Wednesday, 23 April 2014

‘A Game of Thrones, The Graphic Novel – Vol. 2’ – Daniel Abraham, Tommy Patterson (Bantam)

After a long time away from this series, I find myself coming back to ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ with fresh interest. If it’s not the TV series, that I still need to get round to watching (buying the box set is only the first step) it’s the books on the shelf that are gently reminding me that it has been a while since I picked them up.

Given that I’ve developed a habit of falling asleep in the bath most evenings and I have other books that I’d like to read first, reading the graphic novels seemed like a good compromise. If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see what I thought of the first book; I read the second volume over Easter and it was as engaging a read as the first one. We all know the story already but here’s the blurb anyway, just in case you need to jog your memory a little. It was amazing how all the plot came flooding back to me, even though it’s been a long time (years) since I picked the first book up. But yeah, sorry, blurb…

The sweeping action moves from the icy north, where the bastard Jon Snow seeks to carve out a place for himself among bitter outcasts and hardened criminals sworn to service upon the Wall . . . to the decadent south and the capital city of King’s Landing, where Jon’s father, Lord Eddard Stark, serves as the Hand of King Robert Baratheon amid a nest of courtly vipers . . . to the barbarian lands across the Narrow Sea, where the young princess Daenerys Targaryen has found the unexpected in her forced marriage to the Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo: love—and with it, for the first time in her life, power.

Meanwhile, the dwarf Tyrion Lannister, accused by Lady Catelyn Stark of the attempted murder of her now-crippled youngest son, must call upon all his cunning and wit to survive when he is captured and imprisoned in the lofty dungeons of the Eyrie, where Lady Stark’s sister—a woman obsessed with vengeance against all Lannisters—rules. But Catelyn’s impulsive arrest of the Imp will set in motion a series of violent events whose outcome is fated to shake the world at the worst possible moment. For now is not the time for private feuds and bloodthirsty ambitions.

Winter is coming . . . and with it, terrors beyond imagining.

So, counting volume one that’s four hundred and eighty pages of graphic novel to get through two thirds of one book (although it could end up being more, I haven’t read the third volume yet). Not only am I interested to see how Abraham tackles later books (‘A Feast for Crows’ and ‘A Dance with Dragons’ in particular), if that is the intention, but I also find myself wondering how long a graphic novel adaptation of a series can be dragged out at this pace. Three, maybe four, graphic novels to a book; it will look great on the bookshelf but will people remain interested for that long? I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that score.

That’s one for the future though. Right now, we have a story that Daniel Abraham is handling with customary aplomb. He has a very good feel for what needs to stay in the book and what can be merely hinted at; the end result being a tightly plotted tale that takes in the original book as a whole. It could have been a rambling mess if Abraham had stuck to the book but he clearly appreciates the limitations of the graphic novel format and it really pays off.

All I wanted from Tommy Patterson, after reading volume one, was a little more variety in character’s facial expressions (he does everything else superbly). This is ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ after all, no-one really smiles here. I’m pleased to say that Patterson delivers here and captures just what events mean for the characters with some really touching expressions. If I can have more of that in volume three then I’ll be a happy man.

It’s hard to write anything about the actual story that hasn’t been said already but as far as the adaptation goes, Abraham and Patterson have got it spot on here with a book that really draws you into Martin’s world. The more I read these books, the more I want to go back and read the originals and that can’t be a bad thing at all.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The 'Covert Chocolate Eating' Update Post!

So I took a little break from the blog and had a lovely time in Plymouth for a few days over Easter, mostly spent with Elana sleeping on me. I had a great time, hardly got any reading done at all but that turned out to be just what I needed to recharge my batteries and get all excited about books again. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s why fill your free time with something that you don’t really want to do? I can’t see the point in that at all ;o) Nope; I had one child sleep on me, played ‘rescue the princess’ with the other and ate chocolate while no-one was looking. You can’t ask for more than that really.

