Monday, June 26, 2017

Implicit vs. Explicit Magic, Or Why I Respectfully Disagree with Sanderson's First Law

For those of you who don't know (or need a refresher), Brandon Sanderson's First Law of Magic is:

An author's ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.

 I'll admit that when I started writing this blog post, I had forgotten the rest of the essay in which Sanderson lays out his argument for this principle (linked above). He actually makes allowances for authors writing different styles of magic than he prefers. But his scale runs from "soft" magic (i.e. little or no explanation in the story) to hard magic (i.e. the rules are given and followed within the story). I'd come to this topic inspired by a conversation in the Books thread over at NarniaWeb about logical vs. intuitive stories. I've recently read a couple of books that seemed to work in stark contrast to Sanderson's First Law, and I thought perhaps the logical vs. intuitive distinction might be relevant to why I was drawn to those books. In Uprooted, the magic is certainly arrayed in such a light. Angieszka's magic is very intuitive or instinctual compared to the magic of the other wizards in the book. Her ability to (and insistence on) creating magic that feels right as opposed to following strictures of academic thought baffles and chagrins every other wizard she meets.

But I thought that logical vs. intuitive didn't quite sit right in both Uprooted and Mary Robinette Kowal's Ghost Talkers, there is a logic to the magic. (To use Sanderson's scale, I'd say Uprooted is 60-75% soft magic, while Ghost Talkers is more in the middle at 50-50.) The difference with these two is that the logic, the rules of the magic, aren't integral to the story. They are window dressing, a vehicle for other things, such as meditations on the meaning of love and the nature of courage. So I asked myself what really differentiated the magic in these two books (and others like The Lord of the Rings that never quite reveal the workings of magic, even in the expanded world of The Silmarillion and other posthumous publications) from the books Sanderson is talking about (and writing). That led me to the idea of implicit vs. explicit magic.

In my mind, implicit magic is magic whose rules are rarely if ever laid out in a systematic way. You may understand the principles behind it (i.e. love is the most powerful magic) but you'll never get a Sanderson-level treatise on the physics of the magic. That sort of thing belongs to explicit magic, the sort of system where it is a system, and one the reader can understand almost as well as the characters and the author do.

Having reread Sanderson's essay, I'm not sure my categorization is greatly different from his soft vs. hard magic. The one advantage I see in mine is the loss of an implied snobbishness that seems to creep in with distinctions of hard and soft. I don't think Sanderson intends this (he says in the essay he enjoys reading books across the spectrum), but it's there. When science fiction is discussed, hard sci-fi (utilizing only known scientific principles and their extrapolations) tends to get more credit, as though it is superior to soft sci-fi (Star Trek, etc.) on some essential level. Regardless of whether Sanderson intends this sort of superior mindset, it is bound to the terms he uses. The fact that he prefers to write hard magic systems only makes plain his own bias.

I don't want this to sound as though I am trash-talking Sanderson. I admire him as an author and I've enjoyed his books that I've read. But I do think his first law is slightly flawed. It assumes (or at least heavily implies) that his is the better way to write magic, neglecting many books of similar calibre.

Personally, I tend to write books which are in the realm of the implicit. Even when I have a magic system, I don't usually spell out (pun intended) all the mechanisms of the magic. While I can appreciate the type of story that does this, I tend to care more about getting the characters from point A to point B and seeing what happens along the way. There are moments where explicit magic is called for in almost any fantasy story, but if there's anything my recent experiences with Uprooted and Ghost Talkers has taught me, it's that implicit magic--stories that focus on wonder rather than workings--speak to me as a writer and a reader more deeply than explicit magic. And I don't want to see those stories viewed as "less than" their counterparts across the shelf. Just different. Perhaps quieter in some ways, but no less skillful for their different path.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday Snippets: June Edition

Another month gone already? Must be time for snippets. This time we just have Albion Apparent; I've been trying to push through to the end of the draft so I can get it to the beta readers and while I've made some good progress this month, we're still about 5 chapters from the end. Here's to July being as productive as June, if not more so!

I thought back to that class with Mr. Cornelius. Aella and Stavros had used a rhyme to delineate the differences in the four colors. “Gold seeks change,” I recited. I couldn’t remember the rest of the line.

