Interview: H.O. Charles, author of The Fireblade Array @HOCharles

Today it is my pleasure to host one of the hidden gems of self-publishing, H.O. Charles! Charles’s epic fantasy romance series (and by epic, I mean it spans multiple centuries and lifetimes) is one of my favorites and I’m delighted to be hosting the insanely talented creator!

How did you get the idea for The Fireblade Array?

I’m not sure, really. It was years ago, and I used to make up stories in my head to amuse myself on dull train journeys. I like the idea of another universe that has some similarities to this one, but then I want to add in what’s missing in this world. Why is X so unfair, why do we have to suffer Y, and why must we be limited by Z? But as you know, we can’t have everything good all the time – the human psyche just isn’t wired that way. Angst and trials are entertaining to us – to me! So as soon as you start conjuring amazing powers and piecing together beautiful places in your head, you know there has to be some sort of balance – a price, if you will.

So for example, people in The Fireblade Array are very nearly immortal, but can you imagine how overpopulated our world would become if that were true? There has to be a correcting mechanism or mechanisms in there because of the way The Darkworld was formed (you discover some of the history behind this in Book 6), and the balancing mechanisms you see in my books pretty much wrote themselves. Interestingly, and while looking into mortality, I discovered that if we were no longer susceptible to disease or age in this world, we would still *only* have an average life expectancy of 1,200 years. This is because we are so accident-prone and (to a lesser extent) given to murdering one another. (Ref: Finch, C. 1990, Longevity, Senescence, and the Genome) Isn’t that fascinating?

If you broke the ideas in the series into their constituent parts, you’d probably find that they’re a Frankenstein’s monster of bits and pieces from Western literature, film, TV and even video games. I get a great deal of enjoyment reading nineteenth century novels as well as modern, but it would be wrong to discount the huge influence gaming and film have. Games, in particular, are another fantastic modern-day mode of storytelling. The Bioshock series blew me away. Books and games each offer something the other does not have, and they both activate that creative bit of the brain. I think everything an author sees and reads and consumes ends up being churned up and spat out in their writing one way or another (sorry, that’s not very nice imagery, is it?! I’m in Mirel mode. Radiated might have been better there). I radiate all that I consume. Haha. Hmm. Okay, onto the next one before I start to sound like an hubristic narcissist!

Fantasy backed by scientific articles! I love it. The Fireblade Array has a very unique format in that it’s more of an epic chronicle than a stereotypical narrative. What inspired you to write that way?

I wanted the story to be told from different points of view. I cannot claim credit for it, as it’s fairly standard practice in the fantasy genre (Robert Jordan, GRRM both do it, as do others I cannot remember offhand). It made the most sense to me, and I knew the story would be a long one. I can do single-point narrative, but I find I become bored easily. I also REALLY enjoy cliffhangers. << laughs wickedly >>

I know you love cliffhangers, you wretched goblin. *glares* What made you decide to become an indie author?

Haha. You mean, why didn’t I get a big-name publisher?! I tried a couple, but I started young and for whatever reason (I’m not bitter. Nope) I wasn’t picked out of the pile. I took it personally (I shouldn’t have), but I don’t feel I’ve missed out. The world is different now. The big publishers still have their finger in the publicity pie, and enough budget to hire powerful literary PR agencies, but the book world is a much more heterogeneous place compared to that of ten years ago. Yes, there’s some dross out there (there was before, let’s be honest), but it’s better for readers now. Back in 2010, I stumbled upon a very amateurish book on Smashwords, and thought (as we often do) “I can do better than that!” and decided to have a go. I always hoped my books would do well, but I never expected to leave my job/PhD and make a living out of it. Really, I just wrote and published because I loved creating the stories. Still do!!

Yeah…publishers can be like that. But good for you! How did you pick your penname? Do you feel it has allowed you more creative freedom?

