The Ring-Sworn Trilogy by Howard Andrew Jones: For the Killing of Kings (Feb 2019), Upon the Flight of the Queen
(November 2019) and the forthcoming When the Goddess Wakes (April 2021)
A bit of prologue and some full disclosure to the Gentle Reader
The purpose of this column has been looking at the challenges of historicity vs. fantasy in the process of world-building; well at least when the fantasy in question is trying to be either realistic or set in our world or a near-neighbor. From contrasting the visual departure of Jackson’s LotR films as a more effective means of showing the vast sweep of Middle Earth’s history, to critiquing the swordplay of the Witcher TV show, to interviewing authors who play in both the worlds of Historical Fiction and Fantasy, I’ve come to realize we have a pretty clear continuum:
- Historical Fiction – just what it says. Whether it’s set in the Paleolithic or WWII, it’s a story set in our own past, with the ostensible goal of painting a portrait of that time and place.
- Historical Fiction with Elements of “Magical Realism” – really more of a technique of “literature” but the story is more or less as above but there may be hints or some unexplained and unexplainable element.
- Historical Fantasy – this is a specialty for folks like last month’s interviewee Scott Oden. Our historical past, only elements of magic, monsters, etc., exist, something like a “secret history.” A lot of traditional sword & sorcery exists here, but so does the fantastical work of writers like Judith Tarr or G. Willow Wilson.
- Low Fantasy in a Secondary World – the world I NOT ours, and may not even be based on any clear cognate of our civilizations, but it’s “realistic” in the sense that it’s technology and structure follows our historical models. Magic and monsters exist, but farming gets done with an iron plow and three-field rotation, people ride horses and camels (or something like them), etc. A lot, if not most, of fantasy fits this model and fantasy.
- High Fantasy – Magic is powerful and sweeping, there are non-human races who can do magical things, the gods may be capable of manifesting themselves or their will, etc. A lot of epic fantasy fits into this mode.
We can quibble on where those lines are (Tolkien is High Fantasy, but is Martin?), and maybe there are further subdivisions (for example, Urban Fantasy overlays the last two), but the definitions work for this column because the further you go from #1 on the continuum, the less important “historicity” becomes.
Which brings me to my guest….
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As Tartary Burns is the debut novel by Riley Hogan and is newly published by Airship 27. Calling the novel pulp fiction isn’t completely accurate. Hogan finds himself in the same position as the standout talents of the pulp world of the 1920s and 1930s who were published in the pulps, but whose prose was more polished and literate than most of their peers to the degree that it seems an oversight they were passed up by the slicks. Many of those talents today are recognized as having lasting literary value. So it is with As Tartary Burns, an ambitious fast-paced historical adventure that presents an alternate history of the Cossacks, Ottomans, and Crimeans.
Hogan’s book has been likened to Robert E. Howard and Harold Lamb. One reviewer suggests comparison to the film Braveheart. I felt it read like a stream-lined Game of Thrones with the explicit sex and language excised. Hogan is possessed not only of an obvious passion for history, but a pride in the culture, folklore, and religion of these people to the degree that one wonders if it is his own heritage. His reshaping of world events makes one curious if he plans not so much a conventional follow-up, but rather an expanding alternate history of the world set in different epochs.
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In part one of Black Gate’s interview with Howard Andrew Jones we heard about one of Howard’s new novels, The Desert of Souls, and the joys and pitfalls of writing fantasy stories set in an historical milieu. In our second installment we talk about Howard’s reverence for the greatly under-appreciated historical adventure writer Harold Lamb, and the massive project Howard undertook to collect and republish Lamb’s fiction to preserve it for new audiences.
All this talk about historical fiction naturally brings us around to Harold Lamb. When and where did you first encounter his work?
I first found him as a high school sophomore. I had to write a short history paper on a famous historical figure, and I happened to find Lamb’s biography of Hannibal on the library shelves. I loved that book. I had reread books in the past, but they were always novels or short story collections. Hannibal was the first non-fiction text I revisited again and again. Lamb presented what was almost a Shakespearean drama about a man blessed by the gods with brilliance and charisma, doomed never to achieve the one thing he truly fought for, which was the preservation of his homeland, the citystate of Carthage. A military genius, Hannibal won battles employing tactics that are still studied today, but no matter how clever he was, he could not win the war. He had luck in abundance, but it was almost a curse, for while he continued to survive, all those closest to him fell. When he returned home to Carthage after the war, he turned his intellect to reforming the state. He eliminated graft and corruption, and overhauled the elective system so that senators, appointed to lifetime power, had to be elected every two years by the people. Though beloved by the commoners, his sweeping changes drew only ire from the ruling elite, who lied to Rome, saying Hannibal was still plotting against them. He had to flee his city and wander for the rest of his life, taking employment with more and more distant places as a military adviser while the Romans expanded their holdings. Hunted to the end by Rome, he finally died by his own hand rather than permitting them to capture him alive.
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The great thing about interviewing Howard Andrew Jones is that it is impossible to run out of interesting things to talk about. That’s because Howard has been busy. Busy writing stories, busy preserving the legacy of an unsung founder of historical adventure, busy editing Black Gate Magazine. And, oh yeah, busy writing and selling novels — his first two, the Dabir and Asim origin story The Desert of Souls, and Plague of Shadows for Paizo’s new Pathfinder fiction line, are both due out this month!
In this first installment of a multi-part interview with Howard, he talks about his new Dabir and Asim novel and the relationship between historical and fantasy writing.
A Conversation with Howard Andrew Jones
Your Dabir and Asim stories are some of the most popular to be featured in Black Gate Magazine. For those readers perhaps still unfamiliar with them, what can one expect from a Dabir and Asim tale? More specifically, what is in store for readers that pick up Dabir’s and Asim’s first novel-length adventure, The Desert of Souls?
Mystery, adventure, swashbuckling swordplay, two brave friends standing against things man was not meant to know… to further sound like a radio announcer, there’s all this and more! I think my two favorite descriptions about their exploits come from John O’Neill and Kevin J. Anderson. O’Neill described their tales as “something like Sherlock Holmes crossed with the Arabian Nights, except Watson has a sword,” and Kevin J. Anderson wrote that the novel read “like a cross between Sindbad and Indiana Jones.” There’s a strong sense of the exotic, because I like to take readers to strange and colorful places, be it a haunted tower in the Baghdad night, or ancient ruins. I had a lot more room to spread out in the novel, so the readers are introduced to more figures from Dabir and Asim’s world, including the brilliant Sabirah, Dabir’s one true love, and the caliph himself.
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