Archive for January, 2013

WARNING – THIS POST CONTAINS LONG RANT. PROCEED AT OWN RISK

For those of you in Canada who purchase Kindle books from amazon.com, you may have noticed that the site has been pushing you to switch your account to the newly opened Canadian Kindle store at amazon.ca. It appears in the last few days, the vast majority of Kindle books are no longer available from amazon.com for customers with a registered Canadian address.

I have been a loyal Kindle customer now for several years and now I have suddenly found myself cut off from services on which I rely, some of which, for me, raise Amazon above the competition.

In Jeff Bezos’ presentation in September 2012 to launch the new Kindles, one of the new innovations promoted was Whispersync for Voice with Audible books. I was very excited about this, and since its launch, I have made extensive use of this service. Naturally, I am very disappointed that it appears I will no longer have access to it for future purchases. It is infuriating that Canadian users had access to this service and now have had it removed. For me this is a significant deterioration in the service I have come to expect from Amazon. It is my sincere hope that Amazon will find some way to reinstate this service for Canadian users.

The Amazon site says it’s “great news” yet tells you the following:

Periodicals and Newsstand
Currently active subscriptions will be canceled upon transferring to another country. A pro-rated refund will be applied if there are any remaining issues you have already paid for. Once subscriptions are canceled, you will not be able to access past issues. Periodical subscription availability varies by market.

Music
Amazon Cloud Player is not supported in your new country. You will no longer be able to access your Cloud Player music library from your device after you have transferred your account to your new country. However, you may continue to access your music locally on your device by downloading it from Cloud Player prior to transferring your account to your new country.

Video
Videos purchased in your current country will no longer be available after transferring your account.

“Great news!” Really? Loss of access to purchased content is “great news?”

Over the three years that I have had my Kindle, and happily purchased from amazon.com/kindle, I have used my Wishlist as a way of keeping track of books which interest me. It has now grown to 6 pages and is now rendered useless by the forced swap to amazon.ca for Kindle purchases. Although this may seem a minor complaint from Amazon’s point of view, from the individual user’s point of view, users who are Amazon’s bread and butter, it is a cause of significant frustration. It would have been a nice touch to have offered a way to export this list to amazon.ca.

When I contacted Kindle support to ask about this, I received a very unreassuring reply:

I’m sorry, at this time, ability to buy books with Whispersync for Voice to sync with Audible is not available on Canadian Kindle store. We’re regularly working on improvements to your Kindle experience. I’ve let the Kindle team know you’re interested in this feature.

Also an options to import wish list from one site to another is not available. I apologize for the inconvenience you experienced.

The business of our international customers is very important to us, and I have also passed your message along to the appropriate people in our company for their consideration.

We’ll consider your feedback as we plan further improvements. Customer feedback like yours is always important to us. I’ll be sure to pass your message along to the appropriate department as we continue to improve the Kindle experience for our customers.

I really hope that Amazon will be able to restore this service. I understand that this is a very personal gripe, and will not have any major impact on your average Canadian Kindle user. However, taken in line with Amazon’s policy of restricting many services to its US customers, this has left a foul taste in my mouth. I love my Whispersync for Voice and am very unhappy to have lost yet another service.

In a similar vein, Amazon recently announced that it has extended its Prime service to Canadian users. Although for many, the free shipping may justify the $79 per year price tag, even though they are paying the same as our American cousins, Canadians do not have access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (one free Kindle book a month) and free instant streaming of movies and TV shows.

Right now I feel really let down by Amazon and I’m beginning to see fewer and fewer reasons to stick with it and not move to Kobo.

So, I have just finished reading A Memory of Light, the final book in the Wheel of Time. I thought the best way to review it would be to show and discuss the various texts I sent to my friend Natasha while reading. The texts were written as I was reading, the comments after I’d finished the book. I started reading from Chapter 3 as I had already read the prereleased prologue and first two chapters. There are of course spoilers for the entire book here. Proceed at your own risk:

Random thoughts

Surprised how much impact Moraine had on the negotiations at the Fields of Merrilor. Thought her Crowning Moment of Awesome would be at the end at Shayol Ghul

Certainly, she did have a big influence on the discussions, and it’s true the Dragon’s Peace would have failed without her. However, I’m not certain these actions were worth Mat’s eye to save the world.

Elayne as Commander-in-Chief of Team Light? I think not.

Yes, I know she’s been trained in politics since she was a babe in arms, and I know there’s a precedent with Egwene as the youngest Amyrlin Seat ever, but really?

Hold on, Lan. Team Light is coming. Lan’s last desperate ride. Beautiful, just beautiful. “Malkier lives on this day” YESSSS!!!

For me this was one of the most beautiful and memorable sections of the book. It was wonderfully written and I’m so happy Rand finally got round to sending aid.

It appears Lan is the Aragorn of the WoT

I was referring to his stirring speech and valiant attempt to take a few Trollocs with him if he were going to die rather than retreat.

LOL Elayne and her bloody goat’s milk

This amused me, but it’s this kind of cosseting from her aides that made me doubt her suitability as Commander in Chief.