“Precisely, young Merlin. Alchemy, transformation, transmutation—that Philosopher’s Stone on your hand. All of these are gold magic. Though it can be seen as a sister color to red magic, gold is wild, free. It holds no allegiances and admits to no oaths. It is untame, if you will.” Gold sparks danced in his eyes as he spoke. The tone of his voice had changed from that of an instructor to someone speaking about an old friend.

I took advantage of his lapse in conversation to scarf down the cornbread in my hand.

“I want to teach you to change your shape, young Merlin.”

She didn’t tell him to keep up his strength or eat so he wouldn’t waste away. The time for such trite encouragements had passed the first week they’d been in the Order’s stronghold. Now, it was enough to be near. To know that, whatever came, their family ties remained.

But despite the potential use she might have on a reconnaissance mission, I wasn’t foolhardy enough to take her with us into a war zone so she could relieve her cabin fever.


The lead thoguth was wolf-shaped. It reminded me of Fenrir, Loki’s wolf that was said to be his child as well. Fenrir was bound in chains beneath my father’s house, but the thoguth in front of me could have been his twin. Two feline thoguth flanked it on either side.

“Face me, wolf’s son.”

“Sure,” Gabriel said, his breathing heavy as he lifted Fiera to his shoulder. “Antagonize the monsters trying to kill us.”


“Excuse us if we've been too busy surviving your death pets to focus on your moonlighting as apprentice Faustus.”

“I resent that reference,” Gabriel interjected.


In her last glimpse of Midgard, she had seen the barrier fall around Albion Academy. The signature of that spell was not one she had seen before, whereas the thicket of spells she forged her way through now was all too familiar. She wondered if Grandmother Spider and Crow Mother would know what was afoot even in this distance part of the universe. She had a feeling they would. Grandmother Spider was a watchful person. And Crow Mother—well, there was a reason crows and ravens were among the most intelligent of animals.

That's all for now. Thanks for reading, and be sure to come back Monday for a little musing on magic systems and why I don't entirely agree with Brandon Sanderson's ideas about them.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Monday Musings: My Multiverse/Conglomeration-ish Thing

I mentioned on Wednesday that I had a couple of worlds populated with characters who might or might not have made it into the sketchbook. Since I've mentioned a couple of these projects before, and since most of them have Pinterest boards, I thought I'd lay out what the larger universe (or multiverse) looks like, beyond Albion Academy. Note that most of what's on this list exists either in rough draft or (more commonly) as ideas and outlines. So far only Albion Academy and some of the John Valley stories are published.

Our World

Or at least, a fictional version of it. Home to wizards, cyborgs, vampires, and a great deal of things that fall into the cracks in between. There are 4 main sub-series set here.

  • The Albion Quartet - 4 books dealing with Merlin Pendragon, magic, Albion Academy, and the Faerie Court; there are also some short stories set in this timeline, along with a novella about Robin Goodfellow; Book 1 (Albion Academy) is published; Book 2 (Albion Apparent) is in progress; Books 3 and 4 and the shorter works are all outline/ideas only, with some partial drafts
  •  John Valley - a series of short stories dealing with a place where death doesn't mean departure and teenage concerns get a little bit weird (such as finding literal skeletons in the closet or having a fish-person for a friend); there's also a novel set here dealing with characters not featured in the short stories but exploring some similar themes; the stories are all complete, the novel is outline/ideas only
  • The Shadow Quartet - 4 books dealing with a different side to the paranormal; teens who see angels, bring statues to life, and turn into werewolves feature in this set that has some crossover with the Albion books (mostly in book 4, but also in book 2); partial draft of book 1 complete, outline/ideas only for the rest
  • The Phoenix/Vampire/Skin-changer books: currently 1-2 books dealing with a more adult urban fantasy setting; one book deals more with phoenixes, vampires, and their conflict, while the other focuses on a group of shapeshifters who also appear in the other book; there may be some crossover with Albion eventually; outline/ideas only

Non de Velai, or The Elf World

The first secondary world I created, this one's had a couple of name changes over the years. I like to think of it as a descendant of both Narnia and Middle-earth, with a fair dose of Osten Ard for good measure. There are as of now 4 books set here.

