Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Interesting Words: Sky of Swords

View this book on Amazon.com One of the things I often do as I'm reading a novel or short story is keep track of words whose definitions I do not know or that I find interesting. Either way, these interesting words are ones I feel might be of use in my own writing. That, and it's good to expand one's vocabulary every once in a while.

Read my review of Sky of Swords.

anteroom: a large entrance or reception room or area

argent: a metal tincture used in heraldry to give a silvery appearance

coiffure: the arrangement of the hair (especially a woman's hair)

commissariat: a stock or supply of foods

cortege: the group following and attending to some important person

cynosure: something that strongly attracts attention and admiration

galliard: A gay, lively dance

garderobe: a wardrobe or its contents

harridan: a scolding (even vicious) old woman

kirtle: a long dress worn by women

misprision: A neglect, negligence, or contempt

pillory: a wooden instrument of punishment on a post with holes for the neck and hands; offenders were locked in and so exposed to public scorn

pique: tightly woven fabric with raised cords

poltroon: an abject coward

seneschal: the chief steward or butler of a great household

sumptuary: regulating or controlling expenditure or personal behavior; sumptuary laws

trousseau: the personal outfit of a bride; clothes and accessories and linens

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Book Review: Sky of Swords by Dave Duncan

Sky of Swords by Dave Duncan is the third novel in the King's Blades series. In book two, Lord of the Fire Lands, the reader is left hanging at the end as history inexplicably unfolds in a different fashion compared to what was told in the first novel in the series. Duncan not only has some explaining to do, but, as a writer myself, I was curious to see how he was going to handle this inconsistent situation. I wasn't disappointed in the storytelling or the characters, but I was a little at the ultimate conclusion. Still, I'll give the author some credit: it was something you don't often see done in a fantasy novel, and while I did see where things were going about halfway through, the ride getting there was still fun.

In this installment our point-of-view character is Princess Malinda, daughter of the King of Chivial, which is the principal realm we are concerned with in book one of the series. Similar to how Lord of the Fire Lands was laid out, the story is part past, part present, but always told from Malinda's viewpoint. The novel opens with Malinda locked in prison, accused of high treason against the king. Of course, we know from the second book that the king, her father, is dead, and so the question of who is the current king is just one of many as the story unfolds.

It's interesting that Duncan chose Malinda as the primary viewpoint character. While she shows up in the previous two novels, it is mostly as cameo roles. In those, she is depicted as a spoiled child with little depth. This changes in Sky of Swords as she is forced to grow up fast or crumple beneath the political and royal weight laid upon her. Durendal (the hero and main character from the first novel) once again is present, this time as a secret advisor as Durendal must fear for his own life: Calls for the disbanding of the Blades grow louder after the king's death; anyone associated with them past or present must be wary. But Malinda casts a bold strike when she Binds four Blades to her, thus creating a group called the Princess's Blades.

Sky of Swords is an adventure novel first and foremost, but contains more court and political drama than the first two novels as Malinda must contend for the throne with a cousin and half-brother. Malinda is a likeable character whose personality we learn is quite different from her previous portrayal as we come to realize Duncan's characters are not always the most reliable narrators.

I liked Sky of Swords, but I did find the final solution to setting things right a bit of a letdown. Not to give anything away, but it was a very Superman-like ending. Still, it was a fun read and I'm looking forward to jumping into the next novel, Paragon Lost.

Interesting Words: Lord of the Fire Lands

View this book on Amazon.com

One of the things I often do as I'm reading a novel or short story is keep track of words whose definitions I do not know or that I find interesting. Either way, these interesting words are ones I feel might be of use in my own writing. That, and it's good to expand one's vocabulary every once in a while.

Read my review of Lord of the Fire Lands.

adjudicator: a person who studies and settles conflicts and disputes

baldric: a wide (ornamented) belt worn over the right shoulder to support a sword or bugle by the left hip

burgher: a member of the middle class

cabochon: a highly polished convex-cut but unfaceted gem

connivance: agreement on a secret plot

cordwainer: A worker in cordwain, or cordovan leather; a shoemaker

coronet: a small crown; usually indicates a high rank but below that of sovereign

creel: a wicker basket used by anglers to hold fish

demesne: territory over which rule or control is exercised

deportment: the way a person behaves toward other people

despot: a cruel and oppressive dictator

dormer: a gabled extension built out from a sloping roof to accommodate a vertical window

dory: a small boat of shallow draft with cross thwarts for seats and rowlocks for oars with which it is propelled

elocution: an expert manner of speaking involving control of voice and gesture

estuary: the wide part of a river where it nears the sea; fresh and salt water mix

fo'c'sle: living quarters consisting of a superstructure in the bow of a merchant ship where the crew is housed

haberdasher: a merchant who sells men's clothing

harangue: a loud bombastic declamation expressed with strong emotion

heriot: a payment or tribute of arms or military accouterments, or the best beast, or chattel, due to the lord on the death of a tenant

hummocky: a small natural hill

moorland: open land usually with peaty soil covered with heather and bracken and moss

muniment: A record; the evidences or writings whereby a man is enabled to defend the title to his estate; title deeds and papers.