YES. I picked the penname because I thought it sounded like the typical, middle-aged, bearded dude that writes fantasy (I think it’s some sort of uniform that you have to adopt once you get signed to a major contract). Is that who I am?! I’ll leave that up to your imagination, but YES, YES and YES, it has given me huge creative freedom. I am seriously self-conscious about anything I do, and I was scared of having my friends cut and paste romantic scenes from the books onto my Facebook page for laughs (they would do this, srsly), so I made my own little secret world where I could write anything I bloody well liked. “Write like everyone you know is dead,” they say (I cannot find the source for that quotation) – well, instead I killed me and invented a person too new to know anyone.

I still haven’t ‘come out’ to most of them about my penname. I’m working up to it…

You have to do what you’re comfortable with. Your three favorite characters to write and why?

Silar – for teh swearz

Morghiad – if I said here, I would spoil the next book…

Mirel – because she’s just so wicked!

Personally, Morghiad is my favorite. <3 (And not just because he’s dreamy, I swear.) What’s a story idea that’s come to you recently?

What? Give away all my hugely lucrative ideas on your blog?! Okay then! I started writing both a prequel and a spin-off to the series a while back. I hope to finish those within a reasonable time frame.

I have some other ideas that are still in development stage. One will be an historical fiction-type-adventure thing. With a ton of romance. Mustn’t forget that. I also want to do a near-future dystopia one (think Charlie Brooker/Black Mirror), but I don’t have time just yet!

YES for the romaction! How would you describe yourself in three fictional characters?

My own characters are basically me if I were significantly better-looking and braver and cooler. Take Silar, Artemi and Morghiad, and stir them all in a pot. Something like me will come out of it. Probably. Maybe a bit more evil Ambrose from Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. And possibly some Emma Woodhouse from Austin. Sorry, that’s more than three, isn’t it? See? That’s why I added evil/scheming characters, because they don’t like doing things the proper way.

Pieces of yourself to each? Hmm…that’s either great or concerning. Your favorite online haunts and links?

Ooh. I’m going to be really boring and say I don’t go anywhere exciting online at the moment. Aside from the news, Wikipedia, checking my own reviews (I know, I need to STOP doing that) and the usual social media pages… there’s not a whole lot online these days that I have time to wander around. If you know of any good places, do tell me though.

Thank you so much for stopping by! Here’s to the best of luck and looking forward to Fall of Blaze! 🙂

H.O. Charles was born in Northern England, but now resides in a beige house in Suffolk.

Charles has spent many years at various academic institutions, and really ought to get on with writing a PhD, but frequently becomes distracted by writing fantasy fiction instead.

Hobbies include being in the sea, being by the sea and eating things that come out of the sea.

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Seven Steps to Becoming an Epic Fantasy Mentor

Step One: Have a mysterious and tragic past.

You will vaguely allude to this past with a far-off look in your eye whenever the villain is mentioned, followed by a moment of pensive silence and/or moodiness for the remainder of the day.

Step Two: You must have a personal reason to hate the villain (whom the protagonist is obviously destined to kill).

You were lovers until he/she chose the path of evil. More likely, he/she murdered your spouse and/or offspring and/or someone else dear to you.

(This is doubly effective if you go with both ex-lovers and murder, though.)

Step Three: Live somewhere remote and hard to reach.

The only worthwhile mentors are inaccessible. If you must live in an urban environment, be the weird/creepy/dangerous person no one likes. Anything to prevent you having friends.

Step Four: Have a secret artifact that the villain will come seeking.

An artifact that has been lost for years and is only coincidentally located once the protagonist turns up.

Step Five: Silence is golden and so is miscommunication.

Never tell the protagonist everything outright. Let them discover the villain’s secrets (which you obviously know because of your past) through a series of (likely violent) misfortunes on their own.

Step Six: By contrast, micromanage the protagonist’s love life.

You must strongly encourage or overtly discourage any attraction the protagonist has to another character. Either way, you must never be neutral under any circumstances.

Step Seven: Sorry…but this is the part where you must die.