  • The Elves of Non de Velai, or "the first book": chronicling the gathering of many of my favorite characters into a conflict that spans this world and ours. This has been written, in a very rough draft, and I intend to rewrite it with a broader scope, possibly as multiple novels.
  • Star Child: focusing on the characters from NdV and the trials they face in the years following the first book; has some crossover with Freedom's Redeemer; outline/ideas only
  • Ranger, Warrior, Child: the Silver Chair of this set, this book follows a girl from our world slipping into NdV and dealing with the final aftermath of the first book; has some crossover with the Shadow books; rough draft complete and in need of revisions
  • The Centaur Riders: the Magician's Nephew/Silmarillion of the series, this book introduces the conflicts that form the backbone of the first book, while also exploring some of the incidental history alluded to there; partial draft complete

Meldriesh, or the World of the Gifted

My second secondary world, inhabited by a group known as the Gifted (name to be changed eventually) who command control of the elements and/or elemental spirits. This is a world where the gods exists and can be met, but they generally prefer not to interact with people. Or be called gods. 2-ish novels here.

  • Freedom's Redeemer: 1 book in 4 parts or possibly 4 separate volumes, depending on what ends up occurring. Probably the most epic fantasy thing I'll ever write, incorporating many of the characters from the first book and carrying them over into the conflict on Meldriesh. Partial early draft complete, in need of a do-over or three.
  • Horizons: sequel to Freedom's Redeemer, dealing with the next generation in Meldriesh. Similar feel to RWC, but no inter-world travel; outline/ideas only

Outlier/Standalone/Too Much Crossover Books

These books either have no set place in the multiverse despite taking place in it; are entirely standalone (for the moment); or crossover so much between the three main worlds it's hard to place them in any given list.

  • Inheritance of Time: The conclusion to the whole thing. Crosses over NdV, Meldriesh, Albion, and Shadow series. The End. (Perhaps.) outline/ideas only
  • There's No Place Like Home?: My NaNo project from a couple years back, a cyberpunk-ish Wizard of Oz. Possibly a future version of our world. Partial draft completed.
  • Paper and (T)horns: Beauty and the Beast retelling in modern day; novella or shorter novel; partial draft complete; Possible crossover with Albion
  • Swanlight: Another fairytale retelling, set in an alternate North American-esque setting; outline/ideas only
  • 3 Kings of the Earth: Based on what I thought Lord of the Rings was going to be from the covers of my dad's old hardcovers and his description of them based on having read them 30 years previous; basically nothing Tolkienish about it; outline/ideas only
  • Land of Mark: A world where a person's destiny is literally tattooed onto them by fate; outline/ideas only
  • 9 Lives: A set of books or short stories dealing with a world that makes you live through nine variations of your life, with assorted villains, fantasy tropes, and heartbreaking character deaths along the way (don't say I didn't warn you); outline/ideas only
  • Untitled Treasure Island/Peter Pan/Little Mermaid Mash-up: What it says on the tin. Sort of a Pagemaster meets Treasure Planet shindig. outline/ideas only
  • A Novel Time: Doctor Who meets League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Possible future of our world. outline/ideas only

So there you have it. I have enough books to keep me writing for another 20 years or more, even if they don't stop butting in and demanding my attention ahead of the others (*sideglances at Paper and (T)horns and Swanlight).

Thursday, June 15, 2017

ThrowBook Thursday: Osten Ard Reread: Stone of Farewell

I'm not 2/3 of the way through Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn and I've just accepted the fact I won't finish until after The Witchwood Crown releases. That said, I'm still loving coming back to this world after so many years away. On to the review!

Michael Whelan's cover art astounds as always. Check him out here.
Stone of Farewell is the shortest book in the trilogy, which may account for why I remembered so precious little of it. The fact that I originally read the third book, To Green Angel Tower, in its two-volume paperback edition likely did not help, as I kept expecting to see things which happened in that book happen here.

