Trope Tuesday: Childhood Friends

Friendship comes in a lot of flavors. In The Sword Keeper, Tamuna’s most loyal friend (and arguably a deuteragonist of the book) is Nika, the stable boy at her aunt’s tavern. Where Tamuna initially refuses the call to adventure, Nika jumps at the call, quickly catching up to her (which is good, because the call knows where they live).

Where Alex’s loyalty is based in honor, Nika’s loyalty is based in pure friendship, at times even flirting with (but never quite achieving) childhood friend romance. (Of course, this is only the first book in a trilogy…) These two different kinds of loyalty lead to some interesting differences between the characters, which I can’t really discuss since I don’t want to spoil the book.

I guess I can say this much: at the beginning of the book, Nika believes that he is Tamuna’s only friend. But when it becomes clear that Tamuna is no shrinking violet, the roles become reversed as Tamuna comes into her own. Since Nika has never known a world outside of their village, he does not take this well.

According to Dramatica, each story can be broken into four throughlines: the overworld story, the main character’s story, the impact character’s story, and the story of how each of them… well, impact each other. In The Sword Keeper, the overworld story is all about the return of the twelfth sword to a dark and troubled world. The main character, Tamuna’s story, is about her rise from the most unlikely beginnings to become the prophesied sword bearer. Her childhood friend Nika is the character who impacts her the most, and while I won’t spoil his story or the main vs. impact character story for you, it’s definitely a key part of the book.


The Sword Keeper comes out in less than two weeks! Preorder your copy today!

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!

Trope Tuesday: Knight in Sour Armor

What happens when the knight in shining armor realizes that war is hell and he lives in a crapsack world? When everything he believes about morality and honor is shattered?

Does he suffer a heroic BSOD and become a shell shocked veteran?

Does he cross the moral event horizon and become the one who hunts monsters?

Does he turn lawful evil and become the knight templar?

Or does he put on his jade-colored glasses, pick up his sword, and soldier on?

It’s one thing to follow a code of honor when you believe that people are basically good. It’s another thing entirely when you realize that people are filthy scumbags. Yet we often mistake starry-eyed idealism for the real thing. Underneath his hardened and deeply cynical demeanor, the knight in sour armor is driven by honor and ideals far more than he lets on.

In The Sword Keeper, one of the viewpoint characters, Alex Andretzek, is a young warrior prince who has lost his kingdom. He’s pledged his life to the service of the sword Imeris, with the understanding that one day he will be the new sword keeper. Then Tamuna comes into the picture, and all of that suddenly changes.

The most aggravating thing for Alex is that he has no idea why the sword choose Tamuna over him. Was he not worthy, or has the sword chosen poorly? It’s hard for him to tell which one is worse.

Of course, there is a third option: that there’s some hidden quality in Tamuna that he doesn’t yet see. But the same sour armor that allows him to cope with the injustice of the world also fills him with doubts. It’s a difficult balance to strike.

Underneath it all, though, Alex is a good and honorable man. Without his sour armor, he would have given all that up years ago.

To me, Alex is the embodiment of the saying that you should assume that everyone you meet is struggling through the most difficult challenge of their lives. If you do, you’ll be right about half of the time. On the outside, Alex is cold, aloof, and even somewhat rude. But beneath his sour armor, the struggle is real.


The Sword Keeper comes out in 18 days! Preorder the ebook now!

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!

Trope Tuesday: Only the Chosen May Wield

So I’m bringing back the Trope Tuesday posts, but with a little twist: instead of talking about the trope itself and what I like / don’t like about it, I’m going to talk about how I used that trope in one of my books. And since The Sword Keeper is currently up for preorder, I’m going to spend the next few weeks using examples from it.

Perhaps the most central trope in the book is Only the Chosen May Wield. In the first chapter, Tamuna Leladze discovers that she is the Chosen One when a mysterious stranger arrives at her aunt’s tavern, carrying a cool sword. Unbeknownst to her, the sword is enchanted and carries the skills and memories of all the people who have wielded it. She soon learns that she is the last sword bearer of prophecy—which comes as a huge shock, since as a common tavern girl, she’s really not cut out to be a warrior.

While the book mostly plays this trope straight, there are a couple of other complications that give it some depth. First, the sword itself is an actual character. It speaks to Tamuna through the psychic link that she establishes with it, and when she sleeps, it carries her to a mountain sanctuary where she’s able to talk with it like another person. The sword becomes something of a mentor to her, sharing skills and memories as quickly as she is able to receive them (which is never quickly enough).