*cough* And now we get to the last one. No reneging. You will most likely be killed by the villain in a traumatic event that shall steel the hero’s resolve to destroy the villain. Hey, at least your death was worth it, right?

7 ways to identify a fantasy villain

If you’ve just started a new fantasy series and aren’t sure who the villain is, there are some easy ways to find out. Watch for a few key traits and if more than four show up in a character, you’ve definitely found the series baddie.

1. Miserable childhood

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Morgana Pendragon, basically the cover girl for Daddy Issues Monthly.

Fantasy villains cannot have happy childhoods—EVER. In the slim chance one or both their parents weren’t awful, said parent(s) must die a gruesome death, preferably with the young villain watching.

2. Anger management difficulties

Even if the character displays a cold, controlled exterior most the time, they cannot be a villain without an eventual angry outburst, usually in which they do something horrible and violent. Most likely, this results in the death of a character you really liked.

3. Ugly pets/minions

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A face only a villainous taskmaster could love.

Anyone who hires deformed, aesthetically challenged creatures no one else would even look at must surely be a bad guy. However, there is a loophole, so long as the beautiful minions are used for seduction-based intelligence gathering.

4. Racism/Elitism/Sexism/Religious purism/Some other nasty “ism”

The villain will probably be the most prejudiced character in the book. Genocide and lines such as “she’s only a woman” and “it’s my birthright” are dead giveaways.

5. Dysfunctional love life

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Xena and Drago. Some whacked out stuff going on there.

The villain must either a) have lost their soulmate which spurs them on this hellish crusade and/or b) have a long string of serial relationships to put Henry VIII to shame and/or c) wants someone who wants them dead.

6. Is secretly the protagonist’s father/sibling/miscellaneous lost relative

Assuming the villain did not kill the protagonist’s father/mother, then this one of the spot-on ways to identify him/her. Families suck and that is the moral of the story.

7. Creepy obsession with protagonist/protagonist’s love interest

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WTH Rahl? Do you have any idea how bad this looks???

If the villain and protagonist are of the opposite sex, the villain probably has a thing for him/her. If the protagonist is a girl, there will be some rape-y comments in there at minimum, same for a male protagonist’s love interest. The “we could rule the galaxy” speech may also come into play.

Did this list miss your favorite typical fantasy villain trait? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Anomaly of Blaze (The Fireblade Array, #3) by H.O. Charles @HOCharles

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An Anomaly of Blaze is the cause of a great many troubles, but he may also offer a solution to the woes faced by our heroes.

In Calidell, The Fireblade must deal with her wars alone, and the battles she faces are nothing like those of the ten millennia before.

A new monster has taken up residence in her mind, and it seeks to control her power. She must do all she can to protect the ones she loves, but can she achieve this before her will to fight leaves her?

Volume 3 of The Fireblade Array

4 out of 5 stars

WARNING AND DISCLAIMER: Some spoilers for previous books in the series. Also, this book contains mature themes and  is not Young Adult.

I…have many emotions regarding this series. The books are huge, the timelines covered in each installment can span for decades, and the author most likely stays up late thinking “how can I hurt these characters next?”

The plot:

This book picks up just a few days after the end of the previous installment with a grieving Artemi and her children. Again, there is the same story style that takes on more of a chronicle/episodic format that your usual plot arch. There might be years lapsed between chapters, but in a world where old age doesn’t exist, the characters all stick around.

I admit I panicked a few times in reading this. I did not see the twist about who Morghiad’s reincarnated self thought Artemi was and once that was revealed…well, I can see how he would be upset over her trying to seduce him.

The characters:

There were a few times I wanted to upside Artemi with a good smack, but not for the reasons the other characters did. I suppose she’s entitled to make mistakes, but she should have taken a cue from how Morghiad dealt with her back when she didn’t remember him. Just give the dude some space!

I freaked out when Morghiad came back, especially when we started seeing things in his POV. I had no idea what the hell was wrong with him or where he got all these outlandish theories. To make matters worse, he never fully explains anything until BOOM we’re in big trouble and he’s about to make the biggest mistake of both his lives. Still…he’s my favorite character and darling little cabbage.

