When the Goddess Wakes (St. Martin’s Press, August 2021). Cover by Lauren Saint-Onge
Know, O prince, that between the years when Stag-flation and the Iran Hostage Crisis drank the Carter Administration, and the years of the rise of the stepson of Roger Clinton Sr, there was an Age Undreamed of, when sword & sorcery, high fantasy epics, slender trilogies and stand-alone novels lay spread across bookshelves like paper jewels beneath fluorescent stars.
This tongue-in-cheek riff on Robert E. Howard’s famous quote from the Nemedian Chronicles is a perfect way to begin a review of Howard Andrew Jones’s concluding volume of the Ring Sworn Trilogy, because it is both a very modern fantasy, and yet, in so many ways the product of growing up as a fantasy-reading GenXer – which both Jones and I are.
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In part one of our interview Howard talked about one of his new novels, The Desert of Souls, and about historical fantasy; in part two we discussed the works of Harold Lamb and Howard’s efforts to collect and republish Lamb’s fiction; for our third and final installment Howard tells us about yet another newly released novel, and his experience with gaming:
We’ve talked about historical fiction and historical fantasy, but you also have a history with gaming. Tell us a bit about your new Pathfinder novel, Plague of Shadows.
James Sutter, the editor of the Pathfinder line, is pretty selective about what he buys, so when I was invited to submit ideas I had to throw several his way before one finally took. I think the line in the pitch that hooked him was “Jirel of Joiry crossed with Unforgiven.” I made it clear that I wasn’t going to lift the plot or character, but that I was going to strive for a similar feel. As for the subject matter, I think that James described it pretty well in a blurb he posted recently: “It revolves around the exploits of not one but two bands of adventurers journeying in eastern Avistan, two decades apart. The parties are connected by Elyana, an elf seeking to cure her former adventuring partner (and former lover) Stelan from a curse that’s connected to events — and people — from their shadowy past. Elyana’s journey will take her and her companions from Taldor to Galt, into Kyonin and to the Vale of Shadows, where the consequences of events decades before will affect Stelan’s future.”
I wanted a story that started out with a linear feel so that it could move forward with momentum, then added complications as the adventure got under way. I think there are some nice character moments and well-motivated, though unexpected, plot turns. Personality wise Elyana didn’t end up being a Jirel of Joiry knock-off, although she’s definitely a kick butt protagonist, so she has that in common with the famous character. She’s also seasoned and clever, and she’s relentless — she simply never gives up. I had a lot of fun writing her.
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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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In honor of the coming conclusion of Howard Andrew Jones month (no relation) here at Black Gate, we present another fine game review from his vast oeuvre of gaming reviews in Black Gate 14. This review is an interesting contrast to his earlier review of the space adventure game Traveller.
Avenger/Comstar Games (313 pp, $17.99 PDF, 2009)
Reviewed by Howard Andrew Jones
Martin Dougherty’s one of the best writers that Traveller’s ever had. He’s been responsible for a number of outstanding supplements, from introductory adventures like the deceptively dully titled Type-S to Mongoose’s new Spinward Marches – a book wherein Dougherty had to bring 16 subsectors of Traveller space to life – to the truly phenomenal, and sadly out-of-print-too-soon Gateway to Destiny supplement from QLI. Martin has a knack for bringing his places to life with interesting challenges and adventure hooks, even canon Traveller worlds that long seemed dull in the hands of other writers. I think highly enough of his work that I go out of my way to read new supplements with his name on it.
Far Avalon is a game setting with sectors and spaceships, but it’s not Traveller.
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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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