That’s not to say that I didn’t get any reading done at all. Hey, it’s me :o) I polished off the second ‘A Game of Thrones’ graphic novel (more on that later this week) and managed to read a little more of ‘Blade of Tyshalle’ (which is shaping up to be incredible by the way). For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel the need to go out and buy books because I’d made bad choices in my holiday reading. Happy days :o)

There were a few books waiting for me when we got home; not loads and that’s the way I like it right now. Some interesting stuff though; go on, have a look…

Yep, my new 'Game of Thrones' box-set also made it into the picture (it's way past time that I started watching it) and in one of those moments that just happen, the camera flash has rendered Ned Stark headless. It's almost like my phone knew...
But onto the books. I didn't read 'The City' when it was first published so got going on that last night. Initial thoughts? It's like a really slow burning book version of 'Gladiator'... I'm only a hundred pages in though so there's time for all that to change. 'Tithe of the Saviours' has an amazing cover, HERO FIGHTS TENTACLES!, but I haven't read the first book (erm... 'Something of the Saviours'?) so I can't see 'Tithe' being read at all.
'The Letter for the King' has piqued my interest for reasons that I'm still unsure of, couldn't tell you when it will be read though. Maybe it's the whole 'knights in armour thing', maybe it's the lovely looking cover. Don't know...

There's nothing I want more right now than some 'Fighting Fantasy' style action in my reading. I need something short and snappy though, not a book that makes a resounding thud when it hits the floor (it was an accident...) I want to go on a quest that takes a couple of hours (*wistful*'Deathtrap Dungeon'*wistful*) not a quest that, if the size of the book is anything to go by, looks like it could last for days. I'm filing this one under 'hmmm, maybe...'

And this was waiting for me when I got back into the office,

I don't know if I'll be reading the whole book but there's certainly a number of stories inside that I'm eager to give a go so look out for them being talked about here.
Any of those books catch your eye? Did anyone here read the first 'Saviours' book?

David Gemmell Awards - Shortlist Announced

While I was having a little Easter break, more on that later, the Gemmell's shortlist was announced during Eastercon. Thank you for letting me know ;o) If you haven't seen it already, the shortlist looks something like this...

Legend Award for Best Novel

•The Daylight War—Peter V Brett (Harper Collins UK)
•Emperor of Thorns—Mark Lawrence (Harper Collins UK)
•The Republic of Thieves—Scott Lynch (Gollancz)
•A Memory of Light—Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan (Tor/Forge)
•War Master’s Gate—Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor UK)

I can't really say a lot about this as the only book I've read from the list is 'Warmaster's Gate' and that was the original manuscript. Do I want any of them to win? Y'know, I wouldn't mind seeing 'Emperor of Thorns' win just because the first book was so good. What? That's my criteria on this slightly dull and gloomy morning, deal with it ;o)

Morningstar Award for Best Debut Novel

•The Garden of Stones—Mark T Barnes (47 North)
•Headtaker—David Guymer (Black Library)
•Promise of Blood—Brian McLellan (Orbit)
•The Path of Anger—Antoine Rouaud (Gollancz)
•The Grim Company—Luke Scull (Head of Zeus)

Same deal here really. I've read a chunk of 'The Grim Company' and about three pages of 'The Garden of Stone' (really need to get back into that...) If Black Library can be bothered to mobilise their fanbase to vote then 'Headtaker' will take the 'Morningstar Award'. You heard it here first.

Ravenheart Award for Best Cover Art

•The Republic of Thieves—Scott Lynch, cover art by Benjamin Carré
•Emperor of Thorns—Mark Lawrence, cover art by Jason Chan (HarperCollins UK)
•Skarsnik—Guy Haley, cover art by Cheol Joo Lee (Black Library)
•Promise of Blood—Brian McClellan, cover art by Gene Mollica and Michael Frost (Orbit)
•She Who Waits—Daniel Polansky, cover art by Rhett Podersoo (Hodder)

Aha! The only award I feel half qualified to comment on seeing as it's a case of just saying which cover is the prettiest ;o) My vote here goes to Rhett Podersoo's cover for 'She Who Waits' ; not only because it is the prettiest cover but I think more people should be reading the 'Lowtown' books anyway and if an award points more people in the direction of the book then that's a good thing. Right?

