There are a couple things you need to do if you want to pull readers into a memoir. You can be famous – see almost every celebrity ever – or you can be good at writing – something a lot of celebrity memoirs lack. You can also be interesting. Again, something sorely missing from most celebrity memoirs. “On the set of x, y happened and omg isn’t that hilarious?” No, not really, but I wasn’t there so don’t take my word for how funny it was.
One of the things I do find interesting is stories from regular people. After all the billionaires and jokesters who manage to skate through life, finding someone who can tell a story – really tell a story – about dating or getting a first job, or suffering a debilitating brain aneurism is a breath of fresh air. These are things we’ve all done. Well, maybe not the aneurysm part; those things are thankfully rare. Surviving one is even rarer and it’s interesting to see the take a person who doesn’t necessarily have access to a team of highly trained research doctors has to say about it.
A lot of Land of Allusions is broken into snippets. Rather than large blocks of dense narrative, we get text messages back and forth, or letters, little bits of information that, on their own, don’t amount to much. But when you take a bunch of little bits of information and arrange them with all the patience of a master ikebanaist, you get a whole, cohesive story that sneaks into your psyche.
I won’t spoil the ending other than to say he wrote the memoir, so Andrew Davie managed to get on Lady Luck’s good side and stay there. Beyond that, you’ll just have to read it.
Land of Allusions will be released on June 29, 2021, but you can preorder it here.
Land of Allusions follows Andrew Davie as he negotiates life’s various pitfalls while making pop culture references. Whether he’s comparing his online dating experiences to Seinfeld’s George Costanza, discussing how the film Platoon is the perfect analogy for teaching, or finding solace within the pages of the books of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron during ruptured brain aneurysm recovery. Split into two sections: comedy and tragedy, you’ll discover the joy or sadness in any of these moments is just a matter of perspective.
I haven’t read much fantasy since I was in high school. Somehow or another, sci-fi knocked it off my reading list and then urban fantasy knocked sci-fi off the reading list. Eventually something will come along that will knock urban fantasy off. Probably crime-based horror erotica or something equally disturbing.
Anyway, back when I was reading fantasy, it was a different world. It was very much good guys in shining armor taking on the bleakest bastards the author could think up in fight to determine the fate of the whole planet. The good guys were really good and the bad guys were excruciatingly bad, so throughout the whole book – or series, those guys were big on series – you knew exactly who you were supposed to root for.
Those were fun books in their own way, but the meat in them was closer to supermarket bologna slices than a good slab of steak. Not to say they were bad, and I’m definitely not knocking the fantasy genre. Remember, I also spent a lot of my formative years reading Mack Bolan books, so I’m not exactly in a position to complain about someone’s literary choices.
Anyway, fantasy stories seemed like they were all about the good kingdom versus the bad kingdom and all the characters had high-minded ideals like “preserving love and freedom” or “making sure only good magic is used” or “slaughtering those insipid fools while they sleep”. Mighty armies march on each other, good is almost defeated but at the last minute someone who’s really, really good saves the day. Then it’s mimosas and brunch for everyone!
Meanwhile, there are a bunch of dead guys on the battle field and probably a whole host of folks on the bad guy’s side got roped into a bad situation and now they’re dying, too. The production capabilities of the countries in question were converted to wartime footing since arming and feeding the armies was of paramount importance and that left a lot of people with decaying infrastructure and no food. Even though the good guys won the day, they left a trail of wrecked lives behind them on their march.
That’s the fundamental reality of warfare: It wreaks havoc civilian populations who really couldn’t give a rat’s ass that Evil King Rottenbastard was insulted by Good Queen Gorgeouscheeks. Or that Good Queen Gorgeouscheeks repeated called King Rottenbastard a lard ass on the more than one occasion even though he repeatedly and politely asked her to knock it the hell off.
Good guys and bad guys. Kinda boring if you stick to the formula.
Eric Lewis understands this. He understands the toll war takes and he understands that the best stories aren’t the ones about Good Queen Gorgeouscheeks fretting away from her ivory tower. The best stories are the ones on the ground. Move a few pieces around on a map, worry about the outcome, and then retire for brandy by the fire. Way less interesting than the poor schmuck who’s sleeping in the mud because Good Queen Gorgeouscheeks’s army set fire to his house when they needed to stay warm.