Am at a boring part. Lots of military and tactical planning

I understand this is important, and starts to set up the Great Captains’ Compulsion storyline, but yawn.

Hah, the Dagger of Invisibility makes an appearance

Many fans speculated this would be important when Aviendha identified it several books ago. Well spotted.

Heh heh, Uno and his swearing

Nice to see you, Uno :o)

Oh crap, the first Dreadlords have just turned up.

At this point they didn’t really do a great deal.

Hmmm, apart from Dreadlords on the defensive, things seem to be going too well for Team Light. I fear the smelly brown stuff is going to hit the ventilator very very soon…

How right I was.

It’s fun spotting the Memories of Light. Came across a few already

I would just like to say how much I enjoyed the Memories of Light, the little snippets released on a daily basis by Tor prior to release. They were a wonderful way of whetting the appetite and generating discussion without spoilers. Well done, Tor.

Aw Rand and Perrin’s final farewell

Rand has clearly come to terms with the fact that he is going to die.

Really enjoying the Black Tower storyline

Or to be more specific, Androl and Pevara. After goodness knows how many books, it’s good to finally start dealing with this storyline. I really enjoyed the character development of all of the major protagonists, Androl, Pevara and Logain. It was lovely to see Androl grow into his leadership role despite his lack of strength in the One Power and subsequent lack of confidence. I really felt for him early on when Taim removed his pin. Pevara too was also one of the least offensive Reds, and it was fun to see her loosen up and accept the new role of her Ajah. Logain’s dealing with the trauma of his imprisonment and near Turning was also well done.

You go Androl! Nice use of gateways

Androl is definitely one of my favourite new characters and I was fascinated by how he compensated lack of strength with creativity.

LOL Rand’s oneupmanship chat with Mat

“I’ll see your rescue of Moraine, and raise you one Cleansing” I enjoyed this bit of levity before things start to get really serious.

OK, pre-Battle crap is starting to get serious now

Team Dark has certainly upped its game this book. The Compulsion on the four Great Captains nearly winning the Last Battle before it even started was a master stroke. It also neatly sets up Mat’s role in the book. It did rather bug me though – I thought the Warder Bond was supposed to provide some sort of protection against Compulsion type attacks, although maybe I’m wrong. In any case, why didn’t Siuan at least suspect something was wrong?

Oh, Alanna, you stupid, stupid woman. You should have seen that development coming a mile off. In her shoes I’d have ditched that Bond five books ago and got the hell out of Dodge. And why didn’t Team Light have her under lock and key and 24 hour protective custody? Thank the Light superhealer Nynaeve is on hand

It didn’t take a lot of imagination to predict Alanna’s kidnapping. She has always been a real liability for Team Light and I’m surprised they didn’t take care of her sooner, especially when it was apparent the risk was far greater than the benefits Team Light received.

Déjà vu. “we need to make a desperate last stand to give Frodo… er, I mean Rand… time to do his thing”

Typical fantasy trope.

About to start the chapter entitled The Last Battle. I fear the body count is about to rise exponentially :o(

And I was right

Ah, I’d forgotten the Seals had been stolen

For me that was one of the first real “oh, crap” moments when Rand met with Egwene and realised Team Dark had stolen the Seals. It’s funny how, with so much else going on, i could have forgotten about that.

He could cut a Trolloc with a gateway at 300 paces, and summon fire from Dragonmount itself and he still wanted to carry a sword. It was a male thing she decided.” LOL

I adore Androl and Pevara and their strange double Bond. I could quite happily read an entire book of their adventures.

Sigh. Those fool-headed Trakand boys. As Leigh Butler said, bringing a knife to a global thermonuclear warfare fight indeed

So much for Gawyn’s promises to obey Egwene and stand in her shadow.

“Androl, you are wonderful..” Hear, hear. Gotta love a man who can destroy your enemies with volcano fire and then will go and make you a nice cup of tea. With honey of course.

LOL, well my husband has been known to make me a cup of tea, but I’ve not seen him bring down volcano fire on any enemies yet. I’m so glad both Androl and Pevara seem to have survived the Last Battle. I loved their relationship.

Oh damn, the Siuan/Bryne viewing is still pending despite the events of The Gathering Storm. I have a bad feeling about this….

Oh damn, poor Siuan. First of the major players to die :o(

I was sorry to see Siuan and Bryne die, and with such little page space too. She deserved better, much better.

Uh, oh. Pevara and Androl being dragged off to see Demandred. YOU KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY PEVANDROL YOU NASTY FORSAKEN, YOU!! Is it bad that I’m more invested in these two newish characters than in some of the original ones?

I’m so happy they got away.

Mother’s milk in a cup, Berelain, you’re a nurse in a field hospital in the middle of the Last Battle and you’re wearing a diadem?!?

I know it’s the symbol of your status, but really?

Huh. Surprised it took Team Dark this long to make a concerted effort to focus an attack on one of Rand’s lady loves

Team Dark is acting rather more effectively this book, but I would have thought they would have exploited this fairly large weakness.

And it looks as though Demandred is going for a twofer on Elayne’s brothers

Sigh, those two, what can you do?

Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about Faile and the Horne of Valere. Wish I could forget her sinking us into the Plotline of Doom for three books as easily

Faile was surprisingly not too annoying this book.

Wow, so Egwene Bonded Leilwin. Didn’t see that one coming

For me, this was definitely the weakest part of the book. Egwene’s overcoming her hate of Seanchan and trusting Leilwin enough to Bond her should have been a wonderful final character development for her, and it was botched. I appreciate there was a lot to fit into this book, but I do believe it could have been handled better.

Damn you Taim, leave my Androl alone!

Good man, Androl. Not only do you escape with a whole hide, but the Seals as well!

Classic! Androl is disguised as Nensen to get close to Taim, and Taim disguises “Nensen” as Androl to get close to Logain!

Nice fun moment in the middle of the chaos.

Aw, bless you Leane. Last Battle is raging around you and you have time to discuss cosmetics and seduction?!? If I liked you less I’d be annoyed.

Heh.

Sigh. Only Aes Sedai could stick to the strength-in-the-power hierarchy in the middle of the Last Battle

Sigh, indeed.

Aw, go Talmanes, leading everyone in a rousing chorus of Jak of the Shadows as the world turns to custard

Reminiscent of earlier, less traumatic times.

Poor Olver, so out of his depth. Grudging respect for Faile for using herself as bait.

The whole Olver storyline – so beautifully written.

WTG, Androl, promoted to full Asha’man :o) But how in the Light did Logain come by the Seals, or did I miss something?

I really had a broad grin on my face for Androl when Logain promoted him, and was so happy for him. It’s really a bit strange to feel so delighted for a literary character, but it shows how well Brandon had done his job. I’d really felt for him earlier when Taim had taken his pin.

And yes, I had missed the point when Androl sneakily cut Taim’s belt with the pouch containing the Seals ;o)

Aw, no, not Bela the horse. Damn you, Team Jordan, she came through too much to end up in a Trolloc cook pot.

I suspect that this is the death which will cause the most adverse reaction from fans of the series. That horse saw more epic moments in her brief history than many of the other less main characters. Some people were even having fun speculating that she was the Creator’s avatar since she so often turned up just when a horse was needed.

Aw no, now Birgitte :o(

I guess that’s what you get for being at the last book of the series – all bets are off about character survival. And this is not even a George R R Martin novel!

Well played, Min, well played.

I have always considered Min one of the smarter characters in the series, and I enjoyed seeing her totally own Fortuona and browbeat her into helping Team Light.

Flame of Tar Valon. Cool weave, crap name

I imagine Brandon was trying to come up with a name reminiscent of balefire hence flame, but Flame of Tar Valon just didn’t work for me. I really liked the concept though, and I don’t agree with some fans who complain Egwene just pulled this out of the hat at the last minute. Throughout the series she has been shown applying logic to weaves to extrapolate new ones, and she did test the FoTV in miniature earlier.

Goodbye, Egwene, Amyrlin Seat. Sorry to see you go, but a fitting end. One more Chosen down

I was sorry to see Egwene go, but repairing the Pattern, taking out the bulk of the enemy Dreadlords and a Chosen does seem a fitting end. Of all the main characters, Rand excepted, she seemed to have the least planned post Last Battle. Nynaeve hopes for a future with Lan, Perrin wearing the Broken Crown of Saldaea with Faile, Mat dealing with the Seanchan and his marriage to Tuon. For the last few books Egwene’s main focus has been reuniting the White Tower and preparing it for the Last Battle, and she has completed that goal.

And Lan takes down Demandred. Lan has to survive to have babies with Nynaeve, doesn’t he?!?! Please?

Lan proves himself to be the badass sword fighter he is. This was a nice use of the fox head medallion to force a sword on sword duel without the Power.

Aw Olver blew the Horn :o) Excellent! Birgitte remains a Hero of the Horn :o) Tearing up. Jain Farstrider came back for Olver as a Hero of the Horn

This, for me, was one of the most beautifully written and emotional parts of the book. Many fans had suspected that Mat’s connection to the Horn by his death at Rahvin’s hand and subsequent resurrection, but I hadn’t seen any speculation of Olver’s role.

Ah crap, Darkhounds. Come on wolves, we need you.

My bad. I forgot that even wolves fear to fight Darkhounds.

Heh, Hinderstap makes a cameo appearance.

This was a fun shootout.

Touching scene between Master Luhan and Perrin

This was a nice scene to show how far Perrin has come in his personal development.

Very clumsy resolution of the Massouri/Masema mystery

I didn’t really care about this particular mystery, and it was very clumsily written. It was as if Brandon had been told he had to include a resolution to this somewhere, and just couldn’t figure out where and how to stick it in.

Nice Thom/Cadsuane fakeout. I guess the Warder Bond told him it was a Black Sister

Heh

And Gollum, sorry Padan Fain approaches the Cracks of Doom, sorry Shayol Ghul. Better move your arses Mat and Perrin.

The parallels between Gollum and Fain have been long discussed by the fandom.

Heh, Mat on the raken. Hilarious!