Second, while Tamuna never wanted to be the Chosen One, one of the members of her party did, and struggles with feelings of jealousy because of it. This becomes especially complicated because this character’s chief motivation is honor, and he’s put in a position where he has to act as a trainer/bodyguard for Tamuna until she comes into her own. It doesn’t help that he’s only a few years older than her.

I suppose there is a third complication: the fact that Tamuna can’t (or shouldn’t) wield the sword until she has been physically trained for it. Several times, Imeris tells her that he can’t share all of his knowledge of swordplay with her, because she isn’t yet strong enough. Otherwise, she’s liable to injure herself, because her body isn’t capable of executing all of the strikes and parries and ripostes that she knows how to execute in her mind. So, while no one else can wield the sword Imeris, the one person who can isn’t yet capable of doing so.

It makes for an interesting dynamic. Stories tend to get boring when things are too easy for the Hero, and in The Sword Keeper, very little comes easy for Tamuna. In fact, one of the recurring questions she asks is how in the heck she became the Chosen One in the first place. I won’t spoil it for you by revealing whether or what she discovers by the end.


The Sword Keeper comes out in twenty-five days! Preorder it now!

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!

Playing with Tropes: Pragmatic Villainy

So as part of my effort to blog more often, I’ve decided to bring back the trope posts. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, perhaps you remember the Trope Tuesday series that I used to do. Those were mostly just a rehashing of each trope’s tvtropes page, with a bit of commentary at the end. For this new series, though, I’m going to assume you’ve already read the page and are familiar with the trope, and focus on the commentary. I’m calling this series Playing with Tropes, and I’ll do a new post on the first and third Monday of each month.

To start off this new series, I’d like to take a look at Pragmatic Villainy. There’s something especially chilling about a villain who not only possesses power, but knows how to wield it too. In fact, one of the scariest villains is the guy who rises up the ranks through sheer ruthlessness and ambition, starting as an underling and rising to the top. These villains know how to inspire and manipulate their followers, how to use their limited resources efficiently, how to form secret alliances and backstab their enemies, and how to keep a strategic perspective while making brilliant tactical plays. It doesn’t matter whether they command an empire or whether all they’ve got is a cargo-cult following on some far-off backwater. No matter where you put them, these are the guys who are truly dangerous.

It’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of figures from history who fit this trope. A badass colonel when the French Revolution began, he took advantage of the chaos to rise to power, declaring himself emperor and restoring order to his broken country. He then took his armies and conquered nearly the whole of Europe and the Mediterranean, destroying the Holy Roman Empire, invading as far as Egypt and the Nile, and leading his troops through the gates of Moscow before suffering defeat before the Russian Winter. Ever the pragmatist, he developed the modern canning process in order to supply his troops with food. And even after the European powers crushed his armies and exiled him to the island of Elba, he still found a way to escape and very nearly did it all again.

And Napoleon is by no means the most prominent historical example. Hitler was extremely pragmatic, and probably would have won the war if he’d actually listened to his generals and not interfered with their ability to do their jobs. Stalin was also quite pragmatic, identifying and removing his rivals and ruling with an iron fist. Today, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are some of the best examples of this trope.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell whether a pragmatic villain is really a villain at all. This is because pragmatic villains often see evil as a means, not an end. You won’t see a lot of gratuitous puppy-kicking with these guys—in fact, you may even see them pet the puppy for the cameras… before quietly taking it out back to skin it.

That’s not to say that pragmatic villains are more redeemable than your average big bad. Far from it, in fact. As Darth Vader put it, “if only you knew the power of the dark side!” In the clash between good and evil, evil often has the upper hand right until the middle of the third act. Even when evil doesn’t have the upper hand, the old poem often applies:

Might and Right are always fighting
In our youth it seems exciting.
Right is always nearly winning.
Might can hardly keep from grinning.

—Clarence Day, “Might and Right”

To really pull off a pragmatic villain, it’s important to make sure that your villain is truly evil. Grand Admiral Thrawn from the old Star Wars Expanded Universe was a great example of this, as was Admiral Ysanne Isard. Even with limited resources, they pulled off some brilliant moves: Thrawn by placing a cloaked warship beneath a planetary shield, to make it appear that he had shield-busting weapons, and Isard by spreading a lethal pandemic that, while curable, was extremely expensive to treat, thus spreading panic and instability as everyone fought over the cure. Yet in spite of their pragmatism, it was clear that neither of them would stop at nothing in their rise to power.