The Heron Kings is a tale about royal courts going to war, but it’s less about the courts and more about the boots on the ground. Or, more specifically, the folks who not only weren’t soldiers but actively didn’t care who won. This is the story of the forgotten people of war, the ones pressed into corner and doing anything that can to survive another day so they’ll have the opportunity to survive another day. It’s the story of how far down the rabbit hole they go and the decisions they choose to make. And let me just say, that is way more interesting than which dress the queen chose for the ball.
Lewis threw me a curveball. I was basically expecting another gleaming armies bashing each other story. What I got was not only an exciting change of pace, but a well-thought pondering of the human condition in times of extreme stress. He doesn’t pull punches, either. And to make things even better, Lewis takes human nature into account. There aren’t many high-minded ideals in this book nor are there any people you can point to and say, “That’s the good guy.” This book is a shot of whiskey and a punch in the gut and it is worth every damned minute I spent reading it.
After a warlord slaughters her patients, Sister Alessia quits the cloister and strikes out on her own to heal the victims of a brutal dynastic conflict. Her roaming forest camp unwittingly becomes the center of a vengeful peasant insurgency, raiding the forces of both sides to survive. Alessia struggles to temper their fury as well as tend wounds, consenting to ever greater violence to keep her new charges safe. When they uncover proof of a foreign conspiracy prolonging the bloodshed, Alessia risks the very lives she’s saved to expose the truth and bring the war to an end.
I’ve always felt the novella doesn’t get enough love. In this day of digital and on-demand publishing, there’s really no reason to focus exclusively on massive tomes just because they’re easier to run through the printing press. Not every story needs to be four hundred pages long and trying to stretch a shorter tale into a full-length novel just gives you Star Trek: The Motion Picture. A story should be precisely as long as it needs to be and no longer.
Returning to Aqualine in the form of a novella was a good thing. It’s the perfect length for the story it’s telling. The story is clever and handled well and, thankfully, didn’t get dragged out into 400 pages of extraneous details. McCandless aims the story right at the point and stands on the gas. What comes next is a short, intense read that builds on his work in The Clockwork Detective.
And just like Clockwork Detective, Beneath A Fearful Moon is a great example of blending two genres to come up with something new. Part steampunk, part urban fantasy, Moon is a story that straddles worlds without letting the setting be overbearing. Imagine clicking gears and the so-perfect-they’re-alien Fae. Sundry things like steam-powered tree strippers meet fantastic water dryads. Nature buts up against iron technology. Even Aubrey, our protagonist, is a study in straddling worlds.
If you like steampunk or urban fantasy or just want to see what happens nine months after they get drunk and have a torrid affair, check out McCandless’s Constable of Aqualine series. Both The Clockwork Detective and Beneath A Fearful Moon are available on Amazon and both are well worth the read.
Constable Aubrey Hartmann did her duty, fought for the Empire and lost her leg in the process. All she wants is a quiet life, and the chance of some fun, romantic entanglements in the frontier town of Aqualinne. When bodies start turning up, slashed from head to toe, she’s duty-bound investigate. As the clues start to point to the reclusive and deadly Fae in the prohibited Old Forest, Aubrey must rely on her war-forged nerves and her trusty Manton pistols. The challenge isn’t just to solve the case, but to survive it.
Alaska is the land the U.S. seems to have forgotten. Other than a brief flirtation with the state back when Sarah Palin claimed to be able to see the back of Vladimir Putin’s head from her porch, it seems like Alaska doesn’t really exist in popular culture. There’s plenty going on about the rest of the country from sweet tale of overcoming cancer in New Mexico that was “Breaking Bad” to the lovely travel documentary of Georgia in “Deliverance”. But aside from that terrible Steven Segal movie back in the day, Alaska seems to have fallen off the face of the planet. Which is a pity because there’s a lot of cool stuff in Alaska beyond the annual winter-time vampire feeding fest and HAARP.
So that’s why DM Shepard’s The Dark Land makes for such a great story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s more than just Alaska, the story is good and well-written, too. But setting something in Alaska and having it written by someone who actually lives in the state brings a great deal of detail to the story. In fact, if you’re so inclined, go read Shepard’s guest-post about the myths and legends she tapped to spin her yarn of terror, adventure, and romance.