I'm still not a huge fan of the awards (they still strike me as a popularity contest rather than an award based on any kind of merit...) but good luck to everyone on the shortlists ;o)

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

‘Doctor Who: Illegal Alien’ – Mike Tucker & Robert Perry (BBC Books)

The Blitz is at its height. As the Luftwaffe bomb London, Cody McBride, ex-pat American private eye, sees a sinister silver sphere crash-land. He glimpses something emerging from within. The military dismiss his account of events - the sphere must be a new German secret weapon that has malfunctioned in some way. What else could it be?
Arriving amid the chaos, the Doctor and Ace embark on a trail that brings them face to face with hidden Nazi agents, and encounter some very old enemies.

I love ‘Doctor Who’ books, they’re a not very secret but definitely guilty pleasure of mine. If they’re not helping me catch up on stories that I never saw on TV, they’re filling in gaps in between the Doctor’s journeys and giving us even more stories to get into. The old Target novelizations will do me for half of my daily commute but ‘Illegal Alien’ is about three times the length and so has kept me going for a bit longer. It’s fair to say that ‘Doctor Who’ is one of those things that you either ‘get’ or you don’t and if you don’t get it then you’re unlikely to be picking the books up anyway. That automatically makes these books ones for fans only but the good news here is that ‘Illegal Alien’ falls very much into the ‘one that fans will very much enjoy’ category.

‘Illegal Alien’ has all the ingredients that any ‘Doctor Who’ story (book or TV show) needs to be successful, a lot of adventure all playing out for high stakes and being manipulated by someone who might just have outsmarted the Doctor himself. You have the iconic villain (in this case, the Cybermen) getting up to no good amongst a human cast who think that they are in control of things whilst being anything but. The Cybermen are great anyway but Tucker and Perry really bring them to life on the page with a real sense of presence alongside the destruction that they are able to wreak. This is one of the darker ‘Doctor Who’ books that I have read(maybe even the darkest) with the horror of the blitz combining with the horror of how the Cybermen increase their number. Tucker and Perry really take advantage of the fact that you can write stuff in a book that they would never let you show on TV. You have to experience some things by yourself to really get the full effect and these passages very much fall into that. All I’ll say is that the ‘Cyber baby’ is not as cute as it sounds, it’s not cute in the least bit..
Tucker and  Perry also really lay on the horrors of the blitz as well as the wider war itself; not only is the appropriate respect paid to a turbulent point in history but the constant bombing etc takes the reader’s attention off important plot stuff until it really matters and is a big surprise. We also get a sense of urgency as both sides are racing to use captured Cyber technology in order to win the war. People will do anything if they can then say that they are trying to do the right thing, this is used to develop certain characters in interesting ways over the course of the book.

‘Illegal Alien’ is a dark book then but it’s also a typical Doctor Who book with the Doctor and Ace running all over London and getting into all sorts of trouble before somehow managing to get out of it. It’s no different in that respect from any other Doctor Who story but again, Tucker and Perry avoid any potential pitfalls here by really capturing the two characters and what makes them so distinguishable. They’re doing the same old stuff but it’s the fact that it’s them doing it which makes proceedings so memorable. The fact that there are sub-plots dovetailing in and out of the main plot makes for an engaging read totally unlike some of the more linear tales that I have read in the past. There is always something going on and it all happens at a breakneck pace.

‘Illegal Alien’ is a book that it’s all too easy to get into and not as easy to put down. I was left hoping that the rest of the books in the ‘Monster Collection’ are as good and then I remembered that I reviewed two of them way back on the old blog :o) Click on the links for what I thought of ‘Touched by an Angel’ and ‘Prisoner of theDaleks’.

But back to ‘Illegal Alien’… It’s a great read and I totally recommend it to anyone who’s a fan or thinking of checking out ‘Doctor Who’ books, you won’t be disappointed (I wasn’t).