What’s really awesome is when a pragmatic villain manages to pull off a Xanatos Gambit. In fact, pragmatic villains are the only kinds of villains who can pull that kind of gambit, simply because of all the planning and foresight that must necessarily go into it. For the same reason, there tends to be a lot of overlap between this trope and the Chessmaster.

When a villain falls short, it’s often because they were lacking in this trope. A huge example of this for me was The Hunger Games. When the villains in that book backpedaled after Peta and Katniss threatened to kill each other, I pretty much threw the book at the wall. The kind of people who can be manipulated by angsty lovestruck teenagers are not the kind of people who rise to power in a totalitarian dictatorship. And while there’s certainly a place for B movie villains, the Evil Overlord List exists for a reason.

 

Trope Tuesday: Colony Ship

It’s been a while since I did the weekly Trope Tuesday posts, but those were a lot of fun and they still get a lot of traffic, so I’m going to bring them back with a couple of changes. Instead of focusing on the trope itself, essentially rewriting the description on the tvtropes page, I’m going to pick apart what I like about it and focus instead on the trope’s appeal. I’m also going to pick tropes that are in my own books, so that I can talk about how I’m using them.To kick things off, this week’s trope is the Colony Ship. A staple of space opera, this trope is exactly what it says on the tin: a giant starship, often a worldship or a starship luxurious, taking a band of colonists to settle the final frontier. Essentially, this trope takes the wagon train to the stars concept to its logical conclusion, since what is a wagon train but a band of hopeful colonists? And since this is space, there’s no limit to where you can take it!

I love this trope because it’s so hopeful. Even in dark post-apocalyptic stories like A Canticle for Leibowitz, the possibility of taking humanity to the stars shines like a beacon of hope, an interstellar ark that can fling a light into the future. No matter how badly we screw up Earth, we can still atone for our sins by starting over with a clean slate out among the stars.

One of the other things that makes this trope appealing is that it’s not that far removed from reality. On that other wiki, there’s an article on Generation Ships with a link to this very interesting academic paper on the feasibility of building giant worldships. Just as Science Fiction conceptualized satellites, robots, and cloning before they were actually built, this may very well be the case with interstellar colony ships as well. I doubt that NASA or SpaceX are currently working on any prototypes, but we’re definitely on a path that will lead us there, if we have the courage and tenacity to follow it through.

If faster-than-light travel is in play, then the people who set off on the colony ship are usually the same people who build the colony. If FTL is not in play, though, things get really interesting. Sanderson’s second law of magic states that the limitations of a magic system are inherently more interesting than the powers, and since sufficiently advanced space travel is itself a kind of magic (see Clarke’s third law), then it makes sense that sublight colony ships are more interesting than FTL ones.

Sublight colony ships come in two basic types: generation ships and sleeper starships. In a generation ship, the colony ship itself becomes something of a miniature world, often like a city in a bottle (with all of the juicy story implications that come with it). In a sleeper starship, the colonists freeze themselves in stasis, opening the possibility for stuff like lightspeed leapfrog.

In my current WIP, Heart of the Nebula, I’ve combined both of these subtropes to create a hybrid generation sleeper ship. The ships are designed for sublight travel through a region of space where FTL is impossible, but there are too many colonists to fit in all the cryotanks. Subsequently, those who don’t go to sleep have to turn their tiny little ship into a self-enclosed home. When the sleepers wake up, they find that they’ve become living relics to the great-great grandchildren of their friends and relatives.

The main character in Heart of the Nebula is James McCoy, who you might remember from Bringing Stella Home. Just before he goes into cryo, he rescues his people from a terrible enemy, so that when he wakes up he’s a living legend. People have been watching movies about his exploits and doing grade school reports on him for generations. But the thing that made him a legend also put a lot of lives at risk, so that he’s also an extremely divisive figure. To make things worse, most of his friends didn’t go into cryo, so they’re all gone by now. But their great-great grandkids are still around …

As you can see, Colony Ships can be a lot of fun to play with. I’m definitely having fun with it now, and I plan to return to this trope often in the future!