We begin shortly after the previous book ends, with Simon and his company held captive or hosted as warriors (depending on the individual) in the ice-bound land of the trolls. Simon continues to be baffled by the Sithi, especially his friend Jiriki, and by the world at large. He mercifully grows more mature in this book, but many of his characteristics remain all the same. Williams does a fine job of keeping Simon's character consistent while allowing him to grow through experience.

This book's narrative is considerably more spread out than the first's, although I don't recall there being any new POV characters. It's more that rather than keeping the narrative focused on Simon for a third of the book before expanding slowly to encompass the whole world, Williams brings all the POV characters into play early on and keeps them all in play until the end. This actually helps balance the book a bit more for me, because each chapter has a couple of perspectives and the groups tend to alternate by chapter so that we get Simon and related characters, followed by another group, cycling through with every two or three chapters. Unlike the lengthy single-POV chapters of the Wheel of Time series, Williams' chapters, divided into briefer sections, kept me from growing restless with any one POV or longing for a specific POV. I always knew I was within a chapter of any character I missed.

This book did not feel, as many middle books do, like a padded filler book bridging the beginning and the end. It had plenty of mystery and intrigue working in its favor, and the major deaths (on a plot level; no POV characters die; yet) add weight to the sometimes distant threat of the Storm King's growing influence. I was sad to see that Pryrates isn't as strong a dark figure in this book, but the sequences featuring him are worth the wait.

Miriamelle's character arc in this book surprised me, primarily because I saw her through a more mature set of eyes. I sided with Cadrach in many of their disagreements, recognizing her foolishness where before I had sided with her because I trusted her version of events more since she was a POV character. I'm eagerly awaiting the conclusion to her solo arc and her arcs with certain characters that will come in the third book.

Tiamak gains ground as a major character in this book, though for some reason I remembered his journey taking more story time. Perhaps because the book took longer for me to read the first time?

I really, really, really want someone to create a working game of shent. It, along with Pai Sho from the Avatar universe, is one of the few fictional games to capture my imagination.

The character whose identity is revealed at the end of the book caught me by surprise even though I knew it was coming. I spent half my time reading the book asking when he would show up, and then it hit me upside the head. Again.

To Green Angel Tower is 1000 pages long in hardback, so don't expect that review to come before mid-July at the earliest.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Watercolor Wednesday: Hal and Dammerung Fanart + Sketch Dump

This has been a busier month for me as regards visual art. I haven't painted much, but I've been working on my sketching skills because one goal I've had for ages is to be able to sketch my own characters with some degree of finesse. I'm not going to be designing characters for film any time soon, but I'm pleased with my progress so far.

Halcyon and Dammerung: Sassmaster Shapeshifters
My watercolor this month is a fan art painting of Halcyon from Mirriam Neal's Paper Crowns and Dammerung from Jennifer Freitag's Plenilune. These are two of my favorite books from last year, and two of my favorite characters from those books. I'm moderately pleased with the way the tails and bodies turned out, but the paws and faces were a bit wonky. I'm still not sure how to make the backgrounds seem more integrated.

Step 4 is more of a guideline. I like to think of it as steps 0.5, 1.5, 2.5, 3.5, and 4.

This hand-lettered piece was actually something I said in conversation with some writer friends when one of them expressed some stress and doubt regarding the edits she was in the midst of. At the time it was meant to be just the sort of exuberant encouragement that one gives via Facebook conversations, but as I thought more about it, I decided it needed to be a piece I could keep at the desk for encouragement on the days I doubted my own writing skills and motivation. (Using the word "fortify" was inspired by a text post I saw making the rounds a while back; it suggested using "fortify" as a replacement for phrases like "man up" that don't allow for the wide spectrum of folks' emotional ranges.)

Hard-core blacksmith slave-turned-wizard.

I actually wasn't sure what I wanted from this sketch at first, but the further it went, the more I decided it was Alosha from Uprooted, who is not represented enough in fanart. (That book as a whole seems to be underrepresented in fanart, sadly.) If I were any better with hands and objects, I'd have included something to do with her smithing, but I'm pleased with how this one turned out.

Creepy lady.
This one came out a good bit creepier than I'd anticipated. Maybe it's just the ashy shade and texture of the hair. In any event, this character reminds me of nothing so much as the Silver Lady of my first (and so far, unpublished) novel.

