Story: Blessed Are the Peacekeepers

Written for BioWare’s Dragon Age Asunder Writing Challenge.

Benedict liked his name. It meant ‘blessed’ and, though some might consider him more ‘cursed’, he thought his name represented optimism on the part of his parents. In a way, the day of his birth, they had given him three gifts, life, a name and hope. As he grew into a child they gave him love and faith.

Shortly after his eighth birthday, as Benedict sat and waited for the templars with as much patience as a small boy could muster, he pondered his newest gift with fright and awe. The villagers were afraid of him, and secretly, Benedict was afraid of himself.

“It is a great gift,” his father said. “But you must learn to use it wisely.”

A small book appeared in his father’s hand, one Benedict recognised. A thumb perpetually stained with grime moved across dog-eared pages and selected one seemingly at random. Benedict knew, however, that his father’s choice was never random. Though barely educated, he could read and tally the number of turnips he dug from his lord’s fields, Benedict’s father knew every page in that book by feel and he always seemed to know the appropriate Verse.

“All men are the Work of our Maker’s Hands,” he read.


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Review: Transformation

Transformation, by Carol Berg
(Roc, August 2000. Paperback, 448 pages)

ImageI could not put this book down and I had tears in my eyes before I had turned the hundredth page—that’s how compelling the characters were, right from the outset.

Simply, Transformation is the story of two men separated by about a decade, age-wise, and a much greater gap in experience. Seyonne is a slave and Zander is his lord. Seyonne has been a slave for sixteen years, his people captured by Zander’s. He is worn by time and experience, but is still himself—to a degree. Beneath his apparent resignation, he has a core of strength one can only admire. Seyonne is also intelligent and canny, which isn’t all unusual for a character in his role, but the reader gains the sense he was destined for greater things, even if he believes otherwise. The question is: will he go on to achieve a greater purpose, or remain a slave? Zander is Seyonne’s opposite in every way. Prince and only heir to the emperor, he is young, spoilt, arrogant and cruel. He is smart, however, almost frighteningly so, and even without the clues given in the blurb, the reader quickly realizes there is more to him than a title and future crown. Zander has enormous depth and substance.

Once introduced to Seyonne and Zander, this story could have taken me anywhere and I would have followed avidly. Both characters were so well drawn; more than caricatures of good and evil or ‘opposites’. When it became obvious their fates were entwined, I cheered for them both—for Zander to discover himself, for Seyonne to rediscover himself.

Less simply, Transformation is the story of a world at war with demons. Layered above and below the tale of Seyonne and Zander is one of political intrigue, ambition and the classic themes of good versus evil, might against right.

Transformation does not read like a first novel. Carol Berg’s writing is clear and the characters’ voices well formed. I did not once frown at a description or scene. There is a great deal of emotion packed into the story, explored through varied and complicated relationships. As mentioned earlier, I came to care for the central characters—even Zander—rather quickly and they, themselves, kept me turning the pages. The plotting works from end to end and the pacing just right. All in all, this book was as close to perfect as I have read in a long time. Another aspect that pleased me greatly was the fact the story felt complete at the end. Transformation is the first novel of a trilogy, but though I am interested in continuing to follow the story of Seyonne and Zander and their world, I am content with the end of the first chapter. I hope the other books feel as complete.

That being said, I have already ordered Revelation (Rai-Kirah, book two) and look forward to reading it.

Ramble: The Well-Guard

At the bottom of the back lawn is an area of untended garden (one of many) surrounding the well cap. It’s a shady spot, surrounded by trees and separated from a wonderfully green slope of grass by a small creek. A flat rock provides a rolling spot for the cats, and a suitable place to leap across the creek, into the scrubby patch around the well. My plans for this circle of possibility have included a butterfly garden, herb garden and Japanese style landscape of gravel paths, artfully placed trees and rocks, all accessed by a curved bridge.

Seeing as the path to our front door is still unpaved, projects behind the house are a fair way down the list. There are other considerations, too. Twelve acres of wetlands form the rear border of our property, an acre of which we ‘tend’, meaning ‘leave undisturbed’. The well cap rests just north of the border, a proper part of our yard, but I don’t want to plant anything there that might march into the forest behind, uprooting native species along the way. And, there are the deer.