Monday, 14 April 2014

‘Revival Volume One: You’re Among Friends’ – Tim Seeley & Mike Norton (Image)

As far as comic books go, the old blog was all about following ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘The Goon’ and whatever Conan books I could get my hands on. Times change though; ‘The Walking Dead’ got a little too brutal (and possibly repetitious) for me, work on ‘The Goon’ has slowed down to a crawl (and I didn’t really enjoy the last book anyway…) and as much as I love Conan as a character, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure about some of the stories he was showing up in. I don’t really read any of those books now.

It’s a whole new blog now though and I realised that I needed a new series to follow along with the occasional forays into the worlds of ‘Judge Dredd’ and ‘Ghost’. If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt it’s never to look too hard for a new favourite series, it will find you sooner or later and it did when I came across volumes two and three of ‘Revival’ the other week. You can read what I thought over Here and there was no doubt in my mind that I’d be searching out the first volume to see how it all began. I read ‘You’re Among Friends’ on the way into work this morning and the commute just flew by.

If you read my post the other day then you’ll know about the story. If you’re one of those people who like to start from the beginning then ‘Revival’ is the story of rural Wausau and how, for one day, the dead return to life and have to readjust to being back in the world of the living. Some handle it better than others and that’s where Officer Dana Cypress comes in, dealing with crimes involving the revived against a backdrop of the world’s media  focussing all its attention on the town. The most difficult crime to solve though is the one that’s closest to home and it will take all of Dana’s detective skills to even know where to start.

‘You’re Among Friends’ is such an apt title in many ways, not least because Seeley’s gift for characterisation really does make you feel like you’re amongst friends; a small town where everyone knows each other’s business, a town where a night drinking in the bar will feel like the reader’s own local until one of the Revived starts raising hell in order to make a point to… That would be telling. A lot of questions are raised in these opening pages and, again, it’s credit to Seeley that he manages to make all of them fresh and intriguing. This is all down to that characterisation again (you can really get behind these people as they deal with the situation that they’re in) as well as everything playing out against a backdrop that is almost deliberately designed to let these events stand out; nice work again from Mike Norton. It’s all understated but that just seems to make the plot all the more gripping. And if that wasn’t enough, Seeley and Norton combine to give us an opening page (well, the second page but you know what I mean…) that is guaranteed to hook the reader… You might want to click on the picture to enlarge it.

 ‘You’re Among Friends’ sets the scene for future volumes by posing these questions along with a couple of nice moments where you think you have a handle on the plot only to find that you’ve been led neatly into a dead end. The series as a whole has it all and has pretty much cemented my opinion that ‘Revival’ is just the story that people (like me) who are tired of zombies will get a lot out of. People still have to deal with the dead coming back to life but what makes this series stand out is that the dead have to deal with it too.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

‘A Game of Thrones, The Graphic Novel – Vol. 1’ – Daniel Abraham, Tommy Patterson (Bantam)

Every so often I come up against a review that is incredibly difficult to write and for any number of reasons;  a negative reading experience, trying to temper my positive feelings and be objective, really should be doing something far more productive… You know how it is.
I’d actually read this volume a couple of years ago but wanted to go back and revisit it before I got started on the next two volumes which have only come out fairly recently. And here’s the thing, I found that my opinions on the book hadn’t actually changed at all in those two years. Not one little bit. See what I mean about this being a hard one to write?

I wanted something posted here though (because I’m a bit of a completist at heart when it comes to reviewing series all in one place, that is going to come back and haunt me…) so I’m going to sum up what I thought with a few handy quotes from my review way back in 2012. The whole review is Here if you want it. This post isn't so much a review as it is confirmation of what I already thought in the first place, a placeholder if you like… ;o)

What Abraham does then is to take the more important moments in the book, dress these up with some of the minor details and present this to the reader as a fait accompli. It’s an approach that worked very well as far as I was concerned. I felt like I was getting a clearly defined tale that worked very well within the parameters of the format. There may have been plenty missing but it didn’t feel like there was anything missing out and that was the main thing for me.