Nice to get a last few moments of levity before the final push. But, Mat, if you’re married to the Seanchan Empress, better get used to those raken…

Excellent! Hero Wolves called by the Horn! But where is Hopper? He of all wolves deserves to be a Hero.

I do love the wolves, and Hero wolves are just a bonus. Good to see someone can take on the Darkhounds. I am disappointed Hopper wasn’t there, though. I got really attached to him after 13 books.

Lame end for Padan Fain. I guess it was foreshadowed. Slayer’s ending was more fitting

With hindsight, it seemed logical that Mat would be the one to take him out. However, it just seemed too easy; Fain has been a walking horror becoming more and more creepy as the books continued. I also wasn’t too happy with Mat’s exposition about how he realised he was immune to Fain’s miasma. That could have been handled better.

The Slayer/Perrin battle really couldn’t have gone any other way.

And there you have it, Rand’s true plan revealed. Well played, sir, well played. But Moridin was a lame villain at the end.

I was referring here to Rand/Moraine/Nynaeve’s use of Callandor’s flaw to trap Moridin. I had expected more from Moridin at the end though. He has been portrayed as a major villain throughout the latter half of the series and this was rather meh.

Sigh. I guess this is the book of Compulsion. Throw it off, Perrin, you can do it.

And of course, for love of Faile, he does.

And there you have it, the prophesied second time Perrin has to be there for Rand. Bye bye Lanfear and your puny Compulsion.

I was pretty happy with the way this one turned out.

Aw, Rand’s dead :o(

:o(

So Faile lives. I’ll grudgingly admit I’m OK with that.

Her actions saving the Horn of Valere grants her a pass in my eyes. I do admire her courage giving herself as bait to draw Team Dark away from the Horn. This is nice irony as she first met our heroes as a Hunter for the Horn!

Oooh is Birgitte being reborn as one of Melaine’s twins?

This was just a random thought I had.

Tearing up, Tam’s mourning over Rand’s body

This was so sad. It was nice that both Rand and Perrin had some nice moments with the father figures in their pre-Moraine life.

Hah. The Bond. I knew Rand wasn’t dead 😀 The prophesied body swap switcher. Alivia “will help you die” or fake your death at least. Another prophesy down.

This whole sequence was pretty well foreshadowed in hindsight. I would have liked a bit more detail on how Alivia accomplished the switcheroo, though.

Hah. Cadsuane Sedai as the new Amyrlin… Light help the White Tower!

Light be with you Aes Sedai. You’re going to need it…

Nice ending for Rand and his harem

This was another of the most beautiful parts of the book. I hear this was written by Jordan, not Sanderson.

“There are no endings, and never will be endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was AN ending.

The end of the Last Book of the Wheel of Time.

Aw. Sniff. It’s the end of an Age. Despite assertions to the contrary from Jordan, many people speculated that this would be the last turning of the Wheel. However, it’ clear that the Wheel keeps turning. It seems clear that, although Rand resealed the Bore as good as new with a blend of saidin, saidar and the Dark One’s own Power, there is a new weakness at the place where Egwene strengthened the Pattern with the Flame of Tar Valon. That will be the new point of the Bore in a future age.

Conclusion

From some of my comments, you may have thought I was unhappy or disappointed with this book. Far from it. I felt it was a fitting and appropriate ending to the saga of the Wheel of Time.

Among the many highlights for me were Lan’s storyline, Olver’s new role and the conclusion of Rand’s tale. All of these sequences were beautiful, exquisitely written and emotionally satisfying.

I also really loved the characters of Pevara and Androl – it’s been a while since I’ve felt so invested in literary characters. Often I felt more invested in their relationship than in many of the main characters. Real kudos to Brandon. I enjoyed the real character development of these two. The whole Black Tower storyline was a joy to read.

The fact that Team Dark finally brought its A game to the table this book was much appreciated. This was the first time I felt that Team Dark was actually in with a chance to defeat Team Light. Graendal’s efforts in particular were a master stroke.

Having said that, I was unhappy about certain aspects of the book. One of these was Egwene’s character development and her relationship with Egeanin. Egwene’s long-standing, bone-deep hatred of the Seanchan was dealt with far too quickly and easily. This should have been built up better.

Another aspect I didn’t feel came off as well as the authors perhaps hoped was the battle of wits between Mat and Demandred. I have the impression that this was intended to be a chess match between Grand Masters, but it didn’t quite come off. I’m also not sure if it was intended to be like the battle at Falme where the physical battle mirrored Rand’s battle with Ishamael in the sky, but I didn’t see that.

All in all, I was delighted in how this book unfolded, and give great kudos to Team Jordan for a satisfying ending to one of my favourite series.

Please enjoy this interview with Melissa McPhail, author of the spellbinding epic fantasy, Cephrael’s Hand. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including a Kindle Fire, $450 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

 

1. Your debut novel, Cephrael’s Hand was the winner of The Written Arts Award for both the best fiction and the best Sci-Fi/Fantasy categories–congratulations! So tell us, what was the inspiration behind this story, and can you tell us a little bit about it?