Deer seem to have indiscriminate appetites. They eat everything, including plants on the list of plants they’re not supposed to eat. Many mornings I have ducked outside only to find a row of stubby stems in place of sunny gerberas, half chewed leaves and headless lilies. The desecration does not end there. To the endless amusement of my daughter, I have often been sighted in the yard with a foul smelling mixture of deer repellant in one hand, waving and yelling at the deer to ‘get off my lawn’. In between such bouts of madness, I do enjoy watching them roam through the wetlands. Sometimes. It depends on how recent the scars of destruction are. There are other creatures roaming through the woods (and my garden) as well. So, my options for the patch out the back are limited.

This morning I came across an idea that appealed, however. A friend posted these pictures on Facebook and I have tried to find out where this garden is, to no avail. I find them entrancing! The eyes, particularly. I can easily imagine looking out across the lawn to meet this stony, but curious gaze. I would call him The Well-Guard, and he would probably scare my daughter spit-less. (I am not exactly cackling here, but…close.) I doubt he will scare the deer away, but I have a fertile imagination, I will make up stories about him, nonetheless.

So far, the deer have shown no interest in plants that grow close to the ground; blue juniper and ivy, for instance. I have rocks galore, piles of them, rows of them. One of my hobbies is moving them around the garden, which is a subject for another ramble, I think. The bridge would still fit this small landscape; any space guarded by such a being must be accessed via a bridge—beneath which will dwell a troll, or another small garden sculpture.

And, there will be cousins; one reclining by the fire pat, offering hip and shoulder as a casual perch to the brave, another peeking out of the soil in the herb patch.

Maybe, one day, I will end up with a sea serpent diving through the front lawn, as well.

Review: Firebird

Firebird, by Jack McDevitt
(Ace, November 2011. Hardcover, 384 pages)

‘Firebird’ by Jack McDevitt starts in much the same way most ‘Alex Benedict’ novels do. Alex and his assistant, Chase Kolpath, come into possession of some artefacts and prepare to sell them. Alex Benedict is no ordinary antiquities dealer, however. He has an insatiable curiosity and he’s a salesman. While investigating the estate of the renowned physicist Chris Robin, Alex stirs up the mystery surrounding the man’s disappearance. This has two predictable effects. One, the price of the modest collection of books and artefacts climbs, which is good for business. Two, Alex gets involved, which is not so good for business. Without Alex Benedict’s propensity for getting involved, however, we’d have nothing to read.

Accompanied by Chase, who again issues warnings regarding his involvement and the danger to himself and his reputation, Alex chases clues in an attempt to unravel the mystery for himself. He and Chase visit Villanueva, a planet occupied only by abandoned and arguably sentient AIs, and rescue one. This act kicks off a chain of events that both demonise and humanise Alex Benedict in the eyes of the public and perhaps the reader. The true sentience of AIs is brought into question and explored from many angles, from cult-like groups bent on proving machine intelligences are real beings and should have all the rights and privileges of humans to the other end of the spectrum, the non-believers. In the midst of this, treasure hunters flock to Villanueva to attempt their own rescues and many of them die at the hands of psychotic AIs.

Separately, the mystery of Chris Robin’s disappearance deepens. The notoriety gained by previous events hinders Alex’s effectiveness, however. Basically, many who previously respected Alex now blame him for the deaths of idiots. They refuse to help him when help is needed and an important mission all but fails. A humanist to the core, Alex is deeply affected by all of this. But he perseveres, because finding Chris Robin might help him find Gabe, his long lost uncle.

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Review: Armored

Armored, Edited by John Joseph Adams
(Baen, March 2012. Paperback, 608 pages)

Sadly, for those who write introductions and forewords for anthologies, I often only glance at them in passing, then move on to the good stuff – the stories. In this instance, the first sentence of the foreword by Orson Scott Card leapt out and grabbed me, just as the first line of a good story should. I read the entire thing and enjoyed it. Card had many thought-provoking things to say about why someone wears armour and who that person is, essentially, a theme explored by many of the stories in the anthology.

I went on to read the introduction by John Joseph Adams, the editor of the anthology and also enjoyed his thoughts on the subject matter. John Adams is an accomplished anthology editor and he has pulled together a compelling selection of stories in ‘Armored’. Apparently, it’s the first anthology of its type about mechs, power armour and bio-suits. My only question was, why did they wait so long?

As always, when you read an anthology, some names will stand out and others will be unfamiliar. As always, I leapt in without prejudice and read every single story. Based on the author list alone, I had an idea which stories I would find entertaining. I did stumble across a few surprises, however, and I made a couple of new discoveries which means my pile of books to be read has grown by another approximate dozen.

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