Details are all fine and good in a story, but it is possible to get bogged down in them. They’re like tequila – fine in small doses but too much can leave on the floor questioning your sanity. Fortunately, Shepard understands that and uses the real-world details to add spice and depth to the story without overpowering it. In other words, she makes the frozen hell-hole that is Alaska live and breathe. She populates the world with characters you feel like you can almost touch and monsters that are just as alien as anything you can imagine. And throughout the whole thing makes a Southwestern guy like me wonder what the hell people are doing trudging through the snow when its, like, four degrees below absolute zero out there.
As I said earlier, this is blend of action, horror, and romance. Which would seem to make for strange bedfellows, but Shepard pulls it off brilliantly and lets each style emerge on its own terms. It would be easy to have a romantic interlude in the woods that leads to getting eaten by monsters. It’s far harder to put two characters together and not have them go steamrollering straight to the sack. She lets the story develop in its own time. So, you can go from some pretty intense action to a calming sequence to some pretty intense action of another type, if you get my drift. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. It’s a good story, well-told, with enough mystery and detail added to make it feel real, even when the tale points the car toward mythology town and steps on the gas. Truly a treasure. This is the kind of story they make movies out of.
A dark tale of legendary creatures stalking the isolated trails of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in the deep cold of winter.
Lured by her high peaks and vast forests, adventurers swarm to the siren call of Alaska’s backcountry. Her harsh bite scars many. Some never return.
Please find my son’s remains…
Haunted by the last request of her foster mother, experienced outdoorswoman, Rose Long, skis into the Wrangell-St. Elias wilderness to search for clues surrounding the missing man. Concerned about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the older woman’s death, her childhood friend, Ulrik, joins the quest to protect the woman he secretly loves. Ancient evil seethes in the ice-locked boreal forest, watching their every move during the long northern nights. The legend of the Headless Ravine is steeped in blood. The Dark Land’s hunger for flesh never sleeps, even in the deepest cold of winter—and it has marked Rose as its next victim.
It’s not often you get to read a first novel and think, “Ah, this author’s gonna go somewhere”. First novels are oftentimes clunky, kludgy affairs. A labor of love, to be sure. And for that reason alone there’s usually something good lurking in the text. But to come across first novel well-written enough and complicated enough to feel like it came from someone seasoned is a rare thing.
Which is exactly how I felt about John Maygrove’s An Audience of Corpses. It’s a brilliantly conceived story arc that manages to incorporate serial killers, a murder where the victim is caught on tape wandering around an hour after his death, and an apprentice private eye unsure of his own skills, and not only wrap it up nicely, but put a black silk bow with skulls on the package.
I have a particular love affair with crime noir. You know, the stories where the criminals didn’t do something pedestrian like knock off a jewelry store or file their taxes late. Stories with some meaty sections. Human trafficking, cavorting with evil, selling tainted drugs because reasons, stuff like that is what gets me hooked and keeps me interested. Because, let’s face it, a string of convenience store robberies was probably perpetrated by some poor schmuck who just wanted to feed his family. But the guy who figured out how to weaponize religion and use it to gain wealth and power probably has some interesting psychological ticks.
The hard-boiled private eye story has been done. It’s a classic thing and there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing it again, so long as there aren’t any black birds driving the plot forward. What separates Maygrove’s work from the classics of the genre is not what it does, it’s where it starts. Classic private eyes tell their tales from a place of long experience. They get to draw on experiences and reference histories. Maygrove’s P.I. has just buried his teacher and is starting on his own on his very first day. Some experience, sure, but it all came from working with a mentor. Now, in the midst of losing a friend he’s dropped into the middle of a case with nothing to draw on but the musings of a dead man.
That adds something special to the genre. It’s an origin story. And, one would hope, won’t be the last mystery Jack Hornby has to unravel.
Apprentice P.I. Jack Hornby had only just buried his friend and mentor, stricken with grief and contemplating his future. Sitting alone in the office they once shared, he is accosted by an eccentric woman in desperate need of help. Reluctantly, he agrees. But a case of suspected infidelity turns out to be so much more when his target winds up dead in the middle of a grisly scene.