It was also interesting to see that Abraham was able to do this by taking the focus off individual characters and merging everything into one ongoing tale rather than the approach that Martin himself takes (with each chapter devoted to one particular character). Maybe I’ve been out of the ‘Reading ASOIAF Game’ a little too long but things seemed to flow much more smoothly here with a story that gradually unfolds rather than jumping to and fro across continents and even timelines.

I suspect that Tommy Patterson’s artwork will come to grow on me more as the series progresses. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, Patterson really brings the world of Westeros to life (aided and abetted by Ivan Nunes’ colours) but the facial expressions he lends to his characters don’t seem to back up the whole ‘gritty, harsh and Machiavellian’ thing that Martin wants his reader to be a part of. It feels like they’re all smiling at the most inopportune times!  It’s a small complaint though and I think that, as the story progresses, Patterson should be more than up to conveying some of the darker moments to come.

I was up for the long haul two years ago and that’s still very much the case now, look for proper reviews of the next two volumes soon.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Guest Blog! Stephen Deas - The History of the Taiytakei

To mark the publication of Stephen Deas' 'Dragon Queen' in paperback (it has been on the shelves only a few hours less than this post has been up, or something like that) I'm lucky enough to be hosting a guest blog on the history of the Taiytakei, the dominant culture in the series. This is a very long blog post and the reason that I'm posting it so close to lunchtime is that I reckon it will be the ideal accompaniment to your sandwiches and crisps (or whatever you're having in fact). Go on, have a read...

Gazetteer of the Taiytakei Realm

It was long a desire of mine to study the mysterious Taiytakei traders when I was a senior alchemist within the Palace of Alchemy. Their one great hunger was well known to us and made us, in a way, their enemy, for we could not allow any dragon to fall into their hands. I did not understand this in  my early years as an alchemist's apprentice. Later, as greater mysteries and secrets were revealed to me, I knew we could not permit any dragon to be raised where there were no alchemists to dull the growth of its mental capacity, the resurgence of lifetime after lifetime of memory. By then, however, it was too late. I had acquired my fascination. The ways of the Taiytakei seemed strange and mysterious, their abilities remarkable and magical, and although they shared a secret now and then, it was clear to any who cared to look that they knew the order of the world far better and more thoroughly than they would care to admit. We formed a club (not of my own making) of those alchemists most curious to know more. We compiled papers, recording what little we were able to establish of where they came from and what their world was like.

We knew so very little.

Now I am their slave, taken in the last gasp of Speaker Hyram's reign. An alchemist's duty is to serve those who claim mastery of dragons, whoever they are, to keep the world safe from their awakened fury. I left many alchemists behind me, perfectly capable of fulfilling that duty in the world where I was born. Among the Taiytakei I am alone. They say they will take eggs from the King of the Crags and the Prince of Furymouth, although they do not say how. They ask me to build and prepare an eyrie, and have found the most wondrous home for such a thing. Whether they will fulfil their desire and bring dragons to fill this home I am creating, I cannot say. While I wait, I study them, as once so longed to do. Perhaps one day, these documents will find a way back to the land of my birth, and to the alchemists who were once so curious. I have written them in part from what I have seen with my own eyes (such places as Khalishtor, of course, but also the Crown of the Sea Lords and the Palace of Leaves, and I have watched the Konsidar and the Lair of Samim drift far beneath my feet as I float on Taiytakei Glasships). Other places I have described from what those around me say is true. I cannot be sure that what they believe is indeed always the truth, but I do not think any have sought to deceive me, and in matters of simple history and geography, in the simple descriptions of places and palaces, there is no reason why eyes would lie. Other records I have taken from the Taiytakei books, which I devour with unseemly greed. The simple facts of what is where and how they appear are largely beyond dispute. Others remain as impenetrable to me as they have been to the Taiytakei themselves for a thousand years. Beneath the surface, there is much that even the Taiytakei do not understand. In truth, they are perhaps even less masters of their own destinies that we are of ours. I have done my best be truthful. I have sought both myth and reality, and have endeavoured to distinguish them. Inevitably, at times, I will have failed.