To be brutal, I do not like Silar. He started to redeem himself to me in book 2, but he’s pretty much fixated with Artemi and it only appears to be getting worse. At this rate, in two or three books he’ll be the new super villain/stalker that’s obsessed with her. Seriously, the poor slob needs to find a new girl or a new hobby or hard core therapy before this gets out of hand.

Morghiad and Artemi’s children, particularly the older two, can take all the <3 ‘s. Medea and Tallyn’s relationship is precious and adorable and I could just hug them both to bits. The youngest, Kalad, is kind of the stereotypical rebellious teenager. Kalad and his father’s reincarnated version do not get along at all I am not looking forward to this blowing up down the road.

Wow, that review got long fast. There’s probably a whole other review I could write just about the secondary characters and assorted villains who make their appearance over the course of the book, but I’ll stop there.

To sum up, I am still hooked on this series, I have downloaded the next book. If you’re a fan of romance epics with monogamous, multi-lifetime stories, for the love of Earl Grey, pick this up.

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The Romance Paradox

I like romance, but I don’t like romance. Do you see the problem? Well, I have also found the perfect solution.

For a while there, I was really into Young Adult Paranormal Romance. The evidence is all over this blog and Goodreads, but I got tired of it pretty quick for the same reason I tired of chick flicks: there is one story. After a few (dozen) books, I recognized a definitive formula to all romance novels (they literally teach it at RWA conferences) and it just wasn’t for me.

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Thing is, I still like love stories. I have a certain level of romantic in me that refuses to be denied. Despite an affinity for military history, Machiavelli, and Clausewitz, I am still a girl. It’s just bloody hard to find a love story I like.

Have long adored hardcore action stories, but I never wanted to be the hero’s girlfriend, I wanted to be his lieutenant. The one who survives to the end, saves his sorry hide when he gets in a fix, then ends up taking his place to outwit the Lannisters, defend Troy, or drive the Narens from Lucel-Lor,  or lead the Rohirriam.

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The solution to wanting a surprising, action-filled storyline that examines a wide array of relationships besides romantic (but still includes romance!)? For me it was—what else?—Epic Fantasy. The Tyrants and Kings series by John Marco had the perfect level of romance. Same with the Shadowmarch books by Tad Williams, Morgan Rhodes’ Falling Kingdoms and the Mistborn trilogy.

I highly recommend "The Jackal of Nar" by John Marco to anyone seeking the emotional equivalent of a wood chipper.

I especially appreciate how people in Epic Fantasy are a lot quicker to figure out when their romance isn’t worth causing the apocalypse—unlike people in some genres. *coughcough*

So if, like me, you crave complicated storylines, complex characters, and some swooning on top, allow me to suggest your local bookstore’s Epic Fantasy section. (In a wholly objective and unbiased manner, of course.)

Things fantasy books (almost always) get wrong about deer

fallow-deer-602253_960_720Hunting is a favorite pastime of various characters in fantasy novels. It was also, of course, a popular sport for the upper crust in medieval times. Because of this, hunts and their quarry have been frequently portrayed in literature and film, for better or for worse. Like hunting in general, which I covered last time, the favorite object of these hunts has been more than a little fictionalized.

For starters, deer are not defenseless Bambis.

Even a lot of hunters believe this one. The truth is, deer can kick (with the front or back), bite (yes, bite), and head butt you into the afterlife even without antlers. They are wickedly strong, even those that look spindly and thin, capable of dragging several times their weight and making grown men beg for mercy. (The only writer I’ve ever seen really explore this was John Marco with his battle-elk. But that was so awesome it almost made up for everyone else.)

deer-1083607_960_720They are not particularly smart.

Running and jumping are pretty much the extent of a deer’s strong suits. Though Arthurian lore and much resulting fantasy fiction often imbues deer (particularly stags) with oracular/prophetic qualities, they actually tend to be pretty dumb. They often have trouble getting out of any enclosure they can’t jump, which is problematic if they get stuck in your yard. (And you can’t try chasing them out unless you want to get trampled.) Really, brains are not their forte.