Jack finds himself pitted against his old nemesis- now a highly decorated police investigator- in a bid to uncover the truth behind what really happened in that seedy hotel room, and just how the victim was sighted walking down the street shortly after his death. In a case where nothing makes sense and no one is what the seem, Jack’s only ally is his old mentor’s peculiar yet alluring niece, the former secretary from the now-defunct detective agency.
Serial literature is gaining a resurgence in popularity thanks to ebook publishing. Way back in the murky mists of time, novellas were very much a thing because they were cheap to print and people could consume them during lunches and other off hours. Tastes changed over time and novellas fell out of fashion in favor of massive tomes of fiction that could break your toe if they fell on it. And that was for the paperbacks.
Anyway, novellas and serial literature take a certain kind of author to pull off. You have to come up with a story that’s not novel length and can’t be wrapped up in a short story. Duh, right? It’s a little trickier than it seems. If a story is too simple – think a tightly packed short story – there is no way to extend it to novel length without it being obvious that some filler got tossed in. The original Star Trek movie (yeah, the one from ’79) was like that. It had enough story for a television episode because that’s what it was supposed to be. Everything else was filler. Conversely, the recent Dark Tower movie was abysmal because it condensed 4,316 pages into 95 minutes. Not even the magic of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey could save that one.
So there’s a fine line to tread. Not too short. Not too long.
Back in December, B.K. Bass threaded the needle with Night Shift, a taut, tense cyberpunk-detective-noir crossover. As with its predecessor, the newest edition in Bass’s Night Trilogy, Night Life, maintains that same taut, uh, tenseness. Is that a word? If it wasn’t, it is now. Both books read like classic detective novellas with bad guys and anti-heroes and basically no one to trust. Bass does an admirable job of building a world that no one in their right mind would want to live in and then dropping his characters into it. His characters are natural products of the gritty, rain-soaked, neon-drenched, flashing, filthy city. They feel like they belong there. Like no matter how many times you take the fire hose to them, the stench of life will cling to them like that a needy girlfriend.
Also, as with Night Shift, Night Life carefully treads the rails of technology. In Cyberpunk, as with Sci-Fi, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of over-describing the tech and letting it be the star of the show. I like my laptop, but I don’t want to read a book about it. Bass keeps the narrative centered. He allows the technology to exist and to be a force lurking in the background, but it never takes center stage. The center of Bass’s stage is reserved for corrupt politicians, mobsters, and all the delightfully seedy things they do.
If you like your Cyberpunk more punk than cyber, check out Bass’s Night Trilogy.
Night Life will be available for purchase on August 11, 2020 from all the usual places, although that date may get pushed forward. If the release date changes, I’ll update this page. You can find links to Amazon, Kobo, and B&N on his website.
Framed for murder, detective Harold Jacobson must delve into the gritty underbelly of the city if he wants to clear his name. To solve the crime pinned on him, he must first solve the murder of a local woman. From the steel towers of downtown to seedy nightclubs and decrepit slums, Harold delves into the night life of the city to pull the threads of the mystery together and becomes part of the criminal element he once hunted down. Going off the grid in New Angeles can be deadly, but he’s out of options and out of patience.
A little-known fact about me: I have a minor in Theatre. That’s with the re not the er because theater is different from Theatre. One’s a place, the other’s a much larger things. Among other classes I took, one was set design. Our teacher once sat everyone down and said, “Look, there’s a lot more to good set design than just following the play directly. If you want to set ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in the tropics and have palm trees on stage and make Theseus a ganja-smoking Jamaican gangster, you can do that. Just don’t let the scenery upstage the story.”
Bottom line, a good story is a good story no matter where it’s set.
Take, for instance, B.K. Bass’s take on detective noir that he’s dropped into a cyberpunk-ish setting. Traditional hard-boiled detective stories were a thing back in the day and they wove tales about vicious crimes and the die-hard detectives that set out to solve them. Those tales are still being told today – look at stories like L.A. Confidential. It’s a genre that seems simple to do from the outside. Bad guy does bad things. Good guy sets out to stop them. Simple, really. But to do it well takes a deft hand and an ability to drop oneself into that world to write it well. It’s not a genre for pulling punches or writing feel-good tales. Bad things are happening and they need to be treated with the shot of whisky and punch in the gut they deserve.
It’s also a genre that opens itself nicely to fit into whatever world we decide to drop them into. Because, if there’s one thing humans are really good at, it’s being bastards to each other. It doesn’t matter the time or the place, you can rest assured someone is out there right now pulling the ultimate dick move on someone else.