I hope the Taiytakei will fail in their hunger for dragons and leave me to my studies, but I fear they will not, and my fear is not for me, but for them. For I am but one alchemist, and they cannot make another, whatever secrets I tell them, and when I am gone, they will face their dragons alone.


Grand Master Alchemist to Speaker Hyram of the Nine Realms, Protector of the Order of the Scales.

A Simple history of the Taiytakei

No records remain of the earliest histories of Takei’Tarr, and one is forced to root around myths and legends that have passed into folklore, looking for what threads may appear, and also among the stories of the other folk, those who are not a part of the culture of the Sea-Lords. The Elemental Men, it seems, have gone to extraordinary lengths to supress any memories and traditions of that time; but still, while it is a death-sentence to even set eyes upon the Rava, which may contain the only true history of those days, certain stories are too widely spread to supress. Such stories speak of a time when the world was one place and there was no storm-dark, although many Taiytakei scoff at the notion and argue that the world has always been the way it is. However, it is a thing of great interest to me that those few myths and legends that do speak of times before the great cataclysm also speak of god-like men of superlative power who dressed in liquid silver, a clear analogue of our own Silver Kings. In the case of the desert peoples, for instance, their earliest histories speak of their tribes having lived “in heaven among the gods,” and the very few descriptions or pictures of this “heaven” refer to the gods as “men of silver”. There are hints and traces of this too in more urban Taiytakei culture, although it is to be found in stories that have since lost their meaning and in old songs and rhymes. It is frustrating not to have more to work with – the desert tribes also consider the Elemental Men to be some semi-divine intermediaries of their gods while the mythical Righteous Ones of the Konsidar are vile demons. Also lacking in is any notion at all of any true gods, even though many of the tribes from which the Taiytakei grew still have their rituals and stories. This is perhaps not so significant to one such as myself, hailing from a land where the Great Flame has faded from grace and most people make offerings to shrines of their ancestors; nevertheless, for the Taiytakei to have no sense of the world's creation nor its creators, no sense of afterlife or of what happens beyond death, and to have reached this view despite their own stories (and the powerful and significant and all-pervasive religions they have encountered in other realms) seems strange. Nevertheless, some taboos exist that are familiar (not burying the dead under the earth, for example – the Taiytakei bury them at sea for the most part) and may have their roots in these long-forgotten traditions.

It is accepted, however, by most Taiytakei that some cataclysm once overtook their land. There are many different notions of what this “Splintering” truly was, from being the event that destroyed large portions of the world, wiped the Silver Kings away and gave rise to the storm-dark to explanations far more mundane – those who espouse the latter will argue that the earth-shattering events recorded in the histories of many of the different cultures the Taiytakei have since encountered were unconnected in both cause and time. However, it is clear that some sort of great event once shook Takei’Tarr, and it is my own opinion that the story is sufficiently widespread in disparate origins to suggest a single common event.

Early History – the Elemental Men
The most fertile and prosperous region of Takei’Tarr is and always has been the western coast, and this is where the first kingdoms arose. These early stories of the centuries after the Splintering speak of towns and cities that were built among the remains of something other, presumably the remnants of whatever culture existed previously and has now been lost. These early stories remain, however, fractured and scant. It is only with the coming of the Elemental Men that Taiytakei history truly beings.