Pay no attention to the elf ear hovering behind you, dear.
Another sketch that just developed as I went. I'm not sure who she is, but the hair came out slightly anime-esque. I might make an argument for this being the protagonist of my epic fantasy book/quartet. (Maybe I should actually get around to laying out the multiverse for y'all so I can make more specific references moving forward.)

To the left: unnamed red shirts.
To the right: named narrators and random angry dude.
This is just a spread of face sketches. The left side has some mouth iterations at the top (I've also got a few pages of nothing but eyes attempting to refine my style in that area), with some elfin characters on whom I decided to experiment with hair. I'm very fond of the upper left character, who is demanding a name and a book already. The right-hand page features re-drawn sketches of the Albion Academy narrators. (I'd previously done some rough colored pencil sketches of them that, while pleasing to me, weren't as technically drawn.) There's also a random angry person who probably won't be happy whether he gets a book or not.

His hair is un-sketchable, but he doesn't mind.
Robin Goodfellow, aka the Puck. Enough said.

Okay, maybe a few more words on Robin. His hair is often wild enough to be accused of having its own consciousness, and I attempted to portray that here. I think this sketch might be improved with inking and coloring, but I will probably save that for a larger sketch that will allow me to properly color his eyes.

Thanks for stopping by! Before you go, is there anything you'd like me to draw in the future? If you're an artist, do you have particular styles or materials you prefer? I'm using a mechanical pencil and a sketchbook journal from Hobby Lobby for these, and sometimes I wonder if I should be looking for better materials.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday Musings: Uprooted Book Review

I recently read Naomi Novik's first standalone novel, Uprooted, after having a mild interest and receiving many recommendations from fellow bookworms. I really liked doing bulleted lists of likes and dislikes before, so we'll continue that trend today. Some minor and major spoiler follow, so if you prefer to avoid those, proceed with caution.

But first, just look at this gorgeous cover!


  • The MAGIC! This book's take on magic (that there are different "schools" of thought, some more academic, some more intuitive) and the main character's descriptions of her own spells blew me out of the water. It's wonderful and immersive and I hope Novik does more in this world in the future.
  • The Polish fairy tale setting was a refreshing break from a generic fairy tale setting that's either England or France. It was just familiar enough to not be disengaging and just new enough to keep me in wonder throughout.
  • The resolution of the conflict with the Wood in the end felt very genuine.
  • This story starts out small and just keeps growing like the Wood. You don't expect it to go as large as it does (I thought we'd covered everything I expected to about halfway in, and wondered what Novik could do for another 200+ pages) but it's very satisfying when you get to the end.
  • My favorite minor character (a hard-core blacksmith mage who was born a slave and rose to the top of society) survived! (This after I was certain all my favorites had died within a handful of chapters.) [But seriously, Alosha is wonderful and deserves her own book. Also, there's almost no fanart that I could find, so someone please draw this character.]
  • The last scene. I spent much of that last chapter thinking we were going to completely wreck the ship we'd just spent 430-odd pages building, and then in a page everything was right again.
  • The fact that Agnieszka and others are able to step back at various points and attempt an objective view of the events that are tugging at their hearts was commendable (even if they sometimes got it wrong anyway).
  • Basically, the book as a whole was worth appreciation.


  • The sex scene in the last third of the book was unnecessary. I'll admit I tend to say these are unnecessary in general, but this one added nothing except that Agnieszka and the Dragon seemed to finally admit and accept their mutual attraction. The details (while not shocking to me as a married person) felt like TMI (too much information for those of you who didn't grow up hearing this term), like voyeurism. I don't need to peek into another person's bedroom. I'm not sure if this is typical Novik or not, but it really bummed me out because this was the one thing that made me go "I can't just say, 'Everyone read this' now."
  • Baba Jaga didn't actually show up, despite the heavy hinting throughout that she would. (There was the mention of Jaga time-hopping, plus her spellbook being the guide to Agnieszka's own magic. Really, the frequent mentions of Jaga made me think we were going to find her trapped in the Wood. Or that she'd appear to give Agnieszka an empowering talk. Or something.) [I also kind of expected it because in my flipping ahead to check number of pages/chapters left (you don't do that?) I caught the sentence "Are you Baba Jaga?" and thought "Oh, we HAVE to see her now!" but that was not the case.]
  • Kasia (whose importance to the story seems paramount at one point) became kind of flat for a large chunk of the story. Some of that may be Agnieszka's own preoccupation with other matters (since it's narrated in first person), but I wondered why she seemed to be relegated to minor character after such an emphasis on her early on. She did at least get a bit of make-up awesomeness in the last couple chapters.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Top 10 Tuesday: Dragons