piebald: having sections or patches colored differently and usually brightly

priory: religious residence in a monastery governed by a prior or a convent governed by a prioress

rapacious: excessively greedy and grasping

smock: a loose coverall (coat or frock) reaching down to the ankles

spume: foam or froth on the sea

squelch: walk through mud or mire

tanist: a lord or proprietor of a tract of land or of a castle, elected by a family, under the system of tanistry

tarn: a mountain lake

tattoo: a drumbeat or bugle call that signals the military to return to their quarters

thegn: a thane

trusses: a framework of beams forming a rigid structure

weathercock: weathervane with a vane in the form of a rooster

wimple: headdress of cloth; worn over the head and around the neck and ears by medieval women

witan: sage, adviser

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Book Review: Lord of the Fire Lands by Dave Duncan

Lord of the Fire Lands by Dave Duncan is the second in the King's Blades novels. While it largely stands on its own, it is still intertwined with events that take place in the first novel, The Gilded Chain. In fact, Duncan drops a bomb at the end of Lord of the Fire Lands which directly contradicts events that take place in The Gilded Chain. At first, I had to wonder if I was remembering things wrong (I'd just finished the first book, so I was pretty sure I hadn't), or if I'd missed some subtle hint that would explain why history was not about to follow the path set out in The Gilded Chain. In the end, I realized Duncan had just dropped one of the biggest hooks I'd ever seen for wanting to rush out and buy the next novel in the series (that being Sky of Swords).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's stick with Lord of the Fire Lands first.

Our main characters are Raider and Wasp, both King's Blades in training who are called into service by King Ambrose. This is what King's Blades do. It is what they are recruited for, what they train for, and what they most want to do in order to bring honor to themselves and to their liege. There is no greater privilege for a Blade than to serve the King. Problem is, both Raider and Wasp refuse their liege.

What unfolds is a story narrated by Raider, whose real name is Radgar, who we come to learn is not of Chivial. Radgar hails from Bael, the Fire Lands, whose people are the sworn enemies of the Chivians. The first part of the novel is consumed by this narration, which is done very well and shows us that the Baels are not the fire-eating barbarians the Chivians believe them to be. Instead, they are colorful and sophisticated in their own way, but chillingly cold in others, as in when they "enthrall" Chivian captives, effectively turning them into soulless shells. Much of this story unfolds through Radgar' father's eyes, and so it is only when Radgar comes into his own that we jump back to the present.

From the telling of Radgar's story, Ambrose knows he can never let Radgar return home, and so he devises a hurried plot to lock the boy up for the rest of his life. Radgar, accompanied by his now sworn Blade, Sir Wasp, escapes, returns to Bael, and there tries to claim what is rightfully his.

It is then, as the novel concludes, that Duncan drops his bomb. I won't go into what it is, as giving it away could be considered a bit of a spoiler. But it's significant enough that I immediately started reading the next novel in the series, Sky of Swords.

My impression of Duncan continues to improve with this latest novel. His stories are enjoyable, engaging, and very well-written. He tends to use a lot of words from Old English; my Kindle's built-in dictionary is perhaps its best and most used feature. I started reading Sky of Swords immediately after finishing Lord of the Fire Lands and, in fact, just finished it this morning. Look for that review next.

Book Review: The Gilded Chain by Dave Duncan

The Gilded Chain by Dave Duncan is the first in his six book King's Blade series. While the story in each novel takes places in the same world, each work stands alone as a tale unto itself. This first book tells the story of Durendal, a waif with little future who is recruited to become a King's Blade, a swashbuckling swordsman bound by magic to serve either the king or whoever the king so chooses.

The enchantment is important as it defines the identities of the Blades as a whole. It goes beyond mere allegiance as each Blade is bound magically to protect, serve, and always hold their ward's safety and life in the highest regard. Blades do not sleep, they can stomach only one glass of wine when on duty, and they look upon everyone with suspicion or at least as a potential threat. They do not do this willingly; the enchantment makes them. While there is great loss of freedom in choosing to serve as a King's Blade, it is also considered the highest honor.

Durendal is, of course, special. It is a common practice for each Blade to take the name of a previous Blade and, in doing so, aspire to live up to the previous Blade's deeds. There is one name, Durendal, that none will take for the bar was set too high when that first Durendal served. Not so for our young hero as he claims the name for himself and not only meets the challenge but far exceeds it. What begins as a bit of a predictable tale, with Durendal bound to a nothing lordling, does an about face when that lordling is killed early on. The tale picks up from there, introducing a completely different tale from what one expected based on the book's summary. This works out for the best, for Durendal is sent to learn the whereabouts of a missing Blade and to unravel the mystery of a gladiatorial arena where the gladiators cannot be killed.

I've been reading a bit of Duncan's work lately, namely The Alchemist series of Venetian fantasy/mysteries, which is one of his more recent works. The Gilded Chain goes back a bit to 1998. It's interesting to note the differences in style between this book and Duncan's more recent novels. I can see signs of maturation in both the author's ability to tell a tale and in his writing chops. Regardless, The Gilded Chain is an excellently written work, with a good balance of endearing characters, plot intrigue, adventure, and even a bit of mystery. Duncan does an excellent job of bringing the overall story full circle with a bit of a twist ending that I did not see coming.

The Gilded Chain is a fun read and I'm looking forward to picking up the next book in the series.