Disputes between towns and cities and even kingdoms were settled almost entirely through murder and assassination rather than open warfare. The appearance of the Elemental Men – sorcerous assassins against whom there appeared to be no defence – appears to have thrown these early city states into utter disarray quickly followed by subservience as the Elemental Men styled themselves as the new arbiters of these disputes. From all accounts, their interference in day to day Taiytakei society was extensive but subtle. The establishment of very strict rules for the resolution of disputes, and the existence of an effective and terrifying method of enforcement, cascaded down throughout the society. Taiytakei laws remain strict, rigid, simple, ruthlessly enforced and almost uniformly adhered to. It is hard to assess the influence of the early Elemental Men beyond the system of law that has grown around the Taiytakei, but even the Taiytakei themselves will agree that their rigid laws influenced the growth of their highly bureaucratic means of self-administration, and the threat of the Elemental Men and the severity of all punishments even for lesser crimes has resulted in a system of governance that is very inward looking and prone to analyse its own decisions and actions for possible mistakes. This tends to make the Taiytakei slow to react, but when they do, it is with comprehensive and thoroughly researched actions. The Taiytakei consider that the lack of conflict following the appearance of the Elemental men has allowed them to spend more of their efforts and energies on more creative pursuits and hence their superiority to the cultures of the other realms they have visited; this is called into question, however, when one observes that their treatment of other realms is largely one of exploitation and of systematic efforts to undermine the development of other realms – up to and including fomenting wars on the scale of the War of Thorns on at least two occasions. As the Elemental do not interfere in this, it appears that their doctrine of peaceful resolution of conflict through an unanswerable threat of assassination is limited to their own culture and domain.

Another early impact of the Elemental Men, well documented by the Taiytakei themselves, was the eradication of all organised religion within their sphere of influence. The early Elemental Men were entirely ruthless about this, quite content to murder anyone who tried to oppose their will. Early Taiytakei society appears to have considered the sun and the sea (interchangeable with the moon) as principle deities, with many also worshipping the “silver angels” who were seen as the messengers of the sea-god but almost certainly hark back to the legends of similar creatures prior to the Splintering. The Elemental Men wiped these practices away with such efficiency that almost no records of them remain, let alone any temples or relics. The practice of worshipping local spirits was more tolerated, although public places of worship were forbidden (the shrine to the Goddess of Fickle Fortune atop the Dul Matha is a notable exception; this likely came about because the shrine exists far away from the early influence of the Elemental men, and was well established before they came into contact with it – by which time, attitudes had changed and a more permissive attitude to the shrines of lesser gods was in force).

Rise of the Enchanters
Most of all, the Elemental Men opposed any practice of sorcery. Any showing a talent for sorcery were either dissuaded by simple means or, if they persisted or could not control their talent, were killed. Several notable sorcerers rose nonetheless, and the stories of Abraxi, Ren Shaha and The Crimson Sunburst are widely known and often repeated, frequently with so much embellishment that the truth is all but lost underneath. Certainly all three caused a great deal of trouble for the Elemental Men. It is said that in dealing with Abraxi and her acolytes, the Elemental Men learned almost all of the tricks and turns they would need in later years for dealing with the sorcerers and priest of the Dominion. [Author's note: It is worthwhile to contemplate how the ferocious aversion of the Elemental Men to both worship of the old gods and to sorcery arose, and how, with those values embraced by the Taiytakei as a whole, how they affected their dealings with the Sun King (considered a manifestation of the old sun god on earth) and the Dominion as a whole (highly religious and devoted to exactly those gods reviled by the Elemental Men, and more recently with Aria, whose most powerful sorcerers apparently put those of the Taiytakei to shame)]. Dealing with sorcerers who practiced their art in the shadows soon became something of which the Elemental Men were extremely capable, but the last of the three great magi caused problems of a different kind, for the Crimson Sunburst was also queen of the might slaver city of Cashax, and practised her sorcery in a manner that was both overt and not obviously sorcery, for most of her magics were presented in the form of enchanted devices. Her story is well known (although a hundred versions exist presenting it in a hundred different colours). The Crimson Sunburst proved to be a formidable sorceress who understood the Elemental Men far better than they cared for – several of were killed in attempts to destroy her, and three were famously captured in prisons of gold – the first recorded use of this metal to contain an Elemental Man. Furthermore, her creations – golems and the like – proved remarkably resilient and although they provided little opposition to the  Elemental Men themselves, many of the lesser shapers who served at that time were killed battling them. After the Crimson Sunburst was defeated, several of her acolytes were spared, on condition that they would share the secrets of the golems and other creations, and would forswear sorcery of any other kind. This they did, and became the first Enchanters (and also the first Navigators). The Elemental Men men would later point out that the Taiytakei had filled the western coast of Takei’Tarr, that twelve of the Fourteen Cities had been built and twelve of what would become the thirteen Sea Lorda sat on their thrones, that two hundred years had passed since Ten Tazei had mapped the northern coast of Takei’Tarr, that the world held no more mysteries and this is why they permitted this turn of events. It is often forgotten, among the miracles of glass and gold that now abound, that these first Enchanters pre-date the first crossing of the storm-dark.