This month for Top 10 Tuesday, I thought we'd visit a topic that shows up in a surprising way in Albion Academy: dragons. They can be good; they can be evil; they can be humorous or quite solemn. Whatever they are, they make stories interesting and dangerous. As it has been said (but NOT by Tolkien), "Always remember, it’s simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons."

Onward to the dragons! (Be sure to keep a wizard and a fire cloak handy.)

Maleficent (Disney's Sleeping Beauty)

She's the self-proclaimed Mistress of All Evil™and a cunning villain bent on the destruction of other people's happiness. Maybe she's a fairy, maybe she's a dragon, maybe she just needed someone to show her true love, but whatever the case, she's one of the most iconic dragons in cinema.

Mushu (Disney's Mulan)

On a lighter note, we have Mushu, the Fa family guardian demoted to gong-ringer for failing to protect one of his charges. (In the animated film, this is played for laughs, but if the live action adaptation keeps the Mushu character, I hope they take a more serious tone with this backstory. It would add to the tension very well if we're worried that Mulan's guardian might really screw this up and get her killed like her relative.) Funny, clever, and not entirely honest, Mushu adds a trickster-ish element to the story while also allowing for some parallel character development to highlight Mulan's journey.

Elliot (Disney's Pete's Dragon)

I promise there are non-Disney dragons on this list! I grew up watching the original Pete's Dragon and loving the friendship between Pete and Elliot, especially how Elliot acts as a guardian angel to Pete, keeping him safe, guiding him to a new family, and generally trying to keep life interesting. But the new film takes their relationship in another, just as satisfying, direction. In the 2016 film, both Pete and Elliot are lost and in need of family. They protect each other and eventually both find family again (adoptive for Pete and, as far as the film lets on, original for Elliot). It's this sort of interdependence and friendship that comes out in the best stories of dragons-that-aren't-villains.

Kilgharrah (BBC's Merlin)

One of the more interesting aspects of BBC's Merlin series was the idea of the Great Dragon secreted away beneath the castle of Camelot. Merlin's relationship with the Dragon grows throughout the series from innocent mentee to friend and savior to betrayer to Dragon-Lord. Watching the Dragon change from fount of wisdom and prophecy to a more nuanced character whose goals may or may not be to the good of Albion made the series more enjoyable. Seeing the potential in Kilgharrah's character and backstory makes me long to see what Albion would have been like when dragons and Dragon-Lords were more common in the land. (It also doesn't harm my love for the character that he's voiced by John Hurt.)

Smaug (The Hobbit)

The most readily identifiable of Tolkien's dragons, Smaug is the terror of the Lonely Mountain. Responsible for the destruction of the first kingdom of Erebor and the town of Dale, Smaug is a classic English dragon. He taps into Tolkien's idea of dragons as classical treasure-hoarders and pillagers of the country. He is clever and vengeful, a creature of desire but not of enjoyment. His conversation with Bilbo is one of the best scenes in the book (sadly broken up in the Peter Jackson films so that the weight of Bilbo's courage and fortitude falls somewhat flat) and his death at the hand of Bard the Bowman is a classic scene of victory over evil.

The Great Blind Dragon (Plenilune)

Switching back to beneficent dragons for a moment, the Great Blind Dragon is a force of nature and supernature in Jennifer Freitag's planetary romance, Plenilune. If you haven't read this book, please go out and get it now. It's a dense, richly written epic with romance, action, magic, and yes, a dragon. The Great Blind Dragon serves in some measure as a messenger of the divine in the novel, providing protagonist Margaret with power and insight when she most needs it. The novel's villain Rupert lives in terror of the dragon as a reminder of the existence of God and His righteous judgment. Though the Dragon has only a handful of scenes in the book, he is one of the most lingering figures in my imagination in the year since I read Plenilune. (Man, I need to reread this book!)