And that’s why Night Shift made for a fun read. Bass has pulled the hard-boiled detective out of the past and present and dropped him head-first into an ugly future where the country has fallen apart. But for all the technology floating around in the story, human nature is still human nature and there are still bad people doing terrible things. It’s just the way the world works. There are still jerks, they just have better computers. And cyber-hookers.
While Bass may not have given us a ganja-smoking Jamaican gangster, he’s done something similar; he’s taken a good story and changed the set pieces. And, like any good set designer, he’s done so without falling into the trap of letting the setting drive the story. Night Shift lives and breathes in its setting without the setting becoming a major character.
If you like hard-boiled detective stories – and who doesn’t – and also like your sci-fi served up with heaping helping people still being jerks to each other, check out Night Shift. It’s a good read. My only gripe was the book is only part one of a three-part story. That means I need to wait to see how the whole thing is going to play out.
In New Angeles, crime is part of the daily business of running the city. But when a routine murder investigation starts turning up more questions than answers, homicide detective Harold Peterson finds himself unraveling a decades-old conspiracy that leads him to the highest echelons of the mob and the city government. As various threads start to come together, the big picture is revealed to be more than he ever bargained for. As bullets start to fly from both directions, the only thing Harold knows for sure is that he isn’t being paid enough to deal with this.
I’ve always loved H.P. Lovecraft’s ideas. The worlds he built were amazing with a richly detailed mythology that shows us exactly how tiny and insignificant we are in the universe. Imagine a universe where it was not only obvious that humans were terribly outgunned, there’s an undercurrent that god doesn’t really love us. It’s kind of like stepping to a guy in a bar and getting your ass handed to you and then spitting out your teeth and watching through swollen eyes as your gal goes off with him.
But here’s a funny thing: Much as I love Lovecraft’s worlds, I really have trouble getting into his writing. It’s too dense and has too many apostrophes. Maybe that’s just me, though. I’ve been bitter ever since Miskatonic University turned down my application for “not understanding magic” and “being lazy”. Anyway, the whole “universe is out to get you and, let’s face it, you’re boned” philosophy has a great vibe to it and giant world-eating things are fun to think about, even if reading Lovecraft’s prose ain’t my bag.
So, when I get a chance to read something that tracks along with Lovecraft’s “giant things about to eat the planet” mythos without his weighty prose, I jump at it.
If you look back a bit, you’ll see I reviewed one of Eric Malikyte’s books a while back. Echoes of Olympus Mons was a brilliant bit of sci-fi horror. Malikyte has recently followed up the woeful tale of Mars’s untimely death with a love letter to H.P. Lovecraft. Mind’s Horizon features all the good apocalyptic stuff you expect from Lovecraft, notably world-ending excitement, a hint of magic, and teeth. Lots of teeth.
Humanity’s time is done. A modern ice age has all but stamped out human civilization and left the Earth nearly uninhabitable. For Ira Hartman and the dysfunctional band of survivors that surround her, all that’s left of the old world are ghosts trapped beneath the still forming ice sheets. Living in retrofitted tunnels beneath Riverside, California, scrounging for food, supplies, and desperately trying not to kill each other, things could be worse; but when an accident causes the generators powering their shelter’s heating system to be destroyed, hope seems to have run out. That is until Ira discovers a strange heat signature in the San Bernardino mountains, and it leads to a secret military research facility housed deep within the mountain. At first, it seems like the perfect shelter. Plenty of rations. Water. Warmth. Then they discover the remnants of horrifying experiments. Corpses, strapped to operating tables, horror etched on decomposing faces, experiment rooms filled with strange machines and occult symbols, and the logs of a raving lunatic. The unmistakable feeling that something is watching them, waiting in the cold, tubular concrete tunnels, in the shadows. What Ira and the others don’t know might just kill them.
Back in 2014 the first of RobRoy McCandless’s angelpunk stories dropped and changed the world’s view of angels. That book was Tears of Heaven(check out my review here). In case you’re wondering, every time I use Tears of Heaven as a drink in one of my books, that’s what I’m referring to. Tears of Heaven kicked off the Flames of Perdition series about the Nephilim Del and her ongoing task to rid the world of rogue demons escaped from Hell and tearing up the world.