I started the first version of Cephrael’s Hand when I was going through a difficult time in my life. I needed the cathartic joy that I’d always found in writing. I didn’t set out to write a novel—just to write. That first draft had no planning, no world-building, no design. It was pure creative inspiration. And it was awful!

But the characters… I had brought them into being, and they insisted that they had a story to tell. It took my growing as a writer—and over a million words tossed into the trash—to finally tell their story properly.

Cephrael’s Hand is the result of a philosopher’s approach to fantasy. It’s the story of one man’s steadfast determination to save the realm he swore to protect, and his willingness to do anything it takes to accomplish that end—even to betray those he loves. It’s the story of the unlikely pieces (men and women) who unknowingly fall beneath his shadow, and of the players who follow him. Ultimately, it’s a story of salvation.

I see fantasy as a metaphor for life in this world. We all face tests of our honor. We’re all working to accomplish our goals and flourish and prosper. Few of us set out to do evil. Yet evil is done. Goals are abandoned. Integrity is compromised. We totter precariously on thin wires as we move through the labyrinth of life. I strive with my series to illuminate those wire-thin paths, that we might find solid ground beneath them.

 

2. Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the readers when they crack open Cephrael’s Hand?

If you listen to my critics—too many characters! But this is an epic fantasy dealing with a conflict that spans multiple kingdoms. It takes a team to save the world. 😉

Hopefully you’ll meet interesting characters and a world you can easily find your own place within. You’ll discover pirates, princes, star-crossed lovers and philosopher-soldiers. You’ll see many characters who are not as they appear, and a few who are exactly as they seem. You’ll find adventure on a perilous road with prince Ean val Lorian, and farcical escapades with Trell of the Tides and the pirate Carian vran Lea.

You’ll often wonder who is good and who is evil—because most villains in real life are cloaked in shades of gray.

 

3. Can you tell us more about some of the key concepts that inspired the world of Cephrael’s Hand?

The story is crafted out of many of the philosophies I’ve studied. As I was planning Cephrael’s Hand, I had been reading about game philosophy. Game philosophy speaks on the importance of games in our lives and takes a look at their composition (barriers, purposes and freedoms) and their anatomy (pieces, players, maker of games). It’s a compelling concept with abundant applications, and I became immediately interested in exploring the ideas more via the story of Cephrael’s Hand.

Balance is another concept that threads throughout the story. Exploration of this idea comes out of my study and practice of yoga. If ever a concept permeates our lives, the pursuit of balance is one. Whether seeking to balance work and parenthood, our social commitments and our private lives, or even just the juggle of that list of a thousand things we’ll never get to, every one of us is seeking balance in some fashion. Placing this concept within the framework of a fantasy story embellishes it with a magical lure.

 

4. The Cephreal’s Hand constellation plays an important role in the book. Is there a real life constellation that plays a similarly important role in your life?

I can’t say that a particular constellation is important to me personally, though I’ve studied Astrology for many years. But I’m drawn to the idea, both scientifically and philosophically, that we are all connected somehow with each other and the broader universe. String Theory and General Relativity play to this idea from the perspective of science. Certainly, if we are connected to the stars in some esoteric way, then the actions of the stars can impact us. Astrology believes this, and the graphing of natal charts proves an underlying truth in this ancient, mystical and often misunderstood science. Philosophies far and wide declare that we’ve descended or separated from a universal oneness and teach karmic values with the intent of helping us return or re-ascend to that harmonious state.

The concept of Balance in Cephrael’s Hand stems from this idea of universal connectivity.

 

5. Ever since a linguist named Tolkien came along, language has been a very important aspect of the epic fantasy genre. What inspired the various languages in Cephrael’s Hand?

The desert languages are based on Farsi or Arabic, depending on the tribe. Farsi is one of the oldest languages still in use today, and its traditions lent themselves well to the Kandori culture, which is one of Alorin’s oldest races. Likewise Arabic, being originally a language of the nomadic tribes, seemed the correct base from which to draw the language of the Akkad.

Even older than both of these languages in my novel is Old Alaeic, which is the original language of theangiel, the Maker’s blessed children, and of the two original races: the zanthyrs and the drachwyr. Old Alaeic draws primarily from Gaelic root words. I chose Gaelic because the language maintains some of the earliest roots of our Indo-European linguistic heritage. Its spellings and pronunciations are almost universally reminiscent of mythological beings from ancient times and are often associated, especially in the fantasy genre, with elves, Druids or other mystical races.

 

6. Which other authors have served as influences and inspiration for your own work?

I love lyrical writing, so my bookshelves host an eclectic mix (albeit heavily weighted with fantasy and science fiction). Those who first come to mind from the fantasy genre are Anne Rice, Patrick Rothfuss and Jacqueline Carey, all of whom carry on a great and fabulous romance with the English language, much to the ecstasy of millions. Being able to string words like pearls into a story that reads at times like poetry in motion seems the greatest pinnacle of storytelling skill.

 

7. It’s been said that one of the most time-consuming processes of writing epic fantasy is world building. Without giving too much away, what are a few of your favorite world aspects and what inspired them?