They don’t strictly go solo or in Mommy and Me pairs.

Deer can be spotted on their own or in herds of females with their young or in “bachelor groups” or with a buck and a bunch of does—really, there are a lot of different combos you can have. Yet most the time on TV and in books, I see they turn up either solo or as a doe and fawn.

hirsch-899116_960_720Deer don’t always have huge freaking antlers.

This one could be tied into my second point up there. In reality, only the matured males have those gorgeous racks you see over fireplaces and turned into chandeliers. As a general rule, a buck’s antlers have one new prong each year, so a yearling will have just one prong (hence the nickname “spike”), a two-year old will have two, and so on. This means that most deer (considering predators and such) probably will only have a few prongs. (Bucks also lose their antlers after the autumn mating season, which is something else fantasy writers seem to forget.)

As someone who grew up with a running commentary of “in real life, they…” I can be a bit picky. (Thanks a lot, Dad.) Still I don’t see any harm in shedding light on the matter. The right dose of reality breathes life into fiction!

Review: To Darkness Fled (Blood of Kings, #2) by Jill Williamson @JillWilliamson

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Achan, Vrell, and the Kingsguard Knights have fled into Darkness to escape the wrath of the former prince. They head for Ice Island to rescue two of Sir Gavin’s colleagues who were falsely imprisoned years ago. Darkness is growing and only one man can push it back. Achan wanted freedom, not a crown. His true identity has bound him more than ever. He must learn decorum, wear fancy clothes, and marry a stranger. Achan knows one thing for certain. He will not be a puppet prince. Either he will accept his role and take charge or he will flee. But which will he choose?

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

5 out of 5 stars

I was hoping this would be as good as the last one and yep, it was. There was a little more exploration of the religious themes, but nowhere near the overwhelming levels I have encountered elsewhere. (By “overwhelming,” I mean uninterrupted monologues that elaborate theological teachings for a page or more straight. Here the Christian elements are brought in as part of the story AS THEY SHOULD BE.)

The plot:

I think this baby is 700+ pages in print. It is not for the faint of heart, but the story moves quickly and the words slip by before you know it. There was a great deal of character development in this book, especially with Achan. We meet a host of new characters and find out more about the backstory as well as the world building.

I got stressed reading this several times just because of the suspense levels, but I loved every second and I’m gobbling up the third and last book right now.

The characters:

As I mentioned, Achan has a lot of character development in this book. There’s a great deal more on his flaws and his difficulties in reconciling himself with the god he was basically taught nothing about. It was something I wanted to see the author explore and she does not disappoint. Achan goes through the whole angry at God and “why me?” set of thinking (realistic, I thought) and I thought the author handled it very well.

Despite a brief stint of self-pity and some trouble with basic morality in this book, Achan is still lovable and it’s hard to hate someone the author is knocking around every other chapter. I mentioned in my review of the first book that Achan is kind of like a punching bag and as promised, things do not get better. He still gets beaten up on a regular schedule and I feel terrible for him.

Vrell is still going under the guise of a boy and Achan has no clue (for most of the book anyway, but spoilers). I made the mistake of thinking her perfect (maybe just a little) in the first book, but no. She screws up and shows arrogance and pride and pig headedness and finds plenty of ways to make the reader scream “no!” All the same, I find her to be a likable and endearing character, which it isn’t very often I am this fond of a female lead. (Don’t ask why, I just tend not to like them.)

On top of our Joffrey-esque villain, Esek, from the first book, I’m fairly certain the devil turns up. It happens a little later in the story, so that’s all I’ll say, but we definitely have our fair share of villains, I just don’t have the space to mention them all.

A great series that I wish was far more popular and I think I’ll be going into withdrawals when I finish this series. If anyone hasn’t read this, go fix that now. If anyone has, let me know so we can gush over it together.

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