The Reluctant Dragon (The Reluctant Dragon)

The Reluctant Dragon is a direct subversion of the classic English dragon that Tolkien loved so much. He prefers poetry to battles and picnics to pillaging. I'm more familiar with Disney's animated version of the story than with Kenneth Grahame's original story, but in both cases the dragon is a fun character whose reluctance to fight causes as much conflict as Smaug's desire to burn down the world (or at least his corner of it).

Toothless (How to Train Your Dragon)

Toothless is one of the most well-loved dragons in the current culture, and with good reason. With the capacity to be a completely villainous beast and the desire to be a loving companion, Toothless has a lot of nuance for an essentially silent character. What's more, he and his rider Hiccup are also positive representation for the disabled community. As with many of the dragons on this list, his best moments as a character come from his interactions with his human counterparts. Especially in the second film, Toothless' relationship with Hiccup reveals a great deal about himself as well as the human community.

Glaurung, Father of Dragons (The Silmarillion/The Children of Húrin)
Art by Vaejoun at DeviantArt
Glaurung is the original dragon in Tolkien's legendarium. He is also the dragon who terrorizes the line of Húrin, fulfilling a curse placed on them by Morgoth, the original Dark Lord. Glaurung froze Túrin in place with his baleful gaze, causing him to fail in his attempts to save his family. The dragon also put Nienor out of her mind, leading to a great deal of the tragedy in the siblings' future. Before meeting his death at the hands of Túrin, Glaurung wreaks devastation on elven cities and destroys many beautiful things. He is greater an antagonist than Smaug and an even greater example of Tolkien's view of dragons as hoarders and destroyers.

Eustace Scrubb (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

Eustace may only have been a dragon for a brief stint during his first visit to Narnia, but he only became a dragon because of his own dragonish heart (and cursed treasure). The fact is, without Eustace's time as a dragon, he would not have become a likable character, much less the splendid hero and Friend of Narnia we see in The Silver Chair and The Last Battle. Eustace is in many ways a more developed version of his cousin Edmund; although Edmund's transformation is more drastic (being saved from an immortal witch by the Creator of the World is about as drastic a salvation as you can get), Eustace's change is subtler and has to dig deeper into his flaws. The scene in which Aslan rips the dragon-skin from Eustace and bathes him in the water is a powerful illustration of what must happen inside Eustace for him to be saved, not only from his dragon-curse, but also from the destructive nature of his own personality.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Plot Twists: Did the Author See That Coming?

Someone recently asked me about a plot twist in Albion Academy regarding Mrs. Pendragon. "Was that always the plan?" he asked. "At what point in the process did you know that was going to happen?"

That particular twist (if you've read the book, you know which one) actually came into the story very early on. Once I'd established that my Merlin was not THE Merlin, but instead his descendant, I quickly had the idea of his origins. Vivienne's nature, motivations, and role in the plot came with Merlin's. Sometimes plot twists are like that. They weave themselves into the plot so early on that they are like fixed points in time. The author knows they're coming the whole way through. Endings like that of The Thief can't really be written if they aren't supported in the whole of the book, and the process for those sorts of books goes much more smoothly if the author knows the ending in advance.

Other times, though, the twists can surprise the author as much as the reader. Tolkien famously wrote that when he got to the point in The Lord of the Rings when Frodo and the other Hobbits reach Bree, he had no better idea who Strider was or where Gandalf was than Frodo. For Albion Academy, Bryn's deal with Odin and Kaya's parentage were more surprises for me, coming much later in the process than Merlin's origins and Vivienne's motivations.

Even Albion Apparent has had its own surprises to throw my way. Mortimer's journey has taken some unexpected turns, James Corvin has revealed some character traits I never suspected, and Gabriel Faust continues to be one of the most interesting characters to write because of his unique perspective on the whole of Albion Academy.

What are some plot twists that took you by surprise?