As I wrote in a recent guest post, world-building and the magic system developed for the world are intimately connected. We can’t really describe a fantasy world without talking about the magic that rules it, because so much of what we understand about the world derives from our understanding of how the physical laws of the world work.

In creating my world of Alorin, I established five “strands” of the lifeforce known as elae. These strands are a way of describing and codifying the lifeforce which is the source of energy in the world, but they are only one way of describing it. While most of the viewpoints I am writing from agree with describing the lifeforce in terms of “strands,” there are other races in Alorin who have codified it differently, darkly, or with less purity for lack of philosophical simplicity.

I love exploring different viewpoints and imagining how each would describe a universal energy. I love examining the cultures that seek to describe this energy and how their ideals might alter their understanding of it. For example, the Adept race believes that Adepts are born with the ability to work one of the five strands, but only one. Yet some of the “Wildling” races are known to be able to innately work more than one strand.

The Fhorgs race works blood sacrifice to fuel their magic. Would their magic work without such sacrifice? The Adepts believe that it would. Yet within the Adept philosophy, a working of magic requires faith both in the existence of power and in one’s ability to manipulate it. If the Fhorgs don’t believe themselves able to wield the lifeforce without letting blood, it follows that magic would become unavailable to them simply because of their lack of belief. Moreover, because the Fhorgs don’t limit their ideas of their magical ability to a five strand approach, it’s possible they might achieve more through the wielding of it–or not. These are existential questions for these two races, questions which set them at odds with each other. Questions from which derive conflicts and persecutions, intrigues and betrayals.

Such explorations fuel both world-building and magic-system building, because their delineation establishes how the world works, how the people of the world interact with the energy that fuels it, how they interact with each other, and how they use the energy itself to work arcane acts.

 

8. You grew up in a house full of musicians, but your creativity emerged in the form of writing. Have you always felt called to write?

I always thought I would end up with a career in music like the rest of my family. I grew up harboring such an appreciation of these accomplished, classical musicians all around me, it seemed a natural course to follow in their footsteps.

Instead, I stumbled into writing the way one sometimes bumps into providence, colliding with it accidentally. I happened to take a creative writing class in high school. My creative writing instructor believed the best way to teach writing was to send her students out to actually write. So I did—hundreds of pages over the next few years. Writing became both an outlet for my creativity and the escape reading had always provided. I know I share that love affair with many authors.

 

9. At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?

Usually I turn to music—either composing it or listening to it. If I can find a great new song, sometimes that will help inspire me out of the hole. When a scene just isn’t working, I’ve learned to go back to where I was last doing well in the story and scrap everything that came after. It’s an agonizing process, but often necessary.

 

10. The Dagger of Adendigaeth, Book 2 in your series, has just been published. How has your vision expanded from book 1 to book 2, and what kind of creative growth have you experienced in your process this second time around?

We grow as writers with every novel—at least I believe that’s the goal. Many of the things I gained in writing The Dagger of Adendigaeth are intangible, ineffable understandings of myself and my creative process. I think of those times of being fabulously, fantastically stuck and the final moment of inspiration that launched me out of that depressing well. I think of the plot twists that came to me completely without warning, and the absolute magic that is the creative process.

The thing I loved most about writing this book was being able to explore so many viewpoints—especially the viewpoints of those characters who might be viewed as antagonists. But I don’t and never have seen them that way. It’s my greatest purpose in writing this series to be able to show the motivations and ideals that mold and shape each character. The more we can understand each other, the closer to a peaceful coexistence we will find, whether in the microcosm of our lives or the broader political and religious zones.

 

Cephrael Tour BadgeAs part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Cephrael’s Hand eBook edition is just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes.

The prizes include a Kindle Fire, $450 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copy of Cephrael’s Hand for just 99 cents
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event

About Cephrael’s Hand: Two brothers find themselves on opposite sides of a great battle, neither knowing the other is alive… A traitor works in exile while preparing for the disaster only he knows is coming… A race of beings from beyond the fringe of the universe begin unmaking the world from within… And all across the land, magic is dying. Cephrael’s Hand is the first novel in the award-winning series A Pattern of Shadow and Light. Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

About the author: Melissa McPhail is a classically trained pianist, violinist and composer, a Vinyasa yoga instructor, and an avid Fantasy reader. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, their twin daughters and two very large cats. Visit Melissa on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.

I am reviewing the free copy of Cephrael’s Hand I was provided as part of the Novel Publicity Blog Tour in which I am taking part.

The copy I was given starts with a multiple page glossary explaining the world of Cephrael’s Hand and its inhabitants. The fantasy geek within me started clapping her hands with glee at this; such a glossary usually means extensive and detailed world building, such as that of the Wheel of Time of A Song of Ice and Fire, and Cephrael’s Hand didn’t disappoint.

What I liked
I found the point of view characters to be engaging and enjoyable. Although the major protagonists started out separately, and indeed in separate parts of the world, the way in which their paths all began to weave together was very well done. It was also enjoyable that the reader and other characters have a strong idea of Trell’s identity before he himself does. I look forward to seeing how the characters develop and evolve in coming books.

Personally, I always appreciate when non PoV characters are ambiguous, as is the case here. It was fun to speculate what Phaedor the zanthyr’s motivations might be, and there are many other characters whose motives are similarly unclear.

