First there was the Weird Tale, which hit the mark. Then there was the Weird Western, which hit the mark for many, but not all. Now there is the Weird Sea…
The advent of Archipelago came to my attention on Black Gate via Brandon Crilly’s post post earlier this year, which included some cool art and a teaser story – “The Ur-Ring” by Charlotte Ashley.
As a longstanding fan of maritime literature, specifically the Richard Bolitho stories by Alexander Kent (pseudonym of Douglas Reeman) and C.S. Forrester’s Hornblower stories, my ears figuratively pricked up when I saw Brandon’s article. Maritime adventure combined with fantasy… what more could one ask? Hmm, a Cylon Base Star perhaps, but we won’t go there…
For those who haven’t read Brandon’s original post, the basic premise of Archipelago is that of a Shared World, where people from earth’s 17th century have come across various ocean based portals to another world. To quote the Kickstarter:
Four hundred years ago, when control of the world came to depend on naval power as never before, a courageous few set off on journeys of discovery and conquest that would alter the fates of nations in ways no-one could imagine.
But once they’d sailed the seven seas, what if they found another?
ARCHIPELAGO is a historical fantasy serial with multiple new episodes appearing every month. Imagine a blend of Moby Dick, Pirates of the Caribbean, Master & Commander and Game of Thrones — with Lovecraftian monsters lurking beneath the surface!
Looking at the Archipelago Kickstarter it became evident that they did not require a massive contribution, more just seed funding to get their project going. The rewards were interesting, insofar as one could — as was a common practice way back in the British military establishment — purchase a commission. The difference being that instead of buying a rank in the navy, one could purchase a custom mention in a future story, which I thought was pretty cool. As they state it:
Archipelago isn’t just about storytelling, though. Readers will have the opportunity to influence events as the adventure develops, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes devastating.
I was hooked and proceeded to participate in the Kickstarter.
Custom art from Archipelago
Things moved pretty swiftly from there. Shortly after the Kickstarter closed successfully, participants received some nice art followed by three stories:
- “In Extremis” by Andrew Leon Hudson – A tale of an English man o war that encounters a portal during a battle with a Spanish treasure fleet. “In Extremis” is part one of an ongoing story arc based in The Summer Isles area of Archipelago.
- “Whatsoever is New” by Kurt Hunt – A tale of refugees from an abandoned settlement who encounter some strangers and seek out a portal. “Whatsoever Is New” is part one of the Roanoke location. Interestingly Roanoke was a genuine lost colony founded by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585. Not being from the states I was not aware of that bit of history until now.
- “The Ur-Ring” by Charlotte Ashley – The tale of a portal opening near Mogadishu and the young man who first explores the new world on the other side. “The Ur-Ring” is part one of the Al’Tahj location
I downloaded all three, having not yet read “The Ur-Ring” online as part of Brandon’s post. Being pretty busy I had not yet attempted any of these before the Kickstarter reward chapbook arrived, containing the same three teaser stories and some others:
- “Welcome to Archipelago” – Foreword and a brief description of the world’s general geography.
- “On The Resurrection of Roanoke” by Kurt Hunt – written as an Oxford University professors essay, this piece presents a scholarly air to expand on small elements of Roanoke’s history.
- “A Guide to Al’Tahj” by Charlotte Ashley – another scholarly piece, this time by the Suldaan’s court historian.
- “Voyage to the Summer Isles” by Andrew Leon Hudson – This expansionary article is written from the point of view of an explorers journal.
- “Bloodbound” by Charlotte Ashley – One of the exclusive to Kickstarter patrons stories, is a tale about two young friends and the desire one of them has to bind herself to an “Umuring” artefact.
- “The Deepness Near and Far” by Andrew Leon Hudson – An ecological piece about a “whale” that had me smiling imagining David Attenborough narrating it. It has some very interesting ideas and also hints at the nature of the portals.
- “Three Unopened Letters” by Kurt Hunt – Some filler details.
- A Tip of the Hat – Thanking the Kickstarter patrons by name.
- About the Authors
The publication was made available in ePub, Mobi and PDF formats. Using Adobe I printed it out in booklet form and ended up with a satisfying little A5 chapbook that could stand its own among any number of other similar format magazines or chapbooks. In due course I may reprint the cover on card stock or laminate the cover pages like the folks at Rainfall Publications do with their chapbooks.
Overall I found the stories to be well written and enticing. Each author brings their own unique talents, style, tone and setting, which offers multiple ways of experiencing the same world. I would be hard picked to chose a favorite as each has its own merits. While Hudson’s “In Extremis” had me reminiscing of the language and feel of a classic wooden ships, iron men type story, Ashley’s “The Ur-Ring” similarly put me to musing on Howard Andrew Jones’ Dabir and Asim tales.
Two very small issues which I easily overlooked were the occasional grammatical error in the foreword and some problems tying up the table of content to the stories and articles. Both of these could easily be chalked down to teething issues, or perhaps simply haste in producing the Kickstarter reward in good time.
Archipelago is available for subscription via Patreon. I am not familiar with that platform but will surely be exploring it and Archipelago in due course, having just signed on as a Crew Member for $2 per month. (I could have gone cheaper but no one likes to be press ganged…) Whether you enjoy a Weird Sea tale or not, I would recommend going along for a ride as the adventurous, daring or desperate explore this new world of possibilities and puzzle over its secrets. Stay tuned and I will post a progress report in due course.
Tony Den’s most recent article for Black Gate was the conclusion to his review of Jane Gaskell’s Atlan Saga, which may be found at:
His personal website RuneQuest.orc is busy undergoing a slow migration to WordPress.