Since then, two more books in the series have dropped and this time Del the rogue-demon slayer has come a long way from the absinthe-swilling anti-heroine we saw in the first book. She’s been beaten down, seen friends killed, and found herself in a shaky alliance with a hidden group of elves. Hell Becomes Her set up the longer-running story line and Company Of The Damned knocks it out of the park.
This is McCandless at his finest, digging into the action and bringing the character’s to life on the page. Like all good writing, it started with “what if?” question. In this case, what if some of the Biblical elements were right? Maybe not all of them, and Del is certainly not given to quoting Bible verse. But what if demons were a real and constant threat? What if angels were the nigh-undefeatable soldiers of the Throne? What if, stuck in the middle of that, were the Nephilim, struggling to find a safe way for themselves in a world that would be perfectly content to see them dead?
That’s the world McCandless built in the first two books. In Company of the Damned, he takes full advantage of that world and doesn’t hesitate to tear the hell out of it. This is like reading a Hollywood blockbuster – it has battles, and magic, and Norse goddesses, and golems, and even Lucifer himself. With all that, it would seem like a complicated mess of a story. And perhaps it would be in the hands of a less story-teller, but McCandless weaves this stunning menagerie with a deft hand and gives us a rare gem in the world: A Hollywood blockbuster that has a heart. It’s not all style and no substance.
If you like your characters tough, your dialogue sharp as a tack, and your action scenes plotted out as well as any John Woo movie, this is a good series to get into. With a bit of luck, we’ll see Del on the silver screen someday.
Del’s life was supposed to be easier. She had safety, support, and a small army of immortals to help her banish rogue demons. She should have known better. When the Archangel Michael himself orders her to account for her actions and face judgement, Del finds herself at a crossroads. Trapped on an island in the Mediterranean, Del is outgunned, outnumbered, and outmaneuvered. While her shaky alliances are falling apart, old enemies and new traitors appear around every corner. It may take everything Del has to save all she’s worked for—including her own life. \
Medieval fantasy was never really my bag. I’ve only read a few books set in the classical fantasy world that caught my attention and those have been few and far between. Terry Brooks’s Shannara series, Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern series (although that almost tips into sci-fi. At the very least, it’s debatable), maybe handful of others. This isn’t necessarily a flaw in the genre itself, it’s just harder for me to wrap my imagination around swords and sorcery than it is to wrap it around some epic battle between giant bugs and dudes in power armor. Even though, when you get right down to it, the differences are mostly cosmetic.
Anyway, I haven’t read much fantasy lately, which is really a pity. Maybe my tastes are changing and I hadn’t realized it, but I really enjoyed Warriors of Understone. Not necessarily because it’s fantasy, but because the genre becomes just the setting instead of becoming a character unto itself. Sure, there are elements of world building – you have to have those when you’re dealing with dwarves – but the world fades nicely into the background and allows you all the free time you need to focus on the characters and the action of the story. That, in my mind, is a hallmark of a great writer. It’s all too easy to spend page after page detailing the intricacies of a fictional world but, let’s face it, that can get tedious after a while.
What B.K. Bass gives us in Warriors of Understone is character-driven fiction that uses the fictional world and all its nuances as a jumping-off point for the actual meat of the story. And the story, for all its fantastical elements, is a very human story about very human things. That’s what makes it special and, arguably, what makes any fantasy story magical: Less time spent describing a feast from a thousand years ago and more time focusing on motivation.
Even if fantasy isn’t your bag, give Warriors of Understone a read. It’s a novella, so it’s not like you’ll have to dedicate the next several years of your life to one story like some other authors I could mention *cough Tolkien cough*, but it’s still a very filling story. You’ve got action, adventure, intrigue, and folk getting swatted in the face with battle axes. Plus, hey, it’s got dwarfs as the main characters and those folk are pretty damned cool.
Durgan must struggle to overcome not only his common birth, but also the prejudices of a stagnant and isolated society to become one of the warriors of Understone. The sprawling dwarven city lies deep beneath the mountains, at the heart of a kingdom that has not changed its ways in centuries. Plagued by threats both within and without, life is a constant struggle to survive and furious battle is around every corner. Durgan may overcome opponents with axe and shield, but can he change the very values of his society with the same tools?