The world building was extensive and well done with many different creatures and peoples. The magic system was likewise detailed and consistent to its own rules.

What I didn’t like
My only gripe with the book was that sometimes the whole world was presented rather quickly, so at times I felt confused about which strand of elae went with which role, and what the various non human creatures were. All the protagonists are familiar to a greater or lesser degree with the world in which they find themselves. Sometimes it can be useful to have a less knowledgeable character to act as an audience surrogate and introduction to the world of the novel.

In summary
I found Cephrael’s Hand a fun, well written and engaging read and have no problems recommending it. Indeed, I have already purchased the sequel, The Dagger of Adendigaeth, and am looking forward to reading it.

I have Cephrael’s Hand four stars out of five.

Please enjoy this guest post by Melissa McPhail, author of the spellbinding epic fantasy, Cephrael’s Hand. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including a Kindle Fire, $450 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

 

My Take on Magic Systems

A guest post by Melissa McPhail

 

One of the most enticing aspects of writing fantasy is developing a magic system. The author’s magic system is inextricably woven into their world and contributes greatly to the reader’s vision of the world overall. The way a system is created either makes the world seem real or unreal, depending on how well the author has grounded the system with laws and limitations.

For example, scientists in our own world have defined laws—inertia, gravity, the periodic table—that describe the physical limitations and properties of energy. We don’t expect a stone to rise upwards when we throw it, but we might believe it could float if it were somehow made of helium. Likewise in a fantasy world, it’s important to codify the system with laws and rules (and to stick to those rules once established), to set boundaries for what the magician can and cannot do with magic, and to establish consequences for and ramifications of magical misuse.

This all shows that magic systems require significant thought and research on the author’s part to develop realistically. Yet for all of this, the manner in which one might design and describe the magical process is potentially limitless—there are as many magical systems as there are fantasy novels, and equally as many readers eager to pontificate on their pros and cons and/or to organize the systems into categories and types.

The one thing most magic systems have in common, however, is that they all handle energy. Whether that energy is spiritual, omnipotent, corporeal, or derives from physical objects or living things, the working of arcane arts surrounds the manipulation of energy.

I designed the magic in Cephrael’s Hand based on scientists’ existing understanding of electrical fields. The process of thought has been scientifically proven to produce energy, and human bodies are known to generate electrical fields. For the magic in Alorin, I proposed that all living things produce a metaphysical energy which is formless but which flows across the world in natural currents. This energy is called elae. This is the energy a magician of Alorin uses to produce arcane workings. How he does this is the creative part.

In Cephrael’s Hand, all things are formed of patterns. A single leaf derives its pattern from the larger pattern of its motherly oak. The snowflake harbors the pattern of a storm. Rivers form patterns that mimic the pattern of the world, and a living man harbors within him the pattern of his immortality. These inherent patterns collect and compel energy (elae) toward a certain purpose—growth, action, states of change.

To compel energy, a magician of Alorin (called a wielder) must learn to first identify and then usurp control over the pattern of a thing in order to command it. This is a laborious process requiring a lifetime of study.

Unlike wielders, the Adepts in Cephrael’s Hand are born with the ability to manipulate certain patterns. Adept Healers can see creation patterns (life patterns) and mend them where they’ve become frayed. Truthreaders can hear certain thoughts and read minds to see what a man saw versus what he says he saw. Nodefinders have the ability to move long distances with a single step by traveling on the pattern of the world. And Wildlings tap into a variant aspect of the lifeforce called elae to shapeshift or even skip through time, among other intriguing talents. The last type of Adept can sense the patterns of nonliving things—stone, air, water, fire, etc.—and use those patterns to compel the elements themselves.

Adepts are limited by nature of their birth—they can only inherently work one category of patterns. They are limited by their training, their inherent intelligence, talent and ability. And of course, like us in real life, they are limited by their own vision of their capabilities.

Above all of these limitations, we find Adepts limited by “Balance.” The concept of Balance draws from my studies of Eastern philosophies. It is the high governing force, the yen and yang, karma, cause and effect, fate. It’s as esoteric and arcane as these concepts imply. How far can the Balance be pushed in one direction without lashing back at the wielder? Which actions stretch it and which ones defy it? Balance is a complex and complicated subject—as difficult to define as our own world’s myriad competing religions. The only real agreement on the subject of Balance is that all magical workings stretch the Balance to some degree. Understanding how far they can be stretched without snapping is central to survival in the arcane arts.

The concept of Balance provides, well, the “balancing” force to all magical workings in Cephrael’s Hand and is central to its plot. You see, the entire realm of Alorin is out of Balance and magic is dying—and the Adept race dies along with it.

 

Cephrael Tour BadgeAs part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Cephrael’s Hand eBook edition is just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes.

