmer Stork, brought over to Katahia by Vornish merchants centuries ago.

According to my eye witness accounts and sketches, Mesmer Storks are gigantic tawny feathered monsters, standing a least seven feet tall at the shoulder whilst standing, with wingspans in excess of twenty feet. Their long, straight beaks are like great rusting shears, tapering to a point capable of piercing plate, and razor sharp edges able to snip the arm from a man as easy as one my cut a peach with a cleaver. But what is most remarkable about them are their deep amber eyes, said to possess the most tremendous hypnotic qualities (no simple sketch has been able to convey this quality to me myself, but that is to be expected. These were merchants, not artists). It is these eyes which are the source of the Mesmer Storks’ most disturbing traits. The storks indeed have hypnotic powers, but these powers are too weak to affect the sturdy mind of a healthy adult. But the soft, malleable mind of a child is a different story.

The Tureqi speak of Mesmer Storks swooping down upon undefended villages in springtime. They came to the isolated villages at night, snatching away any infants and young children they could. In some tales, the storks are thwarted by cunning mothers swapping out their children for rocks in their cribs, or brave fathers slaying the storks with horn bows, but more often than not the birds escape with their prizes. In nests hidden in the highest caverns, the children are mesmerized by the storks, turning them into their puppets. From then on, the child is a Stork Rider, bonded forever with the stork that stole them.

This story likely sounds like a work of dark fancy. And yet, the Stork Riders of the Warden Mountains are real, and are well-known as one of the tribes of Tureq. The diminutive tribesmen serve as expert scouts and spies for the Tureqi, wielding blowpipes and short bows to terrific effect. From what Tureqi accounts I can gather, the Stork Riders are tolerated by the other tribes, but they greatly disturb them. The Stork Riders have the frail bodies of children, most appearing no more than ten. And yet, many of their elders are known to be older than sixty summers.

I believe this is a form of magical symbiosis. The storks are able to prolong the life of a stolen child, keeping them as children to prevent them growing too large that that stork can no longer bear their weight. In exchange, the stork uses the Rider as an auxiliary mind, to augment its own. Before stealing a child, Mesmer Storks are noted to be mere animals, without thought or drive beyond the hunt. But once they possess a human, they gain a drive and cunning undreamt of. It is said when the Stork Riders talk, they speak as if they are the stork, that they are one and the same.

It is possible I am reading too much into this, that I assume the tail wags the dog. The more sensible explanation is that Stork Riders are simply a smaller breed of human, who have adapted to the high altitude and learned to tame storks as mounts in battle, and that the storks that stole children simply ate them. Yet why do their eyes match those of the storks? Why do they not age? And why do they speak as if mind slaves of the Mesmer Storks?

In any case, the Stork Riders have ever been a well-known component of the Tureqi hordes, ever since the Hobgoblin wars, long before the unification of the Tureqi under the Anax. Their hunting of gargoyles is also what drove that species to the mountains bordering the freezing wastes of Ashebos.

Be the Mesmer Storks psychic thieves or simply terrible predatory birds, neither prospect seems particularly fitting for a fairy tale designed to stop young minds learning about how wombs work…

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Guien Lore Snippet: On the subject of the Khidd and the Great Sprawl…

•May 7, 2018 • Leave a Comment

[Note: Here’s a little piece of background I wrote for Guien. In the process of writing the three books for Guien so far, I have a ton of extra background material about the entire world of Guien and its weird creatures and settings. I thought I’d share some of these in-universe snippets of lore with you, in the run up to the release of Eater of Names this year. Here is the first. Enjoy!]

On the subject of the Khidd and the Great Sprawl

By Lady Betheny Agredda of Old-Hold

 

Here in Katahia, we have myths about the Khidd, treating them more akin to spirits or imps of the Utterdark hell; cautionary tales to frighten children. Of course, we have little cause to think of the Khidd as more than fairy tale monsters. However, for the people of Eastern Oellir, the Khidd are a far more solid and pernicious race, and far from mythological. This treatise hopes to bridge the gulf of knowledge between our cultures on the matter of the Khidd, and to provide the layman a grounding in the origins, nature and history of this fascinating species.

The Khidd can be found in the far eastern reaches of Oellir, in a tangled, nightmarish forest known as the Sprawl, which stretches from the Warden mountains down to the Sulphur sea, and East as far as men have travelled. I have read lurid accounts of adventurers travelling thousands of miles through the Sprawl, finding empty cities amidst the poisoned trees; the lingering remnants of long-vanquished civilisations. These accounts claim they found no life there but Khidd and their spawn. I give these accounts but scant credence however, for if the Khidd were so overwhelmingly deadly, then how did any simple band of adventurers ever escape their grasp? Still, the east beyond Magnalla is a quiet place, which is likely due in part to Khidd encroachment. Perhaps there are entire civilisations beyond our known world, cut off from us by Khidd and their forests?

