Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the first of those reviews.

Like many novels, Bujold's Beguilement is multi-layered. On one level, it is a fantasy novel where Lakewalker patrollers protect the lands from malice. On another, it's a romance novel, where the veteran patroller, Dag, and a runaway farm girl, Fawn Bluefield, meet under life-threatening circumstances and, as one might suspect, develop a romantic relationship with one another.

There are other things going in Beguilement, such as the dichotomy between Lakewalkers and farmers, but, for purposes of this review, I'd like to focus on the fantasy and romance layers first.

First, the fantasy: In this respect, Beguilement is good stuff. It takes place in an unnamed world where Lakewalkers, thought to have once been lords and known to be sorcerers, patrol the lands searching for signs of blight and its cause, malices. A malice is a concentration of energy, what Lakewalkers term 'ground', brought to life under mysterious and not fully understood circumstances. Malices are not good. They bring with them beguilement and death, draining the ground from other beings in order to evolve into increasingly more powerful beings. Worst of all, a malice doesn't understand death. This grants them a certain immortality.

Enter the sharing knife.

A sharing knife is a special Lakewalker weapon that, when used on a malice, 'shares' a death with the creature. This act of sharing is the only way to kill a malice.

As much as the book's title denotes one of the principal powers of a malice, it also refers to the effect Dag and Fawn have on one another. Herein enters the romance.

Dag is a dry-witted Lakewalker, a veteran with over twenty malice kills and a reputation as a capable, resourceful patroller. He has tragedy in his makeup, which I won't say necessarily haunts him, but certainly fills him with a sense of regret. It is this regret which increasingly weighs heavy on him when, out on patrol, a new malice threat and a farmer girl named Fawn Bluefield enter his life. I won't ruin anything about the encounter with the malice, only that both Dag and Fawn survive and go on to become lovers. It's an odd relationship: by custom, Lakewalkers and farmers do not interrelate in such ways. They take this 'forbidden love' back to Fawn's home where much drama ensues between herself, her family, and Dag.

That, in a nutshell, is what Beguilement is about. The story has points of slowness, but I never felt like it bogged down. The writing is excellent and tight; while there are other sub-plots intertwined with the main ones, none of them were a distraction. If anything, exactly the opposite: there's plenty of character-building here, and the characters are grounded, believable, and exceptionally thought-out. Fawn, despite entering the story as a runaway farm girl (which seemed a bit of a stereotype), soon shows us she is much more. Dag, for his part, plays the role of veteran soldier-sorcerer well; it's what lies beneath that draws the reader in and allows us to sympathize with his past and what he hopes for his future.

I found Bujold's system of magic and such concepts as the sharing knife to be original and intriguing. In many ways, it was this intrigue which kept me reading and wanting to know more.

One warning: Bujold leaps from one book to another with nary a break in the story. I imagine her having written all four books at one time (is there a fifth still to come?), then the publisher coming along later and slicing it into the four books we currently have. This probably isn't the case, but that's how one might look at it. With that in mind, if you read Beguilement, you'll at least want to pick up Legacy, because it picks up right where book one left off and goes a long way towards concluding the storyline begun in book one.

I think Bujold delivers with Beguilement and the larger The Sharing Knife series as a whole. Superb writing, well-grounded characters, and a colorful world and an intriguing magic system all come together to form an entertaining, engaging read.

Writing Update #16

I had a pretty decent writing week this past week: 25 pages edited, leaving 339 to go, and I reached my week's goal, exceeding 10% completion of this second pass edit.

Here's the page progress chart:

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% completion trending upward:

imageWord count trending downward.

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This is a good thing.

I'd previously established that, for fantasy, publishers are looking for novels in the less than 110,000 word range. Of course there are exceptions to this, but as a new writer I don't want to give anyone any excuses, so I'll play by the rules. It took some work getting the word count down to this level. When I started, it was upward of 130,000. That's OK, though: One thing I'm learning as I continue to edit is to be concise. Why say something in two sentences if you can do it in one? That, and oftentimes there are 'extra' words that can be whittled down, making the prose more direct.

That's it. I hope to have some more good progress to post next Monday. Until then…

Milestones and Goals

468230_30211180 Every writer or blogger has goals. But on the road to achieving those goals we pass something else by: milestones.

I like to think of milestones as micro-goals. They're not bona fide goals unto themselves, but they are accomplishments of a sort.

Make no mistake: milestones are a good thing. Sometimes, trying to achieve a full-fledged goal can be overwhelming. Take writing a novel, for example. How many people never start (let alone finish) such a thing simply because of the daunting nature of it?

I'll tell you what helps: milestones.

Merriam-Webster defines a milestone as "a significant point in development". Reaching a milestone is not the end, but it's a significant step in that direction.

For me, a milestone is a chapter written. The chapter by itself is kind of meaningless—you can't sell it, and it probably doesn't tell a whole story. But rack up enough of those milestones and the next thing you know, you've got a complete manuscript.

There's something else about setting goals or working towards a milestone: they have to be realistic or attainable.

Overshooting, or setting unrealistic goals, is a recipe for failure. Not reaching your goals can be discouraging. Hit on too many disappointments, next thing you know you're out of the game before you even had a chance.

The lesson in all of this: baby steps. Keep it simple. Reach for the attainable, knowing that each smaller step is a signpost on the longer road to completion.

Writing Update #15

Last week I reported that I had finished the first edit of my WIP and that I was now moving on to the second edit.

Briefly, I continue editing on the computer until I feel all the pieces are in place, that the obvious snafus have been fixed, sentences all makes sense, and scenes play out as I had envisioned them. While editing my previous book, I did this as many times as it took to get all of these things right—about 3-4 times, as I recall. After that, I go to paper, printing out each chapter in order where I basically start the editing process over again. Of course, it all gets easier and easier as all the pieces fall into place, or at least that's the idea.

Enough about the future; let's take a look at my current progress.

I reset everything, so I'm back on page 1. Or, I was, until I put some work in this past week, editing 16 pages out of a current total of 380. Here's a bar chart:

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Not much to look at right now.

Percentage complete is a bit more interesting:

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OK. Still not really that interesting. I'm 4.21% complete with the second edit. Still a long ways to go.

Last, I like to look at my ongoing total word count:

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It's come down a bit; it's going to continue to fluctuate at least through this edit as I still need to fill some holes in here and there and add or remove pieces as needed to get everything to flow. Some of that flow was disrupted, for example, when, across the board, I removed one of the characters from the story.

Going into winter, with the days shorter and there being less light for outdoor activities, I intend to have more time to write. But, of course, we've got Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, both of which have a whole host of obligations to go along with them. Such is life, though, right?

Till next time.

Writing Update #14

First edit of the rough draft of my fantasy adventure novel: done.

I actually finished about mid-week last week, at which time I took a few days off to concentrate on my reading of Bujold's Sharing Knife series (of which I committed to reviewing for EOS Books). I've finished books one and two, by the way. But this blog entry isn't about my reading progress, it's about my writing progress, so…

Here's what 100% done looks like:

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and,

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Here's how total word count wound up finishing:

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That's it. First edit done. It's a step towards completion.

Total word count stands at 112,737. Page count at 382.

Now, I reset the graphs and start over. My second edit will still be done exclusively on the computer. I don't waste paper until I feel I've done most of the editing, or at least until I have something wholly coherent that flows from start to finish. I'm not there yet.

I expect to continue these updates each Monday (this one is coming a day early b/c I won't have my laptop with me tomorrow), if not for your benefit, than certainly for mine. I've found they've been a useful tool for accountability as well just a way for me to gauge my progress.

Until next time.