The First Navigator
Among the first of these Enchanters was the man who would become the first of the Navigators, Feyn Charin. Given his association with the Crimson Sunburst, Feyn Charin was already a colourful character, and his story is worthy of some length in its own right. An acolyte – and perhaps more – of the Crimson Sunburst, Charin had been measuring the Godspike (with what instruments is not clear, but the only exact measurements currently recorded for the Godspike are said to be those made by Feyn Charin five hundred years ago). After the Crimson Sunburst’s fall, his researches were allowed to continue. After years of apparently achieving nothing at all, one day he flew up into the storm-dark around the Godspike cloud and vanished; when he came back a few hours later, he left the Godspike with all speed, hired the first ship he could find, and sailed it straight into the storm-dark near Xican. All assumed he was possessed by some madness and that he and his ship, the Maelstrom, would never be seen again, but both appeared again three months later. They landed in Xican filled with stories of a strange land filled with winged fire-breathing monsters but no one believed either Charin or his crew. The Maelstrom travelled across the storm-dark a second time, this time bringing back slaves stolen from the coast. It was the first time any Taiytakei had seen a pale-skinned man, and the new spread like fire in summer. Over the next two years, the Maelstrom crossed the storm-dark six more times, taking princes and several Elemental Men. Three years after the first voyage, the Maelstrom made its first voyage to what Charin referred to as the Northern Realm. Although the Taiytakei did not make contact with the Dominion, the absence of fire-breathing dragons in this second realm made it immediately more appealing. A year later, the Golden Crane led a second expedition and the Taiytakei made their first contact with the Dominion. By then. However, Charin himself had become a virtual recluse within his fortress, the Dralamut. Although in later life he did once return to the Godspike, he would not enter the storm-dark there a second time and no navigator since has done so and returned. He died in madness and alone, raving of silver men, his legacy long since taken by his apprentices for their own ends.

The last two centuries of Taiytakei history have been, to Taiytakei eyes, glorious. In their first encounter with the Dominion, the Taiytakei found themselves faced with a culture that vastly outnumbered them was, much superior in its mastery of arcane arts (although with the very significant exception of the Elemental Men, for whom the Dominion have never had a parallel) and was in many ways technologically more sophisticated. Through assiduous planning, ruthlessly uneven trading agreements and the occasional campaign of assassinations, the Taiytakei have establish themselves as the great power of the sea. Taiytakei navigators opened up what is now Aria to the Dominion and then, a century later, engineered its rebellion and a subsequent bitter war which drove the Dominion into a century-long period of stagnation. The Taiytakei may not have sorcerers and sun-fire hurling priests, but their black powder rockets and the lightning cannon and other weapons now make them masters of every world to which they sail – and that is all of them – save one: they do not yet dare to face the dragon princes of my home.

It is perhaps ironic, given their preoccupation with the Dominion for the last three hundred years, that they now feel most threatened by the colony they once helped found and then used to break the Dominion’s spine. While the eyes of the Taiytakei were elsewhere the empire has taken such great strides forwards in such a short space of time. Aria has had gold, a great deal of gold which the Taiytakei and their Enchanters desire and for which they have steadily paid, and now it is that empire that looks poised to challenge them. It will not last, they say. Not while the Taiytakei are the masters of the storm-dark and with the Elemental Men to protect them.

As for the Elemental Men themselves, it is not clear at all how whether and how much they have guided the Taiytakei in their dealings with other realms. They seem detached and aloof, but I am not so sure. I believe the question is not whether, but how much, and wherever I see, here and there in the histories of other realms and particularly the Dominion, the unexpected yet fortuitous deaths of the mighty and the powerful, I must wonder if I see the glimmer of the Elemental Men.