Whilst Katahian sources vary wildly in their descriptions of Khidd, from demonic hobgoblins with horns and stingers, to shapeless smoke creatures, the Magnallan, and Drenchlander accounts are remarkably consistent. They describe them as crustaceans with two sets of snapping claws and hideously toxic stinging barbs, with natural armour of glossy black, gigantic cousins of the common scorpion. There are even Tureqi sagas which sing of great champions doing battle with ‘spiders clad in black steel and shears to cut a man’s thread, swift as breath.’

Wherever the Khidd go, the Sprawl follows, which implies some sort of correlation. There are stories of the forests seeming to literally march with the Khidd as they swarmed over the land. Painted Priests of Turasser have suggested to me this is clear proof that Khidd are demonic forest spirits, and imply that all who follow the teachings of Selmyra and the nameless forest gods could summon Khidd at any moment, justifying their persecution. This is, of course, nonsense. I would advance a simpler explanation, proposed by the learned Magnallan Lanid of Akask, who has actually examined Khidd corpses first-hand. To Lanid, the Khidd live in symbiosis with the twisted trees of the Sprawl; they hatch their eggs in the boles of Sprawl-trees, turning their sap and ugly green as they gestate. Then, as the Khidd scuttle forth to hunt, they carry the seeds of the trees in their segmented shells, spreading the Sprawl’s progeny wherever they go.

Unlike more traditional enemies, Khidd do not fight as armies, with supply lines, strategy and morale. They are relentless, fearless swarming animals, devouring everything they can get their claws on.

I once asked my father, Marshall Agredda, what we might do to fend off a Khidd invasion here at Old-Hold. ‘Hope our walls are high enough,’ was his taciturn response.

From my collated accounts, the Khidd have always been here, predating even the Age of Great Beasts, with their frozen corpses captured in sediment stone. Indeed, I would go as far to say the first creatures to crawl from the primordial oceans were not our ancestors, but rather the great scorpions in their living suits of armour.

In either case, the people of Magnalla have fought the Khidd for thousands of years. Before the Starfall, the Khidd seem to have been driven to the edge of the world, becoming an almost forgotten peril. With the fall of stars and the end of the Gnomic hegemony, the Khidd returned with a vengeance, sweeping across the east like ravening locusts. It is believed that the threat of the Khidd was what forged the first alliance between humans and hobgoblins in the east. But even together, Magnalla would have been swallowed up by the Sprawl if not for the invention of the Djinn Trap by the scholar-mages of Alazea. Armed with these chained demons, and the other advanced weapons of the Magnallans, the Khidd were stymied.

The fight against the Khidd continues to this day, with the Reichgoblins constantly launching forays into the woods to destroy Khidd nests. We know this through stories brought back by mercenaries hired to help combat the primordial terrors.

For all we fear the Lord of Travesties, in whatever guise he takes, and the hobgoblin menace at home, I do sometimes wonder if we have learned to be frightened of entirely the wrong nemesis. For if the Khidd should ever triumph, thus would end civilisation, replaced by an eternity of chittering jaws and glossy black carapace.

The Hobgoblin’s Herald: A Year on

•April 28, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Hello dear readers,

I must first apologise for my lengthy absence from the blogosphere; a year in internet time is an eternity (and is hardly any time at all in the publishing world, unless you are a writing machine like Brandon Sanderson or Stephen King, or a big publisher with an avengers-like roster of full time authors).

Just thought I’d pop in here now to let you know what I’ve been up to, show you some cool-ass Hobgoblin fan art, and setting out what is upcoming from me.

Hobgoblin Herald Cover_

The Cover of Book 1, by the wonderful Tabitha Stirling (follow her @VoleQueen on twitter)

The past year has been a fun one for me. Not only was The Hobgoblin’s Herald for Fox Spirit Books released, I have also been writing the second and third entries in the series, Eater of Names (coming this year) and Fleshless Prince respectively.

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Stunning fan art depicting some of the main characters of Hobgoblin’s Herald, drawn by the masterful Manuel Mesones (visit his Imaginarium here for more.)

On April 30th, the interview I did for Kendell Reviews last month will be out, so be sure to check it out on his site this coming Monday.

In light of the upcoming release of Eater of Names, I will also be doing a series of blogs themed around Hobgoblin’s Herald, and the world of Guien in general. Once I am given the go ahead, I’d also like to do a preview of the cover for Eater of Names, which incidentally Tabby Stirling has absolutely knocked out of the park.

When creating a world, there is so much history and supplementary material you create, much of it only being hinted at in the novels themselves. I tihnk this is a shame so have decided to create a few in-universe articles on some of the more obscure portions of the history of Guien I’ve come up with during the course of writing these 3 novels, and will be posting them up here semi-regularly in the run up to release day.

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I’ll be delving into some of the dark corners of Guien, to see what lurks within.

Just as a final note, once again I will be attending Edge Lit 7 at Derby Quad this year, Saturday July 14th. If you’re going make sure to look out for me, say hi, and you know, maybe pick up a copy of Herald from the Fox Spirit stall if you haven’t already.

Goodbye for now, but watch this space. Interesting things be afoot…

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

•April 3, 2017 • 1 Comment
Guien-WIP_03

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:

TV:

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

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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.

Movies:

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:

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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.

Books:

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

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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.