The prizes include a Kindle Fire, $450 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copy of Cephrael’s Hand for just 99 cents
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event

About Cephrael’s Hand: Two brothers find themselves on opposite sides of a great battle, neither knowing the other is alive… A traitor works in exile while preparing for the disaster only he knows is coming… A race of beings from beyond the fringe of the universe begin unmaking the world from within… And all across the land, magic is dying. Cephrael’s Hand is the first novel in the award-winning series A Pattern of Shadow and Light. Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. About the author: Melissa McPhail is a classically trained pianist, violinist and composer, a Vinyasa yoga instructor, and an avid Fantasy reader. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, their twin daughters and two very large cats. Visit Melissa on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.

Posted: January 2, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Please enjoy this guest post by Melissa McPhail, author of the spellbinding epic fantasy, Cephrael’s Hand. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including a Kindle Fire, $450 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

 

My Take on Magic Systems

A guest post by Melissa McPhail

 

One of the most enticing aspects of writing fantasy is developing a magic system. The author’s magic system is inextricably woven into their world and contributes greatly to the reader’s vision of the world overall. The way a system is created either makes the world seem real or unreal, depending on how well the author has grounded the system with laws and limitations.

For example, scientists in our own world have defined laws—inertia, gravity, the periodic table—that describe the physical limitations and properties of energy. We don’t expect a stone to rise upwards when we throw it, but we might believe it could float if it were somehow made of helium. Likewise in a fantasy world, it’s important to codify the system with laws and rules (and to stick to those rules once established), to set boundaries for what the magician can and cannot do with magic, and to establish consequences for and ramifications of magical misuse.

This all shows that magic systems require significant thought and research on the author’s part to develop realistically. Yet for all of this, the manner in which one might design and describe the magical process is potentially limitless—there are as many magical systems as there are fantasy novels, and equally as many readers eager to pontificate on their pros and cons and/or to organize the systems into categories and types.

The one thing most magic systems have in common, however, is that they all handle energy. Whether that energy is spiritual, omnipotent, corporeal, or derives from physical objects or living things, the working of arcane arts surrounds the manipulation of energy.

I designed the magic in Cephrael’s Hand based on scientists’ existing understanding of electrical fields. The process of thought has been scientifically proven to produce energy, and human bodies are known to generate electrical fields. For the magic in Alorin, I proposed that all living things produce a metaphysical energy which is formless but which flows across the world in natural currents. This energy is called elae. This is the energy a magician of Alorin uses to produce arcane workings. How he does this is the creative part.

In Cephrael’s Hand, all things are formed of patterns. A single leaf derives its pattern from the larger pattern of its motherly oak. The snowflake harbors the pattern of a storm. Rivers form patterns that mimic the pattern of the world, and a living man harbors within him the pattern of his immortality. These inherent patterns collect and compel energy (elae) toward a certain purpose—growth, action, states of change.

To compel energy, a magician of Alorin (called a wielder) must learn to first identify and then usurp control over the pattern of a thing in order to command it. This is a laborious process requiring a lifetime of study.

Unlike wielders, the Adepts in Cephrael’s Hand are born with the ability to manipulate certain patterns. Adept Healers can see creation patterns (life patterns) and mend them where they’ve become frayed. Truthreaders can hear certain thoughts and read minds to see what a man saw versus what he says he saw. Nodefinders have the ability to move long distances with a single step by traveling on the pattern of the world. And Wildlings tap into a variant aspect of the lifeforce called elae to shapeshift or even skip through time, among other intriguing talents. The last type of Adept can sense the patterns of nonliving things—stone, air, water, fire, etc.—and use those patterns to compel the elements themselves.

Adepts are limited by nature of their birth—they can only inherently work one category of patterns. They are limited by their training, their inherent intelligence, talent and ability. And of course, like us in real life, they are limited by their own vision of their capabilities.

Above all of these limitations, we find Adepts limited by “Balance.” The concept of Balance draws from my studies of Eastern philosophies. It is the high governing force, the yen and yang, karma, cause and effect, fate. It’s as esoteric and arcane as these concepts imply. How far can the Balance be pushed in one direction without lashing back at the wielder? Which actions stretch it and which ones defy it? Balance is a complex and complicated subject—as difficult to define as our own world’s myriad competing religions. The only real agreement on the subject of Balance is that all magical workings stretch the Balance to some degree. Understanding how far they can be stretched without snapping is central to survival in the arcane arts.

The concept of Balance provides, well, the “balancing” force to all magical workings in Cephrael’s Hand and is central to its plot. You see, the entire realm of Alorin is out of Balance and magic is dying—and the Adept race dies along with it.

 

Cephrael Tour BadgeAs part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Cephrael’s Hand eBook edition is just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes.

The prizes include a Kindle Fire, $450 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copy of Cephrael’s Hand for just 99 cents
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event

About Cephrael’s Hand: Two brothers find themselves on opposite sides of a great battle, neither knowing the other is alive… A traitor works in exile while preparing for the disaster only he knows is coming… A race of beings from beyond the fringe of the universe begin unmaking the world from within… And all across the land, magic is dying. Cephrael’s Hand is the first novel in the award-winning series A Pattern of Shadow and Light. Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

About the author: Melissa McPhail is a classically trained pianist, violinist and composer, a Vinyasa yoga instructor, and an avid Fantasy reader. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, their twin daughters and two very large cats. Visit Melissa on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.